1956: The Leningrad

The Leningrad, an unusual clockwork motor drive camera from Russia.

View from the top, showing the motor winding knob on the right.

The Leningrad was made by the GOMZ factory, based in the city from which the camera took its name. It’s big and it’s sturdy, measuring 14.5x9x7cm and weighing in at 900 grams. The camera came about from a desire by the Russians to show they could do as well as – perhaps even better than – German cameras of the time which were more often copied by Russian manufacturers. As such, it was a true, one-off design, albeit one whose body showed a certain influence from the Contax II and a screw lens mount that it shared with Leica. 

 

The basic specification is what might be expected from a 35mm camera of the day plus a bit more on top: shutter speeds of 1-1/1,000sec; standard 50mm Jupiter-8 lens interchangeable with a vast range of other lenses, both Russian and German; indicating frames in the viewfinder for 50mm, 85mm and 135mm focal lengths; and an unusual coupled rangefinder that uses prisms in place of the usual beam splitters to show an extra bight combined image in the viewfinder as an aid to focusing.

 

What sets the Leningrad apart from its contemporaries is a built-in clockwork motor drive. Turning a large knob on the top plate where you would normally expect to find the film wind knob, winds the motor and thereafter the film automatically advances one frame at a time as each exposure is made. It shoots about 20 exposures to each wind.

 

In 1967 a modified version was used in the Russian space programme, where the advantage of not having to manually wind the film proved useful for cosmonauts in space suits wearing clumsy, over-size gloves.

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