Classic optics, new camera: The Jupiter-9 85mm f/2 on the Sony A7R II

Nameless sculpture by Zeljko Rusic, in Cologne. (Jupiter-9 at f/2.8)

1987. Gorbatchev published a manifesto for change – perestroika – and transparency – glasnost – a huge step that led to the end of the Cold War and the transformation of Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukrainia and many other states.

1987. Madonna sings “Open Your Heart”, Kim Wilde “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and Bon Jovi performs “Livin’ on a Prayer”. Everyone was watching “Dirty Dancing” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in cinema…

1987. Canon launches the EOS 650, the first camera of their then-revolutionary and disruptive EOS system. Minolta already had introduced auto focus 2 years before, but especially Canon’s EOS system went on to become a huge long-term success and would transform professional as well as amateur photography for several decades.

1987. Лыткаринский завод оптического стекла – Lytkarino Optical Glass Plant – located in the city of Lytkarino, close to Moscow, are one of the big manufacturing plants for optics in the vast Soviet Union. Their product portfolio included all Zorki and Zenit cameras as well as many different optics. While Canon and Minolta, in the 1980s, were introducing microprocessor wonders at the cutting edge of photo technology, most of the LZOS products were in production for decades already. One of them was the Jupiter-9 85mm f/2 lens that you see on this page: Volume production of this lens had started in 1951 already! Back then, these lenses were originally made by Красногорский механический завод – Krasnogorskiy Mechanicheskiy Zavod which means Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works. But after the 1960s, the only plant continuing manufacture of these lenses was LZOS.

If the old saying is correct, that the first two digits of the serial number depict the year of manufacture with Russian lenses, then my copy left the factory in 1987. However, this is not 100% confirmed. Maybe my lens was already made in the 1970s … Anyway, the last variants of this design were produced until around 2007!

Note:
Also see my video review of this lens on my new youtube channel!

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.


Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them another two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

from: Herbsttag by Reiner Maria Rilke

(Jupiter-9 at f/4)

You notice something? This lens makes me even appreciate poetry! :)

Красногорский механический завод

The KMZ plant was installed back in 1942, during the Second World War, and its location was selected to be far away enough from the front lines, in relative safety from the war zone. After the war, many resources, blueprints and information from Zeiss Jena were transferred to KMZ, as well as engineers and mechanics, to help set up Russian production of several famous original Zeiss-designed lenses. Some of them include:

  • Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2
  • Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2
  • Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5
  • Zeiss Sonnar 85mm f/2
  • Zeiss Sonnar 135mm f/4

As the glass types available in Russia were somewhat different to those used by Zeiss, the lens designs had to be adjusted to these. When the Russian variants of these lenses were launched, they also were renamed and got their now-famous Jupiter branding:

  • Jupiter-12 35mm f/2
  • Jupiter-8 50mm f/2
  • Jupiter-3 50mm f/1.5
  • Jupiter-9 85mm f/2
  • Jupiter-11 135mm f/4

There were many more KMZ lenses in additon to the five named above – not only adapted Zeiss designs, but also several fascinating new lenses as well, such as the ultra-wideangle Russar 20mm f/5.6. Check out sovietcams.com for much more detailed information on Russian lenses and cameras!

A page from the Contax-Buch by Otto Croy, 1942.

The page from the old Contax-Buch shows the various viewfinder types – Spezialsucher – that helped to use lenses with various focal lengths on the rangefinder Contax II camera.

Also pictured are, from top left to bottom right, the original Zeiss (for Contax) versions of most of the lenses I mentioned above: 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.5, 135mm f/4 and 85mm f/2.

Getting Zeiss originals in good condition requires the collector’s dedication and expense, while the Russian adaptations – all being mass produced at least into the late 1980s – are still easily available and fairly cheap. Note that Zeiss only produced these lenses for their own Contax cameras (and the telephoto versions also, in different barrels, for the Exakta SLR system). Very few, if any, Zeiss rangefinder lenses were ever originally made in the then-current Leica M39 mount. (And if you stumble upon a M39-mounted Zeiss-branded lens today, you really have to make sure it’s not a fake!)

The Russians, however, made all their rangefinder lenses both for the Kiev (= Contax) as well as M39 mount.

The Jupiter-9 85mm f/2

First of all: As you already might know, I’m not exactly a technical lens reviewer. I don’t measure any things. I only take pics, do some random pixel peeping at maximum and then write about my personal, subjective findings.

However, the Jupiter-9 has been more professionally reviewed on a Sony A7 II by the guys from phillipreeve.net – so if you’re interested in this lens, my suggestion is to read their review and also see some full-size samples there!

Okay. Now to the lens. As you read above, Zeiss developed the Sonnar 85mm f/2 lens for their Contax rangefinder system in the 1930s. Lens elements weren’t coated back then, so for this 85mm – as well as for their 50mm lenses – they came up with a unique design where the seven elements were grouped as 1–3–3. The individual elements in both 3-lens groups were cemented together in an effort to reduce the air-glass surfaces as those, when using uncoated glass, always reduced contrast and also light transmission. This exact lens design is what is called a “Sonnar”. Read more about it here on pencilofrays.com.

As has been told many times already, after Second World War, the Russians transferred much of the Zeiss equipment, designs and knowledge to their country. And after several prototypes and pre-production units, the Jupiter-9 85mm f/2 entered mass production in 1951, using the very same Sonnar formula, even though the radii of the individual lens elements have been altered due to the use of domestic glass types. (Every glass type has its own special characteristics, and lens designs have to take those precisely into account.)

Jupiter-9 with M39 rangefinder mount on the Sony A7R II.

Two different lens barrels, four different mount options

Basically, there were two different variants of the Jupiter-9. The glass was the same, but the barrels were distinctively different: One was made for rangefinder cameras, and the second, shorter lens barrel for SLR cameras with their bulky mirror boxes. The rangefinder lenses were made for Kiev (Contax bayonet) and M39 cameras; the SLR cameras had a M39 thread mount and later the well-known M42 thread mount. Note that the rangefinder M39 and SLR M39 lenses still have very different flange distances.

If you have a DSLR, you can only use the M39 or M42 SLR-style Jupiter-9’s. (You need a small adapter thread to go from M42 to M39, that’s no big deal.) If you have a mirrorless camera, you can adapt all four lenses – but note that it’s somewhat harder to source a Contax/Kiev adapter than the others. Last but not least, you can off course also use the rangefinder versions of the Jupiter-9 on any rangefinder camera, including the digital Leica M9 or M10. However, please note that there seem to be some issues with focusing accuracy.

Both rangefinder and SLR barrel variants of the Jupiter-9 were made for decades, so there’s been a lot of small design changes during the long production runs. During the 1960s, LZOS started to switch from their old bright aluminum finish to black enamel, later black anodised finishes. My lens already has the black anodised finish.

Also, the coatings were changed a couple of times during production. Let’s just say the Russian coatings are never really that good, and the age and wear of the lenses when you source them today off ebay surely doesn’t help that either.

There’s a lot of discussion as to which versions perform the best. In general, the consensus seems to be that the earliest models, made in the 1950s and maybe early 1960s, have a somewhat higher build quality. On the other hand, they are also the oldest by now, and that might bring other issues to the table. That’s why I went for a newer lens that looked like it wasn’t used too hard in its life. I can’t really comment if my lens is better or worse than others, but from what I’ve gathered on the net, it seems to perform just like any Jupiter-9 should perform.

Prices? In late 2019, you can source a lens like this for around 100–150 Euros in Germany. In general, the age or variant doesn’t seem to affect prices too much. When I was shopping around, I found that buying a set with a matching Zorki camera was actually cheaper than shopping for a lens alone. Go figure …

Focused to infinity.
At maximum close focus (1.15 metres).

Images taken with the Jupiter-9

Here’s some image galleries. As you can see, the lens flares wildly – and you can use that for creative purposes. Flares and stray light effects change with aperture.

If you don’t like flaring, this lens definitely is not for you!

The lens is somewhat soft with a lot of spherical aberrations at open aperture. Central sharpness becomes “modern” around f/4, the borders and corners are not really super sharp even at f/8. I’d still say the Jupiter-9 delivers an overall sharper image at f/8 than most modern 24-105 or similar zoom lenses would do at 85mm. But, in general, you don’t buy the Jupiter-9 just for sharpness either.

You buy it because you appreciate its old-fashioned, classic rendering.

This first set of three pics was taken at f/2, f/2.8 and f/4. See how the center sharpens up at f/2.8 already, and how incoming stray light from a big street lamp to the right of the frame changes with aperture:

Some more shots from the same evening, the flower and the #14 crane at f/2 and the two others at around f/8:

Here’s one with a stray light effect, for the second shot I shaded the front lens element. Both taken at around f/5.6:

Many folks describe the Jupiter-9 as a portrait lens, right? I took a lot of portraits of friends already but they don’t want to have themselves published in the internet – sorry my readers. I have to find a solution for that at some point. But at least, I can give you this sample:

The roamer (at f/2).
This is a 100% crop (click on it for full size).

Note that all my photos, as usual, are taken in RAW and processed to taste. The only things I did never correct or alter in any on the shots that you see in this post are CA’s, vignetting and distortion.

Please also respect my copyright on all of these images!

The gallery below – A day at the countryside:

Again, you’ll see some … well let’s call it cinematic, hehe … light effects on some of the pics above. Often I had to shade the front lens element with my hand. The Jupiter-9 lens does need an effective lens hood. Sometimes, however, you can use the stray light effects to your creative advantage. It depends!

The shot of the wooden gate was taken at f/2, it reveals some “swirly” bokeh as well. The farm truck is also an f/2 image, look out for the color errors around some of the more contrasty edges.

There are two pics of an almost bare rhododendron plant; first at f/2 and the second I think at around f/4. You see that the bokeh gets somewhat less busy – but maybe also less characteristic – if you close down a stop or two. The beautiful thing about the Jupiter-9 is that it has a super-smooth, 15-bladed aperture. So you can close down and “bokeh balls” still will look almost perfectly round. You won’t ever get any crisp “sun stars” though.

Here’s another set taken at f/2, f/2.8 and f/4. If you don’t like all that “glow” and color errors, you’ll have to stop down to f/2.8 at least. However, imagine you’d convert these to black & white. There, that same soft glow might look just beautiful:

The last gallery – A walk through the neighborhood:

I like all these traits of the Jupiter-9. It can go from wild and soft to fairly crisp and clean, all in one lens. But at all apertures, it renders like an old lens. It never delivers the clinical “harshness” of many modern designs. That’s what I like with classic lenses in general!

The Jupiter-9 is a lens design that dates back to the 1930s. It is over 80 years old by now. When it was launched as the Zeiss Sonnar 85mm f/2, it was right at the cutting-edge of lens design. And even today, it delivers images with beauty and pride that can look amazing when hanging on your wall. As I said before, it already inspired me to link one of my pictures to old poetry …

That’s the stuff I love!

Note:
Also see my video review of this lens on my new youtube channel!

Technical data

Lens typeJupiter-9
Focal length85 mm
Maximum aperturef/2
ManufacturerKMZ
First year of sales1951
Country of originUSSR
Manufactured inUSSR
Lens mountM39 rangefinder
(also available for Kiev/Contax, M42 SLR and M39 SLR)
Optical design7 lenses in 3 groups,
classic glass elements only,
simple coatings
Close focusing distance1.15 metres
Aperture15 rounded blades,
aperture ring without clicks
Size (diam. x length, without adapter)58mm x 68mm
(at infinity, to mount flange)
Size (diam. x length, with adapter for Sony)58mm x 80mm
(at infinity, to mount flange)
Filter threads49 mm
Weight (without adapter)~ 305 grams
Weight (with adapter)~ 350 grams

Thomas

2 thoughts on “Classic optics, new camera: The Jupiter-9 85mm f/2 on the Sony A7R II

Add yours

  1. Zdravím a prajem krásny deň. S veľkým porozumením som preštudoval Vaše stránky a msím uznať serioznosť vašich záverov o ruskej optike .Čo by som rád a s Vašim dovolením doplnil ,že rusi neodviezli technologie ako zlodeji, ale boli to vojenské reparácie po vojne ukončenej v r. 1945.Pokial ide o vyjadrenie o ruskej optike bolo by naozaj seriozne vyjadrenie že sa jedné o optiku vyrobenú v bývalom ZSSR ale podľa dokumentácie nemeckých inžinierov.
    Nemám vebovú stránku , ale rád sledujem iné inšpiratívne stránky, medzi ne zahrňujem aj tú vašu.Fotografujem od roku 1971 a vlastním viacero kamier od Smeny,Practiky cez canon F-1,Leica R-4,Nkon N 90 S ,Rolleicord Vb,Yashica Mat 124 a Linhof Master Technika Vl. Momentálne fotím s EOS 40D a šetrím si na EOS RP. Podľa Vašich recenzií
    chcem vyskušať obj. Pancolar 1,8/80 Jupytery : 3,12,9 ktoré mám k Zorkij 3 M.a tiež Smmar 2/50 k Leica lll a .Prepáčte ak sa Vás moje vyjadrenie dotklo ,ale s hlbokým porozumením čítam Vaše články a uvedné mje vyjadrenia som myslel naozaj úprimne.
    S pozdravo ,Dobré svetlo, Dušan.

  2. Thanks Dušan for your long reply. I had to run this through Google translate :) but was able to understand. You make the point that the Russian companies did not “steal” the German optics but that it was part of the reparation after the Second World War. I didn’t mean anything otherwise, and I have a soft spot for Russian optics and optical engineering anyway. Today there are not many Russian lenses in production anymore, but Russia also has a long history of very high-quality amateur telescope optics, for example made by LZOS.
    Your camera and lens collection sounds very nice. I have never tried the Pancolar 80/1.8 myself, it is a pretty rare lens. Kind regards, Thomas

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