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ZOLA S-387   ЗОЛА С-387
Covert observation camera

S-387, codenamed ZOLA 1 (Russian: ЗОЛА), was a covert observation camera, developed around 1970 by KMZ in Krasnogorsk (Russia), for use by Soviet intelligence services like the KGB. Like its predecessor, the S-206 ZINNIA 2 (Russian: ЦИННИЯ), the camera was based on the KMZ Zorki 6 consumer camera, and had been given an angular lens, or reflex scope, for lateral viewing [4][5].

The camera accepts standard 35 mm perforated film and has a spring-loaded auto-winder (much like the Robot Star 50), that is activated by the shutter-release button, which in turn can be activated by a remote control or by a solenoid. The spring is wound up manually using the black rigged knob at the top, or with a special tool.

The image on the right shows a typical ZOLA that is fitted with a reflex scope for upwards viewing (rather than front viewing). It makes the camera ideal for mounting inside a concealment, such as a regular inconspicuous attache case.
  
ZOLA covert camera

ZOLA was developed in the late 1960s and was introduced in 1970. It was in production until at least 1989. As with other Soviet covert cameras, the first two digits of the serial number indicate the production year. The camera featured here, was made in 1980. It is currently unknown how many ZOLA cameras were made, but judging from the serial number of the surviving cameras, it is likely that this was limited to about 100 per year. Today, ZOLA cameras are extremely rare.

  1. ZOLA (ЗОЛА) is Russian for Ash.
  2. ZINNIA (ЦИННИЯ) is Russian for Zinnia (flower). Also written as TSINYA or CINIJA.

ZOLA covert camera ZOLA front view ZOLA bottom view ZOLA bottom view Top panel Bottom panel Winding knob and shutter release button Rewind knob and film speed setting
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ZOLA covert camera
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ZOLA front view
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ZOLA bottom view
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ZOLA bottom view
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Top panel
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Bottom panel
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Winding knob and shutter release button
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Rewind knob and film speed setting

Features
The diagram below gives an overview of the various features of this intreguing camera. The body is based on KMZ's Zorki 6 camera, of which the original position of the lens is still visible. The lens fitting has been removed and the hole is closed with a metal panel. At the bottom of the camera, a battery compartment has been added for the electronic through-the-lens light meter that controls the exposure time, along with a spring mechanism that is used for the auto-winder.


Compared to Zorki 6, the top panel has been changed completely. The viewfinder, the selenium light meter and the flash shoe are gone, and have been replaced by a removable reflex scope that faces upwards. This allows the lens – which is smaller than a regular photo lens – to look through a small hole in de side of a briefcase. A separate lens unit was available for front photography.

When taking pictures, the user does not have to worry about the exposure time (shutter speed), as this is controlled by the electronic light meter. All the user has to do, is wind-up the camera, adjust the focus ring (i.e. set the desired distance), select the correct film speed and press the shutter-release button. When the camera is used as part of a concealement, this is usually done by pressing a button on a mechanical or electronic remote control unit. A fully wound spring allows up to 15 pictures to be taken successively, with an interval of approx. 1.2 seconds.

Battery holder Battery holder and threaded cap Exposure counter Flash socket Adjusting the focus ring of the lens Unlocking the back cover Full out for rewind Film speed setting and rewind knob
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Battery holder
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Battery holder and threaded cap
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Exposure counter
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Flash socket
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Adjusting the focus ring of the lens
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Unlocking the back cover
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Full out for rewind
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Film speed setting and rewind knob

Versions
  • Zinnia
    This is the first model, developed at KMZ in 1955, and based on a Zorki 6 camera. It was intended for use inside concealments like briefcases and leather carrying bags. It is the predecessor of the ZOLA described here. Zinnia is also known as project number S-256.

  • Zinnia-M
    This is a similar camera, also based on the Zorki 6, that was used with special optics for through-the-wall photography. This variant was made especially for the PGU — the first chief directorate of the KGB — and was also known by its project number S-260M.

  • Zola
    This is the successor to Zinnia. It is also based on the Zorki 6, but has improved controls and features. It comes with two lenses for front and upwards viewing. Further­more it can be driven by an auto­winder and has built-in light measurement. Like Zinnia, it was made for use inside a portable concealment such as a briefcase. Also known as project S-387.


Overview of ZOLA parts (not in our collection). Photograph by Atomic KGB Bunker [1].


Parts
Camera body with angular lens for lateral viewing Alternative lens for direct viewing Film cartridge(s) Remote control for shutter release button 4 Batteries for auto-exposure light measurement Battery charger Knob for winding up the internal spring Mounting bracket for fitting inside a concealment
Briefcase as concealment
Body
The body of the camera is based on the 1955 Zorki 6 camera, which was also made by KMZ. The normal lens fitting has been removed and is closed with a metal panel. Instead of the view­finder is now a prisma block with the IK-75LM lens, that faces upwards, allowing the camera to be mounted in a narrow concealment.

The camera accepts standard 35 mm perforated film (24 exposures) and has a spring-loaded winding mechanism (15 exposures).
  
ZOLA camera body with upwards lens

Lens   wanted
As an alternative to the reflex scope shown in the image above, some cameras were also supplied with direct angle lense that faces the front of the camera, as shown on the right [1].

It has the same IK-75LM lens, but a different prisma block, that can be mounted instead of the one shown above. As the lens has a smaller diameter than a regular one, it can be concealed more easily.
  
Alternative lens for front viewing. Photograph kindly supplied by [1].

Film
The camera is loaded with a standard 35 mm film cartridge that can hold 24 exposures. The plastic film cartridge - shown in the image on the right - is supplied with the camera, but ZOLA also accepts western film cartridges, that were available anywhere in the world at the time.

The image on the right shows a 'modern' Kodak 35 mm film, in front of an empty original plastic cartridge that was supplied with ZOLA. The two cartridges are fully compatible.
  
Modern Kodak film in front of the empty plastic cartridge supplied with ZOLA

Remote   wanted
ZOLA can be remote controlled in various ways. After removing the knob from the shutter release button (on some versions the knob isn't fitted at all), a remote control unit can be attached to the screw terminal. The image on the right shows a bellows-operated shutter release device [1].

It was also possible to use an electronic remote control device, in which case the shutter release button was actuated by a solenoid.
  
Shutter release actuator. Photograph kindly supplied by [1].

Batteries   wanted
The camera has a built-in electronic light meter, which controls the shutter speed when taking pictures. The light meter is powered by four button cell Д-0,006 rechargeable batteries, that are installed in the battery compartment (i.e. the black bulge) at the bottom of the camera.

These batteries are probably no longer in production, but can easily be replaced by four standard 1.35V button cells of similar size.

No image available
  

Battery charger   wanted
When using the standard-issue batteries described above, they had to be recharged every 3000 shooting cycles, using the battery charger shown in the image on the right [1].

This is done by unscrewing the metal cap from the battery compartment and removing the batteries from the camera, and installing them behind the metal cap of the charger. The charger is then placed in a wall socket. The batteries will be fully charged after approx. 10 hours.
  
Battery charger. Photograph kindly supplied by [1].

Winder   wanted
The metal knob shown in the image on the right, was supplied to make it easier to wind-up the spring of the semi-automatic film transport mechanism [1]. It has two small metal stubs at the bottom, that mate with the two cut-outs in the rigged knob of the winding mechanism.

Winding up the spring involves rotating the knob left and right repeatedly, until resistance is felt. A full wounded spring should be capable of advancing the film by 15 frames, which is equal to pressing the shutter release button 15 times.
  
Spring winding knob. Photograph kindly supplied by [1].

Bracket   wanted
Especially for mounting the camera inside a concealment, such as a common briefcase, a metal frame like the one shown in the image on the right was used [2]. The frame is usually fixed to the concealment, whilst the camera can be removed easily (e.g. to swap the film).

In many cases, the frame, or bracket, also contains mechanisms or electronic circuits to release the shutter remotely, for examply by pressing a hidden button. If necessary, it can also move a panel to hide the lens.

  
Mounting bracket. Photograph from Novacon [2].

Briefcase concealment   wanted
For covert photography, such as observations, surveillance and intelligence gathering, ZOLA could easily be mounted inside a common slimline briefcase, that could be carried around inconspicuously by the operative, under the pretence of being a businessman.

The image on the right shows ZOLA mounted inside a briefcase, using the metal bracket described above [2]. Behind the bracket is the electronic control unit. At the right of the image, the plugs are visible for power supply and for the hidden button that operates the shutter.

  
Briefcase with mounting frame and electronic remote control. Photograph from Novacon [2].

Briefcase used as concealment for ZOLA. Photograph from Novacon [2]. Briefcase used as concealment for ZOLA. Photograph from Novacon [2]. Briefcase used as concealment for ZOLA. Photograph from Novacon [2].
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Briefcase used as concealment for ZOLA. Photograph from Novacon [2].
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Briefcase used as concealment for ZOLA. Photograph from Novacon [2].
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Briefcase used as concealment for ZOLA. Photograph from Novacon [2].





Interior
Getting access to the interior of the camera is comparable to other cameras of the era. At the left side is a small lever that can be pulled upwards to open the camera's hinged back door, as shown in the image above. The bottom panel which holds the battery holder, has been removed here.

Behind the bottom panel is the mechanism for the exposure counter, plus the wiring for the external battery that is used for the light meter. The latter measures through the lens and drives the electronic shutter, so that the user does not have to set the exposure time. This feature was not available on the old Zorki 6, which is why the batteries are mounted externally at the bottom.

The image on the right shows the open camera, seen from the rear, with the battery holder at the bottom left. ZOLA accepts standard 35 mm film, which should be installed in the bay at the left.
  
Film cartridge aside the open camera

At the heart of the camera is the curtain. It has a frame size of 36 x 24 mm and is controlled by the electronic light meter. At the right is the tractor feed with two cogwheels on a single axle that capture the perforated holes at the sides of the film, and pulls the film onto the take-up spool.

Another unique feature of this camera is the spring-loaded auto-winder, which allows up to 15 photos to be taken without operating a film advance lever. As this feature was not present on the Zorki 6 on which the camera is based, the spring mechanism was added at the camera's bottom.

Opening the back cover Interior Interior ZOLA interior (bottom panel removed) View of the mechanism at the bottom Film cartridge aside the open camera Loading the camera with a Kodak 35 mm film Close-up of the exposure counter mechanism
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Opening the back cover
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Interior
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Interior
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ZOLA interior (bottom panel removed)
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View of the mechanism at the bottom
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Film cartridge aside the open camera
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Loading the camera with a Kodak 35 mm film
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Close-up of the exposure counter mechanism

Restoration
Judging from the usual scuff marks on the body of the camera featured on this page, it has seen a lot of action. Since the black/red knob of the shutter-release button is missing, it was probably used inside a concealment, in which case the exposures were triggered by a remote control unit. When we received it, the overall state of the camera was good, but there were some problems:

  1. Linen cover loose
  2. Battery compartment loose and broken
  3. Flash connector loose
  4. Knob of film speed stetting missing
  5. Light blocking felt loose or missing
None of these problems appeared to be fatal, and the camera was eventually restored within a day. The camera is now fully operational. Below is a detailed account of the restoration work.

1. Linen cover
As with most analogue cameras of this era, some recessed parts of the body are covered with a black leather textured linen. It gives the camera its typical look and feel. Due to ageing of the glue, the linen had come off in some places.

Although this is not a critical problem – ZOLA can do with out it – it should be repaired in order to avoid further deterioration. Luckily, the linen was not missing or torn, so it was easily glued back in place with a bit of modern glue. The image on the right shows the camera's front.
  
Line cover loose

2. Battery compartment
The battery holder is fitted to the bottom of the camera. When we received the camera however, we noticed that it had come loose somewhat. Furthermore, when looking inside the holder, we noticed that one of the contacts had come off, and that least one of the teflon wires was broken.

In order to repair this, the battery holder had to be removed completely. As it is attached to the bottom of the camera, the camera's steel bottom panel had to be removed first. Unfortunately, this revealed a more serious problem, as both wires from the battery holder were desoldered.

Apparently, someone had been trying to repair the camera in the past, but had forgotten to refit the wires. And without them, the electronic light meter that controls the shutter curtain, can not operate. As both wires have the same colour and are unmarked, we had to discover their polarity.
  
Misaligned battery holder

Connecting the wires the wrong way around will almost certainly damage the electronic circuits that are hidden deep down inside the body of the camera. In the end we decided to try it out both ways, using a professional power supply unit (PSU) with built-in current limiter to avoid damage.

After removing the camera's bottom panel, we noticed that one of the recessed 1 mm screws – that hold the battery in place – was missing. Not a big problem. Inside the battery holder, the contact plate of the (-) terminal had come off.

The battery holder was removed and cleaned, and the (-) terminal was glued back in place. Next the wiring inside the battery holder was repaired and glued back in place, so that it will not break again. The solder terminals inside the camera were cleaned and the solder remains from the earlier repair attempt were removed.
  
Close-up of the restored wiring

After working out the polarity of the battery wires, the (+) was marked with a red sleeve and the solder terminal inside the camera was marked with red locking varnish. The battery holder was mounted back in place – this time with two recessed screws – and secured with locking varnish.

3. Flash connector
Also at the bottom of the camera is a socket for connection of a flash unit. Although this socket is not critical, it would be nice if it worked. And since the bottom of the camera was removed for the above repair anyway, it was easily fixed. The socket does not have any wiring, but has a stiff contact at the centre, that presses against a contact spring inside the camera. The socket itself had come loose, and in a previous repair an attempt had been made to glue it in place.

The glue was removed and the socket was re­fitted and secured in place with locking varnish.
  
Flash socket refitted

4. Missing knob
Unfortunately, the knob of the film speed setting was missing completely and – as the axle of the 4-position selector is just 2 mm thick – it will be very difficult to find a proper replacement.

In the end it was decided to make a new knob from an existing screw terminal. It was painted black, and a white index line was added in one of its rigs. The result is shown in the image on the right, and is not too far off from the original one. The selector is now fully functional again.
  
Film speed setting and rewind knob

5. Felt strips
One of the major challenges with old analogue cameras, is to make it completely dark inside. Any light ray, however small, that enters the body, is likely to cause unwanted exposure of the film. This is notably the case around the edges of the hinged back panel. The problem is usually solved with narrow felt or velvet strips.

Due to ageing of the glue, some strips had come off and had to be refitted. The image on the right shows one of the original velvet strips, that is located close to the hinge of the back door.
  
Repaired felt rigs

Line cover loose Misaligned battery holder Garbage inside the battery compartment Bottom panel removed (note that the wires were disconnected) older and wire remains Repaired battery holder Bottom panel with refitted battery holder and flash socket Cleaned and restored internal wiring
Flash socket removed Flash socket refitted Restored battery wiring Close-up of the restored wiring Knob missing Film speed setting and rewind knob Light blocking felt strips Repaired felt rigs
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Line cover loose
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Misaligned battery holder
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Garbage inside the battery compartment
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Bottom panel removed (note that the wires were disconnected)
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older and wire remains
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Repaired battery holder
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Bottom panel with refitted battery holder and flash socket
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Cleaned and restored internal wiring
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Flash socket removed
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Flash socket refitted
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Restored battery wiring
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Close-up of the restored wiring
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Knob missing
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Film speed setting and rewind knob
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Light blocking felt strips
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Repaired felt rigs

Known serial numbers
  • 79016
  • 80013
  • 80020 ← Crypto Museum
  • 83054
  • 84101
  • 85015
  • 88002 ← Atomic KGB Bunker [1]
  • 89023
Specifications
  • Lens
    IK-75LM, 1:3.7/75 mm, with 32° angular prisma
  • Distance
    5 metres to infinity
  • Diafragm
    1:3.7 fixed
  • Film width
    35 mm
  • Film length
    1.2 metres
  • Exposures
    24
  • Frame size
    36 x 24 mm
  • Resolution
    35 to 45 lines per mm
  • Shutter
    Electronically controlled curtain
  • Speed
    1/30 to 1/500 (automatic)
  • Transport
    Spring-loaded (enough for 15 exposures)
  • Interval
    1.2 sec
  • Power
    4 x Д-0,006 rechargeable battery 1
  • Temperature
    -15 to +45 °C
  • Dimensions
    120 x 95 x 45 mm
  • Weight
    650 grams (without film cartridge)
  1. Sufficient for 3000 shooting cycles

References
  1. Atomic KGB Bunker, Zola camera, S/N 88002
    Lithuania, January 2018. 1

  2. Novacon, Zola, Russian Spy camera
    Retrieved January 2018.

  3. Collectiblend, Krasnogorsk: Zorki 6 (Zola, spy)
    Retrieved january 2018.

  4. USSRPhoto, Zola Briefcase Spy Camera
    User 'Vlad', 21 August 2007. Retrieved January 2018.

  5. Photohistory, Special camera 'Zola'
    Website photohistory.ru (Russian). Retrieved January 2018.
  1. Images reproduced with kind permission from the author.

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Crypto Museum. Created: Thursday 18 January 2018. Last changed: Monday, 26 March 2018 - 18:55 CET.
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