Raskolnikov: My new ФT-2 panoramic camera

I’ve wanted a decent panoramic camera for ages.  Unfortunately, my searches have only found cameras that were either too expensive (a “gently-used” 360°-panoramic Globuscope costs about $1,500), or were just a piece of unmitigated junk (yes, Lomography Sprocket Rocket with its worthless plastic “hipster” lens, I’m talking to you).  The few panoramic shots I’ve successfully achieved either came from sticking a 35mm strip of film into a larger-format camera, or stitching together digital photos with software.  That’s nice… but I need much better than that.

After much searching and contemplation, I finally found something that fit the bill.  And it became my self-gifted Christmas present for 2014.  And, Lord help me, for better or for worse, I’m going back to the world of Soviet-era cameras, those Russian-Ukrainian “commie” shooters with their bomb-site Industar glass and industrial “built like tractor, strong like bull” construction.

And with that in mind…

Krasnogorsk FT-2 panoramic camera.
Krasnogorsk ФT-2 panoramic camera.  Yes, I am a camera.  And yes, I smell like motor oil and spoiled borscht.

Say hello to the Krasnogorsk ФT-2 panoramic camera, a little device that takes 24mmx110mm images on 35mm film – essentially, combining three 35mm photos into one ultra-wide shot.  The ФT-2 (Фотоаппарат Токарева, or “Tokarev’s Camera”) may be the panoramic camera I need.  From what I understand (thank you, Wikipedia), the “Tokarev” referenced in the nickname of the camera was Fedor Tokarev, a high-ranking Soviet official who designed weapons and artillery.  And at some point in his life, time, he also created a Soviet version of the panoramic camera, which was manufactured for nearly a decade in the Soviet Union’s Krasnogorsk factory in Moscow (Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod, or KMZ).

KMZ manufactured cameras and photography equipment for both camera enthusiasts and for espionage; the company’s primary camera lines were the Zorki 4 rangefinder, the Zenit 12 35mm camera, the Krasnogorsk 3 16mm movie camera, the Krasnogorsk-21 spy camera, and the ФT-2 panoramic camera (they also made the Horizon and Horizont wide-angle cameras).  Even today, some countries (Ukraine, for example) ban the ownership of some Krasnogorsk cameras by private citizens, as those cameras are still classified as implements of war.  So if you’re in downtown Kiev and you have, for example, a Krasnogorsk-21 half-frame camera in your possession… off to the gulag for you.

Anyways…

There are several photographers that have achieved great success with this panoramic camera, including Jaroslav Poncar, Olaf Matthes, Sascha Loss and Detlef Hansen.  So I looked over their profiles… and their photos inspired me.  It gave me ideas and concepts and theories.  Oh hell, let’s call it as it is.  It gave me a photogasm.  Or… since this is a Commie camera, would it give me a Фotogasm?  😀

My new camera made it to the States last week, and just like every other Commie camera or lens I’ve ever owned, it arrived with that distinctive ex-Soviet camera smell of motor oil and spoiled borscht.

Despite all that, I treated this camera like any other decent Christmas present – I spent hours familiarizing myself with the camera and its inner workings.  I fiddled around with a series of toggle switches to change the ФT-2’s assortment of shutter speeds.  I practiced loading and assembling the camera’s proprietary film cartridges (I can use 35mm film in the camera, but I have to take it out of the standard cartridges and load it in the ФT-2’s film canisters). I also practiced threading the film through the camera’s curve-back interior.  Took some shots.  Checked the speeds.

Okay, practice is over.  Now it’s time for practical application.

I put a roll of Kodak 400 into the ФT-2.  In addition to making sure the camera itself works, this test roll will also determine if my camera has any unsettling light leaks.  Any tiny opening – from the shutter button to the bubble-spirit level, from the lens to the viewfinder, can cause streaks of light to fog and ruin my shots.  And if there are any light leaks, I will need my camera tech Allen at CameraWorks to go over this camera and plug up any and all light leaks.

Last Saturday, as part of my 12-13-14 photo shoot, I took this camera out for a run.  I had packed Kodak 400 in the camera’s proprietary canisters, using enough film that would normally constitute 24 shots in normal 35mm camera.  This would be an experiment in exposure, in consistency, and in functionality.

I walked to the Upper Reservoir.  Shoot.

Wide shot 2
Wide shot 2. Krasnogorsk ФT-2 camera, Kodak 400 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

A little high and not the greatest crop, but then again this is a camera that doesn’t have a true viewfinder, just a metal flip-up frame.  This will involve some practice on my part to get things right.  By the way… this is a SERIOUSLY WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDE photo.

And on the way back to my car, I tried a “lay on the ground and get the branches and snow” shot.

Tree horizon 2
Tree horizon 2. Krasnogorsk ФT-2 camera, Kodak 400 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Now the cool thing about this camera, especially when you shoot a vertical “portrait” shot, is that the swinglens can get an image that is curved enough so that you see the base of the tree as well as the underside of the banches.  And in this shot, you can see the branches of an adjoining tree.  Wow.  I can’t wait to try this when I have fall foliage in a forest.

Ooh, can I get that nice shot of a clearing in the distance while I’m at it?

Distance
Distance. Krasnogorsk ФT-2 camera, Kodak 400 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Oh yeah, that’s the picture on the right.  And yes, there’s still a picture on the left.  Man, I could have some fun with this – tall buildings, waterfalls, rock formations, ghost signs, very tall people…

Well, we can already determine a few things about this camera.  Some things good, some things need work.

When I can get this camera lined up properly, the pictures are absolutely stunning.  This is the ultra-wide camera I’ve wanted for the longest time.  And the swinging lens gives me some great effects, especially when I shoot vertically or into the sky.

Right now I can only shoot one roll of film in this camera.  But once I get those three additional proprietary cartridges, I can take this bad boy out for some serious shooting fun.  In other words, I am really jazzed about what this camera can do.

And this camera has earned an instant nickname – “Raskolnikov,” partially as a tribute to the tragic lead figure in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment; partially because that word is Boris Badenov’s favorite cursing expletive; and partially because I’m sick of looking for the HTML codes to type the Cyrillic ФT-2 into this blog.

But there are some drawbacks to this camera.  50-year-old shooters eventually develop light leaks and mechanical deficiencies.  And unfortunately, the ФT-2 has some mechanical issues.

Right off the bat, there’s a light leak in this camera.  Take a look, for example, at the picture below.

Wide shot 1
Wide shot 1, with red-splotch light leak and left-side “pinch.”  Krasnogorsk ФT-2 camera, Kodak 400 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

That splotch in the middle of the picture is a big fat red light leak caused by the reflections in the spirit level – the little glass bubble on top of the camera that helps me level the picture properly.   This must be fixed.  I can’t keep taking pictures and worrying that I’ll have to deal with a big red splotch that looks like I’ve photographed Mikhail Gorbachev’s head.

And if you look at the left edge of some of the horizontal pictures, there seems to be a slight fold or “pinch,” almost as if the swinglens had a slight hesitation of sorts.  This too must be fixed.  This stuff is not acceptable, especially when I’m trying to use this as a serious camera.  I’m not using this camera as some sort of hipster-lomographic “je suis artiste” shooter.

So before I take another photo with this camera…

Off it goes to CameraWorks in Latham.  My camera tech Allen will go over the Krasnogorsk and give it a complete CLA.  I told him to take his time with the camera and that I would pick it up when it was ready, even if it was after Christmas or New Year’s.

And that’s fine by me.  I think there are some great possibilities with the ФT-2 – er, Raskolnikov – that will help me in the future.

So let’s do this.  Because if I can get shots like the ones on this blog – even if they have big red splotches and light leaks…

Then I definitely have something worth considering.

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