The Simple Zorki 4
In the great tradition of rangefinder reviewers and junk camera junkies all over the net I start this missive, "This camera is not Leica but ...". In this particular case, the MIR is not a Leica but it wants to be. Widely laughed at and derided by Leica and equipment snobs everywhere and with a horrible reputation for quality control and reliability I wasn't expecting much except to hold something in my hands of similar dimensions to a Leica III when I picked up my MIR for $16.44 (inc. P&P) from eBay. No junk camera collection would be complete without at least one former Soviet Union Leica clone but I am surprised at how pleasant a "user" my MIR is.
The MIR was a simplified version of the Zorki 4 intended for the domestic USSR market and hence a little rarer in the US than it's big brother, the Zorki 4, which was produced and exported in great numbers. When they say "simplified" what do they mean? As far as I can tell the only difference between the Zorki 4 and the MIR is that the MIR does not have the Zorki's slow shutter speeds (between 1/30th and B). As the Zorki 4's slow shutter speeds have something of a reputation for failing this doesn't seem to be much of a sacrifice and when was the last time you set your camera's shutter to 1 second anyway? The only other thing I found that is stripped down about the MIR is the lens that came as standard; instead of the typical, beautiful Jupiter 8 that comes with most Zorki 4s, my MIR sports a Indistrar so instead of a nice fast f2 you're armed with an OK f3.5.
The Zorki 4 was loosely based on the Leica II/III. Leicas, to recap, are legendary for their build quality, reliability, fantastic glass and astronomical price tags.The Russian Leicas are not legendary for any of those things. Make no mistake, when you pick up a Russian Leica clone you won't be fooled into thinking that you're holding the genuine article even if, like me, you've never held a real Leica. Like other Russian cameras I own and have used, the MIR is rough around the edges, solid metal without the reassurance of quality materials or engineering beneath its skin but its price point makes the comparison with a real Leica a little unfair. With its modest sticker price the Zorki 4 was competing more with the Argus C3 than with Leica's products. When viewed in that light the MIR is a nice cameras, certainly more refined and advanced than the brick.
"Advanced" features included a large combined viewfinder/rangefinder, adjustable flash sync speeds and built-in diopter adjustment. Also, unlike the brick, winding the film on also cocks the shutter though I will reiterate the warnings you will read everywhere about this camera; do not try to adjust the shutter speed without first cocking the shutter unless you want to resign your Zorki to the display shelf. The one obvious advantage the MIR does have over the Leica is its price; one is naturally less precious about a camera that cost a few dollars than one that costs in the thousands. Any camera I actually use is worth more to me than any display shelf queen its owner is afraid to use or take out of the house. The MIR will not win me any kudos among most shutterbugs but it will take very acceptable photos for the price of 4 rolls of film.