Chaika-3 - Half Frame for the Space Age

13

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

13 Comments

  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!

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