The Jupiter-3 50mm 1.5 is actually a copy of the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm 1.5 and was produced in the UDSSR after WWII. The Jupiter lenses belong to the very few “lowcost” rangefinder lenses, but what do they have in store in terms of optical quality? Read on to find out.
Specifications / Version History
The outer apperance of the lens has changed over time and regarding the optics early versions may actually use Zeiss glass produced in Germany and some later ones may have different coatings as well. So in case you are curious, take a look at the page sovietcams.com, for additional coverage.
I am reviewing a quite early lens from 1960 here (the first two digits of the serial number are the production year, 60 in this case) which was kindly provided for reviewing purpose by my dear friend Enzio, who also has a flickr album for this lens alongside many other beautiful pictures, so be sure to check out his profile.
The review sample has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 48 mm
- Field of view: 46° (diagonally)
- Length: 45 mmm
- Weight: 141 g
- Filter Diameter: 40.5 mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 15 (rounded)
- Elements/Groups: 7/3
- Close Focusing Distance: 1.0 m (with Helicoid 0.5 m)
- Maximum Magnification: 1:16.2 (with Helicoid 1:7.1)
- Mount: M39 (aka “Zorki” or “Leica thread mount (LTM)”)
Handling / Build Quality
Not along ago this lens had a CLA (“clean, lube and adjust”) and the focusing ring as well as the aperture ring therefore operate with ease and quite smooth. In case you buy a used lens from the early years the grease may have stiffened over time and so will have the focusing ring. You can either try fixing this yourself with the help of some tutorials or videos on the internet or bring it to a repair shop instead. The best idea is of course to buy your lens from a trusted seller. I can recommened this ebay shop (affiliate link) as I have bought lenses there myself (this is a hint on further Jupiter reviews 🙂 ).
Turning the focusing ring from infinity to 1.0 m takes about 120°, turning the aperture ring from f/1.5 to f/22 takes about 90°. The aperture ring has no click stops. I prefer click stops but in case you consider filming with this lens you may prefer it the way it is. There is no official hood I know of, my friend Enzio delievered this lens with a “Leica-style” lens hood fitting the 40.5 mm filter diameter, which can be found very cheap on ebay.com (affiliate link).
This lens is made from aluminium which contributes to the low weight but is also very good at attracting scratches. Newer versions are still made from aluminum but painted black and don’t attract scratches as much to my experience.
Vignetting and colorcast
Vignetting is pretty much in line with what you would expect from a lens with these parameters and from f/4.0 onwards certainly nothing to worry about. There may be the slightest hint of a green colorcast in the extreme corners when shooting a white wall, but I checked all my other photos taken with this lens and didn’t notice any so I actually don’t consider this an issue.
At the maximum aperture of f1.5 sharpness and contrast are somewhat dampened and in the crops you can also see the “Sonnar” glow, as it is sometimes referred to. Stopping down to just f2.0 helps to get quite good results in the frame center, but it takes stopping down to f8.0 for the midframe and f11 for the corners, to get to similar resolution levels. This lens won’t win any sharpness records but I don’t think anyone would have expected it to. I also didn’t notice any field curvature, focusing on the edges won’t give you better edge resolution at wider apertures.
One thing to notice: in the overview above I increased the exposure on the corner crops in post so they are comparable in terms of sharpness.
For these shots I was using the VM-E helicoid adapter at maximum extension (around 4 mm), so keep in mind you are looking at 100% crops of photos taken at the extended(!) minimum focus distance. The lens was never intended to be used at these distances and does not incorporate a floating elements design either, which explains the mediocre performance wide open (simliar to the behaviour of the Zeiss 50mm 1.4 Planar C/Y), which is even worsened by some veiling haze. Already stopped down to just f2.0 the performance increases to quite good levels, from f2.8 onwards the resolution in the frame center is even very good.
The flare resistance is nothing to write home about. With the sun in the frame the contrast drops significantly and colored blobs appear, light sources outside the frame very often introduce rainbows across most of the frame (these won’t go away on stopping down).
With a light source sun outside the frame the hood helps a bit, but some of the ghosting remains:
Comparison: no hood (before) / hood (after)
As with many older lenses coma correction is rather bad. Wide open there is coma all over the frame, even in the center portion. Stopping down to f/4.0 traces of coma can still be found in the corners, which also still lack sharpness, so therefore I would recommend shooting everything with point light sources near the corners at f/11 for decent performance in this area.
The Jupiter-3 has some pincushion distorion which is rather unusual for 50mm lenses. In architectural shots you will want to correct this (plug in “-3” with Photoshop or Lightroom).
Distortion, without correction (before) / with correction f4.0 (after)
I want to go a bit into detail here, so this chapter may be a little longer than usual. Sonnar lenses are known for their distinct kind of bokeh, which is mainly caused by the inheritance of spherical aberrations in the optical design. But if you like the bokeh of a certain lens or not, is also a very subjective thing. Nevertheless I will at least try to be objective here in describing my findings.
At f/1.5 it really is all about the background. For portraits with the background way out of focus you can get very very smooth bokeh, but with busy backgrounds on the other hand, the strong outlinig will render your background very distracting.
Bokeh, f1.5 (before) / f2.0 (after)
Stopping down to f/2.0 helps a lot, the outlining nearly goes away completely and sharpness as well as contrast improve by a huge margin which adds to the effect of subject separation. Thanks to the 15 rounded aperture blades light circles stay perfectly round on stopping down, so the backgrounds still looks natural. For situations with defocused background in the frame f/2.0 was totally my preferred aperture value with this lens.
I included a few comparisons between f/1.5 and f/2.0 in this chapter so you can decide which rendering you prefer.
Bokeh, f1.5 (before) / f2.0 (after)
The 15 rounded aperture blades may keep keep the light circles in the bokeh perfectly round, but they are also responsible for the not all that great sunstars. You just can’t have both in one lens. Take a look at a crop from the photo above:
The loCA correction is actually quite good, you may see traces of them at f/1.5 (depending on the subject) but at f/2.0 they are pretty much gone. This is very good performance.
You can spot some lateral CAs especially in the corners which can be easily corrected in post, as can be seen in the example below (100% crop).
Sony A7s | Jupiter-3 50 mm 1.5 | f/11 | CA 100% crop before/after extreme corner
When it comes to 50mm lenses there are so many to choose from, so the following list is far from being comprehensive in any way.
Jupiter-3+ 50mm 1.5
The guys at “lomography” decided to resurrect the Jupiter-3 and they are now producing new ones (at the same exact factory as the old ones, so they say) named Jupiter-3+. I haven’t tried one of these yet but I must say I am a little skeptic here. There is lots of marketing bla bla but no indication anything was improved optically. Add to this, they are selling them new for 600 bucks, makes this not looking like a good deal to me.
Update: according to a reader who owns this lens coatings, minimum focus distance and build quality are much better with this version.
Zeiss ZM C Sonnar 50mm 1.5 T*
This is the real modern interpretation of the 50mm Sonnar lens. Unfortunately I did not yet get the chance to try this one myself but from what I have read and seen so far, this lens combines the Sonnar rendering with modern coatings and hugely improved performance wide open in terms of sharpness and contrast. Needless to say, this lens is way more expensive then the Jupiter-3.
Voigländer Nokton 50mm 1.5 Asph VM
This has actually become my “go to” 50mm lens on the A7s. Compared to the Jupiter-3 this is a very modern design with an aspherical element as well as high contrast throughout the whole aperture range. As many rangefinder lenses this one also struggles with the thick filter stack but all in all this is a great combination of fastness, compactness, pleasant bokeh, sunstars, sharpness and price.
Leica 50mm lenses:
If you want a lens as fast you can take a look at one of the many versions of the Summilux 50mm 1.4, I haven’t used any and they are all very expensive (at least 10x Jupiter-3 expensive).
If you can get by with a maximum aperture of f/2.0 you may also take a look at one of the different Summicron-M 50mm 2.0 lenses but they will also be way more expensive and I am certainly no expert on these lenses either.
DSLR 50mm lenses:
One can find very cheap lenses here with good optical qualities, but they will be much bigger and the really good ones ain’t as cheap anymore as well. You can of course take a look at some of the 50mm reviews on this blog.
It has been quite the task to put this lens into a rating scheme as it actually boils down to whether you like the rendering or not. This is definetly not your allround 50mm but rather a more specialized lens best suited for subtle portraits and nature photography such as flowers and the likes where you can make use of the softness wide open. This shall not mean the lens is unusable for landscapes or cityscapes (at least not stopped down to f/11) but there are definetly lenses with better sharpness and contrast (and sunstars) available.
So, who is this lens for? Anyone, who looks for a really small yet fast and cheap (when talking about rangefinder lenses) 50mm lens with portraits in mind, enjoys the Sonnar rendering or just wants to experience working with a vintage lens with quite some history. In case you are more on the market for a small allround 50mm better take a look at the Alternatives section (especially the Voigtländer 50mm 1.5) first.
I have set up a flickr album which contains some shots taken with the Jupiter-3.
- Review: Voigtländer Nokton 50mm 1.5
- Manual lenses on the Sony a7 – A beginners guide
- Leica M/M39 lenses – Overview
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