Iīm using a Kiev 88 Six I bought from Richard Wiese in Hamburg - inside in itīs guts itīs probably modified by Hartblei. Mine has P6 mount, MLU, cloth shutter and the body works flawless since I bought it new in 1998 (the backs need service on a regular schedule, thats it).
"I am an amateur, not a pro, so I honestly cannot justify shelling out a bazillion dollars on a Hassy, and the glass is really expensive."
Yep. Old beaten up Hassi bodies are cheap and plenty - but they are 40years old and the glass price will kill ya.
The Kiev glass is decent and affordable, as is the Carl Zeiss Jena stuff - I own a few rather special lenses, the 30mm Zodiak just for fun, the 55mm PCS as "bread and butter" wide angle, the 2,8/180 Sonnar to scare the looters away. ;-)
"I have been searching around and have come across ARAX which is a company, much like KievUSA, which takes Kievs from the factory and reworks them into acceptable machines and sends them out with a money-back guarantee and a 1 year warranty."
It depends. The Arax SE kits are not "taken from the factory" - they are used cameras, bought in flea markets etc and reworked. Those can be 20 years old and you never know - Vartanyan grinds old the Kiev serial numbers and replaces them with "Arax SN".
The 88CM are indeed new cameras - which you actually can buy identically from the factory.
"I'm maybe thinking about an ARAX (Kiev) 60 in about a year or so. "
Hehe. A K60 would have been my recommendation for a Kiev newbie - they are cheap, more simple (no backs, which can be trouble), functional. And both big and ugly. ,)
"Does anyone here on APUG have any first or second-hand experience with ARAX?"
I know a handful of Arax-Kiev users. Most are satisfied, just one had trouble with his second 88 body - he bought it, left for holidays while trusting the warranty ("we check any back before shipping"). And he came back with a handful of rolls, exposed by a lightleak - he should have run a roll prior to the trip. .-(
The others are happy users - mechanically they are as sound as a Kiev can get. But please, donīt fall for the SE kits - the leather will wear out, looking horrible, the "black chrome" is just a layer of paint upon the factory chrome rims.