Seeking the sharpest Russian
My acquisition of assorted Russian cameras has resulted in a collection of assorted Russian lenses.
Not that any of us care particularly, but from the left they are:
1981 Helios 103 53mm F1.8
1957 Jupiter 3 50mm F1.5
1978 Jupiter 8 50mm F2
1950 Zorki ZK 50mm F2
As they are all 50mm or thereabouts, I wanted to find out which was the best, so I could strap it permanently to my Kiev and get the best possible photos. So I ran a couple of films through the camera using all the lenses in different situations and made careful notes as I went along, so I could work out what shot was taken with which lens afterwards. As usual, I got carried away with taking photos and my notes got screwed up and I was never sure which photo was which. Dick.
Another solution was required, so how about an adapter which would allow me to use the lenses on the GX1? This would also enable me to go out and have some digital Russian lens action, just for fun. Problem is that the Kiev lens mount is rather complicated and what looks like part of the lens is actually part of the camera body. But then I found a man who takes broken Kiev cameras (of which there is no shortage), rips the front off and then turns it into an adapter. Perfect:
Spent a few hours taking a variety of shots with all the lenses and tabulating the results.
I was hoping that the 1950 Zorki was the best because it is a classic, and the same age as the camera. Failing that, the Jupiter 3 would be my second choice because it looks cute and is F1.5. The Jupiter 8 would be a sorry third because it is the boring stock lens and everybody has one, and the Helios 103 would be my last choice because of the shitty black plastic ring. Plus, the Helios has dubious heritage (not based on any famous lens); and it didn’t go into production until 1978, long after the glory years of Russian lenses.
Given Sod’s Law, it will come as no surprise to learn that the Helios 103 was by far the best performing lens of the four. So its black plastic shittiness will be hanging off the front of my Kiev in future (oh, the horror):
The Helios came with one of the cameras I purchased, but you can buy remains from the 1980s production, brand new in a box, for less than $40; so have ordered a spare which might turn out to be even better than my current copy.
Then I thought it might be fun to compare it with the Olympus 45mm F1.8.
The first thing you might expect is a size difference. The Olympus is designed for Micro Four Thirds and is one of the smallest lenses you can buy. The Helios is designed for full frame and has a slightly longer focal length and the same F1.8 aperture.
If it wasn’t for the extended mount, the Helios would be much smaller. So much for the “full frame lenses must be bigger” argument.
So then I went out and took a few shots with both of them. A little unfair to compare a $40, thirty five year old Russian lens, designed in a back kitchen for use with film, and constructed in a spare corner of a tractor factory more than thirty years ago, with a modem, much praised digital masterpiece from Olympus costing ten times as much; but I did it anyway. Here’s a shot from each:
I know, I know, the difference is staggering. We’ve come a long way in forty years.
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