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Posted by on in Guides and Tutorials

If you are a rangefinder user, I am sure you have considered buying one of those dirt cheap Russian LTM lenses that have  flooded eBay. LTM lenses rose to the prominence in 30s and 40s with the ascention of Leica Screw Mount cameras. Numerous 'Leica Copies' have accelerated the adoption of the standard and a large number of manufacturers, including the fledging Japanese camera makers like Canon and Nikon began to manufacture LTM lenses. The birth of Russian LTM lenses can be traced to the 30s and the first FED camera, which utilized the M39 mount, as the Leica Screw Thread became to be known. After the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII, Russians 'appropriated' the original optical equipment and designs from Carl Zeiss factory in Jena. Carl Zeiss know-how was one of the most prized posessions of the post-war era and helped accelerate innovation in the USSR's optical/photography industry, which was pretty much leveled with the ground over the five years of war. Most of the early Russian lens designs trace their roots to Carl Zeiss designs. The Jena factory continued its production under the Communist regime, but Russians also jump-started their own factories, most notably in Krasnogorsk (the KMZ factory) and later also expanded production to Arsenal Kiev, Litkarino, Lvov, Kharkov and Kazan factories. But KMZ remained the epicenter of the innovation and most original Russian designs were originated there.

However, while there are a lot of Russian lenses available on eBay, figuring out what is what is fairly hard - the Russian lens nomenklature is pretty confusing at times and often archaic. This guide tries to bring a little bit more clarity into this subject. We will focus only on Russian LTM lenses in this article - there is also a very wide range of Russian lenses available in Pentax M42/K mount as well as Contax mount, but these will be covered in a separate article at a later time. The main audience for this article should be a user, an active photographer if you will, rather than a collector. While some Russian lenses may bear collectible value, I am no expert in anything collectible and so am going to leave this topic to someone else. Hence the article will focus on lenses that are relatively easy to obtain on used markets and will be omitting all prototype and limited production lens. The article consists of three parts - the first part you are reading now will try to document all known Russian LTM lenses with same key statistics like rated resolution, pricing and availability. The second and third parts are oriented towards the practicioner who wants to see beyond the basic information and get a better feel about more subjective qualities of individual lenses. This is not a detailed review that you might be accustomed to if you're a regular here - if anyone decides to learn a bit more about a particular lens, he/she is advised to visit the full features lens reviews section.

On a personal note, I have been using Russian LTM lenses on and off since 80s. The biggest challenge I've discovered with anything manufactured in the Soviet era, was the variance in quality control. The tolerances are significantly looser than with any other opticals  manufacturer, SLR or rangefinder alike. On top of that, keep in mind that we're dealing with 30, 40 and 50 year old lenses here, which likely have not seen any calibration or cleaning since their manufacturing date. When purchasing such lenses, make sure you have a return period - the virtual majority of lenses on eBay have some problems and would probably need to be returned. The typical 'Excellent' rating that the sellers give to these lenses is very often misleading - with a few exceptions, all of old Soviet lenses should be rated BGN/UG in KEH's terms. The process of finding a Russian lens that lives to its performance capabilities can be quite costly if you are required to pay round shipping for ones that turned out to be dogs. You might opt to look for lenses on photography forums, where quality of stock is typically much higher than on eBay, but also is harder to come by. A few online camera shops might also carry older Russian LTM lenses, so check out all the usual places like Adorama, Tamarkin and KEH.

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