Introduced in 1975, the FED 5B (strictly speaking a FED 5V because the “В” on the name plate is actually a Cyrillic alphabet in which the Latin equivalent is “V”) is an interchangeable lens rangefinder camera utilizing the Leica screw mount (also called the LTM or M39 mount). It is one of the last members in the Russian FED rangefinder family, which itself belongs to a even larger group of so-called Russian Leica-Copies. The very first FEDs were manufactured in a workshop openned for destitute children by Russian/Soviet educator Anton Makarenko in 1932. During its mass production period from 1934-1990s, the FEDs went through five generations of major model change with each later generation resembles less and less to a screw mount Leica.
Although it does not have an internal meter (like its siblings, the original 5 and 5C, do), the FED 5B is fully manual and fully mechanical, just like any other member in the FED family. It has a rubberized cloth shutter with speeds range from 1/500 to 1 seconds plus B. The 1/30 seconds is dedicated to flash synchronization. Its operating mechanism is distinct from the other speeds and thus is placed separately on the shutter dial from the rest too. Operating the shutter on the FED 5B, like many other Russian rangefinders, requires the user to follow some “rules”. First of all, the shutter speed can only be set AFTER the shutter is cocked (i.e. after the film is winded). Secondly, the shutter dial (see photo below) can only be turned in the manner of “1, 1/2, … , 1/500, B, 1/30” (clockwise) or “1/30, B, 1/500, … , 1/2, 1” (counter-clockwise). This means you CANNOT go counter-clockwise from 1 to 1/30 seconds nor clockwise from 1/30 to 1 seconds. If the above is not being followed, the shutter could be critically damaged.
Other than the “strange” procedures above, handling the rest of the camera is pretty much the same as any other rangefinder. As shown in the photo above, the frame counter is integrated into the winding lever which is why there is “big” circular housing on it. The “inner circle” dial on it is simply a reminder of what kind of film has been loaded. The light bulb, the sun and the circle with a dot represent tungsten-balanced, daylight-balanced and black-and-white (not sure about this one, any clarification will be appreciated) respectively. On the left side of the camera is the usual rewind lever. There is a film speed reminder dial placed around it. However, the scale is not in ASA/ISO nor DIN but in GOST (written as Cyrillic alphabets ГOCT as shown in photo below). The GOST scale was an Soviet standard used between 1951 to 1987. I believe there should be conversion tables online but since the FED 5B does not have an internal meter, I never brother to look for one. I simply used a light-meter app on my smartphone during its test-run.
Below the rewind lever is the viewfinder eyepiece which can be turned to adjust diopter. While most people would welcome more metal parts in a camera for durability, this is the one part of the camera that should not be made in metal but soft rubber instead. The reason is simple: it scratches the lens of eye glasses and I am one of its victims! There is another control of the camera which is worth mentioned: the self-timer is initiated with the small button above the timing lever on the right of the lens. The “rules” on operating (and protecting) the shutter mentioned previously should also be observed in the same manner when using the self-timer. Since this is screw mount camera, there is no lens release button on the body. To remove the lens, the user simply “unscrew” it from the body. Removing the lens will also expose the body-lens rangefinder link at the upper rim of the mount (see photo below).
The photo above also shows two knobs (one on each side) with pull-out levers on the bottom plate. These are used to remove the back of the camera for film loading/unloading. The process is similar to the Rollei 35. However, the rewind lock-release is located as an concentric collar to the shutter button. Before it is pushed down for unlock, the user MUST first fire the shutter. This is another “strange” procedure that need to be followed in order to avoid damage to the shutter.
The standard lens for the FED 5B is an Industar 55mm f2.8 code named N-61 L/D. It is a traditional 4 elements/3 groups Tessar-type design with the use rare earth element Lanthanum to enhance the optical quality (hence the code L/D). The lens, while no match with a modern Leica 50mm f2.8, is only 1/50 of the price. Given that, it should be an affordable and fun lens to experiment with on a modern mirrorless interchangeable-lens digital camera. Optically, while some claim that it performs similarly with an old Leitz 50mm f3.5 from the 1920’s, the N-61 L/D only has a 6-blades aperture instead of 10. It is also not collapsible and offers only full-stop clicks on the aperture ring. Anyway, how about some sample photos? Below are both shot with the FED 5B and N-61 L/D using Kodak Profoto XL color negative (ISO 100).
My FED 5B – Failed Shutter Repair
The FED 5B above was bought at a very low price (only $25CAD, normally the lens aloone would cost about $30) with like-new cosmetic condition. However, for a Russian camera, this usually means either the camera is also like-new functionally or it has been defective at the beginning. For this particular FED, it is the former case but unfortunately, the rubber on the cloth shutter has been partially deteriorated due to age and also possibly the use of low-quality raw materials. I tried to patch it up first with liquid electrical tape (which peeled off after several shutter runs) and finally a thin piece of black tape (as shown in the photo below). Possibly due the fiction created by the surface of the tape, not every run of the shutter results in the whole frame being exposed. Thus, half of the test roll has either blank frames or partial images. Still, for $25CAD, it is still a risk worth taking and hopefully in the future, there would be some use for the lens which itself is in pretty good condition.