Kiev Cameras, etc.

Photography has been with me since my school days. I've explored its boundaries, from avid amateur to low-grade professional and back to avid amateur. Like all hobbies, interest waxes and wanes, but this one never seems to go away.

I have lots of cameras, most of them bought on the cheap from a variety of sources. So I'm somewhat of an expert on cheap cameras. This page is devoted to the cheapest of cameras intended for professional use, the Kiev 60.

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My Kiev Collection. The large lens with the striped control rings is a Zeiss Jena Sonnar, and the fat lens to its right is the 30mm Arsat fisheye. Below the Sonnar is the 120mm Vega, and to its right an 80mm Arsat normal lens. Beneath them is the 50mm Zeiss Flektogon, and to the right from there (with no visible lens coatings) is the 45mm Mir 26b. The shade at right is the stock rubber plunger shade for the normal and the 120mm Vega. The shade to the left is for the Sonnar, and a compendium shade cobbled together from junk parts is below it. The lens to the right of the compendium shade is the Arsat 2X teleconverter. For scale, the filter diameter of the Flektogon is 86mm--3-1/2 inches. This is big stuff. Not pictured is the Hartblei 45mm shift lens.

There is much on the web concerning these cameras, and I'm going to avoid too much repetition. Explore to your heart's content. Start by visiting the Kiev Report, though you will be asked to join Delphi, which is free. It's worth it. Collecting Kiev cameras is a little challenging, and you'll need a support group.

Professional photographers in Communist Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union still had to take pictures, and they needed the same high-quality cameras that pros in the west needed. But it was a political doctrine that the Second World would be self-sufficient, depending on the West for nothing. So, they continued to produce photographic equipment for amateurs and professionals. It is also a fact that without market forces, all forms of production were hampered by central planning and a bureaucracy devoted to staying out of the trouble with the bosses rather to meeting customer needs or market demands. So, you have to modify your expectations a little.

The history is interesting, and here's a quick summary. Before the war, one of the premiere optical companies in the world was Carl Zeiss, located in Jena, Germany. Jena was in the east, and after the war, they found themselves in the part of Germany occupied by the Russians. Before East Germany was closed off by the occupying power as a result of the Yalta Conference, many scientists, engineers, technicians, and skilled workers escaped the east into the west. Those escaping from the Zeiss works in Jena formed a new company in Oberkochen, West Germany, which they also called Zeiss (originally, Zeiss-Opton, and then Carl Zeiss starting in about 1954). The latter company is one of the premiere optical companies in the world still, and makes (or designs) lenses for the world's most highly regarded medium-format cameras, including Hasselblad and Rollei, in addition to their own Contax line.

But the Zeiss factory in Jena did not close down, and many of their highly skilled workers remained behind. Much of the tooling was appropriated by the Soviets, and installed (eventually) in a defense factory in Kiev, known as Arsenal, as well as in other factories here and there. In that factory, they produce two cameras for professionals. The most well-known is the Kiev 88 (derived from the original Salyut), which shares origins with the original Hasselblad 1000 and 1600. Who borrowed whose design is the subject of endless debate, which you can read about in a number of places.

At the Arsenal factory, they also made good copies of the Zeiss lenses for that new camera. Good copies. Remove their ubiquitous quality-control problems, and the Ukrainian lenses are quite good, and some of them are outstanding.

Meanwhile, back at the Zeiss factory in Jena, the workers who remained started producing lenses for a new camera made in Dresden which was based on the Exakta single-lens-reflex camera. The Exakta was the first camera in the form of a modern reflex camera such as you'd see in a Nikon or a Canon. The film travels horizontally, as opposed to the vertical travel of a Hasselblad or Rollei (or Kiev 88). A similar First World camera in current production is the Pentax 67. The larger film format of these cameras has been the choice of most commercial photographers throughout the years, because it provides a workable balance between portability and large film size. The East German creation was called the Praktisix, and the Exakta camera factory that produced it was renamed Pentacon. Subsequently, the Praktisix was named the Pentacon Six, and in its latest post-unification form, the Exakta 66.

The lenses Zeiss Jena produced for the Pentacon Six were nearly identical to the proven designs being produced by Zeiss Oberkochen for cameras such as the Hasselblad. They used formulas that are still in use, including the Sonnar telephoto. Zeiss Oberkochen switched from the Biometar design used by Jena to the Planar design, which is better in some ways and not in others, by all reports. And most unbiased reviewers (if such can be found) feel that the Flektogon wide-angle formula used in the east is at least as good if not superior to the Distagon design in the west. The debate rages on. You'll find no resolution of that debate here; I can't afford the Oberkochen lenses and therefore can't test them.

Let's get back to Kiev. The Pentacon Six was a good camera, but a little expensive by Eastern standards, and the Soviets wanted a camera made at home and not in the colonies. So the Arsenal plant began to produce the Kiev 6C, which is now the Kiev 60 to go along with the Kiev 88. It is closely based on the Pentacon design without being a direct copy. Simplicity is the goal here, and is the strength of this camera. It uses a horizontal focal-plane shutter, with speeds from 1/2 to 1/1000 seconds, plus B. The prism contains a meter that reads through the lens, but it is not coupled with the lens, so you have to read the meter dial and then set the lens. The prism is bright by medium-format standards, and the camera handles well, except that it is quite heavy. The camera itself is entirely mechanical--no batteries to die except in the metered prism--but also no automation. Prices vary between $200 and $400 for a complete kit, which is ridiculously cheap in medium-format terms. A similar Pentax 67, though with vastly greater automation and much higher build quality, is perhaps twenty times as expensive. The real value in the camera is that it uses the same lens mount as the Pentacon, which means the lenses for the Pentacon will work properly on the camera.

I'm not new to medium format, and we own a complete set of Mamiya twin-lens reflex cameras and a complete set of Pentax 645 cameras intended for commerical work when such comes our way. I bought the Kiev for fun, and because a much wider array of lenses was available for that camera than for the Mamiya or the Pentax. As a true lover of extreme wide-angle optics, I could easily spend $10,000 equipping myself with Hasselblad equipment, for just one camera and one extreme wide-angle lens. Instead, for a tiny fraction of that, I've collected a 30mm Ukrainian fisheye (my extreme wide-angle lens), a 45mm Ukrainian wide-angle lens, another 45mm lens with perspective shift control, a 50mm Flektogon lens from Zeiss Jena, two 80mm Ukrainian normal lenses and an 80mm Zeiss Jena Biometar, a portrait lens of 120mm focal length from the Ukraine and another one from Zeiss Jena, Zeiss Jena Sonnars in 180mm and 300mm, and even a 500mm telephoto lens from Pentacon. All of these lenses are fast; only the wide-angle lenses are slower than f/2.8 except for the 300 and 500. With the lenses, I've collected a 7-element 2X teleconverter, extension tubes, three Kiev 60 camera bodies with metered prisms, a Pentacon Six TL, an Exakta 66 Mk III, and an assortment of filters and other accessories. Total cost? About the same as what we paid for two Pentax 645s with two lenses. Yes, it's junk, but it's junk that can work well if approached in the right way and with the right attitude.

The quality of a camera is in the lenses, and the question is, how good are the lenses? If they can't produce good images, then no amount of money is worth the investment. This is the question of the article called Lens Testing, and the reason for exploring lens performance much more deeply in the Mother of All Lens Tests.

I have had a chemical darkroom at times. But I've never rebuilt it after moving away from my home in South Texas, because of the house surgery that is required to have a darkroom that permits the consistent production of large prints. I've consequently built a backlog of exposed film that has waited for that wonderful, old Omega enlarger to be set up again.

I'll never set up that Omega, now. The Digital Age has swept me up.

To produce prints in a digital darkroom, you need a computer, a printer, and a scanner. The last item is the most expensive, and scanners can cost as much as you want to spend, up to multiple tens of thousands of dollars. But low-cost alternatives are now available. With computer already in hand, in 1999 I set out to build a digital darkroom for a maximum of $1000. I purchased an Acer Scanwit 2720s 35mm film scanner, an Acer 1240ut flatbed scanner with transparency adapter for medium and large format, and an Epson Stylus Photo 1270 printer, brought to me by a red-haired Santa. Total cost? $925. But was this stuff any good? That's the question I addressed in the article called The Digital Darkroom. And, yes, it's only gotten much better since then.

The latest addition to my articles on camera stuff is a test of lens bokeh. What is bokeh? See here.