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Camera ARFO-2a review

ARFO-2a is a pre-war plate accordion. The copy of the camera presented in the review is perhaps the oldest in my collection at the moment, albeit with a small margin from other pre-war cameras.

But this is not important. It is important that the EFTE-ARFO series is the first Soviet serial camera.

It all began in 1929, when the Moscow artel of the Promcooperations "PhotoTrud" contracted, by the order of the Center Union, to organize the production of a simple plate camera.

Tsentrsoyuz is the Central Union of Consumer Societies of the Russian Federation, it is a non-profit organization that oversaw the work of all artels and cooperatives.

Surprisingly little is known about the “PhotoTrud” artel itself. I have found virtually no information.

There is information that the artel was organized on the basis of small private workshops that existed before the revolution and was engaged in the production of photographic plates.

The only thing we know about the size of the artel is that it was small, or even modest.

The technical equipment was also poor.

In general, an artel is a voluntary association of people for joint work or other collective activities, often with participation in common income and shared responsibility.

Artels were built on a contract, often oral, containing the terms of activity and obligations of its members. The artel consisted, as a rule, of workers close in age, physical strength and labor qualifications, equal in their rights and duties.

A more understandable analogue of an artel is a cooperative. There are some differences, but from the production point of view and in terms of relations between the participants, everything is the same.

It is interesting that the Soviet state from the time of the NEP and after it actively promoted cooperation in the fishing artels of single handicraftsmen, providing the artels with tax and financial incentives.

Small-scale production in the Stalinist USSR was a very strong and noticeable sector of the country's national economy.

During the Great Patriotic War, artels even produced weapons and ammunition, i.e. possessed advanced technologies and production facilities for those times.

However, by 1960, all artel enterprises were completely transferred to the state. The only exceptions were small artels of consumer services, arts and crafts and artels of the disabled, and they were prohibited from carrying out regular retail trade in their products.

Artel property was alienated free of charge.

The largest production artels became factories. This once again emphasizes that the technical base, at least of the most successful artels, was very serious.

In the 1970s-1980s, the only permitted type of artels were gold prospectors and collective farms.

But let's go back to the 30s.

So, the production of cameras in the "PhotoTrud" artel began in 1929.

The Kharkov labor commune at that time was still a mechanical, woodworking, sewing and shoe workshop and did not think about the production of cameras. The first FEDs appeared in 1932.

Photocor-1 also came out only in 1930.

I do not think that the "PhotoTrud" artel was the first to produce a domestic camera. Single-piece or even small-scale issues by 1929 could already have taken place. But if we talk about small series, then these were the most primitive box-type cameras. We do not take into account the piece items.

Therefore, it is generally accepted that it was the “PhotoTrud” artel that was the first in the country to set up a serial production of a simple but full-featured camera.

The cameras were called "EFTE"

EFTE is an alphabetical reading of the abbreviation "FT" from the name of the artel "PhotoTrud".

I will not describe the EFTE line here. I don’t have such devices, I’ll somehow get hold of it even then.

By about 1933, the "PhotoTrud" artel had grown greatly and turned into a large photographic complex, which produced, in addition to cameras, a number of photographic goods.

For the purpose of better organization and the possibility of further growth, the artel was divided into two parts by separating the photographic equipment production into an independent artel "ARFO".

So the production of cameras was separated into an independent artel. From this moment on, the production of EFTE cameras ceases and they are replaced by devices of the ARFO line.

The total number of produced EFTE cameras is about 50 thousand copies.

ARFO is also an abbreviation for "ARtel Fototrud". These devices were produced until 1938.

The ARFO line includes several models.

The first model, simply ARFO, without a number, came out in 1933.

The camera had a mechanism for horizontal and vertical lens shift. This is the most radical difference from the EFTE line.

The shutter was central "ARFO" with shutter speeds of 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B and T.

Anastigmat lens 4.5 / 13.5 cm "ARFO".

Focusing, judging by the photo, was carried out with a special head on the flap on the right.

It is problematic to understand the appearance of the ARFO camera. A photo of her from the book "1200 cameras from the USSR" is like this, but it seems to me that ARFO-3 is depicted here.

In other sources, I did not find an image of the ARFO of the first model.

However, the ARFO of the first model, according to sources, also had a double fur stretching. In this case, the difference between the first and third model is generally vague.

In general, to information about the first ARFO, incl. given here, I recommend to be wary.

The next model ARFO-2 was a somewhat simplified version. In it, the decentering of the lens was abandoned, and instead of the head, focusing was carried out by a lever in front of the lens carriage. The stretch was definitely single. Photo from

There are several modifications of ARFO-2, but I do not intend to list them all, because this is a task for a separate in-depth photo-historical research.

I will only point out that the main differences were in the lenses installed on the devices. There were models with Anastigmat ARPHO 6.3 / 13.5 cm and ARFO Periscope 12/15 cm.

This is followed by the ARFO-2a model. The logic behind the emergence of this model is unclear.

A number of sources indicate the following changes:

- New central shutter "ARFO", in which switching of shutter speeds is carried out by rotating the dial;

- Changed the design of the cassette lock;

- The attachment point for the belt for carrying the device has been changed.

- Attaches a darker Anastigmat ARPHO 6.3 / 135 lens

Photo from

However, in many sources (including, copies of ARFO-2a are shown, which are almost indistinguishable from ARFO-2. It can also be seen that for different specimens the belt attachment for carrying the device can be either side or top.

The same applies to the shutter and cassette locking latch design.

I think that the production in the Artel was quite artisanal and the machines were often made "from what was." What components were in stock, they were installed. Even, perhaps, as a specific change of workers used to do. Rational proposals were introduced into the design “on the fly”, and if they didn’t take root, then the changes were also quickly rolled back.

Therefore, according to the differences between specific specimens, many types / types / releases of ARFO cameras can be distinguished.

the next model ARFO-3, this is already a clear step forward. Well, or a return to previous achievements.

The mechanism of horizontal and vertical displacement of the objective panel returned to the camera. Plus, double fur stretching has been added.

The lens was installed by Anastigmat “ARFO” 4.5 / 13.5 cm.

ARFO-4 technically repeats ARFO-3, but is designed for a smaller size of plates - 6.5X9 cm. The lens was used Anastigmat "ARFO" 4.5 / 12 cm.

It is noteworthy that there are versions of ARFO-4, in which the shutter speeds are switched by rotating the dial.

And, finally, another modification of the ARFO has a proper name - Komsomolets.

Komsomolets is a simplified version of ARFO-4.

They again abandoned the double stretching of the fur and the decentering of the lens, installed a darker Anastigmat “ARFO” 6.3 / 120 mm lens and changed the design of the frame viewfinder.

This is how we got a cheaper model for the mass market and incl. young consumer, as the name says.

Information about the release years of specific models is contradictory. I got the impression that most of the models were produced in parallel for some time. This explains the application of the same technical solutions in different models and vice versa, the differences in copies of the same model.

Information on the volume of production also varies. But the volumes are significant, from 50 to 130 thousand pieces of all EFTE and ARFO models.

Nowadays, if you don't get attached to specific models, then the ARFO camera is not a rarity. This in itself is amazing, of course. It is difficult, however, to find a specimen in good condition.

The ARFO-2a model presented in the review is, perhaps, the most affordable option now for buying into a collection.

Next we will look at an example in very good condition numbered 9924.

ARFO-2a camera
ARFO-2a was produced by the Fototrud artel in 1937-38. The release volume of this particular model is unknown.

The device is designed for photographic plates 9x12 cm.

Anastigmat ARPHO 6.3 / 135 lens. Aperture limit f32. MDF 1.5 meters.

EGF of the lens in the equivalent of 35 mm photographic film is about 38.9 mm.

Aperture blades 10 pieces.

The shutter is central, it hits the exposures 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T.

Focusing is supposed to be on frosted glass or on a distance scale. For the second case, there is a foldable frame viewfinder, which consists of a front and rear frames.

The unit is equipped with a cable release slot and two 3/8 ”tripod sockets.

Metal cassettes. There is an edge for protection from light exposure. So the goal is still minimal.

Both "ARFO" and "XX OCTOBER" can be squeezed out on cassettes. In 1937, the artel was given the honorary name "Im. XX years of October ".

The weight of the device with the attached matte glass is 856 grams.

Control elements
The ARFO-2a device is pretty, but it was designed and assembled handicraftly and therefore not very high quality.

The leather wrapping on the sides has a beautiful embossing - inscriptions and frames. On the front flap, the abbreviation ARFO is displaced. On the rear door of the light-protective hood is the word "Moscow".

The name of the model is traditionally inscribed on the ARFO-2a strap.

The quality of the leather itself, however, is low.

The body material is highly corrosive. Even in neat specimens, corrosion gets inside the metal, which causes the surface to swell and peel off.

Many small design decisions look raw. The latch blocking the front flap is tight and unreliable. The latch that fixes the frosted glass and cassettes generally looks strange, impractical.

The focusing lever also does not give the impression of a thoughtful detail.

In general, there are, of course, backlashes and gaps and irregularities.

Nevertheless. The device is efficient and, I repeat, it looks nice.

The ARFO-2a design is classic for a folding plate accordion. I don't know if any foreign design was borrowed, most likely there were enough foreign prototypes.

The device is optimal for the device of those times and that type, therefore, all manufacturers around the world did about the same thing.

The body is a rectangular metal box containing folded fur, an objective carriage with lens and shutter, and the front viewfinder frame, also folded.

On the top there is a strap for easy carrying of the folded device.

In the front there is a folding wall. To open it, you need to press the inconspicuous button under the strap. The button is tight, and the design of the lock is such that it can jam. Both opening and slamming.

The wall folds down (or to the left, depending on how you look). The device is adapted for shooting with both horizontal and vertical orientation of the frame.

The folded-back wall is securely fixed with two spacers perpendicular to the plane of the photographic plate.

On the inner surface of the folded-back wall there are a distance scale and runners along which the carriage with the lens moves.

To get started, you need to pull the carriage out of the parking position and drag it onto the runners. To do this, grab onto the two curved plates under the carriage and pull forward.

The carriage must go onto the runners and then it must be moved forward to the distance scale.

The focusing lever (to the right of the carriage base) should be in the extreme right position. When the carriage reaches the distance scale, the lever will catch on the vertical pin between the runners, and the arrow (to the left of the carriage base) should point to infinity on the distance scale.

Further, when focusing, the carriage must be moved already with a lever, which must be shifted with a decrease in the focusing distance forward and to the left, as if in a circle. And vice versa.

The lever is short. The design is such that the move is rather tight, and it is not very convenient to reach it.

But, nothing dangles, which is more important.

The ARFO-2a bolt does not need to be cocked. At shutter speeds of 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100, you just need to gently push the lever to take a picture. As the lever moves, the bolt spring will be compressed. When the lever reaches the end position, the spring will straighten and the bolt will work.

It is clear that the lever at the same time has a solid stroke and comes with some resistance, which increases the risk of wiggling. A tripod and cable were frequent attributes of shooting, even at instant exposures.

The cable slot is just below the trigger.

At shutter speed K (short manual) - the shutter will open when the lever is pressed and close when the lever is released.

At shutter speed T (long manual) - the shutter will open when the lever is pressed, but will not close when the lever is released. To close the shutter, you need to press the lever again.

The shutter speeds are switched by moving the pointer tongue along a semicircular scale with a star and the inscription "ARFO" above the lens.

The aperture scale, also semicircular, is located under the lens. There is a similar indicator tongue for switching the diaphragms.

The depth of field scale is not applied to the device. No help for shooting on the GFR - either, although the initially dark lens seems to be favorable for this.

Perhaps some recommendations were given in the tables in the instructions.

There are two ways to focus.

The first is on the distance scale. To the left of the runners, along which the lens carriage walks, there is a distance scale with 1.5 marks; 2; 3; 5; ten; 20 meters and infinity.

There is an arrow on the carriage and focus can be set by matching the arrow with the desired distance mark.

In this case, the flip-up frame viewfinder must be used to compose the shot.

The second focusing method is on frosted glass.

On the back of the device there is a door locked with a sliding latch. My copy is assembled in such a way that the latch just does not physically fix anything. Marriage, in fact.

When the door is opened, a black cloth hood is folded out on the back of the machine. The shape of the hood does not hold well, perhaps earlier there were supposed to be spacers that were lost.

Inside you can see frosted glass with a rather large matte finish.

The aperture should be opened as much as possible, and the shutter speed should be set to T. Next, the shutter should be opened.

Light, passing through the lens and the body of the apparatus, falls on the frosted glass and forms an image on it exactly as it will subsequently form on a photographic plate emulsion.

The picture is, of course, inverted on both axes.

By moving the lens carriage, you should achieve a sharp image on frosted glass.

It is inconvenient to hold the device in hands, therefore, when photographing using frosted glass, it was recommended to mount the device on a tripod. 3/8 ”tripod sockets are located on the bottom and right sides of the unit.

The matting on the glass is large, and the ARFO-2a lens is dark and gives strong vignetting. Everything is evidently bad. In my opinion, if a photographer has a developed eye, then this method of focusing did not give a radical advantage over the scale one.

Here are a couple of photos taken with a digital camera with frosted glass. In the photo there is a vase and the bottom of the painting on the wall. For ease of perception, the pictures are inverted.

Next, you need to do the following without moving anywhere:

  1. Close the shutter by pressing the release lever again;
  2. Set a different shutter speed, if you need a different one;
  3. Set a different aperture if you need a different one;
  4. Remove the backdrop with frosted glass from the device (the latch is near the left strap attachment, the backdrop is pulled up);
  5. Put a cassette with a record in place of the backdrop;
  6. Pull the gate out of the cassette;
  7. Press the trigger;
  8. Push in

There are a lot of operations and with the non-obvious advantage of focusing on frosted glass, I think that ARFO-2a was more often used in a scaled version.

At the same time, a backdrop with frosted glass is not needed at all. All that is needed is to put a fresh cassette on the device, set the focus on the scale, set the exposure, open the slide, press the trigger and close the slide.

The folding process looks like this:

1. Move the focusing lever to the extreme right position (infinity).

2. Grasp the curved plates under the carriage and move it back. The carriage should completely come off the runners and enter the inside of the housing as far as possible.

3. Press the ends of the spacers so that they jump out of the parking position and the rivet heads begin to move along the slots.

We close the lid and press the upper part to fix it with a latch.

My attitude towards the camera

ARFO-2a is a device that very well conveys the spirit of the era. An era in which enthusiasm and striving for achievements made up for, as best they could, both the shortcomings of technology and the low quality of materials. The fact that it turned out does not cause delight, but tens of thousands of Soviet people could try their hand at photography.

If you are a collector, I recommend looking for an inexpensive version of ARFO.

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