Jupiter-8, an old Soviet lens for M39 Leica Thread Mounts (LTMs), comes with a maximum aperture of 𝒇2.0 and the normal 50mm focal length. This lens was produced in various finishes; it’s also available for Contax mounts.
The results I got with my Jupiter-8 (PT3110) surprised me with their beautiful bokeh, plenty of well-balanced resolution, and natural contrast. My further research revealed Jupiter-8 as a Soviet gadget with a polarized following amongst film and digital photographers — nearly seventy years since its first* release in 1951.
Not all Jupiter-8 lenses performed the same, allegedly. And so, in addition to my overview of this lens’ design, ergonomics, build quality, and image quality, I’ll discuss Soviet plagiarism and manufacturing standards.
✱ — There were earlier 1948-1951 versions of this lens available in limited quantities, some bearing the imported German glass and the original Carl Zeiss Contax Sonnar 50mm 𝒇2 formula.
A brief history of Jupiter-8 lenses.
Soviet Jupiter-8 is a copy of Carl Zeiss’ Sonnar lens design. USSR had “borrowed” foreign intellectual property numerous times through various circumstances, but in this case, the Russians acted in accordance with World War II reparations.
The first set of lenses made in the USSR based on the Sonnar formula was produced in 1948. These lenses were made using German glass that was confiscated from Germany by the Soviet Union. But the Soviet material supplies differed, and since Stalin’s regime was not set up for trade with the places that made this specific glass, the formula had to be rewritten for USSR glass.
Soviet design copies usually imitate foreign designs only initially, with subsequent products taking a liniage of their own. For example, the Russian FED 5, a rangefinder based on Leica II, mutated into something entirely distinct from Leica specs by the 1980s. Often, those copies would generate increasingly inferior products with each generation. A popular Russian YouTube channel Жирный discusses this phenomenon in detail.
In Soviet countries, the Party, social circumstances, and the variable availability of labour/talent/raw materials impacted the resulting products much more than the consumer. And so, unlike an established Western brand that strives to deliver consistent quality or value, KMZ — the factory that made Jupiter lenses — produced lenses of variable designs and quality.
The lens reviewed in this article is Type 4 or PT3110, characterized by a black-painted aluminum design with green distance markings. All earlier, supposedly inferior, versions of this lens aren’t painted and appear sliver.
Jupiter-8 PT3110 or Type 4 was made in the 1980s, nearing the time when the recently-deceased Mikhail Gorbachev made attempts to bring the Soviet Union out of the economic stagnation it had been experiencing since the 1970s.
Jupiter-8 PT3110 (Type 4) build quality.
My Jupiter-8, being a product of that environment, is surprisingly well-built. Of course, it has design flaws, but the parts and the assembly are excellent.
The lens feels very solid; the tolerances are tight, and nothing appears loose. The fringe aperture and metering values align perfectly with the dot. Its nine aperture blades form a smooth, consistent circle. The black paint that covers the lens inside-out, along with the green, red, and white markings, survived six decades without much trouble.
The people who made the components and put the lens together did an excellent job on the parts you can see and touch.
Design flaws aside, Jupiter-8 feels like a better build than some of the Japanese Olympus PEN lenses, which is mildly impressive.
Jupiter-8 lens design and ergonomics.
I tested my Jupiter-8 lens with Voigtländer Bessa L with Kontur 50mm finder — an excellent way to “connect” with the lens: the camera lacked a rangefinder, forcing me to look directly at the barrel as I zone-focused.
✪ Note: While Bessa L had no problem accepting the lens, you will need an L39 adapter to mount your Jupiter-8 on a Leica camera.
I enjoyed the light 121g weight and the low profile (less than 4cm/1.6” from the body) of my Jupiter-8. With Bessa L, it could fit into my hoodie pocket with no trouble.
Jupiter-8 has no aperture clicks, which means that if you operate your camera by feel, you may not be able to do so with this lens. Even while looking directly at the barrel, I felt less confident than usual about the correctness of my aperture setting.
But the worst flaw when it comes to design is the awkward coupling of the aperture ring to the focus ring. As you adjust the focus, Jupiter-8 will rotate its aperture ring in tandem, eventually hiding the first set of aperture markings from your view. In KMZ’s defence, the aperture value did not alter with focus adjustments, and the design had a second pair of aperture markings on the other side. However, rotating the aperture ring can sometimes move the focus ring, so I’d have to re-focus after each aperture adjustment.
Replacing the ancient lubricants in the lens may reduce the creeping focus during aperture adjustment, though I don’t believe the problem can be fully resolved with any amount of CLA.
Jupiter-8 lens image quality.
Jupiter-8 may not be as sharp as its highly-regarded German and Japanese competitors, but it can certainly be sharp enough. Especially if you’re shooting a medium-grained film such as Portra 400. Even at wider apertures, my PT3110 (Type 4) version delivered crisp images.
The most noticeable distortion on Jupiter-8 isn’t the lack of sharpness — it’s the lack of contrast. This flaw becomes even more apparent as you open your lens up wide. Perhaps this can be easily fixed in Adobe Photoshop, although most photographers probably would’ve preferred to get better results straight from the camera.
Bokeh quality is a subjective opinion; mine, when it comes to Jupiter-8, is that the bokeh on Jupiter-8 is lovely.
Even if the entire frame is out-of-focus, the image can look interesting:
Still, the flaring is fairly prominent on this lens.
Overall, Jupiter-8 is not the most advanced or precise optical instrument; however, it is certainly an interesting instrument that can find its uses. As long as you’re willing to live with the focus creep, Jupiter-8 will serve you as a lightweight normal lens with low contrast, decent resolution and smooth bokeh.
Where to buy your Jupiter-8 lens.
Currently, a decent Jupiter-8 copy is priced around $50, with the Type 4/PT3110 version reviewed here costing around $70-$150.
All of these lenses can be found on eBay and even Amazon. But wherever you shop, take a few minutes to read the description and check photos for significant scratches, lens fungus, and bent frames. The link below should give you a few good options to choose from should you decide to get one of your own.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Jupiter-8 lens purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!