From Russia with Love ... and some brute force.

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by ralf_j., Oct 27, 2012.

  1. As we prepare to receive some brute force from the upcoming storm, here in the Northeastern United States, I sit down to write a couple of words about another piece conveying brute force while packing some good looks and charm; It is a seldom mentioned piece from the USSR photographical arsenal, the KMZ Start SLR.
    I saw it by chance while I was leaving my repairman's shop in NYC almost 2 years ago. It was sitting on display covered with a film of light dust and not working; I initially disregarded it, dismissing it as yet another early Zenit SLR; I was wrong. The Zenit E feels flimsy compared to this camera. I decided to pick it up and have it repaired.
    Once the repair was done, I was able to put it through some testing and check out all the parts. It has a unique breech lock mount, similar to Pentacon 6. The standard Helios-44 supplied has automatic aperture which gets activated when the plunger gets depressed to release the shutter. The shutter speeds range from 1s-1/1000s and can only be changed once the camera is cocked. The prism is removable allowing for other visual accessories, but these are pretty rare. A take up spool is required to advance film
    It is obvious that it was intended for the pro market; however, only one lens was made for it, unfortunately. I have used a unique 37mm MIR-1 pictured below via an adaper, and am still on the look out for the Tair-11 (both made for Zenit 3M M39), but there is no automation on the aperture.
    A couple of challenges since I have had it: after the second roll of film, the 1st curtain developed a hole. I tackled the problem using Bostick and Sullivan's bellow patch kit (liquid neoprene rubber) which seems to work quite well. The transport mechanism is a bit rough and the film tore inside once; in most occasions the sprocket holes have shown signs of stress. Here is the camera and some examples taken over the course of the past two years:
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Arches - Cloisters

    With Helios-44 on Kodak Gold 100

    With Helios-44 on Kodak Gold 100

    With Helios-44 on Kodak Gold 100
    Bell Tower

    With Helios-44 on Kodak Gold 100
    Lines and Arches

    With Helios-44 on Kodak Gold 100

    With Helios-44 on Kodak Gold 100

    With MIR-1 on Kodak Gold 100

    With MIR-1 on Kodak Gold 100
    Hudson River

    With MIR-1 on Kodak Gold 100
    Hudson -2

    With Helios-44 on Kodak Gold 100
    Coney Island Boardwalk

    With Helios-44 on Fuji Superia 400
    Brighton Beach

    With Helios-44 on Fuji Superia 400
    Boy and the Sea

    With Helios-44 on Fuji Superia 400
    A Quiet Shore Walk

    With Helios-44 on Fuji Superia 400
    Coney Island Tower

    With Helios-44 on Fuji Superia 400
  2. I envy you.
    Although the mount works like the Praktina mount, it seems to be different. Given the freedom of use of each other's designs in the Warsaw Pact, it surprises me that it doesn't look as though it is the same.
    Very nice work with it. Of course I am a huge fan of the Biotar/Helios lenses. ;)
  3. Ralf,
    Start had no other special lenses but its Helios 44 as far as I know. They did not made them back then. Mir-1 is M39. The adapter ring was a standard part of a Start kit.
  4. A lovely set of images from what looks like a very fine specimen of a lens!
  5. What a great find, Ralf, it's not a camera I've ever seen in the flesh,and the quality of the images is very high. I've always been intrigued by the "Grand Prix" designation for some Russian lenses, in this case an award from the Brussels World Fair 1958. Apparently this is a Russian version of the Flektogon, 6 elements in 5 groups, and the quality seems beyond reproach. Great post; many thanks.
  6. Ahhhh, the Clositers and Coney ..... two places I threatened to "get away" for a summer stay-cation, but never found the time. Glad to see a local Pnet-er enjoys the scenerey . Nice shooting, Ralf !
    May I ask who your repair guy is ?
  7. They are lovely images from classy lenses, as JDM and others said. The start was a reputedly ambitious design for a professional camera. I guess, the production runs were not well supported. Thanks for the lovely post. sp.
  8. totally 76500 Starts were made three modifications (last two ones never went for production). Two special kits. Start with a 3 lens revolver block and start-sniper (with telephoto) both are extremely rare
  9. FYI, the engraving on the lens barrel reads "Brussels 1958" where this lens design received a "grand prix" (first price) on the Expo.
    It seems funny that the communists were very eager to mention the world-wide reputation of their goods, linking them with names of cities and countries where their people hardly ever were allowed to travel to.
  10. By the way, there is a nice page on the Start at
  11. Perhaps the professional Start was used with an adapter and Zenit M39 lenses in manual mode,for variation of lens focal length.Some variations of the Praktica IV available around this time had selenium metering built in, a split image rangefinder and a selection of M42 lenses,perhaps seeming more advanced.
    I never saw a Start, thanks for posting.
  12. Darn you to heck, Ralf.
    It's all your fault. I just bought one from Ukraine. Looks nice, though I probably paid too much for it, I'm happy since it looks very clean and is said to work well. :) On the other hand, I think maybe I'm the originator of the idea that well-preserved Soviet cameras are that way because they didn't work new. :|
    So far, though, I'm batting 90% on Soviet goods I've bought. I suspect that more of them are good than most people credit.
    Now I need to find an inexpensive Sport.
  13. Note the progression of posts above
    First- I express envy
    Second- I research the camera
    Three - I buy the darn thing
    Let that be a lesson to you all. A classic case of the stages of CAS.
  14. JDM, the caution is noted and then ignored! The Start looks a very interesting camera, nearly bought one on Flea-Bay a few years back but it went too high. I have heard good reports on them, and the Helios is a lens that I have always liked. The Mir "Brussels" lens is interesting too, I have one for my Zenit 3M and thought it was really rare...oh well.
    I really hope that storm that is brewing is not too bad.
  15. JDM - Thank you for your comments, the Start will not disappoint, your investment will pay off with nice negatives or positives. Someone actually had adapted a PK adapter with the Helios 44 on a SONY NEX
    Kozma - Well aware of the limitations of the Start system, but was not aware that it was such a limited production in my book, many thanks for the info. That 3 lens revolver must be nice, I want one.
    Rick - Many thanks for your comments, and the info on MIR-1, I must admit that that focal length is unheard of.
    Winfried - Communists liked showing off their goods in the Global forum; it was just another element of their propaganda machine to show the world that their goods were better than those of the capitalist society.
    Alan - Thank you for your comments and visits to this post, they are appreciated.
    Tony - Maybe it is time to consider picking up one of these Starts again, one just sold on eBay US for $56 with the Helios attached, described as working. We are in wait of the storm as I write this, prepared with sandbags to stop the surge if there is a need...
  16. Starvy - Thanks for commenting, both lenses are quite fine, but the MIR-1 wins the beauty competition. You would be hard pressed to find a 40 year old Russian optic in such condition today.
    Subbarayan - Many thanks for your feedback and comments, well appreciated.
    Gabor - You and I share a few photo opp locales, I guess :) ... I have always found Cloisters a very peaceful site to photograph especially on the week days, when tourists are few, you can easily concentrate on form or landscape... My repairman is Panorama Camera in NYC, West 30th between 6th and 7th avenues.
  17. Here is Start with revolver 3-lens block. Picture is taken from G.Abramov's web site. Usually Georgiy does not mind but I think he has to be credited
  18. JDM,
    Sports are not operational. They needed a special cassette and so on...
  19. Nice post, Ralf. Very enjoyable set of images from a nicely presented camera.
  20. Kozma, that revolver looks like a 3 eye monstrosity, was that a prototype or did it reach production?
    Thanks Louis, appreciate the kind feedback.
  21. Ralf, I do not know. Perhaps it was very low production few units (single digits) were made. Possibly none of them were in retail stores ever.
  22. Thanks, Ralf, for an interesting post and some great photos. I picked up a similar Start from an unlikely source a few years ago - Ebay USA, no less! However, when I add that the seller was based in Miami, maybe there's a connection with Cuba and the FSU. I asked the seller about that aspect, but he wasn't sure - he'd just acquired it from a local estate sale. So the jury is still out whether it had once been owned by a Russian missile technician based in Cuba, or had been bought by a Miami resident during a vacation in St Petersburg.
    Several points about the Start interested me, which is why I bought it. Firstly, it had some advanced features for a late 50s' SLR - like the removable pentaprism, the single-speed dial and the very sharp and clear split rangefinder image. The color of the Helios lens's coating was another interesting aspect - have you ever seen a lens so blue? Also, reputedly the Helios lenses for the Start were the best-performing ones to come off the KMZ production line. Lesser ones went on Zenits, of course. However, as some of the other postees have commented, what could have been a system SLR to rival the Exakta never got its chance to shine because KMZ didn't keep to their side of the deal and supply all the good accessory gear a professional grade camera needs.
    Nice camera though, and a shame that KMZ never gave it the chance to shine that it deserved, eh? (Pete In A Sunny Perth)
  23. Pete - Thanks for the added commentary, quite interesting for a Soviet quality product. That's one of the parts I love about these posts, the discussions and learning new things about the actual products? Is it time to put the air conditioners on down in Perth? We are getting ready to inspect our boilers up here in the North East... :)
  24. If I could find a SPORT, I'd make an exception to my "working" criterion. After all, I had to do that in the case of a few "no working examples known" cameras from the DDR. ;)
  25. I am with you JDM, but I would go to great lenths to get some images out of dead cameras anyway :).
  26. Hi, Ralf I'm almost feeling guilty to admit that our Perth weather has been really nice so far this Spring, in view of the terrible hammering folks in the east of Northern America are getting from 'Sandy'. So far we've not had to turn on our house airconditioning even once, but a couple of times I've conceded to Old Age Temperature Intolerance and turned my RAV4's aircon on, driving home from Perth. Mind you, no doubt our time for potential disaster will come when Mother Nature's more vicious side gets displayed come summer. Last year we were that close to having our house burned down in a bushfire, it just wasn't funny.
    Meanwhile, FWIW here's a link to a Flickr Pages photo feature I did a while back on my KMZ Start. There must be far more interest in the Start than I had realised,, because this has had well over a thousand 'hits'. (Pete In Perth)
  27. Last night when I was typing the response to both JDM and Ralf I have a power out because of Sandy. Power is back now so I am posting it now. There is almost no way to find Start in working conditions.
  28. Hi,Kozma Glad to hear you've survived the worse that 'Sandy' couldl throw at you. I must have got lucky too with my Miami Start, because it's working perfectly. I haven't even had it CLA'd. I've read that the early Starts were prone to problems with their shutter blinds, but mine is a later (1962) model so maybe KMZ had sorted things out by then? (Pete In Perth)
  29. Apologies for all. Not Start but SPORT could not be found in working conditions. Starts are fine they do exists and perfectly good conditions and there are lots of working cameras around. Sports are not the case. They were made in 1938 and required a special cassettes.
  30. One of my all time favourite FSU cameras. Like them so much I have four. One with waist level finder, two M39 adapters and a few M39 FSU lenses.
  31. Thanks for commenting Curt. What other M39 lenses are you using? I am only familiar with the MIR-1 and Tair-11 which were made for the Zenit 3M.

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