A direct descendant of the famed Contax series of rangefinder cameras, the Kiev4 RF is highly-regarded for its capability to produce razor-sharp images.
The Kiev story began during post-WWII; the Russians took over the German Zeiss Ikon factories, (makers of the highly-respected Contax II and III cameras) as part of ‘war reparations.’ They shipped the leftover equipment and a group of engineers to the Arsenal factory in Kiev, Ukraine. Under the supervision of Mr. Wolfgang Hahn, an engineer and war survivor, the Contax line was set-up again to produce the rangefinder camera that we now know as the ‘Kiev.’ It was reported that earlier models sported original Zeiss Contax parts (supporting the argument that they’re not ‘Contax clones’ but indeed real Contax cameras), but eventually, everything was manufactured in the Arsenal.
The first batch of Kievs (Kiev II and III), which was produced during the early 1950s, was a luxurious item obtained only by high-ranking Soviets. Back in Zeiss Ikon, the Contax IIa and IIIa were dominating the camera market, prompting the Arsenal to redesign some new Kiev prototypes. After a series of modifications, the Kiev4 was officially produced in 1960.
The Kiev4 has a bayonet mount, making it compatible with the Zeiss Contax lenses. Its Jupiter-8 lens is reputed to be very sharp, but extra care should be considered when handling it – the aluminum lens barrel is somewhat frail and is easily damaged if dropped. The combined viewfinder and rangefinder window makes it easy to focus and frame in only one window – this is something that Leica hadn’t thought of, until 1953 (with the Leica M3).
The Kiev4 is prized for the extra-sharp images that it makes. Precise focusing is easy, with its clear depth-of-field scale coupled with a 9cm-long rangefinder base – this allows accurate focusing and isolation of your subject from the background. This makes a perfect camera for the amateur photographer, since it requires minimal focusing effort. It has also a moderately quiet shutter, which is certainly helpful when you’re sneaking up to shoot candidly!