First a bit of advice. A review is always speaking of a single lens, really, given quality control issues, the previous life accidents in a pre-owned lens and so on.
But with the so called Russian lenses this advice assumes an entirely new extent. First of all because of the extremely poor quality control they had in the Soviet factories – there is the legend that lenses made on mondays were of lesser quality, because of the hangover from the previous weekend… Then because, especially the rangefinder variants of those lenses, required some adjustment to make them perfectly compatible with Leica-like bodies. This is not a concern to the mirrorless user, but this adjustments, unfortunately, were often made by the unskilled owners themselves, with the results you can expect.
On the bright side, though, if you find a sample in good shape, maybe buying from a reputable seller – or, given the low cost, buying and selling until you find the right one – you will be often in for a treat. That said, with a bit of attention to the pictures (I was buying from an auction site) and searching for the older ones – supposedly better made (the first two numbers of the serial number indicate the year of production) – I was able to find a few Russian lenses without incurring in lemons.
Now, Soviet lenses they are more often than not not Leica-like quality. They never were, not even when new. But that’s exactly the point.
Take the lens reviewed here as a typical example. Mechanical quality, compared to Leica or for that matter to any other maker, is pretty much abysmal. But it has an optical signature that is, for my taste, simply amazing.
It’s a sharp lens, even more if you consider that has been built in the ’50s but projected in the ’30s! In fact it is a Soviet copy of the original Zeiss Sonnar for Contax rangefinder cameras. If there is an exception to my previous statement, that those lenses were never near Leica-quality, this one is. I tested it head-to-head against the Minolta (Leica made) M-Rokkor 90mm f/4 and at all apertures, even at f/2 (against f/4), it was way sharper both center and borders.
The main point, though, is the way it renders the out of focus planes, yes the ominous bokeh. 🙂
The iris will stay (almost) perfectly circular no matter what the aperture value is. So at all stops you will have a soft, smoooooooth bokeh graciously declining in the distance. Obviously closing the aperture will increase the depth of field, but you will never see those horrible hexagon-shaped out of focus points.
Moreover, it has a way to paint even the plain in focus that is light-years away from the Leica style. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Leica-hater; quite the opposite. But photography is like painting: you need different kind of brushes to make different kind of strokes. What brushes – what lenses – will depend from your style, your taste and, why not, your wallet.
This time, given the vast difference in quality you can find with these lenses, I will not show you test charts; it would be useless. But let me say that my sample, at least on the Aps-C sensor of the quite demanding Sony Nex 7, is sharp right to the extreme borders, even at full aperture (obviously at a full aperture of f/2 very little will be in focus to begin with).
Like I said before, especially given the low price – and the fact that you can always resell one pretty much for what you’ve paid for it – in my opinion a Jupiter-9 represents a really good investment.