Leica knew that in order to make a serious 35mm camera they needed a superior lens to go with it. They were going to make up for the small film size by having exceptionally sharp glass. And so they did.
Photographers soon realized the advantages of using 35mm film. The Leica II was much smaller and lighter (and often easier to use) than the larger format cameras, yet it also provided superb image quality. It didn't take long for 35mm to become the standard format in photography.
The newly formed Soviet Union very quickly took notice. They wanted the Leica camera, but had no interest in supporting Germany. So what does a communist country do? They reverse-engineer the camera and manufacture it themselves.
|Camera In Hand - Redlands, California|
The FED camera was a very close match to the Leica II. In fact, some were made with Leica engraved on them (instead of FED), and to this day they are sold as Leica II cameras to unsuspecting buyers. Only a very close inspection shows some minor differences. However, the lens that was manufactured for the FED camera was inferior to those found on Leica cameras.
In 1954 Leica introduced the M3 rangefinder, with several improvements over earlier models. Many regard this as Leica's greatest camera. One year later the FED 2 was introduced, which was similar to the Leica M3.
While the FED 2 was similar to the Leica M3 (both in looks and functionality), it was not an exact copycat like the original FED was to the Leica II. Instead, it stole the improvements Leica made, and incorporated those improvements into the original FED design. Some of the improvements include a combined viewfinder and rangefinder window, a self-timer, slower shutter speeds, and a detachable back. The lens mount remained M39 (also known as Leica Thread Mount), while the Leica M3 used the new Leica M system.
|Summer Dream - Redlands, California|
The FED 3 rangefinder was introduced in 1961. It's almost identical to the FED 2, with only minor improvements. The FED 4 came out in 1964. It added a selenium light meter to the otherwise unchanged design. The final rangefinder, the FED 5, was introduced in 1977. It's a slightly improved FED 4, with the most significant change being the addition of a hot shoe. There were several variations made of each model, with only tiny differences.
The last FED cameras were made in 1996, a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union. A total of 8.5 million were sold over 62 years.
|Above The Valley - Tejon Ranch, California|
Leica cameras are really expensive. It is difficult to find one for under $1,000. Even beat up well-used Leica cameras will cost at least $500. Lenses can be even more costly.
On the other hand, good-shape FED cameras can easily be found for under $100. It is not too hard to find one with an Industar lens for under $50. I paid $40 for a FED 5c with a 50mm Industar lens, and that included shipping. If you are willing to overlook the sordid history of the FED rangefinder, you can get an exceptional camera for a really good price.