1931 Fotokor 1 (USSR)

Like the Ihagee Fotoklapp, the Fotokor is a folding view-camera. It’s actually slightly newer than the Ihagee, hailing from 1931 – the year of Stalin’s first Five Year Plan. The camera is a bit more primitive than the Ihagee and noticeably not as well made. It is a product of the VOOMP factory in Leningrad that would later be renamed to GOMZ and later still to LOMO – legendary manufacturers of the Lubitel TLR and various lo-fi hipsterography favourites. VOOMP stands for Union of Optical-Mechanical Factories (Всесоюзное объединение оптико-механической промышленности in Russian). It’s a metal-bodied camera with a leather bellows just like the Ihagee. It has a 135mm, f/4.5 lens which is also by VOOMP and a shutter by AGC of Germany that goes from 1/100th to 1/2 a second with B and T settings too. The difference between B and T is that B (or Bulb) holds the shutter open for as long as the shutter released is pressed. As soon as you let go, the shutter closes. T (for Time, sometimes marked as Z for Zeit on some German cameras) on the other hand, opens the shutter until you press the shutter release again. It’s good for holding the shutter open while focussing and for very long exposures.

Mine isn’t in the best condition cosmetically. The leather covering is worn at the edges and the case that it came in is very rough. Despite that, the camera is light-tight and functional and all the metal fittings are bright and corrosion free. I have some film cassettes for it and I’m itching for access to a darkroom so I can try it out.

Using a view camera is something of a process. First of all, you need to fill the cartridge with sheet film – this one takes 9×12 cm sheets. You can also use glass or tin plates if you are in to alternative processes such as cyanotype or daguerrotype photography. Each cartridge can only hold one sheet of film and you can’t refill it without access to a darkroom so, the number of cartridges you have is a practical limit to the number of photos you can take per session. You’re going to want to put this puppy on a tripod because focussing and taking the photo takes a long time and that slow shutter is not conducive to hand-held shooting. You’ll compose the scene and focus with the shutter open and by way of a removable ground glass back and a dark hood. Even in bright light, the image on the glass is quite hard to see so focussing accurately is mostly a matter of luck. There’s a focussing guide on the rail which marks the current focal distance in metres but I’d be reluctant to trust it. The front standard moves back and forward to focus, it also has vertical and horizontal movements for small adjustments to the composition. Once you’ve focussed, you remove the glass back, replace it with a film cartridge and close the shutter. Set your shutter speed (which is probably going to be a bulb exposure as the fastest film you’re likely to have is 100 and glass plates have an effective ISO of around 3), remove the darkslide from the cartridge and then take the shot. Replace the darkslide, remove the cartridge and you’re ready for the next shot.

Just like the Ihagee again, composing the scene without the glass back is done via a fold-out wire viewfinder or a top-mounted magnifying lens and mirror on the front standard.