Kiev 4 (Киев 4)

My most recent acquisition is this Soviet Kiev 4. It is a straight copy of the Zeiss Ikon Contax III (with only very slight changes).

Kiev 4 – front view

  At the end of WWII, the Soviet army had Zeiss Ikon rebuild their production line for the Contax and then, once the line was working properly, they shipped the production line to Kiev in Ukraine. They also renamed the camera Kiev. This camera is a Kiev 4 and is a copy of the Contax III – there was also a Kiev 4a which was a copy of the Contax II. The difference between the 4 and 4a is the presence of a light meter in the Kiev 4.

The Soviet Union produced cameras both for the home market and for export. Those intended for home consumption had their logos and indicators in Cyrillic while those for export used the Latin alphabet. My camera has the logo in both Cyrillic and Latin but other writing is all in Cyrillic, indicating that the camera was not intended for export (сделано в CCCP = Made in USSR ) 

The camera has a very Zeiss Ikon look about it and the body is broadly similar to the Pentacon F and Contaflex – both German derivatives of the Contax, the Pentacon F being East German and the Contaflex being West German (younger readers should consult their history books!). This camera cost, in 1965, £44-18-6 (in old British money, or £44.92 in new British money). This equates to £1,451 in 2020 values.

The camera is heavy – 768g with the standard Jupiter 8 lens – and the controls reveal the camera’s design date (1936). the film advance is a knob (usual in the 1930s, very old fashioned in 1969 when my camera was made) as is the film rewind. The viewfinder is very small, hard to use while wearing glasses and (because it is bare metal) likely to scratch modern plastic spectacle lenses. The last anochronistic item is the tripod boss which is 3/8 inch Whitworth. Standard for consumer cameras had been 1/4 inch for some time (currently 1/4″ UNC rather than 1/4″ Whitworth but the two are close enough to be interchangeable).

The knob on the right hand end of the top plate has three functions
  1.  in the centre is the shutter release, threaded for a standard cable release.
  2. around the shutter release is a knurled ring to wind on the film and reset the shutter.
  3. The shutter speed selector – operated by lifting and turning the film advance ring.

The manual says that the shutter speed can be selected either before or advancing the the film but that it is better done after advancing then film.

Kiev 4 – top plate
Next to the right hand knob is a window showing the frame numbers. This is nice and large and shows 12 numbers with a red dot indicating the current frame. This counts up from zero and goes to 36. It is reset manually by a toothed wheel on the back edge of the top plate.
Being a rangefinder camera, there is no pentaprism hump but where you might expect to see one there is a light meter. This has a selenium sensor and so has no need for a battery. One drawback of selenium meters is that they can lose sensitivity with continued exposure to light. To prevent this from happening, there is a cover to the meter window on the front of the camera. thesis opened by pushing the cover slightly to the right when it will spring open.
On the top of the meter is the meter window. This has a central lozenge and -2 and -4 marks. The meter is used by turning the control knob on the left until the meter needle is centred on the central lozenge. The -2 and -4 marks are used in low light conditions – they are each one stop away from the central position. If there is insufficient light to get the meter needle to the lozenge, you line it up with the -2 or -4 and then multiply the indicated exposure by either one stop or two stops.
Also on the top of the meter is the accessory shoe. There are no electrical contacts here so this is a cold shoe. It was intended that this accessory shoe would hold an auxiliary viewfinder when longer focal length lenses were used. In the centre of the accessory shoe is the legend сделано в CCCP (made in USSR) and the serial number 6968008 which indicates that the camera was made in 1969 (the first two digits of the serial number being the year of manufacture).
Kiev 4 – accessory shoe
On the left end of the top plate is another multi-function knob. 
  1. The outer knurled ring adjusts the light meter.
  2. The inner ring which is adjusted by two studs to set the film speed.
  3. The centre is a pull up knob for rewinding the film.

The film speeds are indicated in гост which translates as GOST. This is basically the same as ASA (or ISO). The Gost scale is awkward as it does not have the usual ASA numbers. There is 65, 130, 250 and 500. Using ‘western’ film, ASA 100, 200 or 400 film requires guessing the position of the film speed selector. If this scale was in DIN, it would be 20 DIN (65 Gost), 23 DIN (125 Gost), 26 DIN (225 Gost), 29 DIN (500 Gost) which is probably the reason for the choices – the camera having been designed in Germany where DIN is usual.

The front of the camera is dominated (as always) by the lens mount. This is the Contax bayonet mount (not to be confused with the Contax/Yashica mount of SLR cameras). There are actually two bayonet mounts here. The 50mm Jupiter 8 lens fits into the mount and latches onto three lugs inside the mount. There is a second, larger, bayonet mount around the distance scale which is for longer focal length lenses.
Kiev 4 – lens mount
This lens mount is connected to the rangefinder and either rotates to focus the lens when the rangefinder wheel is turned (more later) or turns the rangefinder mechanism when the lens is turned. When the lens is focused on infinity it locks inlace. When locked, the lens cannot be focused. It can be unlocked in two ways.
  1. there is a small pointed stud near the upper left of the lens mount which can be moved away from the lens to unlock it.
  2. there is a lever by the rangefinder wheel which you depress as you turn the wheel.
On the right of the lens mount (right as in when using the camera) is a delay action lever. This rotates through just over 90 degrees to wind-up the action. It is activated by sliding a small button which is usually hidden beneath the lever. On the other side of the lens, just below the viewfinder window, is a PC socket for connecting a flash gun.
The rangefinder shares the same eyepiece as the viewfinder. To give as much accuracy as possible to the rangefinder , the two windows on the front are kept as far apart as possible (9 cm centre to centre). This is much further apart than on the Leica which was the main competitor when this camera was designed in 1936 and also than the FED and Zorki copies of the Leica.
Kiev 4 – rangefinder wheel

Just to the right of the light meter and slightly below it is the rangefinder wheel mentioned above. I find this very hard to use as when my index finger is on the wheel ready to turn it, my middle finger naturally falls over the rangefinder window, rendering it inoperable. For me, it is much easier to focus by turning the lens. The rangefinder spot is easy to see and is slightly yellow for maximum contrast. This yellowing is achieved by ‘silvering’ the internals of the rangefinder with gold.

For those who do not know, a rangefinder works by producing two different images in the viewfinder.
As you change focus, one of the images moves. To achieve accurate focus, you make sure your subject is in the centre of the viewfinder and turn the rangefinder wheel or lens until the two images are superimposed on each other. With practice, this is quick, easy and accurate.
Kiev 4 – rear view

To open the camera, it is necessary to remove the back and base as one unit. At home, working on a table, this is slightly easier than a hinged back. In the field, it is a nightmare. You need to find somewhere to put the back/base while manipulating the film. To make matters worse, the take-up spool is loose and liable to fall out.

The reason for the loose take-up spool is that it can be replaced with an empty cassette, removing the need to rewind the film when finished. This gives a faster reload time – good for studio work but not good elsewhere. I think, in general, this camera was designed with the studio in mind.

Kiev 4 – back/base removed

To release the back/base there are two folding lugs to turn half a turn. Inside the camera is as you would expect a 35 mm camera to be. Until, that is, you look at the shutter. Instead of the rubberised cloth usual until the 1980s, it consists of brass slats which move vertically and are held on cloth ribbons. this works the same as a cloth shutter as distinct from the modern metal shutters. Speeds provided are impressive – up to 1/1250 seconds and down to 1/2 second. The speed range is the modern one of 1/125, 1/250, 1/500 etc.

Kiev 4 – detail of brass shutter
The lens supplied is the Jupiter-8M. This is a Soviet copy of the Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens. This lens has six elements in three groups. How well it performs remains to be seen. Someone has attempted to dismantle my lens (never a good sign) evidenced by the aperture adjustment ring being out of kilter. Hopefully, that is as far as they got – none of the internal black paint is scratched which his a good sign. Ro-orienting the aperture ring was simply done.
Jupiter-8M lens – front bezel
The aperture has nine blades which gives a good shape to the aperture. What is curiose is that the aperture blades are curved (see photo) producing a clearly less than circular disc. I will try to produce some booked shots with my test film to see if this makes much difference.
detail of lens showing curved aperture blades

The Jupiter 8 M is a 50 mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/2 and a minimum aperture of f/22 – quite a useable range. f/22 is about  the limit in 35 mm photography before diffraction softening starts to be a nuisance. The aperture ring has click stops but can still be set between these values  The finish on this lens is shiny chrome with a black lens bezel. – contrasting with the matt chrome on the camera body.

Test film is developed and here are the results. I am quite impressed. Soviet execution of German design is as good as it always is. There are no light leaks – always a bugbear of old cameras, neither in the seals around the base/back nor in the sutler blinds – an advantage, I would think, of using brass rather than cloth. Exposure is even indicating that the shutter blinds are both moving smoothly. There is no lens flare – although these test pictures were mostly taken in rather overcast conditions.

The rangefinder test (see below) shows both that the rangefinder is accurate at close distances and that the lens produces sharp images. The picture of the iron shutter shows the one draw back of a rangefinder camera (or any viewfinder camera, come to that). I had the shutter central in the viewfinder but it is distinctly off-set in the image – parallax problem. Some cameras adjust the viewfinder when focusing closer but not here.

The pictures:

Rangefinder test – focused on the nearest finial
Enlargement of the finial showing it to be in good focus.


Metal shutter showing parallax error in the viewfinder


Lincoln City Square


Witham looking west


Witham looking west
Old bicycle that I use as a test piece for all my old cameras


Indoor shot of Lincoln Central market – fairly slow shutter speed.


Fisherman as Easington, East Yorkshire

Author: John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.

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