FAQ - General

   Kiev "quality" issues

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Are Kiev cameras any good?
Like many thing in the world of Kiev cameras, the answer is a definite "yes" and "no". Here are the "safe" answers.

When they are working properly, Kiev cameras can be excellent. The Kiev medium format cameras are capable of producing very good results that will look great when compared with almost all 35mm work simply due to their larger film area. They are even capable of producing images that many people would say are on par with those produced by other name brand camera systems that cost thousands of dollars more. Also, Kiev lenses are usually quite good and are really cheap when compared with other medium format lenses. That's the "yes" side of the answer.

On the "no" side of the answer is this: In the paragraph above, please note the part about "when they are working properly". Kievs have developed a reputation for being pieces of junk. Many people would not touch a Kiev with a 100 foot pole. The root of the problem is "creative quality control" at the factory where these cameras are made. Tolerances *do* vary. This means that some cameras and lenses may be perfect while others may be dogs. You may get lucky. Or you may get a brand new but very unusable camera.

If you find yourself with a lemon, you will have to rely on the seller/dealer's return or exchange policy, try to fix it yourself, or face the cost of having your Kiev fixed or upgraded by others. This of course means an additional expense, at which point you may feel you should have gone with a different system altogether. But take heart. You can still get your hands on some great Ukrainian or East German glass for a fraction of the cost of other makers' comparible stuff.

Do they always break down?
Once again, the answer here is "yes" and "no". Some Kievs have been known to go for decades without a problem. Some are dead as a doorknob on delivery without ever having taken a single photograph. Again, that creative quality control at the factory probably plays a role meaning that it's partially luck of the draw.

However, many a user has damaged a Kiev himself or herself. Kievs are unforgiving cameras and can be accidentally broken quite easily. For example, changing the shutter speed on a Kiev 88 *before* cocking the shutter is a recipe for disaster. I strongly recommend reading and memorizing Kevin Kalsbeek's Kiev Do's and Don't's guide before touching a Kiev for the first time.

What's this I hear about light leaks?
Kievs are somewhat notorious for having light leaks even when brand new. Creative quality control strikes yet again. Fortunately, with some deductive reasoning and patience (not to mention a few blown rolls of film) most light leak problems can be fixed quite easily.

Basically, all you have to do is look at your film, try to figure out where the light is getting in from, look for a hole, and plug it.

Leaks can be plugged with light sealing foam which can sometimes be purchased at camera shops, or with black tape, or even with dark colored felt. Just be careful that your plug doesn't interfere with camera operation or film transport.

Tips: On the Kiev 88 cameras, look for light leaks where the camera and film magazine connect. Also look for leaks around the places where the magazines open up. It is also unlikely but conceivable that light could get in from around the ground glass focusing screen.

Do the cameras really have flare problems?
Earlier Kievs tend to have a lot of exposed shiny metal parts in the mirror chamber. This can lead to flare problems. The bronze colored metal shutters on factory stock Kiev 88's are also often blamed for flare problems, although this remains a debated point.

Flocking the mirror box or painting it with flat black paint can easily fix most flare problems related to the camera body.

One other known problem of light fogging the film is when using the standard Volna or Arsat 80mm lens focused at distances closer than about .9 meters. Light can enter through the depth of field preview lever in the lens barrel. But this can be avoided by not focusing so close, or by covering the lever with black tape.

And a lot of "Kiev" flare problems can be cured by properly shading the lens -- which is good advice no matter what camera and lens you use. This can be done with a lens hood or your own body (be careful not to get yourself into the shot unintentionally).

One point to concede is that some Ukrainian lens models are not well coated. This can lead to flare especially in high contrast images even if no unwanted light is falling on the front element. Unfortunately, not much can be done about this kind of flare except for buying a different lens with better coating and flare resistance.

Can they take good pictures?
Most certainly "yes"! But then again, I believe that just about ANY camera is capable of taking a good picture. Whether or not it can take 'meaningful' pictures is entirely up to the person who uses it.

Just about any camera and lens combination has limitations -- be it lens sharpness, maximum aperture, maximum shutter speed, minimum focusing distance, resistance to flare, size, weight, automation, etc., etc. It is a matter of knowing your equipment's limitations and working within those limits OR exploiting the quirks and using them to give your images character.

Is a Kiev a good choice for a beginner to medium format photography?
Once again, this is a "yes" and "no" answer.

"Yes" in the sense that they allow you to get an interchangeable lens medium format SLR quite cheaply. Also, the lenses available to Kiev cameras are usually very good and cheap. Many beginners and hobbyists cannot afford name brand systems. Yes, old TLRs can be had quite cheaply, but the TLR design makes some filter use troublesome and precludes most macro work. Folders are also available, but do not offer through the lens viewing and interchangeable lenses.

"No" because they are manual everything and may be frustrating to some new users, especially those coming from auto-everything 35mm cameras. And more importantly, even when brand new they may have problems that prevent them from being usable cameras. Also, Kievs are unforgiving. Not following the instructions (a manual may or may not come with your camera, and if it does, sometimes comes written in Russian) can lead to breaking them. For this reason, people who want a budget level no-nonsense entry into medium format might be better off getting a used camera from a different maker which might not be too much more expensive than a brand new Kiev. However, even used lenses from other makers tend to be quite a bit more expensive than brand new Ukrainian lenses.

Why are they so cheap?
This is probably just a matter of economics. To people living in "western" countries, Kievs seem incredibly cheap, especially if we've gotten sticker shock from pricing out other medium format cameras. To people living in "eastern bloc" countries, Kievs still reprentent a very sizeable investment of hard earned money and may give them sticker shock the way we get it from German, Swedish, and Japanese medium format gear.

Which Kiev model should I buy?
This is a tough question. Talking about the current model line up, there are people who would be better off with a Kiev 60. There are those who would be better suited by an 88 or 88CM. There are those who might need an upgraded Kiev from Kiev USA, Hartblei, Kiev Camera, or whoever. The answer to this question depends on you, how you want to use the camera, and how much money you're willing to spend.

If you want to get in as cheaply as possible... If you feel most comfortable with a 35mm SLR design... If you usually only use one type of film at any given time... then a Kiev 60 might be the way to go. Quite a few people (but not everyone) will tell you that the Kiev 60 is less problematic than the Kiev 88 and it costs less too.

If you like to use different types of film for the same scene... If you want to be able to proof your shot with a Polaroid back... If you like the Hassy look... then the Kiev 88 or 88CM could be the better choice. Between these two, the 88CM has the Kiev type C mount which means that it will accept most (but not all) Carl Zeiss Jena lenses, has a winding crank instead of a knob, redesigned baseplate, repositioned shutter release button, and cloth shutter curtains. It also costs about $150 more than the basic Kiev 88. The Kiev 88 design's biggest advantage over the 60 is in its interchangeable film backs which allows you to change rolls of film at will, even in mid-roll.

If you want mirror lock up (optional)... If you want a smoother operating (maybe) camera... If you want to reduce your risk of getting a lemon (maybe)... If you have more money to spend (definitely)... then an upgraded Kiev could be the route to take. I cannot recommend any one company because I don't own products from all of them. However, I've heard both good and bad about each dealer. Basically, they are all taking sometimes temperamental cameras, each from the factory with varying "personalities", and trying to make them all the same (i.e. more reliable) with varying degrees of success.

Again, there is no clear answer to this question. You just have to think about what your needs are and buy the camera you feel will suit you best.

Who should I buy a Kiev from?
Probably the best advice I can give here, is to buy Kiev equipment from a known and reputable dealer who offers a real warranty or exchange period and who will grant a refund if you end up with something unusable.

There are several trustworthy Kiev dealers in the United States and in Europe. Some worth mentioning, in no particular order, are Kiev USA, Kiev Camera (Michael Fourman), and Russian Plaza (Genna Kaplan) in the United States and Hartblei and Roskam Optics in Europe. I cannot recommend any one particular dealer over any other. However, I can say that all of these dealers *generally* have a reputation of being good to their word.

It is worth noting that Kiev USA, Hartblei, and Roskam Optics offer in-house repairs of the cameras that they sell. Kiev Camera usually only offers an exchange warranty which means that if you have a defective camera, you send it back and they will send you a totally different camera. However, Kiev Camera does do some limited repair and modification work. Russian Plaza only offers an exchange warranty.

eBay is the other common way that many people get their hands on Kiev equipment. However, many experienced Kiev users will warn you against buying a used Kiev camera through eBay. The reason is that most of the used Kievs that are offered on eBay come with no warranty of any sort. Considering that a brand new Kiev can have problems from the start, you're increasing your risk by buying a used one -- 'You're buying another person's problem' might be a good way to look at it.

However, there are a few regular sellers on eBay who do offer Kiev equipment at reasonable prices with some assurance that you won't get stuck with a lemon. Kiev Camera (mentioned above) often lists items on eBay. Other known and generally deemed trustworthy dealers include: Order300@aol.com (Frank Spar), Ustas, Cupog (who generally only sells used equipment but is trustworthy), and Lemiu (who also sells just used equipment with (very?) optimistic ratings, but is generally good about accepting returns).

Last note is that buying a used lens is not as risky a proposition as buying a used camera. In fact, some of our beloved Kiev (and Pentacon) lenses are only available on the used market as they are no longer being manufactured.

Is [insert name here] a good Kiev dealer?
There are a few Kiev dealers who the Kievaholic populace generally deems to be trustworthy. The established as reputable dealers include: Kiev Camera (Michael Fourman) and Kiev USA in the United States and Hartblei, Baier Fototechnik and Roskam Optics in Europe.

Generally felt to be trustyworthy eBay sellers include: www.russiansouvenirs.com (Frank Spar), cupog, ustas, .nikke (don't forget the period before his username), Milanz, and Lemiu (who also sells just used equipment with (very?) optimistic ratings, but is generally good about accepting returns).

In regards to other sellers on eBay, it is best to do your homework before placing a bid. New Kiev (and Pentacon) sellers pop up all the time. While many will be good to their word, there are still scam artists out there who just want to get your money and run or send you something that is not as advertised. The best advice I can offer here is to check their feedback rating and follow up on some of the links to previously closed items -- a lot of positive dealings in camera related items is a good sign while a few deals on penny ante items to build positive feedback should set off alarm bells.

If you are still in need of help, it would also be a good idea to post a question on the Kiev Report Forums. There is a fair chance that someone on the forum has purchased something from the seller in question and may be able to offer you some advice.

Are some production years better than others?
Kievaholics often talk about certain years being better than others -- kind of like fine wines. Citing a variety of economic and social reasons, some people say that older is better while others say that newest is best.

But despite all the speculation, there are no hard and fast rules and buying a camera which was produced in a certain "good" year or period is no guarantee that you will get a problem-free unit.

I hate to repeat unfounded rumors, but since people seem to want to know, here it goes:

You will often hear that cameras made during the Soviet era are better. This would generally mean cameras made through the mid to late 80's. With the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union, the quality of Kiev cameras also went down... or so people claim.

Others will tell you that old cameras are more risky because you don't know what they've been through. The people in this camp will tell you that you should buy a brand new camera from an established dealer who will guarantee your purchase for at least one year.

The people who say that old cameras are better will counter that brand new cameras are still full of problems, and that buying an older, well-used camera is a sign that the thing has worked properly for a long time.

The choice is yours.

How old is my Kiev stuff?
Up until the year 2000, all Arsenal products ages' could be determined by the first two digits of the serial number. For example, a product with serial number "8712345" would have been made in 1987 and a product with the serial number "9612345" would have been made in 1996.

However, it seems that Arsenal was not Y2K compliant and so the system doesn't work anymore. There has been no clear answer as to how the new system works, but it could now just be a sequential numbering system which started at "00001" for the first product made in 2000.

A product with a number such as "01123" does not seem to mean 2001 production anymore, because if the old system were still in use, one of my prisms would have been made in the year 2026!

What batteries do Kiev prisms take?
Older Kiev prisms take some sort of battery that was available in the Soviet Union but is now discontinued. Luckily an easy workaround is to use three 625A alkaline batteries or three LR44* batteries with a homemade spacer (a wad of aluminum foil) so that they will fit snugly.

Newer prisms will accept three LR44 batteries without the aluminum wad.

* Depending on your geographic location and brands available, other designations for this size of battery are: PX76A (Duracell), A76 (Eveready), KX625 (Kodak), LR44P (Maxell), V13GA (Varta).
There are also two different types of longer lasting (more expensive) SR44 spec. silver-oxide versions designated as: 228 (Bulova), D357 or MS76 (Duracell), 357 or EPX76 (Eveready), KS76 or KA76 (Kodak), SR44W or SR44P (Maxell), SP357 or G13 (Panasonic), 357 or RS76 (Rayovac), V357 or V76PX (Varta).

Why is the tripod socket so big?
Kievs ship from the factory with European standard 3/8-inch tripod sockets. To attach them to American-Japanese standard 1/4-inch tripod heads you will need to get a reducer bushing which is commonly available at good camera stores for a dollar or two.

Why do Kievs have such a slow 1/30 second flash sync?
Like most 35mm cameras, Kievs use focal plane shutters -- that is, the shutter is made of two curtains which move across the film plane independently of each other. Focal plane shutters offer higher shutter speed capabilities than in-lens leaf shutters (such is those found in Hasselblads) but generally sacrifice high flash sync speeds.

When you take a picture with a focal plane shuttered camera, the first curtain moves across the frame to get out of the way and expose the film. At the end of the exposure, the second curtain is triggered, thus covering the film and stopping the exposure. To achieve faster shutter speeds, the timing of the second shutter curtain's release is sped up and the gap between the shutter curtains is narrowed to a slit. This slit in effect "scans" the film with light from the lens -- the width of this slit determining the exposure time.

To get a decent exposure with a flash, the camera must fire the flash at a time when the film is completely exposed to light. Because of the sheer size of the Kievs' shutter curtains, the shortest time that the whole expanse of film is exposed to light is 1/30 of a second. To achieve 1/60 of a second, the gap between the shutter curtains must be narrowed to reduce the amount of light hitting the film. If the flash were to fire at 1/60, only about half of the film would be exposed.

Achieving higher flash sync speeds is possible by lightening the shutter material and increasing the spring tension driving the curtains. But even modern medium format cameras with focal plane shutters max out at about 1/60 of a second. So if you think about it, Kievs aren't that bad at 1/30 being all-mechanical robust (heavy) designs.

Why do the older ones say "Kuh-neb" on them?
Older Kiev cameras tend to have name plates that look like "KNEB" with a reversed "N". This is simply the way to write "Kiev" in the Cryllic alphabet.

Most newer and older export model cameras have the name "KIEV" written in our familiar Roman alphabet.

Why do they smell so bad?
People who have just bought their first Kiev camera often complain about the smell. Don't worry. It goes away. (Either that, or our noses just stop working and we only *think* the smell has gone away.)

The typical "cabbagey" smell of new Kievs is usually attributed to the lubricants (haha!) used in the camera and lenses and/or to the glue used to attach (hahahaha!) the leatherette coverings.

Where are Kievs made?
Why, Kievs are made in Kiev! And Kiev is the capital city of the Ukraine, which was a republic of the former Soviet Union. That means Kievs are Ukrainian products, not Russian products as many people would have you believe.

What company makes Kievs?
Kievs are made by Zavod Arsenal which is a state run factory that produces military equipment and cameras among other things.

Does Arsenal have a web page or e-mail?
No, Arsenal does not have an official web page. They do have an e-mail address, which is: arsenal@ukrpack.net, but no one seems to be able to get an e-mail response out of them.


Last update: June 16, 2002
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