Kiev 35mm Cameras

For better or for worse, the Kiev medium format cameras get most of the attention. But most people never get to know the range of Kiev 35mm rangefinder and SLR camera equipment very well.

We'd like to introduce you to the little brothers of the Kiev family.

Kiev Rangefinder Cameras

All the way up until 1984 or so, the Arsenal factory in Kiev, Ukraine produced some beautiful copies of the pre-war (World War II) Contax II and Contax III rangefinder cameras.

The early Kiev rangefinders were pretty faithful replicas of the Contax cameras. In fact, some of the earliest Kiev rangefinders were probably partially assembled from original Contax parts. Indeed, on the inside face of some early Kievs, one can clearly see the mirror image of the name "Contax" - which was then pressed out and "Kiev" (in Cryllic) engraved in its place.

The Kiev rangefinders then went through a few minor changes to the line and finally ended with the Kiev 4M and 4AM models.

Retained throughout the line, however, is the *extremely* wide base rangefinder that makes exceptionally accurate focusing possible.

The one drawback to the wide placement of the rangefinder window is that many people will inadvertently block it with their fingers when gripping the camera, thus losing the rangefinder patch. Care must be taken to hold the camera properly.

Kiev rangefinders, like their Contax predecessors, have a corrugated metal shutter which is pretty much impervious to the pinholes in the shutter that sometimes plague the Leica rangefinder copies (Feds and Zorkis). But Leica-like whisper quiet cameras they are not. The Kiev rangefinders make an odd metallic "schwing!" as you trip their shutters. It's not annoying, but it's often not as quiet as what some new owners of these cameras had hoped for.

I'll say it again: The Kiev rangefinder cameras are beautiful if you're into the "classic" camera look. They're also quite a bargain at about $40 to $70 on the used market. The thing to be careful of is that all of these cameras are getting pretty old now and may need servicing. Finding someone who is competent enough to work on these cameras AND has the spare parts available can be quite difficult.

Kiev Rangefinder Lenses

There were only a few different lenses for the Kiev rangefinder cameras that were produced in the former Soviet Union.

The lineup includes the Jupiter-12 35mm F2.8, Jupiter-3 50mm F1.5, Jupiter-8 50mm F2, Helios-103 53mm F1.8, Jupiter-9 85mm F2, Jupiter-11 135mm F4. There were supposedly also Orion-15 28mm F6 and Russar 20mm F5.6 lenses produced in the Kiev/Contax rangefinder mount, but these lenses are extremely rare in this mount.

Not all of the lenses were produced at the Arsenal factory in the Ukraine. Some of the lenses were made at the KMZ or the LZOS factories in Russia. The older lenses are generally chrome barrelled while the newer lenses are often black, but there may not be any real difference in coatings or performance.

Many people, myself included find that the Kiev rangefinder lenses have a very pleasant "bokeh" (a Japanese term that is used to describe the "look" of the soft, out of focus parts of a photograph). The Jupiter-9 with its 15-bladed almost perfectly circular diaphragm, is an especially nice portraiture lens, and at F2 it is very fast.

Lenses made for the Kiev rangefinder cameras will also work on Contax and Nikon rangefinders with the exception of the Jupiter-12 35mm lens (which has a rear element that protrudes just a bit too far back into the body for the Contax). Conversely, all the lenses meant for the Contax and Nikon rangefinders will also work on the Kievs.

Kiev SLR Cameras

(This section hasn't been written yet since I don't have any 35mm Kiev SLRs. If someone would like to contribute to this section, please e-mail me at:


Last update: March 26, 2002
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