While there were a number of different models made – see below – the Soviet copy of Hasselblad’s 1600F modular camera is commonly known as a Kiev, which was both a model name and a reference to it’s place of manufacture, The Arsenal, or more correctly, the Arsenal State Enterprise of Special Instrumentation in Kiev

Some folk call them Hasselbladskis. 

Released in 1948, the Hasselblad 1600F – named for it’s fastest shutter speed – was an early post-WWII effort by the company to build high-quality cameras for the civilian market. The 1600F’s weak spot was its focal plane shutter and while the second version, released in the early 1950’s was an improvement, the camera didn’t really come into its own until, in 1957, they changed the focal plane shutter for a leaf version when the first 500C model was released.

The Hasselblad 500C quickly became THE camera of choice for professionals and well-to-do amateurs around the world, and the 500 series, in various models, remained in production until the late 1990s.

Around 1957, just as Hasselblad was switching to a leaf shutter, the Soviets released their copy of the 1600F, the Salyut. They continued to manufacture basically the same camera – as the Salyut, Salyut-S, Zenit-80, Kiev-80 and finally the Kiev-88 and Kiev-88CM, which had a different lens mount (Pentacon 6) to the earlier models, until the early 2000s

This article was originally planned as a shoot-out between my Salyut-S — probably manufactured in 1973, I can only find one reference online for serial numbers — and my 1994 Hasselblad 503CX: how they operate, how the lenses compare, handling, usability, that sort of thing. I’m sure you’ve read posts like that before.

But it felt too much like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

They don’t compare well, and to be fair to the engineers at the Arsenal factory in Kiev (and who wouldn’t want a camera from an Arsenal? It’s built like a tank) copied a flawed camera. Unlike the good folks at Hasselblad, however, they stuck with the original crappy design.

Superficially the cameras look alike but while the Hasselblad has a wonderful leaf shutter the Kiev’s is a monster of bronze coloured focal plane curtain. Crash bang! This means the lenses for the Kiev are cheaper, and also that the sync speed is 1/30 – in other words, this is an available light camera. You should maybe forget about anything much slower than 1/15 … the mirror belting up and back gives the entire camera such a shake you’re not going to get a sharp image at slower speeds. It’s a pity there isn’t a mirror lock-up gizmo on the early models like mine, although this was added later.

But it’s got the Hasselblad’s modular design: basic box in the middle holding the shutter and focusing screen, 120 and 220 film backs (all seem to leak light some of the time – but more on that later), waist level and prism viewfinders…and a nice selection of lenses, from fisheye (I tried to take mine apart to clean it. Don’t) to a very heavy 250mm telephoto which is roughly the same focal length as a 150mm lens on 35mm camera.

I bought mine – body, back, waist level finder and 80mm f/2.8 lens – because I wanted to try medium format but I didn’t want to spend too much “in case I didn’t enjoy it” … I did enjoy it, and of course GAS sort of took over. I needed a second back (one for B&W and one for colour, or two different speed B&W films for the same shoot) and a prism finder. I’m more than capable of using the waist level finder but on the Kiev, it’s a bit like looking down a mineshaft, unlike a Hasselblad, which are wonderfully bright and easy to use.

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I saw a couple of lenses on a trip to Singapore – a 60mm and a 120mm – in the window of a camera shop with a note on the door saying they were shut for a few days. “Hmm, that 120mm would be great for shooting portraits” I said to no one in particular.

Back home I tried to contact the shop. Not easy. Two weeks later, thanks to a Singapore-based film shooters blog, I reached the owner through WhatsApp. All I wanted was the 120mm lens. But I think I might have been the first person to enquire about anything Kiev for quite some time, if ever, and after a little back and forth a couple of kilograms of Zeiss Jenna glass was being shipped from Singapore to Australia. 60mm, 80mm, 120mm, 250mm, and the aforementioned (now garbage) fisheye.

They’re great, but I learnt very quickly not to shoot wide open, the results are way too soft. But stop down to f/5.6 and beyond and things get interesting:

I have two backs, both leak light, so now – thanks to some advice from EM – I slather mine with duct tape before use. Which means the dark slide is out the whole time. Doesn’t really have an impact.

This helps, but I still get light leaks. Sometimes. Sometimes half the roll is messed up and half not. These are from the same roll:

I’ve had the camera CLAed: it was too expensive to have it done locally so my Kiev went to hospital in … wait for it … KIEV!

Gevorg at ARAX did a great job and if you’re thinking about buying a Kiev – remember, they’re cheaper than a ‘blad – I’d suggest buying one of Arax’s serviced and rebuilt models, not something with unknown provenance from eBay.

The camera was returned with a wonderful set of instructions that seem to sum up the entire Kiev experience, very Eastern European, that all start with NEVER: Never change the shutter speed if the shutter isn’t cocked; Never try to remove the film magazine without the darkslide in place; Never do any actions – cocking shutter, magazine removal, etc – when the shutter release button is pressed, even slightly; Never .. well I’m sure you get the idea.

Overall I enjoy using the camera, although at times it feels like a battle to end up with usable images … I wouldn’t ever shoot something “important” with it – that’s what the Hasselblad is for, or one of my digital cameras – but for messing about it’s great.

And there’s something quite wonderful in the “crash, bang!” noise the mirror & shutter make.

~ Nick

About the author

Avatar - Nick Orloff

Nick Orloff

Shooting film on and off since I was 13 (I'm now 55) and happily playing with digital as well.

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  1. Thank you, Nick, for your article. It was interesting to hear about Salyut’s experience, especially, comparing to Hassel. I’ve acquired Salyut S just recently with a couple of lenses and backs. It looks and feels robust and well-built. I was on a fence to get Kiev88 or this apparatus and couldn’t help myself loving its look and style!

  2. Hi Nick !

    I am a Hassle-blade-Ski-fan too and I have bought from Arax (I recommend them) two tuned bodies (one black with a cloth shutter an one silver with a metal one) ; four backs (two 6×6 and two 645) ; and several lenses (a 80mm Arsat, a 80mm Biometar, a 30mm fisheye, a 45mm Mir, a 150mm Kaleinar and a 250mm which aperture preset does no longer work).

    I was surprised to read that you implied that the mirror of your Kiev goes back after shooting (“the mirror belting up and back”) ? Mine don’t. Anyway, it would not influence camera shake.

    My backs are NT models and have almost no light leaks except for one 645 of which the slide felt is destroyed (I use gaffer like you).

    I like to use them very much but indeed, you have to handle them cautiously.

    However recently, I invested in a Zenza Bronica S2 system (two backs and 50mm,75mm and 150mm lenses).

    In my opinion, this camera is even superior to the classic swedish Hassle-Blades. Vertical travel of the focal plane shutter (instead of horizontal on Kiev and older Hassies), instant return mirror, no need to check the state of things when swapping backs or lenses… and the look !

    Even if it is rather noisy, the vibrations are not so much.

    Best regards,

    Paul Kopff (aka POLKa – for the stenopists)