Kiev 4 Camera Review
The Kiev 4 is a beautiful, silent and graceful camera. It has a classic rangefinder design which just makes you want to pick it up and start shooting with it. Paired up with the well regarded Jupiter 8M Contax mount lens, it forms a formidable team. Especially with a very accurate focus, achieved through one of the widest available rangefinder bases, on paper it should be a dream to use.
Kiev 4 Camera Review
The Kiev 4 is a metal rangefinder camera, made in the Arsenal factory in the Ukraine. This particular copy is specifically a Kiev 4 (Type 3) manufactured between 1958 and 1974. Most likely manufactured at the end of this run, based on the serial number. What is interesting is the first two digits are supposed to denote the year of manufacture, but this one has 75. It cannot be a Type 4, based on the specification of available shutter speeds, so must have been one of the very last Type 3s.
One final item on the top plate is the focus helicoid. This is another feature inherited from the Contax which allows the user to focus without having to turn the lens ring. The focus helicoid has an infinity lock in the form of a tab which needs to be pressed down to unlock it. Users are polarised on the use of the focus helicoid as it requires holding the camera in a unique way to avoid putting your finger over the rangefinder window. This is known as the Contax Hold.
The back of the camera is a fairly plain affair with only the viewfinder. The viewfinder itself is quite large without frame lines, so set only for the 50mm lens. The focusing patch is clear and a well defined rectangle, enhanced by the blue tint applied to the viewfinder. No parallax correction is available.
Loading the film into the camera requires releasing the two sides at the bottom and removing the bottom and the back. The manual specifies that you should do this with the camera turned upside down otherwise you risk dropping the take up spool.
I struggled to find a Kiev 4 locally as there always seemed to be an issue or the seller could not commit to the camera working. As I wanted to specifically use it this month, I needed to ensure it was working, so I cast my net wider. I ended up finding a seller in the Ukraine who not only specified it worked, but it had also recently been serviced. When the camera arrived, it was indeed in great condition.
Initially using the camera I really enjoyed using the focus helicoid as with such a nice bright viewfinder and clear rangefinder it was a pleasure to use. Focus could be set quite accurately, helped along with such a wide rangefinder base. After a while though, the Contax Hold became annoying. No matter how many times I tried to remember to keep the rangefinder window clear, invariably I would end up with my finger in front. In the end, I started rotating the lens ring to focus instead.
Soon all this was forgotten and I was shooting people that had gone to a lot of trouble with their costumes. I really enjoyed using the Kiev 4, even with the little niggles above. It really is a beautiful machine. Looking through the viewfinder is satisfying and clear. Even with all the photographers with high end digital cameras at Comicon, and some with whole lighting systems, the attendees were intrigued with the Kiev and it garnered a lot of questions.
Excellent review Sometimes the stories of knowledgeable people like you, are often accompanied by horrible photographs that discourage the veracity of writing. In this case, text and image are complementary. Only one point to try was missing: The lever of the Kiev 4 to unlock the film and re-join. In no tutorial they mention that in order to rewind the key of the lower cover it must be positioned in a tiny red dot. Congratulations again for your great article.
Not everyone can afford to buy expensive Leica cameras. If only their was a cheap Leica alternative? Wait a minute, there is! The Soviet Kiev 4a camera (and similar Kiev 35mm cameras). This Kiev 4a review will show you this Soviet rangefinder film camera and similar cameras plus sample photos.
As you see below, on top I have my 1983 Kiev 4 camera. Middle is my 1975 Kiev 4a camera. Bottom is my 1956 Kiev 2a camera. Kiev 4M cameras came after the 1983 Kiev 4. Normally the older the date the better for these cameras (if looking on eBay).
A Contax iiia as seen in the photo below is the same as the Contax iia but with the additional exposure meter on the top. Similar is true for Kiev cameras. The Kiev 4 camera as seen below is the same as the Kiev 4a but with the exposure meter on the top. All Kiev cameras take the same photos.
Where is gets a little confusing is when you then discover the Nikon S mount rangefinder cameras. The lenses for Kiev and Contax cameras (called Contax RF mount lenses) often physically mount onto the Nikon S rangefinder cameras, and vice versa.
There is a different distance between the lens mount and the film plain for Nikon-S mount vs Contax RF. Nikon S mount lenses sit closer to the film as the cameras are slightly thinner. As such a 50mm lens will mis-focus if not designed for that camera. Wider lenses can work as you have a greater depth of focus to work with.
Contax RF mount lenses such as those used on Kiev 4 cameras are different to Leica M lenses. Some lenses are called internal bayonet fit (often 50mm) and these lenses mount partly inside the camera. These 50mm lenses have no focus helicoid so this is built into the lens mount itself. See photo below. The most common Soviet 50mm lens is probably the Jupiter-8 50mm f2 (YouTube video still to come!)
When buying used film cameras on eBay you need to run a test roll through them to check everything works. For me that usual means at least a few mirror selfies. That lets me check the sharpness of different lenses and whether the rangefinder calibration is accurate too.
I need to do a full blog post to review some of the amazing lenses available in Contax RF mount. What I love about these lenses is the rendering and bokeh is often more pleasing than with Leica lenses.
From my experience of owning both these cameras, when you compare the Kiev 4a vs Kiev 4M the earlier 4a is usually a better choice. I bought several Kiev 4M cameras on eBay trying to find a working one. Many have faults. Below you can see me shooting a test roll on a Kiev 4M. The mirror selfie came out OK but after that the shutter was sticking and I had to return it for a full refund. (I bought 3 duds if I remember!)
There are lots of great Soviet 35mm film cameras to try. Here are examples of camera I use below. You can probably now recognise the Kiev cameras (on the left) and on the right are Zorki and FED cameras.
The big difference is Kiev cameras use the mentioned Contax RF mount lenses. Zorki and FED cameras use the more common L39 or Leica screw mount lenses. (See my LTM screw mount lens reviews). The Zorki 1C in the centre pictured below is a clone of my Leica iii Barnack cameras.
Kiev made medium format film cameras too. One example is the Kiev 88. I owned the original and still have a rebadged version called an ARAX-CM. These are a Hasselblad clone and cost a fraction of the price of the Swedish Hasselblad cameras.
Thanks Brian, yes agreed compared to Kiev prices the Sonnars cost more. I like the J-8 and H-103 too. Still need to showcase what they can do! Agreed, fining working Kiev can be tough! Glad you got a nice one. Yes I reviewed the Canon 7 on YouTube but no blog post as yet.
Thanks for you fun ..but quite accurate comment haha. Yes I do have a strange soft spot for old Soviet cameras (and the challenge of making good photos with cheap cameras). With a good lens you can get great images but yes they are not the mechanical masterpieces that Leica give us. My Leicaflex SL has the best film advance of all my Leicas, all models.The Kiev 5 sounds too similar to the 4M that I tried and failed multiple times!
Another little funny thing, you manually set the film counter to 24 or 36 when you are ready to start shooting, then it counts backwards to zero to let you know how many pictures you have left. This is true not only of several cameras of the era (Argus C3, Kodak 35) but of many FSU (Former Soviet Union) cameras in general, I find.
Here's my usual review of a Russian rangefinder that has marked the history. The Kiev 4. Built in the 50 factories of Arsenal Kiev, Ukraine, these beautiful metal cameras are considered the copy of the most expensive Contax (more or less like the FED and Zorki, Leica considered imitations of). But Kiev are far more than copies. They are closely related with the Contax. At the end of the Second World War, the Russians took as compensation for war, the Zeiss factory in Dresden and moved to Kiev, Arsenal the factories, where the first cameras were produced, continuing what Zeiss Ikon started.
two days ago I came across a little antique market in Barcelona and there was one of these accompanied by a fed 5 and fed 5B. The man asked 65 for the Kiev and 55 for the feds, I thought it was to much the cameras could use a little work over and of course the main reason was my fairly empty wallet, that city ain't good for your money you know!
The Kiev rangefinder 35mm series, I think, are the best Soviet cameras. I have a Kiev 4am, and my favorite, a Kiev 2a with a Jupiter 3 lens (f/1.5!!). The best of FED's is the FED 2, and the best Zorki is the Zorki 6. These are very reliable.
I have three Kiev rangefinders: a '54 Kiev 3 and '61 and '80 Kiev 4A's. The '61 one is definitely one of my favourite and most used cameras, as is the Jupiter 12 lens. An advice for potential buyers: the early models (up to early '70s) and the late 4M/4AM models are the best; the 4/4A models made between early '70s to early '80s can be very rough, the build quality was at its lowest then. Be sure to test them before parting with money (the 2 first numbers of the serial number tells the manufacturing year).
Rule one for rangefinders is of course remove the lens cap! Rule two for this one is try not to lose the takeup spool. If you do, though, see link below on how to fabricate a replacement from a used 35mm cassette (works on any Zeiss type camera, a Contaflex for instance). 041b061a72