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Posted by on in Guides and Tutorials

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

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Attar a rather long(ish) hiatus due to work and family situation, I am back with a new lens comparison. Today we are going to take a look at two, very different, yet pretty exciting in their own ways, 50mm lenses - the rangefinder classic (or arcaic depending on who you ask) Canon 50/1.2 LTM and Sony\'s modern 50/1.8 OS.


Canon\'s RF lenses date back to 1950s, the golden era of rangefinders. Canon produced a total of 8 (!) different designs of the 50mm classic lens before exiting the rangefinder world in late 60s. The most notable designs include the fastest 50mm of its time 50/0.95, the pre-war Zeiss Sonnar copy 50/1.5 and the 50/1.2 - the lens people \'love to hate\'. I owned Canon LTM 50/1.2 for a brief period back in the ole film days but did not use it much and ultimately sold it along with the rest of my rangefinder gear. The popularity of this lens peaked around 70s and has been in the decline since then. These days the lens has become more of a niche play - there is a good reason for that: modern optics have far exceeded the capabilities of this glass, in pretty much every dimension. Then there\'s the obvious issue of the Internet noise - there\'s quite a large and very opinionated group of users which outright hate this lens, claiming that it is soft at wide apertures, has low contrast, produced significant glare, etc. etc. etc. All this obviously also deters the would-be users from trying out the Canon LTM - despite the niche designation (or perhaps because of it), Canon 50/1.2 has managed to retain its value over the years, with most \'decent\' quality copies selling for upwards of $600 these days. Add to that a LTM to M adapter and an M to NEX adapter (if you plan to use it on Sony NEX camera) and you\'re looking at an extra $100-$150 in expenses. Compare that to the modern Sony 50/1.8 OSS with the price of $275 - no woder that an average user would never even look twice at the Canon lens.

I picked up a copy of Canon 50/1.2 purely on a whim, not that I was thinking I\'d be using it more frequently this time around, but more because I wanted to compare it to a couple of other 50mm lenses. As I mentioned earlier, the prices for this lens are quite stable these days, so I did not expect to loose much money when I finally decided to sell it. The comparison with Sony E 50/1.8 OSS is also kind of random - I\'ve been using these two lenses side by side for a few weeks and just decided to write my observations. Ultimately though, I\'d want to compare the 50/1.2 to other rangefinder lenses, both modern and classic - if you have not done so already, take a look at the Alternative 50mm for NEX article to get an idea of what to expect down the road. 

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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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