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I see a vanilla Kiev and I want it painted black…


…no chrome anymore, I want it to turn black   ♪

I see the Leicas shoot dressed in their black chrome   ♫

I have to turn my head until chrome from my Kiev goes   ♪


Yes, the Rolling Stones’ songs were all about cameras, but they had to adapt them to be more mainstream. Busters.

Now, today we’ll give a little rest to Zenits and their ancestors and we’re going to talk about Kievs. More or less.

For those of you who don’t know, (rangefinder) Kievs are the legal successors of the Zeiss Ikon Contax II camera made, well, in Kiev; its blueprints, production lines and even technicians brought to the Ukraine from post war Germany as part of the war reparations agreements. They were good quality cameras in the beginning but their building quality progressively involuted as decades went on. They were made since the late 40s to the late 80s. Forty years on the assembly line with just slight modifications. This makes for a damn world record.

My theory is that the commies stopped making them not because they couldn’t be sold in the West in the 90s, but because they hadn’t the slightest idea on how to sell them in the West. I honestly think that amateurs would have loved them and would have totally tripped (and paid in dollars) on the chance of having one new. If it happened with the Lomo LC-A, it could have happened with the Kievs, which were one thousand times better cameras than the Lomo. The now-ex-commies simply couldn’t get the marketing thing right and shut down the assembly line. Post Soviet era fatalism? Maybe.

Rangefinder afficionadoes had to do with buying them used (and often abused) from second hand camera stores and later, eBay. Where, casually, I have a store and have a Kiev or two. Buy them for God’s sake.

The evilbay is totally flooded with Russian and Ukrainian camera sellers, more of them dishonest than the opposite, so Kievs (and FEDs and Zorkis) can be bought “in good working order” dirt-cheap. But you know the Red Queen effect: it takes all you can run to stay in the same place and if you want to get anywhere you have to run twice as fast. So, in order to get somewhere ahead from their competitors, some Former Soviet sellers have something more and less than the regular ‘vanilla’ Kiev (or Zorki, or FED) for sale: ‘commemorative’ and ‘special edition’ models.

Of this ‘special edition’ cameras, like my ‘black Kiev’ in the picture above, 99% are fake. Now comes the twist: they’re cool fakes. Some sellers try to pass their ‘special’ stuff for real commemorative models, most of which don’t have a real counterpart, and this is where fun begins. I personally think that these counterfeits are so funny that they deserve to be collected. First of all, all those sellers try to deceive us into believing their stuff is legit without actually saying it; they will go great lengths to achieve this and I find hilarious to read such displays of inventiveness. Second, and speaking of displays of inventiveness, the commemorations on ‘commemorative’ and ‘special’ models are equally hilarious. You can find a little of everything in there, from a round-figure Congress of the Soviets to the latest soccer UEFA European Championship. Others are simply ‘bright chrome’ or ‘black factory’ models, like my ‘black Kiev’ in the picture above. About black Kievs, all experts agree that no Kiev rangefinder ever left the factory painted black. Then there are the fake Leicas, made with FEDs and Zorkis, and the fake Contaxes, made with Kievs. Be careful when buying a Leica II or a Contax II, but well, almost all of them can be told from the real stuff by just looking at them a fraction of a second, if you know what to seek.

Some of them are well made, some of them not. Many have been repaired and cleaned and are actually in very good condition. But, alas, my ‘black Kiev’ is not one of those lucky better-than-new samples: the black paint job is thick and sloppy, and looks that the chrome plating wasn’t removed before painting. It is a total Frankenstein as it has parts of at least three models from different eras and, worst of all, the rangefinder is way off horizontally. That’s how it works with FSU stuff from FSU sellers: you play Russian roulette, you can lose. Bad luck. Buy another. With those guys, it is trial and failure, but most times failure. But we GAS afflicted masochists just come back and keep trying. That’s who we are: machoes who like pain, and mindlessly wasting money, and being cheated from behind the Iron Curtain. Real hombre. Alpha male, bro.

Yes, I am sick, and, yes, I need help, but hey, that black Kiev in the picture above: this is one real crazy piece of a gizmo.


2 thoughts on “I see a vanilla Kiev and I want it painted black…

  1. Great and funny post. Your blog is quite something!!! No other like yours, keep posting please.
    I have to admit that I own a Kiev made in the 80’s and still works fine, crossing my fingers. IMHO it is the best camera ever produced by the soviets, simply because the blueprints of the Contax, that was a hell of a camera in its time. And also the sonnar lenses, and Arsenal copies are unique even for today standards.

    1. Thanks, really.
      Ah, yes, the Kiev. If yours keeps working, you are really lucky. I m ust confess that I don’t use my Kievs too much because of their eyepiece: it’s too small for a compulsive glasses user.

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