The Kiev 60 is a dark horse. Completely caught me off guard, like a sucker-punch to the khrum. But unlike your usual sack tap, this was a welcome one. The Kiev 60 looks old. Far older than one would assume. Being produced from the mid-80s until 1999. The same year that Friends season 6 was released. Damn. The brutalist design and sparse controls make the camera look several decades out of place. Unlike the Nikon F3 that was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Kiev's aesthetics may leave a lot to be desired by some. Ask me which I'd rather have by the end of this review.
I was testing the Kiev 60 as part of a medium format SLR comparison for Flints, alongside the Norita 66, Pentacon Six, and Pentax 67. This was my first proper encounter with the Kiev. I'd handled many before, tested them for work, but only ever dry fires. This was the first time that I had ever shot one out in the wild. And like the fabled teddybear picnic guest-list, I was in for a big surprise.
The Kiev 60 is a simple creature with interchangeable lenses, a shutter speed dial, aperture control as a ring-type on the lens body, a shutter release button (threaded), and a tripod thread (3/4 inch type and annoying). It has a 6x6 ratio film gate and takes 120 film. Interchangeable viewfinders are a go, I had the metered and standard prisms to hand. That's it. No frilly bollox.
The Kiev 60 is honest and hardy but gives you the feeling that it probably shouldn't be left alone with your kids as it might scare them. Brutalist may not suffice in describing this coarse block of metal when it is physically in your hands. And although many may droop between the legs when presented with this humble Soviet offering, I love this about the Kiev 60. It's fuck ugly, it doesn't give a shit, and it'll school you on what makes a good camera, and I guess, in turn, a good photographer.
In the Field
By necessity, medium format SLRs are big. You want near 100% viewfinder coverage? You will be needing a big ol' mirror then. Or some sort of devil-wizard optical miracle to possess the gods of camera designers once past to rectify the bulky issue we now have before us. I don't find big cameras to be a big issue. In an extremely general sense, larger cameras tend to have finer image quality than smaller formats. The prize is usually worth the suffering. (Ask me about dropping not one, but two rolls of 120 by the 'exposed' end of the backing paper in the Lake District in 2019). All things considered, the Kiev isn't a heavy camera. I feel like the Pentax 67 is bulkier when thrown into a shoulder-bag, the Pentacon Six isn't far off either. Plus the one that I had came in its little leather hard case that went nicely over the shoulder for long periods on foot or travelling. I would use my Hadley Pro for it if only carrying the Volna-3 lens on the body.
I find the focusing screen to be great. Honestly, just great. I tried a Beattie Intenscreen in my FE2, (my main carry for what feels like forever at this point, she's my forever camera), it was a grid only - matte type, and sure it was brighter, but it didn't have the split reticle in the centre and it turns out I heavily rely on that for dark situations. The Kiev screen is the same type but bigger. Fucking magic. Maybe that's why our synergy was so strong. It's a Texas 35mm SLR. My favourite 120 camera of all time is the Texas Leica, so there you go. When I shoot with the Kiev, 99% of shots are in focus. Beware, this one's mirror wasn't sitting back down properly when it first came into the warehouse and was causing focus to be off, albeit a tiny bit. Once this issue had been resolved by loosening up the mechanism a little, she was a beaut'.
The frame advance lever is a little gritty and wild but hits home with purpose. All it needs to do is wind one with the correct spacing at it seems to do just that. The lens throw feels good in the hands. When depressing the shutter, the action feels like a little surprise every time; resistance is the same all the way down, so you have got to get used to slowly but firmly lowering your finger until suddenly the mirror thwacks up and an image is made.
Didn't use the meter so can't comment. If memory serves it needs something weird like a Wein-cell (1.35V mercury battery replacement). But I didn't have one to hand so what you gonna do.
Most importantly, the best camera is the one that stands least in the way of the photographer and the shot. That is why I enjoy rare and expensive cameras, but shoot on cameras that work. Usually, they are rare for a reason. The Kiev fucking works. There wasn't a single shot that didn't come out how I wanted and it is too simple-a-camera to get it wrong ninety-nine per cent of the time. They're cheap, go out and buy one and you'll see what I mean. This one is up for auction later on in the year with Flints Auctions.
I've read reports that this camera is a reliability nightmare incarnate, in all fairness this one had its share of issues, but nothing that was not easily fixable. Cameras that have this sort of rep are usually a big turn off for me. I stopped shooting the Contax G2 for this reason, so it is not isolated to cheaply mass-produced Soviet relics. But for this example at least, I would shoot a Kiev again. Plagued by a mirror that did not rest correctly when the camera was wound on, I had to give the mechanisms a little kick in the testes by firing it off many times. Get the juices flowing again. After about an hour of pissing about, the mirror rested at the correct position, but this was only confirmed when scanning rolls from before and after the mirror jostle. Other than that this camera was smooth sailing Cherie.
Issues that seem to crop up on forums are incorrect frame spacing, jamming of seemingly any part of the mechanism, the meter being either hard to use or impossible due to faults, not liking being sat for long periods of non-use, and not enjoying being dropped from seemingly any height.
Interestingly there is a company called Arax out in Ukraine that still sells a modified and upgraded version of the Kiev-60 for, as of writing in March 2021, $649. Some people say that this version is even better, others say that the upgrades completely remove the original ailments and in turn introduce their own set of issues. Again, can't comment, haven't shot one yet.
Soviet tech is supposed to be hit-and-miss by Western standards, but that's mostly bullshit. In my more recent experience, a colleague pointed out that a lot of European cameras, and also their lenses, suffer from issues that Japanese and Russian cameras suffer far less commonly. And he is right. A lot of the old Leica glass that hasn't been taken care of properly is always full of haze when compared to their eastern counterparts. I digress, Soviet tech is supposed to be poor, but the Russian version of the British God of photography seems to be forever watching over my shoulder, and so far, no Soviet-made camera I have used has had completely crippling issues, rather quirks that when taken into account, aren't an issue in the slightest. Suffer for your art. (Actually I used a Leica Luxus copy that was completely un-useable, but that's the only one).
This Kiev kills it. Dead. Every single time, and was honestly one of the most fun and liberating cameras I have ever shot, as well as being comparatively the cheapest. So there you go, the Kiev is not a piece of shit. And this is coming from someone with points of reference for both the best and most shit cameras out there.