Kiev 4AM

This is my new Kiev 4AM (Ser. No.: 83206678) and its Helios 103 53mm f/1.8 Lens (Ser. No.: 8350836). It is in excellent codition, working at all speeds, with no marks on the external metal and the leatherette cover is pristine.

Kiev 4AM

You will recall that I wrote here about ordering a Kieve 4AM camera from the Ukraine as a token of support in their current struggle. Well, a month after I placed that order my new camera arrived in the mail. And I am thrilled.

I ordered this camera from E-bay seller “ussr_photoworld” in Lviv, Ukraine. They shipped it quickly and when the camera arrived I found it was in better condition than they described. And dealing with them was a good experience. So much so that as soon as I had looked at this Keiv 4AM I ordered another, a Kiev 4A  from them! I guess I am now collecting Ukranian cameras!

Kiev 4AM

The Kiev 4AM is a solid heavy camera made of metal parts with no plastic to be seen. It is reminiscent of its fine German camera roots.

Kiev 4AM

The Kiev 4AM is a solid heavy camera made of metal parts with no plastic to be seen. It is reminiscent of its fine German camera roots.

Kiev 4AM

This camera is simple to operate. Rewind crank is on the left. Frame counter has to be set by hand each time you load film. The Film speed is set by pully up on the dial on the right and rotating to the desired speed (NOTE: change film speed after camera is wound). Rotate the out ring to advance the film. Shutter buttion is in the middle.

Kiev 4AM

The Helios-103 53mm f/1.8 lens has the Contax lens mount which was developed for the Contax 1 released in 1932. Today it is refered to as the Contax Rangefinder Mount.

Zeiss Ikon Contax II

The original Contax II made in Jena in what became East Germany after WW II. After the war the Soviets packed up the plant and personel and moved the manufatcture to Kiev and renamed the camera the Kiev. Same camera.

As I explained in my previous post, when the Soviets moved the Zeiss Ikon Contax plant in Dresden to Kiev they set it up in the “Arsenal Factory”. This was the “Arsenal Special Device Production State Enterprise” which was first established in 1764 as a repair and production facility of the Imperial Russian Army. Its main business was always armaments. After the war it was reorganized and the armaments section was set up under another name. The Arsenal factory continued producing optical equipment for the cold war and Russian space program. Cameras were always just a small part of their business.

Arsenal began making the Kiev 2 in 1947 using some original parts brought from the German factory. There followed a succession of models which eventually culminated in the Kiev 4AM which was produced from 1980 thru 1989.


Model Production
Kiev 2 1947-1957
Kiev 2A 1955-1958
Kiev 3 1948-1956
Kiev 3A 1954-1959
Kiev 4 1957-1979
Kiev 4A 1956-1980
Kiev 5 1968-1973
Kiev M 1976-1987
Kiev 4AM 1980-1989
Kiev 4AM

The metal slats of the vertical travelling shutter are clearly visible when you remove the back. Opening so completely makes loading film very much easier than doing so with the Leica II or III.

So, about my New Camera …….

I have read so much about “Russian” cameras that I was not sure what to expect. Much to my surprise, and great pleasure, I had received a beautiful camera. It is in excellent condition with no external blemishes and apparently fully functional. It is heavy and solid and feels well made. The viewfinder is bright and the double image in the center is contrasty,

My “Russian” lens, the Helios-103  is a 53mm f/1.8, is clear and bright and the diaphragm, although a bit stiff, works fine. One day a bit of a lube job is in order.

The shutter appears to work at all speeds. Apparently with this camera model one is supposed to wind the shutter first before setting the shutter speed. Not doing so can apparently lead to problems but I am not sure why this is the case.

Helios-103 53mm f/1.8 Lens

I was very happy with the condition of this Helios-103 53mm f/1.8 lens. The glass is bright and clear and externally the lens appears new.

Helios-103 53mm f/1.8 Lens

The very distinctive Contax bayonet lens mount was developed for the 1932 release of the Contax 1 and it has remained essentially unchanged through the years.

Helios-103 53mm f/1.8 Lens

The Contax Lens Mount contains the focusing helix in the mount on the body. So the lens itself has no ability to focus. It must be mounted on the camera. This makes adapting these lenses to other cameras a problem.

When I began handling my Kiev 4AM I quickly realized that the rangefinder was out of adjustment. With the lens set to infinity the rangefinder image was way out of alignment. So I had to adjust the horizontal calibration which involved removing the front plate of the camera. Fortunately, the operation went well and the patient has recovered nicely. The rangefinder now seems to be quite accurate.

This is a simple camera to figure out if you are familiar with film cameras. But rather than tell you the ins and outs of the operation you can just read the Instruction Manual. I just hope your Russian is up to it!

So, How does it Shoot?

When I get a new camera in working condition i load it with film and take it outside at the first opportunity. So I loaded my Kiev 4AM with a roll of Ilford Delta 100 Professional and went out one early evening a week or so ago and took some pictures. I used my Sekonic lightmeter set to an ISO of 100.

What follows is a selection of 4 images from that roll of film. I scanned the images using  my Canon R camera with a Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro lens on an FL Bellows assembly.

I found the camera easy to use. I had to get used to holding it because the rangefinder window would normally lay under your  middle finger with a normal hold.

Setting the shutter speed was not easy. I think the ring that you pull up to change the speed is clogged with dried oil. One day I will take that assembly apart and clean and lubricate it.

I found the shutter release to be a bit soft for my liking. I like a “crisp” trigger that releases positively. But, as old cameras go, it was not too bad. 

The rangefinder was easy to use. The finder was bright and the alignment was positive. And because of the wide rangefinder base distance, the focus was very sensitive. Overall it was a good experience.

In use, I liked the camera. This is a camera I will use.

Kiev 4 Manual in Russian

This is the Instruction Manual that came with my camera. Unfortunately it appears to be in Russian. Good luck with that!

Kiev 4 Manual in English

I found these instructions in English if the Russian intimidates you!

The front element is not well protected by the front of the lens barrel and I expected the camera would be subject to flare if the sun got around to the front of the lens. So, I rummaged around in my Canon gear and came up with a lens hood for a rangefinder lens: a Canon 50mm f/1.5 that slips on over a 42mm lens barrel. It fit perfectly as you can see on the left.

So, let’s have a look at the pictures. These are four from that first roll of 36 that I took on one photo walk. Don’t obsess over them – don’t try to pixel peep – just enjoy them. After all, that is the test of a camera is it not? Can it take a picture that brings pleasure?

Kiev 4AM

It was late afternoon when I went out to take these pictures. The shadows are long and deep and there is generally high contrast in the scene. I tried to keep the lens at about f/8 so my shutter speed was around 1/125th.

Kiev 4AM
Kiev 4AM

The picture on the left was taken in the park near our house. The picture above is a slice taken out of it from just below the center slightly to the left. The close up is magnified to 70% and it shows the level of detail captured by this lens. I think you can see the quality of the images captured.

I don’t know about the quality control generally of these cameras but this one is excellent. It is a good functional camera capable of really fine photography.

As a result of my experience with this camera I think that I shall try to flesh out a little collection of Kiev cameras. They are not that expensive and there are not many of them. I just have to find out where to put them!

Kiev 4AM

I have always like this patch of scrub forest near our house. With the spring leaves still a few weeks away it gives us beautiful textures and shapes. Notice the lens sharpness going all the way into the corners. This lens gives a pleasing picture with good contrast.

Kiev 4AM

This was the last picture I took in this group and you can see the sun is getting pretty low. Although filtered through the tree branches, the sun is in the picture and the Helios-103 has handled it pretty well.

And that is the story of my Kiev 4AM. I have found real pleasure in exploring this camera and I look forward to using it in the future. And the best part is that I have an 4A coming in a few weeks. And after that I want a Kiev 2 and then a Kiev 3. And of course to compare them with the original German product I will have to have a Zeiss Ikon Contax II from the 1930’s. And then I want ………  oh-oh  I think I have GAS! (That is Gear Acquisition Syndrome. A terrible affliction!)

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