My Kiev 35mm System
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The Poor Man's Contax
Below is some brief information and illustrations on the Russian Kiev 35mm rangefinder cameras made in the Arsenal factory in the Ukraine. I have been quite pleased with the feel of these cameras.  They feel and look less precision manufactured than the real Contax cameras, but in some features that can be a benefit.  I usually find I can focus the 50mm lens using the geared focus wheel on the top, left front of the camera, and I often found back in the 70's when I had Contax bodies that this was too stiff to use.  The less precision can cause problems also of course.  I have found spacing problems, which seems strange since most cameras base spacing on a single full rotation of the sprocket wheel.  Usually it is excess spacing, but on the same roll I will have normal and excess spacing.  Remember also, many of these cameras are about 50 years old, so even ones that are described as excellent and appear to work properly may have problems you only find by shooting them - not just a Kiev thing, it's an age thing that you need to watch for on any 50's camera. Another item I hear all the time but cannot accept - that the first 2 numbers of the SN are the year made. I have seen too many numbers that were not within the years a model was made - just saw a Fed 1 with a 25---etc SN. Most of us used to SLR viewing today, including myself, would find the viewfinder of these old cameras frustrating and you would feel unsure of what you are actually shooting. When this was the only thing we had, we got used to the finder and how to compensate. Despite being older finders (ie, no bright frame lines), we could fill the frame with our picture nearly as precisely as we do today with our SLR viewing. We even stayed with our standard viewfinder so we could keep on focusing with the rangefinder and could guess about what more the wide ange would cover, or how much less the telephoto would cover. It was a different time, just as now we enjoy digital that lets us see our picture immediately and catch errors that we wouldn't see with film until it was processed.

My Shooting System
Here is my present shooting system of Kiev 35mm rangefinder cameras, pending getting time to shoot them and verify all is working okay. My pride is the the Kiev made black Contax II on the top left. Rare even for a Kiev, it appears to be a Kiev 4a with the Contax name on the front. The other two are a 4a and a 4AM. Lenses are the 35mm f2.8 Jupiter 12, 135mm f4 Jupiter 11 and 85mm f2 Jupiter 9. Also are a Helios 53mm f1.8 lens in the black plastic case bottom left, and a 50mm f2 Jena Sonnar on the Contax. The Meter is a Russian Leningrad 2 and the small black case near the center has the Russian variable viewfinder. Non Russian are the little brown case with a Voigtlander Turnit finder and the Sunpak 30DX flash.
Shooting System
Here are the main lenses and the viewfinder with a Kiev 4a camera. The lenses are a Jupiter 11 135mm f4, Jupiter 12 35mm f2.8 on the camera and a Jupiter 9 85mm f2. The Kiev 4a is probably one of the best bodies to select in my opinion. While I like the speed dial on the newer 4AM, I find the added linkage on the takeup side of the back a questionable feature. This seems to be a solid body and they are generally found at good prices and in good condition.
Fakes Abound
From what I have read, this is a Kiev 4a that did not come from the Arsenal factory this way. I don't know that for sure, but writers who have researched Kiev say the black paint is always an added item after construction. I suspect the Contax is painted on as an after effect too. But it does then become hard to explain the Carl Zeiss Jena imprint on the front of the lens, although I imagine that ring could have been replaced as well. Regardless, it looks neat in my collection. Unfortunately there is play in the rangefinder focus connection on this one, so it is a questionable shooter (unless you want to guess focus or hope that where you are in the play is close enough).
KNEB Kiev camera
Many of the earlier cameras come with only the Cyrillic letters and not also the English version of the name. This is a Kiev 3, a very beautiful camera and virtually identical to the prewar Contax III, including lacking flash sync. This is the oldest of my Kiev models. The Kiev 3 and 3a had basically the same body, the difference being the 3a had flash sync. The tall rewind chimney was redesigned for the 4 (see 2 cameras down).
Unusual variation on the Black Kiev

Assuming, as on the Contax above, that the black paint job was done after production, the additional special effect of the red name on the front is as well. This is a Kiev 2a.  When I first received it I thought the wind knob might be a mismatch, but since then I have seen other bodies with this knob offered.  It appears to be the knob from a 3a, and seems to fit rather flimsy.  I am guessing that they ran out of the 2/2a wind knobs and used up remaining 3a wind knobs at the end of production. 

Nice meter model
This is the Kiev 4. My favorite models are the 4 and 4a. The 4 has a very small rewind compared to the 3 and 3a, which also had a chimney to put their bigger rewind knob on. It has the smaller meter, probably to compete with the newer West German Contax models which also had smaller meters than their pre-war versions. Hard to see, but I have added a soft release to this camera.  I find I like having a soft release on meter bodies - maybe having a taller release relates to having the taller body due to the meter. This body is shown with the f1.8 Helios normal, most other bodies are shown with the f2 Jupiter.
Top of the last Kiev model series

This shows the wind and re-wind change on the Kiev 4M/4AM style cameras.  The larger knob with black dial and white imprint, and the small rapid rewind knob.  Here are a brief listing of the Kiev differences:

CONTAX  II STYLE BODIES: Kiev 1, 1947-49, no sync, identical to Contax II; Kiev 2, 1950-55, no sync; Kiev 2a, 1950-58, with sync; Kiev 4a, 1958-80, with sync and new flat rewind; Kiev 4AM, 1980-85, with large wind, rapid rewind.

CONTAX III STYLE BODIES (built-in light meter): Kiev 3, 1952-55, identical to Contax III; Kiev 3a, 1956-58, with sync; Kiev 4, 1958-80, with sync, smaller meter; Kiev 4M, 1977-85, with new wind and rewind (shown to right); Kiev 5 - last model, redesigned top plate with incorporated meter.

This is a very abbreviated description of changes. At some point top shutter speed dropped from 1/1250 to 1/1000, and I have seen hybrid models that I don't know where they fit.