Comrade Tom Tigers

Part 2, The Legend of the FotoSnaiper

If there ever was a reason to go for manual photography and Russian equipment then we have it here. Though this article is about the history, in a broad sense, of the FotoSnaiper you will find that it makes a good reason to switch.

First Light, the Stalin Era

"When you kill one, it is a tragedy. When you kill ten million, it is a statistic."

Joshep Stalin (one the Soviet Union most notorious leaders)

The very first of the FotoSnaipers saw the light of day in 1937. Called the FS-2 (Foto Snaiper model 2) very few were produced and according to Princelle, writer of the magnificent bible of Soviet camera collectors, they were intended for military use. Four years after the birth of the Snaiper came Operation Barbarossa. The Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. The Maelstrom of war and havoc that allready ravaged Europe had come to the Soviet Union. Suffering heavy losses, the Red army retreated. In some cases leaving only scorced earth behind them. They retreated and behind them the cities fell, but the front was held at the cities of Leningrad, Stalingrad and Moscow. Leningrad was also the home of Goi Voomp the builders of the FS-2. Allthough the City was under siege work continued. Plans of the Snaiper found their way to Moscow. KMZ started to produce the FS-2 for the Red Army.
It was said that the first Snaiper that saw combat was used during the Siege of Leningrad in 1941/1943. Formerly and now once again known as St. Petersburg. The legend goes that a recon unit from the red army used the Snaiper to spot out where the germans had their gunemplacements and other stuff. I have no idea if there is any truth in it but even Princelle mentions a military use. Also from another source I was told that many were used in the Red army and others units..... well, they became presents for highranking officers or party officals. Some even had their name engraved on the wooden gunstock. The military history of the FS-2 is shrouded in the mists of history and it is doubtfull that the truth of the military Snaiper will be revealed anytime soon. Still the archives in Moscow may hold the key to this little mystery. But here the military myth of the Snaiper starts. After the Great Patriotic War as WWII is known in the former Soviet Union, the Snaiper, now being produced by KMZ became an old soldier and just faded away.

At the same time Churchill said in one of his now famous speeches that an Iron Curtain had decended onto Europe.
The Cold War was coming.....

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The Return of the Snaiper

"Share your thoughts with me."

Yuri (Yuris Revenge Westwood)

Welcome in the turbulent sixties, the Cold War is at its highest, hippies are around, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy, Woodstock and the Mutual Assured Destruction ghost of the Nuclear age. Also the time of the Zorki 4, Fed 3 and the dawn of the infamous Zenit-E.

Meet Nikita Chroetsjev. One of the key players during the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis. Not only one of the Soviet Unions most illustrious leaders but also a passionate amateur photographer. He owned a FS-2 Snaiper and was very fond of it. As told by Princelle and KMZ. One day he went to Krasnagorsk to have his FS-2 serviced by KMZ. He found out that they no longer made the Snaiper. Allthough I do not have the full info on this delightfull story we all know what happened. KMZ produced the FS-3 only a few years later. KMZ, who allready had a great experience building SLR's decided on a new step in Snaiper history. With the coming of the Zenit-E, the most produced SLR ever, they built the new Snaiper. It was based on the 1958's Tair 300 mm lens that did so well in Brussels. The Tair was redesigned. It got a frontfocusknob and a spring aperture system. This connected to a gunmount with shoulderstock The E was alsomodified with a bottomshutter and became the ES. The Snaiper was reborn in 1965. History doesn't mention if Chroetsjev ever got a FS-3 but I like to think that he got one.

So the Snaiper was back and with it the myth returned. Not in the first few years. Not even in the first, second or even the third decade of its new production. The FS-3 came and went, being replaced by the FS-12 series. The Snaiper got TTL. And with it came the rumour of a Camo FotoSnaiper. It is easy to see how they got started. The Red army or at least some recon unit of the Red army was supposed to have owned FS-2's, well these must have been later replaced by the FS-3 and the rumours go even so far as saying that they were replaced by FS-12 or that FS-12's were added. Unfortunatly nobody seems to have a photo of one of these so these are considered to be a myth.

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"The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep
and miles to go before I sleep "

(70'ties movie with Charles Bronson)

During the 80'ties the unthinkable happened, the first cracks in the Iron Curtain came with Lech Walensa in Poland. His new workers union asking for their rights on freedom. A new Soviet leader, Gorbatsov, came with Perestroika giving power back to the people.

Then.... Berlin... when the Wall fell.
The people of Eastern Germany rose up and took back their freedom. The Cold War started to end. We write the year of 1989 and East and West Germany became one again and with it the Cold war started to thaw. The Soviet Empire, torn by the peoples cry for freedom fell slowy apart.

And in the fleamarkets of Western Europe something new appeared. Allthough the Snaiper was sold in the West in the 70'ties and early 80'ties it wasn't well known. But suddenly the Snaiper appeared in secondhand shops and fleamarkets of the West. Brought there mainly by Polish merchants.

Snaiper suddenly was, "designed by the Seventh Chief Directorate of the KGB (the spy shop)" or "exclusively used by the Red Army !" Well, there may be some truth in this, but only that the Seventh Chief Directorate of the KGB is known as the "Spy Shop"! Did they design the Snaiper? NO! KMZ did. There may even be some truth in the myth that the KGB actually did use it on stake out missions but that is where this myth ends. By the way, that would be by the Second Chief Directorate of the KGB (Field Operations). As for the Red army, who knows... but the Russian Border Guards seems to have used them on some occasions.

Prices shot up, where onces a Snaiper cost 200 dollars, they now became "collectors items" remenants of the Cold war you just had to have. Spykits.... something Q might have dreamt up for 007 to use. Something from the era of James Bond when he drove a Austin Martin. This must have been in the back of his car.
Let me stroke my cat.... "Yes Mister bond, we found your clever camera system."
Or something he stole from the KGB headquarters...
Suddenly Snaipers went for 600 dollars. The myth was back and took its toll among the gullable collectors who never saw one before and were happy to believe the Spy myth.
"This cameraystem is weird! IT must have been used by spies! Look at that lens! It is enormous, big metal case, special camera. Wow, and it came from Russia you said?"
"Yes, Mister collector....and for you I have special price.... " the seller says while stroking a white cat....

The full FotoSnaiper history will probably never be clear. But Snaiper is still here, the FS-122 is still being sold, new. KMZ also has plans for a next generation of Snaipers.

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"Have Snaiper, Will Travel"

Tom "Tiger" Piel (Photographer & FotoSnaiper enthousiast)

I hear you saying, novaflex has one and there are more. Pherhaps there are, but the Snaiper was the first. It dates back to 1937. Still the myth or legend, whatever you prefer, lives on. The FS-122 is still around and can be had for around 250 dollars.

To me this is an extremely versatile piece of kit. It can be refitted with any camera through a adapter ring. So the Tair can be used with a Canon 500n or any Canon. Or since the MTO 500 fits on the Gunstock, you can create a very strong piece of hardware.

Does this mean you can refit the Snaiper? Yes you can. As I said it is extremely versatile. You can retrofit it with almost any camera. M42 is standard but the Tair has a little suprise. If you take off the M42 mount there is a T-mount beneath so retrofitting it with Canon, Nikon, Pentax-K or what other mount you want is very possible. Don't want to use the Tair? Then just use the Gunstock. The only problem you can run into is the 1/4 inch thread of the stockmount. But it can easily be replaced with something else.

Face it, at this price it is a steal for the things and fun you get.

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Are you though enough or for that matter crazy enough to read ....

Part 3, Lost History ?

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