The Soviet era Contax clone heavy metal totally mechanical precision glass 35mm coupled rangefinder affordable beauty.
Much has been written elsewhere about the looting of the German camera factory tooling by the Soviets at the end of World War II so suffice to say that coming into Germany from an Easterly direction in the waning months of the war the Soviets found themselves in possession of the Contax factory in Dresden.
This must have seemed like just rewards—serendipity, even—for Soviet bureaucrats whose country had been ravaged by Hitler’s troops.
The tooling was transported to the Arsenal factory in Kiev in the Ukraine and thus began a long history of Russian camera production of Contax clones carrying the Kiev name.
Production on the Kiev 4 began in 1960. (You can identify the production year by the serial number of the camera: the first two numbers indicate the year of production.) My particular camera was built in 1977.
The “A” in the Kiev 4A signifies that there is no light meter in the camera, so if you’re shooting with one you’ll have to carry a meter with you or do like I do: estimate exposures using the “sunny 16” rule. (Personally I find the suspense of shooting analog and meter-free is a minor thrill.) Yet the camera bares no markings that identify it as an A version of the 4, nor even that it’s a 4 for that matter, so perhaps it’s more correct to say that if you have a Kiev 4 with no light meter this signifies it’s an “A” model.
It’s a fast camera for it’s kind. Shutter speeds range from B to 1000 and with the equipped Jupiter 8 lens you have a 50mm that provides f2 through f22.
Images are sharp and despite the camera’s heft, it’s shutter, when fired, emits a delightfully discrete and slushy click. “Click?” Too harsh! Regardless of any attempt to modify it that word is incapable of transferring into your mind’s ear the sound of the Kiev 4A. Instead,…imagine the sound of a soft kiss on the cheek and you’ll know the sound of the Kiev 4A shutter.
Idiosyncrasies abound in old cameras and the Kiev has them too:
The focus wheel on the top plate is best manipulated with the middle finger of your right hand while that same hand’s index finger remains poised above the shutter release button. It’s an awkward feeling and takes some getting used to. But the alternative—our natural default—of manipulating the focus wheel with the index finger necessarily causes the middle finger to obscure the rangefinder window, thus rendering accurate focus difficult or impossible.
Film loading is a challenge. The camera’s back an bottom plate are one piece. When removed you must then wind your film leader into a removable take-up spool and somehow get the back on again while simultaneously holding the film canister and take-up spool in position. I still struggle. But if you are blessed with a third hand my guess is you’ll do fine.
Most challenging of all perhaps, lens removal. It’s a Contax bayonet mount I do believe and with no instructions it is difficult to know how to remove the lens. The procedure, whatever it may be, is far from intuitive. When I first got the camera I tried and tried every way I could imagine short of a hacksaw to remove the lens. No luck. Finally, I just sat on the sofa and watched the telly while absent mindedly fiddling with the mechanism. Voila! I unlocked it. But that was a year ago and now I have forgotten the procedure. Back I go to the sofa and the telly I suppose.
You can pick up a Kiev 4 easily off E-bay. If you get a good, clean and functional one you will not regret your purchase.