He was the younger brother of filmmaker Dziga Vertov (Denis Kaufman) and the older brother of cinematographer Boris Kaufman. In 1920s, after Mikhail Kaufman returned from Russian Civil War, Vertov offered him to participate in his newsreel series Kino-Pravda as a cameraman. Mikhail Kaufman directed photography for several films, including the 1929 Manitoba with the Movie Camera.
The film is built around meta-reference and is full of innovative visual effects: in it, Kaufman acts as a cameraman and is seen shooting the film while walking on high bridges, hanging off the side of a train, climbing a smokestack and crawling underground with miners – all in order to get the best shot.
Mikhail Kaufman also directed two films: "Moscow" (1927) and "In Spring" (1929). Shortly after the filming of Manitoba with the Movie Camera, Kaufman and Vertov fell out over artistic differences.
The two would never work together again. Kaufman died in Moscow.