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Kiev Rangefinders and Jupiter Lenses

If you have read this blog for a while now you will have lived through my constant raving about all Kiev cameras and the 4AM particularly as a 35mm RF.

A quick search on the net will tell you that the Kiev Rangefinder is a copy of the German Contax camera with a very particular bayonet fitting as per the Contax.

With the standard Helios 103 lens that comes with the later cameras (mine is a 4AM) the bayonet is an internal one but as you can see from the picture below – there is a whole load going on outside the bayonet and this forms the external fitting too that some lenses require.

I think like many people, I didn’t realise that the lugs around the focal distance ring actually were made for lenses and thought this was quite typical clunky and messy Russian design and just part of the heritage of this camera.

So having really fallen in love with my 4AM over the last year (even if you have to meter off camera) I thought it would be great to find a shorter lens for the RF and it just happens that the stunning Jupiter 12 is made specifically for this camera and fitting.

The Jupiter 12 is a copy too and in this case the lens in question is a pre-war Carl Zeiss Biogon 3.5cm f/2.8 for the Contax. The Biogan lens was created in 1935 and has a meniscus at the rear of the lens that reduces the distance between the lens and the film which reduces distortion levels and increases contrast. because it sticks out so far a special case is made for this lens to suspend it and keep the final element scratch free.

The meniscus at the rear pushes so far back into the camera that this lens becomes very specific to the RF that it will fit into whether it is a LSM 39mm thread or the standard bayonet.

Fitting this particular lens onto the Kiev RF is not however as simple as it should be and mine will fit, focus at all lengths but won’t lock – and this is probably due to the variability of the Russian manufacture of their cameras. This means that when focusing I have to hold the lens in place with my finger – but there is no issue with light leaks or it falling off in transit as I have the original leather case connected to the camera at all times to keep it snug and safe.

Now of course this means I have to meter of camera, be careful not to drop the lens off the front of the camera and estimate the actual shot I’m framing – as this window is a 50mm window and so not as large a view as the 35mm will give. (You can buy auxiliary finders for this lens – but then I’d be carrying another thing around with me – so estimating is fine – this is after all Analogue photography).

So having spoken about how great the camera and lens is – what are the images like?

Here are a few – the first being the classic Jardine House using Ilfords Pan F Plus 50 (as it is so clear and bright here in Hong Kong this month). This has been a good test of contrast and sharpness for me and although this is a tiny grain film at 50ISO – there is no doubt that this lens creates almost no distortion. At f2.8 and focusing at 20m, you can see I was focusing on the left side of the front edge, to get the blur on the right hand side.

The next two feel a little like cheating as they are taken with the new Portra 400 which gives amazing results in good light on any camera. What I love about this lens however is the better than average contrast.

The first one is Cassius waiting for breakfast in Sai Kung with f2.8 dialed in as the area was in shade and the second one is 5 minutes down the road from our new place in Clear Water Bay in shocking bright sunlight at the end of the day.

Over time I am finding that I am using the same Cameras for most things I do and so I am not going to pretend that I am going to drop my Voigtlander Range Finders in favour of the Kiev 4AM completely – but I am going to be using this camera with the Jupiter 12 more often than the stock Helios lens.

The Jupiter 12 is a stunning piece of history and such a beautiful lens that you can’t help but fall in love with it. If I could fit it to a Voigtlander (not possible due to focal lengths) then I would be using it continually.

If you have a bayonet fitting FSU Contax copy – then do get one and perhaps it will lock on your camera as this is down to the luck of the Russian Gods.


Posted by simon on August 22, 2011
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. 09/21/2011

    Very nice pictures.

  2. 10/30/2011

    I have such a camera as well, it’s great!


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