The Kiev B.i.G.
A review written in 1998
by TRA

The basic concept

[C213-10:  The modular system: at its heart, a box containing a shutter.
Here we can also see a film back, a standard lens, and two viewfinders:
the waist-level finder (on the left) 
and the TTL Cds metering prism finder on the right).]

The Kiev 88/Kiev B.i.G. is a modular camera.  At its heart is a body consisting of a mirror box with a ground-glass screen and a focal-plane shutter providing speeds from ˝ to 1/1000 sec plus B, with controls to cock and fire the shutter.  To this box must be added a lens, a film magazine, and a viewfinder.  This results in an extremely flexible piece of equipment that is quite different in shape from the 35mm SLRs that have dominated the market for serious amateurs world-wide for decades.

The minimum configuration usually supplied includes the three essential additional components:

  • an 80mm f/2.8 multi-coated lens with an automatic diaphragm;
  • a magazine (or “back”, in the jargon) for 120 film, producing 12 nominally 6 x 6 cm frames (actually 56mm x 56mm, the international standard size);
  • a waist-level or prism viewfinder.
In practice, the camera is often supplied with two 6x6 magazines and two viewfinders: the waist level finder and a TTL Cds metering pentaprism.

A wide range of lenses is available, from a 30mm fish-eye to two different 250mm lenses, as well as a 2x converter, and in addition to the standard film magazine, there is a “645” magazine that delivers 16 images nominally 6 x 4.5 cm on 120 film, and that accessory much-demanded by professionals, a Polaroid back that enables the user to check on lighting and exposure before completing an assignment on negative or slide film.

The concept, which is alleged to date back to German designs obtained by the Allied Powers at the end of the Second World War, is brilliant.  It has been further refined and improved by the Swedish firm of Hasselblad over the past fifty-plus years.  The implementation by the Arsenal Works has been less successful, largely because of the apparent non-existence of quality controls at the factory, and the consequent release onto the market of faulty and unreliable equipment in large numbers.  However, since the sixties, the message has always been, “if you get a good one, it lasts forever.”

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© TRA February 2002, November 2005  Minor formatting improvements: November 2018