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A Guide To Russian LTM Lenses (Part 3)

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Time for the third part of the ongoing review of Russian LTM lenses. This time around we are going to take a look at Jupiter lenses, virtually all of which are decendants (ripoffs is a more appropriate word though) of Carl Zeiss designs from 1930s and 1940s. The biggest issue with the Jupiters that users have to keep in mind is that they are all based on Contax designs with 52.3mm register distance vs 51.6mm for Leica. This means that when screwed on the actual Leica bodies, the lenses would exibit focusing errors because of the rangefinder misalignment with the lens register. The misalignment is greatest at the MFD and so even when you think you focused spot on with the rangefinder, the images would end up mis-focused. This might not be much of an issue with slower lenses, those with f/2.8 and slower max aperture, because of the increased DOF, but fast lenses like Jupiter-3 and Jupiter-8 can easily frustrate unsuspecting user. Of course all this becomes a moot point if you\'re using the leses on Sony NEX or MFT cameras.


Jupiter 3 - At a Glannce


Jupiter-3, Sony NEX-5n, ISO 800, 1/125, f/1.5

Easily the most venerable of all Russian LTM lenses, Jupiter-3 became popular after a couple of very upbeat reviews got published on various online forums. The main driving factor behind the popularity of this lens seems to be the fact that it is a direct copy of Zeiss Sonnar 50/1.5. Considering that the original, mid-30s Sonnars in Leica thread mount are fairly rare and sell for north of $500 (Contax versions are much more common and go for ~$150), while another Sonnar clone, Canon 50/1.5 LTM, fetches over $300 these days, users are probably thinking they are getting a bargain when buying Jupiters. I\'d like to discourage this however, as for the most part, users will be better off getting the Canon clone, or better yet a modern variant like Nokton 50/1.5 LTM. The main reason for that is because the virtual majority of Jupiter-3 lenses out there would need to be CLA'd and tuned to work properly on \'proper\' Leica cameras (that is on non-Soviet clones), which would set back users by another $200 or so, at which point any cost savings users might have been hoping for pretty much evaporated.

There are two well represented versions of this lens that you can find on the used markets - silver copy, which was manufactured through mid 70s and black version which was manufactured from mid 70s through late 80s when the lens was discontinued. Many users claim that the older versions of this lens have higher quality, but I have not had a chance to try a black version and so cannot comment on these rumors. Third version, also silver, but marked 3K, was produced in the very early days and contains original Carl Zeiss glass that Russians appropriated from the Jena factory after the end of WWII. These lenses are practically impossible to find these days and are considered to be collector\'s item.

The lens can be used with any Leica M rangefinder camera as well as with Sony NEX and MFT cameras using appropriate adapters. The build quality is quite decent with all aluminium barrel and focus/aperture rings. Aperture ring is stepless and moves from f/1.5 to f/22. Min focusing is 1m. ~90 degrees of focusing ring rotation when going from the MFD to the infiity.

A well tuned Jupiter-3 is a fairly decent lens, for such an old design - don\'t expect anything earth-shatterig though. Resolution is average at wide apertures - f/1.5 and f/2 are passable in the center and soft around borders. f/2.8 through f/11 center is quite good, but borders are still noticeably softer through f/5.6. Both Canon 50/1.4 as well as Nikkor 50/1.4 lenses dance circles around Jupiter-3 in terms of resolution. Canon 50/1.5 is marginally better as well wide open. Modern version of Zeiss C Sonnar 50/1.5 ZM murders all four in every aspect, but also costs 5x more. Low global contrast at wider apertures, turning into moderate contrast at medium and small apertures. Very decent tonal reproduction throughout the focusing range. Pleasant, smooth looking bokeh at wide apertures. Awful flare and moderate vignetting at f/1.5. Warm colors with slight shift towards yellows. The lens overexposes on M8 by ~0.5EV.


Jupiter 8 - At a Glance


Jupiter-8, Sony NEX-5n, ISO 800, 1/100, f/2

Another Sonnar copy, from mid 30s. Like Jupiter-3, a couple of different versions were manufactured throughout the years - the most common versions that you\'d find these days are a silver version, manufactured through mid 70s, and a black one, manufactured from mid 70s through the late 80s when the lens was discontinued. An ulra rare version of the lens in collapsible barrel and marked with "ZK" was produced in late 40s, using the original Carl Zeiss glass and lens parts that Soviets cart-wheeled from the Jena factory. It\'s not really clear if this earlier veersion of the lens is optically better,, but because of the limited production, the few samples that appear here and there fetch thousands of dollars from collectors. Expect to pay ~$50-$75 for the silver version and slighty more for the black one.

The build quality is identical to Jupiter-3 lens - aluminum barrel and focusing/aperture rings. Aperture ring is stepless, although samples from the very last years of production have introduced 1-f-stop clicks to it. Aperture range is f/2 through f/22. ~90 degrees of focusing ring rotation from the MFD of 1m to the infiity.

Jupiter-8 is a more rounded lens than its faster 50/1.5 version. The lens shows slightly better overall sharpness, but most notably at f/2, but given the age of these lenses, the differences I\'m seeing might easily be caused by the condition of each lens. Seems to be on par or slightly better than Canon 50/1.8 and 50/1.9 LTM lenses, but gives ground a bit to Canon 50/1.4 LTM. Moderate global contrast and fairly decent tonal reproduction, make this lens a very nice option for portraiture type work, where you care more about skin tones than absolute resolution per se. Prone to flare, so using a hood is advisable when shooting in bright conditions. The lens over-exposes by ~0.5EV on M8 as well as on NEX-5n. Vignetting is minimal on both APS-C and APS-H cameras, but most likely going to be higher on a full frame body. . 


Jupiter 9 - At a Glance

Another very popular Jupiter lens. This lens was manufactured in almost every possible (for its time) mount - the original lens was first released in LTM (Zorki) and Contax (Kiev) mounts in late 40s, and later released in M42, in M24 and Kiev-10 mounts. Interestingly, the very firsst M42 versions of this lens were actually M39 lenses with an M39/M42 adapters. The LTM version of the lens had a couple of cosmetic variation over the years and changed its labeling - the very early versions were labelled ZK and were manufactured from the original batch of Zeiss optical glass. Later versions were labeled as Jupiter 9 (in Russian and starting from late 70s in English as USSR started exporting these lenses).The very last batch of lenses was manufactured in black. Expect to pay ~$150-$190 for the earlier versions of the lens and add $50 for the later, black ones. The very first versions of the lens are a collector's item and last auction for a 'better than average' condition of this lens fetched over $800.

The build quality of the lens is similar to all other Jupiters - aluminium barrel and focusing/aperture rings. The aperture ring is clickless on the earlier versions of the lens. The min focusing distance varied between rangefinder and SLR versions of the lens - 1.5m for the LTM/Contax version and 0.8m for the M42 version. Optically, Jupiter-9 is somewhat of a mixed bag. The lens is reasonably sharp in the center at f/2, but borders are super soft. Resolution gets better as you stop down the lens, but borders remain soft(ish) all the way through f/4, with f/5.6-f/8 giving the best results across the entire frame. Best is a stretch word here since borders don't really never reach the same resolution level as the center, but are visibly better than at wide apertures. The lens has a fairly low contrast at f/2-f/2.8, and moderate constrast at lower apertures. This is not a huge issue for portrature type lenses, which is what this lens was designed for in the first place. Tonal reproduction is fairly good both in shadows as well as in mid-tones. Flare is uncontrollable, particularly at f/2, and while later generation MC versions of this lens are slightly better, flare never really disappears, so this is not a lens I'd use in very bright, backlit environments. Images are constantly over-exposed by ~1EV.

Overall, 85mm is too long for my taste on an M8 (and probably on M9 as well), but on Sony NEX you get an interesting 135mm-ish fast prime. Modern version of Voigtlander Heliar 75/1.8 dances circles around Jupiter 9, but also costs 3x, while old Nikkor 85/2 LTM is a better performer at f/2-f/2.8, but is rather hard to come by these days.


Jupiter 11 - At a Glance

A ho-hum lens in pretty much every aspect, with the only advantage being its low price. Like other Juputers, 11 is a direct copy of a Zeiss design - pre-war Sonnar 135/4. The very first versions of the lens, manufactured in late 40s, were marked with ZK-135 - these samples had actual Carl Zeiss glass that Soviets appropriated from the Jena factory and are almost impossible to find these days. There were a few other variations of the lens, but the differences were only cosmetic. Solid build quality with all aluminim barrel and focusing/aperture rings. Very lightweight for a 135mm lens, probably one of the lightest ever made. Dirt cheap - the most common version with chrome barrel fetches ~$30-$40 on eBay these days.

Average performer in resolution department - decent center but borders fall off in quality quite rapidly. f/8-f/11 is best across the frame. Moderate global contrast throughput the aperture range. Tonal reproduction is reasonably good, but the lens does not perform particularly well in bright environments where it compresses tones quite badly. Color balance is more or less neutral(ish) - a few samples that I still have from my film day seem to have a bit off in purple, but this could be an issue of the scanner I used when transfering prints to digital.

Personally, I would not bother with this lens and would spend extra $50 and buy Canon's Serenar 135/4 or Nikon's Nikkor 135/4, both of which are slightly better in resolving capabilities. For Sony NEX cameras I'd opt for a superb Leica Elmarit-R 135/3.5 - a larger and heavier SLR lens, but a much better performer in pretty much every aspect. For the top of the line, modern Sonnar 135/1.8 ZA is one of the best lenses money can buy and is my perennial favorite 135mm lens.


Jupiter 12 - At a Glance


Jipiter-9, Leica M8, ISO 640, 1/45, f/2.8

The only Russian LTM lens that cannot be used on Sony NEX cameras. Jupiter 12 sports a non-retrofocus design and its deeply protruding rear element touches the outer housing of the sensor case, preventing the lens from being screwed to the body. The lens is also said to interfere with some rangefinder cameras like Bessa, hitting the shutter doors, making Juputer 12 one of the most incompatible lenses out there. Pity, because this is probably one of the best Russian lenses ever produced. A pre-war Biogon 35/2.8 clone, the lens design remained unchanged throughout the years of production, with minor variations in housing and barrel.

The build quality of the lens is fairly decent - aluminum barrel with knurled but thin focusing ring located at the front of the barre. The most annoying thing about this lens is its aperture ring which is recessed inside the lens front - the lens has a scalloped outer portion of the barrel with recessed front element and the aperture ring is mounted on the inside of the scalloped barrel. This makes blind operation impossible - you literally need to look where you\'re putting your fingers on to operate the ring. And forget about filters - the filter thread is on the aperture ring, which would make it impossible to rotate it once the filter is attached. Like most of the old designs, aperture is clickless, moving from f/2.8 through f/22

Surprisingly, the lens is a very good performer given the age - non-retrofocus design minimizes distortion and vigetting and also helps boost resolution. The lens is quite sharp in the center throughout the aperture range, but has a steep drop off around borders at wide apertures. Comparing it to my Leica Summaron 35/3.5, Jupiter delivers similar to slightly better resolution in the center at f/2.8 as does the Summaron at f/3.5, but looses to the Leica lens in border areas. f/5.6 - f/8 are very well balanced with good resolution across the frame. Moderate contrast at f/2.8, increasing with smaller apertures. Reasonably good tonal reproduction in shadows and mid-tones. Almost no flare as the cone shaped barrel around deeply recessed front element acts as a natural lens hood. The lens overexposes on M8 by ~1.5EV.




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