Kiev-4

The Kiev-4 -according to my opinion- is an extremely outstanding camera. It has a fascinating history, an extraordinary construction, a very attractive outfit and on top of all  these it is still a very capable performer if you don’t mind to shoot in full manual.

Data sheet

  • Produced 1947-1987 Arsenal, Kiev, Ukraine reference
  • Film type 135 (35mm)
  • Picture size 24 x 36mm
  • Weight 27.2oz (771.1g) with Jupiter-8 (“white”)
  • Lens Jupiter-8 (Arsenal copy of Zeiss Sonnar) 50mm 1:2.0
  • Focal range .9m to infinity
  • Shutter metal curtain (traveling vertically)
  • Shutter speeds 1-1/25s, 1/50s, 1/100s, 1/250s, 1/500s, 1/1250s + B
  • Viewfinder coupled rangefinder
  • Exposure meter uncoupled selenium cell
  • Self-timer
  • Accessory shoe, PC sync connection

History

As I have already mentioned this camera has a very interesting history which you’ve probably heard of. I am not the biggest expert of this story, therefore I don’t even try to reveal every twists and details, but I do try to make a good summary of the research I have done.

Surprisingly it is more a German camera than a Soviet, but most importantly it is not a plagiarism of the Contax but it is a legal replica. But how it is possible?

After World War II. the Soviets acquired the Zeiss Contax II and III from Germany as part of war reparations. They got everything, machines, technologies, spare parts and key personal as well. That is why the first Kievs have original Contax parts and eventually most of these cameras were made on the very same machines.

After some pilot production series  the production lines were set up in Kiev, Ukraine in the Arsenal factory. Even though the production was based on local workers, the technical coordination was done by a small group of German professionals, most notably Wolfgang Hahn.

Despite the initial lack of trained personal, the fact that the entire production line were moved and the high pressure to produce cameras in a very big quantities, the Kiev is  a very well built camera (The design itself is very fault tolerant). It is in fact much closer to the original Contax in quality than any other Soviet cameras especially early models were very high quality.

It has to be said that there were significant drops in quality as the camera were simplified in the sake of productivity and as the members of the original crew went retired. Therefore if you intend to buy a Kiev camera, the older is the better (before 1970 if possible).

All in all the original design from the 1930’s is so rigid that despite the  circumstances the Kiev cameras was based on it during many decades until 1987.

If you want to read more about the history with way more details, I can recommend to check out this site.

My Kiev-4

My Kiev-4 is made in 1965 and sold (first) in 1966 in Budapest for 2400 HUF – 500 HUF discount (for unknown reason) which was a ridiculously high price at the time (I will figure out how to convert it to today’s values).   Hungary was a  part of the Eastern block and there  were only 1 company which sold photographic equipment in the country called Ofotért. The funny part is, I have got a catalog of this company from 1979 and this camera was still listed for 2140 HUF.

The warranty was 1 year and the camera is still working! I have the original box, invoice, warranty, lens caps, ever-ready case and the camera itself with a Jupiter-8M lens. The M stands for the feature that the aperture values click as you change them (quite advance technology).

How did I get it

I always wanted a usable and good looking  rangefinder. I usually don’t demand much in terms of usability as I am a camera addict, so what I really wanted can be summarized as: accurate shutter speeds, interchangeable lenses and a viewfinder which is combined with the rangefinder and bright/big enough to let me enjoy the rangfinder characteristics.  My other concern were of course price, because a Leica or even an original Contax is way out of my scope.

I did not know too much about the Kiev until one day I have found one in a very good shape (almost mint condition) on a Hungarian auction site, similar to Ebay. The camera was listed with the excellent Zeiss Sonar copy Jupiter-8M lens, the original box and documents including the original warranty, which is of course had expired way before I was even born. It was so attractive that I couldn’t resist. After a few hours of research I decided to buy it and I haven’t regret my decision so far.  The whole package cost me 14.000 HUF. If there was no inflation some could think the camera actually gained some value, but in fact it is now  below 50€ at the time of writing and I think it is extremely low for such a beauty.

The way it looks

Personal experience

Shutter

It has a metal vertical traveling shutter. Both vertical and metal are rare if not nonexistent at this era of FSU (Former Soviet Union) cameras. With the vertical movement, the shutter needs to travel a shorter distance as the frame is (24 x 36mm) and thus higher shutter speeds are available. 1/1250 of a second is indeed a short amount of time, and my camera is still able to produce it. The metal part doesn’t make much difference, however it will certainly not tear or puncture easily compare to a canvas material.

It is worth to note, that you have to advance the film before changing shutter speed because you might cause some trouble and your settings could be inaccurate. If you want to know why, visit this site.

In my experience the shutter is very quite, maybe not as quite as a Leica as some would claim. But it is quite enough to be able to take street shots in a very discrete way.

Viewfinder and focusing

The viewfinder fits to the view of the standard 50mm lens and it is large and bright compare to my other FSU rangefinders  (the collection is not complete though). It is true that it could be brighter and it has some greenish color casting. I think it is probably because it is used to increase the contrast between the small internal and the bigger external frame of the viewfinder to aid focusing. It is still very usable, but I could wish brighter among dim conditions.

It is combined with the rangefinder,  you can use the same window to compose and make your subject sharp. If you want to read more about how the rangefinder device works, visit this site in general, and this site specifically to Kiev-4.

Personally, I think the viewfinder is very usable for a camera this old. All of my shoots so far were spot on. This is way better than my average focusing results with manual SLRs without a Fresnel type split screen.

The focusing is especially accurate, because the two windows of the rangefinder have an unusually big distance between each other. This and the small focusing wheel on the body makes focusing extremely precise.

As a downside it is very easy to hold a camera in a way that one of the rangefinder windows are covered by hand thus compromise it. Therefore the proper holding is a bit aardvark and called the “Contaxt hold”.

Keep your index finger on the shutter release, your middle finger on the focussing wheel and the other two below the RF window and you’ll be fine! (Tobi’s camera page)

This is something what you get used to it or you will hate this camera forever. For me it is not a big price to pay for the accurate focusing at all.

Metering

This version of the camera has a built in selenium cell meter at the top plate while the Kiev-4A is the same camera but without the meter. I think the no-meter version is more stylish and in addition these light-meters are generally inaccurate nowadays. It is still working (no battery needed), but it is not reliable plus the difference is according to a non-linear function, thus it cannot be easily corrected. Making it worst the film-speed scale is GOST instead of ISO or DIN. This is not a big issue, if you carry a conversation table or you stick to one film speed only, but inconvenient for sure.

That is why I have to use an external light-meter or a digital camera to measure the light. I know it sounds tricky, but most of my cameras has no meter at all,  plus many great photographer could live with this limitation just fine before us.

Film loading and advance

You have to remove the back plate in order to load the film. This is not too special, but you need to get used to it.

Advancing a film is done by rotating a knob at the top plate instead of having a fast-advance-lever. Again this is not really ergonomic, but you can accept it unless you shooting fast actions.

Winding back the film is a similar experience, but you need to hold a button located at the bottom of the camera. In fact this is the part I dislike the most about this camera because the rewind knob is very small compare to the force you have to apply. It doesn’t mean you had to force it badly! If you feel something needs to be forced, better not to do it because the film and the camera are both very sensitive instruments.

The lens

According to Camerapedia “The Jupiter-8 (sometimes marked in Cyrillic, ЮПИТЕР-8) is a postwar Soviet copy of the prewar Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2 for the Contax, built with six elements in three groups. It was made in Contax and M39 mounts, both for rangefinder cameras. “

The lens has a big reputation of being sharp, fast, with a good contrast and a nice bokeh (quality of out of focus elements), but it is prone to internal reflections by direct sunlight hitting the lens. I can confirm all these and yes, it is much better if you are having a lens-hood (5€). The lens is a bit soft wide open, but this is not unusual. You just need to stop down a bit and you will get pin sharp results.  On the other hand the lens has a very pleasing character, which can be revealed best wide open and I think it is great for portraits.

It is true that the quality of your lens is highly rely on how lucky you are, because the quality control was not the best in that part of the world. Generally speaking the older the lens is the better with the notion that the coated versions are preferable.

The body itself supports a wide variety of lenses. It has the standard Contax bayonet (in fact 2 bayonets inner, outer), so all Contax and Kiev lenses are accepted plus there are Japanese lenses available -Nikon and  Canon also made cameras with this mount- , but those might be not fully compatible because of the differences in the film distance.

For lenses different from the standard 50mm focal length you need to use an external viewfinder.

Final words

I am very happy with this camera. It looks  great and as you can see on the sample photos it can produce very good results (in my opinion). I sent some photos to the original owner of the camera, and he was also surprised, how well it perform for me.

It is indeed not as easy to use, but it gives you a very unique feeling of using something really special, and you are taking pictures in the same fashion as photographers were doing 60 years ago.

In fact this is one big thing I really like in film photography. You can use the equipment of the elders, yet as you put modern film in it, you can achieve state of the art results.

I recommend it to anyone who likes the way around and don’t mind to learn the “Contax hold”. It is not a big investment, but can give so much fun and works perfect on the exhibition cabinet as well.

Links

Test shoots

Related Post

19 comments

Leave a Reply

  1. Jason Howe · January 2, 2012

    Hi Gabor

    Thanks for the follow on Twitter, I have really enjoyed looking through the Camera Junky Blog today, we’re doing similar things with our camera collections although I must admit you are making a better job of it than I am. Looking forward to more posts.

    Kind Regards

    Jason

  2. Urban Hafner (@ujhphoto) · January 2, 2012

    Great review and awesome photos (really all you gear shots on the blog are great). I need to get a new Kiev rangefinder these days. I enjoyed mine, but had huge film advance problems 🙁

  3. od86 (@od8086) · January 2, 2012

    Hi! Hungary was never a part of the SU. It was part of the Eastern bloc btw. About the price: the monthly average wages in 1966 was HUF 1 856.

    • camerajunky · January 2, 2012

      Thanks! You are right, I have fixed the SU thing. Also thank you for the wage hint.

      Gábor

  4. Mike Holt · January 2, 2012

    Hi there. My late father had a Kiev 4 camera which he must have bought in Russia in about 1965. He also has a lens marked in the same way as the original with the camera but it is an 11 F=13.5 cm 1:4. I would like to know how i could go about valuing this. Can you help? Thanks

    • od86 (@od8086) · January 2, 2012

      It has to be a Jupiter-11. Last time I bought one (also from the Sixties) for 20 USD. I wouldn’t call it a value though 🙂 (BTW it is completely offtopic, but there was no state named Russia in 1965)

  5. Nikos_72 · January 2, 2012

    Great review! A correction though, you cannot change speeds after cocking the shutter in Kiev cameras

    • camerajunky · January 2, 2012

      Thanks for the correction. What I meant is that you need to advance the film before you set your shutter speed. At least this is what have read and how I do.

    • od86 (@od8086) · January 2, 2012

      Nikos_72, that isn’t true. Actually, you supposed to change the speed only after cocking the shutter. But there is no mechanical lock or stuff like that, you can change it any time, but in the manual it has been stated like this, so we’d better follow the instructions.

  6. Joey Makalintal · January 2, 2012

    I’m glad I found your review as there’s a kit on Ebay that’s piqued my interest.

  7. Captainshutter on Facebook · January 2, 2012

    Brilliant article and website!

  8. dee dowling · January 2, 2012

    I agree completely, in that I have sold my 1950s Dinky Toys to fund, not only a collection of Kievs, but for the ex-Arsenal Technicians in Ukraine to rebuild/create several special Contax/Kiev specials.
    One Contax II was a box of bits being sold for spares revived with Kiev shutter, another, very rough, now finished in silver [ black paint scraped away] with tan leather. They also rebuilt a Contax III for me which needed two cheap junk cameras to fix the meter.
    The others are the spare Contax III body with Kiev 4 meter and controls plus a Kiev IIIa body with another Kiev 4 top plate and KNeB fascia . I love the Kievs with compact meter but love to use the old square cases and prefer the old style bodies, mild autism is calmed by my specials, but I don not need an excuse to love my Kievs and Kiev.
    I have 1951/1952/1955 Kiev II and a mint boxed UK import Kiev 4a from 1976 , the nearest camera I could find to a new 1930s camera.
    For me, the continuity of a camera from 1935 through to the early 80s is comforting, also, my mind does not recognise everything , but Kiev is perfect.

  9. Patrick Salmon · January 2, 2012

    I just read your article on the Kiev – 4 and the Kiev Rangefinders by Peter Hennig. I would highly recommend anyone considering buying a Kiev 4 camera, to read this before buying!
    Thanks, Patrick

  10. s.k.gupta · January 2, 2012

    I have kiev-4,and i face aproblem in it that due to mishandling its shutter not in working condition. All other parts are good. I love it, and want to regularly use it.Any one suggest me how to repair/replace of shutter.

  11. Indrek Jaanson · January 2, 2012

    Good article.
    I just recently (4 days ago) bought a Kiev 4 (Type 3) SN: 6900949. (10€) The shutter had a dent, so when i winded it up a 4mm open gap would slide over the film. I carefully fixed it without disassembling the camera, now it runs smoothly whit no errors. Then bought a film to test it… For about 10 shots everything seemed ok, and then i noticed that sometimes when i wind up the camera the trigger button seems to be stuck, it went down a little and then something seemed to hold it back. Also when changing shutter speed and lifting the knob it seemed that one edge came slightly more up than the other.
    I removed the 3 horizontal screws on the wind up button, beneath it are 3 screws facing down. 2 of them were lose and one of them was wandering around inside. (Caution! The screws are tiny and fragile, that goes also for the screw heads, and if you use a screwdriver whit a wrong size it’s easy to break them.)
    Today will take rest of the film full, hopefully see some results tomorrow 

    • camerajunky · January 2, 2012

      Yes, the Kiev can be a challenge in use. I also have similar issues from time to time especially with the stuck shutter. But when I advance the film very gently it works most of the time. The point is that you get to know your camera and start to learn how to maintain it. There is an excellent page (keiv survivor site) which explains every possible fixes there are. Also do not force anything ever and I am pretty sure that it will give you very nice results.
      Good luck! Gábor

  12. Stephan Pot · January 2, 2012

    Interesting post, thank you for the included links too. I got a Kiev 4 yesterday and looking forward to getting to know it. According to the serial number I think it was made in 1964. The camera is in almost mint condition but the self timer does not work. No sweat, I don’t make selfies 😉

  13. Robert · January 2, 2012

    I got a Kiev-4AM together with a stereo adapter and a J-8M. The camera is in perfect condition and working smoothly. All functions are working and after 10 films I can say I like this camera most together with my Zorki’s-6 which are from the beginning of the 60’s and all done a compete CLA. Comparing the results of these J-8 lenses I can say they are not much less then my Summicron F/2,0-50mm Leica lens. I made some enlargements to 40x50cm in my darkroom and you will be surprised about the results. The same with my J-12, not much less then my Elmarit Leica lens so investing in a good FSU RF body and a lens can have a tremendous good price – quality level.

  14. Robert · January 2, 2012

    BTW. You have on the Kiev also a 1s time. Put on B and use the self timer.