5 Frames with a Kiev 4M & a Helios-103 lens on Fuji C200 – by Chill_Grain

Starting out on film photography in eastern Europe is interesting, here you can find an absolute abundance of cheap old soviet cameras for sale. The soviets famously copied almost all the most popular western camera systems from brands such as Leica, Hasselblad, Contax, Zeiss, Pentax and others. What this left behind is the most fun you’ll ever have scouring through bazaars and online shops. Why? In search of hidden treasure of course, like the Kiev 4M that I managed to find one day for no more than $30.

The Kiev 4M is “rough” copy of the classic Contax rangefinders of the 1930s. These frequently came with the now well known 50mm f2 Jupiter-8 lens, but my copy came with the arguably-superior 53mm f1.8 Helios-103! What’s the big deal I hear you say? It’s only 1/3 of a stop. Correct, it’s not a huge advantage but what this lens provides is lovely subject separation and sharpness which rivals its western equivalent (maybe). I can’t claim to be qualified enough to say for sure but rumour has it that rather than being of Sonnar design, the Helios 103 appears more similar to a Summitar/Summicron.

However, what you get when you sign up for eastern european camera roulette is a spin of the quality control wheel and this is no expectation for the Kiev. I managed to strike the jackpot and haven’t had any significant issues with my copy.

A little about its use.

Being a Contax copy, you must learn to wield it with the mighty tiger-claw-Contax-grip. This is because you need to depress the cog wheel found on its top plate to unlock the lens from infinity focus. The viewfinder is surprisingly big and bright compared to other cheap soviet cameras, but the focusing patch is rather difficult to see.

Also of note is the ability to use 1/1250th of a second for your shutter speed, eat your heart out Leica. You might have noticed I haven’t yet mentioned anything about the included light meter, that’s because they usually weren’t very accurate and mine falls in that category so it’s best to get your metering elsewhere.

This is all part of the challenge and charm, you’ll never get bored with this camera and all its quirks and rattles. If by some magic you do, you still have yourself a rather handsome book stand or display-piece all for about the price of 2 rolls of Cinestill 800T.

The photos.

A scholarly dwarf statue shot at f1.8
A statue of a scholarly dwarf shot at f1.8
A warmly-coloured alley in Wroclaw.
A warmly-coloured alley in Wroclaw.
a cyclist emerging from an underground passage.
A cyclist emerging from an underground passage.
Passing over the Grundwald bridge.
Passing over the Grunwald bridge.
Street portrait at f1.8
Street portrait at f1.8.

Loading up my Kiev-4M with the cheapest film available to me at the time – Fuji C200 – I took a little walk around my town in western Poland called Wroclaw. The included photos are nothing special by any means, but they do demonstrate just how surprisingly sharp this lens is even in the corners. The Helios-103 lens renders a more modern look without the classic sonar bokeh which may or may not be suited to your tastes. It is definitely worth getting your hands on one if you’re interested, just remember that being a Contax mount lens it isn’t easy to adapt to other camera mounts.

Thanks for reading, if want check out my website!

I also have Instagram. (who doesn’t these days)

~ Chill_Grain


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6 thoughts on “5 Frames with a Kiev 4M & a Helios-103 lens on Fuji C200 – by Chill_Grain”

  1. Wim van Heugten


    Nice and stimulating review! In the introduction you mention the soviets copying western caneras of many brands. You list Pentax, but I know no example of a soviet copy of a Pentax. What model sre you referring to?

  2. Hello everybody
    I recently bought a KIEV 4a and also bought the Helios 103 elsewhere because of the good sharpness.
    Only made the first film with it last weekend, but I’m thrilled with the camera; it has an extremely precise focus mechanism, as the way to focus is rather long.
    The shutter sound is really good, just a nice, defined “clack” not somehow tinny / cheap.
    I ordered a second copy on Ebay – as a reserve.
    Greetings, Andy from Switzerland

  3. Excellent images you’ve made with the lens!

    Indeed the Helios 103 has some Summicron pedigree. Ive had one dismantled and noticed it has similarities to the original collapsible Summicron (pre-rigid). Whats impressive is instead of it being a pure clone with minor changes (like the Jupiter lenses often were of older Carl Zeiss Jena designs), the Helios 103 is a recompiled and made faster v1 Summicron. In theory, the Soviet Union actually improved the Summitsr/ Summicron design here with the Helios 103. The Leica Summicron rigid (being the successor to the collapsible version, ofcourse exceed the Helios). But the Helios sells for £20-£30 in near new condition, 30x cheaper then rigid! Its one of the best kept secrets at the moment, price for performance.

    Wide open, it does have impressive sharpness. Often its achilles heel is the pre-disposition for it to flare easily. This can be some what corrected by getting a black sharpie marker, and coloring both sides of the aperture blades. For some odd reason, the aperture blades are shiny on most Helios 103 copies, as if they ran out of matte black paint, and decided to use gloss instead.

    Aside from an Amedeo style adapter, the lens is notoriously hard to convert to Leica mount cameras or general mirrorless usage. Some custom adapters ,made using the gutted helicoids from a Kiev, do exist, but they are often very poor in quality and function. Ofcourse the Helios 103 works perfectly fine on Contax and Kiev cameras 🙂

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