The Kiev IV has a thrilling history, almost worthy a new James Bond film. The camera is often called a russian copy of the legendary pre-war Contax 2 and 3 cameras and their Zeiss lenses. But actually the true story is much more fascinating and to some extent explains the good quality of these cameras as compared to the Leica copies of the time, sold under the name Zorki.
So what is the story behind?
Shortly after World War II the Soviets had occupied the eastern parts of Germany, including the city of Jena, home of the Zeiss Contax factories. The buildings and production lines were despite extensive bombing fully operational. It was decied to move the Zeiss Contax II and III factory from Germany as part of war reparations, including machines, technologies, spare parts and key personnel
After some pilot production the production lines were set up in Kiev, Ukraine in the Arsenal factory. Even though the production was based on local workers, the technical coordination was done by a small group of German professionals, most notably Wolfgang Hahn, the designer of the Contax cameras. The first Kievs were actually build using original Contax parts and for a long time most of these cameras were made on the original Contax machines.
Despite the initial lack of trained personal, the fact that the entire production line were moved and the high pressure to produce cameras in a very big quantities, the Kiev has proven itself a very well built camera (The design itself is very fault tolerant). It is in fact much closer to the original Contax in quality than any other Soviet cameras especially early models were very high quality.
It has to be said that there were significant drops in quality as the camera was simplified in the sake of productivity as the members of the original crew retired. All in all the original design from the 1930’s is so rigid that despite the circumstances the Kiev cameras were build with only minor changes until 1987.
My sample is from 1977 and works still very well, including the excellent Jupiter-8 lens, a exact copy of the pre-war Zeiss 50mm/f2 Sonnar. Although craftmanship is not up to the german Contax standards (note that the Contax was an incredibly expensive camera at the time), it still feels solid and very much CAMERA. As the Contax, this camera does not have any metering, in fact the only piece of wire is used for the flash sync. The rest is pure mechanics.
A few sample shots on Fuji Velvia 100.
To me very appealing is the typical soft and “gloomy” appearance of these images, typical of the pre-WW2 Sonnar Construction of the Jupiter-8 lens, quite different from the accurate and contrasty look of today’s multicoated optics. Remember also that these lenses were not designed with colourfilm or sensors in mind, B&W ruled back in the 1930’s.