Kiev 88

Kiev 88 with Mir 26 45mm
Kiev 88, serial #9702694 (indicating a 1997 manufacturing date) and a Mir 26B 45mm f/3.5.

This is the Kiev 88, a bad Ukranian copy of a medium-format Hasselblad film SLR camera.

Meter

Mine has a TTL meter, through a gigantic add-on pentaprism. I bought it assuming that it would not work properly, and it didn't. Recalibrating it would be simple, except that it's not consistently inaccurate; it's roughly right at around EV 5, gives about a stop underexposure in overcast weather outdoors, and is out by about two (!) stops in bright daylight.

I'm not bothering with the TTL meter as I write this; it's less work to carry around a tiny plastic Pentax ZX-M or Nikon F55 in the copiously large pockets of my combats as a meter.

Tiny teddy waits for a train.
Tiny teddy waits for a train. Kiev 88 and Arsat (pronounced "Arsehat") 80mm f/2.8, 1/30 at about f/8, Kodak BW400CN.

Shutter

Metal, mechanically-controlled horizontal-travel focal-plane shutter. Works from 1/1000 to 1/2 sec, plus Bulb. I try to avoid the very slowest speeds on mine; at 1/2 the shutter appears part open as I wind it on. If you're in low light and need these slower speeds, just stop down a few stops and use B, and wind on with the lens cap on.

Flash sync is a puny 1/30, which is slower than any other camera I own. No self timer, sorry.

Shrooms.
Shrooms. Kiev 88 and Mir-26B 45mm f/3.5, 1/60 at f/5.6, Kodak Ektar 100.

Body

Mostly metal. Weighs a fucking ton with the crappy TTL prism. It feels (at least until you actually use it) like a big, tough camera. However!

branch!
Fallen branch. Kiev 88 and a lens I can't remember shooting Kodak Ektar 100.

Build and reliability

Pretty much what you'd expect from a bad copy of a 1940s/1950s camera which was then made in a Soviet armaments factory in Ukraine on a budget of about 20p. Which is to say, crappy, at least straight from the factory. It's so crappy that its adoring fans call them "the worst cameras in the world", and talk about the wonderful things that can be done with them "if you are actually able to coax one of them into working" -- possibly with the same lack of irony as one 1980s Range Rover owner I know told me that they are beautiful vehicles "when they work".

They're so bad, in fact, that there are no less than two companies (Hartblei and Arax) that specialise in making Kiev 88s work properly. Mine's a Hartblei rebuild, and works almost flawlessly. I've had one brief problem with using a cable release, whereby the shutter doesn't respond to a long, slow push but does to a short, sharp one.

On the other hand, the shutter curtain is awesome. I grabbed my camera forgetting that i had removed the film back, and actually briefly grabbed the shutter with one hand. It didn't seem to affect it; if I had done this with any of the other metal-shuttered cameras I own I would have punched a hole through it. Hooray!

Tiny teddy rests
Tiny teddy takes a rest. Kiev 88 and Mir-26B 45mm f/3.5 shooting Kodak Ektar 100, 1/60 at f/11.

Batteries

None, if you're not using the semi-useless TTL prism. If you are, the one I have takes 3 4LR44 cells.

Tiny teddy under a bridge.
Tiny teddy sits under a bridge. Kiev 88 and Mir-26B 45mm f/3.5 shooting Kodak BW400CN, 1/2 sec at f/11 (as I recall).

Viewfinder

Either a waist-level finder, or one of the big TTL pentaprisms. It's massive, but dim, much dimmer than any other SLR camera I've used. You get split-image and microprism focusing aids, but the sucky thing is that with the fastest lens in the Kiev system (f/2.8) the microprism ring is almost useless; I rely on the split-image in the centre. Oh well.

Tiny teddy makes a wish.
Tiny teddy makes a wish. Holy lens flare, Batman! Kiev 88 and Arsat 80mm f/2.8, 1/60 at f/5.6, Kodak Ektar 100.

System & compatibility

Kiev fans call the lens mount the "Type B" mount. This site here claims it's the same as the original Hasselblad 1000F/1600F mount, but I'm not so sure and hey, I'm too much of a cheapskate to go buy an old Hasselblad lens to see if it fits on a crappy Ukranian camera, sorry.

Some of these have been modified for the Pentacon Six lens mount; Hartblei and Arax optionally do this to the ones they upgrade.

Most Kievs you find will come with an Arsat (pronounced "arsehat") 80mm f/2.8. Tip: Sharpness with East European lenses will be abysmal wide-open; at least one of mine is visibly unsharp, through the dim viewfinder! Since you'll probably be shooting this camera from a tripod, stop down to at least f/8 for much better results. If you're enlarging to the same size you would normally do with 35mm or a digital SLR, don't worry about diffraction softening your picture until about f/16.

The film backs are not compatible with Hasselblad, so you're not about to fit a Phase One P65+ digital back to one. The viewfinders, so I've read, are compatible, so if you want to do something stupid like putting a useless TTL metering finder on your Hasselblad, or a Hasselblad finder on your Kiev, nobody's stopping you. Have fun with that.

The most interesting man in the world.

Ergonomics

Crap. In all fairness to the Kiev, it was designed right off a camera from the late 1940s. Back then, dinosaurs ruled the Earth, the human race still hadn't evolved past some pretty neat bacteria, and everyone was shooting ASA 8 Kodachrome. As such, serious photographers had to use tripods, and on a tripod ergonomics don't matter too much.

I could complain about everything ergonomical that sucks about the Kiev, but the thing is, I'm a spoilt kid, and I know it. I've spent most of my adult life in the digital era, and even 1978's Canon A-1 (from 4 years before I was born) is a monstrously-fast beast compared to the medium format systems of the late 1940s. As much as it sucks, it's designed to be shot from a tripod, with a cable release, so I can't complain too much.

If you're using a quick-release tripod and carrying it around your neck, the Kiev 88 will hurt. Without the quick-release base from a tripod screwed into it, it's perfect. It doesn't try to point at south west and dig a corner into you like SLRs do even with a tiny telephoto fitted. With a QR release plate on it, having that dig into your chest is incredibly annoying and painful. This is bad, for a camera that begs to be kept on a tripod while shooting.

Film backs

Either square (6x6) for 12 exposures on a roll of 120 film, or 4:3 (6x4.5) for 16 exposures. I got two 6x6 backs with mine.

Fence
Fence. Kiev 88 and probably the Mir-26B 45mm f/3.5 shooting Kodak Ektar 100.

Stupid-proofing

The Kiev won't fire if your film magazine isn't loaded. This is better than my D2H, which if you have C.fun. A7 set, will happily let you shoot hundreds of shots before you realise you don't have a memory card installed. Yay! If you want to dry-fire the shutter to make sure it works, it'll happily do so with the film back removed. There's also a mechanical lock which stops you from shooting if the dark slide is in place.

Tiny teddy on the boardwalk.
Tiny teddy on the boardwalk. Kiev 88 and Mir-26B 45mm f/3.5 shooting Kodak Ektar 100.

Related cameras

The Salyut was the original Hasselbladski, first produced in 1957 with a top speed of 1/1500 (later reduced to 1/1000). Later they added automatic diaphragm operation, and the camera became the Salyut-S (C in Cyrillic), later becoming the Kiev 80.

The Kiev 88 CM is a greatly-upgraded Kiev 88, using Pentacon Six lens mount and a cloth shutter. It also has a relocated shutter button. This fixes my biggest ergonomic issue with the original 88, which is that screwing in a cable release is really awkward.

The Kiev 90 is a similar-looking, but very different, beast. It's got aperture-priority automation, an electronically controlled shutter, and shot 6cmx4.5cm. Nathan Dayton writes about it.

The mysterious Nazi prototype has never been seen. There's a story out there that when Hasselblad asked Soviet officials to stop ripping off their designs, said officials informed Victor & Chums that they had both ripped off a German prototype camera, which the Russians had claimed as war reparations. So that's how the story goes: both Hasselblad and Kiev Arsenal based their legendary cameras on a Nazi prototype. Hasselblad got a bunch of Swedish watchmakers to make their copy, Kiev a bunch of underpaid Ukranian men with hammers and axes to make theirs. It's probably not true, but I choose to believe it anyway.

Rust
Rust. Kiev 88 and Arsat 80mm f/2.8, 1/60 at f/11, Kodak Ektar 100.

Conclusion

Despite being crappy and unreliable, the Kiev 88 is one of the cheapest ways to get into medium format photography. Get a Hartblei or Arax one if you want something to depend on. I got a bargain: £150 on eBay in 2010, including three lenses and two backs.

I have a separate page on 35mm focal length equivalents for the Kiev.

ivy
Ivy. Kiev 88 and Mir-26B 45mm f/3.5 shooting Kodak Ektar 100.

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