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DavidH 29th March 2015 01:24 PM

Living With A Ukrainian
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Living with the Ukrainian Beast

My own experiences with the Kiev 60

It appears there isn't a great number of users of the Kiev 60 amongst FADU contributors, I know only of one.

I have always liked using roll film in addition to the 35mm I have used for all of my adult life. I bought a Rolleicord from a pal around 1975 and still have and use it. I liked the interchangeable lenses and close-up rings you could use on a 35mm SLR and this made me like the idea of a roll film S.L.R. but they were beyond my price range. Even the East German ones worked out expensive, particularly when adding extra lenses, and as for Hasselblad!

A couple of decades ago, while on holiday in France I saw the Kiev 60 in a photographer's window. I didn't know that there was a USSR version of the GDR camera so I started to look around after I got back to England. I never saw one, and the only information I was ever given about them was that they were cheap, but very unreliable. This was the same story I had heard from people about the Zenit 35mm cameras, but my experience was the complete opposite. I bought my first Zenit in 1970 and found it, and the others I had acquired since to be very robust, very reliable and capable of good results. I found myself wondering if the same might be true of the Kiev.

With the advent of the internet, opinions from various sources became easier to gain access to. The general tone being that the greatest problem by far was the lack of quality control. They came out of the factory poorly assembled and adjusted, but if this had not been the case and instead of being thrown together they were assembled properly, they would actually be rather good.

The main complaints were of poorly adjusted frame spacing, causing frame overlap. Incorrectly machined mounts on the standard lens preventing them from focussing to infinity. Incorrectly adjusted shutter speeds and inaccurate metering. More than enough, I think.

The GDR cameras, although well regarded, were expensive to buy if in good condition. Any that came on the second hand market (there having been no more new ones available for some years) could be well worn even if cosmetically they looked appealing. Eventually, I found a couple of suppliers who stated that they supplied Kiev units that had the problems dealt with before reaching the customer instead of after. My resistance finally crumbled.

The upshot is, that in case anyone is interested, I can now relate my own experiences with the "Ukrainian Beast", as I call it.

The first one I bought was from a firm called Arax. I can't be completely sure, but I believe I got it in 2001. They state that the cameras are properly rebuilt and adjusted and fully guaranteed. They also do their own cosmetic job, giving a black finish where there was chrome, and fit a mirror lock up button. For some strange reason that nobody seems to know, the film chamber behind the lens was finished at the factory in gloss black. This was corrected by attaching felt to the reflective surfaces and seems to be standard practice with the current suppliers.

As can be seen, it looks like an overgrown 35mm SLR. It's rather heavy with the pentaprism attached, but a significant reduction in weight is brought about by using the waist level finder. Weight apart, I actually prefer waist level viewing most of the time.

Like most cameras, you need a little time to get used to it, but after the first roll or two of film, loading and using it is pretty straight forward.

I found mine to give good, sharp, correctly exposed results and the frame spacing was fine. One point I must mention about frame spacing is that it isn't governed by a wheel that is driven by the film movement as in my TLR cameras. This means that if the film is of a non-standard thickness, the framing can be affected. I found that all was well with Ilford Kodak and Fuji films, but one I tried a few years back by Rollei had overlap. The metering on the pentaprism is reasonably accurate in most conditions but far less so in low light. Pity, because that's when I would most like it to be accurate. I believe that in recent years an improved pentaprism has become available that is lighter and with better metering. The only problem I found was that with the lens wide open, the upper and lower parts of the frame weren't quite in focus. I found on removing the mount from the back of the lens that it wasn't quite flat, so twenty minutes with a fine grade file cleared that problem.

All things considered, I have been very pleased with the Arax. After several years of use, it unfortunately developed a light leak. Presumably a piece of felt or sponge had become displaced and I just couldn't find it, so with some trepidation about what it would cost me, I sent the camera body back. They charged me twelve dollars for the repair, which I think was about half the total cost of postage. All has been fine ever since.

The above problem is what led me to buy another body. Fearing that the cost of repair would be prohibitive, I investigated the prices from Hartblei. They supplied a cheap body only that had the original chrome finish and no mirror lock up. What with the fact that the exchange rate was favourable at the time and I didn't find I used the mirror lock very often, I decided to go for it. Clearly, the Kiev 60 shortcomings had been similarly ironed out on the Hartblei body, and it has performed without any problem.

The clonk when the shutter is released seemed a bit loud at first. It is of course mainly the mirror action that causes the noise. You soon get used to it, and I found on subsequently being presented with a second hand Bronica ETR several years back on my birthday that the Ukrainian is no noisier, a little less so if anything. Having a focal plane shutter, the flash synchronisation is at 1/30th second. This can be something of a problem if fill-in flash is needed, so if you really need to use flash at higher speeds you must purchase a camera with the shutter in the lens.

Having been pleased with the quality of the standard 80mm lens, it will come as no surprise that it wasn't long before I decided to look for another lens or two. The P6 mount lenses made by Carl Zeiss and Schneider are highly regarded, but the only ones I have ever found for sale have been rather expensive. Never having owned or even used any, I can't give an opinion. I was, however, lucky enough to get a Russian 65mm and a 250mm off E-Bay very cheaply. Although they look as if they have had a hard life (particularly the 65mm, which looks really careworn), I find they give fine results. I bought a 55mm shift lens from Arax because I was visiting a lot of National Trust and English heritage properties. The shift facility is very good for correcting picture geometry. That lens was well worth purchasing and has been used a lot.

I haven't done any prints bigger than 16 inch (about 40 cm) but they come up well with any of the lenses. Slides look really good.

So there it is. Like many of the cameras in use by FADU contributors, my Ukrainian beast has its own character. I really enjoy using it every bit as much as any of the many other cameras I own. FADU people won't be put off by the fact that it's a bit of an oddity, looked on as nothing more than an anachronistic indulgence by some of the people who stare at it and ask questions about it. They may, however be put off it by the horror stories. I can only say that my experience has been nearly all good. I suppose my only regret is that I wasn't a bit younger when I acquired the Kievs. A few years back I was still able to cart around a bag with both bodies and the lenses and other accessories without too much trouble. Now, as my 65th birthday draws near, I find that the weight of equipment I carry around is becoming a more important factor, so I only carry one body and one or two extra lenses if I expect to be walking very far.

CambsIan 29th March 2015 05:56 PM

Hi David,

Many thanks for the article, really enjoyed reading it, made perfect sense, rang true and made me smile.

Not sure if I am the "one other" that you mentioned, but if not then that makes three.

As far as I know my Kiev 60 is a non Arax, non modified version which I purchased off Ebay and came as the full set complete with its carry case.

It does tend to suffer from overlap that you mentioned, but a very simple home work around has cured that, and it seems to have no other problems. I love your description that it is "rather heavy", a perfect understatement. You describe the shutter as a clonk to me its a clunk, but what's an o or a u between friends :D The clonk / clunk has to heard to be believed, but I think it sounds great.

I have a set of extension tubes which I used to take the pictures in my macro album, and a telephoto that I still have to try out.

Yes this is an SLR on steroids, yes it has a few problems, yes it is a heavy beast of a camera, yes it is probably a "Marmite" camera but I am rather fond of mine.

All I can say is that they are an acquired taste, but once you have the taste they become most palatable


big paul 29th March 2015 06:44 PM

David having never owned one , I found your post very interesting and enjoyable to read , your description of the camera was very interesting and your writing skills are very good .
thanks for a good read..

DavidH 29th March 2015 06:44 PM

Hello Ian,
You are indeed the "one other" I referred to. I expect you have looked at the Kievaholic site and found the detailed repair and adjustment information. Also, you can get flocking kits for the film chamber if this has not already been done to the one you have. I hope you get a lot of fun and use out of yours.
I have often thought that, should I ever arrange to meet another FADU person in a pub somewhere, carrying a K60 would certainly make me easy to identify!
One point I omitted to mention was that the sheer inertia of a, shall we say - "solidly built" camera avoids camera shake. Do you think we might start a new craze?

CambsIan 30th March 2015 06:55 AM

Hello David,

So just you and me then.

I do get a great deal of pleasure from using my Kiev.

I even used it to introduce my daughters partner to the delights of MF and home developing a couple of weeks ago, bar a couple of frames, he achieved perfectly useable images. He is an ex 35mm (now digital) man so it was all pretty familiar. I guess that could be another benefit of these cameras, very little to learn, in terms of operation, if you already shoot 35mm.

I have looked at the Kievaholic site, and considered doing the adjustments, but think there is more chance that I will make it worse than better, so I stick to the use of a spindle which has a slightly larger diameter and attach the film to it with a bit of sticky tape. This work around some how seems to be in keeping with the spirit of the build of the camera.

I think I am quite lucky as the inner film chamber on mine is already matt black, maybe they ran out of gloss paint that day.

We may be the only Kiev 60 users here, but I wonder if there any other Kiev models used by other members.

Maybe we should start a revival for these quirky beasts, and try to tempt others into this weird and wonderful world.


DavidH 30th March 2015 08:20 AM

Thanks to Big Paul for your kind comments, glad you enjoyed reading the article.

Ian, nice to hear that you enjoy your Kiev and that you are sowing the seeds of film use for the next generation. I thought we might have heard fron one or two users of the much improved (or so they suggest on the websites) Ukrainian Hasselblad, which as you will know is available from the same suppliers, and indeed used to be sold as a Zenit 80 many years back by T.O.E. in London.
I had thought about scribbling a few lines about my 35mm Kiev 4A, which I understand is a copy of a 1940s Contax. Do you think anyone might be interested?

marty 30th March 2015 11:13 AM

Hello David, very interesting and enjoyable article you wrote. I considered for a while getting a kiev/pentacon 6 but was unsure due to unreliabity stories I heard and read. Anyway I ended up with a Bronica 645 but the curiosity about the Kiev remained latent.

Cheers, M.

CambsIan 31st March 2015 03:18 PM


I had thought about scribbling a few lines about my 35mm Kiev 4A, which I understand is a copy of a 1940s Contax. Do you think anyone might be interested?
Hello David

Can't speak for others but I, for one would read it.


Bentjudges 15th October 2017 01:56 PM

Living With A Ukrainian
fantastic interview with new infos about marya that i didnt knew before,really worth to read it

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