Kiev rangefinder

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The Kiev rangefinder cameras are derivatives of the pre-WW2 Contax rangefinder bodies, and were made after the War by the Zavod Arsenal factory in Kiev, Ukraine. Kiev rangefinders were produced from 1947 until 1986, which means more than 50 years of production of the basic Contax rangefinder design and over 1 million cameras were sold worldwide.

Soviet forces took the Zeiss Ikon factory in Dresden as war reparations and "relocated" equipment and personnel from the Germany into Kiev, Ukraine. In Kiev, the Zeiss Ikon's Contax production line was set up again in the Zavod Arsenal facility and quickly started production under the Kiev brand name (1947) [1]. Early models (Kiev 2) are said to have been made from original Zeiss Ikon stock the Soviets had taken with them by German technicians. There are reports of models with the original Contax nameplate behind the new Kiev shield. [2]

Kiev cameras, just like Contax before them, were considered of higher quality than Zorki/FED and were preferred by Soviet officials and professional journalists.[3]

One of the advantages of the Kiev is the use of the Contax long rangefinder base: 9 cm, which allows for very accurate focusing even at very shallow apertures. This feature combined with a clear depth-of-field scale on the lens, and excellent optics is used to create a clear isolation of the subject from the background. Also in the Kiev, just like to Contax before them, the viewfinder and rangefinder are combined in one large bright viewfinder, Leica did not combine the two until the Leica M3 in 1954.

Quality of the cameras was maintained into the 1960s, but saw a drop in the 1970s due to simplification and lack of quality control in parts and assembly. However, the cameras keep working within tolerance due to the excellent design of Zeiss team almost 50 years before the last camera left the production line.

The Kiev II, is a copy of the prewar Contax II and the Kiev III was a copy of the Contax III, easily recognizable because of the light meter perched on top of the body. Neither of these cameras was synchronized for flash, although many were later modified. The Kiev IIa and IIIa solved this problem.

Further refinements resulted in the Kiev 4 and 4A (metered and non metered) models, which were produced from the 1950s until the 1980s with several variations and modifications. The last variants, the Kiev 4AM and 4M, had such modern conveniences as a hot shoe and real rewind crank.

There was a short-lived Kiev 5 model that was only produced from 1968 to 1973 and was incompatible with earlier Kiev/Contax lenses. It offered a large and bright finder, with frameline for the standard 50mm lens, an integrated lightmeter, and film advance by a lever. This effort to modernize the line failed, and these cameras are rare today. [4] [2]

Unmetered models

These are all derivatives of the Zeiss Ikon Contax II.


(or Kiev II)

  • Produced between 1947-57
  • There are 4 types and 5 sub-types [5] [6] [7] [8]
  • Type 1a cameras were made using some original Contax parts from Germany, and produced only in 1947
  • The front plate is engraved only in Cyrillic, which distinguishes it from later unmetered models
  • Lenses:
    • Collapsible ZK or ZK-Zorki 50mm f/2 (1947-1949)
    • Solid ZK 50mm f/2 (1949-1951)
    • Jupiter-8 50mm f/2 Kiev mount(1951-1957)


  • Produced between 1955-58
  • There are 2 types
  • As a Kiev-2 with flash sync added
  • Name on the front plate engraved Cyrillic and Latin
  • Lens: Jupiter-8 50mm f/2


  • Produced between 1956-80
  • There are 8 types and 4 sub-types [9]
  • Upgraded version of Kiev-2A
  • Without the stabilizing foot
  • Later models have top speed of 1/1000 instead of 1/1250
  • Standard Lens: Jupiter-8M 50mm f/2 or Helios-103 53mm f/1.8 (late models)

These cameras are the most common type, and were sold all over the world.

A rare variant of the Kiev-4A is the No-name Kiev, so called because there are no engravings on it other than the serial number, though a specimen is known with a (probably) after-sale engraving "USSR OCCUPIED GERMANY".[10]
It is equipped with a Carl Zeiss Sonnar 1:2 f=50mm lens.
All serial numbers known so far indicate production in 1963 and these were cameras for the West European and American markets, removing the Сделано в СССР and factory markings. [11] In the USA Cambridge Camera Exchange imported Kiev 4A cameras under the PROTAX brand in the early 1980s, these were type 4 cameras with blank name plates, in the same fashion at the 1960s cameras.


  • Produced between 1980-87
  • There are 3 types and 5 sub-types
  • The modernized model of Kiev-4A
  • With a fixed take-up spool
  • With a rewind lever
  • Lenses:
    • Jupiter-8M 50mm f/2
    • Helios-103 53mm f/1.8

Metered models

They are all derivatives of the Zeiss Ikon Contax III.


(or Kiev III)

  • Produced between 1948-56
  • There are 6 types and 2 sub-types
  • A clone of the pre-war Contax III
  • It has an uncoupled selenium meter
  • Lens: Jupiter-8 50mm f/2


  • Produced between 1954-59
  • There are 10 types and 3 sub-types
  • As a Kiev-3 with flash sync added
  • Lenses:
    • Jupiter-8 50mm f/2 (1951-1958)
    • Jupiter-8M 50mm f/2 (1958)


  • Produced between 1957-79
  • There are 4 types and 8 sub-types
  • Kiev 4 is similar to Kiev-3A
  • Without the stabilizing foot
  • Some cosmetic styling changes influenced by the Contax IIIa
    • The back part and body is upgraded
    • The size of an exposure meter is smaller
  • Later samples have top speed of 1/1000 instead of 1/1250
  • Lens: Jupiter-8M 50mm f/2


  • Produced between 1976-87
  • There are 5 types and 5 sub-types
  • Kiev-4M is the modernized model of Kiev-4
  • Lenses:
    • Jupiter-8M (2/50mm)
    • Helios-103 (1.8/53mm)


  • Produced between 1968-73
  • There are 3 types and 3 sub-types
  • Pure Soviet design
  • The lens mount does not have the inner bayonet
  • With a film advance lever
  • With the shutter cocking lever
  • Lenses:
    • Jupiter-8NB 52mm f/2
    • Helios-94 50mm f/1.8/50


  1. After Dresden: the migration of the Contax to Jena and Kiev at ZeissHistorica (archived)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kiev Rangefinders Kiev Rangefinders, a zeiss Copy by Peter Henning
  3. SovietCams KievRF Page
  4. Wayne Cornell review (archived)
  5. In this page the model info and typing are as to Alaxander Komarov in Fotoua (archived). You can also find serial numbers for dating of the cameras in this site
  6. There is another classification of former-USSR cameras by Aidas Pikiotas in SovietCams
  7. Pages from the book of former-USSR cameras by Suglob, Shaternik, Kochergin (archived)
  8. Discussion of the camera classifications in the books of Princelle and Suglob, Shaternik, Kochergin in USSR Photo Forum (archived)
  9. Kiev4 evolution at Soviet Cameras website
  10. Page about the No-name Kiev by Aidas Pikiotas in
  11. Cameraquest article on the No-Name Kiev 4 curiosity


In English

  • Princelle, Jean Loup (2004), The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras ('Made in USSR'), Le Reve Edition. ISBN 2952252106; or the earlier edition: Hove Foto Books, 2nd edition, 1995. 200 pages. ISBN 1874031630. Paperback.

In Russian