Going WIDE with the Soviet Horizont Even if it Hurts

Some insights on the Horizont, a brick-like camera weighing more or less like a good medium format camera, the viewfinder resembling a cosmonaut’s helmet.

I live in Poland and it is probably one of the best countries for old analog cameras lovers. Of course, it can be better in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, but in my country, literally in every home, in the closet, basement or attic, you can find a Smena, Vilia, Zorki, or Zenit. However, my latest discovery didn’t come from my grandfather’s stuff, but from the Academy of Photography where I work. Over the years, the Academy has been collecting more and more old cameras brought by students as a curiosity and decoration on the shelf. Among this pile of scrap — which is 90% inoperable — I spotted a silver wonder: a Horizont. A camera that looks like a brick, weighing more or less as much as a good medium format camera, and equipped with a viewfinder resembling a Soviet astronaut’s helmet. It simply had to fall into my hands.

Photo by John Nuttall

The simplicity of this camera encouraged me to test it. What could be broken in a camera so banal? The mechanism of the lens shift was working properly, just like the lens curtain. I decided to give it a try. I loaded it with Ilford PAN 400 and I set out into the city.

Obviously, the natural choice for testing this type of camera was architecture. Winter in Poland does not encourage taking walks, so the streets were almost totally empty. The solid piece of metal thawed my hands, but what wouldn’t I do for art? Because I was walking around narrow streets, I did not have the opportunity to capture the beautiful horizon (actually, winter is nothing beautiful in Poland). Working in these difficult conditions revealed, unfortunately, a few disadvantages of the tested equipment.

The biggest problem was the shutter button. You should expect that you just press it and it’s done, but not in this camera. The trigger is not properly fitted and hooks on the internal components of the mechanism when pressed. To take a picture, you have to push the trigger PERFECTLY vertically. Annoying.

Another problem was the film winding mechanism. To load the film, you should drag it under the two tension rollers, which significantly increase the resistance of the film when being moved. As a consequence of this resistance, the perforation of the film may break, which happened to my film roll a few times. Very annoying.

So, you took the first photo, huh? The biggest problem is yet to come — winding the film to the next frame. Although the knob is quite wide and easy to grip between the thumb and the index finger, winding the strained and resisting film is not only difficult but also painful for your hands. Very, very annoying.

Despite placing great hopes in my heavy metal friend, the photos turned out to be not much different from other Lomography toy cameras. It’s true that the fast lens allows you to shoot in difficult lighting conditions, but the image quality leaves much to be desired. Fixed focus does not allow for creative use of the camera from close range, and the images aren’t very sharp.

Maybe the original Mk-I Soviet Horizont is heavy, unwieldy and flawed, but don’t we love old cameras for these disadvantages? I decided to give it a second chance and use it for some experiments. Keep an eye out for those!

Think you need a Horizont? You can grab one off eBay now!

Adrian Norbert Cuper
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Born in 1988, Warsaw-based Adrian is a portrait photographer, photography teacher, and co-founder of Whattaroll Magazine.

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