1950 Kiev II
Note: I realise that my regular readership is already heartily sick of my foray into old cameras. If you are so afflicted; please leave now. Thank you.
She who must be obeyed went into raised eyebrow mode when my second Kiev camera arrived a few days ago. So imagine her reaction when yet another box arrived from the Ukraine yesterday.
No, not really, it’s another camera.
Yes, but it’s the last one. For now (muttered inaudibly, I am not a complete fool). And this one is the best.
And it is, but to explain why I need to reiterate a little of the story previously told; and expand it because I have learned more about these (to me) intriguing cameras.
When the Russians took over the Contax camera factory in Dresden after the second world war, the production line had been substantially destroyed. As a precursor to moving everything to Russia, everything was moved to a factory near Jena in East Germany. Three production lines were set up. One of these was intended to continue the production of the Contax in Germany; and other two were for the production of the same camera for Russia, initially to be called the Volga and then finally the Kiev. In the event; all the production lines were moved to Kiev and the Germans had to start up Contax production at a later time elsewhere.
In the post ware period of 1947-1949, small batches of cameras were produced in Jena. Some were called Contax, some were called Kiev. Some had Contax front plates which were overwritten with “Kiev”. Parts left over from Dresden were mixed with parts produced in Jena (collectors can identify which bit is which) and the differences can be as subtle as the design as the arrow on the rewind knob. But the cameras were essentially the same machine; high-end expensive precision cameras that cost more than a Rolex watch at the time.
If you can find a 47-49 Contax or Kiev then you will be paying big money for a collector’s piece as only a few hundred were made.
Production of the Kiev (camera) in Kiev (place) finally started in 1950; and if you can find a model from this year you are getting something very close to the original Contax, produced at a time when German engineers were on site overseeing production. Quality stayed high till the mid-fifties and then started to decline as tooling was simplified and production targets became more important than quality control. So I was very happy to acquire a 1950 Kiev II.
Meanwhile, back in Jena, Zeiss had been making some of the best lenses in the world. Such was their obsession with quality that “the entire glass works was built on a barge in the middle of a lake to reduce vibration during glass pouring to reduce glass bubbles. Every day workers would hurry to work, before the drawbridge went up in the morning. Once up, the drawbridge did not come down again until the end of the work day”.
One of the best lenses was the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm F2 and the Russians decided that they would like to continue the line. So all that barge-made glass and finished lenses were put on a train and sent to the KMZ works near Moscow. The glass was then inserted into a Soviet made housing and called the Zorki-ZK, and it appeared in a limited number of early Kievs. Once the glass ran out the design became known as the Jupiter 8 which is the most commonly found lens on a Kiev. But my 1950 Kiev II comes with the Zorki-ZK, completing a very collectable package.
It’s not only collectable, it’s also very useable. It’s noticeably smoother in operation than the other two, younger, Kievs. The film advance is much easier, the shutter is quieter, changing speeds is easier; it’s a lovely smooth device to operate; quite extraordinary for something that is sixty two years old. It’s certainly the one I will choose to shoot with on a regular basis, while keeping it as pristine as possible to hand over to The Son when my time with it is over.
With the camera came the original case; and in a pocket in the case was a small card which was provided for the owner to make notes. My card had some paper stuck on it; in German.
Given that this was a camera made in Kiev, and sold to me out of Ukraine, it would be fair to assume it had never been near Germany. The vendor told me that Russians kept exposure settings charts from a German film box to help them convert to Russian film settings. But that doesn’t explain the German handwriting on the front and the back of the card. A little mystery that will probably never be explained.
Right, that’s it for this antique stuff for a while.
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