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Russian lenses for M42/K mount

Laurentiu Cristofor , Nov 02, 2009; 11:45 p.m.

I was browsing the rugift catalog of lenses for Pentax K-mount (some available via M42 adapters). In the past, I have seen discussions that mentioned the Peleng/Zenitar fisheyes and some occasional references to Rubinar mirror lenses, but I haven't heard anything about any other lenses. I was wondering if anyone has any experience and impressions to share about any of those Russian lenses.


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Orlando Andico , Nov 03, 2009; 03:28 a.m.

Lots of information on Russian and other MF lenses at www.mflenses.com

Some of those which I've tried:

Mir-1v 37mm f2.8 - a Zeiss Flektogon copy, pretty decent, nice bokeh (prefer it to the Super-Takumar 35/3.5)

Helios-44-2 58mm f2 - a Zeiss Biotar copy, also nice bokeh due to the nearly-circular diaphragm, a good "portrait" lens on crop DSLR

Jupiter-9 85mm f2 - a Zeiss Sonnar copy. I don't like the swirly bokeh wide-open but others do. quite soft wide-open (no need for vaseline on a filter) but sharpens up nicely at f/4

Jupiter-37AM 135mm f3.5 - a Zeiss Sonnar copy. I think I like it better than my Zeiss Jena 135mm f3.5! (it has nicer bokeh due to the full-manual aperture and circular iris)

now for one I haven't tried...

Helios-40-2 85mm f1.5 - quite large and expensive for a Russian lens.. probably the most expensive Russian lens. Better bokeh than the Jupiter-9 but the J-9 is way cheaper.

Roger R. , Nov 03, 2009; 08:26 a.m.

There are some nice Russian optics to be found; as mentioned most (not all) are copies of a German Zeiss design. Probably my most used one is the Helios-44, for it's bokeh. I find the bokeh more pleasing on many older m-42 lenses rather than today's hyper-corrected zooms. If you have time to play and for more stationary subjects the M42 glass can be a lot of fun and the Russian optics among the best bargains.

However quality control on these lenses can be more hit or miss, so be prepared to go through a dud or two to find a good one; if you like a focal length it may take a couple of tries to get a good copy. But the standout quality for many Russian lenses is their build. I'd call them "military-grade" Not saying they are refined or perfectly smooth; they are often rough. And many made of thick enough metal that you could drive a tank over them with minimal damage. As a whole they are heavy and very, very solid; more industrial in construction.

Checkout ebay and look for sellers in your country to save on shipping and try a few out, they are cheap in comparison to German / Japanese M-42 glass.

Douglas Stemke , Nov 03, 2009; 09:37 a.m.

I've had a couple of the Jupiter-9 85mm f. that Orlando noted. The first one was awful (silver, looked like it HAD been run over by a truck) and I got a free replacement Black. I have to say I really like the lens. It is a manual focus lens, and when I say manual I mean 'manual labor' lens. There is no silky smooth warm and fuzzy feel of a Pentax manual lens, it's cold hard steel and lives up to the reputation others have noted.
However, I do like the optical properties of this lens and have found it to be a very nice portrait lens, used a lot less frequently now that I shoot digital and have the 77mm Limited. Still for the price IMHO this is a hard lens not to like.

Orlando Andico , Nov 03, 2009; 01:42 p.m.

Ah. I forgot to mention this until Douglas brought it up.

These Russian lenses are the epitome of "Ural Mountains technology" -- rough and tough inside and out.

A Pentax Super-Takumar from the late 1960's to early 1970's by contrast is a mechanical marvel. I do not exaggerate when I say a 50/1.4 Super-Tak that I have, is mechanically and tactile-ly better than a modern Leica Elmarit-M 90/2.8 that I got to try on an M8.

The only thing going for the Russians is they are cheap (on ebay -- rugift is not) and some of them have "interesting" bokeh. For example the Helios-44 is a Biotar design, not the more common double-Gauss (Planar) which everybody else puts out. So it has some "character."

Miserere Mei , Nov 03, 2009; 02:39 p.m.

I second Doug's comments on the Jupiter 9—shortly after receiving my copy I dubbed her Tanky.

Laurentiu Cristofor , Nov 03, 2009; 03:19 p.m.

Thanks for all the answers. Other than ebay, what places have you purchased such lenses from in the US? I've never gathered sufficient excitement for an ebay listing to decide to get anything that way. Have such lenses ever showed up at places like keh or adorama?

Chune-Hoong Pong , Nov 03, 2009; 05:23 p.m.

I have a copy of the ubiquitous Helios 44-M 58mm f2, and my experience with the lens largely parallels those above. The bokeh is indeed pleasing, or at the very least, not busy. It's a sturdy chunk of metal, and eventhough my copy of the lens has a slightly stiff focusing ring, I still find it comfortably engaging when in use.

Here are 2 image samples when I took it out for a run earlier this evening. Taken wide open at f/2 on my K100D Super, converted to .jpg from Raw without any adjustments.

The DJ


The 58mm f2 are a dime a dozen on that auction site, and it's hard-to-beat in terms of value for money. Easy and inexpensive way to get a headstart into Russian lenses.

David Russell , Nov 03, 2009; 06:52 p.m.

As far as K/M42 goes, the Russian primes have surprisingly good reputations (especially some of the Helios designs, which have some WWII-related connection to Zeiss designs that I can never remember properly). Besides, it's the radioactive Super Takumars you have to worry about :P

Orlando Andico , Nov 04, 2009; 05:52 a.m.

I got a Helios-44-2 and a Jupiter-37AM for $2 on ebay. With shipping it came out to $12 (wow!)

The Helios had a busted filter ring but that didn't affect image quality of course.

Ebay is a good source of old Russian lenses but try to buy from US sellers. Shipping from Ukraine is quite expensive, it blows out the budget.

Adorama and KEH may have some too but they aren't single-digit dollars :-D

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