IOR Orizont

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IOR Orizont

Romania is one of the central European countries that lagged behind the West, with an economy primarily based on agriculture, hardly over subsistence farming. As in neighbouring countries, the population consists of several ethnicities brought together in a shotgun wedding, which didn’t contribute much to national progress, spirit or pride. After the war, Romania was kept under the Soviet sphere of influence and, again, as its neighbours, had its economy controlled and milked by the brethren in the east, headed by a mustached Georgian or a bold Ukrainian.

Having a centralized economy, driven by consecutive five-year plans that worked in apparatchiks’ reports only, the country went from bad to worse. Under Ceausescu, all that could be exported was, mainly resources such as natural gas, oil, coal, iron ore and steel. When that was insufficient, they exported the Jews, who were allowed to leave the country and immigrate to Israel. The ransom rate began at $400 per head, but as supply had dwindled and demand kept strong, the rate climbed to $2,000 per head or $25,000 per educated one, paid by the state of Israel. Once the Jews were gone, they turned to the Germans who were trapped there in the post-war years and sold them to Germany for 5,000 – 15,000 DM each. Once this cache was exhausted, they began selling another national resource: unwanted babies and orphans. To match, they banned abortion to ensure a constant flow of this commodity.

While gas and oil were sold for hard currency, the country had no heat and was left with a rotating electricity supply, a few hours a day. Any consumer goods were either in short supply or unavailable. A Romanian-born friend used to holiday in Romania, bragging that with a suitcase full of nylon stockings, condoms, chewing gums and 4gr gold chains, he could barter his way to the best resorts and more. On the way back, he brought a case of Debrecener sausages (Hungarian, I know), and his trip was paid for.

All that ended abruptly when students took to the streets, waving flags with the Romanian crest cut out. The grassroots revolution caught like a fire in the hay, with the police and military joining in short order. Ceausescu, wife and son were captured, brought in front of a kangaroo court and summarily executed. The country had a sigh of relief combined with a breath of fresh Western air.

In Socialist times, the agrarian economy could not support the state and the masters’ appetite. Here rests the problem: 100 kg meat converted into 100 kg sausage generates little value added, it is the same product in another channel. But 1,500 kg of steel costs $1,400; once converted to a Passat, it is worth $40,000. So, you cannot sustain a modern economy on sausages only.

Other Central European states, such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, had an industrial legacy and infrastructure. Romania had to begin from scratch. UTB, a tractor factory, began producing obsolete Fiat tractors. Dacia cars, based on ancient Renault 12 models, followed. There were probably more industrial attempts, but I mention these two as I have first-hand knowledge of both. The Dacia cars were dirt cheap and used as fleet cars. It didn’t take long to realize that any perceived savings were offset by repair costs or cars idle for spare parts shortage.

At a certain stage in my career, I got several hundred UTB tractors within a barter deal. The tractors were so poorly made, to a stage that it looked like deliberate sabotage. Finding a handful of ball bearings in an engine cylinder is not quality control oversight.

So, at the height of the socialist era, the wise men at the helm decided to make cameras. Production was assigned to IOR, short for Intrepriderea Optica Romana. Established in 1936 as a private enterprise, the company produced military optical hardware and continued to do so under the Germans during the war.

Making military optical for one’s own state’s army is simple. The army sets specifications, the factory produces that, and payment is from one budgetary article to another, both pockets of the same government. Sales and prices are guaranteed. Consumer products need merit in appeal, quality, features, price and market. IOR could not match either. The local market was nonexistent, even if they could meet the first requirements.

The factory was nationalized by then, so any innovational spirit or thoughts were long suppressed. The first camera introduced was the Optior, which resembled a stripped-down Fex, already ten years old. The image format was reduced from 45x60mm to 43x55mm for a reason known only to the designer. It didn’t matter much, as most prints were contact, and enlarging was manual, but it is odd.

So, the Comitetul Permanent al Politburo had instructed the secretary in charge to make a real camera. Short on know-how, the immediate option was copying an existing model. They chose a camera made by another socialist state, meaning it need not be complex, and there is no risk of a patent infringement lawsuit.

The camera copied was the East German Altix, already long in the tooth then. The original production had ended, and tooling was moved to Sarajevo in Yugoslavia. The correct way was getting the rights from Altissa, but IOR chose to reverse engineer and build it from scratch.

The result was the lacklustre Orizont. The local market could not afford it, and the export market politely smiled and declined. Judging from the number of cameras still floating around, only few were made, and even fewer were sold.

An Orizont 3 shortly followed, without skin at front and speeds changed to 30 & 60 from 25 & 50.

The Orizont was the last attempt at making original cameras. The factory continued with models made under license from King-Regula, and dropped out of this line in the late 1970s. The company still exists, making scientific instruments, eyeglass lenses, scopes and binoculars.

I have the Altix and the Orizont on my bench. The Altix was not a great camera, be it technology or looks, yet it shines next to the Orizont. The Orizont lens barrel resembles the nose of the Werra, less the cocking feature.

I am not sure what word to use to describe the camera. It is somewhere between rough and sloppy. The body is all metal casting, poorly finished. This is very noticeable inside. No effort was made to smooth the mould joints. The back door mounted pressure plate has no movement or flexibility; it is riveted solid in place. The film perforation runs over a cog that cocks the shutter and stops at each frame. The winder just pulls the reel. The cog bags for mercy, with shallow teeth asking for the perforation to hope over. The back clasp looks like it was taken from a Dickensian coal hatch.

The top replicates the Altix, only where the Altix is smooth and even; here it is not. The touch in fine details is missing. I don’t know how to reset the frame counter.

The closest ring on the lens barrel sets the focus, units unmarked, assuming meters. Next out is the aperture setting dial, and at the front is the speed dial. Speeds markings are at the front, so it takes pointing the camera up to see the values. Scant speeds offerings, T, 25, 50, 100, whereas other models at that time offered more. The shutter is two-leaf; assume it is homemade. Overall, the lens barrel is copied from the Altix, without the cocking lever.

The body finish did not mature well, and the skin looks as if a hard-of-seeing person cut it. It’s odd for a company that made eyeglass lenses.

Camdex list number 22010
Brand IOR
Model Orizont
Value At
Format 35mm
Introduced 1955
Country Romania
Qty made
Initial price
Type Viewfinder
Body material Metal
Mode Manual
Weight 510 gr,  Body with lens
Class average weight 475 gr,  Body with lens
ASA range N/A
Kit lens 3.2/50
Lens make Tricolar
Filter size 27mm
Lens mount Fixed lens
Mount size N/A
Shutter Two-leaf scissors type
Shutter make
Light meter None
Winder Knob
Lock No
Speeds T, 25-100
Mirror N/A
Viewer Viewfinder
DOF preview No
Exposure lock No
Exposure compensation No
Shoe Cold
External sync Yes
Sync speed 50
Timer No
Battery, original N/A
Battery, replacement N/A
Battery voltage N/A
Integral flash None
Service / repair links See


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