Introduction: Using Kiev-10/Kiev-15 Lenses on Digital Cameras

About: I'm an Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor at the University of Kentucky. I'm probably best known for things I've done involving Linux PC cluster supercomputing; I built the world's first back in Fe…

The Kiev-10 and Kiev-15 are very strange-looking and unusual cameras made and distributed only in the USSR. The odd shape of the body is clearly derived from the prestigious Ziess Contarex, but these Kievs were among the first cameras to implement auto exposure. In fact, these Kiev bodies have a little thumbwheel that controls the lens aperture -- very much like modern DSLRs. Most significantly, the lenses for these cameras are both smaller (like rangefinder lenses) and cheaper than for other SLR mounts, so they could be very nice adapted to modern digital cameras, such as my Sony NEX-5.

The bad news is that the apparently unnamed lens mount these Kievs use has never been used by any other cameras. nor have there been adapters allowing these lenses to be used on bodies with other mounts. The flange distance is fairly short and although each lens has an aperture iris, it doesn't have an external aperture control ring.

Anyway, I recently was the only bidder on the eBay lot shown in step 1, so I'm now the proud owner of a complete set of Kiev-15 lenses -- and a beat-up-looking Kiev-15 body that the seller threw-in for free. So, here's a little instructable explaining three different methods to make these lenses usable on modern digital cameras, especially my NEX-5.

If you're reading this page while trying to decide if you should bid on that cool Kiev 10/15 lens, here's what you need to know:

  • The lens cannot be adapted to an APS-C or larger DSLR; for focus to reach inifinity, you'll need to do a mount swap.
  • The lens can be adapted to a mirrorless camera.
  • The adapter you need to make should cost between $2 and $25 and isn't too hard to make.
  • External control of the aperture is not possible with the first two mount methods, but the third method (step 6) gives you an uncalibrated aperture control ring.

Update, August 2013: Got access to a 3D printer? I've now created a fourth mounting method: a 3D-printable adapter that allows Kiev 10/15 lenses to be mounted on a Canon FL/FD/FDn body mount and still provides an uncalibrated means for aperture control. Thus, these lenses can now be used with things like the FD Lens Turbo focal reducer.

Update, August 2016: Got access to a 3D printer and a Techart Pro LM-EA7 autofocus adapter? If so, now you can use these lenses on the latest Sony E bodies with full autofocus! The adapter design is Thingiverse Thing 1706976, also described in Step 7.

Step 1: The Five Lenses

The first step is to get the parts... and for me it began with the eBay lot pictured.

This lot included five lenses all in the Kiev 10/15 mount: 20mm f/3.5, 37mm f/2.8, 50mm f/2, 85mm f/2, and 135mm f/4. These are all lenses with excellent optical reputations, built in the USSR between 1978 and 1983. The price I bid -- and ended-up paying -- was less than what the cheapest one alone would have cost in a more friendly mount.

It is important to note, however, that the reason I was comfortable biding at all was actually something else in the photo: the two plastic jar cases. I knew that these kinds of cases had a compatible lens mount in their base, so I figured that would give me a donor for the lens mounting flange. There also is a potential donor flange on the Kiev 10 or Kiev 15 body, but I'd rather steal from a lens case than a camera -- especially one as collectible as these Kievs.

So, here's the basic parts list:
  • One or more Kiev 10 or Kiev 15 lenses.
  • A donor for the mounting flange.
  • A mounting platform that ends in the desired digital camera's mount.
  • Means for attaching the mounting flange to the platform.
  • A way to control the lens aperture.
The good news is that it's very cheap and pretty easy to make an adapter. The bad news is that the control of the aperture is really problematic. Two of the three four mounting options I discuss here leave the aperture control tab inaccessible... unless you don't mind changing aperture by taking the lens off the camera, nudging the tab, and remounting it. The third method gives external control of the aperture, and it is neither difficult nor expensive to make, but the control is still a bit crude and uncalibrated. The new fourth method provides an internal interface with the aperture control tab so that a slight twist of the lens on its mount opens/closes the aperture... also a bit crude and uncalibrated, but quite effective.

Anyway, this instructable describes all three four options....

Step 2: A Closer Look at the Lenses

Before deciding how to mount these lenses, it makes sense to try to understand the Kiev 10/15 lens mount. The design seems to have a mix of metric and English dimensions. My observations and approximate measurements are:
  • The knurled portion of the lens mount is approximately 5mm thick and has a diameter of 54mm. It is attached to the lens body using 3 fairly substantial screws.
  • The aperture control tab in the mount rotates a total of only about 7mm to open/close. It is not spring loaded, and thus moves very freely. No doubt, this made it easier for the body to mechanically control the aperture.
  • Of my 5 lenses, the Helios 81 (50mm f/2) extends back from the flange the most, but only about 1/4" (6.5mm).
  • The flange focal distance (distance between the mounting flange and the film/sensor) is about 44mm. This is shorter than most 35mm DSLR and the diameter is just barely too wide to fit inside even a Canon EF mount.
Overall, this is a fairly small mount given the mechanical aperture coupling. In fact, the bayonet tabs miss fitting inside an M42 screw thread by just a mm or two. There are adapters for Kiev 10/15 bodies to take M39 lenses (the long back focus ones, not the rangefinder ones), but no other adapters to or from this mount seem to have been produced in quantity. Basically, this mount is a near miss for fitting on just about every once-popular SLR camera mount.

Although a mount swap should be easy, I have 5 Kiev lenses, so I'd rather have a single adapter that all can share. These are also  somewhat rare USSR collectibles, so keeping the lenses intact seems like a better choice. That means the only viable option is making a homemade adapter for one of the mirrorless digital camera bodies. Here, we'll target the Sony NEX E-mount, but any other mirrorless mount should be adaptable in much the same ways.

Step 3: A Closer Look at the Mounting Flange

The body mounting flange has an outside diameter of 2" (51mm). It is a very thin metal stamping and is attached to the body using 6 tiny screws. There are internal springs that hold the lens against the flange. This bayonet does seem to have a locking mechanism on the camera, but it doesn't seem to work on my Kiev 15.

The mounting flange on the plastic lens jars is a slightly simplified form. The flange is very thin, so a few tabs bent in toward the film/sensor act as springs to hold the lens bayonet in place. The holding force does not seem to be significantly different from that accomplished by springs in the body mount, but  holding force for this flange is easily adjusted by slightly bending the tabs with pliers. Again, there are 6 tiny screws holding the flange in place, but they are positioned differently from on the body flange, more evenly spaced around the ring. There is no locking mechanism evident in this flange.

The 3D-printed fourth design doesn't need a Kiev 10/15 mounting flange from a lens jar -- because we print our own.

Step 4: It's Tubular, Dude

The easiest way to get the lens mounted the correct distance from the sensor starts with a set of  "macro" extension tubes.

A brand new set of extension tubes for E-mount costs about $8 shipped on eBay. The tubes you get consist of five pieces:
  • An E-mount flange to take your lens.
  • Threaded tube 1 -- 9mm long.
  • Threaded tube 2 -- 16mm long.
  • Threaded tube 3 -- 30mm long.
  • An E-mount to connect to the NEX body.
I'm not sure that the lengths of the tubes are the same across various vendors, but the cool thing is that it really doesn't matter. All we need to do is get the right length.

Sitting the flange directly on the front + tube 1 + back results in a positioning of the lens just past infinity focus. However, this distance can be tweaked by partially unscrewing the front/tube 1 and tube 1/back connections. The flange and both tube joints can be locked into position using a cyanoacrylate glue (super glue). With care, the flange also could be attached using the tiny screws it came with, but that would require drilling tiny holes in the tube's E-mount flange and hoping that the screws would act as self-tapping (imposing their thread pattern on the material), which might or might not work.... With a little work, it might be possible to modify the E-mount lock pin to act as a Kiev flange lock pin, but I didn't bother.

Of course, this doesn't give an external aperture control and pretty much wrecks your tube set. I'd rather not do that, because tubes are handy for other things, so this is my least favorite option.

Step 5: Lens in a Cap (still Pretty Tubular, Dude)

Lens in a body cap? Sure; why not? Just take one of those spare Sony E-mount body caps, cut a hole for the mount, and glue the mounting flange on. Really cheap -- typically about $2 for the cap. Easy too.

Well, it's sort-of easy. The catch is that the body caps are a kind of plastic with a very low melting point. Thus, instead of leaving a clean and precise hole, after drilling-out the center with my drill press the center piece was still attached via blobs of molten plastic. It wasn't all that hard to break-off these bits, but the bonding surface for the flange was no longer clean and flat. So, I used a hot glue gun to fill the little cavity around the cap's edge with hot glue, and then evenly pushed the flange into that. If the flange had been flat -- like it's supposed to be -- this would have worked quite well, but this flange is slightly bent, so it didn't sit quite right. A little pressing on the flange with a "C" clamp while holding a soldering iron on the flange (to locally soften the hot glue and plastic) finally made it flat. Oh yes... I also spent about half an hour picking excess hot glue off the flange.

Anyway, this worked. Lenses mount snugly. Unfortunately, using just the cap, you can focus way past infinity. Using the cap on a short extension tube (i.e., the front and back pieces of the tube in step 4) brings it to just a touch beyond infinity, but brings total cost to about $10 for the cap and the tubes. There are only two issues. One is that although the lens mounts quite firmly, it doesn't lock -- and neither does the plastic body cap. The other is that this doesn't give any form of aperture control short of removing the lens and nudging the aperture tab.

The photo on the introduction also shows this adapter, to which I added a little "KIEV 10/15 - NEX" sticker. This is really quite a reasonable option, especially for lenses you usually shoot wide open -- like the Jupiter 9.

Note to self: never leave one of these body caps on a camera in a hot car.

Step 6: Getting Things Under Control (not Tubular at All)

The problem with the first two mounting methods is that they don't give external aperture control, but there are ways to do it. What we need is an adapter of some kind that has an aperture control we can mutilate to control the Kiev 10/15 lens tab. There are not a lot of alternatives, because the flange distance for the Kiev 10/15 is fairly short. The 3rd-party Minolta AF adapters have a very appropriate mechanism, but are slightly long for infinity focus. The Canon FL/FD/FDn adapter has a similar open/close control ring, and a short enough flange distance.

Aside from getting the flange to mount at the right distance, the real question is how to couple to the aperture tab. The camera uses a notched flat spring, which is very clever, but hard to home build. My first thought was to use a magnet, but the tab doesn't respond to a magnetic field and I really didn't want magnets inside the mount anyway. The answer was a very simple bumper.

Here's how to convert a Canon FL/FD/FDn adapter, which is usually $15-$25 on eBay:
  1. Put the Kiev flange fully on the back of a lens and hold this up against the top of the FD adapter. Looking through the back of the adapter, find the rotational orientation where the range that the FD aperture control pin or screw travels over exactly aligns with the range over which the lens aperture tab moves. Use the screw-holes in the Kiev flange to visually center the flange on the FD adapter. Note the centered and aligned position.
  2. The top edge of the FD adapter happens to be at a good distance for the Kiev flange (I get infinity focus with mine). Thus, dab cyanoacrylate glue (super glue) on the top edge of the FD adapter and press and hold the Kiev flange to it in the orientation determined in 1. Let it dry. I also tacked it in place with hot glue from the back of the adapter, thus dramatically increasing the bonding surface.
  3. Cut a piece of neoprene or a similar material (I used 1/4" thick neoprene cork) to fit over the FD aperture control pin or screw and act as a "bumper" to engage the aperture tab on the lens. The hole in the neoprene to fit over the pin or screw can be made using a drywall screw; you're not really trying to make a hole, but just to establish a path to push the pin or screw through. The bumper should be tight enough to reliably open and close the aperture when the FD adapter's ring is turned.
  4. The bumper may tend to slip over time, thus, use a small dab of glue to fix it in position on the FD adapter's pin or screw. I used a little hot glue for this. Let it dry.
  5. Everything should now work, but the labeling is all wrong. The red dot for alignment of the FD mount with the NEX body should be white -- fix that using a dab of white acrylic paint. It also isn't an "FD - NEX" adapter any more, so print a label saying "KIEV 10/15 - NEX" and stick that over the incorrect printing.
This process results in a fully functional Kiev 10/15 adapter, using the adapter's aperture control ring to control the Kiev lens aperture. The movement range on my Kiev lenses and this FD adapter's ring happen to match perfectly, so all apertures can be set in this way. However, the movement is too small to be accurately calibrated. I use the NEX exposure display to tell what aperture I'm at -- if the exposure is 1/60s wide open at f/2, then when it says 1/30s it must be f/2.8, 1/15s means f/4, etc.

The only potential issue is that the lens does not lock onto the adapter, so turning the focus ring can accidentally dismount your lens. It is easy to add an external tab, for example using the neoprene, that would put enough friction against the outside back edge of the lens to prevent this. I have not yet done so because the flange grip is strong enough that I'm not worried about a lens falling off.

It is perhaps also worth noting that the lenses do not mount top side up. The other two mounting methods gave you the freedom to rotate the Kiev flange before fixing the position, but lining-up with the Canon adapter's pin places the lens about 170 degrees from top-up. For the lenses I have, the only disadvantage is that the lens DOF scale isn't left in a useful position.

Note that nothing about this is really specific to NEX, so the same procedure should work modifying similar Canon FL/FD/FDn adapters for micro 4/3 or other mounts.

Step 7: The 3D-printed Adapters

This fourth new mounting method not only provides external aperture control, but allows a Kiev 10/15 lens to be used on any camera or adapter that provides a body-side Canon FL/FD/FDn mount flange. After building the 3rd version of the adapter, I was convinced that such an adapter was possible, but it wasn't until I had some experience 3D printing that I was able to actually design and build one. Now that it's done, it looks so simple that it is hard to understand why nobody made such an adapter before....

The mechanism for control of the aperture is the real trick. There is only a fraction of a mm space between the Kiev 10/15 aperture control tab and the FL/FD/FDn mount that will surround it -- really hard to find a way to get a control coupling through that gap. So, I don't. Instead, the adapter simply has an internal part that catches the tab. Thus, by turning the lens in its mount, the tab stays put and the aperture opens/closes. The turn required to go between wide open and fully stopped down is less than 20 degrees, which is significantly less than what's needed to dismount the lens.

I may continue to tweak the design because the current version doesn't have either the FL/FD/FDn or Kiev 10/15 parts lock, so I'll not try to explain the details here. I've posted the design STL file at and that's also where you'll find details about how to 3D print it. The part takes less than 10 minutes to print on our MakerGear M2, with another 5 minutes of filing and minor cleanup after printing (this part has small overhangs that will probably have a few dropped strands to remove, but it is printed without supports). In fact, it costs less than $0.25 to make!

Oh yeah. Not only is this adapter cheap and easy to print while still providing aperture control, but unlike the 3rd version, this one actually mounts the Kiev 10/15 lens right side up. Well, within 20 degrees of right side up depending on how far you've twisted it to change the aperture setting....

But wait! There's more! I've now got two more 3D-printed adapters up on Thingiverse. Thing 1464062 is a stand-alone Kiev 10/15 to Sony E adapter (the red thing in the photo). Better still, as of August 2016, if you have a Techart Pro LM-EA7 autofocus adapter, you can print Thing 1706976, which adapts to the Leica M mount on the LM-EA7, thus giving you full autofocus on the latest Sony E mount bodies!

Step 8: Was It Worth the Effort?

Yeah, it was worth the effort. This was actually pretty easy (and very easy for the 4th method using a 3D printer).

The Kiev 10/15 lenses not only look similar to each other, but all make images with a similar look. Sharpness is better than average, colors are neutral to slightly cold, bokeh are fairly good, and contrast is somewhat low with a tendency toward veiling flare. Transverse CA is noticeable in some shots, but not particularly bad. There's an unprocessed sample shot taken with each lens here, so you can judge for yourself.

Would it have been better to get M42 versions of these lenses? Probably. However, the M42 versions are significantly larger (which is really strange if you think about it) and sell for much more than their Kiev 10/15 siblings.

I'm posting this just a few weeks after having made my first Kiev 10/15 adapter, so I can't say anything about durability of these hacked Kiev adapters. However, these go together so easily that repair should be easy even if durability isn't very good....

Update, August 2013: The 2nd and 3rd versions of the adapter have proven to be quite durable. We'll see how durable the 4th, 3D-printed, version is.... I certainly recommend the 4th version if you have a 3D printer available.