An unusual and rare vintage Russian spy camera has appeared for sale. The 35mm rangefinder film camera was designed to photograph through tiny holes drilled in walls and capture photos for blackmail or target manipulation.
The Catawiki listing for the KMZ Krasnogorsk Zorki 4 “reflex” C166 (NIMFA-3) was spotted by Kosmo Foto and is described as in “good” condition and has been tested and is in working order. It ships with its original wooden box along with a host of accessories including several lens tubes, optical pieces, and a grip.
The camera itself, the Zorki 4, is a well-known rangefinder-style camera produced between 1956 and 1973 and is considered one of the most popular of the Zorki models and was the first of the series to be exported in large numbers to the west, according to Camerapedia. It competed primarily against other Zorki cameras as well as the Leica M3, Leica IIIg, Nikon S2, Canon’s VT and L1. There are at least 32 variations of the Zorki-4.
While the camera is relatively well known, information about the optics that let it shoot photos through a wall is more limited and varied. According to Spyscape, this type of tool would be used if compromising information about a target was sought. Called a “through the wall” camera, it allows photos to be taken through a small hole that is drilled in the wall — small enough not to be noticed by the target. KGB agents could use this on allies or enemies, as an ally today could have been an enemy tomorrow. Agents could then use the photos to manipulate or blackmail a target using the photographic evidence.
“In one of the more successful kompromat stings, prosecutor general Yury Skuratov was investigating former president Boris Yeltsin over bribe allegations,” SpyScape writes. “It wasn’t long before RTR TV aired grainy footage showing Skuratov in bed with two prostitutes. He was promptly fired.”
There are several iterations of the “through the wall” camera, including at least a couple that have gone to auction in the recent past. As part of the KGB Espionage Museum Collection that was auctioned through Julien’s in early 2021, a different variant of the “through the wall” camera sold for around $5,300.
Another one that included an original wooden box and features a design far more similar to this most recent listing sold for $5,000 during that same auction. That model combined what looks to be a binocular attachment below the camera in an arrangement that is different from the monocular format above the camera seen in this new listing.
The commonality of the base camera notwithstanding, this specific optical setup is said to be “extremely rare,” and Catawiki’s experts currently value this “through the wall” camera system at between $5,643 and $7,900. At the time of publication, the bid stood at about $2,708. The auction closes on Friday, December 17.