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.
- 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
- Accessory shoe, PC sync connection
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 detail, 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 personnel 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 personnel, the fact that the entire production line was moved and the high pressure to produce cameras in 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 was 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 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 was 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 advanced 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 rangefinder characteristics. My other concern was 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 regretted 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
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 to visit this site.
In my experience, the shutter is very quiet, maybe not as quiet 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 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 that 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.
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 convertion 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 have no meter at all, plus many great photographers 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 compared 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.
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 highly relies 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.
I am very happy with this camera. It looks great and as you can see in 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 a modern film in it, you can achieve state of the art results.
I recommend it to anyone who likes the way around and doesn’t mind to learn the “Contax hold”. It is not a big investment but can give so much fun and works perfectly on the exhibition cabinet as well.