Before you start, I’ve heard all the bad jokes before. And all the warnings. I am happy to report, though, the warnings were wrong. Some of the jokes, however, were spot on.
It is alleged the 88 was a direct copy of a Hasselblad 1600 F. Like most things with Commie cameras, opinions vary. Whether or not that is the case is beside the point, I think. In spite of dire warnings, this is a competent, dependable camera. It’s been as reliable as an anchor. Of course, it weighs more than one but not everything is perfect.
Manufactured by the Arsenal factory, the body appears to be lathed out of a solid block of steel. They say that if the shutter jams, slamming it on an immobile object will dislodge it and it will work again. Better make sure it’s a durable object, like maybe a granite boulder or an Army tank. Even then, I bet it would scratch the tank’s paint job. It is solid in the way you don’t expect in camera gear.
The 88 CM is an improved variant designed to use lenses made for the East German Pentacon Six mount. It also has a cloth shutter and a relocated shutter release. Like the Hasselblad design, it has removable backs, so you can change from color to black and white film mid roll if you need to. All of the roll film backs I have are 6 x 6 for 120 film. There are 645 backs and ones for 220 film as well, but they are a bit rare. I also use the NT backs (New technology) which are more reliable and less prone to light leaks. I have a Polaroid proofing back for it. These are rare as hens teeth and cost me as much as the camera body. Of course, Fuji has been discontinuing the peel apart instant film at an alarming rate. Only FP-100C, the ISO 100 color film, my least favorite, is left.
The lenses make this camera, though. Made by the Carl Zeiss factory in Jena, in the former East Germany, they are as excellent as anything you would expect with the Zeiss name attached. Fast (most are f2.8) as well. There are more modern lenses available for the P6 mount made by Schneider that are even more fantastic, but the price is much, much higher. There are Soviet lenses available as well, for less. One of these is a fish eye that has a bit of a cult following. I don’t buy one because I would take millions of fish eye shots with it, and the world does not need that.
As I mentioned, this thing is a beast, so I rarely take it outside. When I have to carry it on my back, suddenly nothing more than a few hundred yards from the 4Runner is photogenic. That being said, I love to take this monster out for a stroll when the aspens are turning, looking like fire on the mountains as the breeze flutters them. Nothing beats a great big 6 x 6 positive taken on slide film. The colors take your breath, streight out of the camera and un-retouched. It’s what Velvia was born for.
If you’re interested, the Kievaholic Klub is full of information on the cameras.
You should, however, take the KIEV WARNING LABEL to heart. Every word of it is true.