Rangefinders (Changeable Lens)

Perseverance is Key – A Look At The Kiev 4AM – Guest review by James Szylobryt

The Kiev 4am is a great camera. I haven’t always had this opinion, but it unexpectedly grew on me.

First of all, I never keep a camera for very long. I’m not a sentimental person, meaning that the intrigue of trying a new camera, has always been more important than starting a collection or keeping a particular model.

I discovered film photography in University, where a friend showed me how to develop black and white film. I found it to be such an interesting process. Being a student, my budget for a camera was extremely low, making my eBay hunt for a film SLR one that required me to be patient. I did not just buy the first camera I saw, instead I waited weeks to get a bargain. Once I got bored of that camera I sold it off for a profit and upgraded it. This cycle slowly got more and more frequent, resulting in it becoming a business as well as a hobby. Within 2 years of starting my love for film, I would be selling hundreds of film cameras a year from my university bedroom. This gave me a platform to try almost every camera I desired, yet still only just about covered me financially at Uni.

Although fun, having so many options can also be debilitating. Paralysis by analysis comes to mind. Every camera I kept represented one less supermarket shop of food I could afford (or several in some cases). Choosing one camera was tough, when paying rent and eating is more important than having a collection of nice shiny old cameras. I’m sure everyone has been there at one point or another. I found myself obsessing over the negative aspects of every camera that came my way, ultimately convincing myself that they weren’t the one for me.

I wanted one camera to keep, in order to help me progress my photography on a whole. I found a few that could have been great. The Pentax Me Super, or even the Olympus Xa seemed perfect, but every time I felt like I was on to a keeper, I ended up selling it. Being constantly skint, I had started to see them all as the “Profit I could make”, rather than a good camera to hold onto (I Hope that makes sense). This applied to cheap or expensive cameras. I never felt like any of them were really mine, but rather saw every one as stock that I was trying out / testing for a future sale.

When It came up to Christmas of 2016, I had an idea to end this problem for good. My father had asked me if I’d like a Christmas present, and not wanting to be cheeky, I asked for a Kiev 4am. A rather budget rangefinder camera, that came from the Ukraine. The idea being that If it’s a present, then I would not be able to sell it on my eBay shop. C’mon, everyone knows you’re not meant to sell presents!!

So I put a test roll of Agfa Vista 200 through the camera. I was extremely underwhelmed. I have lots of experience with the Fed 2 and the Zorki 4k, so using a fully manual camera with the sunny 16 rule was not a problem. I just felt that the camera was simply annoying to use. The Shutter speed selector was fiddly, and somewhat unclear as to which shutter speed was selected, as the speed markers are so close together. The aperture ring was awkward to use, as the entire lens rotates whilst trying to select the correct F stop. The most annoying thing for me was the focus lock. When at infinity focus, the lens locks in place, and a button on the top plate has to be pressed in order to free it. Lets just say I was not having fun all.

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I tried to remedy some of the issues by purchasing a new lens. The Helios 103 that the camera came with was nice and sharp, but was rather large and a pain to use. I’d heard a lot of great things about the Jupiter 12, so I purchased one. Its a small 35mm lens that felt far superior ergonomically. The aperture is much easier to adjust, and it’s a lens that disengages the infinity focus lock. I made my own external 35mm viewfinder from a Canon AF-7 point and shoot camera. This outfit was much more appealing to me, making me want to take the camera out much more. The J- 12 also came with a Jupiter 8m lens that was in ‘as is’ condition, that ended up being completely fine. It has some cleaning marks, but nothing too severe. Regardless it doesn’t see much action.

I threw a few rolls of Ilford HP5 pushed to 1600 into the camera. As I got through each roll, I became more familiar with the 4AM’s controls, resulting in my enjoyment levels rising massively.

I started to appreciate the camera more and more. The shutter speed range of 2 Seconds to 1 / 1000th of a second is more than enough for me, and the rangefinder is clear and easy to use. Over time the fiddly shutter speed selector was no longer a problem, as it became second nature to select the right speed very quickly. The ergonomics of the camera body began to just feel right. It’s a nice size and weight, and the camera simply looks amazing with its metallic styling.

This camera taught me a lesson for sure. If this wasn’t a present like all the other cameras I’ve used, it would 100% have been sold after the initial test roll. I would have never persevered with it, and would never have discovered all the plus points of using it. It has shown me that buying new gear is often an excuse for not taking good photographs, and that with a little practice, most cameras can become the camera you’re looking for.

I have now put 30 + rolls of film through it, and I can safely say I’d rather use this Kiev 4am over cameras I had paid 200 times more for in the past. If you suffer from G.A.S (Gear acquisition Syndrome), maybe you should consider simplifying things like I have. This has not only stopped me worrying about what camera to use, but has also allowed me to focus on actually taking pictures.

My website with a few more film camera reviews can be found here: The Blackburn Morb
My Instagram: blackburn_morb

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11 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Blinx
    May 20, 2017 at 9:31 am

    I have the Kiev 4 and I have to agree, it’s a fabulous camera. In fact I liked it so much it almost lead me towards the Contax original, but decided a high ticket price and the probability of sourcing a shutter ribbon expert was too much even for my affection. It’s a quirky camera but in a good way and extremely usable for general shooting without too many antique habits.

    The Jupiter 12 is also lovely if you can accommodate its flare prone habits. This site is essential reading for anyone contemplating a Kiev: http://www3.telus.net/public/rpnchbck/index.html

    • Avatar
      Reply
      The Blackburn Morb
      May 20, 2017 at 7:40 pm

      I really do love using it. Unfortunately my last few rolls of film have had lights leaks on pretty much every image. These are caused by internal reflections, meaning changing light seals / taping up the back wont solve the problem. I’ve read that the camera has to be disassembled to fix it, and I am not sure I have the skills to do it without breaking the camera further. It’s a shame, as it’s a camera that I highly recommend.

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Blinx
        May 20, 2017 at 8:27 pm

        If you’re sure it isn’t lens flare, which is more obvious on the J12 than any lens I’ve ever seen, and it isn’t a camera seal, it may be a shutter issue. The Kiev and Contax use a blind instead of a curtain, which folds up like a window blind. It isn’t more prone to problems than any other, but if it fails the fix requires someone who knows their way around the model.

        If you don’t fancy camera surgery but like the Kiev, I’d just buy another. If you fancy getting out the screwdrivers, this is a good place to start: http://www3.telus.net/public/rpnchbck/replace%20shutter%20ribbons.html

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Jouni Rinne
    May 20, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    I have several film cameras in regular use, but lately I’ve been using my ’61 Kiev 4A the most. As the writer stated, it is a somewhat quirky, but when you get used to it, it is a wonderful camera. I mostly use Jupiter-12 (35mm) and Jupiter-9 (85mm) lenses on it. Being a rangefinder, it is an excellent tool for b+w infrared photography (my main photographic hobby).

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Christos Theofilogiannakos
    May 20, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    I’m not a fan of FSU rangefiders, but the Kiev 4A and the Zorki 6 are the only ones that have survived several camera purges and still get regular use.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    jeremy north
    May 21, 2017 at 7:10 am

    Excellent article James. The Kiev is a pre-war Contax ii, so a very good design.

    You sum up so well the paralysis caused by GAS. I’ve had all too much experience/suffering of that!

    I really like the set of pictures you posted too. You might try to shoot without the filter on the lens. It should give you slightly better contrast in some lighting conditions.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Paul Mulherin
    May 21, 2017 at 8:47 am

    @The Blackburn Morb – If you’re located up in Blackburn, Lancashire, UK then I heartily recommend taking your camera in to these guys down here in Manchester:
    http://www.realcamera.co.uk/

    They re-did the light seals on my Ricoh KR-10 and gave it a whole new lease of life! Very friendly, knowledge guys and reasonable prices.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      May 21, 2017 at 11:13 pm

      Unless a camera needs servicing, I don’t get why people would pay someone else to change the light seals on a standard SLR. It’s all a matter of having a pair of toothpicks, a little lighter fluid, a few cotton balls, a few inches of black cotton knitting thread, the velvet patch from a used 35mm film canister and some contact glue.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      The Blackburn Morb
      May 24, 2017 at 10:32 am

      Thanks Paul, ill be sure to check them out!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Spehmaster G.
    May 21, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    I have a Kiev 2A, and it is a fantastic camera. I fancied a Kiev 4AM to clean up, reskin etc for my Father to ‘play with’. Unfortunately, I was either extremely unlucky [3 times], or the Kiev 4AM is very poor quality in comparison to the lovely Kiev 2A of the 1950’s.

    The AM definitely has some improvement over the older models, ie the fixed wind-on spool, film rewind lever and flash hotshoe. However, the camera feels lighter, less precise in manufacture. The worst thing about it is the focus mechanism, it just feels so inferior and rough compared to the earlier models.

  • Avatar
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    Sam
    May 22, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    Man you really need to clean your scanner.

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