How to properly use an old bottom-loader film camera like Leica I, II, III, Fed, and Zorki?
I just acquired a Zorki-1 camera. It’s a lovely copy of Leica II. Although it’s a joy to use, there are some really important things that can prevent you from getting good pictures or not getting anything at all.
- Film preparation: you need to cut the film leader further inside for about 13 sprocket holes, otherwise the first frame will jam on the film door. There are many sites that provide detailed method. Just search for ‘how to load a bottom loader camera’ or something similar.
- To load a film: be sure that the film lock is set at ‘advance’ (normal) mode, not ‘release’ mode. Insert the film’s end to the film take-up spool’s clip. Try pulling it out gently to see if it easily come out. This is very important because during the first winding, the film’s end might come loose but the sprocket is still engaged. You can still take a few pictures but the film was sucked inside the mechanism and will eventually jam. Not only that you will loose all of your shots, but you will have to disassemble the camera to disentangle the film. The best way to ensure proper loading is to wind the first frame while the bottom cover is still unattached. Look inside the loading chamber to see if the film is wounded on the take-up spool or not. If not, release the lock, rewind, and load again. Also you should tighten the film cartridge before loading, and see if the rewind knob rotate smoothly and evenly for each and every turn of the advance knob. If on the first few frame the rewind knob hesitates to turn, then it’s very likely that the film comes loose inside.
- Frame advancing: first thing to do after each shot is to advance the film. You have to advance the film before setting the shutter speed. This is because the shutter speed will rotate when a shutter is pressed and during the winding, therefore you cannot correctly set a speed before the winding. In some model with slow speed selection, setting a shutter speed before winding will result in a damage.
- Film unloading: first you need to get the lens cap on. During the rewind, the shutter curtain may somehow open, resulting in a major light leak. Then release the film lock, rewind, set the film lock to normal position (if not you might forget to set it back before loading the film next time), open the bottom cover and pull the film cartridge out.
Some of these requirements I learned from reading, but some I learned them the hard way. These cameras were designed differently some 80 years ago, thus require the learning. Nevertheless they are simple, straightforward, require no battery, compact, undistracting, look lovely, and take beautiful pictures.