Tag Archives: Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm 1.5 Sonnar

Life is Good

20160930-r1099706-editAbove is a picture of what’s currently in front of me, Friday, September 30th at around quarter to 5. The wine is a Dutton-Goldfield Russian River Zinfandel, circa 2006. I uncorked it last night after arriving home from an 85.5 km ride at 28.6 average km/hr (statistics courtesy of Strava) on my Formigli custom made road bicycle, but, feeling slightly gassed, corked it back up with the idea that I’d drink it later (today).

Next to it sits a Leica IIIg with incredibly cool Carl Zeiss Jena 5.cm f1.5. It sits on a book I’m currently reading, and enjoying – Frederic Gros’ A Philosophy of Walking. Next to me, snuggled up against me, is Buddy, a curious looking hound I rescued from the local APCSA a few years ago, who just happened to become my best friend. Lucky me. The IIIg has no reason to be here except that I’m just enjoying its company. While it’s loaded with a 36 exposure roll of HP5 (after of course, snipping the film leader just so to make sure it’s loaded properly), I don’t anticipate I’ll be using in in any capacity. I’m just admiring it. I brought it out here just to look at it while I enjoyed my Zinfandel.

What’s the point of this? Who knows.

$30 Jupiters On Your $8000 Leica

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5cm 1.5 Jupiter-3

Lomo’s recent recreation of the Jupiter-3, the Jupiter 3+ Art lens, is encouraging news for fans of vintage optics. Designed (presumably) for out of the box use on Leica bodies and offered for sale at $649, it’s a reasonable alternative to stratospherically priced Leica offerings, modern Zeiss variations, and numerous Voigtlander 50mm lenses, all of which exhibit varying levels of modern clinical excellence. Some of us like the less resolute character of the vintage Sonnar designs, the Zeiss Optons, Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnars and their progeny – the Nikkor-S and H.C and the soviet made Jupiters. They’ve got what optics fans refer to as “character.” While I wish Lomo all the best and hope they sell a million of them, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you do not, however, necessarily need to spend $649 for a Jupiter-3 or Jupiter-8. You can pick up a Jupiter-8 (the 5cm f2 variation) on Ebay for next to nothing, with a vintage Jupiter-3 fetching not much more.

A few years ago, succumbing to the lure of the esoteric (and cheap), I picked up a chrome soviet made Jupiter-8 5cm LTM lens on Ebay, to use as a cheap alternative standard lens on my IIIg and M bodies. Having read the usually dismissive internet comments about the Jupiters, I wasn’t expecting much, a novelty lens at best that I’d use occasionally as whims dictated. The seller was Ukrainian, and stated that the lens had been completely dismantled, lubricated and adjusted to “Leica specs”, whatever that meant. I bought it for $30, free shipping. Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a beautiful, clean, incredibly smooth focusing lens that produced beautiful vintage images even wide open and had the tactile feel the equal of any other lens I’d ever owned. A soviet clone of the Zeiss Sonnars first produced in the 1930’s, the Jupiter-8’s appeal is its small size, sharpness, low distortion and excellent flare resistance because of the Sonnar design’s minimal glass surfaces. Plus, it’s cheap, as in, cheaper than a typical lens hood for a Leitz lens.

Of course, any honest discussion of soviet optics needs to address the real issue of the build quality, which in the Jupiters can be a hit or miss proposition, seemingly dependent on the day of the week the lens was assembled and its relationship to the given vodka ration at that time. You can tell a Jupiter’s assembly year by the serial number – the first two numerals indicating the year of assembly. I assume my particular lens felt so smooth and well put together because of the servicing it had received from the seller. But it appears to be a nicely machined, tightly assembled piece. It has a 64xxxxx serial number, meaning it was produced in 1964, and as a general rule, the 50’s and 60’s era Jupiters are more consistently manufactured and assembled than the later lenses.  In any event, even if you get a sloppily assembled one, its usually, easily enough adjusted to spec by a competent lens repairman.

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5cm f2 Jupiter-8 on an IIIf

A larger problem, one that I think has contributed the most to Leicaphiles’ negative perceptions of the Jupiters, is the “focus shift” issue.  Chances are your Jupiter-8 will be noticeably out of focus wide open when mounted on your Leica. Most people chalk it up to either the inherent focus shift of the Sonnar design at maximum apertures or the belief that it’s just the nature of a crappy Russian lens. Actually, the Jupiters, when correctly matched to your Leica, are capable of wonderful results, their focus issues mostly down to an inherent incompatibility between the soviet made LTM Jupiters and the design parameters of Leica rangefinder bodies.

Photographers in  the 1930’s had a choice of two excellent camera systems – Leica or Contax. These two cameras have different focusing systems. Both are built around 50mm lens but use different assumptions for coupling to the rangefinder system. Leica has a short-base magnifier, which connects to its thread-mount lenses. Every lens has a rangefinder cam, which transmits the focusing distance to the camera, and uses the rate of movement of the focusing helicoid of a 51.6mm lens (the actual focal length). This rate of movement is used to calculate a multiplier, which is then used in calibration of the rangefinder for every lens – a wide angle lens will have a shorter helicoid rate of movement, while a tele will have a longer rate of movement. The multiplier serves to position the rangefinder at the right focusing distance. Contax, which has a 50mm focusing helix, is standardized at a 52.3mm lens as the choice for a 50mm lens. As such, the rate of movement for a Contax standard 50mm is different from Leica’s. To have a lens work properly on either Leica or Contax body, designers use one of the focal lengths assumptions (51.6mm or 52.3mm), exact rate of movement and multiplier, and finally the distance from the back focus of the lens to the film plane. Change one of these and you have a lens that won’t focus correctly. Ergo, Contax standardized lenses, even in LTM, don’t focus exactly on Leica bodies given the differing rangefinder design parameters.

Soviet lenses, “heirs” to the Zeiss Contax way of doing things, perpetuate this incompatibility. The Russians took Zeiss’s designs and machinery as war reparations after the Second World War. They took the specifications for the Contax lenses and used them for the Leica mount lenses they were producing for their own LTM bodies – Zorkis and Feds- most notably the nominal 50mm focal length that the camera’s rangefinder expects as a standard, the Jupiter-3 a clone of the Zeiss 1.5, the Jupiter-8 that of the Zeiss 2.0. This made soviet LTM Jupiter lenses technically incompatible with Leica cameras. In the 50’s through 70’s this wasn’t an issue – soviet photographers didn’t, or couldn’t, use Leicas anyway; the LTM Jupiter lenses were built to be used on Feds and Zorkis with the focal length assumptions of a Contax. And it isn’t evidence of some half-cocked technical shortcoming on the part of the soviet camera industry; Nikon did exactly the same thing with their rangefinder system – which otherwise used the same mount as the Contax rangefinders but with a different rate of movement, so Nikon/Contax rangefinder users face the same problem as the Leica/Fed/Zorki ones – wide angles nominally compatible between the two systems given greater inherent depth of field, faster and longer lenses mis-focusing at close distances and wide open.

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The 8.5cm Jupiter-9

The difference between soviet LTM and Leica LTM is real, and while it doesn’t affect most lenses (the various Industar 50mm lenses and the 35mm/2.8 Jupiter-12 are almost totally unaffected, due to their wider depth of field), once you start getting into faster and longer lenses it does become a problem. If you understand the limitations of soviet lenses on a Leica (or Leica spec) body, or if you know how to modify a Jupiter to Leica spec, you can get some rocking good lenses really cheap for your screwmount or M mount Leica.

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If you want to use soviet Jupiters on your Leica, the solution to this incompatibility is to have  your Jupiter “shimmed” to Leica spec. Jupiter-3s and 8s can be easily shimmed, but the Jupiter-9 85/2 apparently can not. These Jupiter lenses are all Sonnar type lenses, subject to the focus shift inherent in the Sonnar design. The Jupiter-3 shim fix relies on using the focus shift to allow full focusing capability, while shimming the Jupiter-9 apparently causes further focus shift.

The second option is to ignore the Leica mount altogether and use vintage Contax mount Jupiters on your Leica M with an Amedeo adaptor that negates the need to shim the lens.  Contax mount soviet lenses are built to the same specifications as native Zeiss Contax mount optics, so the Amedeo Contax to Leica adapter will ensure correct mounting and focusing when mounted on a Leica M. Of course, you’ll need to pay two hundred dollars for the Amedeo adaptor so that you can use cheap soviet lenses on your M, but you now have a lot of cool vintage lens options for your M: the Helios 103 (a.k.a the Soviet Summicron), a correctly focusing Jupiter-9, a Jupiter-11 that can focus closer than the LTM one, a Jupiter-8m (a shorter Jupiter-8 with click stops) – not to mention the Zeiss Optons and other assorted goodies made by Zeiss in Contax mount, all that you can pick up for a fraction of the cost of a like, or often inferior, quality, vintage Leitz lens.

Or you can go really esoteric and use a Contax mount Jupiter, shimmed for a Nikon, adapted to Leica M mount via an Amedeo Nikkor-S to Leica M adaptor. I’m the lucky owner of a 1958 5cm 1.5 Jupiter-3 in Contax mount, shimmed to Nikon S spec, the Frankensteinian creation of Sonnar guru Brian Sweeney. I can use it on my SP, S2 or S3 without adaptor, or on one of my M bodies with the Amedeo Nikon to Leica adaptor. Is it a little rough around the edges mechanically? Yes. But then again, Brian gave me the damn thing, and, I must admit, it produces some really nice negatives (or files if you prefer).

So, invariably, my $1000 “minty” (!) DR Summicron stays at home mounted on my “minty” M2-R, a collector’s piece, while the M’s that jostle around in my bag mount the Jupiter 8 with a cheap LTM to M adaptor, or a Zeiss CZJ 5cm 1.5 Sonnar shimmed to Leica spec by Mr. Sweeney, or a Nikkor-S 5cm 1.4 with Amedeo adaptor, or a Jupiter-3 5cm 1.5 shimmed to Nikon spec and mounted with the Amedeo Nikon to Leica adaptor. I paid, for all of them combined, less than half of what I paid for the DR Summicron, and, being the admitted optics dilettante I am, I’ll be damned if I can tell enough of a difference to justify the huge price differential. As for the CZJ Sonnar, the daddy to the Jupiter-3, it produces a look all it’s own, one I discussed at length here, a look that, coupled with a nice grainy film, brings you back to the glory days of the iconic B&W photography of Capa and HCB and Frank.

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A Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm 1.5 Sonnar, the Daddy of the Jupiter-3

The bottom line is this: if your interest is optical performance at a price un-inflated by status considerations, a decently put together Jupiter can hold its own against much pricier lenses, judged solely on its optical quality. As for “soviet made,” well, life is full of trade-offs, and what Russian technology lacks in fit and finish it’s often made up for in inexpensive yet robust functionality. Apparently, they’re still pulling soviet WW2 tanks out of bodies of water that, after a hose out, new batteries, a jug of oil and a few gallons of fuel, can more or less be driven away. Just a couple years ago in the Ukraine, there was a war memorial some rebels actually drove off with for further use.

New Jupiter-3, the “Jupiter 3+ Art Lens,” by Lomo

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Very interesting new lens offering from LOMO, a re-issue of the “legendary” (!) 50mm f.15 Soviet made Jupiter-3, itself a clone of the older Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar.

Here’s the description on the LOMO website:

Over half a century since the original Jupiter 3 lens was designed, we’re extremely proud to introduce the New Jupiter 3+ Art Lens to our line of exquisitely handcrafted Lomography Art Lenses. Designed by the highly experienced Lomography team and manufactured by the expert technicians at the exact same Zenit factory in Russia as the original lens, the New Jupiter 3+ Art Lens retains the strong character and Soviet spirit of its forbearer — crisp sharpness, smooth, natural colors and lush, dreamy bokeh — while also transcending it in many ways.

First developed in Soviet Russia in the late 1940’s, the original Jupiter lens was crafted by the optical pioneers at the Zenit factory in the suburbs of Moscow and came to be loved for the incredible character it gave to the millions of images captured with it. Now, Lomography is  continuing the legacy of this famed lens and transporting it to modern times with substantial design improvements. Equipped with a versatile 50mm focal length and f/1.5 maximum aperture, the New Jupiter 3+ Art Lens has an outstandingly shallow depth of field at large apertures and yields stunning results in all kinds of settings. Whether you’re shooting in low light or bright sunshine, you’ll end up with an extremely unique image quality that makes this lens incredibly special and gives a character entirely its own!

The New Jupiter 3+ Art Lens is being produced in small batches and thus will be available on a very limited first-come, first-served basis. Head to the Lomography Online Shop right now to get yours! For more info, head to the New Jupiter 3+ Art Lens site.

  • 50mm f/1.5 Jupiter 3+ Sonnar
  • Rangefinder coupled 39mm Leica Screw Mount
  • M-Mount Adapter included, Triggering: 50mm Frame Line
  • Aperture: f/1.5 – f/22
  • Clickless F/stops
  • Perfect round aperture for maximum bokeh
  • Weight 7 5/8th oz
  • Size: length extending from the body at infinity 36mm, width 48mm
  • Lens Barrel Chromed Brass
  • Closest Focusing Distance: 0.7m
  • Focusing Scale in meters
  • Filter Threads 40.5mm
  • Classic Zeiss Sonnar Lens Design: 7 Elements in 3 Groups
  • Easily adaptable to any Mirrorless Camera via a M mount adapter – Sony, FujiX, Panasonic, Olympus etc
  • New version of the Soviet Jupiter 3, which was a war prize of a 1930’s Zeiss Sonnar design

Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5cm 1.5 for Leica

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For a very short period during World War II, the Carl Zeiss Optical Factory at Jena built Sonnar lenses in the M39 lens mount used by their biggest competitors, Ernst Leitz Cameras in Wetzlar. During WW2 trade with Nazi Germany was either restricted or forbidden in most countries. The German government, needing foreign currency for the ongoing war effort, appointed the president of Carl Zeiss to coordinate export of German products, probably because of Zeiss’s established contacts with foreign companies.

Carl Zeiss-made Contax foreign sales, along with Leitz’s, had plummeted during the war. However, German military organizations were commissioning Leica cameras to be used by military photographers and  German journalists assigned to the Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine and the Wehrmacht. To ensure ongoing Zeiss production, the president of the Carl Zeiss Jena plant ordered that Leicas should be fitted with Carl Zeiss lenses. And so Carl Zeiss in Jena retrofitted several Contax mount lenses for the Leica Thread Mount: a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 50mm f2.0, a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 50mm f1.5, a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 85mm f2.0 and a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm f4.0. All were produced and sold, although in quantities limited by the contingencies of war, until the end of WW2.

By the end of the war, the Russians had overrun Jena and appropriated the Zeiss manufacturing plant there. The Soviets ran it under their auspices for some time, continuing to produce Zeiss optics under the Carl Zeiss Jena brand, including the M39 LTM Sonnars. The company that remained, “Carl Zeiss Jena,” was not a “fake” company bearing the name of Carl Zeiss; it was the same company in the same factories where all the pre-WWII lenses were made. The company name remained “Carl Zeiss”, and the location of the company remained marked on the lens as the wartime lenses had been.

The Soviets subsequently dismantled the factory and transplanted it to Charkov in Ukraine. They took with them to Charkov Zeiss designs, machines, stock, and workers forced to relocate to Charkov, where the Zeiss factories were reconstituted by the Russians as restitution for the German’s destruction of the Charkov FED plant during the German invasion of the Ukraine. They left, as a legacy, an unknown quantity of Carl Zeiss Jena lenses in M39 mount. These Zeiss Sonnar lenses are the progenitors of the the Jupiter-3 (50mm f1.5), Jupiter-8 (50mm f2.0), the Jupiter-11 (135mm f4.0) and the Jupiter-9 (85mm f2.0), which would be built to the same design, and often with the same machinery, as the Zeiss optics built in Jena. The Russians even adapted the Contax-mount Biogon 35mm f2.8 to their Jupiter-12 35mm f2.8 in LTM.

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The legitimacy of M39 LTM Leica Mount Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnars are often called into question by web “experts.” The problem is that much of the factory records were plundered or lost during the Soviet occupation,  offering fertile ground for all sorts of whacky “Red Scare” theories about the Russians “faking” CZJ lenses. Contrary to what is usually claimed, almost all the M39 lenses that have come onto the modern market are genuine and can be established as such with some critical examination (see below). What seems to confuse collectors is this:  many of the CZJ Sonnars are post WW2 Russian Army Of Occupation lenses, which are only different in build date from their WW2 German build counterparts. However, the internal components are the same as the 1941 to 1943 assembled lenses, and they were assembled with Zeiss machinery and know-how. All Jena factory made WW2 CZJ M39 lenses made during the war had “ears” just as their Contax counterparts did (remember, these were retrofitted Contax lenses), while the post-war Russian-made LTM lenses were produced with Jena factory optics, machines and parts, often don’t have “ears”, but are still legitimate “Carl Zeiss Jena” lenses.

Another thing which confuses collectors is that, even before the partition of Germany, there were three organizations with the name of Zeiss.  Carl Zeiss Optical, established by Carl Zeiss; after Carl Zeiss’s death sole ownership passed on to his partner Ernse Abbe, who established Carl Zeiss Stiftung which would acquire Carl Zeiss Optical as one of its core divisions. Carl Zeiss Stiftung grew and diversified,  in 1926 acquiring four camera manufacturers, merging them to form Zeiss Ikon, its photographic equipment division, based in Dresden. Zeiss Ikon bought lenses from Carl Zeiss Optical for its cameras but Carl Zeiss Optical was free to supply its lenses and other products to other camera makers too. Given all of the above, confusion and misunderstanding seem to trail vintage Zeiss optics at every turn.

Illegitimate CZJ lenses do very infrequently pop up for sale, usually by sellers in the former Eastern Bloc. These are Contax lenses hacked into Russian Jupiter lens mounts, being sold as original  Carl Zeiss Jena M39 Sonnars.  Or they’re Jupiter-3s with the front lens ring removed and replaced with a fake Carl Zeiss Jena lens ring. Those are the fakes.  But it seems to me that there is no practical incentive to try and turn an old Jupiter 3 into a CZJ. The effort and expense of machining a CZJ front ring and replacing it in a early 50’s era Jupiter 3 doesn’t match what little extra money the CZJ would bring over a Jupiter 3 sold as such. So, the bottom line is this: if you’re lucky enough to have found one along the way, your CZJ Sonnar is probably genuine, irrespective of the irrational claims of some self-appointed experts who see fakes everywhere.

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If you know what you’re looking for, it’s not difficult to spot a fake. The first step in determining whether its a fake Zeiss lens converted from a KIEV is to look on the lens’ focusing ring. Russian lenses use metric screws while Zeiss used non-metric screws. Additionally, the Zeiss ring has one short and one longer screw; converted KIEV lenses have equal length screws; the Kievs will typically have a big “M” for the focusing  scales while real CZJ’s will have a small “m”; and the “T” engraving on the front shield, which should be red, will often be white on the fakes. *

In his book Non-Leitz Leica Thread-Mount Lenses, Marc James Small states: “For the most part, [the wartime] lenses have serial numbers in the 2,6xx,xxx to 2,8xx,xxx range, are ‘T’-coated & marked, & all are inscribed ‘Carl Zeiss Jena.'” The 276 series was the last true wartime series, 279 and up were produced in the Jena plant after the Russians had completely taken over Zeiss plants and production. Thus, my copy, #2,866,450, the one shown in the photos, would have been produced in the Russian run Jena plant post-war using Zeiss optical glass, parts, labor and know-how.

I bought my copy from a guy who was selling camera equipment he had inherited from his father years earlier. It was dirty and unused for probably 30 years before he put it up for sale on Ebay, from Ohio, with some really cheesy photos and a description that clearly indicated he had no idea what it was. In talking to him afterwards, he told me his dad had brought it back with a camera from Germany during the occupation, but that’s about all he knew. The lens, bearing all the marks of being legit, cleaned up nice. I had it disassembled and the tech said it had the internal markings consistent with an original.

Older lenses like the CZJ Sonnar weren’t designed with the same tolerances as today’s computer designed and robotically manufactured optics. They don’t have the same  materials and were subject to more impurities.  They age and discolour.  They often have a single coating rather than being multicoated like modern lenses. The Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm 1.5 Sonnar is a cool lens, both as a collectible and as a user, obviously very vintage in character – not very contrasty, not super sharp wide-open but better and better as it’s stopped down. Wide open it has a beautiful soft character with a creamy rendition of out of focus areas, nothing like the clinically harsh and contrasty look of modern Zeiss optics built by Cosina. The photos below are good examples of its character.

I find it a great lens to use on my M8, a way to build some imperfection into a digital image. Or, better yet, pair it with some Double XX pushed a few stops and developed in D76: perfect.

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Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm 1.5 Sonnar. Photos by Andrew Fishkin.
* I’m definitely not an expert, so please take what I’m saying here with a healthy dose of skepticism; I’m essentially repeating common wisdom with respect to telling the real from a fake. If you have better information, and if some of mine is wrong, please feel free to set me right.