I’ve been meaning to get around to this user report on the 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5 for quite some time now. This is a lens I have used extensively on the Leica M9, indeed for a long period of time it was the only lens I used. This 49 year old Soviet era glass bought about my neglect of the 50mm Summarit f/2.5, something that would ultimately result in its sale on the basis that I found using the Jupiter 3 to be more rewarding. There is a genuine thrill and a real romance to shooting vintage glass, something I personally find to be almost tangible, a quick look at my gear will reveal my fondness for lenses old and new. In particular when this vintage glass is combined with modern technology it can deliver results that are often surprising good, occasionally incredible and nearly always in excess of your expectations.There will always be the purists, there will always be those that dismiss the lens due to its country of origin or indeed era of manufacture. Others would simply ask why? Why would anyone shoot a $280.00 lens on what at the time was a $10k camera. The answer to this question is what I consider to be it’s unique character, to my eye the Jupiter 3 has a distinctive look that I for one find visually pleasing and if you can manage to lay your hands on a good one it will reward you handsomely.
The 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5
For completeness I will give a brief history of the lens but there are entire websites dedicated to the cameras and optics of the former Soviet Union which offer a more thorough perspective. With it’s maximum aperture of f/1.5 its certainly amongst the most inexpensive “fast glass” options for the rangefinder system and worthy of further investigation.
Depending on which version of events you read and where you read it the Russians either begged, stole or borrowed the lens designs from Zeiss at the end of WW2. It’s really a matter for historians and not critical to this post, lets just say that wherever the truth lay we’ve got to be happy about having some very interesting optics available at bargain prices.
Zagorsky Optical and Mechanical plant or ZOMZ has been in operation since 1935, my version of the lens was constructed here and production continued in to the 1970′s. Whilst the company still exists today it no longer has a version of the Jupiter 3 in production, shame!!
As is the case with many vintage lenses the Jupiter 3 has undergone various facelifts and alterations over the years and as a result comes in numerous guises, as I am only discussing my version of this lens there is little point in me going in to great detail on the other versions. www.sovietcams.com is an amazing resource for Soviet lens and camera identification and I am extremely grateful to them for allowing me to reference aspects of their research in this report. Using their information on the 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5 I was able to identify my lens as the following –
My lens, Serial No: N6311446 does not bear the “Made in USSR” inscription. It does however have an additional character Π (“P” in Cyrillic – “Prosvetlennij” which indicates the lens is “Coated”)
There are no click stops between aperture settings, not an issue but you just need to be mindful that you don’t adjust it by accident.
Officially this lens focuses from 1m, I suspect mine is closer to .9m. I have read about others who have achieved a minimum focusing distance of .8m with some adjustment to the lens.
This lens comes in LTM/M39 mount, in short that means you will require an LTM/M39 – M Mount adaptor in order to shoot it on the M9 or any other M mount Leica.
Adaptors are available for between $20-70 on ebay. From experience I would choose very carefully as some of the cheaper offerings are not machined accurately and subsequently the fit to the M9 will be less than satisfactory. You can get a sound version – Here.
You most likely won’t find the 40.5mm filters in your local camera store, however they are available from many sources online.
Russian Beauty – Leica M9 – 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5 ISO 400 1/30 Sec
My first shot with the 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5, from memory I’d had the M9 a few days when I took this. It’s not perfect but it really gave me a taste of what this lens was capable of.
In his 1945 allegory Animal Farm the author George Orwell satirised the Russian Revolution in an attempt to dispel what he believed to be the myth of communism. If your wondering where this is going, please bare with me!! Arguably the most famous quote from this particular work goes something like this “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” do you see where this is going yet??
Yes, you guessed it, a critical point to note when looking at the merits of the Jupiter 3 is this. Whilst all lenses may appear the same, some are clearly more equal (desirable) than others.
So we’ve established early that acquiring this lens really is a case of “buyer beware” but that should not put you off, in fact to the conterery the information that follows will hopefully both encourage and empower you to dip your proverbial toe in to the Soviet lens market.
"All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others."− George Orwell
When I initially sat down to plan this post it was my intention to go in to detail on this aspect of performance, now at the time of writing it seems more appropriate to let the images do the talking. This image was taken wide open at f/1.5
Available Light – Leica M9 – 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5 ISO 160 1/90 Sec
Available Light has been selected by the Editors as a Leica Fotografie International (LFI) Master Shot.
Certainly from f/2 onwards this lens can produce sharpness which is more or less comparable to the VC 50/1.1 which I also own. It’s easy to get carried away in the search for maximum sharpness and neither the Jupiter 3 nor the perviously mentioned Voigtlander Nokton f/1.1 can get anywhere near the likes of the 50 Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE, but you wouldn’t expect them to.
The point I would make is that if either the 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5 or the VC 50/1.1 was your only lens you would most likely consider them sharp enough, it’s only when you’ve been spoilt by the Leica offerings that you start to reflect on their performance with a more critical eye.
The Jupiter 3 does exhibit mild vignetting on the the M9 when shot with lens detection off. I choose to code the camera as 50 f/1.4 Asph 11891/11892 to reduce the vignetting. Incidentally this is the same code recommended for the Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1.5/50 ZM
I often add vignetting to images in post processing so for me it’s not an issue, regardless of this it is not excessive and can be corrected in part with coding and beyond that in PP should you wish. In the following image I have added a lot of vignetting in an effort to create a glow.
Owhiro Glow – Leica M9 – 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5 ISO 1250 1/4000 Sec
Owhiro Glow has been selected by the Editors as a Leica Fotografie International (LFI) Master Shot.
This is an acknowledged characteristic of the Sonnar design and therefore it will come as no surprise to know it is ever so slightly present in my Jupiter 3. However it’s taken some fairly critical analysis to spot it, it’s never cost me a shot but it does exist.
Additionally there is talk of people experiencing back focusing issues on the Jupiter. This is not exhibited by my version on the Leica M9. This raises a question about the more recent history of my lens, people have resolved the back focusing issue with an adjustment process referred to as “shimming”. Certainly not every Jupiter 3 required this, but it does make me wonder if it had been done to my lens before I purchased it.
Focus Compatibility with the Leica M9
I felt the need to add a note on this as it’s something I have been asked many times. Once more I can only speak for my version of the lens and say it operates on the Leica M9 with exceptional accuracy, certainly more than I could have hoped for and in fairness probably with more accuracy than one should expect from this union of modern technology and antiquity.
A google search will bring up numerous discussion on various fora in relation to these issues, some I would say are fair others perhaps misguided. Either fortunately or unfortunately the variations between Jupiter 3 versions down to the individual quality of each lens make it impossible to apply a blanket statement to the issue.
It’s difficult to articulate the rendering characteristics of the Jupiter 3 because they can vary so enormously, it’s capable of delivering the full spectrum of bokeh from harsh to smooth dependent on subject matter. When one refers to the “character” of a lens it is predominantly this quality that comes to mind, for me at least! The following image could be described as having quite “harsh” bokeh, as you can see the gravel area to the right of my subject.
Look up to You – Leica M9 – 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5 ISO 400 1/4000 Sec
Look up to You has been selected by the Editors as a Leica Fotografie International (LFI) Master Shot.
In the following image the bokeh is certainly smoother, once more this image highlights both the quality and sharpness achievable with this optic.
The Rock Thrower – Leica M9 – 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5 ISO 160 1/3000 Sec
The Rock Thrower has been selected by the Editors as a Leica Fotografie International (LFI) Master Shot.
As with any vintage glass I would always recommend the use of a lens hood at all times. The lens is prone to flare when shot directly in to the sun or other bright light sources as one would expect. This is also a characteristic of certain lenses that are vastly more expensive than the 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5. I don’t see it as a significant negative and with practice it is possible to use this creatively to some extent. I acquired a couple of hoods for my lens from ebay, both vented and unvented. In truth I have never found the flare to be even remotely problematic when using the lens, certainly it’s much less of an issue than it is with certain other Jupiter lenses.
Another characteristic of any vintage glass is reduced contrast when compared to modern day lenses, a small compromise as it were. Occasionally this can benefit a specific image but in the main you will find yourself needing to adjust contrast. More often than not this can be corrected with adjustments to Contrast and Black Point. The example image below is an extract from my War Games post. Reduced Contrast in this instance was in keeping with the look I was after although as you can see I still made adjustments.
Raw Conversion to JPEG in Aperture 3
Left: With adjustments Right: No adjustment
A B&W conversion from the same series of images, I really enjoyed shooting this event with vintage glass, in my opinion it really added something to the images.
I have to admit, if you haven’t already guessed I’m a huge fan of this lens, I have been since the first moment I used it and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone. “Russian Roulette”, “The Russian Lottery”, “The Communism Factor”, call it what you will, these are all phrases I have used when referring to the prospective purchase of this lens and the element of uncertainty that comes with it, but how big a deal is this in reality??? I say buy the lens, try it out and if it doesn’t meet your expectations then simply sell it or seek to get it optimized. What you most certainly shouldn’t do in my opinion is allow yourself to be “put off” by the possibility that the lens won’t be perfect……because by the same measure it just might be!!
Where to Buy
My 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5 was purchased from www.fedka.com in New York, this may cost a little more than seeking one out on ebay or other sources however it will afford you some peace of mind in relation to the quality of your purchase. Depending where you live these can be picked up for next to nothing, being in NZ my options were limited, ideally you\’d try before you buy.
Thanks to the generosity of Brian Sweeney I am able to offer documentation on Shimming, CLA, Focal length Adjustment and even Contax to Leica conversion of the Jupiter 3. You can find the info – HERE There is a very entertaining write up on the Jupiter 3 by Robert Chisolm on Steve Huff’s site HERE it also contains some excellent images.www.sovietcams.com is a great resource when researching Soviet cameras and lenses.Elsewhere on the internet information is fragmented across the various fora, this was in part the motivation for this post.
Thanks for reading, Jason.