The Photosniper (or Fotosniper or Fotosnaipr) is one of those fascinating bits of Soviet kit that surfaces from time to time, either for very little money or at an absurdly exaggerated price. We thought of this article only after giving ours away, so it's only a brief review, but we thought people might like to know a little about it.

As presented, it's a metal case with a modified Zenith E (metered) camera body (the modifications consist of an extra release in the base, and an oversize eye-cup); a 58/2 Helios-44 standard lens; a 300/4.5 Tair-3 tele lens with a special semi-auto diaphragm (auto closing, manual re-opening); a two-part 'gunstock'; a strap; a rubber lens shade; and a stack of 72mm filters which fit the Tair-3 but not the Helios-44.




You can see most of the essential features here. Focusing for the 300/4.5 Tair-3 is via the rotating knurled knob towards the front of the fore-end stock; the next knurled knob back is to lock the lens in place on the stock; the bar below the rear of the lens is the semi-auto-diaphragm operating lever; and the trigger stops down the lens and fires the shutter via a secondary release on the baseplate. The shoulder stock can be demounted via the knurled knob between it and the main body of the stock.

Once you've seen the picture above, and noted the controls, there's not much more to know, except that it won't work with a standard Zenith B/E body (you need that bottom release) and that the standard 58mm Helios-44 doesn't have an auto diaphragm, though it is a standard Pentax screw thread and register.


margate sands

Margate Sands

This is one of our favourite Photosniper shots, made on Ilford XP2 and printed on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone, sepia toned. The perspective compression resulting from the use of a 300mm lens makes the beach look even more crowded than it was, and it was pretty crowded. At f/8 or f/11 (as here, for depth of field) it's quite sharp; at f/4.5, it's still pretty good in the centre.

The Photosniper is fun, and reasonably easy to use; you shoot, wind on and re-open the diaphragm with your right hand, and focus with your left. The focusing knob speeds matters in the latter department, and the stock does make it easier to hold the camera/lens assembly steady.

Even so, we got rid of ours for several reasons. First, we were living in England at the time, where there is a very high level of paranoia about terrorists, paedophiles, and photographers who are assumed to be both. An outfit like this can involve more explanation than any sane person would be happy with. Second, we already owned two other 300mm lenses, an f/4 East German Sonnar copy and an f/5.6 mirror -- and we hardly ever use 300mm anyway. Third, the camera really needed an overhaul, as it tended to give stripes at either end of the shutter travel. Fourth, a friend had an incomplete outfit and wanted to see what it was like to have the whole thing. So we gave it to him.

Fotosnipers were alleged to have been made for the KGB but we suspect that like most Russian professionals the KGB used either German or Japanese cameras. We paid something like £30 or £35 for it in about 2000 (call it 50€ or $50 at the time) at a 'Cash Converters' in Margate (a bit like a pawn shop, which turns goods into money). This was probably quite a low price: they normally seem to go for around twice that. On the other hand, paying more than £100/150€/$200 for one would be over the odds. But if you find one at the right price, and don't live somewhere too paranoid; well, go for it, because it's fun.

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© 2010 Roger W. Hicks