|If ever there is a camera which doesn't deserve its bad reputation, then it's the Kiev 60. Here and now, we'll find out the facts and the fiction, what's behind some of the tales, the do's and dont's, and why the K60 is one of the best deals for anyone wanting to do amateur medium format photography without breaking the bank.
The Kiev 60 has been produced by Arsenal Zavod, a large company in Kiev, Ukraine. Contrary to wide-spread claims, it is not a clone of the Pentacon Six. It shares the same principles and the lens bayonet but nothing else, and thank heavens for that .
More on the history of the 60 can be found at 'Communist Cameras', a very interesting website listed on my links page.
The design of this camera is as simple as could be. A metal body with a focal plane cloth shutter, a transport lever, speed dial, lens bayonet, trigger, a DOF preview lever, a frame counter, and a metered prism - that's all there is. The prism can be lifted off and replaced by a folding waist-level finder. With the prism, it looks, feels and handles like an overgrown 35 mm SLR.
So, what's behind all those stories about bad quality and a bunch of problems? Actually, most of it is rumours, hear-say and Internet gossip spread by people spending their days in the photo newsgroups preaching that the Kiev is the Yugo of all medium cameras and similar tales of wisdom. I bet not one of them has ever seen, much less owned a K60. Some of those claims don't even apply to the Kiev but to the Pentacon Six. Well, let's look at them, one at a time.
Frame spacing can be a problem on a K60 which hasn't been adjusted to thinner Western films and their backing paper. Eastern films are a lot thicker and, unlike the Pentacon Six with its troublesome auxiliary roller, the K60 always advances the film by a fixed amount of rotation of the take-up spool which decreases with the number of frames on the film and thus keeps the spacing even over the whole length of the film. A decent dealer will have adjusted this mechanism before you buy the camera. But even if your camera comes off ebay or from the flee-market, the adjustment is simple enough that you can do it yourself. More on the links page.
Shutter opening while transporting the film: This problem has been observed on a very small series from the early 90's. Again, a good dealer will have checked for this, the Poles at the Berlin street market couldn't care less what they sell you.
Film flatness is a problem of the Pentacon Six - not so with the K60. Period. This is a classical example of the nonsense dished out on Usenet newsgroups.
Lens flare: In most instances this isn't really lens flare. The inside of the 60 is too reflective. This is worst if the camera is used with the 180 mm Zeiss Jena Sonnar. There is a cheap self-adhesvie flocking kit available from Baier Foto that you can fit yourself and that cures this problem for good. The address is included on the links page.
Mirror slap isn't better or worse than with other MF cameras. The mirror needs to have a certain size and it's got to get out of the way before the shutter opens. More recent versions have a mirror pre-release function.
Broken shutters, transport mechanism etc.: Dealers like Wiese of Hamburg, Germany, grant a warranty of one year (!) on every K60 sold by them. You can be pretty sure that they inspect each camera they sell or they'd quickly ruin themselves with all the warranty repairs. And the funny thing is that they aren't even more expensive than many 2nd hand offers on ebay. Buy your Kiev at a street corner and you're asking for trouble!
Leatherette coming lose: Now, if you think that this really is a problem for you, I suggest you should consider one of the more prestigious brands.
An amateur camera
Having said this, what remains is a very good amateur camera which can be had complete and ready for shooting for less than the price of some simple accessory items from the 'great names'. I would certainly not recommend one to a professional wedding photographer. But for us amateurs who can afford a much more leisurely pace it's capable of great results, just as good as the expensive pro gear. Less sophisticated, less ritzy, and maybe even a little less reliable. So what? A new K60 is a lot cheaper than having a Blad, Pentax 67, or Bronica repaired.
Now, what does one get for around 200 dollars which is the going rate for buying from a decent supplier? The 'Kiev 60 Set' consists of the camera body with the 2.8/80 mm Arsat standard lens, a waist level finder, a metered prism, lens hood, carrying strap, 2 filters, a screw-on accessory shoe and a solid leather case for all of the above. Feel like spending a little more? Have it fitted with a Rollei 6000 series viewfinder screen. Somewhat brighter and with thin horizontal and vertical lines which make life so much easier in architecture and landscape photography.
The bayonet lens mount accepts the lenses made by Arsenal themselves, Carl Zeiss Jena and Meyer Görlitz for the Pentacon Six, the Schneider Kreuznach lenses for the Exakta 66, and a new series of shift lenses of unclear origin, but supposedly made by Hartblei in the Czech Republic. The choice extends from an excellent Ukrainian 30 mm fisheye to the famous 1000mm mirror lens from Zeiss Jena and even includes such specialties as the recently introduced 45 mm and 55 mm shift lenses. Lots of accessories such as bellows and extension tubes can be had in very good quality and for little money, on the 2nd hand market. You'll find more on the available lenses and what I can tell you about them, on the next page.
Once more, because it can't be said often enough: A Kiev should be bought from one of the well-known outfits specializing in such cameras. They know about potential trouble and how most of it can be avoided by simple adjustment and a few checks. This need not be Kiev USA. Their prices are outrageous and in no relation to what they offer. Dealers like Wiese or Kaplan deliver the same quality for much less.
All the horror stories about breaking cameras, overlap and failing shutters come from people who bought their Kievs from auctions or flee markets or had them brought back by someone travelling to Russia. The funny thing is, most of them paid as much or even more than they would have if they'd bought from one of the good sources.
But what about the Kiev 88?
The 88 is an exact clone of a Hasselblad 1000F, a very early design with a focal plane shutter that even the Swedes couldn't tame. They gave up and built only blade shutter cameras, for the next 30 years. And this, of all things, is the camera they chose to clone, in Kiev. Buy one if you must. But don't bother me if it breaks. That clear? Fine. :)
And the Pentacon Six? It looks and feels much more solid.
Don't be fooled. The Pentacon Six is a much older development that suffers from a few design flaws which can't simply be cured by a little tweaking. The greatest problem of the Six is the transport mechanism. Earlier models had gears which weren't matched in their hardness. This is why there are so many P6's which will fit 14 frames on a roll.
Another weak point is the shutter. Many of these cameras are now 30 or even 40 years old and their rubberized shutter cloth is getting stiff and putting additional strain on the shutter mechanism until it eventually fails.
The pressure plate of the P6 is very badly designed and a source of frequent problems with uneven sharpness across the frame.
And finally, the viewfinder is as dark as a dungeon and it shows only 59 percent of the actual frame.
Lots of good reasons to stay away from the P6 camera body and rather use its excellent lenses on a Kiev 60.