ARAX 60 – A tuned KIEV60

ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Lenses

Yes I like my ARAX 60. Although there are a lot of negative articles about the reliability and functionality of the Kiev cameras and even some complains about the ARAX, I can’t confirm this. I just recently took the camera brick with me on a trip to China where it gave me beautiful results. Although, the camera is not as smooth operating like a Hasselblad or not as quite as a Rolleiflex TLR I found my love in the ARAX60. I like the tank design, the brand name and even the fact that pressing the shutter release button results in an unmistakable but solid “clonck” sound. That’s why I decided to write a short review about the upgraded medium format Kiev camera from the Ukraine.

But what is an ARAX?

ARAX is a modified KIEV60 6×6 medium format camera which has been upgraded to eliminate the known flaws of frame spacing, missing mirror lock up and internal light flare. After a general check-up and adjustment, the camera gets a new durable and non-reflective black external finish and name plate. The guys at ARAX bought the whole stock of KIEV60 cameras when the factory in the Ukraine closed their doors. Beside the repair service and spare parts, ARAX cameras are still available at araxfoto.com and it is most probably one of the cheapest cameras you can buy new for entering the medium format world.

Why the ARAX 60?

There is a simple answer to the question. It’s because of the amazing variety of available lenses which can be found with very reasonable price tags. You can use all the fantastic lenses made for the Pentacon Six mount. Beside the Biometar 2.8/80 I own also the Zeiss Sonnar 2.8/180 and Zeiss Flektogon 4/50. Both are legends and deliver amazing results for incredible small money. I think I paid for the camera with all lenses less than others pay for a used Hasselblad body only. A selection of lenses with the Pentacon mount can be found here Pentaconsix lenses or here Exakta66 lenses or here Kiev 60 lenses

Pentacon Six, Exakta 66, Kiev 60 and ARAX

All of these cameras are having the same Pentacon Six mount. I owned several Pentacon Six cameras and although I enjoyed shooting with them, they had sometimes trouble with film advance and shutter accuracy. Based on my experience I would judge them less reliable than the ARAX 60. The Exakta 66 (not to confuse with the vintage Exakta 66), is basically a West Germany labelled Pentacon Six TL in a new housing. This camera is usually offered way to expensive and might be therefore more interesting for collectors. Like with most of east Europe cameras, getting a Kiev 60 is like playing Russian roulette. You can be lucky and you get a perfect copy but you can also get one which passed the quality check in the factory when the staff was on lunch break. A comparison of the cameras can be found under (in German) www.baierfoto.de

ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Biometar 2.8/80 on Fuji Neopan 100
ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Biometar 2.8/80 on Fuji Neopan 100

This lens is the standard lens of the Pentacon Six camera and available in several versions like most of the Pentacon / Zeiss lenses available for the Pentacon mount. This is beside the cheaper but also nice Ukrainian Kiev ARSAT 2.8/80 lens the standard lens. My advice is to get the newer MC coated versions of the lens.

ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Biometar 2.8/80 on Fuji Neopan 100
ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Biometar 2.8/80 on Fuji Neopan 100
ISO 80, Rodinal 1:50
ISO 80, Rodinal 1:50
ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Biometar 2.8/80 on Fuji Neopan 100
ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Biometar 2.8/80 on Fuji Neopan 100

Comparable with a 35mm lens in the full frame world, this lens performs great. Being bigger and heavier than the Biometar, the lens looks beautiful on the ARAX camera. Don’t be shy to buy Flektogons with some white spots on the black behind the front glass since it will not have visible impact on the photo results.

ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Flektogon 4/50
ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Flektogon 4/50
ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Flektogon 4/50
ARAX 60 with Zeiss Jena Flektogon 4/50

Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 2.8/180

What a lens!! The size itself comparable to a proper coffee muck with a huge glass front is already impressive. But if you see the first results of a shooting with this lens you will be blown away. Truly a first choice when it comes to shooting portraits. But because of the size and the vocal length, no really a lens you want always carry around with you. Although the copy I got was not in a mint condition at all, for incredible 70 EUR it still delivers beautiful results.

Zeiss Jena Sonnar 2.8/180
Zeiss Jena Sonnar 2.8/180
Zeiss Jena Sonnar 2.8/180

All owners of Mamiya 645, Pentax 645 or Contax 645 cameras can use Pentacon Six lenses by getting an according adapter which is also available for several SLRs/DSLRs.

Add your thoughts
  • 27/10/2016 at 6:29
    Reply

    My favorite camera is the Mamiya 6, with a 50mm lens; I have two of them. I’m inspired by your story though and ordered an Arax yesterday! Looking forward to giving it a try.

    • 27/10/2016 at 14:32
      Reply

      Dear Ron,
      You need to try the great east German Carl Zeiss Jena lenses which can be find for very reasonable prices on eBay.
      As I said in the article, I’m quite happy with the ARAX and I hope you’ll have a lot of fun with it too. Keep me updated!

    • 28/11/2016 at 14:22
      Reply

      Dear Ron, dear Torsten,
      for many years I’ve been very busy with 120 black-white film and photographic gear from Zenza Bronica, Pentacon Six, Kiev 60, Kiev 88, Exakta 66, Pentasix, Arax and Mamiya.
      Meanwhile I’ve quit the analogue way of photography, but in conclusion I’m sorry to say that this ukrainian equipment in comparison was a very bad thing, I never ever would recommend these cameras for serious photography !

      • 17/02/2017 at 17:05

        Dear Reinhard,
        I can’t share your experience. I used also a lot of other medium format cameras and while I wouldn’t say that the ARAX60 might be the best cameras, I can truly confirm that I had never a problem with it and really enjoy shooting it. The pure fact of the possibility using old Zeiss Jena lenses like the Sonnar 180 and Flektogon is worth the small money what you pay for a new ARAX60.

  • 15/12/2016 at 1:31
    Reply

    I just learned about the Arax cameras and came across your article about your trip to China on Steve’s site. Beautiful photos.
    I always loved my P6 but just couldn’t trust it – too many overlapping frames.
    Did you get the metered prism for yours and if so, is it useful/accurate?

    • 18/12/2016 at 1:55
      Reply

      I had also a P6 before and loved it. But I think the ARAX is much more reliable. Never had any overlapping frames and the loading of film is hassle-free. I got also the prism but I enjoy the shooting with waist level finder more. Although the prism might be better for focusing. I don’t rely on the built in meter. You can find some more photo I just shot recently on my Flickr page: https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/robber34/

    • 18/12/2016 at 4:46
      Reply

      I just received my Arax this week;; so it took almost 2 months to get here. I had to start a dispute through Paypal it was so late and I think the Arax guy is now mad at me as he no longer answers my email. It came with no instructions and it took me a while to figure how to open the back, turn on the light meter. I see some people start the film beyond the red dots, to help with spacing, which makes no sense to me.

      • 18/12/2016 at 13:29

        I did never read the manual but you can find them on their website: http://araxfoto.com/manuals/ There are also videos about the Arax on YouTube. I start my films always at the red dot. Never had any game spacing issues.

      • 18/12/2016 at 20:17

        I don’t normally need instructions either but I couldn’t figure out how to open the back; even after watching the videos on-line. Turns out, with my camera, I need to press in on the back slightly while depressing the rear release button.

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