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Nick's Classic Corner - No 36 - Kiev 4

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by Benchista, Nov 13, 2013.

  1. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    In the beginning was the Leica. Before too long, along came the Contax, with a group of lenses which were generally superior to the Leica lenses of the time. The Contax was a rather different animal to the Leica - bayonet mount, long base rangefinder, which allowed the use of longer lenses including, for the infamous 1936 Olympics, the famous 180mm Olympia Sonnar. And, with the coming of the Contax III, a built-in (but uncoupled) meter. It also had a top speed of 1/1250 at a time when Leica only ran to 1/500. It was also bigger, heavier, had a combined viewing/rangefinder window, and thanks to a removable back, was easier to load. The Contax picked up many users.

    Then came the war. Contax cameras were popular with both sides, as were Leicas and Rolleis - Capa being a Contax and Rollei man, for example.
    At the end of the war, Dresden lay in Soviet hands, and the Soviets demanded tooling, parts and expertise for the Contax and its lenses as war reparations. The very first cameras to come out of the factory in Kiev were Contax marked, and indeed many of the first Kievs were made with Contax parts, but as time went on, the cameras were adapted for Soviet production (i.e. costs were cut), and the Zeiss experts were allowed to go home - which is another story, the story of the Werra. The cameras continued to develop, almost always getting worse as they did. Lenses were also produced to the original specifications, but quality control was questionable - good ones are excellent, less good ones, well, less so.

    My personal history with these cameras goes back to the original Contaxes - not that I've ever owned one, but my great-grandfather did, and it was passed on to my grandfather. It was the first good camera I ever used, and I just wish I knew what had happened to it. I do have the book that was bought (from Wallace Heaton) at the same time, Focal Press's "All in one Camera Book". I did have a Contax IIIa for some time, a nice camera that was what Zeiss Ikon in West Germany came up with to replace the lost Contax, but never a III. So I bought a Kiev 4...

    In many ways, this really is the authentic experience. It's the only camera I've ever used that really is literally a pain to use. The lens mount is unusual - it's a double bayonet, outside for most lenses, internal for the 50mm, and in fact this internal mount includes its own focusing helicoid, driven by a wheel at the front of the topplate. This wheel is quite sharp in itself, but also has a thin plate/button that has to be depressed to move focus off infinity lock - and it can hurt. There's a sharp pointy bit just inshore of the mount that does the same thing, and is engaged by lenses using the external bayonet.
    The other thing you have to remember when focusing via the wheel is to keep your fingers from straying in front of the rangefinder window.

    Back to the lens, the release is a fiddly little spring, and pressing this whilst rotating the lens can end up with you skinning your knuckles on the external bayonet...

    So yes, it's a pain to use.

    Metering is via an external selenium cell mounted in an extension on top of the camera. The needle on top is centred with the meter ring around the rewind knob, and settings transferred to the camera. Film speed is in GOST, but simply choosing the nearest value to the ASA/ISO works well enough.
    Shutter speed setting is around the shutter button, and runs via non-geometric speeds from 1/2 to 1/1250. Shutter is a ridiculously complicated metal slat affair, as per the original Contax.

    So it's not really that nice a camera to use - although earlier ones are smoother. However, focus accuracy is very good, as is lens quality - I've got 35mm, 50mm f2, 85mm f2 and 135mm f4 lenses, and all are really good examples. That said, the same lenses are avaialble in M39 mount, and can be used more enjoyably on a Leica, a FED or a Zorki. However, this is a genuine bit of history, and somehow, that makes using it exciting, despite its foibles. Put on the 85mm f2 Sonnar, sorry, Jupiter, and the magnificent Universal Viewfinder, and you can not only take great pictures, but look mighty cool while you're at it. Just keep the plasters nearby...
  2. PeteE

    PeteE Well-Known Member

    My first 35mm camera was the pre-war Contax III with the uncoated 50mm f1.5 Sonnar bought in Berlin off a dealer in 1956 when I was there in the R.A.M.C at BMH Berlin, Spandau. It was £38-00 and I paid it off monthly. I did find the lens flared easily - I took my first ever 35mm colour slides with it when I got sent to BMH Iserlohn in West Germany British Zone. I sold it to a Camera Club member later for about £30 . I later borrowed a Kiev from a Camera Club member, with the 50mm f2 lens and got some quite good results but the flash synch was 'dodgy' --

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