This Kiev 35A is an attractive, folding and compact 35mm camera from the Ukraine. This is my second Kiev, the other being the much larger Kiev 4 rangefinder camera. When closed, the camera fits nicely in the palm of my hand and is unobtrusive in my trouser pocket. These cameras have a very poor reputation and I am assured that it is next to impossible to find a working exemplar. Well, Odin must be smiling on me as my Kiev 35A works – the meter is responsive and the shutter fires; the test film will tell me about the light leaks that this camera is notorious for. Even better – I have the original box and printed instruction book. The instruction book is dated 1992 so I assume that the camera was made soon after this date. It was made in the Ukraine (in Kiev!) in the Arsenal factory. (I have scanned the instruction book and it is available for download from my Google Drive here [there are several other manuals available the same place]).
When closed, the camera measures 100 by 64 by 33 mm. When open, the camera extends to 84mm. The camera weighs 190 g. The camera body is made from a textured grey plastic. Actually, the plastic is black, the textured grey being paint. The inside is black plastic with a chrome plated metal film gate. The camera feels very solid.
The camera uses aperture priority automatic exposure. The user sets the film speed and aperture and the camera selects the shutter speed which is steplessly varied between 4 seconds and 1/500 seconds. There is no manual option.
When the camera is closed, the lens is hidden, the electronics are switched off and the shutter release button is locked. In this closed state, the only controls available are the film advance lever and the rewind crank. the film advance lever (which is very stiff in my camera) moves through 90º and needs to be swung twice to advance the film one frame. This lever is on a ratchet so you can move the lever a smaller amount repeatedly. This lever is attached to a milled wheel and it is possible to ignore the lever and rotate the wheel instead. I am not sure what is going on there.
The other accessible control is the rewind crank. This is 18mm diameter when closed and opens to 30mm. As is usual, it is necessary to press a button on the base to free the film advance mechanism but there is no need to hold the button in while rewinding. Also on the top is a red, square, plastic shutter release button. This is threaded for a standard cable release. This button is locked while the camera is closed. There is also a hot shoe accessory shoe with a black plastic cover. Also on the top is the frame counter. This has red numbers but only zero and then every fifth number – the rest are not even dots. The numbers go up to 36 (which is also there in red) and further film advancing will not move the numbers any further.
The camera is opened by pulling down the lens cover in the front – there is no catch of any sort. this cover clicks firmly in place and pulls the lens/shutter forward. The lens/shutter housing is rather small and sits between the struts that hold the cover in place. the lens/shutter housing is 30mm in diameter. There are two control rings – focus and aperture. The focus ring is on the outer edge of the lens/shutter housing and moves easily through just shy of 90º to move the focus from one metre to infinity. this is entirely scale focus – no rangefinder or other focus aid here. The aperture ring is more problematical as it sits right between the struts, close to the camera body. Moving this is rather awkward for my large fingers. The aperture range is from f/2.8 to f/16.
The shutter is anonymous, presumably the Arsenal factory’s own design. It is a leaf shutter sitting between the lens elements. The manual (which, for once, came with the camera) states that the shutter speeds are from 4 seconds to 1/500 seconds. If the meter needle is in the lower shaded area in the viewfinder, the shutter speed will fire at a slow speed (slower that 1/30 seconds) and the camera will need support. The camera can be set on a firm level surface or on a tripod. In this case it would be sensible to use a cable release. If the viewfinder needle is in the upper shaded area, one of two things will happen: 1) the shutter will fire at 1/500 and the picture will be over exposed or 2) the shutter will not fire at all.
The lens is a Korsar lens. The manual tells me that this is a five element lens and is multicoated. It has a focal length of 35 mm which is distinctly wide for 35mm photography but using a short focal length lens allows the camera to be more compact which will have been the main selling point of this camera (shorter focal length means closer to the film/sensor). Part of the lens bezel is cut away to provide the window for the light meter.
Above the lens is the viewfinder window. The image within the viewfinder has bright lines to assist in framing the picture. There are no additional bright lines for close-up work. There is also, on the right of the viewfinder image, a readout of the selected shutter speed. This reads from 1/30 to 1/500 seconds. There are shaded areas at the top and bottom of this scale. See above for details of how this works for the slower, unmarked, shutter speeds.
Beside the viewfinder is the battery chamber. This takes four LR44 or equivalent batteries (which are still easily available).
The base of the camera contains several items. There is a lever to release the back. Swinging this lever reveals a red dot and allows the back and base to be removed in one piece.
Next to this is the film speed selector. This is a knurled button which moves between 15 DIN/25 ISO to 30 DIN/800 ISO. There are no Soviet GOST speeds here although the manual does refer to GOST speeds. For some reason, the DIN speeds are printed in green on the dark grey body – very hard to read. The ISO speeds are printed in white.
Next to the film speed selector is the tripod socket. This is 1/4 inch UNC thread (which is very close to the Whitworth thread used on older camera and tripods – the two are mutually compatible). On the far right of the base is the rewind button to disengage the film advance mechanism to allow the film tome backwards. The base on my camera is clearly marked “Made in Ukraine” although the box the camera came in says it was made in the USSR.
There are no strap lugs on the camera but for a camera this small and light a strap really is not required. The camera came with a rather nice leatherette pouch (which is stamped inside with “3-2-93” which I take too be the date of manufacture of the pouch. This ties in with the date on the back of the manual.
The hot shoe is synchronised for electronic flash – by the 1990s flash bulbs were passé. Attaching a hot shoe flash gun sets the shutter speed to 1/30 or 1/60 seconds (the manual gives no clue as to which or when each is selected). This is achieved by a concealed switch in the left side of the accessory shoe. The provided plastic cover for the hot shoe has a small cut-out on the left to prevent the cover from activating the switch.
I have run a test film through this camera now and had it developed (by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln, as usual). Three main things to note: 1) there is an occasional light leak. This occurs at the bottom of the picture, indicating that the leak is where the top of the back meets the camera body. Most of the frames in my test film do not have a noticeable light leak. 2) the negatives are a bit thin – not too thin to be usable but thinner than is ideal. This tells me that the automatic exposure system is underexposing slightly. As there is no manual option with this camera, I can either live with it or adjust the Film’s ISO setting to compensate. 3) there are tram-line scratches on all frames. Might be the film gate, might be dirt in the cassette felt light trap. Who knows?