A Brief History of Soviet Cine Cameras

A Brief History of Soviet Cine Cameras

Anders is a busy guy. Filmmaker, camera modification specialist and all around expert on the cameras we know and love. He originally penned this missive for the Topica discussion group; It is presented here with his blessing. I have not rewritten a word of his messge, so there may be cryptic references to things not clarified. My suggestion to the curious is to read the entire thread [in the konvas archives].
-- Patrick Steele

OK, just to sort things out since people seem to be wondering (and I myself had in haste given wrong information earlier - of course the lend lease Mitchells were NC's, for example, and these cameras didn't actually start to inspire Soviet camera engineers until the 50's, see below...).

To try to end (?) the confusion about early Soviet film cameras, the first blimped sync sound camera was manufactured in 1936 at Lenkinap, and had the very romantic name KS-2 (Which is an abbreviation for Kino Syeomochnyj (apparat) # 2, or Kamera Syomochnaya #2 (I can never figure out exactly which), either of which in rough translation simply means Film Camera # 2.) Of this camera I know very little, unfortunately.

The first Konvas was the Konvas-1, made in 1939, which looked nothing like the Konvases we know (I have a drawing of it somewhere if anyone's interested).

The 30's saw a few more camera designs; of note are the Three strip colour cameras TsKS-1 (1937) and TsKS-2 (1941), Where the Ts stands for Tsvetnaya which means colour, and the rest you know by now. I suppose Arriflex BL II isn't such a romantic name either...

Also the precision cameras PSK-1 (1939) and PSK-2 (Where, yes, the P stands for Presitsionnaya / Precision), of which I almost owned a later Model PSK-21 (modernized), but in the end decided I didn't really need it. These were actually in BNCR mount (at least "mine" was), and had a very very different pulldown mechanism (similar, I assume, to an optical printer).

In 1946 comes the Moskva, models KS-31, KS31-M, KS-32 and KS-32M. It is manufactured until 1960, and is probably the sync camera I know the least about, don't actually know what happened to them, but I've never seen one.

In 1957 MKBK designs (well, it's a Mitchell BNC clone) the SK-1 (which I think should be read as Sinchronnaya Kamera-1, that is Synchronised Camera #1, although I could be wrong), which is produced between 1958 and 1965. The clever hloptsi at Dovzhenko studios in Ukraine made a "lightweight" (30 kg) version of this camera called the Mini-SK in 1973, and the equally clever muzhiki at Lenfilm made the "Baltika-T", which is essentially the same thing, but with a video assist. To outdo their Lenfilm comrades the Dovzhenko technicians make the "Slavutich" (based on their own "Mini-SK"), which had a (no doubt huge) video assist, built in light meter, a system for remote follow focus and iris control, and even some sort of very early Aatoncode (that I doubt worked all that well). The 'Slavutich' system consisted of a set of 2 or three cameras and was designed for outdoor telefilm production.

The Mitchell inspiration continues in 1958 when the US-1 "Ukraina" in made at the Dovzhenko film studios. Very few US-1 were made (maybe no more than 3 or so), and then MKBK, Moskinap and NIKFI made "changes and development necessary for mass production" - my theory is that this could be a euphemism for the US-1 being a modified Mitchell BNC (meaning modified to incorporate a reflex viewfinder), although I'm not sure. Anyway, in 1960 the US-2 "Druzhba" sees the light of day (the first major production run is in 1961), followed by the modernised US-2M (where the M stands for - yes, you've guessed it). US-3 "Soyuz" ("Union") is designed in 1972 but starts leaving the factory in any numbers only in 1975. I double checked, and it did in fact won the Gold Medal for camera design at "Interkamera-75". Based on this camera a 35mm / TV studio system is made called the 3KSSU. And a modified version of the US-3 called the US-3N (where the N stands for Naturnaya, or "Location", since it *only* weighed 35 kgs without its blimp (as opposed to 75 kgs with the blimp) is made in 1978. I own one of these (mint, complete set with a blimp), but I wouldn't really want to drag it anywhere on location...

The 3KSS & 3KSSM "Mir" ("World" / "Peace")is made between 1962-1974, and is a modernization of the 1959 2KSS. This camera was the first Soviet camera to have separate independent motors for the magazines, built in "clapper board" with scene numbering and a few other things, and as Leo noted it is more or less a hybrid of the BNCR and an Eclair studio camera.

The Kinor 35S 5KSN is developed in 1982 (incidentally 2 years after the Olympic Games in 1980, to which some of the first Moviecams were imported...), and sees the studio lights in 1985, but now we're going beyond the subject of early Soviet cameras.

The first reflex Soviet mirror reflex shutter camera was in fact the "Rodina", or rather it's forerunner the 1KSCh (1KCX), where the Ch (which is like the ch in German "ach"), stands for Chronikalnaya, which (roughly) means Newsreel. This camera was developed in 1950, and released in 1952. It was soon replaced by the 3KSCh and 3KSCh-M, which is the camera we know as "Rodina" ("Motherland"). It is as Leo points out inexplicably similar to the Debrie Parvo...

In 1958 the MKBK does a small production run of the 4KSCh (4KCX), which I think is a further development of the Rodina / Parvo concept, but I'm not sure as I've actually never seen one. It's a kilo heavier than the "Rodina", which is about all I know about it. The long row of cameras that will end up with the beloved Kinor 35H (9KSN) starts with MKBK's 1KSN, which is designed in 1958, and sees a small production run in 1960.

The "Era" is designed in 1961 and produced between 1964 and 1977, in two models, the 1KOS (40dB) and the improved 2KOS (36dB), which allowed for recording of an optical sound track inside the camera onto the negative... This camera should probably be called the first self-blimped Soviet film camera, as it weighs 25 kgs and is reasonably quiet (enough for outdoor documentaries, which was what it was made for).

As far as hand held MOS cameras go, there was (besides the military AKS cameras, Eyemo and Arri copies respectively) the 1945 KS-50B made by KMZ (Krasnogorsky Mekhanicheskii Zavod outside Moscow), of which I know very little, although I have the feeling it was an improved version of the Eyemo.

In 1952 the Konvas Automat is designed, and is produced from 1952 to 1993 (probably making it the longest production run of a single film camera model, or am I wrong again, Jeff? What about the Arri II?). Models 1KSR, 1-KSR-1M and 1KSR-2M. There was a very short production run of a1KSR-4M and a 1KSR-4ME model that featured a slightly different movement and mag shaft, the latter also having a stabilization pin, but there was then a reversion back to basics with the 1KSR-7M and 8M, which differ from the 1M and 2M in virtually no way at all.

In 1957 the ARK is made by MKBK, but probably not more than as a few prototypes, as it never really caught on.

The 5KSR "Sputnik" is produced between 1962 and 1968, is slightly less noisy (52dB) than the Konvas and has a rather clever (for its time) system for focus and iris control.

The experimental 1KR-M (7.3kg, 40dB) is made in 1976, and in 1986 a limited production run of the 3KSR-2M (7 kg, 45dB) is released. Called the Kinor 35R, I'd label it a 'Konvas for the Kinor generation'. It is in many ways a cross between a Konvas and a Kinor, with 2 pulldown claws and a stabilization pin, Konvas type 60 & 150m mags & Kinor 35S type viewfinder system, double bladed mirror reflex shutter, internal motor. It did have some problems however and never went beyond its initial production run. But once again I'm digressing into modern cameras'

As far as specialized and high speed cameras go, GOMZ made a number of Precision cameras between 1946 and 1960, the PSK-21, PSK-24, PSK-29 and PSK-30 respectively. The Mitchell High Speed clones (and improvements) 1 KSK, 2KSK and 2KSK-M were made from 1959 until the 80's.

SKL Temp 35mm Motion Picture Camera
SKL Temp 35mm Motion Picture Camera
The 'Temp' 1SKL & 1SKL-M was produced form 1975 until the late 80's.

Animation cameras were also made from 1961 on, namely the 1KSM (the M here is not for 'Modernized' but for 'Multyplikacionnyj' = 'Animation'), 3 KSM & 5 KSM.

There was a special 'Kinescope' (high res TV screen) camera called the 'Mig' 35 KST, made in limited numbers in 1967.

A Cinerama type camera called the PSO was produced in 1961, and while we’re on the subject of widescreen I’ll finish this little museum trip with all the Soviet 70mm cameras produced:

The 70SK came in 1961 – very similar to a Mitchell, without a reflex mirror shutter, a later modernized version did have a reflex mirror shutter.

1967, The ”Rossia” 1SShS

1962-1980’s, the 1KSShR, 1KSShRU (8kg, basically a 70mm Konvas)

1973, the ”Beryozka” 1SShN (sort of semi self blimped, 26Kg)

1962-1971, the 70 KSK, a high speed camera (up to 90 fps).

1964, the ”Maska-70”, 1KFSh, a camera working according to a ”covering mask” system, for animation.

Between 1965 and 1974 a number of 70mm stereo (3D) cameras were made, most (if not all) have been modernized and are used by Stereokino,(i e they will never be available for sale so don’t even ask me).

That’s about it, although I’m sure I’ve left out a lot (like 16mm cameras for example, but I don’t have the energy and time to get into that right now).