This was originally posted on PDexposures.tv. You can read the original here.
As many of you who listen to the podcast may know, Tony is always trying to bully me into purchasing a rangefinder. Well, he eventually won that battle; I broke down and purchased the Kiev 4AM with a Helios 103 lens slapped on the front of it.
I have had the Kiev for about two months now and have slowly been running film through it. I will admit to being a little intimidated by the prospect of a rangefinder. Gone are the lightweight plastics and simple focus mechanism; my familiar toys have been replaced by a heavy camera that feels like it was assembled at a tank factory out of spare parts.
My biggest struggle with this camera is focusing. I am used to having large viewfinders on SLRs to see everything within my frame. On the Kiev it is a tiny little hole, and I feel like I am squinting through it while trying to get everything to line up in a tiny little box. On top of this my middle finger keeps ending up slap in the middle of the rangefinder’s other window which is a struggle because you can’t see the subject of your photograph. Eventually I figured out that I did not have to use the silly little wheel located on top of the camera and could just use my hand on the lens to turn it for focusing.
[Editor’s note: What Simon is referring to here is the legendary “Contax Grip.” The long rangefinder baselength necessitates you hold the camera in a totally unique fashion. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste.]
Honestly, looking at this initial roll of film, focusing issues are my biggest struggle. I used a simple light meter app which got me pretty close to my shutter times, so I didn’t really miss having an inbuilt light meter. In fact, the only accessory I feel this camera is lacking is a lens hood – but the glass inside the Helios 103 is sharp.
All in all, I am enjoying the Kiev, and this roll has taught me that I need to slow down while focusing. It can be hard sometimes to see if the subject is in focus through the tiny viewfinder window in the back – but it is definitely worth the effort, because when you get it right this lens is sharp enough to cut someone with.
I would not want to shoot a subject with the Kiev that requires quick thinking, but will happily use it in any scenario that can allow me to slow down and carefully arrange. This camera is not a quick-acting workhorse of an SLR with autofocus like I am used to; and it’s not a toy with pretty vignetting and a limitation on the apertures I can use. This is a slow, methodical camera that wants surgical precision before use.
This camera may have won me over on the idea of rangefinders. I do not think that this camera has replaced any of the cameras that I use, however I feel it has been added to the mix of cameras. I feel that once I get the focusing issues down this camera will be great for candid portraits, and it may well sit in my bag and get occasional use while I am out walking; it is not my main camera, but it will be one I will use as the need dictates.