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F-21 Ayaks   Аякс
Concealed miniature camera

F-21 is a mechanical miniature surveillance camera with a wind-up transport mechanism, built by the Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod (KMZ), the Mechanical Factory of Krasnogorsk, from 1951 to 1995 [2]. During the Cold War, it was very popular with the Soviet intelligence agency KGB and its sister organisations in the other countries of the Warsaw Pact for covert photography. It is also known as Ayaks 1 , Аякс-12 and Neilon, but is commonly referred to as KGB Camera.
 
The camera body measures approx. 7 x 5.5 x 2.5 cm, excluding the lens. It has three different shutter speeds (1/10, 1/30 and 1/100) plus a manual setting (lens continuously open). The image on the right shows a typical F-21 camera.

A ring around the lens allows the diafragm to be set between 2.8 and 16. The shutter is released by pressing the shutter release button on top of the camera (right in the image). Furthermore, it was possible to attach a remote control unit to the front of the camera, allowing it to be used in a variety of concealments, such as a handbag.
  
Typical F-21 camera as used in many covert configurations

Once the picture is taken, the camera automatically winds to the next image, so that multiple photographs can be taken in quick succession. The auto-winder is fully mechanical and needs to be wound-up before use. To wind it up, the large knop at the top centre of the camera has to be turned clockwise, as indicated by a white arrow. There are no batteries involved whatsoever.

The frame size is 18 x 24 mm, while the images are taken on a 21 mm film, resulting in rather sharp and good quality photographs, compared to the subminiature cameras of those days, that had a 8 x 11 mm frame size. Compared to the later 35 mm cameras, such as the Kiev-35A and most domestic camera of the analogue age, the F-21 can be regarded as a half-frame camera. The design was clearly inspired on the wartime Robot Star cameras that also featured a windup mechanism. The F-21 was succeeded in 1985 by the F-27 Neozit 2 and in 1989 by the Zakhod.3
 
  1. Ayaks is sometime written as Ajaks or Ajax.
  2. Neozit is sometimes written as Neosit.
  3. Zakhod is sometimes written as Zahod.

Typical F-21 camera as used in many covert configurations View at the controls at the top of the camera. At the centre is the wind-up knob. The F-21 camera with the remote shutter release Close-up of the button that conceals the lens. Note the split at the centre of the button. F-21 camera with the lens concealed behind a button The separate camera and the button extension with the remote shutter release The mechanical wire-operated remote control

 
Disguised as a button
Because of its small size and simplicity of operation, the F-21 was ideally suited for covert operations. A variety of mechanical constructions were developed to enable the F-21 to be used in virtually every type of concealment, ranging from a pack of sigarettes to a woman's handbag.
 
For surveillance and observation purposes, the F-21 was often built into a woman's handbag. In order to shoot a picture, the female agent only had to lift the bottom of her handbag slightly.

Another common application of the F-21 was to use the button of a raincoat as concealment for the lens. The image on the right shows an F-21 with a special assembly that resembles a button, mounted in front of the lens. The camera would be strapped around the waist of the agent, at such a position that the button protruded one of the button holes of his (prepared) raincoat.
  
Close-up of the button that conceals the lens. Note the split at the centre of the button.

The button has a static outer ring and an inner section that consists of two movable halves that cover the camera's lens. The assembly has a shutter-release lever that attaches to the camera via a flexible cable. The release lever can be operated by hand from within the pocket of the coat.
 
The image on the right shows a close-up of the button, mounted on the camera lens, with the outer ring removed. This gives a good idea of the construction of the two 'doors' that are briefly separated when the picture is taken (as is simulated here here by pressing the release lever half way). Once the image is shot, the two doors are moved back to their initial position.

In practice this happens so fast that the human eye can hardly see it happening. The spring-loaded mechanism then winds the camera to the next position; ready to take the next shot.
  
The two button-halves separated whilst the picture is shot

Also on the remote control is a small lever to alter the diafragm of the lens. It 'clicks' into three different positions that correspond with the three default diafragm settings, but also allows the diafragm to be set to a value in between. Like the shutter, it is controlled from the agent's pocket. The 'fake' button is so realistic that it even has black yarn in the four holes at the center.
 
In the images above, the camera is shown with a brown button, but other colours, such as black, were also used. For a perfect concealment, a set of matching 'normal' buttons was available.

The image on the right shows an example of a set of matching black buttons. As indicated on the checklist, the set consisted of 10 large buttons, 8 smaller ones, 3 open buttons (the outer rings) and 4 shutters. The buttons were sewed onto the agent's coat, replacing the existing ones, so that they were all identical to the one with the shutter. The perfect disguise.
  
Complete kit with F-21 buttons

 
Checklist Complete kit with F-21 buttons Complete set of buttons The buttons with its doors closed Close-up of the two button doors The two button-halves separated whilst the picture is shot Mounting the outer ring A pair of black replacement shutters

 
Specifications
  • Dimensions
    77 x 55 x 40 mm
  • Weight
    180 gram
  • Temperature
    -20°C to +55C
  • Lens
    28 mm f2.8
  • Field
    56°
  • Focus
    Fixed at 5m, at f/5.6: 3.75-6.25 m, at f/16: 1.27 m - ∞
  • Speed
    B, 1/10, 1/30, 1/100 sec
  • Film
    21 mm
  • Frame size
    18 x 24 mm
  • Cassette
    14-100 exposures (depending on film thickness)
References
  1. H. Keith Melton, Ultimate spy.
    ISBN: 0-7513-4791-4, 1996-2002

  2. USSR Photo.com, F-21
    Website (English). Retrieved February 2013.

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