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Early 1950s Kiev 2 - as well made as a Contax
Old 05-16-2017   #1
Philip Whiteman
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Early 1950s Kiev 2 - as well made as a Contax

I was prepared to believe it, now I have proof. I have just stripped down and serviced an as-new 1953 Kiev 2 and found the works inside are as nicely finished as the exterior. Side-by-side comparison with my 1939 Contax II shows the cameras to be identical in almost every detail, the Soviet version having a couple of cost-saving measures (no weight-saving hollow in the folding foot, no groove in the focussing wheel) but much better, Leica-style chrome plating.

Mechanically, the feel - the weight of the film advance and smoothness of focussing etc - is identical and, save for one crude adjustment to the shutter capping (one of the latch tabs was bent - something that might have been done during past servicing, rather than in the factory) this Kiev really is to all intents and purposes a Contax made in Ukraine.
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Old 05-16-2017   #2
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Even with all the periodic short-cut changes and less and less refinement, it was still a fairly well made camera till 1972.
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Old 05-16-2017   #3
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...or beyond: I have a 1978 4 that I hope will - now I have fixed its light leaks - will perform just as well. Certainly its film advance/shutter wind feels just as nice as the '39 Contax and '53 Kiev 2, even if the focus action is not quite as precise and smooth.
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Old 05-16-2017   #4
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I seem to recall reading that somewhere up to the mid-fifties, Kievs were still being made with original Contax parts.
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Old 05-16-2017   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Philip Whiteman View Post
...or beyond: I have a 1978 4 that I hope will - now I have fixed its light leaks - will perform just as well. Certainly its film advance/shutter wind feels just as nice as the '39 Contax and '53 Kiev 2, even if the focus action is not quite as precise and smooth.
After 72 they went with the vinyl leatherette instead of real leather and the all metal chromed self timer lever went chintzy plasticy and its pivot point was covered with a lightly glued in circular vinyl patch which always falls out and is lost, totally crappy from the earlier models.
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Old 05-17-2017   #6
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I must admit my original frame of reference was the mid 1970s Kievs that were around when I was a teenager. The Contax and '53 Kiev I bought more recently have been a revelation - and, once you've handled these there is no going back, even if the later, poorly made and finished Kievs can be made to produce fine photos.

Interesting to learn about the date they went from leather covering to leatherette...
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Old 05-17-2017   #7
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The earlier Kiev covering doesn't actually seem to be leather (though I have no knowledge of anything earlier than 2A). It's just a thin leatherette, but very much nicer and more leather-like than that horrible vinyl.

There certainly is a great difference in the quality of finish of parts between early and later Kievs, but I'm not sure whether functionality declined so much. The most difficult Kiev I've dealt with as far as quality-control issues are concerned is also the earliest - a 1956 2A!

Steve.
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Old 05-17-2017   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oftheherd View Post
I seem to recall reading that somewhere up to the mid-fifties, Kievs were still being made with original Contax parts.
Hi,

Hmm, that would mean that, at the end of the war, Contax had a ten year supply of parts and the Soviets took them back home. I'm more prepared to believe that war time conditions would have meant them living day to day as the saying goes.

But they did take the/some Zeiss people to the USSR, and they later returned home, their influence may have lasted for many years and then, as demand improved, the camera was modified for easier production. That's normal regardless of the country's politics.

Also, I can't see how anyone can comment on the factory's QC 50, 60 or 70 years later. The state my old cameras were in had a lot to do with the previous owners and not the factory. Proof of that's in the number of all makes of camera for sale with corroded battery terminals and no instruction manual; just look on ebay.

Regards, David
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Old 05-19-2017   #9
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I'd really like to buy an early Kiev as an alternative to a Contax. Where can I find a good guide to distinguishing the various models of Kiev online? I'd like to be able to look at an auction page and tell which are the older models.
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Old 05-19-2017   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mich rassena View Post
I'd really like to buy an early Kiev as an alternative to a Contax. Where can I find a good guide to distinguishing the various models of Kiev online? I'd like to be able to look at an auction page and tell which are the older models.
http://www.sovietcams.com/
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Old 05-19-2017   #11
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Hi,

If you want a rough quick clue then the older ones have a little foot to stop them tipping forward when put down on a flat surface. All cameras should have this...

Regards, David
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Old 05-19-2017   #12
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That's a great website. I'll scroll through there for examples.
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Old 05-19-2017   #13
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Originally Posted by David Hughes View Post
Hi,

If you want a rough quick clue then the older ones have a little foot to stop them tipping forward when put down on a flat surface. All cameras should have this...

Regards, David
Looking for the foot is a very helpful suggestion. For some reason, my mind immediately goes to the Kiev 4 as the template for all Kievs, forgetting there were several preceding versions. It's those versions I should look for instead. Also, from the sovietcams website, it looks like the early ones had Cyrillic lettering only.
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Old 05-19-2017   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grytpype View Post
The earlier Kiev covering doesn't actually seem to be leather (though I have no knowledge of anything earlier than 2A). It's just a thin leatherette, but very much nicer and more leather-like than that horrible vinyl.

There certainly is a great difference in the quality of finish of parts between early and later Kievs, but I'm not sure whether functionality declined so much. The most difficult Kiev I've dealt with as far as quality-control issues are concerned is also the earliest - a 1956 2A!

Steve.
Kiev RF cameras had real leather covering till 1972, just like pre war Contaxes.
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Old 05-19-2017   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Hughes View Post
Hi,

Hmm, that would mean that, at the end of the war, Contax had a ten year supply of parts and the Soviets took them back home. I'm more prepared to believe that war time conditions would have meant them living day to day as the saying goes.

But they did take the/some Zeiss people to the USSR, and they later returned home, their influence may have lasted for many years and then, as demand improved, the camera was modified for easier production. That's normal regardless of the country's politics.

Also, I can't see how anyone can comment on the factory's QC 50, 60 or 70 years later. The state my old cameras were in had a lot to do with the previous owners and not the factory. Proof of that's in the number of all makes of camera for sale with corroded battery terminals and no instruction manual; just look on ebay.

Regards, David
What you say makes sense. I guess I just supposed it had to do with the small amount of Kievs made after WWII that made the parts last longer.
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Old 05-20-2017   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mich rassena View Post
Looking for the foot is a very helpful suggestion. For some reason, my mind immediately goes to the Kiev 4 as the template for all Kievs, forgetting there were several preceding versions. It's those versions I should look for instead. Also, from the sovietcams website, it looks like the early ones had Cyrillic lettering only.
Hi,

Although I haven't done any research in depth I should have added that the serial numbers seem to give the year, based on them beginning 55 and 56 in my heap of old stuff.

As for the lenses, the red letter "P" or "П" meaning they'd changed the spec. and they are now coated is another give away. It was dropped when coated became the norm.

Regards, David
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Old 05-20-2017   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mich rassena View Post
I'd really like to buy an early Kiev as an alternative to a Contax. Where can I find a good guide to distinguishing the various models of Kiev online? I'd like to be able to look at an auction page and tell which are the older models.
http://www3.telus.net/public/rpnchbck/zconrfKiev.htm
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Old 05-20-2017   #18
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Hi,

Another good guide here:-

http://ussrphoto.com/Wiki/default.asp?ParentID=1

Regards, David
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Old 05-20-2017   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xayraa33 View Post
Kiev RF cameras had real leather covering till 1972, just like pre war Contaxes.
I can only say that the USSR must have genetically engineered a very different breed of cow to the ones that produced the real leather covering for the Contax!
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Lomo book download
Old 05-20-2017   #20
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Lomo book download

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Hughes View Post
Hi,

Another good guide here:-

http://ussrphoto.com/Wiki/default.asp?ParentID=1

Regards, David
I found a book mentioned, Lomo: 100 years, and the site says it can be downloaded as a PDF. I tried on my iPad and PC without success. Has anyone been able to download, or have a copy on file for sharing?
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Old 05-20-2017   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grytpype View Post
I can only say that the USSR must have genetically engineered a very different breed of cow to the ones that produced the real leather covering for the Contax!
No it is real thin common leather on 1972 or earlier Kiev RF cameras, unless it has been re-covered later on by the owner with some other non-leather material.

I own about ten Kiev RF cameras, the majority of them made in 1972 or earlier and with the original body covering on the 1972 or earlier models and it is real black leather and of not bad quality for a USSR product.

Just like the quality of the Kiev RF all leather ever-ready cases before those made for the 4M and 4AM Kievs are actually better quality leather than the brittle and dry leather used for the Zeiss Contax IIa and IIIa cameras.
Check it out yourself if you don't believe me.
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Old 05-20-2017   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grytpype View Post
I can only say that the USSR must have genetically engineered a very different breed of cow to the ones that produced the real leather covering for the Contax!
I thought it was sheepskin?

I didn't know it was real leather until I got my first 1960s KIEV-4a in my hands. My first thought was: My, this is really overkill for a massively produced camera.
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Old 05-20-2017   #23
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I owned a '51 and '52 Kiev II with the same year Jupiter 8s, as well as a serviced '36 Contax II and a '36 collapsible Sonnar. As some of you know, there are a few minor cosmetic differences between a Contax and Kiev, and the Jupiter lenses are coated. The Kiev spindles are different, and result in overlapping frames. Fixed by using a post war Contax IIa/Contaflex plastic spindle. The serviced Contax II I owned is also louder then the Kiev's. The viewfinders and the rangefinder patch were pretty much the same. Never had the cameras opened, but I sold the Kievs and kept the Contax.

Surprisingly, I weighed each camera, and they were the same, to the gram. I have multiple Leicaflex SL and each vary a few grams. Funny tidbit of useless trivia.
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Old 05-20-2017   #24
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Originally Posted by oftheherd View Post
I seem to recall reading that somewhere up to the mid-fifties, Kievs were still being made with original Contax parts.
No, by the early 50's the old Zeiss Ikon parts were used up. I think my '51 Kiev II may have had a Zeiss shutter speed dial, but that was it. At least from what I can tell by looking at the exterior. Subtle differences when looking at a Kiev and Contax side by side.
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Old 05-20-2017   #25
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Hi,

Also, parts would be taken from German stock and then made on the German machinery and then the tools would wear out and that would be a chance to change things slightly; f'instance the feathers on the arrows and so on.

Also 1954 onwards was post Stalinist and attitudes may have changed or be changing...

Regards, David
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Old 05-20-2017   #26
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Originally Posted by xayraa33 View Post
No it is real thin common leather on 1972 or earlier Kiev RF cameras, unless it has been re-covered later on by the owner with some other non-leather material.
Perhaps you have examined it more closely than I have.

However I have de-bumped several Contax, and I know what leather looks like. I have removed the covering from a Kiev 3a and used it on a Kiev 2a, and it was exactly the same material as on another 3a, another 2a, and a 1967 Kiev 4 and it looked nothing like leather to me.

Leather as it the surface wears gets a brown 'antiquey' look. The black surface of the Kiev covering flakes off. Leather doesn't do this.

I think we will have to agree to differ on this one!
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Old 05-20-2017   #27
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Originally Posted by Grytpype View Post
Perhaps you have examined it more closely than I have.

However I have de-bumped several Contax, and I know what leather looks like. I have removed the covering from a Kiev 3a and used it on a Kiev 2a, and it was exactly the same material as on another 3a, another 2a, and a 1967 Kiev 4 and it looked nothing like leather to me.

Leather as it the surface wears gets a brown 'antiquey' look. The black surface of the Kiev covering flakes off. Leather doesn't do this.

I think we will have to agree to differ on this one!
"I think we will have to agree to differ on this one![/"

Good idea !

Yes, it is leather to me and I have examined it very closely.
The Kiev RF is based on the pre-war Contax and that had a leather body covering and the Kiev RF camera till 1972 was little different.

You have to consider that the Kiev RF camera by Soviet standards was not a cheapo camera, as many other FSU camera models fit the budget/beginner category more than the Kiev RF camera ever did.
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A minor point.
Old 05-21-2017   #28
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A minor point.

Hi,

Just realised that one or two of the Soviet "cheapeners" were later on copied by the 'west' an example being the moving of the serial number to the accessory shoe. Only mentioned as a follow on to one of my earlier posts and done by Leica but not done by FED or KMZ (Zenit & Zorki) as far as I can see.

Regards, David
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Old 05-21-2017   #29
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The black surface of the Kiev covering flakes off. Leather doesn't do this.
I agree with xayraa33 to say that before 1972 the Kievs were covered with real leather and that their neverready cases were made of very good leather which surprisingly remains supple over time.

As for the 1948 -1972 Kiev cameras covering : yes it flakes and yes leather can do this if thin sheep leather chemically tanned. I think this is what we have on the Kievs. On the Nikon M and S cameras we have cow leather chemically tanned and it flakes a lot.

The Chinese sheep leather gloves you will find anywhere now will also flake like crazy after a short while (aside from contaminating your skin and blood with very hazardous chemicals).
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Old 05-22-2017   #30
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I'm seriously outnumbered, as usual. Maybe it's time to run up the white flag!

As far as I recall, it is true that the Kiev covering does not have the woven backing I would expect on leatherette, but other than Contax, I think the only cameras that I've handled with what I believed to be real leather covering have been a couple of the original Exakta Varex, and various pre-1930 models. All these had leather which looked and felt basically similar to the Contax.

I've had a really good look at the covering on a Kiev 3a (with a flaky surface) and I suppose I could just about believe it was leather, but of a type I have not knowingly met before. I'm wondering if it could be what is called 'reconstituted leather', and this would make some sense. It would save a few roubles, and it would explain why the surface can flake off. I'll admit I was wrong to call it leatherette.

Whatever it is covered with, I agree that the Kiev RF is definitely the best FSU 35mm camera, by far, and also that the cases are far better made than the post-war Zeiss Ikon Contax cases they are intended to resemble!
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Old 05-22-2017   #31
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Hi,

Although I haven't done any research in depth I should have added that the serial numbers seem to give the year, based on them beginning 55 and 56 in my heap of old stuff.

As for the lenses, the red letter "P" or "П" meaning they'd changed the spec. and they are now coated is another give away. It was dropped when coated became the norm.

Regards, David
Thanks, that's very helpful, and a simple way to make the distinction.
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Old 05-26-2017   #32
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Hello,

I recall that it was thoroughly studied what happened with the machinery to make the Kiev: the Zeiss plant where the Contax was made, although damaged, still had parts and tools for a limited production, during the Allied occupation.

Soon, at the arrival of the Soviets, they immediately ordered the dismantling of the plants and machinery for war reparation, with evident lack of attention: at the end, with the care of the Zeiss personnel the crates containing the Contax tools were sent to the USSR, where during the transport, they've been firstly partially damaged and at their arrival, mixed and made unfit for production.

The Soviets wanted new production lines/tools to be made at Zeiss care: this marks the birth of the "Jena Contax": actually a camera made to try the new production tools re-made by Zeiss, starting from actual pre/wartime cameras and the available spare parts.

To be more sure of the success of the operation, the soviets wanted not only the machinery, but also the necessary personnel, "volunteering" to train the Soviet workers and to supervise the quality of the production. We shouldn't forget the immense effort made by the remaining Zeiss personnel and technicians (many were taken to the West already, not speaking about casualties and those simply unable to continue their job) to re-set a production line for what was perhaps the most complicate 35mm. RF camera ever made.

The "1947" Kiev is the sound proof of this process: it was made with the new Zeiss tools, made to produce a Contax (it needs just to take a look on the reverse of the front plate, where the "Contax" name is still visible in negative and other details: they weren't wartime remains, but new parts, made with the new tools).
In those difficult months it was also unsure whether the camera's name should have been still Contax, or Volga, or Kiev... or whatever recalling the definitive place where the production should have started.
The solution to the turmoils in Ukraine, confirmed Kiev as the place where to produce the "new" camera.

Besides this historical note (still subject to update and revision though), it's clear that the first batches of Kievs were made under the direct control of the Zeiss personnel moved to Kiev. It is also known that the Soviet technicians were very well trained and specialized, the main problem stays in the "political" direction of the plant: it was requested a very high rate of production. The germans, repeatedly explained that due to the complexity of the Contax, a faster production rate was almost impossible, but they had to accept what the Party representatives wanted, at least partially, not arriving to the humanly/technically impossible rate requested at the beginning.

My 1947 Kiev, actually "is" a Contax-II of the "Jena" type, where even the chrome finish, looks alike (or it's just a little better); the Kievs from 1950 to 1955 are extremely well finished, except the leather, that's very thin and frail, not being the "Feinstes Saffianleder" of Zeiss's specifications.

I need to say that my first Kiev, a 1968-made 4A bought 4 decades ago, has an incredibly accurate finish and the leather cover is made with an extremely fine, perfectly tanned, black morocco leather; a finish I've already noticed on other 4A, made between 1968 and the early 1969.

Reading the original instruction booklets, it's clearly written that the Kiev camera was considered a highest class instrument, made for the use of professionals.

Best wishes,

Enzo (E.L.)
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