Is a Kiev good enough for
professional wedding photography?

This question seems to come up fairly often. The answer is not so simple, and so I've given it its own page outside of the main FAQ pages. Here it goes...

Is a Kiev good enough for professional wedding photography?

Yes and no -- depending on who you ask. Really. Some people feel that a Kiev is up to the task while others wouldn't even think of using one at a wedding. This question will usually stir up a real debate among Kiev users and I'll try to point out some of the main points from both camps.

"Yes, the Kiev is suitable for professional wedding photography!"
It seems that most people considering getting a Kiev for wedding photography already have 35mm camera gear that they have been using for the job. However, they are looking for a way to get a bigger negative without having to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a medium format outfit. They hear about these dirt cheap Kievs, and a lightbulb goes "bing!"

Size matters. If you are talking film size, then the Kiev's 6x6 (or 6x4.5) frame will be an improvement over 35mm when you want to enlarge those precious photographs to get an 8x10 print for the album. In that sense, the Kiev is definitely better than a 35mm camera. From the larger 6x6 negative you will get better apparent sharpness and less noticeable grain simply because it is enlarged less than a 35mm negative which would have to enlarged more -- about 8.5 times for 35mm versus 4.5 times for 6x6.

True, good 35mm work can look nice at 8x10 but medium format still has the advantage. Go larger than an 8x10 print, and 35mm starts to fall apart -- especially with traditional black and white films which are sometimes desired by the couple-to-be.

Kiev lenses are also up to the job. The 80mm normal lens is a fine performer as is the Vega 120mm lens. In fact, with an 8x10 final print and shooting conditions having been equal, you would probably be hard pressed to tell the difference between shots done with these two lenses on a Kiev and similar shots done on a Hasselblad, Bronica or other medium format camera with "superior" modern lenses.

The highly regarded Ukrainian 30mm fisheye lens will allow you to get shots that users of other systems only dream of. All encompassing church and reception shots are within reach of the cash-strapped newcomer to wedding photography. In fact, while they often hate to admit it, some professional wedding photographers DO buy Kievs just to be able to use this lens on the job.

The Kaleinar 150mm lens is a nice portrait lens, and even though it doesn't focus as closely and by most reports is not as sharp as the 180mm Zeiss Jena Sonnar, it is surely still capable of satisfying a bride and groom. Even the lowly Mir-26 45mm lens, which often gets the rap as being the worst Arsenal lens, will produce nice images in the hands of a skilled photographer when used within its limits.

Then there is Zeiss Jena. The 50mm Flektogon enjoys a fine reputation and should do nicely for large group shots and interiors. The 180mm Sonnar is a very nice lens, albeit a real handful and probably not something you want to tote around all day.

Having the biggest camera there, and Kievs are big, also projects a more professional image. Unfortunately, many people think that "newer" is better when it comes to cameras and lenses -- especially when you are talking 35mm. If you have your recent vintage 35mm camera and favorite lens but Uncle Bob is the proud owner of a newer model with more bells and whistles and a mega-zoom, you're not going to look like as much of a "pro" in the eyes of most people. With a more "classic" camera, you may be safe -- then again, maybe not. Sad to say, image does matter in the business of wedding photography. And some people WILL be looking at your equipment.

Basically, with a couple of properly working Kievs (you DO want a backup camera or two no matter what maker you go with) and lenses to go with it, Kievs are capable of producing some very nice images in the hands of a good photographer. Wedding photography on a small starting budget does seem possible!

"No, Kievs are not good enough for professional wedding photography!"
The people who say that Kievs are not up to the job are many. While a lot of people do badmouth Kievs without ever having used one, many former and even current Kiev users, and even some real Kievaholics, would not use a Kiev for professional wedding photography.

Reliability. This is often the biggest knock against using a Kiev for any photographic job which is truly important. Kievs are not known to be reliable cameras and with good reason. Variable quality control at the factory means that you could have a performance "challenged" camera right out of the box.

Kievs are known to perform flawlessly with one roll and then throw you overlapping frames, light leaks, or flare in the next. Proper loading of the film plays a big roll in minimizing problems, but that is not the cure all and end all when it comes to Kievs. They are often temperamental cameras, period.

A wedding is one of the most important events in your customers' lives. If you continuously lose shots (even if it's the camera's fault!) and can't produce the pictures they expect, you will quickly find yourself out of business and maybe even being hunted down by a bunch of angry newlyweds. Smart wedding photographers do everything they can to minimize the risk of blowing the job. "Kiev" does not equal "minimal risk".

Speed. This is another factor involved in wedding photography. Of course it is not as fast as sports/action photography, but things at a wedding and reception tend to happen quickly and things inevitably run late meaning that people (including the photographer) will be rushing around. You don't have the luxury of being able to take your time.

In such situations, having a relatively foolproof camera really does help. No matter how good you are with your camera, things change when the pressure is on. "Brain fade" can happen to the best of us, and you don't want to be making mistakes at a wedding. Kievs aren't very forgiving when it comes to carelessness and mistakes. Remembering to advance the film/cock the shutter BEFORE selecting a new shutter speed is easy when you have time to make the photograph -- but it's also easy to forget when things get stressful. Improperly loading film is a definitely possibility under pressure and is a recipe for disaster with Kievs. The Kiev's lack of exposure automation means that you should always check your camera settings. Bumping the aperture ring off its setting is very possible and will lead to bad exposures if you don't notice the problem before you push the shutter release button.

A wedding is still considered to be a once in a lifetime event. You often get one chance and one chance only to make the shot. If you're too slow with the camera or your camera jams or develops some other problem, the bride and groom aren't very likely to be forgiving when you can't deliver the photos they expect. "Sorry. My camera jammed," might not be enough to pacify them.

Flash use is also pretty handy in wedding photography. Kievs use focal plane shutters and have a relatively low flash sync speed of just 1/30 second. This may be okay for indoor flash shots, but you would probably want to use a tripod if you want sharp images -- it's not easy to get sharp pictures with a handheld camera at 1/30 second. If you follow the rule of 1/focal length as the maximum acceptable hand-holdable speed, you'd only be able to handhold shots with the 30mm fisheye lens. And let's face it, for anything but posed shots, you don't have the luxury of using a tripod at a wedding.

Forget fill-flash outdoors except in the most favorable situations with VERY powerful flash heads. Say it's a nice sunny day and you're shooting outside -- feels good, but you could have harsh shadows on everyone's faces. You have 100iso film loaded and want to use a flash to fill in the shadows. In order to get the necessary 1/30 second shutter speed to use your flash, you have to stop your lens down to F32 or start using neutral density filters unless you want a washed out background. Now, do you own a flash that can throw enough light out for a shot at F32. How about a group shot? Everyone is smiling at you from 20-feet away or more. F32? Does your on-camera flash have a Guide Number of 640? Probably not. Even if you want to just lighten up the shadows a little bit, you still need something more powerful than an on-camera unit. Outdoor fill-flash with a Kiev means you're going to need a battery pack or two with a few flash heads and quite a few watt-seconds. These aren't exactly cheap. What about a power generator if you're not near a power plug?

All of this is probably why a lot of wedding photographers prefer cameras which use in-lens leaf shutters that will synchronize with flash units at any shutter speed. This allows the use of wider apertures which means less flash power is necessary and also means you can throw the background out of focus for nice portraits. Of course, there is nothing to say that you CAN'T use a camera with a focal plane shutter for outdoor fill-flash. It's just a bit limiting. 35mm cameras can achieve higher sync speeds because their shutters are smaller. Medium format cameras, like Kiev 60's and 88's, with their larger shutters are at a disadvantage here.

Image. Sad to say, but image does count when you're in business. Having the biggest camera there may be enough, but let's face it. Kievs are infamous in the camera world. You will not instill a great deal of confidence in your customers when you whip out your Kiev if they happen to know what it is. The up side to this is that you could always get a re-badged Kiev or do it yourself and fool most people.

Some will say that a properly serviced and/or upgraded Kiev can be a reliable tool, but when you're talking upgraded Kievs by companies that claim their cameras are up to professional standards and can handle hundreds of rolls of film per month, you're talking about quite a bit of money over a regular Kiev -- some even cost over $1000 for an outfit with just one lens. At that point, you would also be wise to look at other (used?) camera systems from more mainstream makers like Hasselblad, Bronica, Mamiya, Pentax, etc.

What a more mainstream camera has to offer is reliability, serviceability, resale value, some degree of automation (depending on model), and better name value. Sure, those other companies' lenses and accessories will set you back more money, but wedding photography can still be done with a very basic setup -- even just one lens -- when the photographer is skilled in his/her craft and knows how to make the most of that one lens. You can start with the basics and expand as you go -- not an unheard of business practice.

There is no definitive answer to the question of whether or not Kievs are up to the job of handling professional wedding photography. Emotions run high. Pride and money matters get in the way of common sense. Some people give an emphatic "Yes!" while others cry "No way!"

Some people do use Kievs for wedding photography and have good results. Others have tried and gotten overlapping frames and/or light leaks, wasted film, and shattered dreams.

Here's the big question: How much faith are you willing to put in a Kiev?


Last update: June 16, 2001
Copyright © 2001