Sonnar at a budget price. Those are the thoughts when purchasing a Jupiter 8 lens. A lens design which has become quite a “must have” for a photographer, but can be out of reach in many cases. This is where the wonderful Jupiter 8 (ЮПИТЕР-8) comes in, with a very useable L39 Leica Thread Mount or Contax bayonet mount, both of which have a plethora of inexpensive adapters for a wide range of cameras.
The Jupiter 8 is a lens you may reach for when you feel creative. Do not put it on your camera if you are looking for edge to edge sharpness, spend the extra money and get the Zeiss Planar instead. If you are looking at introducing some character into your photos, then this lens gives it in spades, with some pretty amazing sharpness in the middle. Don’t mistake this as a criticism, it is a feature which defines it.
There is a concept for camera collectors called Gear Acquisition Syndrome or GAS for short. Before we work out if the Jupiter 8 is a GAS Giant, we’ll find out a bit more about it.
Before going on though, just a word of warning. This is a user review, in other words, do not expect a technical review looking at zoomed in focus spots and straight walls.
The Sonnar lens was designed in 1929 by Dr. Ludwig Bertele for Zeiss Ikon. There is more information on Zeiss in the review of the Werra 2. At that time, the f/2 aperture was considerably larger than what was on other lenses, so Zeiss Ikon named it the Sonnar, which is derived from the word “Sonne”, the German word for Sun. Interestingly the name was originally a tradename for a Tesser lens by a company that Zeiss bought out and merged into the organisation in 1926.
The original Sonnar was designed with six elements in three groups, which would allow a maximum of an f/2 aperture. In 1931, a redesign with a new formula was developed with seven elements in three groups, allowing a maximum aperture of f/1.5. Due to the design, the Sonnar is not a good fit for a SLR, as the mirror requires too much space between it and the film plane, so it has been mainly used for rangefinders within the 35mm space. In medium format the Sonnar does get used in some SLRs, known most famously on the Hasselblad.
During World War 2 when Germany invaded parts of the Soviet Union, the usual lines for optical instruments were blocked for the USSR, so in 1942 the Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works (KMZ) factory was set up to produce optical equipment for the military. KMZ produced some of the most iconic Soviet photographic products, including the Zorki (more of the history with the Zorki 4 review) and FED.
In the 1950s, with the availability of other production facilities, research and development was increased at KMZ and expanded considerably to lenses. This was further enabled with the availability of lens designs taken from Zeiss as part of the war reparations. This included the Sonnar formulas, so soon afterwards KMZ began producing the Jupiter 8 and 3 lenses.
The initial Jupiter 8 lenses were created for Arsenal’s Contaxt copy, the Kiev. From 1953 the Jupiter 8 became the standard lens with the L39 mount Zorki cameras, from the Zorki 3S onwards. It was, though, offered as an option from at least 1949. The lens was made in aluminium, with some rarer stainless steel ones, until the early 1970s. From then it was primarily made in black, but still aluminium. The 1970s was also when the Jupiter 8 went out of production.
An upgraded version of the lens was released in 1957 as the Jupiter 8M, which continued in parallel with the Jupiter 8. It was only made in Contax mount and the main difference was that the aperture ring incorporated click stops, for easier adjustment of the aperture.
This copy of the Jupiter 8 was likely manufactured in the early 1960s based on the design and serial number. The lens barrel is made from aluminium, which makes the lens very light, at roughly 130 grams. It is also very common to find the 40.5mm filter thread bent, due to the soft light metal.
The lens mount is Leica Thread Mount (L39). While this will attach to a Leica, the slightly different register required on the Zorki camera, that it was designed for and the lower quality control from the Soviet factory at the time, means that the lens is well known to impact the exact focusing, generally back focusing on a Leica.
The Jupiter 8 has a Sonnar lens design, with a construction of six elements in three groups. Single lens coating has been applied to the front element, which is meant to reduce flare control.
Aperture range is from f/2 to f/22 with 9 aperture blades. The aperture ring is at the front of the lens and does not have click steps. Focusing is through the ring further back on the lens, and is from 1 metre through to infinity.
I received the Jupiter 8 when I purchased the Zorki 4. I was quite surprised on the weight of the lens, or lack of, when I first handled it. The aluminium does cut the weight but also makes it feel quite fragile. I noticed the filter thread was a little bent, but luckily not enough to make it unusable.
I used the lens on 3 cameras during this test. The Zorki 4, a Panasonic GX7 Micro 4/3 digital camera and a Leica M3. The latter two were with the appropriate L39 adapters.
First I took it out mounted on the Zorki 4 and used it for a few days. Pretty quickly I found what I consider one of the drawbacks of this lens, in that the aperture selection does not click. I could not tell with the camera to my eye what I had selected by feel, I had to lower the camera and look at the settings on the lens. A little annoying, but not a major negative.
The results came back with quite unique look, which helped me understand the fascination people have with the Sonnar lenses. The centre was sharp, especially when the aperture was set to f/8 or smaller, but a considerable fall off in sharpness even a short distance towards the edges. Wide open there was a little bit of softness all around. All that is forgotten though, when viewing the results with that great sharpness in the middle and the really characteristic way it separates it from the background.
It wasn’t long before I attached it, via an adapter, to the Panasonic GX7. The GX7 is a micro 4/3 sensor mirrorless camera. This means it is a half size crop, setting the Jupiter 8 to a 100mm focal length. I took this to a few places including my son’s football match and Sydney’s Luna Park. Focusing was quite easy, especially with the technological marvel of focus peaking.
When I loaded the pictures from the card I noticed they were quite flat. A little bit of contrast correction and we were in business. While I am not a technical tester of lenses, and will not go pixel peeping, I did not notice any chromatic aberrations. Interestingly I found the lens considerably sharper, but that would not be a surprise as with the crop sensor the camera used the middle half of the lens.
What I did work out, is that it is not suited to being a great sports lens!
When I had finished with digital, I swapped over to the Leica M3, again with an adapter. I was a little worried about what I had read, that the focus would be off. I took the M3 with me into the central business district of Sydney.
The results were especially good again with anything smaller than f/8. I had a few hit and misses with anything wider and in those photos did find it back focused. What really attracted me though is that the photos are very different from the Leica or Zeiss lenses I have used on this camera. They have a unique character, and while some of this can be attributed to the fact that it is a Sonnar, the Jupiter has its own signature.
I did find that some flare would occur every so often, so I will endeavour to source a lens cap for when I use the Jupiter 8. This was to be expected, knowing that there is only the single coating on the lens.
All in all, used on three quite different cameras, the results ensure I will keep using this lens. Rather than being competition to the usual 50mm lenses, I have found the Jupiter 8 is a compliment. It brings a unique look to my pictures not constrained by technical excellence.
As you can get a Jupiter 8 for quite a low price, and the quality it produces is way above its price, everyone should grab one and try it out. With the L39 mount, it is great not just on the Soviet cameras, but adapted to almost all mirrorless cameras and rangefinders.
If you want to know a bit more about the Jupiter 8, have a look here on the specs: Allphotolenses Jupiter 8.