Kiev Medium Format Cameras and Lenses

There are two basic models of Kiev cameras: Kiev 60 and Kiev 88. There are also several variations under each model. This page will go over the two basic models and touch briefly on the variations. It will also cover the lenses available to Kiev cameras.

Common to all of the Kiev cameras is the fact that they are resolutely manual-everything. There is no autofocus, no autoexposure, no auto-film advance, no batteries (except to power their accessory metered prisms). They are also all-metal cameras which makes them quite heavy. But these things, which might seem like drawbacks to some, are often blessed attributes in the eyes of us Kievaholics.

The Kiev cameras have no autofocus nor autoexposure to be fooled. If the meter's batteries die at the worst possible moment, you still have a working camera. And with its "unique" odor, you have a nice bear repellent (use at your own risk). If that fails, you have a nice and heavy projectile at your disposal.

Like other all-manual cameras, using a Kiev means you, the photographer, must think about what you're doing. You must set and check and double check every camera setting yourself. Photography becomes a very deliberate process. Many would say that taking the time to make a photograph even produces better results.

Kiev 60 - An SLR on steroids

The Kiev 60 looks like an old 35mm SLR on steroids. Some people also say it looks like a Pentax 67 hit with an ugly stick. "Battered" by an ugly stick might be more appropriate.

The Kiev 60 (and the Kiev 88) takes 120 roll film, which is still commonly available at many camera stores, and makes 6x6cm images. (Well, okay, it's really 56x56mm... but most people just say "6x6")

The Kiev 60 was derived from the Pentacon 6, a fairly successful East German medium format SLR. It uses a similar lens mount (Kiev Type C), and indeed most lenses designed for the Pentacon 6 will also mount on the Kiev 60. This means that Kiev 60 users have access to not only Ukrainian glass, but also Carl Zeiss Jena and other lenses produced for the Pentacon 6 and even the Exakta 66 cameras (which were also derived from the Pentacon 6).

The Kiev 60, among us Kievaholics, has a reputation for being a bit more reliable than the Kiev 88 (see below). That is not to say that all Kiev 60's are more dependable than Kiev 88's. Variable quality control at the factory makes many generalizations at most a "best guess," and indeed some 88's have been known to outlive their Kiev 60 bretheren for many, many years.

If you are shopping for a Kiev 60, aside from the basic camera you may see models with mirror lock up (MLU) capability. This feature is added by third party camera technicians, as Arsenal, the factory in Kiev, Ukraine where Kiev cameras are made, has never produced a camera with the MLU feature.

There are also Kiev 60's which have been modified to take pictures in the 6x4.5 (645) format which will (should?) give you 16 exposures on a roll of 120 film versus 12 for 6x6. The 645 Kiev 60's have their frame oriented vertically which some see as a blessing while others find it awkward. It's really personal preference.

The predecessor to the Kiev 60, the Kiev 6C, is also sometimes encountered in camera stores or on internet auctions. Some people prefer the 6C to the 60, claiming that it was a better made camera and also has the ability to accept 220 while the Kiev 60 only takes 120 film. However, the 6C's film advance mechanism is often said to be more finicky than even that of the 60. This means improper frame spacing resulting in frames that overlap or are too far apart. Also, the camera had its shutter button on the *left* side of the camera which many people today find a bit odd and hard to get accustomed to.

Speaking of improper frame spacing, this is a problem that still seems to plague the Kiev 60. However, properly loading film into the camera can help to eliminate this problem for many people.

Kiev 88 - The "Hasselbladski"

The Kiev 88 looks a lot like a Hasselblad which is often what gets people's attention. Some of us Kievaholics even revel in the fact that our Kievs are often mistaken for a Hasselblad. But of course, looks are only skin deep.

The Kiev 88 is most akin to the early Hasselblad 1000 and 1600 models. They share the focal plane shutter design and all the gearing quirks that made the early Hassy's such unpredictable beasts. Kiev 88's are not compatible with today's Hasselblads, except for their finders. Their finders remain interchangeable, and indeed many Hasselblad owners have gone with Kiev prisms which can be had a lot more cheaply than the real Hasselblad prisms. Lenses are not interchangeable and neither are film backs -- except in the case of Hartblei's modified Kievs (see below).

Over the Kiev 60, the main advantage of the Kiev 88 is its interchangeable film backs. This allows photographers to have several backs loaded with different film which can be attached to or removed from the camera easily. This feature is immensely valuable if you like to shoot color AND black and white or print AND slide film. It can even help if you need to switch between slow and fast film as the light changes. Having interchangeable backs, means you won't always have to finish off a roll of film before being able to switch film types.

Interchangeable film backs also opens up the possibility of using a Polaroid back for proofing your set-up before taking the "real" shot. This is a valuable tool for studio and portrait photographers.

(Side note: The Kiev 88 is also a bit more aerodynamic than the Kiev 60, which is important should you need to use it as a projectile to save your life.)

However, having interchangeable film backs can also be the Kiev 88 user's nightmare. Why? To have an effective interchangeable film back system requires a degree of precision that, at present, seems to elude the factory which makes Kiev cameras. Imprecise implementation of the design leads to the classic Kiev problems of light leaks and jammed cameras.

Proper usage of the Kiev 88 film backs is vital to using these cameras successfully. Properly loading film into the film back will often solve the problem of misspaced frames and film bunching up on one end of the spool.

Light leaks are often solvable by dedicated Kievaholics. It involves looking at your film, figuring out where the light is coming in, and plugging the hole. Black tape is our friend.

The lens mount of the Kiev 88 is referred to as Type B. It is an old-style screw in lens mount, albiet not requiring as many rotations as say the Leica screw mount lenses. The Kiev Type B lens mount simply requires about a 90 degree turn to lock in place. Compared with the Type C lens mount used on the Kiev 60, the 88's B mount is said to be a little less reliable and strong. Whether that is truly a disadvantage remains debatable.

Arsenal (the Kiev factory) started producing the Kiev 88CM, an updated Kiev 88, in 1999.

  • The 88CM sports a Type C lens mount which is also used by the Kiev 60 and will take *most* Carl Zeiss Jena lenses (the 180mm Sonnar will not fit without modifying the lens locking ring).
  • Most (not all) 88CM kits come with a Spot-TTL metered prism versus the 88's normal TTL prism. (This option can vary a lot from dealer to dealer and you can probably get a regular Kiev 88 with the Spot-TTL prism if you want it)
  • The 88CM also has a black cloth shutter versus the factory 88's bronze-colored metal shutter.
  • The 88CM has a crank style film advance versus the 88's knob.
  • The 88CM has its shutter button moved to the side of the camera body which makes it easier to use when a thick-barrelled lens is attached.
  • The 88CM has a redesigned (stronger) baseplate than the 88.
  • And of course, the 88CM is more expensive than the 88... about $150 to $200 more expensive for the kit.

Prior to the Kiev 88, Arsenal produced the Salyut and the Salyut-C (or S, depending on who you ask). The original Salyut had preset apertures in its lenses (Mir-3b 65mm, Industar 90mm, Tair 300mm) while the Salyut-C added automatic aperture control and had pretty much the same lens mount as what is found on the Kiev 88 today. Some people say that the Salyut-C is a better choice than a Kiev 88. Again, opinions differ.

Aside from factory models, the Kiev 88 is a popular camera for upgraders. Kiev Camera, Kiev USA and Hartblei are the well known delears for upgraded Kiev 88's. Kiev USA and Hartblei do their work in-house while Kiev Camera has a separate party doing its upgrading. The Kiev upgraders offer several variations of Kiev 88 with features including: mirror lock up, cloth shutter, crank style film advance, Pentacon 6 style bayonet lens mount (as opposed to the breech-lock style Type C mount found on the 88CM), and proprietary multicoated lenses. Hartblei also offers modified cameras which will accept Hasselblad film backs and will custom finished cameras. Imagine having a red snakeskin covered camera! (If that's your taste, you can have one.)

The Lenses

What can I say? Ukrainian lenses are cheap. Most are based on old Zeiss designs and, despite creative quality control at the factory, are generally capable of taking very nice pictures. Oh, and did I mention that they are cheap?

The down side to this is that Kiev lenses are generally not up to the level of German and Japanese lenses when it comes to fit and finish. Quite a few of the lenses are not multicoated, and even the ones that are multicoated sometimes have the coating deposited unevenly. Still, taking proper precautions (like using a lens shade!) these Ukrainian hunks of metal and glass can produce excellent and sharp images with beautiful color. And they do pretty well at black and white too!

Coming from the factory in the Ukraine, the lineup of Kiev glass includes the:
Arsat 30mm F3.5 full frame fisheye, Mir 45mm F3.5, Arsat 55mm F4.5 perspective control lens, Mir 65mm F3.5, Arsat 80mm F2.8, Vega 120mm F2.8, Kaleiner 150mm F2.8, Arsat 250mm F3.5, Arsat 250mm F5.6, Arsat 500mm F5.6

The going rate for most of these lenses is between $100 and $250 at the high end for brand new stuff! The 80mm normal lens can be had for about $50. Compared with other medium format lenses, the Kiev lenses are a steal.

In fact, the price of Kiev lenses is what probably what attracted many Kievaholics in the first place. The existence of the superb 30mm fisheye lens alone has probably sold quite a few Kiev cameras. Many people (yes, pros included) have bought a Kiev body just to be able to use this $200 (or so) lens. To put it in perspective, the 30mm Distagon for a Hasselblad goes for about $5,000. Does the Distagon produce noticeably better photographs? Maaaaaybe. Is it $4,800 better? Hmmm.

Zeiss Jena lenses... Oh the name of Zeiss:
Flektogon 50mm F4, Biometar 80mm F2.8, Biometar 120mm F2.8, Sonnar 180mm F2.8, Sonnar 300mm F4

These lenses were made at the factory in Jena, East Germany. While many people say that the East German Zeiss later lagged behind its capitalist western counterpart, the Jena factory was capable of making some fine lenses. Zeiss Jena lenses usually have a degree of fit and finish (and name value) that Ukrainian lenses lack.

The two jewels of the line (and the most sought after) are the Flektogon 50mm F4 and the Sonnar 180mm F2.8. Both are generally very good lenses and on par with (or better than) even modern offerings from major camera makers. Both can also be had quite reasonbly through internet auctions. The older, single-coated lenses often sell for about $150 while the newer multi-coated lenses fetch about $250 to $300. Still very cheap when compared with other medium format lenses.

It is also worth noting that Hartblei has been coming out with some of their own original lenses for Kiev cameras. They currently offer a 45mm F3.5 tilt lens and a 55mm F3.5 tilt and shift lens for about $500 and $700 respectively.

Basically, going with a Kiev allows you to put together a very nice camera system, complete with a range of lenses in useful focal lengths, for not a whole lot of money.


Last update: May 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001