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.
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.
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.
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.
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.