My interests are many and varied, but sport isn’t one of them. I for one will be steering well clear of the Olympic shenanigans this summer, but if I was an athletics fan hoping to take some action shots, I’d think very carefully before taking this piece of kit with me. The camera’s name gives the game away, and with it’s gun-stock and pistol grip it certainly lives up to its moniker. London will be teeming with armed security personnel this summer, and it would be a brave or foolhardy photographer who would risk a potentially fatal misunderstanding of what they were up to.
The Fotosnaiper, or Photo-sniper, (both transcriptions from the Cyrillic Фотоснайпер can be found) was made in the USSR from 1965 to 1990, and although there were slight evolutions in detail, the basics remained the same, a Zenit SLR with a Tair 300mm telephoto lens which could be quickly attached to a rifle grip. The cameras were basically the standard Zenits, but had an additional shutter release trigger on the underside, which coupled with the trigger on the pistol grip, firing the camera from below without the need for a cable release, which would have been vulnerable to getting caught in foliage when on active service as a wildlife photographer. Later versions, like the one I have, added a focusing wheel to the pistol grip, which means that the lens can be focused without resorting to unwieldy movements of the barrel, another adaptation making for quicker more discreet work in the field. The outfit, which includes several filters and a standard 58mm lens, is packed into a distinctly military looking metal case, the whole thing weighing in at over 5Kg.
Large numbers of the fotosniper were made, and there always seem to be one or two on ebay at any given time, I suspect many are bought, used a couple times, then consigned to a cupboard, where they occupy a not inconsiderable space. Prices when I bought mine a couple of years ago were in the £40-£60 range, though they seem to have crept up a bit now.
Having acquired the kit, my next challenge was to use it without causing alarm to passers-by or getting arrested on suspicion of carrying a shoulder mounted rocket propelled grenade launcher! Generally I like to blend in and avoid drawing attention to myself, so this posed a bit of a dilemma. Fortunately, the Sheffield Heritage Fayre, an annual pageant of historical re-enactments was approaching, this is an event where guns and lenses of all sizes are toted, and no-one bats an eyelid. I found myself a discreet place on a grassy knoll, and as I carefully assembled my weapon, I couldn’t help thinking of the climactic scene from the film “The Day of The Jackal”, in which Edward Fox puts together his sniping rifle ready to take a pop at the French president.
I didn’t see de Gaulle through my sites, but an array of military personel spanning the centuries from Ancient Rome to World War Two passed across my field of vision, they all seemed determined to make as many loud bangs as they could, but the American Civil War contingent were the loudest, and I made sure I didn’t hold back in returning fire.
The next day was a bank holiday, so not having to go to work, I developed the Fujicolor Superia film using the Tetenal C41 kit. I’m used to the foibles of the Soviet cameras by now, so wasn’t too surprised to see the tell tale signs of uneven shutter curtain speed. The negatives were noticeably darker on one side, the side from which the shutter curtain had sluggishly set off on it’s travel, before getting up to speed, resulting in the first part of the negative getting more light than it should. In the old days this could have been painstakingly compensated for in the darkroom by dodging or burning with a piece of black card, but fortunately using Photoshop this can be done reasonably well in a matter of seconds.
Although I don’t plan to attend any of the Olympics, I do have yet another Russian camera that I will use this summer, in 1980 the Olympics were held in Moscow and to commemorate this a number of Zenit cameras were issued with the five ring logo on them, I’ve got one of them somewhere, and this seems like a good excuse to dig it out and give it a spin, but perhaps it’s just as well I don’t plan to photograph any sprinters, that slow start from the shutter curtain might just jinx their take-off from the starting