list > crb/Kiev4
Kiev 4

A few months ago I got back into an old hobby of mine, namely film photography. At the tail end of high school and throughout my undergrad I played around with it and thoroughly enjoyed it - though I never got super, super into it - I mostly enjoyed collecting cameras and fiddling with them. However, its been nearly half a decade since I really played with any photography beyond what a smart phone does - but I felt like getting back into it.

Moving from Nova Scotia to Calgary however made it a bit more difficult as the cost of entry was far higher. I distinctly remember buying some nice Canon and Nikon 35mm from the late 80's, early 90's for less than $10 at yard sales on a regular basis. Calgary on the other hand, being the big city it is has some major price inflation and people generally know what they have - so it ends up being in the $200+ range for decent classic cameras.

However, it is 2018 and one of the nice things we have today is easy access to the world at large, aka I turned to eBay. But the question became - what do I want to play with, how do I want to approach this? I wanted something that would challenge me and that would provide high quality shots, something special and in my (extremely limited) price range. I knew I could go with a classic Canon or similar that are floating around, maybe a Sony? But that didn't excite me, so I did some research.

Most modern cameras are DSLR, an evolution of an SLR - digital versions of the single-lens reflex camera, which traditionally uses a mirror and prism system to reflect light onto the film and also into the view finder. This was an evolution from previous systems that had the downside of potentially not letting you see exactly the image you were getting (I will explain further on). Because SLR cameras used this mirror/prism system what you saw through the view finder was exactly what would be produced on the film - making it easier to get the photos you want.

Me? I didn't want any of that nonsense!

I went with a rangefinder camera instead. This is one of the two major types of cameras that predated SLRs, the other being twin-lens reflex which are fascinating on their own merits but much more expensive as well as hard to find (and generally don't use 35mm film). You may ask, why though? Well there are a few arguments as to why they're a good choice to use. The main one is that it takes more skill, since they're harder to use.

Unlike SLR cameras, which show you the image of what you're seeing through the lens in the camera itself directly, rangefinders have a separate viewfinder calibrated for a certain focal length (50mm for example). In it you look through the rangefinder and you will see two images of the scene in front of you and match them up to put them into focus. Typically this would allow you to use the default lens that the camera came with as you would an SLR and the only issue would be that perhaps the scene would be slightly off due to the viewfinder not being directly where the lens is. However, for most early rangefinders once you changed lens, either going up or down in focal length (35mm, 80mm, etc.), the view in the rangefinder would not match up the focus of the new lens.

The easiest way to solve this problem is to use an external rangefinder that would work with a number of different focal lengths. Alternatively, and this is where the skill comes in! Instead of even trying to use the rangefinder to put the scene in focus, you'll use it instead just to frame the scene generally, instead you'll rely on the focal distance measurements on the lens itself to focus your scene. For example, if you wished to take a photo of an object that is 5ft away, you would manually set the focus in the lens to 5ft and it would be in focus.

All of this is a preamble of how I ended up purchasing the camera that I did. I was doing research into cameras, one's that are cool or interesting or peak my interest. The best way to do research into something you really don't know much about is to take a historic approach, so you can have a holistic understanding of the entire concept before delving deeper in. Because of this I came upon a really interesting historical tidbit.

One of the most oldest and well respected camera companies in the world is Leica, a Germany camera company that has existed for over 100 years and still produces lens, cameras and more today. They traditionally had their manufacturing based in Berlin. After World War II Berlin was split into East and West Germany, with East Germany going to the Soviet Union. Because of this they gained access to the Carl Zeiss factories and all the knowledge and infrastructure that existed for it.

Fast forward a few years and ta-da, the Soviet Union has created its own version of the Carl Zeiss cameras. One of which is the Kiev brand of cameras that was produced in the city of Kiev (surprising, right?). There was a line of them, and I came upon the one that I really, really liked - the Kiev 4.

This is the fourth iteration of the line of cameras that continued into at least the 1980s, with mine being from 1963. I chose it for a number of reasons beyond price. See, the fact that it can be considered a 'Poor Man's Leica' is a an intriguing concept. Because they used the technology and expertise of the the old Carl Zeiss factories when creating these cameras they are pretty darn cool.

It is a beautiful camera though, a nice clean finish and wrap - it works wonderfully and the Jupiter-8 lenses that it came with are exceptionally sharp and clear. However, there is a downside to this camera and that is its lens mount. Due to its age it uses a non-standard Contax Bayonet Mount which as far as I can tell was almost entirely unique to this camera. As such, it has a very limited range of available lenses.

Surprisingly though, this doesn't mean that they're not popular lenses. I have a mirrorless Fuji digital camera and was able to purchase a beautiful hand adapted mount to use these lens. It is a terrifying piece of work though, they've taken an existing Fuji-X mount and hand set threads inside while also taking the front of a Kiev 4 and putting threads on that and mashing them together. It is a work of Eastern European art!

After I got it, it quickly became both my favourite 35mm camera and my favourite lenses for my Fuji. I have taken it hiking, on many adventures and if I can ever find a good flash for it - only my night adventures. I have for it a 35mm, 55mm and 120mm lens and all of them work absolutely great! Its also striking how interested people become in it when they see it.

I'd highly recommend it to people, though I'm now looking to expand into a Leningrad - but that's a story for a different time.