The Kiev Kronicles -- Part 2
The Kiev 60, Like A 35mm Camera On Steroids

Here it is in all its glory--The Kiev 60 Export. (Domestic version says KNEB in Cyrillic.) If there's a more affordable way to get into a complete medium format system, I don't know what it is.

Last month we took a look at the anachronistic Kiev 88 medium format camera. A contemporary camera like the ancient Hasselblad 1000f, the Kiev 88 mostly is thought of as "cheap." If ultimate quality is your goal, look somewhere else. If the most quality image for your money is your bag, then the cheaper-than-cheap Kiev 88 and its more expensive rebuilt cousin from Kiev USA and the thoroughly rebuilt Hartblei cameras from Kalimex in Czechoslovakia are definitely worth a look. If $350 for a medium format camera with interchangeable backs, metered prism, interchangeable lenses, and 120 roll film capability is still too much, then how about a 120 rollfilm camera for under $200? While folders and TLRs from China have always been inexpensive, their lack of interchangeable lenses, meters, and any sort of basic ergonomics makes them difficult beasts to master.

Still looking for an affordable rollfilm camera that can actually take some pictures? Say hello to the Kiev 60, a giant and robust reworking of the late, great Pentacon 6. For those of you who don't remember the Pentacon 6, it was an East German 6x6cm SLR that was basically an upsized Pentacon 35mm camera. The Pentacon and its kissing cousins the Praktisix and Praktica 66 were best known for their swift handling, their East German Zeiss lenses, and their film advance problems. Since the fit and finish of the East German factory never approached that of the West German manufacturers like Rollei and Contax, the pro-oriented Pentacon 6 cameras never really caught on with the pros in the U.S.A., but were used by many professionals in Eastern Europe. The Pentacon 6 was also the main "space camera" of the Rus-sian space program until frustrated cosmonauts began buying and smuggling Hasselblads aboard their spacecraft. Not surprisingly, the U-krainian camera industry, which was also a contractor to the Soviet military chose the Pentacon as the paradigm of medium format versatility, and offered up a copy. While the Pentacon 6 was certainly a sleek looking camera for its era, today it looks a little dated. How-ever, compared to the Kiev 60 it's a virtual Porsche design project. While the Kiev 88 resembles an ancient Hasselblad, the Kiev resembles the Pentacon 6 and then adds some tricks of its own. The original version was called Kiev 6C and sported the unusual combination of a right-handed film advance and a left-handed shutter release, and offered 120 and 220 capability by means of a switch and movable pressure plate. This camera copied the film advance of the Pentacon 6 very accurately and suffered from the consequences, proving to be unreliable.

Kiev 60 compatible Pentacon 6 and modern variant Exakta 66 MOD III. Using the same breech lens mount, you can mix and match bodies and lenses with abandon. The new Exakta is actually a rather well finished, robust camera.

After the fiasco of the 6C, designers at the Arsenal Factory went back to work and came up with the Kiev 60, which omits all of the troublesome mechanisms of the Pentacon film advance at the price of slightly uneven frame spacing. The Kiev 60 feels quite a bit heavier than a Pentacon 6. While this makes it a bit more difficult to handle, it really doesn't feel all that bad in your hands. The first oddity is the placement of the shutter release. Rather than putting it on the top plate of the camera, like most SLR manufacturers, Pentacon (in their 35mm Praktica cameras as well as on the Pentacon 6 series) and Kiev place theirs on the front of the camera, angled 45° up. It looks weird, but works just fine. The second oddity is the uncoupled meter. Good luck working this thing reliably. Besides the fact that they always come through from the factory uncalibrated, the little dials have a habit of moving on their own, making it necessary to always check your film speed and maximum aperture setting on the dial before taking a reading. While the 6C offered both metered and non-metered prism finders, none of us has seen any prism finder for the Kiev 60 without the meter.

Weird stuff aside, it's a pretty normal camera. Roll film loads easily; the polished stainless film guides actually look fairly well done; and the large plastic tip on the film wind crank makes the long 220° throw somewhat palatable. Lenses bolt on with an oversized breech lock system, and once mounted they are on quite securely. The biggest surprise is the viewfinder--it's bright, contrasty, and shows just a little less than 90 percent of the frame. Since the standard Kiev 60 kit comes with waist and eye-level finders, you're pretty much ready to roll once the box is unpacked. The eye-level prism is remarkably normal, and is actually quite a bit brighter than many pricier medium format cameras. The standard focusing screen is a typical split-image rangefinder, and it works quite well. Since the Kiev 60 sports a cloth focal plane shutter, the lenses don't need leaf shutters. This means that most Kiev and Zeiss lenses for this mount are very fast. In other words, you should be able to actually use the split-image rangefinder with almost every lens that fits this camera.

OK, we've got our Kiev 60 out of the box, loaded with some Fuji Velvia--what now? The Kiev 60 kits all come with an Arsat or Volna 80mm f/2.8 lens. Some are marked with a red MC for multi-coated, but even those without the markings seem to be multi-coated these days. The camera and lens are finished to about the same level of quality. While they're made of metal and seem relatively sturdy, the level of fit and finish is well below that of any other consumer product currently available in America or Europe. The satin finished silver body displays a coarse finish; the leatherette is a shiny vinyl; and the body and lens markings are often poorly engraved and often only partially filled with paint. On several brand-new 60s we noticed copious amounts of contact cement that had oozed out from the edges of the leatherette, which had never been cleaned off at the factory. The serial number on the rear of the body is stamped unevenly and on several of our samples at a sloppy angle. The whole effect of the little finish flaws is a mess of a camera when compared to any fine piece of optical equipment.

The Hartblei 456 is a 6x4.5cm version of the Kiev 60, reworked by Hartblei in the Ukraine. Sold by Kalimex in Czechoslovakia, these are reworked, fairly slick versions of the raw Kiev cameras. If you can deal with a long-distance purchase, they have some fun cameras over there in Prague. While our black enamel and snakeskin version is a bit much for my taste, you can custom order any cosmetic treatment you wish without breaking the bank.

That said, it's a pretty cool camera. Forget all the flaws, because the Kiev 60 has one thing that no other medium format camera has--inexpensive lenses. Since the whole point of buying any interchangeable lens medium format camera is to give the photographer the option of using different lenses, most beginning medium format shooters soon learn that even a bargain camera can be almost useless if the lenses are too expensive. While an old Hasselblad 500C may be a viable alternative to a budget camera like the Kiev, even old, beat up leaf-shutter lenses for the Hassy can be expensive. Consider these comparisons: a well used, single-coated chrome barrel 150 f/4 Zeiss Sonnar for a Hasselblad might sell for $800-$1000, while a 150 f/2.8 Kaleanar for the Kiev 60 can often be had for under $300 new, and under $200 used. A clean used 55mm lens for the Pentax 67 has no leaf shutter and thus is priced accordingly at under $500 at most dealers. The 45mm Mir for the Kiev 60 can be had brand-new from many sources for under $250.

When you talk about extreme glass, then the Kiev really shines. Fisheye lenses for medium format cameras are notoriously big, heavy, and expensive. Well, the Kiev Arsat 30 sure is big and heavy, but it sure isn't expensive. You can find these for under $600 from the Kiev-fixers like Kiev USA, or around $200 from the factory direct guys like Mikhail Fourman in Atlanta and Gennady Kaplan in L.A. Like long telephoto glass? How about a blazing fast 250mm f/3.5 Jupiter lens for $250? (And I've seen them for even less.) If you want affordable lenses and an affordable body, for medium format the Kiev 60 is the place to be. Now of course affordable is only a bargain if you can actually get decent results, so can you? The answer is a decided yes and no. Yes, you can get terrific pictures from these cameras and the Ukrainian lenses. Sharp, contrasty, punchy transparencies that look just as good as those from cameras costing thousands more. You can also ruin roll after roll of pricey transparency film. You can have images that are filled with flare, wacky uneven frame spacing, even frames that "kiss" and overlap each other. You can bemoan your uneven exposures, your repeated light leaks, and the ghostly fog that seems to cloud any picture with a bright object in it. In short, you can regret that you ever laid eyes on one of these things.

The Arsenal Factory is not known for their surgical precision. Oozing glue like this sample, mis-cut vinyl and sloppy engraving are part of the Kiev experience.

So, how can you ensure the good results and banish the bad ones? First of all, the Kiev 60s that are shipping today are better than those made in the late 1980s. Frame spacing is more consistent; film door light seals are better; the shutter glide is smoother; and many have the mirror chambers partially flocked to eliminate internal glare. However, there is no such thing as a brand-new Kiev 60. The factory in Kiev stopped making them years ago when the inventory reached a tremendous level, and they've been selling the 1994, 1995, and 1996 bodies since then. (Whether or not the factory will resume production once the inventory is depleted is unclear, so Kiev 60s may be in short supply by the time this article appears.) Since you never know which year camera you will receive when buying new, and used Kiev 60s are a risky enterprise at best, here are some tips for making these beasts take good pictures reliably:
· Fight Glare. Most of these cameras will come through with absolutely no internal flocking, and the flat black paint used to coat the mirror chamber has a slight sheen. This can fog your images with a ghostly flare which seems to be coming from the lens, but actually is the light bouncing around the mirror chamber. You can reduce or even eliminate this problem by flocking the chamber yourself. I purchased a sheet of 2mm camera flocking and carefully cut out pieces that would fit. The results have been dramatic.

· Be Methodical. This equipment is just not sturdy enough to take a real beating. Careless film loading, jerky film winding, or rough handling will result in a jammed or broken camera, or inconsistent results.

· Double Check. Unlike a modern Canon EOS or Nikon F5, there's nothing on this camera that is automatic or even terribly dependable. Double and triple check your lens mounting, your meter settings, and your focus. If you're not super careful, you'll be awfully disappointed.

· Consider Spending More. Af-fordable is affordable, but sometimes a few hundred dollars can make your life a lot easier. Consider having an inexpensive Kiev 60 upgraded by Kiev USA. This will guarantee accurate frame spacing, elimination of flare, and much smoother film winding.

All of the Zeiss lenses made for the Pentacon 6 cameras as well as the new Schneider lenses made for the Exakta 66 will fit the Kiev 60 and work perfectly. This dead mint Zeiss 50 f/4 Flektogon cost me $300, and outperforms the somewhat battered 50mm Distagon on my Hasselblad 500 CM.

Even better you might want to consider buying a new camera from Kiev USA or a modified Hartblei camera from Kalimex. Besides the obvious benefits of an inexpensive body and less expensive lenses, the biggest advantage of owning a Kiev 60 is to use the excellent family of Zeiss Jena lenses designed for the Pentacon 6 cameras. While the older single-coated lenses are available very inexpensively, you'll probably want to do what I did and buy only the late model all black multi-coated lenses from the 1980s. I bought the 50 f/4 MC Flektogon; the 80 f/2.8 MC Biometar; the 120 f/2.8 MC Biometar; the 180 f/2.8 MC Sonnar; and the huge 300 f/4 MC Sonnar. All of this Zeiss glass was found used in excellent condition with the original cases and caps. My total outlay for the entire family of lenses was around $1500, which is pretty good for five high quality Zeiss lenses. Unlike the Ukrainian bargain lenses, the Zeiss glass is beautifully finished, has the silky smooth focus one would expect of pro-quality gear, and produces sharp, contrasty images. With a Kiev 60 body and a handful of Zeiss lenses, I figured that I would go out and buy every Ukrainian lens, new or used, I could find. (Since I had heard that some would be in short supply soon) I picked up the 30mm fisheye; the 45mm Mir; the 65mm f/3.5 Mir; the 120 f/2.8 Vega; the 150 f/2.8 Kaleanar; and the 250 f/3.5 Jupiter. My total outlay for the entire lens kit was a paltry $975.

I know that many of you are thinking, "He's spent a couple thousand dollars for this stuff?" Well, it's a good point. By the time you buy into all of the interesting lenses you've spent some real money. Since I already have full kits of Hasselblad and Mamiya RZ equipment, I was simply looking to add some focal lengths that I don't own and rarely use. For a couple of grand I now have nearly every extreme and in-between focal length for those weird assignments. It seemed like a good investment to me. The affordable Ukrainian and Zeiss lenses are a good thing, and a Kiev 60 owner with a well-flocked body, carefully-calibrated meter, and nerves of steel can produce stunning images. However, using this camera can be quite difficult. First of all, there's the flash synch problem. One of the things that makes this camera inexpensive is the lack of an expensive leaf shutter in each lens. The Kiev 60 sports an archaic 1/30 sec flash synch, which all but eliminates any kind of outdoor fill flash activity. (Although I've gotten away with 1/30 at f/16 with Fuji Velvia at e.g., 40 and 3200 ws worth of flash.) While the camera has shutter speeds from 1/1000 down to 1 sec, slower shutter speeds are difficult due to the brutal mirror slap. Standard Kiev 60s do not offer any sort of mirror lockup control, though later model Kiev 60s offer the mixed blessing of a two-stage mirror prerelease. Press the shutter button halfway down and the mirror flips up, continue the pressure and the shutter fires. With a deft touch you can easily release the mirror first, then fire the shutter, thereby totally eliminating mirror shake. This is a mixed blessing because you can't turn it off. Action shots become a problem because even a swift press on the shutter releases the mirror early, resulting in a split second before the shot where your vision is obscured. To those who plan to use the camera mostly on a tripod (like me) it's a must-have. For you handheld guys, it might be tough to live with.

So there's the basic system: the Kiev 60 body with various levels of refinement according to year of manufacture, the inexpensive Ukrainian lenses, and the slightly more expensive Zeiss lenses. My experience has been that the Ukrainian lenses can be excellent, but sometimes a lens comes straight from the factory with a misaligned element or misshaped diaphragm blade. The Zeiss lenses for the most part are excellent, but still a hair softer than modern Zeiss glass as found on Contax, Rolleiflex, or Hasselblad gear. (Given the price disparity it's to be expected.) For my own work I really needed a medium format fisheye, a long 250mm or so tele, and a shift lens for corporate architecture shots. I filled those holes with Ukrainian lenses, buying the 30mm Arsat, the 250mm Jupiter, and the 45mm Hartblei PCS. I figured that I'd use the Pentacon body in front of clients, since the Kiev 60 just plain looks too funky. Real world usage proved the Pentacon too difficult to focus and too delicate for pro work.

Bob Shell suggested I look at the Exakta 66 III, which is distributed by Cambridge Camera Exchange in New York. I arranged for a loaner of an Exakta 66. And when it showed up it looked totally different from the Pentacon 6, upon which it is based. It looks heavy-duty, rugged, and thoroughly Germanic. The Pentacon sized body is covered from head to toe in black enamel and gray rubber. It feels large but manageable in your hand, and the rubber is soft and grippy. My example came through with the giant coupled meter prism, but since my goal was to use it mostly with non-coupled Ukrainian lenses, it wasn't of much use. The viewfinder of the Exakta has been improved over the Pentacon series and shows almost the entire image area and used stock Rollei focusing screens which are among the brightest available. The prism finder of the Exakta is comparable to the Pentacon--dimmer than most but showing decent contrast. In fact, almost everything on this camera looks like someone took a Pentacon 6 and recovered it in rubber. The truth isn't that far off. Though the Exakta 66 is a totally revamped Pentacon 6, it's still a Pentacon 6. There's still the longish 220° film advance, the front mounted 45° angle shutter release, and the painfully slow 1/30 sec flash synch. That said, it's a really seductive camera, and everyone thinks it looks cool. Given that a brand-new fully warranted Exakta 66 Mod III with excellent Schneider Xenotar normal lens and standard prism can be had for around $2000, it's still a very reasonable deal. Frankly, I want one.

While my lust for the slick Exakta 66 goes unfulfilled until the piggy bank has a few more nickels in it, I figured that I would turn to those Euro camera hot rodders, Kalimex. They offer the full line of stock Kiev cameras and lenses, rebuilt Kievs of every ilk as well as the thoroughly redesigned and recovered Kiev cameras renamed Hartblei. The Kalimex sales manager sent off a wildly reworked Kiev 60 called the Hartblei 456. Hartblei has reworked the stock Kiev 60, re-machining many pieces; upgrading components; adding their patented mirror brake mechanism; and changing the film advance, frame counter, and viewfinder to reflect the 6x4.5cm aspect ratio. Our sample was finished with an excellent black enamel trim and a well-done covering of leather printed with a bizarre snakeskin pattern. (Standard black leather is available.) That horrible giant Kiev 60 logo has been replaced with even more faux snakeskin and a tiny Hartblei logo. The mirror chamber of the Hartblei 456 is beautifully flocked, and the lens mount breech lock sports the word Hartblei engraved on its surface. While the snakeskin finish is a little disconcerting, the overall effect is of a well finished, solid camera. While our Kiev 88 based Hartblei 1006 sported our only well calibrated meter of the group last month, the meter on our sample 456 was off by two f/stops. A quick turn of the jeweler's screwdriver and we were back on track.

A similar camera called the Kiev 645 is available from Kiev USA. Shell has one and has been very satisfied with the results and loves getting 16 exposures on a roll. He feels it makes a lot more sense than a Kiev 60 because he was always cropping 6x6 images into a 645 rectangle anyway, and shoots the majority of his photos in the vertical format.

The rectangular format may seem odd on a camera of this type, since the frames run across the roll in the portrait format. In other words, when you hold the camera up to your eye you're composing a vertical frame. To get a landscape style horizontal frame you need to turn the camera on its side. It's the exact opposite from a 35mm camera or a Pentax 67, so it takes some getting used to.

The camera comes with a Hartblei 80 f/2.8 MC lens, but it looks like a stock Arsat 80 f/2.8. (Except for the snakeskin focusing ring honest!) The mirror brake mechanism and lockup lever work beautifully, and give you relatively complete control over the action of the mirror. I shot some film at dusk and in the evening with longish shutter speeds, and chose the Hartblei first for this very reason. The total package is really quite nice. The camera comes in a nice little cordura bag, and when I was out shooting, people seemed genuinely curious about the giant snakeskin camera. All of these features and cosmetics do add to the price however. While a stock Kiev 60 can be had in the US at many sources for under $200, a Hartblei from Kalimex will set you back anywhere from $280 to $420, given the options you choose.

Overall I'm having a lot of fun with these Pentacon/Kiev/Exakta/Hartblei cameras and lenses. In some cases I've bought the most inexpensive things I could find, warranty and reliability be damned, and in others I've paid a few extra bucks for the privilege of buying an inspected, tested, and repaired unit. I can really recommend these cameras, with a word of caution: buy the newest body and lens you can find, and insist on a flocked body or flock it yourself. Carefully check your frame spacing first with a roll of outdated film, and recalibrate your meter. If you'd like a camera that has had the bugs worked out of it, by all means buy a Kiev 60 or 645 from Kiev USA, who offers the full Kiev 60 kit completely rebuilt for only $390 (the Kiev 645 is more). If you're the adventurous type and like to receive interesting packages from overseas, I can heartily recommend the surgically altered Hartblei cameras from Kalimex in Prague. It's not the greatest gear in the world, but for medium format work it clearly is the most affordable. Next month we'll go into life with Kiev, including lots of hits and misses from my several months of Kiev shooting.