FED 50mm f/3.5 Industar-10

A Beautiful Russian Copy of Leica’s M39 Elmar Design for a Decent Price

8 min read by

I love the look of the Industar-10 lens. It is a beautiful machined metal and glass piece that shows brassing over time. It also looks great on the ancient Russian Leica copy — FED-2.

This review will go over a short history of these lenses, their ergonomics, and image quality. I will then top this off with a guide to buying your Soviet lens cheaply.

A short history of the Industar lenses.

One of my first film cameras was my dad’s old FED 5b. My parents bought it after they got married in the 1980s. I still remember dad obsessing over his enormous black and white print of our dog, Frosia, he made with that camera many years ago.

FED-2 with Industar-10 lens, a Soviet Leica copy.

FED-2 was my second Russian-built camera, which I bought years after I started shooting film.

I generally gravitated towards (West) German and Japanese cameras, as most would, for their build and image quality.

Soviet photographic equipment does not have a great reputation; Russian lenses and cameras are usually sold at a fraction of the European or Japanese equivalents’ price. Dad’s FED-5, despite being an important part of my family’s history, has bad ergonomics and isn’t as fun to shoot as some of my other cheap cameras. However, when I saw a much older FED-2 for sale, I had to have it — it looked positively stunning — and it felt better in use also.

The lens that my FED-2 rangefinder came with was the crown jewel of the entire package. Collapsable, beautiful, with a distinctive brassing on the ring surrounding the glass bubble, a quality even the much more expensive Leica Elmars do not seem to have.

My 50mm 𝒇3.5 Industar-10 lens had ФЭД inscribed in Cyrillics, which is the same brand as the camera, FED. FED is an acronym for Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, in Russian: Фе́ликс Эдму́ндович Дзержи́нский. He’s known for his involvement with the Soviet secret police and the children’s labour commune, which eventually transformed into the factory that made FED cameras.

Industar is a Tessar-type lens design used by FED and other factories made cameras since the 1930s. It’s at the core of nearly sixty Soviet-made lenses’ optical design.

Despite its appearance (and mechanics) closely resembling the German Leica’s Elmar collapsable lens, its optics are something else. Based on Carl Zeiß’s designs, like many other Soviet lenses, Industar-10 uses the Tessar system that some say may perform as well as Elmar — but only if it’s properly “adjusted.” This refers to the lens’ good design being held back by poor build quality control.

Industar-10 build quality, handling, and ergonomics.

The lens I got was in good shape. Its rings turned smoothly, and nothing seemed out of place. It felt exactly as it looked in a picture: fantastic. Hefty yet intricate in design, compact with reasonable tolerances. Nothing felt loose. Although I could imagine Leica’s original design would feel and look even better, it can’t be that much of a difference.

Despite its great appearance, I found a small flaw in my lens after getting the film back from the lab. It had a light leak. Nothing awful and practically unnoticeable, but it was there.

Industar-10’s ergonomics, however, aren’t ideal. To change its aperture, you have to push a tiny tab next to the lens, and the focus adjustment isn’t easy to comprehend either. The lens locks in the infinity position, out of which it needs to be pushed slightly harder to come out. This makes focusing near infinity difficult. It took me an entire roll of film to get used to this lens.

Fujicolor Superia 200 with Industar-10. Contrast is adjusted in Photoshop.

Image quality.

This Russian design copy of M39 Elmar is quite soft when shot at 𝒇3.5, particularly in the corners.

It gets considerably sharper at 𝒇5.6, 𝒇8, and 𝒇11. In fact, when the lens is stopped down, it’s as good as any other. The only flaws that remain during its optimal apertures are the blurry edges and an overall lack of contrast. Degrading resolution at the frame’s edges is something you’d have to accept with this lens. However, contrast can be improved in post-production or with a sensible film choice to some degree.

Fujicolor Superia 200 with Industar-10 (no contrast adjustments). Considerable loss of contrast in full sun.

My favourite property of this lens is its bokeh. Despite its limited 𝒇3.5 aperture, Industar-10 can render soft, expressive, and even swirly bokeh.

The fact that this lens has an issue producing high contrast only plays into its stunning out-of-focus renderings.

Fujicolor Superia 200 with Industar-10. Bokeh at 𝒇3.5.
Fujicolor Superia 200 with Industar-10. Bokeh at 𝒇3.5. Notice the light leak at the top of the frame.
Fujicolor Superia X-Tra 400 with Industar-10 at 𝒇3.5.

Easy disassembly and service

Before taking the lens out for a walk, I tested its infinity focus on my FED-2, which looked good. However, the focus was a little tight, and the glass had a bit of grime and fungus.

The lens does not have many parts. There are only three groups that are all easy to access with the right tools. Nothing’s too tight or too tricky. Provided that you organize your tools and parts well and have a good working surface, taking Industar-10 apart and putting back together is a five-minute job.

I soaked the glass in hydrogen peroxide for five minutes and then gently washed it with soapy water, followed by a careful wipe with a lens cloth.

Industar-10’s serviceability is fantastic.

In fact, this lens is an excellent starting point if you’d like to learn how to perform CLA on your lenses.

Buying your Soviet lens cheaply.

Industar 10s are cheap and plentiful in supply on eBay. This is why ruining one due to a shoddy repair job is an affordable lesson — $50 — if this is 2022 and you’ve had some experience buying on eBay.

The price oddly depends on the country your seller is located in. Today, Russian, Ukrainian, and former USSR sellers can be found shipping them anywhere for $50 — delivery price included. You can even find batches of 10 sold at just over $100. US and Japanese sellers, as of this writing, sell them for $100 + $25 shipping.

There is no way those US and Japanese stores aren’t sourcing Industar-10s from the former Soviet republic, most likely Ukraine, as it’s the geographic location of the FED factory. So the premium you’d be paying can only be justified by shipping times and whatever guarantees and refund policies the retailer may be offering.

Posting items from Russia can take months to deliver — my longest wait was four months. However, the sellers I’ve bought from were good about communicating the delivery times, packaging, and having their product match its description and photos.

Of course, when it comes to appearance and functionality, you should pay close attention to the listing and ask for any additional info and photos before purchasing.

Some things to look out for: fungus, balsam separation, cracks, numerous scratches (especially on the rear element), hard-to-turn focus/aperture rings, rust, missing screws, dings and dents on the lens, and an appearance that looks odd when compared to other listings’ photos. You can search online for definitions and examples of the above if you don’t know how to look for them. Certain things like “have you tested this lens on a film or a digital camera?” can only be asked or are part of the description and can not be identified in a photo.

If $50 is a large purchase for you, make sure you diligently go through the advice in the above paragraph. Remember, eBay will refund you if your lens does not match its description or does not arrive — at least for its Canadian users, so make sure you check your user agreement.

Some sellers, including those in the former USSR, may offer returns. However, make sure you understand that even if the return policy is described as “free,” the seller may require you to pay import/export fees and shipping costs.

By the way: Please consider making your Industar-10 camera purchase using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!