Julian Tanase Photography

My Minox journey continues…

Kiev 4AM – a Contax from Arsenal Kiev

Kiev 4AM – a Contax from Arsenal Kiev

Many times called “the poor man’s Contax” or the Ruski Contax, it is not exactly that. I mean, it does come from that ancestry, being a copy of the pre-war Contax III, but it’s a camera in its own right. This model here is a Kiev 4AM, one of the many models produced by the Kiev Arsenal factory, between 1976 – 1987. Quite a lot of these models were produced, and many of them can still be purchased today, in good condition or with some mechanical issues which can be repaired. Just remember to exercise caution when buying.

The Kiev 4AM is a rangefinder (can I say “strangefinder”?) camera, of a slightly modified design (therefore different) from the Contax whose copy this is. The film needed is 35mm, in regular film cassette,  frame size 24×36. This model has the last upgrade done to a Kiev camera, which was a better film take-up spool. The lens is a Helios 103 glass (1.8/53), but I also have the Jupiter 8M, a Contax Sonnar copy, available for it. 

Focal range is from 0.9 meter to infinity, with a smooth operation of the lens mechanism. Lens mount is the Contax type. The apertures range from 1.8 to 22,  with shutter speeds starting from 1/2s, 1/5s, 1/10s, 1/25s, 1/50s, 1/125s, 1/250s, 1/500s, 1/1000s + B. Shutter setting is prior to winding the film, so no resemblance to Zorki 1 shutter cocking.

A lot of trouble can be had when inserting the film, but if you are careful and not rushing anything, you will acquire the skill needed very fast. Once you open the bottom plate, insert the film as per Leica (or Zorki, if you prefer) and connect the leader to the take-up spool, then close the plate, make sure you lock it properly.

I have had this camera since my late teens, and it was services some 15 yrs ago, in Russia.  Alas, not used it since 2012 or 2013. I know, laziness. But what with other cameras and my main interest lying with Minox, I completely ignored this interesting piece of Soviet mechanical skill. If I am to express some aspects which are not exactly on my liking, I would say the shutter dial: too fiddly due to the speeds set too close to each other. One is never certain if the speed wanted is the speed set. And of course, changing the aperture while lens is unlocked is not exactly easy, but one can always press onto the lens rotating dial and hold the lens steady while setting the aperture. Easy, but it needs some practice. 

This here is a photograph of mine, taken in I believe 2009, expired Romanian-made color film, named Azocolor. Not a disaster, but rangefinder focus and some issues with colors shifting made these photographs a bit less than what they should’ve been.

I do agree it’s not the easiest camera to work with or to handle: although one enjoys the so-called “Contax grip”, when you come from an SLR shooting style it’s a bit awkward because first thing you get wrong happens when you put your fingers in front of the rangefinder window.

Shutter ring is also a bit fiddly to use: you have to lift it up and rotate, letting it fall on the speed you want. Jolly good way of setting the shutter speed, but it doesn’t work every time, not by its own accord; you have to “persuade” it. Fiddly, as I said. Still going strong in this camera, but I came to the conclusion that sometimes, not so good mechanics are as durable as the oh so good mechanics, if you get my meaning.

Anyways, a good shooter, this Kiev. I will take it for a stroll these days, and have a look at the results.