Guess what: I had another one a while ago. Just it wasn’t a rangefinder but a SLR. And bigger. This is important for a photographer. Size matters, and every photographer knows ladies like big. Well, it’s the one above. Yes, this “ARAX” is in fact a modified Kiev 88, which, incidentally is not even remotely related to rangefinder Kievs.
See, the Arsenal factory, the maker of the Kievs in Soviet Ukraine, made a little of everything, from military rifles to photo cameras. But more rifles. OK, you just need to know that all cameras ever made there at the Arsenal factory were called Kiev, regardless of their film format or if they were still or cinema cameras. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, camera production seemed to have completely stopped.
Good news is that you can still buy medium format cameras from ebay Russian sellers “new from the factory” or “new old stock”. Sometimes you’ll be sent a nice piece of gear, sometimes you’ll miss. It’s the Russian roulette.
In the last article we talked about “commemorative” and “special edition” Soviet cameras. Let me introduce you to a third kind of Soviet mod: legit mods. Yes, it’s not so hilarious as the other two, but there are actually people out there who modify their Soviet junk without trying to cheat you. The camera above is a good example of this. It was modded by ARAX, a Ukrainian workshop, but there are others who do this kind of jobs, like Kiev USA or Harblei. Most offer mirror lock-up capability and replacing the original copper shutter curtain for more convenient cloth ones.
Some used to say that modifying a Kiev made it lose value, but I find this hard to believe. They used to be so cheap compared to other systems that devaluing would have actually meant giving you money for taking one home.
Serious now, price used to be the main bait that FSU sellers used to make dollars out of their medium format Kievs. Now, with the generalised price drop of most medium format gear, Soviet equipment may well lose attractive for those willing to introduce themselves in medium format.
HA! To those of them who are sissies, maybe, but we real hombres still like better to deal with a Russian time bomb, just waiting to let you down in the worst possible moment, than with a tame, 100% reliable, boring Japanese camera. We do it for the sport; we do it for the thrill, and devil take me if we don’t do it cause we’re sick.