Before World War II, 35mm cameras started to gain popularity with rangefinders like Leica and Leica copies like the Zorki. After the war, and especially into the 1950’s, the SLR style cameras started to take over. One being the KMZ Start.
The KMZ Start (Старт in Russian), is a professional 35mm SLR camera made in the former Soviet Union by Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works (KMZ). They were produced from 1958 until 1964. While the Zenit was their first SLR, it was made for amateur photographers while the Start was created for Pros.
Right off the bat this camera brought to my mind the Exakta VX1000 I reviewed a while back, with the big front shutter release button that quickly catches your eye. This is no surprise because a year before the Nikon F was released, the Start was a system type camera that rivaled the Exakta, even being nicknamed “the Russian Exakta”.
To tell the age of your Start, use the 1st two digits of your serial number to deduce the year it was made. My copy lent from Mike is from 1961 because the first two digits of the serial number are 61.
The Short Lived Life of the KMZ Start
This is a fully mechanical camera without an internal meter, but the Start 2 (1963) did include a metered prism as well as an automatic diaphragm, unfortunately there weren’t many made and even a Start 3 never made it past prototype. If KMZ wanted to stay competitive, especially once the Nikon F system hit the market, they really would’ve needed to create more lenses, to say the least.
Unfortunately, the pros found the ergonomics uncomfortable while journalists found it heavy, and even amateurs weren’t running to the stores because of the price tag. These reasons, and only having a single lens, are what led to the short life of the KMZ Start.
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The KMZ Start – Outside
The Start has features that are aimed to lure in the professional photographer such as a removable pentaprism with ground glass and a dual prism rangefinder in the center of the viewfinder. It can be replaced with a waist level finder if you can find one. The ground glass is also interchangeable as well as the lens, but no others were made that I know of. The body is made of Iron so it is a pretty heavy camera which also makes it very sturdy.
The cloth focal plane-shutter has speeds of 1 second up to 1/1000 of a second. Shutter speeds up to 1/1000th of a second was something new at that point, and the rewind lever wasn’t just a knob like the one on the Zenit.
Flash synch is at 1/30th of a sec. as well as bulb and electronic flash sockets on the front. Also, there is a self timer lever that lasts 9-15 seconds on the front and a mirror up button.
The coupled shutter button releases the aperture and the shutter together. The mirror doesn’t automatically return until you advance to the next frame. The shutter plunger also serves as DOF preview when turned towards the lens.
The Start has a special breech-lock bayonet mount for one lens, the Helios-44 58mm f2. There is an M39 lens mount adapter for Screw Mount Zenit lenses but they don’t have auto aperture systems.
Inside the KMZ Start
Like the Exakta, the Start also has a film cutting knife for fast developing and saving on film. It also has support for the cassette system, so you could wind your film right into another cassette, removing the need to rewind your film at the end of a roll.
For a translated manual of the KMZ Start Click Here.
Like a lot of the cameras I review, this KMZ Start belongs to Mike Eckman. I will admit when I shot my first roll with this camera, I was really discouraged with the experience and results. Feeling defeated, I messaged Mike and said I was thinking of giving up on reviewing it and maybe I just wasn’t vibing with this camera.
Now for context, there is a lot going on in my personal life at the moment so that may be a big contributing factor. Mike encouraged me to try again and reassured me that if I wasn’t vibing with the camera, that was perfectly fine. This experience reminded me of how I felt with the Exacta that Mike leant me a while ago. The ergonomics of that camera really challenged me and yet some of my favorite photos came from that review. So, I pushed on with the Start. For me, shooting with different cameras is my source of inspiration. Each one gives me a different feeling and experience. I just needed to find that inspiration with the Start.
I couldn’t find the inspiration around my home, so I decided to take the camera with me, and try shooting from the car.
I pushed a roll of Arista EDU 400 to 800 for a little bit faster shutter speeds. These photos are a bit grainy and foggy but I think my fixer is contaminated. However, I like these shots considering they were taken from the moving car.
I set the lens to infinity, shutter to 1000, and aperture to f11 since it was cloudy.
While I don’t think I will pick one of these up for my collection, I am grateful to Mike for lending me the KMZ Start so that I could have more experience under my belt. I would say the cons for me personally are the long focusing throw on the lens, the ergonomics with the large shutter button, and the viewfinder not being very clear. For some reason, I had a very difficult time focusing even with the pentaprism.
The pros I think are the lens gives pretty nice results, and the ruggedness of the camera in general. This camera will live a long life even with bumps and bruises.
If you like vintage Soviet Era cameras, check out my other reviews here.
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