After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II, the Red Army had acute need for precision optical instruments. The existing factories were either
inaccessible, such as LOMO in besieged Leningrad, or overloaded with demand, such as Fed which had just been evacuated from Kharkov in Ukraine to Berdsk that is north east of Kazakhstan. Because of this
and the huge demand from the Red Army for optical equipment, the Fed factory was unable to meet that demand.
The Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works (Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod) or KMZ factory was set up in 1942 as Krasnogorsk Optical Works in Sverdlovsk
in the Urals. In 1944 the factory moved to Krasnogorsk, a western suburb of Moscow, which by then was no longer in immediate danger from German troops, on the site of a recently evacuated mechanical plant.
The KMZ factory was intended during the war
to meet the demand for optical equipment for the Red Army. Initially the company took over production of scopes and binoculars as well as reconnaissance cameras.
After the war
After the end of the war in 1945 KMZ began producing photographic lenses to the specifications of the Carl Zeiss corporation, whose factory in Jena had been overrun by the Red Army and largely carted off as war reparations.
1946 the factory started making cameras; first the Moskva folding camera.
Even after the war, Fed struggled to produce the Leica II copies. In 1948 KMZ therefore started to assembly Fed cameras to compensate for the slow production
of cameras from the Fed factory. KMZ had come out of the war reasonably unscathed and production of the rangefinders was resumed under a joint Fed-Zorki logo. After Fed moved back to Kharkov from Siberia, Fed 1 production was resumed and KMZ started producing
the camera under its own name. In 1949 started the production of cameras under the name Zorki. In 1952, KMZ created an SLR based on the Zorki, and thus the Zenit was born. More about the Zenits you will find on another page of this website.
The first Zorki camera was the Zorki 1. This small rangefinder was a copy of the Fed 1, which was on itself a copy of the Leica II. The Zorki 1 was produced from 1947 to 1956. Quite a few types were made that differ little from each other. In all, more than
835,000 have been produced. In comparison ’only’ 52,500 of the original Leica II were produced from 1932 to 1948.
After the war, the Soviet Union decided that the Fed cameras would be intended for the home market and the Zorki's more for
the export market. The 1934 Leica II was the basis for the pre-war Fed 1 and so the Zorki 1 is also a Leica II copy. The cameras are hardly distinguishable from each other. That was also the source of inspiration for scammers to provide Feds and Zorkis with
Leica symbols and sell them as Leicas. Some are dressed in such an exotic way that you can see at a glance that this is not a Leica, but there are also those that approach the Leicas very faithfully.
The story goes that the Zorkis are of a better quality
than the Feds but of incomparably less quality than the real Leica IIs. I have a copy of all three cameras in my collection, as well as an obvious fake Leica, but I dare to question that 'huge' difference in quality. There is not that much difference between
the cameras or between the lenses. The Industars and Jupiters are also capable of excellent results.
I suspect that the quality control in the last years of the Stalin regime was very strict. You didn't want to be the one who signed a bunch of bad export
cameras. Even after him under Khrushchev, controls were still strict not only on production but also on the workers themselves. But under Khrushchev a new economic wind started blowing. There was more attention and space for research and development and less
for heavy industry and mass production, although the unrealistic planned economy was maintained.