Cheap Leica Alternative: Soviet Kiev 4a Camera Review + YouTube
Not everyone can afford to buy expensive Leica cameras. If only their was a cheap Leica alternative? Wait a minute, there is! The Soviet Kiev 4a camera (and similar Kiev 35mm cameras). This Kiev 4a review will show you this Soviet rangefinder film camera and similar cameras plus sample photos.
Kiev 35mm film cameras
Let me introduce you to my 3 Kiev film cameras. Can you spot the Kiev 4a camera? If not keep reading to learn more!
Girls love the Kiev 4a!
I’m not sure if this statement is strictly true but here are some models trying my Kiev 4a camera. (Photos are captured with Leica cameras). Click any image in this post for more details.
What is a Kiev 4a camera
A Kiev 4a camera is a later version of the original Kiev 2 camera. The Kiev 2 is a Soviet clone or copy of a Contax III rangefinder camera.
If you want to read the full history about these cameras I recommend you check out my friend Kosmotofoto.com Kiev 4 review as he goes into lots of fine detail.
*I’m more of a Leica nut so I’m happy to redirect you when someone knows more than me about these Soviet cameras. This review is just to give you a basic awareness and show what these cameras can do!
Kiev 2a vs Kiev 4a vs Kiev 4 vs Kiev 4M
The 3 Kiev cameras I own are the Kiev 2a (the same as a Kiev 2 but without the lightmeter), the Kiev 4a (the same as a Kiev 4 but without the exposure meter) and the Kiev 4 camera.
The Kiev 4a is the smallest and lightest so I use it the most. The Kiev 2a is the oldest so in theory should be the most reliable. (All the Kiev 4M cameras I tried broke so were returned. See below).
How to check the age of your Kiev camera
If you check the serial number on the cold shoe of your Kiev film camera you can see the year of manufacture. The first 2 digits are the year so 83XXXXX means made in 1983.
As you see below, on top I have my 1983 Kiev 4 camera. Middle is my 1975 Kiev 4a camera. Bottom is my 1956 Kiev 2a camera. Kiev 4M cameras came after the 1983 Kiev 4. Normally the older the date the better for these cameras (if looking on eBay).
Contax iiia vs Kiev 4 camera
A Contax iiia as seen in the photo below is the same as the Contax iia but with the additional exposure meter on the top. Similar is true for Kiev cameras. The Kiev 4 camera as seen below is the same as the Kiev 4a but with the exposure meter on the top. All Kiev cameras take the same photos.
If you compare the Contax iiia vs Kiev 4 camera I prefer the rangefinder of the much cheaper Kiev cameras. Contax rangefinder cameras look more beautiful but I always use the Kiev and not the Contax.
Buy a Kiev 4 camera on eBay
Kiev 4 cameras are crazy cheap when compared to Leica cameras. Almost too good to be true. The problem is they often don’t work when they arrive so try to buy where the seller gives a return option or when a camera that says film tested.
Check the latest prices on eBay
- (US) https://ebay.to/2F0HoxY
- (UK) https://ebay.to/3ijzle2
- (DE) https://ebay.to/3iqDNYs
- (FR) https://ebay.to/2ZJ3E75
- (HK) https://ebay.to/32A8xBu
Nikon S mount vs Contax RF
Where is gets a little confusing is when you then discover the Nikon S mount rangefinder cameras. The lenses for Kiev and Contax cameras (called Contax RF mount lenses) often physically mount onto the Nikon S rangefinder cameras, and vice versa.
There is a different distance between the lens mount and the film plain for Nikon-S mount vs Contax RF. Nikon S mount lenses sit closer to the film as the cameras are slightly thinner. As such a 50mm lens will mis-focus if not designed for that camera. Wider lenses can work as you have a greater depth of focus to work with.
Here you can see my Nikon S2 rangefinder camera as reviewed on YouTube. A great camera but not as cheap as the Kiev cameras we are reviewing.
Contax RF mount lenses (Internal and external)
Contax RF mount lenses such as those used on Kiev 4 cameras are different to Leica M lenses. Some lenses are called internal bayonet fit (often 50mm) and these lenses mount partly inside the camera. These 50mm lenses have no focus helicoid so this is built into the lens mount itself. See photo below. The most common Soviet 50mm lens is probably the Jupiter-8 50mm f2 (YouTube video still to come!)
Some wider or longer lenses are called external bayonet fit. These lenses do have a focus helicoid so mount over the focusing mount on the camera.
Often the 35mm, 85mm and 135mm lenses are external bayonet fit. I use a post war Zeiss Biogon 35mm f2.8 lens and it’s fantastic. (I still need to do a YouTube review for it!). (Just this week I also purchased a Jupiter-9 85mm f2 lens so that still to come).
Kiev 4a selfie testing
When buying used film cameras on eBay you need to run a test roll through them to check everything works. For me that usual means at least a few mirror selfies. That lets me check the sharpness of different lenses and whether the rangefinder calibration is accurate too.
Bokeh test using the Kiev 4a camera
I need to do a full blog post to review some of the amazing lenses available in Contax RF mount. What I love about these lenses is the rendering and bokeh is often more pleasing than with Leica lenses.
Here I used my Rolleicord TLR camera as my model for this 50mm lens test. Note my parallax mistake and the camera is framed off centre.
Kiev 4a portraits
The following photos were all shot with the Kiev 4a film camera. The biggest problem I found with Kiev 4A portraits is the viewfinder is not parallax corrected. (Leica M film cameras such as my Leica M3 are corrected so this is something I don’t normally need to consider). This caught me out many time so you see the model framed off to one side in some pictures.
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Photos from Poland with Kiev 4a camera
This series of photos was shot in the Polish town of Gdansk during one of my model photography trips in December. I had break between photoshoots so I walked the streets with the Kiev 4a (and a Leica M4-P). All photos were shot with a vintage Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f1.5 lens on Kodak Double-X 5222 bulk rolled film.
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Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f1.5 (CRF)
All the photos shared from Poland and many of the portraits were all captured with the same lens. The amazing Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f1.5 Contax RF mount lens. Shot at f2 this lens is really sharp and can compete with expensive Leica lenses.
Kiev 4a vs Kiev 4M
From my experience of owning both these cameras, when you compare the Kiev 4a vs Kiev 4M the earlier 4a is usually a better choice. I bought several Kiev 4M cameras on eBay trying to find a working one. Many have faults. Below you can see me shooting a test roll on a Kiev 4M. The mirror selfie came out OK but after that the shutter was sticking and I had to return it for a full refund. (I bought 3 duds if I remember!)
Quality control was said to be less strict in the factories at the time the Kiev 4M was made so they seem to be the one Kiev camera to try to avoid if possible. Saying that you might get lucky!
Kiev 4M test photos
Read many more film camera reviews here
Kiev vs FED vs Zorki Soviet cameras
There are lots of great Soviet 35mm film cameras to try. Here are examples of camera I use below. You can probably now recognise the Kiev cameras (on the left) and on the right are Zorki and FED cameras.
The big difference is Kiev cameras use the mentioned Contax RF mount lenses. Zorki and FED cameras use the more common L39 or Leica screw mount lenses. (See my LTM screw mount lens reviews). The Zorki 1C in the centre pictured below is a clone of my Leica iii Barnack cameras.
If you already own screw mount lenses then Zorki and FED cameras are perhaps the best place to start with Soviet cameras.
Kiev rangefinder camera review on YouTube
Here is my full YouTube review of the Kiev 4 cameras.
Leica vs Kiev cameras
So the question is, Leica vs Kiev cameras. Both cameras can take great photos but Leica do bring some advantages. In no particular order you pay more for a Leica film camera to get:
- Parallax corrected viewfinder
- Better build quality (and reliability)
- More framelines on most Leicas (28-135mm, not just 50mm only)
- Access to the latest modern M mount lenses
- Smaller and lighter weight
Contax RF mount (Kiev lenses) on Leica cameras
You can cheat the system and enjoy the cheap Contax RF mount lenses on Leica camera via adapters. See this video for more info.
Kiev medium format cameras (Kiev 88)
Kiev made medium format film cameras too. One example is the Kiev 88. I owned the original and still have a rebadged version called an ARAX-CM. These are a Hasselblad clone and cost a fraction of the price of the Swedish Hasselblad cameras.
See the difference between the 2 cameras YouTube.
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8 thoughts on “Cheap Leica Alternative: Soviet Kiev 4a Camera”
The Carl Zeiss 50/1.5 Sonnar is one of the best vintage lenses you can find. They are not cheap these days, will cost several times what a Kiev and J-8 or Helios-103 will cost. You can buy an Amedeo adapter or have Skyllaney convert the post-war Sonnars to M-Mount. I will have both shortly. Getting a smooth/working Kiev 4 usually means getting one from Oleg or a person that knows what they are doing repairing a camera. Same with a Contax II and Contax III. Getting one that has been recently CLA’d is almost a necessity in getting a working camera, or at least one that works past the first two rolls. I recently picked up a very smooth and reliable Kiev 4, made in 1972.Not sure who worked on it- but they knew what they were doing.
For an inexpensive Leica compatible camera- don’t forget about the Canon P and Canon 7.
Thanks Brian, yes agreed compared to Kiev prices the Sonnars cost more. I like the J-8 and H-103 too. Still need to showcase what they can do! Agreed, fining working Kiev can be tough! Glad you got a nice one. Yes I reviewed the Canon 7 on YouTube but no blog post as yet.
Considering you’ve said you like Leicas partly because of their “feel” and “presence,” I still can’t believe you’re so enthusiastic about these thrashy, gnashy, skin-abrading, finger-gouging monstrosities (not that the genuine 1930s Contax II was much better — yes, I owned one, until I couldn’t stand the pain anymore. It’s amazing what people were willing to put up with in the ’30s just to get a combined range/viewfinder.)
But since you mention the lack of parallax compensation, here’s a tip: In the late 1960s, the Arsenal factory in Kiev/Kyiv made a determined effort to modernize the old horse. They added lever advance, crank rewind, a built-in selenium meter, and, yes, a projected-frameline viewfinder with a less-squinty eyepiece, which on at least some variants had parallax compensation and in some cases a second frameline covering an 85mm lens (I think.) Sort of a Ukrainian Canon 7, if you will. And guess what: It was even worse than the original! I was bonkers enough to own one of these for a while, and — in addition to being ginormous — it always felt as if it was going to devour its own geardtrain or whenever you’d use the film advance lever. (Apparently many of them did exactly that — various online sources recommend avoiding the lever and winding by turning the shutter speed dial instead.) All this plus frequent overlapping frames, light leaks, and fairly frequent, intermittent bouts of pushing the shutter button and nothing happening for no obvious reason.
I see on eBay that there’s someone in London with a Kiev 5 for sale right now, and I double dog dare you to track it down and give it a once-over…
Thanks for you fun ..but quite accurate comment haha. Yes I do have a strange soft spot for old Soviet cameras (and the challenge of making good photos with cheap cameras). With a good lens you can get great images but yes they are not the mechanical masterpieces that Leica give us. My Leicaflex SL has the best film advance of all my Leicas, all models.
The Kiev 5 sounds too similar to the 4M that I tried and failed multiple times!
The Leicaflex trio are amazing cameras. I have a very early Leicaflex 1964-5 serial number and the meter works fine. The quality of build is f&(£/€g amazing . The screen is bright and the wind-on and speeds are spot on. I use it with 35mm f2 & 90mm f2.8 R lenses. For portraits I use a handheld meter for incident metering. It’s a joy to use. If I was going out to Ukraine right now I’d pick up a second body. I wouldn’t take a pair of R8 that I own 3 of. They are battery dependent and that’s for UK use only as far as I’m concerned. Plus, the quality of build of the Leicaflex is similar to the Nikkormat. Anyone messes with you, clout them in the face with it and carry on shooting. I have the 250mm f4,Telyt lens that weights 1300 grams plus body of 770 grams. Clout someone in the face with that and they go down.
Agreed the Leicaflex film advance is perhaps the best i’ve used (even beating the M3!) I find R bodies better for portraits as I dial in the diopter. Haha yes they are built like tanks for sure!
Matt: nice girls, but when are you going to move with the times and find some nice young guys to photograph? We gay guys can marry now and even adopt kids. See Tom Daley and his husband.
So many straight guys fully recognise that we gay guys admire them and are willing to strip off for photography. Some will even have fun with us as a learning curve!
Times have changed so much. Your pix of scantily dressed girlies are so dated.
Thanks David! I like your fun approach. It sounds like you missed the men page you were looking for. Search Mens photography on Google and you’ll find me 😉