The Kiev line of 35mm rangefinder cameras are direct descendants of the pre-WWII Zeiss Contax II & III, the main difference being where they made, and the quality of construction, which tends to be lower than their German counterparts. At the end of WWII, the Russians ended up with the Zeiss factories in Dresden, Jena, and others. The first Kievs were built in Jena in 1947, then everything was moved to Arsenal, in Kiev, Ukraine. The line evolved a bit over the years, with flash sync being added, and some minor trim changes. The last of these cameras were the Kiev 4M, based on the metered Contax III, and the Kiev 4AM, similar but lacking the meter, a la the Contax II. Production ceased in 1985, making this line of cameras longer-lived than even that bastion of American manufacturing, the Argus C3. Even though the Russian standards of fit, trim, and quality control seriously lagged behind their German predecessors, the Kievs are generally considered to be the best of the Russian camera industry.

The Kiev 4/4M is moderately sized at 5.5 inches wide, 2.75 inches deep with the 50mm Jupiter f/2 lens, and 3.5 inches tall to the top of the accessory shoe. The body is typical Zeiss--very squared-off with beveled corners. Weight comes in at 1lb. 11-1/2 oz. (780g) with the normal lens attached.

In typical Zeiss tradition, the bottom and back remove as a unit for film loading, and has the customary double lock mechanism. The take-up spool is removable, meaning that it usually falls out into your hand or onto the floor when the back is opened at angles less than parallel to the ground. The fit and finish in this area is quite good, and unlike the removable-baseplate-only Leicas, film insertion is easy, and film leaders do not have to be lengthened; loading is still best done with the camera lens down on a flat surface, or held between slightly spread legs. Marc James Small wrote in a post to the ZICG that the 4M/AM will take the Zeiss film cassettes on the supply side, but due to a re-design of the take-up spool, will not fit on the take-up side.

The metal roller-blind style focal plane shutter, which runs vertically, is a distinctive feature of both the Contax and Kiev cameras. This particular unit has speeds ranging from 1/2 to 1/1000 sec. + B, and is set by lifting the top of wind knob, and turning it to the desired speed. The author would like to note that this camera appears to be a transitional model of the Kiev4 with some of the distinctive features of both the Kiev 4 and the 4M. The speed markings are very small, and on my camera are smeared, making them extremely hard to read. Turning the dial to the desired can be a bit of a trial, as the knob tends to be a bit cranky about turning. I don't know if this is a problem with just my camera, or the Kiev line in general. It seems to be easier setting the speeds when the shutter is cocked. The film wind itself is adequately smooth, although one can feel various things happening under the top plate as the knob is turned. The shutter release is in the center of the wind knob, and it is smooth and steady in operation. The release can be locked by gently pushing and rotating the release button. The shutter itself is quiet, responding with a soft "shooop" when released. It does not seem to make the wheezing noise at 1/50 or below, noted by Ivor Matanle as characteristic of the Contax shutter.

One of the superior design features of the Kiev / Pre-war Contax over the screw-mount Leica is a long-base, single window, combination range- and viewfinder system. The lightly green-tinted viewfinder is very bright, and the orange tinted focusing rectangle contrasts well with the surrounding area. With nearly four inches between the ranging prisms, even slight differences in focusing distance are readily visible, and the two images come together positively, with superb vertical registration. Focusing on the Kiev, as with the Contax is accomplished with a wheel on the front of the rangefinder housing, connected internally to the focusing mount. The 50mm lenses utilize an inner bayonet mount, and have no focusing mount of their own. Other lenses and accessories utilize the outer bayonet, and have their own focusing mounts, rendering the focus wheel useless. Marc will correct this, if my assumptions are in error here. I personally find it easier to focus the camera by grabbing the lens with the left hand and turning it to focus, but there is an infinity lock on the 50mm, and it has to be released from a lever behind the focus wheel. My short fingers have a problem using the focus wheel and being able to get at the shutter release, without other fingers blocking the rangefinder window. I have to position my middle finger on top of the rangefinder housing, and use it as a pivot for the index finger to reach both the focus wheel and the shutter release. The remaining two fingers have a tenuous hold on the body in this position.

The lens on this camera is a 50mm f/2 Jupiter-8, a clone of the Zeiss Sonnar, and is finished in chrome with a black filter ring. A quickly done test roll shows excellent sharpness and contrast, even at the wider stops. The aperture ring is very stiffly detented, and trying to turn it will certainly change the focus, unless the infinity lock is engaged. Other Russian lenses made for the Kiev were a 35mm f/2.8, 85mm f/2, and 135mm f/4, all clones of Zeiss designs. Of course, Contax lenses, with a possible exception or two, should fit.

The selenium meter, located on top and centered over the lens, has a flip-up cover that works very well at shielding the meter from overhead light. Typical of this type of meter, low-light sensitivity is not a strong suite here; average room light in the daytime is stretching the capability of the meter. The outer circumference of the large knob under the dainty rewind knob moves the pointer on the meter scale. The scale itself shows a zero mark, 4x and 2x underexposure, and a diamond that indicates correct exposure. The meter needle is heavily damped and moves in a leisurely fashion. The film scale seems to be ASA, but the indicated film speeds are odd: 15, 32, 65,130, 250, 500. Once the needle is resting on the diamond, shutter speed & f/stop combinations are ready to be transferred to their respective controls. The meter on this camera is quite accurate within it's range.

As with a lot of classic and vintage cameras, using the Kiev engenders feelings of both satisfaction and frustration. The satisfaction comes from the overall elegance of the machine, tainted only slightly but the lesser precision of Russian construction. The view/rangefinder is simply superb, the camera is quiet in operation, there is flash sync (not present in the original Contaxes), and a very sharp, contrasty lens. The frustration side comes from the 1930's ergonomics, mostly the poor positioning of the focus wheel and the infinity lock, the shutter speeds being hard to set, stiff aperture detents on the lens, and the film loading. One huge advantage to the Kiev is that prices are quite reasonable yet--as little as a third of the cost of an equivalent Contax IIIa. The asking price for mine was $150 in 9+ condition; I have seen others on the net and in Shutterbug for similar prices. In short, for this writer at least, it is a great camera for occasional use and is a fine collectible, but give me my Canon EOS for the day-to-day stuff! I anticipate using the Kiev just as I do my Stereo Realist and Ikonta B; it will not merely grace the shelves with my lesser collectibles. Should anyone reading this have the opportunity to look at or buy one of these cameras, for collection or use, I highly recommend it!


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