By Aleks Usovich
Medium format was once reserved solely for professionals and journalists. But after some 35 years, the cameras dropped in price allowing the gear typically used only for specialists to be used by semi-professional and amateur photographers alike.
This Soviet camera is “closely copied” from the Pentacon Six camera and thus inherits some of its annoying flaws and reliability issues such as erratic frame spacing and occasional jamming. The Kiev-6C is the first Kiev medium format to be released, with the Kiev-60 following a few years later. I’ve purchased my camera in pretty bad shape and sent it over to Arax in Ukraine to be refurbished and have since easily shot over 30 rolls of film with no signs of slowing down. Reliability issues no longer plague my camera!
One important note that most Soviet camera shooters know by heart is to always cock the shutter before changing shutter speed otherwise gears inside the camera will break (along with your heart) and render you with a very expensive and useless paperweight. This is the case with the Kiev-6C, Kiev-60, Kiev-88, Zorkis, Fed’s, and older Leicas as well.
The Kiev-6C differs slightly from the common Kiev-60 in which it allows the user to shoot either 120 film or 220 film (twice the size of 120 film without backing paper). For some reason the shutter release is on the left side of the camera verses on the right as on the Kiev-60.
The inability to mount a flash to this camera continues to grieve me as the Kiev-60 has an adapter that allows the use of a cold shoe mounted flash. I was still able to use my Honeywell Tilt-a-mite with M3 flashbulbs although I have to hold the flash unit in my hands.
The Pentacon Six mount gives you the option to mount Zeiss lenses but they don’t seem to do justice to the camera; I own two Zeiss lenses and a handful of Soviet glass and prefer the Soviet glass every time. The Soviet glass makes everything more playful and natural but the Zeiss lenses seem to add too much contract and over sharpen the image (I never thought I’d say sharpness was a bad thing).
The Kiev-6C is the only camera that I vowed never to sell as it is simply one of the best Soviet medium format cameras’ around and is more than likely the cheapest one to start using medium format film (aside from the Lubitel and Moskvas).
Shooting the Kiev-6C is just about as easy as any SLR. The back door is opened from the bottom with 120 film being loaded from left to right. Next, line up the film start arrows with the red dot, and proceeding to close the back.
Take three blank photos to bring the film to the first exposure. You’re all set to begin capturing timeless photos to look back on in the future.
Exposure times range from 1/1000 all the way down to half a second with bulb mode as well. Being a purely mechanical camera, it can shoot in any weather no matter how cold. Flash speed is 1/30th of a second using the PC sync connector on the camera. Taking long exposures with a cable is super easy as well! The shutter sounds like muted suppressed gunshots and a quite satisfying mechanical noise when winding the shutter. For those looking to shoot long exposures, just know that you will need an 3/8-to-¼ inch adapter to mount it on to any modern tripod.
I exclusively shoot with the TTL viewfinder and loathe waist-level finders (except on the Kiev 88) but definitely give both a try and see what works best for you. My TTL viewfinder is fairly accurate with fresh batteries being about half a stop overexposed for bright subjects and somewhat unreliable after sunset or in darkness. Also, my viewfinder is the older version that uses GOST instead of ISO with the minimum being GOST 16 and maximum being GOST 500. I just pretend that its ISO and choose the closest one to the iso that I’m shooting; so far it hasn’t let me down yet.
I have used a newer one that shuts off automatically after 15 seconds and that one was super accurate but stopped turning off after it got wet shooting in the rain. The older one doesn’t seem to have this issue. Batteries are no longer available for it although there is a 3d printed adapter that allows you to use button cell batteries which I currently utilise in mine.
In summary, the Kiev-6C is a reliable workhorse (after CLA of course) that is purely mechanical and is a breeze for anyone to use. There are numerous lens options that are most affordable as well. The camera may be huge and loud but that just adds to its character. This camera is still a phenomenal medium format camera that will stand the test of time and can be enjoyed for years to come.