The trailer for Wes Anderson’s latest film ‘Asteroid City’ was released this week. Alongside its name-in-every-frame cast and gorgeous pastel colour palette, it also stars a very curious camera.
Set in a remote American desert town holding a junior stargazer’s convention, the trailer shows what looks to be a distant atomic explosion, which Jason Schwartzman’s character captures on his camera.
And here’s the thing; while the camera looks a lot like a Contax rangefinder – Anderson-esque lightmeter included – it sports the name “Swiss Mountain Camera”, supposedly made by the Muller-Schmid company. It even sports a “Combat Lens”.
The quirky Contax-alike has since caused a stir on Reddit’s r/AnalogCommunity board, amongst others, over just what exactly it is.
The camera in fact hails not from the Zeiss Ikon factory, nor indeed from the camera-making benches of the fanciful Muller-Schmid, but from much further east – Ukraine in fact.
The Swiss Mountain Camera is either most likely a Kiev-4, one of the last generations of Contax “copies” made by the Arsenal Factory in what is now the Ukrainian capital after World War II. Note the rabbits ears around “copies” – the early versions of these Kiev cameras were not really copies in that they were made from the original moulds using original Zeiss Ikon parts, which had been packed up and moved eastwards as reparations after Germany’s defeat in 1945. As the original parts started being used up, Arsenal began making its own, though as the years went on the quality of the construction materials is considered to have dipped. (Update: Earlier I’d identified the cameras the later Kiev-4M, which has a black rewind handle difficult to see in the trailer footage. Thanks to all who pointed this out.)
The Kiev-4 often came with a Contax-mount Jupiter-8 f/2 lens; it looks like one of these has been tweaked to create the “combat lens” gracing Schwartzman’s camera. Arsenal, which released most of its cameras under the Kiev brand name, concentrated on Contax-mount rangefinders while another Ukrainian camera-maker, FED in Kharkiv, made Leica screw-mount cameras.
Kosmo Foto is willing to be at least one enterprising camera repairer will hoover up some of the tens of thousands of Kievs in Eastern Europe and convert them into Swiss Mountain Cameras (just like all manner of fake Leicas have been produced from Feds and Zorkis).
But if in the meantime you fancy emulating Schwartzman’s atomic-age aesthetic, Kievs of various models (some of which don’t feature that distinctive meter) are easily found and often still in perfect working condition. Just be sure not to copy the way he’s holding the camera – just like the Contax it was built from, the Kiev has an extremely long rangefinder base. Schwartzman’s finger is obscuring the second rangefinder window, meaning he’s not going to be able to focus.
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I have a Kiev 4AM, mine has the slightly more desirable Helios 103 lens. I love that little rangefinder! Great camera, super quiet shutter, and very affordable considering how nice it is. Mine was made in 1984, but I don’t feel like mine had particularly shoddy build quality or anything. Hopefully they don’t all get snatched up by collectors now.