Russian FED cameras have one of the most interesting origin stories in all camera history. For a start, they were named after one of the most evil men of the Leninist period of the early 1920s, Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, known as “Bloody Felix”. He was the founder of the Cheka, the sinister secret police organisation which was the forerunner of the KGB.
The establishment of the camera itself is a much more positive part of the story. Anton Makarenko, an enlightened and subsequently famous educator, was the head of a progressive labour commune for indigent children in the Ukraine. In 1932 he set up a workshop to help train them in technical skills and he came up with the idea of making copies of the German Leica camera that was then becoming popular.
In 1934 full production began, but Makarenko was sacked when the Cheka took over (and presumably named it after their former boss). One can imagine that Makarenko’s enlightened approach to education also finished at this time since the Russian secret service was one of the most sadistic organizations in history. Still, the FED brand lasted into in the mid-1990s, a very long innings for a camera brand. In that long period, over 8 million cameras were made.
The FED 2 series was manufactured between 1955 and 1970. The model you see above came out in 1959 and it’s very reminiscent of a Leica. However if you handle a FED and then a Leica you”ll quickly see the difference. The Leica is a precision optical instrument while the FED is a mass-produced 1950s Soviet camera. It’s Industar lens is very good and you can work happily with it, but when see the Leica going for $1000, then pay $60 for a FED as I did, you know where you really stand, income-wise.
Greg Neville, St Kilda cemetry, 2013