Classic camerasKiev Automat series

Most of the Soviet cameras that were imported into the United Kingdom (and the West in general) where pretty boring designs that were either very basic (such as the Zenit SLR camera) or slavish copies of German designs (such as the Kiev rangefinder cameras which were pretty much screw-for-screw copies of the Contax rangefinder designs), but the Soviets also made some rather more interesting designs which they kept largely for themselves.

Perhaps the best example is the Kiev Automat series of cameras made between 1964 and 1980. Unlike many other Soviet designs, these camera were both innovative and highly advanced for their time.

There were just two cameras in the series, the Kiev 10 introduced in 1964, and it's successor, the Kiev 15 introduced in 1973. Actually there are several clues that the Kiev 10 and 15 models were heavily influenced by the Contarex SLRs from Zeiss Ikon in Germany. For example, note that there is no aperture ring on the lenses… instead the apertures are controlled by a dial on the camera body just like on a Contarex. But unlike the Kiev rangefinders these cameras combined the Zeiss Ikon influence with large amounts of impressive home-grown engineering.

One of the most intriguing bits of Ukrainian engineering in both the 10 and the 15 is the very unusual, and rather beautiful, fan shaped metal shutter illustrated in the video to the right.

And these cameras were far more advanced than the designs commonly exported to the West. The Kiev 10 was launched in 1964 with an automatic diaphragm and shutter speed priority automatic exposure (combined with selenium cell exposure meter above the lens) and in 1973 the 10 was replaced by the 15 which replaced the selenium cell meter with through-the-lens open-aperture metering. All this automation was achieved with purely mechanical coupling between lens and camera… not bad for the 1960s and 70s!

Even though the Kiev 10 and 15 cameras were made over a 16 year period, there were only ever 5 lenses made for the Kiev Automat mount, but it was a very useful range never-the-less: 20mm f3.5, 37mm f2.8, 50mm f2, 85mm f2 and 135mm f4.

Kiev 10 Automat

Of the two Kiev Automat cameras, by far and away my favourite is the Kiev 10 Automat... I mean just look at it! It looks like a prop from the coolest 1960s sci-fi show imaginable ;-) It is exactly what a retro-futuristic 1960s camera should look like! And the 10 has much sleeker and cleaner styling than the 15. The top plate is almost free from any controls other than the shutter button and the shutter speed/film speed dial. My Kiev 10 is for from mint, but is in general in fairly good condition and seems to be in full working order. The only major cosmetic problem is a rare large ding in the pentaprism, but this doesn't seem to affect the functionality.

The other reason is that the Kiev 10 is much easier to use than the Kiev 15. The film speed dial is marked in both German DIN and Soviet GOST numbers. Neither of these is as familiar as the ASA numbers commonly used in the west, but in western Europe film is still usually marked in both ISO and DIN numbers, so setting the film speed is still easy enough. The 15 has a film speed dail only marked in GOST numbers. And the Kiev 10 doesn't have all the strange (and frustratingly cryptic!) different coloured and sized dots on the dials that the 15 has. I was able to get the 10 set up and ready to go with out the instruction manual. Just as well, as I've never seen an English instruction manual for either of these cameras!

As mentioned above, Kiev Automat lenses have no aperture control. On the Kiev 10 the aperture control is located to the left of the lens (looking at the camera from the front). Here you can see the aperture control dial set to A for automatic and 4 for f4.0.

The viewfinder has a needle to indicate the aperture selected by the camera, or the aperture you should set in manual mode. The only problem I've had with the 10 is that it doesn't seem too happy with the 37mm lens. There is heavy vignetting in the viewfinder and it remains to be seen whether this is apparent on the photos too. (The 37mm lens produces no vignetting on the viewfinder on the 15.)

The rewind crank and rewind release button and back-opening button are all on the bottom of the camera. With the 50mm f2.0 lens attached the Kiev 10 weighs in at 1028 grams.

Kiev 15 Automat

In 1973 the Kiev 10 was replaced by the Kiev 15. This camera replaced the selenium cell meter above the pentaprism with through-the-lens open-aperture metering. This was at a time when such things we still quite rare even on the latest cameras to come out of Japan. But today this produces problems... you will be very lucky indeed to find a Kiev 15 with working metering. On my model, the battery compartment is thoroughly green and corroded! But given that the controls of the 15 are strewn with differently colour and sized dots which, without the aid of a manual, I have been unable to decipher it is probably just as well the metering system isn't working (other than the metering system this example seems to be in fine working order). None of the listing the this camera I have seen on eBay have indicated that the metering system is working.

On the Kiev 15 the aperture control moved to the upper right hand side of the camera (when looking at the camera from the font). This makes it rather easier to use than the aperture control on the Kiev 10. Here you can see the control set to A for automatic and 4 for f4.0. One other thing the 15 adds to the specification of the 10 is a hot-shoe for flash.

As with the Kiev 10 the rewind crank rewind release button and back opening button are all on the base-plate, along with the battery compartment. With the 50mm f2.0 lens attached the Kiev 15 weighs in at 1107 grams.

My Kiev Automat system

There were only ever 2 cameras and 5 lenses in the Kiev Automat series, which makes it a nice system to collect as you can collect the whole lot pretty easily, which is what I have done. But even though there is a limited number of lenses, it is never-the-less a very useful range: 20mm f3.5, 37mm f2.8, 50mm f2, 85mm f2 and 135mm f4. Strictly speak it could be said that there were 6 lenses as there was an earlier version of the 50mm f2.0 lens called the Helios-65, but the differences seem to be only a matter of styling.

One strange thing about the Automat lenses is that it seems that at no point were rear lens caps made for them! But they were supplied in clear plastic 'bubble' style cases that had bottom covers that can be used as (rather bulky) rear lens caps, so if you're buying an Automat lenses make sure it comes with its bubble case.

Mir-20 20mm f/3.5 Automat

This is one serious hunk of glass! In the 1960s ultra-wide angle lenses were still quite rare and their design was still at an early stage. The Mir-20 has a bulbous front element that means filters cannot be fitted without an adapter (that allows massive 95mm filters to be used). My lens came with two such filters, a yellow/green one for adding a bit of extra contrast with black and white film, and a clear protective filter. Unfortunately the clear filter completely stuck in its cases! The Mir-20 weighs in at 374 grams.

Mir-1 37mm f/2.8 Automat

The next lens in the Automat system is a 37mm moderate wide-angle lens. The Mir-1 weighs in at 224 grams and takes standard 52mm filters.

Helios-81 50mm f/2.0 Automat

The standard lens of the Automat system is a 50mm f2.0 design. The Helios-81 weighs in at 192 grams and takes standard 49mm filters.

Jupiter-9 85mm f/2.0 Automat

The Jupiter-9 is a very handy and compact 'portrait' lens. It weighs in at 293 grams and takes standard 49mm filters.

Jupiter-11 135mm f/4.0 Automat

The telephoto lens in the Automat system is a fairly slow 135mm f4.0 design. It has a useful built-in lens hood and takes The Jupiter-11 weighs in at 378 grams and takes standard 49mm filters.

Photographs taken with the Kiev 10

Below are some photographs from my first film in the Kiev 10. There were all shot on Kentmere 400 film in Edinburgh using either the 50mm or 20mm lenses.


Date created: 6 May 2018

Date last updated: 21 January 2019