Text: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Photographs: Valentín Sama

Published in FV Magazine nº 174, April 2003

IThe Iskra 1 camera, a refined ´folding´ for 6 x 6 cm format, featuring focusing by means
of coincidence rangefinder, probably epitomizes the technologically most advanced regarding
photographic cameras ever made in the USSR.

This extraordinary Russian folding 6 x 6 rangefinder medium format camera, fundamentally inspired on the formidable elite camera Agfa Super Isolette, made between 1954 and 1957 (known as Super Speedex in United States), owes its name to the underground newspaper founded by Lenin in 1900, whose letters in Cyrillic characters appear engraved in red colour and in a prominent size on the front of the camera, just on the block constituted by lens and bellows.

The ´Iskra´, dating back to 1960, is a folding camera for 6 x 6 format and 120 spool, equipped with a coupled rangefinder, not rectangular but square, working through the very accurate system of overlapping of two images in one.


The fabulous lens is the Industar-58 75 mm f/3.5 coated, a four elements Tessar design, central shutter and shutter speeds between 1 sec and 1/500+B, with flash synchronization at all speeds, an enormously useful feature for fill-in flash and creative and artistic effects with flash.

It´s an utterly mechanic camera, without a meter, displaying automatic film advance by means of a round knurled button.

Undoubtedly, one of the most outstanding features of the ´Iskra´ is its almost imperceptible noise on firing the shutter at any speed. It seems incredible that Russians, traditionally with far fewer means that Japanese and Germans, have been able to attain such a super loud noise on triggering the shutter, specially if we realize that the unutterable ´Iskra´ is a medium format camera, using 6 x 6 cm negative being a 400% larger than the widespread 24 x 36 mm.

In fact, regarding this aspect, it is only slightly inferior to the marvellous rangefinder Leicas M (including the current flagships Leica M6, Leica M7 and Leica MP) and the Konica Hexar RF.
Probably, the ´Iskra´ is the highest quality level camera (above all from an optical standpoint) ever made in USSR and used by great photographers as Galièna Loukianova, specialist on Russian rural nostalgia and R. Ostrovskaïa.
There is another version of the ´Iskra´, the ´Iskra 2´, identical to the standard model, but featuring an uncoupled selenium meter and the word Iskra engraved in red, with smaller letters, just on the right of the accessory shoe.

There was also even a subvariant of the ´Iskra 2´: the Iskra 2 ´Microscope´, in which the bellows was replaced by an adapter plate for the combined microscope viewfinder.

To sum up, the ´Iskra´ camera is the historic Jewel of the Crown of the KMZ factory at Krasnogorsk, in the suburbs of Moscow.


The body is entirely metal, made in aluminium.

It´s a rangefinder camera featuring a very light weight and a great ability for hand and wrist shots without a tripod at slow shutter speeds, due to the lack of a tilting mirror and pentaprism.

Its relevant portability and convenience of transport becomes rather enhanced by the fact that both the lens and the bellows are retractable, noticeably folding towards the inner camera body and lens remaining kept enough by the metal protective plate with latch.

The minimum focusing distance is 1 m and the manual focus is made by rotating towards the left or towards the right a grooved silver focusing ring (1 mm in front of the metal ring in contact with the bellows) that allows the symbiosis between the coincidence rangefinder and the viewfinder, attaining a very precise focusing when you achieve to merge in one the two initial images appearing in the viewfinder.

The image quality is excellent at all the distances.
The grooved wheel (that we must slide on the right or on the left until achieving the overlapping of the two images in one to get an exact focusing) makes all the block shutter/lens move forwards or backwards.         Therefore, the ´Iskra´ obtains a great quality and resolution from 1 m to infinity, something which is enhanced by a very beautiful contrast and high sharpness, according to the best tradition of historical lenses as the four elements Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50 mm f/2.8 of the Werra camera, together with a superb bokeh clearly beating the one boasted by many very expensive modern high end SLR cameras.

So, in this respect the improvement is patent regarding classic folding cameras as the Zeiss Super Ikonta IV, whose focusing is made moving only the front element of the lens, leaving both the shutter and the rest of elements still.

The image quality is excellent at all distances.

The logo, engraved on top of the back, shows us the scheme of an optical prism influencing the trajectory of a light beam.

Original hidden system to interconnect both the adjustment ring of exposures times and the one with the f stops: lifting slightly the latter, we can choose them at will.

The Tessar design Industar-58 75 mm f/3.5 lens, is made with the best optical glasses available at that time.

A refined helicoid system to free the anchorage of the film spool. We have never seen anything better in a camera for 120 medium format rolls.

The beauty of lines of the Iskra is very spectacular, even with the Industar-58 75 mm f/3.5 folded over.

Aerial view of the Iskra, closed, in transport position. The aluminum body of this wonderful Russian coupled rangefinder medium format camera would deserve a high mark from the most strict current design jury.


An unusual innovation is the very practical interconnection between the rings of shutter speeds and f stops, allowing to maintain an initial exposition, modifying speeds and f stops.
After the manual advance to the next frame using the round knurled button of the right top side, it is necessary before each shot to manually cock the shutter lever, located immediately behind the shutter speeds ring.

The fact of being bound to cock the shutter speed lever of the five blades FXCh-18 shutter of the ´Iskra´ (a gorgeous copy of the mythical shutter Synchro Compur RMX/RMXV of the Solinar 75 mm f/3.5 lens of the Agfa Super Isolette) is a currently almost non-existing feature, with the exception of the Hasselblad Arcbody, in which before every shot you must cock the shutter with the help of its lever placed just before the diaphragms ring of its RODENSTOCK Apo-Grandagon 45 mm f/4.5 lens and the same applies to the other two available lenses.

After the manual advance to the following frame by means of the metal knurled wheel on top right, before the shot is necessary to cock manually the shutter lever, located immediately behind the ring of shutter times .

Once put the correct exposure, if you change the f number, the shutter time will automatically change, keeping always an identical exposure value, though the apertures and shutter times can be different (for instance: 8/30, 5.6/60, etc).

This interesting interesting enough matching of f stop and shutter speed is a very relevant and useful feature, shared by the Hassies with central shutter CF series Carl Zeiss lenses, which speaks very favourably on the ´Iskra´ quality.

So as to be able to change f number, you must softly pull the diaphragm ring about two milimiters outward. In the beginning, it takes a bit to get the hang of it, but it enables us to keep a constant exposure with different apertures and shutter times, along with various depths of fields.

Another interesting aspect of the Iskra is the fact that the advance and rewind mechanism doesn´t work without a film inside the camera. This system avoids casual exposures.


The viewfinder is another very important aspect in the Iskra, because it uses a very similar system to the one incorporated in 1956 to the 35 mm Russian camera Zorki-4, with its binomial rangefinder/viewfinder and bluish tinge, albeit in Zorki-4 the rangefinder patch was the traditional rectangle while in the ´Iskra´ it is a slightly greenish tonality square.

It´s a viewfinder featuring great transparency, sharpness and trifling distorsion.

The mentioned rangefinder patch is coupled to the retractable lens by means of an ingenious system.

Just as in Zorki-4, the ´Iskra´ viewfinder lacks framelines, though it is better delimited.


Another interesting aspect of the ´Iskra´ is the fact that the advance and rewind mechanism doesn´t work without a film inside the camera, and neither can the shutter be released. This system avoids accidental multiple exposures, although there have been frequent cases in which photography enthusiasts buyers of Iskras unaware of it, firstly thought that the camera had to be sent for repairing, before noticing that problems ended after introducing the medium format 120 roll.

The ´Iskra´ has a film advance system that blocks the spool reel of 6 x 6 cm roll on reaching the next frame, warning us that when we feel that resistance we must stop spinning round the knurled button and cock the shutter before triggering the shutter release.

Likewise, it has an automatic exposure counter, whilst Moskvas had the old red window system, that left in the hands of the photographer both the initiative and the advance of each frame.

The Iskra is one of the most up-to-date and advanced folding rangefinder cameras ever made, though a little percentage of them can have problems to evenly space the negatives, as also with the exposure counting functioning.

Moreover, the Iskra has a sophisticated transport mechanism that feels the end of the guide paper just before commencing the very 120 film and automatically begins counting the frames. It´s a system akin to the ´autofilm start ID´ of the Agfa Super Isolette, with which the photographer hasn´t to line up the arrows on introducing the 120 film spool, being the very camera that spots the film beginning, a feature perhaps only found in Rolleis.

The knurled big round button on the right on top of the camera body, shows an engraved red colour arrow, whose sharp end indicates the direction in which you must turn it around until getting each frame advance..
The removal system of the back of the camera body is very easy and convenient. You must only press the silver medal rim situated in the lower left part of the body camera back.

Another significant aspect in this camera are the two very hard metal neckstrap lugs, a sadly negligent aspect in a lot of modern autofocus cameras made in plastic or polycarbonates.

A small window (located between the shutter release button and the big round knurled button for film advance) points us out the frame number.

View from below of the Iskra.

Separated by the aggressively beautiful logotype ´Iskra´, the viewfinder and rangefinder windows boast a good physical base, which brings about a more than enough effective rangefinder base.

The inside of the Iskra, beautiful and painstakingly mechanized, reveals a number of details regarding the very thorough design and production. The accuracy of the focal plane and the flatness of the film were clearly top priority for their creators.

Closed, the Iskra proves to be extremely compact for its 6 x 6 cm frame format. In that position, both the frame counter and the
reminder of the type of film loaded show us the state of the camera without the need to open it.


On the upper left side of the camera, we have another metal knurled button (of smaller diameter and thickness than the one existing on the right of the shutter release button). By means of it we choose the GOST (Russian terminology for film sensitivity, roughly equivalent to internationally widespread ISO), with the options 32, 45, 65, 90, 139 and 180, albeit in practice it dawns no you that it isn´t worth, cause on being a 100% mechanical camera without any meter, since in order to calculate the correct exposure, we´ll have to use three basic methods:

A hand meter.

Guessing adjustment of exposure through estimation, according to our experience and knowledge.
Previous metering by means of a 35 mm camera reflex sporting built-in TTL metering, whose exposure data (shutter time and diaphragm) will be manually transferred to the Iskra.

Unlike the vast majority of current cameras, both in 35 mm and medium format, the accessory hotshoe located on the central top area of the camera body (just on the word ISKRA engraved in Cyrillic characters) it doesn´t work as a hotshoe for dedicated flash either (as a matter of fact, if we insert the flash, cock the shutter with its lever and press the shutter release button to shoot, the flash won´t activate and will not emit any light beam).


To make flash photography with Iskra, we´re bound to insert it on the quoted accessory hotshoe, by means of the suitable standard base with a synchronization cable, whose end must be introduced into the little golden tube for synchro flash connection, located on the very lens, around two centimetres on the right of the shutter lever.

The Iskra is also provided with a self-timer and you can get twelve 6 x 6 cm format photographies with a 120 roll. 220 rolls can´t be used.


Closed for transport (thanks above all to the excellent stainless steel bands in the mobile components it holds inside), the Iskra is more compact than many professional 35 mm cameras, its measures being:
        Height: 107 mm
        Width: 154 mm
        Thickness: 45 mm in the central area (including the metal
        protective cover for the lens) and 33 mm in both sides.
        It has got a weight of 775 g.
        A total of 38,722 units were made between 1960 and 1963.


In some Iskras, the automatic film advance system doesn´t work and they have ´red windows´ added, because the advance doesn´t operate properly.

In a little percentage of Iskra samples, above all due to an extensive use during decades, the grooved metal focusing wheel is a bit rigid, the rangefinder a bit misaligned and the distances varies slightly from one side to the other of the square patch of the rangefinder (the most typical thing is that when the two images overlap in the middle of the quoted square area, the sides of it appear a little out of focus), so more care has to be taken in the short distances and in these cases you should by all means focus with the middle area of the rangefinder square patch.

However, they are a few cases, logical in a 40 years old camera, and usually reparable, apart from the fact that the effective base of the Iskra rangefinder was increased with regard to the Agfa Super Isolette, in such a way that the accuracy and focusing quickness of the Russian camera are better.

On the left of the shutter release (sporting a hole on top of it for a triggering cable) you find the small button to release the block bellows/lens.

It is true that the circular window of the rangefinder viewfinder (on the left of the back of the body) is very small, but it´s enough and reduces drastically the risk of scratches and dust.

From the photographer´s viewpoint, everything was accessible, including the most important adjustments on the lens barrel.

Very nice complete set of Iskra rangefinder medium format camera, with its wonderful product box in the background, instructions manual and leather case.


The Iskras were made in USSR as heirs of the Moskvas cameras, a vast range of copies of the Zeiss Ikonta (retractable folding medium format cameras, some of them with a rangefinder and others without it), whose production came into being in 1947.

But when Moskva-5, the last of the series, was discontinued in 1961, it was obsolete. In that period, professional photographers used 35 mm cameras as Leicas M3 or Nikons F, and not cumbersome, big and heavy medium format folding cameras with small viewfinders and odd rangefinder coupling devices.

Because of it, KMZ engineers created the Iskra in 6 x 6 cm square format (Moskvas were 6 x 9 models), much more easily handled and portable and with a lens of superior quality.

Besides, the introduction in the ´Iskra´ of the previously quoted FXCh-18 shutter, boasting outstanding accuracy and reliability, entailed an important breakthrough.

Not in vain, the Russians had already a vast and long expertise, knowledge and craftsmanship in mass production of very good quality shutters for medium format cameras, mainly due to the fact that with great practical sense and professionalism, they knew to accept from the beginning the German superiority in photographic camera bodies, lenses and shutters.

This way, in 1946, just after the end of the Second World War, when KMZ factory in Moscow couldn´t make all the parts for a camera, they used the thousands of Zeiss-Ikon units captured in Germany as a booty and they did consent being advised by a number of knowledgeable and deft German technicians and opticians, undoubtedly the greatest worldly pundits in the subject, chosen for that purpose.

So, within a short time, the USSR could make the Moskva-1 6 x 9 cm format (1946-1949) (with components from the Ikonta 6 x 9, Zeiss tooling, folding Newton viewfinder and original German Compur shutter at the beginning and a very good Russian copy afterwards) and the Moskva-2 (1947-1956) equipped with a coupled rangefinder (featured with a folding Newton viewfinder, parts of the Super Ikonta 6 x 9, Zeiss tooling and Compur shutter and much more frequently Moment-1).

That´s why the Iskra FXCh-18 shutter, silent as few and born in 1960, was a great achievement and the digest of nearly two decades of endeavours and own designs, evolutioned from top-notch original German concepts, both mechanical and optical, with which before the appearance of the Iskra, the Russians had already a reputable prestige in the making of superb shutters for medium Moskva-3 (1950-1951), the Moment-23S of the Moskva-4 (1956-1958), the 24S of the Moskva-5 1956-1960, the ZT 13 central shutter of the Estafeta-Gomz (1957-1958), the ZT 14 of the Vympel ´Ensign´ (1958-59), the ZT-5 of the Lubitels 1 and 2, the ZT-11 of the Neva (1956-58), and so forth.

Furthermore, it must be underlined that the FXCh shutter can practically compete on a par with both the Compur Rapid and Synchro Compur fetured by the pretigious uncoupled rangefinder folding medium format cameras Agfas Isolettes III (getting ahead of them in terms of shutter triggering smoothness and super low noise on shooting) and it´s far superior in quality and reliability to the Prontor-SVS worn by many celebrated rangefinder folding cameras.

And the same happens from an optical viewpoint. The Industar-58 75 mm f/3.5 lens of Iskra is even slightly superior in quality to the Solinar 75 mm f/3.5 lens of the Agfa Isolette III, with an even bigger difference if the comparison is made taking as a reference the three element Apotar lens which was available as a second lens choice for the Agfa Isolette III.

The high production cost and the massive spreading of 35 mm cameras were the main reasons for the discontinuity of Iskras, genuine elite Russian cameras, with an optical-mechanical quality standard very superior to the customary photographic materiel both in medium format and 24 x 36.
The Iskra was the last KMZ mass produced medium format camera, before the subsequent prototypes Reporter (1960-61), Zenit-70 (1970), Horizon-205 pc (1994), etc.

It´s a very reliable and sturdy camera in line with the traditional Russian axiom of manufacturing photographic cameras in the T-34 tank way as a raison d´être and the image quality achieved with it is superior to that one obtained with other Russian medium format cameras both rangefinder (all the range of Moskvas, Vympel-Estafeta, Vympel, Estafeta-Gomz ´Courier´, etc), TLR (Komsomolets 1946-1950), Lubitel (1949-1956), Lubitel 2 (1955-1980), Neva (1956-1958), Lubitel 166 (1976-1986), Rassvet (1960), etc) and reflex (the Saliut (1957-72), Saliut-S (1972-1980), Kiev 6-C (1971-1980), Kiev-6C TTL (1980-1986), Kiev-60 TTL (1984-1992), Kiev-80 (1975-1980), Kiev-88 TTL (1980-1990), Kiev-90 (1987-1990), etc), above all in big enlargements from 30 x 40 cm upwards.

Everything seems to indicate, including the deepest research in nineties, that due to prestige reasons, the Russians used the last hidden batch of the magnificent Carl Zeiss Jena glass taken to the Germans as a booty after the Second World War, to make the superb Industar-58 75 mm f/3.5 lens (a four elements Tessar design of 1900 by the famous German optician Paul Rudolph from Zeiss firm) of the Iskra, also superior in resolution and sharpness to the classic Pentacon 6 x 6 and many traditional and modern medium format cameras.

In order to actually realize the optical quality of this lens, we should highlight the synchronic piece of information that also in 1960, the Russians incorporated the Industar-58 75 mm f/3.5 in the semiautomatic TLR ´Rassvet´, with mat lens focusing screen of Fresnel and automatic parallax correction, another of the few elite Russian cameras, with which the Krasnogorsky Mechanical Zavod in Moscow tried to achieve the mass production of a TLR of outstanding quality level, in agreement with the technical and liability standards of the twin lens reflex models of Mamiya, Rollei, etc, albeit very few units were made and they had to drop the production because of the high production cost (about 180 rubles, approximately the salary of a Russian worker in that period) and the impossibility to get an important figure of anticipated sales so as to guarantee the amortization.

© Copyright José Manuel Serrano Esparza