Start SLR 35mm Camera - Helios-44 f2 58mm Lens - 1958 to 64 - 76.5K Manufactured

Stephen Rothery Photographer

To Navigate website click on the images above, the main text and information  are shown below.
US Army Truck Woolpit Steam 2007

The five photographs shown with this text were taken with my Start SLR camera  in June at Woolpit Steam 2007. The film used was an out of date colour Agfa 200 developed and scanned onto CD by ASDA Supermarket. The post processing and conversion to black and white was achieved in Mepis Linux using KDE ShowFoto editing software. I used in most cases the green filter option, the brown tone option, also the curves  and contrast was tweaked slightly.  For more of my Start photographs including some in colour, please click on the thumbnail images above.  

I decided to pick the Start camera for a web page creation project as there is very little information about it on the internet and hardly any mention made in the mainstream English language photography books and magazines.  For those who do not know me,  I am apparently an avid yet skinflintish camera collector who has a penchant for Eastern European cameras.  My main interest is in collecting and using rangefinder cameras from the golden era of photography which is roughly from the mid 1930's to the early 1960's.   Interestingly as an inspiration to other would be webpage creators, I have used free software in this project.  These include:    NVU HTML    Digikam    KDE ShowFoto Guide    GIMP    JAlbum   &  MEPIS LinuxThe Gimp and DigiKam ShowFoto if used in combination are  the equal to anything you can get in MS Windows and Apple Mac.  The black and white tools in ShowFoto are the best I have ever used.  You will need to use Gimp clone tool to remove any scratches or dust from scanned negatives everything else should be possible in ShowFoto.

French Tractor Woolpit Steam 2007

The Start SLR camera was manufactured in the early 1960's and was very similar in design to the Exakta.  It was manufactured between 1958 and 1964 at the KMZ factory, Krasnogorsk Moscow.  This factory is better known for  the Zorki rangefinder and Zenit SLR cameras. As opposed to the more mundane  Zenit  SLR, the Start was aimed at the Soviet professional market. It had a few features not available at the time in any other Russian SLR:

  1. Interchangeable eye level pentaprism viewfinder or waist level  viewfinder. This was  quite a common  practice on cameras of the period.   The factory fitted pentaprism was easily changed by sliding out and replacing with a separately available  waist-level finder. On the back of the camera adjacent to the viewfinder is a locking button device. The waist level finder is quite small, with a small magnifying glass for critical focusing.  

  2. Split focusing using a fresnel ground glass screen with accessibility  from the top for cleaning. It looks as if it may also be interchangeable, although I'm not aware of any replacements being available.

  3. Shutter speeds  from one second  to a 1/1000 second.  The shutter mechanism appears to originate from the FED linage of cameras and not KMZ. This is a Leica type shutter consisting of a rubberized cloth slit shutter. The slit is variable in size, set via shutter dial on top of camera. WARNING - do not set the shutter  speed until the shutter is cocked.

  4. Shutter Release is located on the front of the camera and not on the top. It is pressed with the right  forefinger and forms part of the lens assembly.  This is quite similar in layout to the Exakta, Praktina and Praktica cameras of the period. 

  5.  Automatic lens diaphragm, closed down by an external plunger which also doubles as the shutter release forming part of the lens assembly. This is  very much like those found on some  Exakta lenses. Albeit in the case of the Start more intricate in design.

  6. The lens mount is of  breech lock type,  where the lens is pushed into place and  secured by turning a ring on the the front of the reflex cage which forms part of the camera body.  This breech lock is very similar to that found on the Praktina. I am told by Jessops Classics, London  that the Praktina type lens will mount on the Start although they will jam onto the camera - so do not try this at home! 

  7. If using two film cannisters, a sliding knife built into the bottom of the camera can be used to slice the film so that the canister containing the exposed film can be removed while preserving the unexposed film in the main canister.   This knife is operated by plunger type rod screwed into the camera top.

  8. Removable back  for easy film loading. This is very similar to that found on the Contax Kiev designs with the slight disadvantage that locating the film take up spool can be a bit hit and miss when reattaching the back!

Tractor Woolpit Steam 2007

  The  lens supplied with the camera was a Helios-44 58mm f2.0. This being a Zeiss Biotar copy. These lenses had a bright blueish lens coating and are far better performers than the later more mundane Helios lenses.  This lens appears to be the only option  available  in the Start breech lock mount, and therefore probably was a major reason for the camera's demise. Albeit an adapter ring was available, allowing the use of 39mm mount Zenit lenses. This was not an attractive option as these lenses did not incorporate automatic aperture control. At the Brussels 1958 trade fair,  a Mir and Tair-11 lens in Start mount were awarded medals, however they were not mass produced.  There was also a Start lens turret allowing the attachment of three lenses and a water tight box allowing use down to 50 metres water depth.

Tractor steering Wheel Woolpit steam 2007

   A total of about 76.5 thousand  Start cameras were made. There were two major versions and three known variations.  An earlier version having a finder release button on the back and old shutter speed sequence  1/5, 1/10, 1/25 second etc.  The early production also had a film winding lever with a knurled disc.  A  later version lacked the locking button and had the modern shutter speed sequence, including 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30 second etc.  The film winding lever had a flat end.  More variations being: identical engravings in cyrillic, circa 1961 with new lever and shutter release, identical engraved in latin and English. 

There was also a Start 2 version manufactured in very small numbers  equipped with shutter priority and interchangeable  TTL selenium exposure meter.  The manufacturing plans were shelved because the Zenit E was about to go into production and the more advanced  central shutter Zenit 4, 5 and 6 were just going into production. 

Tractor Park Woolpit steam 2007

This is not an easy camera to use and time consuming to get right due to  poor ergonomic layout of the controls. However  it is a very high quality camera aimed at professional photographers and looks stunning.  To give you some idea  of the attention it attracts at a classic car rally a professional photographer wanted a  picture of me photographing the classic exhibits with the Start!

Comments and suggestions to

Brief Technical Specification  Of My Camera -  Professional 35mm Single Lens Reflex With Non Auto Return Mirror - Cloth Rubberized Leica Type Adjustable Slit Shutter Mechanism - Interchangeable Waist Level Finder and Eye Level Pentaprism Viewfinder - Split Screen Focusing - Body Serial Number 6115511 - Shutter Speeds 1/2 1/4 1/8 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/1000th Second plus B  -  Lever Operated Self Timer Activated By Adjacent Button  -  Built In Film Cutting Mechanism Operated By Rod In Top of Camera  -  Flash Both Bulb And Electronic Sockets Front Mounted - Breech Lock Lens Mount - Lens Helios-44 f2 58mm - Lens Serial Number 0068518 -  Semi Automatic Aperture Control.

Links    -     Antique Soviet Camera    Photo Tidbits    Alfred Camera Page

Further Reference Material    -     Required reading for those interested in finding out more about Soviet cameras  I would suggest the following book   -   The Authentic Guide To Russian and Soviet Cameras Made in USSR by Jean Loup Princelle First Edition 1995 published by Hove Photo Books - Also known as the Princelle Guide. Be warned after reading this you could become a   collector!

As you can see and also  mentioned towards the beginning of this webpage.  This website is a work in progress and not that well organized.  My excuse is that I see this as  a sort of scrap book -  OK it is just a first attempt at using free software to create an interesting website. The next camera I decide to do will be more polished and will probably be the Zenit 3m SLR or the folding Kodak Retinette.  I am still on a steep learning curve on how to create a site using Linux.  For those interested in free software I suggest the following for Linux  

Links    -    NVU HTML    DigiKam    KDE ShowFoto Guide     GIMP    JAlbum   &  MEPIS Linux    

For MS Windows users I suggest  

Links    -    GIMP    Gimpshop     Paintdotnet   irfanview    &  Xnview  

 I would advise MS Windows users to try  Gimp or the option as I think these are the best and quickest way to get into free photo editing without spending loads of money Paint Shop Pro, Elements or Photoshop.  There is even a version of Gimp called Gimpshop which  attempts to look like Photoshop.  Most of these options are also available for the Apple Mac OS.

Lenin Icon

© Stephen Rothery 2007  

ILast update: 05/07/07 19:15 |  Created using free software   NVU HTML    DigiKam    KDE ShowFoto Guide     GIMP    JAlbum   &  MEPIS Linux