Chaika-3 - Half Frame for the Space Age


The Chaika-3 is a cleverly designed half-frame camera from the era of race for outer space. It has enough enough tricks (and traps) to keep you entertained for a while.

I think most fans of Russian cameras know that Chaika means seagull. I think fewer know that Chaika was the call sign of the first Russian female cosmonaut, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova. She became extremely famous for her achievements and is still considered a hero in Russia. It’s very likely that this line of cameras were at least partly named in honor of her. Her famous flight took place 1963 and the first Chaika camera was sold in 1965. Anyone in Russia at the time these were introduced would have immediately recognized the reference.

All Chaika cameras have:

  • Half-Frame Format
  • Industar-69 lens
  • Focal length: 28mm (40mm equivalent on a 35mm camera)
  • Aperture from f/2.8 to f/16
  • Focusing: 0.8m to Infinity
  • Variable Shutter Speeds 1/30", 1/60", 1/125", 1/250"
  • PC flash port that syncs at any shutter speed

The original Chaika has a “B” setting, tripod threads, shutter release threads, and no accessory shoe.

The Chaika-2 adds a removable lens which could be used as the lens for an enlarger that was apparently never made available. The threads are the same as those for a Leica lens, but the focusing distance is different, so the lenses are not compatible.

The Chaika-2M adds a bright line viewfinder, an exposure calculator, a cold shoe, and a single-stroke film winding lever. The 2M does not have a threaded shutter release or tripod threads, but it retains a “B” setting.

The Chaika-3 is the last of the Chaika line. It was sold between 1972 and 1973. The Chaika-3 is exactly like a Chaika-2M with the addition of a built-in meter. The meter is cleverly coupled with an exposure calculator that will recommend an aperture based on the film speed and shutter speed that you select or a shutter speed based on the film speed and aperture you select. I’ll explain how that works later. Like the 2M, the 3 does not have a “B” setting. Because of this, it also lost the tripod threads since it’s less necessary to steady the camera. Still, at 1/30" you can get camera shake if you’re not careful and you might want to mount it on a tripod for endless panoramas, self-portraits, or other reasons. Fortunately, they didn’t actually get rid of the tripod threads. Instead, they moved the tripod threads the side of the camera and provided a screw-on camera strap but you can still mount the camera on a tripod sideways. This is more useful than one might think because this puts most half-frame cameras, including this one, in landscape orientation.

This is where you’re supposed to screw in the strap.

This is what it looks like mounted on a tripod.

I purchased my Chaika-3 on eBay from seller teleson16 located in the Russian Federation. It arrived in a box wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. The first thing I noticed when I unwrapped the camera was its heft. I was expecting it to be heavy for its size because the Russians used a lot of metal in their cameras at the time. They made their cameras they same way they made AK-47s – not the most accurate shooters, but they were tough. My camera arrived in exactly the condition shown on eBay. It has a crack in the viewfinder and shows signs of wear. I turned all the dials and pressed all the buttons and everything seemed to work. I opened the back to have a look inside and there was a little surprise in there – a 5 Ruble and a 1 Ruble coin wrapped inside a little “thank you” note from the seller. Nice touch.

After putting it through its paces, I discovered a problem with the fastest shutter speed setting. The first shot at the fastest shutter speed works as expected, but the film advance stop stops working so that I can just keep winding and winding. At the same time, when I wind to the next frame, the shutter automatically fires. So, I can actually use this to take several rapid-fire shots in a row without pressing the shutter release button. I just wind to the next frame and it automatically shoots the next picture. I can fix this by switching back to a slower shutter speed. When I do this, I can slowly advance the film and the shutter will stay open in “B” mode until I wind all the way to the next frame.

The main advantage the Chaika-3 has over the other Chaikas is the built-in meter. So, how do you use it?

First, you set the film speed by turning the disk in the middle of the dial on top of the camera. The film speeds are in the Russian GOST which is 90% of ASA/ISO. So, you will usually be OK picking the “closest without going over” speed. But, there’s nothing magic about the number marks on the disk. You can set it on the spaces in between the numbers. Here, I was using 800 ASA film, so I set the disk to more than 500.

Next, you set the film speed by turning the outside ring of the dial on top. Here, I set it to 250 which corresponds to 1/250". You’ll notice the absence of a “B” setting.

Now, you point the camera in the direction of the thing you want to shoot. You’ll see the needle move toward the back of the camera depending on how much light it sees. One great thing is that this meter which is nearly 40 years old still works. It is a myth that selenium meters lose “power” or sensitivity. Selenium meters that don’t work are either dirty or there is a problem with the wiring.

Now, you turn the topmost ring on the dial to move the arm with the circle on it until it lines up with the needle in the meter. Make sure you keep the camera pointing at the subject.

Next, look at the big ring again, but this time on the other side of where you set the shutter speed. You’ll see another red dot. Above it you’ll see the recommended aperture. Here, the camera is recommending an aperture between f/11 and f/16.

Next, set the aperture by turning the ring on the front of the camera. There’s nothing magic about the numbers here either. You can set the aperture in between the numbers.

Finally, set the focus by turning the focus ring. Here’s I’ve set it to 5m. Below the distance markings on the focus ring you can see the depth of field markings. You can see that if I had set the aperture to f/2.8 everything from “Three People” to “House with Trees” would be in focus. Because I chose f/16, pretty much everything is in focus.

Now, you’re ready to take a picture. You think this is it right? But, there’s even a bit of a trick to this. Remember. This is a half-frame camera. If you hold it the way you would normally hold a camera, you will take pictures in portrait mode. If you want to take pictures in landscape mode, you have to hold the camera sideways. If you hold the camera sideways with your right hand on top, then the rewind lever which is on the “bottom” of the camera will be in a convenient place for you to advance to the next picture. When you hold the camera sideways with your right hand on top, the placement of the rewind lever and the shutter release button make sense.

Here’s the most natural way for me to hold the Chaika-3.

You can’t tell from this picture, but the film advance lever which is on the “bottom” of the camera ends up at the top left of the camera when you hold it this way. It makes advancing the film very quick and natural. Also, notice that the placement of the shutter release on the front of the camera also makes sense when you hold the camera this way.

I took pictures of some of my standard subjects so that I could compare the angle of view to my other cameras and look for things like vignetting and edge softness. This picture has a lot of sky in it. If a lens vignettes, this will usually pick it up. I took this picture holding the camera sideways so that it would come out in landscape mode.

A 28mm lens on a half frame camera is the equivalent of a 40mm lens on a 35mm camera and this picture bears that out when I compare it to my other cameras. You’ll notice the slight natural vignetting at the corners. The image is surprisingly sharp for a half-frame camera. It’s not as great as an Olympus Pen, but it’s not the worst half-frame I’ve seen either, and I shot this with 800 ASA film. Slower film would give me more color saturation, less grain, higher resolution, and probably even more vignetting.

Here’s another “control” shot.

Again, you can see the gentle vignetting at the corners, the detail in the grass, the fence, and the roof of the house.

I testing the close focusing distance by doing an arms-length self-portrait. I didn’t hold my arm out all the way, so this shot is from a distance of about half a meter. This was also the only light leak I’ve seen after shooting three rolls on the Chaika-3. For this shot I held the camera horizontally. This yielded the traditional portrait oriented half-frame.

Notice the details in my shirt and my hair. Remember, this was shot from substantially less than one meter away. The wide lens and small aperture gave me a huge depth of field.

I tested the multiple-exposure capabilities by advancing the film while holding in the rewind button. The film moved a bit because I didn’t hold onto the rewind knob as well, but I obtained a usable double exposure.

Here’s another double exposure. This time, I let the film move a bit and changed the orientation of the picture. You could also use this technique to do endless panoramas.

I mentioned earlier, the Chaika-3 has a removable lens. I decided to try the reverse-lens-macro trick. I removed the lens, reversed it, and held it in place with rubber bands like this.

I stopped the lens down all the way to f/16 to get the greatest depth of field and used 1/250" to reduce camera shake. These are some the results I obtained.

You’ll notice that all of my macros were underexposed. I should have used a slower shutter speed. Another issue was focusing. This isn’t a single lens reflex camera, so I had to guess. The best distance seems to be somewhere between one and two centimeters, but the depth of field is very shallow – even stopped down to f/16.

I also did some low-light shots to test the f/2.8 lens and 1/30" shutter speed with 800 ASA film.

Finally, here are a few random pictures under various lighting conditions. I used the built-in meter to set the exposure for most of them.

Overall, the Chaika-3 is a fun camera to use. It has lots of nice features and with just a little bit of practice, you can get some decent results – especially for a half-frame camera. Fully manual cameras with a built-in meter are rare. In half-frame format, they are even rarer. The lens is a very useful focal length – even in the 35mm equivalent. Many half-frames suffer from having a too long lens because it’s more difficult to design a very wide angle lens. The camera is small, but it’s a bit heavy for its size. It’s a bit larger than what’s needed for a half-frame, but it’s built like a tank. It has a bright lens and a slow enough shutter speed to be a decent low-light performer. It has the right kind of advance and rewind mechanism to allow for multiple exposures. It can handle higher film speeds because it’s completely mechanical so the film speed doesn’t really matter. If you’re looking for a “space age” camera that is a fun to use and can yield some very interesting results, I think you’ll be happy with the Chaika-3.

written by gvelasco on 2010-09-05 in #reviews #russian #chaika-3 #belomo-chaika-3 #user-review #half-frame #belomo-chaika-review #space-age


  1. wil6ka
    wil6ka ·

    thank you for all your work!

  2. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    A great camera review!!

  3. coldkennels
    coldkennels ·

    Wow, that has to be the most thorough review I've ever seen - excellent! I'll have to keep an eye out for one of these.

  4. herbert-4
    herbert-4 ·

    Excellent thorough review!! Nice gallery. I've got a Chaika II. I need to use it more.

  5. kvboyle
    kvboyle ·

    What a fantastic review, I enjoyed it so much I forgot to drink my coffee! You made me want to buy a Chaika AND you told me everything I need to know to use it!!!!!

  6. mcrstar
    mcrstar ·

    Thanks for this big review, it's really nice camera. I need it :) Thank god I live in Russia and got this camera is a not a problem.

  7. gvelasco
    gvelasco ·

    Thanks for the comments, y'all.

  8. smbilgin
    smbilgin ·

    I am very glad when I see someone who really appreciate these old treasures. Great review. Very useful. Thanks..

  9. jaguarwomon
    jaguarwomon ·

    I've been craving a Chaika for so long and this review makes me want one even more!

    I like the results you got with the reverse lense trick; I think I'll give it a try with one of my other cameras.

  10. oleman
    oleman ·

    Thanks for a great review, I recently got hold of a Chaika 3 camera, so your article will be very useful for me, thanks!

  11. simon-hedge
    simon-hedge ·

    This is a wonderfully well-written review. And I want to buy one of those cameras now :)

  12. woosang
    woosang ·

    Brilliant review. I have a few russian half frames but not a Chayka 3. Looks like I need to find one for my collection. I love that you took such care showing the built in meter. Nione of mine have this so I was very interested indead. Keep up the great work!! I will look forwards to more shots from you with this cutie

  13. lovely_lena
    lovely_lena ·

    Very thorough and interesting review; thank you!

  14. rusdi3713
    rusdi3713 ·

    ..i just got mine today..the review was helpful especially how to operate it and use the meter..

More Interesting Articles

  • Top Shoutbox Users of 2014

    written by icequeenubia on 2014-12-28 in #news
    Top Shoutbox Users of 2014

    The shoutbox is always open for the community's honest opinions, surprising suggestions, and sweetest greetings. It is also an avenue for members from across different countries to dicuss and interact with one another. We'd like to commend these lomographers for keeping this humble space booming with entertaining conversations all year long. Congratulations to our top shoutbox users of 2014.

  • Un Poquito de Havana on a Viennese Afternoon

    written by bgaluppo on 2015-06-21 in #gear
    Un Poquito de Havana on a Viennese Afternoon

    ¡Hola everyone! The most creative instant camera has a stunning new summer outfit — the New Lomo'Instant Havana Edition Package! It's dressed in a fresh aquamarine design and packed with 3 special lenses and the Lomo'Instant Splitzer. To honor its special namesake, we set out with the Lomo'Instant Havana for a colorful and vivid session of instant snapshots to try and recreate the warmth and fascinating atmosphere of the beautiful capital of la perla del caribe!

  • December 13th Advent Offer: Take Advantage of our Festive 3 For 2 Film Deals! (Online Code: 3FOR2HOLIDAYFILM)

    written by jacobs on 2014-12-13 in #news
    December 13th Advent Offer: Take Advantage of our Festive 3 For 2 Film Deals!  (Online Code: 3FOR2HOLIDAYFILM)

    Have you been waiting for a good time to load up on films for all your treasured analogue cameras? The time has come with our stunning Advent deal of the day! With our sweet film packs, we make it easy to cache away enough to last the fun and festive parties coming up. Start stashing now by heading over to our Online Shop!

  • Shop News

    Immortalize your best shot on Aluminium!

    Immortalize your best shot on Aluminium!

    Carefully enlarged from your negatives onto premium photographic paper by lab professionals, each picture is a unique piece of craftsmanship.

  • Testing a Roll of Found Film

    written by billseye on 2015-07-20 in #gear #lifestyle
    Testing a Roll of Found Film

    In one of my vintage hunts, I bought a camera for $2. It came with an unexposed roll of film. After using up the last frames, I discovered that this old camera has Lomographic qualities.

  • Daniel Zvereff: Artistic Explorer

    written by Jill Tan Radovan on 2014-10-14 in #people #lifestyle
    Daniel Zvereff: Artistic Explorer

    A freelance designer and illustrator by profession, New York-based Daniel Zvereff is an ardent traveler who documents his journeys the old-fashioned way – with hand-written journals and photographs. In this feature, Zvereff talks about his passion for travel, and how it has sparked a love affair with cameras and lenses.

  • LomoAmigos Yougofirst Shoot With The LomoKino In Their New Snowboard Movie

    written by tomas_bates on 2014-10-09 in #people #lomoamigos #videos
    LomoAmigos Yougofirst Shoot With The LomoKino In Their New Snowboard Movie

    Are you ready for an adrenaline rush? A little while ago, we teamed up with the snowboard and film-making collective Yougofirst and gave them a LomoKino and some film rolls to play with. After a season of crazy riding, jumps and tricks, they have finished their latest movie HETEROTOPIA which features footage shot with our 35mm movie-maker. We had the chance to catch up with Vid and Matic from the collective about the new movie and their experiences shooting analogue on the slopes. It's also our pleasure to showcase the movie here!

  • Shop News

    the perfect surprise for every analogue loving enthusiast

     the perfect surprise for every analogue loving enthusiast

    Let your loved one pick the gift of their dreams. Lomography Online Shop Gift Certificates are the perfect present for every analogue devotee on your gift list

  • Remarkable Lomographs Captured with the LC-A+ and LC-A+ Wide-Angle Lens

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-09-20 in #gear #news
    Remarkable Lomographs Captured with the LC-A+ and LC-A+ Wide-Angle Lens

    Capture all the sights in one sweeping frame with your LC-A+ and LC-A+ Wide-Angle Lens! Check out these images from the community and, while you're at it, find out how you can earn piggies and have your own photographs be featured on the Online Shop!

  • Lovely Squares Courtesy of the Lomography Color Negative 400 (120)

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-08-02 in #gear #news
    Lovely Squares Courtesy of the Lomography Color Negative 400 (120)

    Have a look at these bright and beautiful medium format photographs from the community shot with the Lomography Color Negative 400 for 120 cameras. While you're at it, find out how you can earn piggies and have your own CN 400 (120) snaps be featured on the Online Shop!

  • Kelly Angood and the Exciting World of Pinhole Photography

    written by jacobs on 2015-04-03 in #people #news #lifestyle
    Kelly Angood and the Exciting World of Pinhole Photography

    The founder of The Pop-Up Pinhole Co., Kelly Angood, has been handcrafting pinhole cameras from scratch since 2010. After developing a huge online following from one of her early pinhole designs, she embarked on a mission to design an affordable, functional pinhole camera that could be constructed all in the comfort of your own home — and it had to look great too! Following an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, her mission was realized. Read on to see how it happened and what's next for Kelly and The Pop-Up Pinhole Company!

  • Shop News

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Shoot wider and bigger with this new instax camera that has film format twice the size of the instax mini films!

  • A Round-up of Lomography Events Around the World in September

    written by dop on 2015-09-03 in #world #news #events
    A Round-up of Lomography Events Around the World in September

    If you are looking for some lomographic entertainment this month in your home city or if you are traveling the world and want some insider tips from our lomography teams, here’s a selection of what is going on in Lomography Gallery and Embassy Stores around the world.

  • My Lomo’Instant Quick Tips

    written by tomas_bates on 2014-11-12 in #gear #tipster
    My Lomo’Instant Quick Tips

    I backed the Kickstarter project for the Lomo’Instant earlier this year and was thrilled to receive it last week. I love how the camera naturally encourages you to experiment with its different features, whether it’s through flashing your multiple exposures with different colors or trying different creative techniques after your shots has been ejected. Here are a few tips from what I’ve discovered from playing with the camera so far (and a couple of tips I want to try out in future)!

  • Lomo'Instant Accessory Challenge

    written by antoniocastello on 2015-02-04 in #world #competitions
    Lomo'Instant Accessory Challenge

    Do you love being creative? How about instant photography? If the answer is yes, no or maybe, then we've got a jam happening with your name written all over it! Being the most creative instant camera around, it's difficult to imagine the Lomo'Instant becoming any more awesome. But what would happen if you and your pals put on your thinking caps for a Lomo'Instant accessory brainstorming session of the ages — limitless creative potential! Show us your skills by joining the Lomo'Instant Accessory Challenge!