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
Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 2.8/80
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.
Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 4.0/50
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.
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.
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.