All images used courtesy of the eBay listing
Heads up vintage camera collectors and Russian camera fans! There’s a rare, Soviet Era spy camera you can snag off eBay, and it’s actually a pretty interesting piece of photography history. Called the F-21 AJAX camera, and this tiny snapper is known for being the camera of choice of the Soviet intelligence agency Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) during the 1950s.
As described by eBay seller geka.ck, this particular Soviet Era gem is an original camera that has signs of wear, but is still in very good condition. Interestingly, the serial number above the lens has been scraped off. Not sure what he meant by the “coil” not being available, but it’s most likely the remote shutter release/cord in the picture. If you’re keen on adding this mini spy camera to your Russian camera collection, you can check out his listing, ask for more details, and prepare your $349.95.
As for this camera’s specifications, the F-21 AJAX camera was produced by the Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod (KMZ) or the Mechanical Factory of Krasnogorsk from 1951 to 1995. Because of its popularity with the KGB (and its sister organizations) for covert photography, it became commonly referred to as the KGB camera. It has a ring around the lens which allows setting the aperture between f/2.8 to f/16. The shutter speeds are 1/10, 1/30, 1/100, and Bulb. This mini camera takes 21 mm film and exposes a frame size of 18 x 24 mm, which produces good quality photos compared to the other subminiature cameras of its time.
To give you an idea of how it was used for covert operations, this spy camera also usually included a remote control unit for attaching in front of the camera. This made it possible to be concealed in handbags, briefcases, and maybe even coats and jackets.
Here’s where it gets even more impressive. To take a photo, the fully-mechanical auto winder at the top of the camera first needs to be wound up clockwise, as indicated by a white arrow. Once the shutter is fired, the camera automatically rewinds to the next frame, which means multiple photos can be taken in quick succession. Yes, no batteries or motor drives necessary. You can watch it in action in the video below: