For any per­son shoot­ing, it is impor­tant to invest and cre­ate an arse­nal of high-qual­i­ty optics. One that will not let you down, will give a good result and will not be a pur­chase, but an invest­ment for years of fruit­ful film­ing.

Alas, the price of many fast lens­es, even in the sec­ondary mar­ket, is quite weighty. Not every­one can afford. Hence the unceas­ing inter­est in vin­tage, Sovi­et optics. It will eas­i­ly com­pete with the flag­ship lens­es of major brands.

We talk about the top Sovi­et lens­es that still give strong results and are rel­e­vant in 2022: we ana­lyze the advan­tages, dis­ad­van­tages, fea­tures and exam­ples of shots.

Pho­to: fotoforge.livejournal.com

1. Helios 44–2 58/2

Advan­tages: beau­ti­ful swirling pat­tern, price

Flaws: depend­ing on the spe­cif­ic instance, it may have a tight move­ment of the diaphragm ring or play in the design

Image: radojuva.com

Let’s be hon­est: if you shoot and call your­self a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, then at least you heard about this lens or shot on it your­self. This is one of the most mass-pro­duced pho­to­graph­ic lens­es pro­duced all over the world. Helios was assem­bled on the basis of the Ger­man Ziess Bio­tar and was pro­duced for almost the entire sec­ond half of the last cen­tu­ry at the Krasno­gorsk Mechan­i­cal Plant, and lat­er at the Jupiter and MMZ plants.

In Sovi­et times, almost all Zen­it cam­eras were equipped with Helios-44, as opposed to the cheap­er Indus­tar fifty dol­lars. In the 67th year, a mod­i­fi­ca­tion was devel­oped, Helios 44–2, which became the most mas­sive among Sovi­et lens­es. The work­ing length of the sec­ond ver­sion is 45.5 mm, added com­pat­i­bil­i­ty with oth­er mounts.

Pho­to: fotocccp.ru

The lens has a char­ac­ter­is­tic tun­nel bokeh, which con­tributes to the for­ma­tion of an almost water­col­or image. “Helios” has a sharp mid­dle and a soft­ened pic­ture at the edges. It is thanks to the char­ac­ter­is­tic bokeh that it is very easy to iden­ti­fy the pic­tures tak­en by Helios. This is an ide­al high-aper­ture por­trait lens, which today can be installed on almost any sys­tem using adapters. Due to the design of the lens­es, the lens is con­sid­ered to be quite soft, airy, allow­ing you to hide the rough­ness and uneven­ness of the skin.

Pho­to: m42-adapter.in.ua

“Helios” is still com­mon, a nice bonus — it’s inex­pen­sive. Ide­al as an artis­tic por­trait lens or a begin­ner’s first fifty dol­lars. In almost any city you will find one in pho­to flea mar­kets or on the shelf of your grand­par­ents. The case for small — to pur­chase an adapter.

2. Jupiter 9 85/2

Advan­tages: per­fect bokeh, aper­ture ratio, smooth tran­si­tion of depth of field

Flaws: may be too soft at open aper­ture val­ues, soft effect, not suit­able for dynam­ic shoot­ing and work with back­light

Image: radojuva.com

The sec­ond most famous Sovi­et por­trait lens, which attracts with suf­fi­cient aper­ture for such a focal length. At dif­fer­ent times, about ten dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions of Jupiter 9 were released for dif­fer­ent mounts: for Kievs, mir­ror Zeniths with M39 threads, rangefind­er cam­eras with M39 threads and late Zeniths with M42 threads. The lens was orig­i­nal­ly assem­bled accord­ing to the scheme of the Ger­man Son­nar, but in a dif­fer­ent form, in a thick­ened met­al case and with Sovi­et glass.

Pho­to: sony-club.ru

“Jupiter 9” has as many as 15 (!) aper­ture blades, which even import­ed lens­es of that time could not boast of. This results in per­fect­ly round bokeh, which, com­bined with the Son­nar opti­cal design, pro­duces a soft image and a smooth tran­si­tion in depth of field.

Pho­to: fotoselling.ru

The lens is smooth and more suit­able for leisure­ly stu­dio shoots, when there is time to accu­rate­ly check the focus and cor­rect set­tings. Do not expect razor sharp­ness from him, an open aper­ture of 2.0 can play a cru­el joke. It is best to shoot them at 2.8–4.0, there­by increas­ing the depth of field and the area where impor­tant objects in the frame come into focus. In addi­tion, as in the case of “Helios”, the soft­ness of “Jupiter” can become a nat­ur­al retouch and hide minor flaws in por­trait shoot­ing.

3. Jupiter 37A 135/3.5

Advan­tages: build qual­i­ty, suf­fi­cient sharp­ness even at an open aper­ture, bokeh, nice pat­tern and col­or repro­duc­tion

Flaws: weight, dimen­sions, long focus, pos­si­ble diaphragm stick­ing due to a large amount of oil on it

Image: lens-club.ru

The let­ter A in the name of the sec­ond “Jupiter” in our list means that the lens has a so-called “inter­change­able tail”. The lens can be mount­ed on a stan­dard Sovi­et M42 mount, and there­fore on any mod­ern cam­era through a sim­ple adapter.

A more wear-resis­tant ver­sion was also pro­duced with an addi­tion­al MC mark­ing. Such “Jupiters” showed bet­ter results and were more resis­tant to back­light.

Pho­to: m42-adapter.in.ua

The tele­pho­to lens was orig­i­nal­ly intro­duced as a por­trait lens, how­ev­er, if you install it on a cam­era with a cropped matrix, you can get a full-fledged tele­pho­to lens with suf­fi­cient res­o­lu­tion and a focal length of at least 200 mm.

Despite the design and focal length, Jupiter 37A is most often cho­sen as a por­trait lens. It works well with warm shades, due to high-qual­i­ty lens­es it pro­duces a three-dimen­sion­al image and guar­an­tees high-qual­i­ty col­or repro­duc­tion. Sharp even wide open, great for close-ups.

There are also dis­ad­van­tages: the lens weighs about 400 grams, so you can’t walk a lot with this. In addi­tion, despite its pos­i­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics as a por­trait lens, the lens is still tele­pho­to: to shoot a large por­trait, you have to move at least a few meters away. In small rooms with it will be more dif­fi­cult.

Pho­to: primelens.ru

When choos­ing a spe­cif­ic Jupiter 37A, it is worth pay­ing atten­tion to export mod­els with a Latin name. Also, the mod­els released for the 1980 Olympics are dis­tin­guished by a bet­ter assem­bly.

4. Mir‑1 37/2.8

Advan­tages: no aber­ra­tions, com­pact size, good col­or repro­duc­tion, soft pat­tern

Flaws: lack of sharp­ness at an open aper­ture, incon­ve­nient loca­tion of the focus­ing ring

Image: lens-club.ru

For a long time, this lens was the widest of all pro­duced in the USSR. “Mir‑1” was devel­oped on the basis of the Ger­man Zeiss Flek­to­gon 2.8 / 35. It was pro­duced in var­i­ous mod­i­fi­ca­tions and for var­i­ous mounts, for which it received wide recog­ni­tion. In 1958, the lens received the Grand Prix at the World Exhi­bi­tion in Brus­sels.

Pho­to: m42-adapter.in.ua

Thanks to suc­cess­ful design improve­ments, the lens is vir­tu­al­ly free of chro­mat­ic aber­ra­tions that are com­mon with wide-angle lens­es. “Mir‑1” gives a nice pat­tern, nat­ur­al col­or repro­duc­tion and can be used as a com­pact full-time.

Pho­to: m42-adapter.in.ua

The lens also has its neg­a­tive sides, which you need to be pre­pared for. Many of the pro­duced Mir‑1 mod­els at an open aper­ture may not be sharp and give a kind of mon­o­cle effect. Accord­ing to users, it is best to shoot on it with a val­ue of 4.0 and high­er. In addi­tion, the lens has an unusu­al focus ring arrange­ment, which makes it easy to miss focus. Such a lens is suit­able for leisure­ly shots, land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy or trav­el shots.

5. MS Kaleinar-5N 100/2.0

Advan­tages: a com­bi­na­tion of detail and smooth soft­ness of the pic­ture, con­trast, aper­ture, gives a sense of vol­ume, the pres­ence of a built-in lens hood, suit­able for Nikon cam­eras with­out an adapter

Flaws: does not hold back­light well, some spec­i­mens may give a slight­ly fad­ed col­or

Image: radojuva.com

Ini­tial­ly, the Kaleinar fam­i­ly was planned to be put into pro­duc­tion in the ear­ly 1930s. The schemes of the Ger­man com­pa­ny Rüo-Optik GmbH were tak­en as a basis, and the lens­es them­selves were planned to be used in film pro­duc­tion. How­ev­er, the optics turned out to be of extreme­ly low res­o­lu­tion, the Sovi­et indus­try sim­ply could not repro­duce the nec­es­sary lens­es in the required qual­i­ty. The project was frozen until the 1960s. At that time, with the help of new types of opti­cal glass, it was pos­si­ble to cre­ate the nec­es­sary and Kaleinar was pub­lished! Only already in the for­mat of a pho­to­graph­ic lens. After the col­lapse of the USSR, the lens con­tin­ued to be pro­duced at the Arse­nal plant in Kiev until 1999.

Pho­to: lens-club.ru

“Kaleinar-5N” was orig­i­nal­ly pro­duced under the bay­o­net mir­ror “Kiev”. The let­ter H in the name refers to Nikon and their stan­dard F mount, which has not changed for decades. The Sovi­et lens is still com­pat­i­ble with Nikon pho­to­graph­ic equip­ment, with the abil­i­ty to focus over the entire range and trans­mit aper­ture val­ues ​​\u200b\u200bto the cam­era, which will be tak­en into account dur­ing expo­sure.

At the out­put, the lens has fab­u­lous sharp­ness and can right­ly be con­sid­ered one of the most famous tele­pho­to lens­es of the Sovi­et era. Even at a wide open aper­ture, the depth of field in a close-up por­trait cap­tures the entire char­ac­ter.

Pho­to: lens-club.ru

Of course, there are also dis­ad­van­tages. Like many oth­er Sovi­et lens­es, Kaleinar is not good friends with back­light: the pic­ture is imme­di­ate­ly cov­ered with a veil and becomes fad­ed, the con­trast drops. How­ev­er, this is the less­er of the evils, which bal­ances the res­o­lu­tion.

6. Tair-11A 135/2.8

Advan­tages: aper­ture, built-in lens hood, the abil­i­ty to lim­it the aper­ture, per­fect bokeh, beau­ti­ful blur with con­fi­dent sharp­ness even at open val­ues

Flaws: heavy weight, dif­fi­cult to shoot in back­light

Image: lens-club.ru

“Tair-11” is the sec­ond lens from the arse­nal, which was pre­sent­ed by the Sovi­et del­e­ga­tion at an exhi­bi­tion in Brus­sels in 1958. He also won the Grand Prix.

Mod­i­fi­ca­tion 11A was cre­at­ed a decade lat­er: the lens received a new body, a more con­ve­nient aper­ture set­ting mech­a­nism, an inter­change­able tail that allows you to install the lens on a wide range of cam­eras, and, impor­tant­ly, the opti­cal design was revised. As a result, the focal length was recal­cu­lat­ed from 133 to the usu­al 135 mm.

Pho­to: radojuva.com

“Tair-11A” has an unprece­dent­ed aper­ture of 20 (!) petals, which allows you to get a per­fect­ly round bokeh at any val­ue. For a Sovi­et lens, this is rare. With so many aper­ture blades, the blur is creamy.

The lens has a built-in aper­ture lim­iter. With it, it will be pos­si­ble to switch the aper­ture only in the range of val­ues ​​up to which you set the fuse. Fur­ther, the course of the ring will be blocked. This func­tion will help out on film cam­eras and in cas­es where it is nec­es­sary to accu­rate­ly get into sharp­ness, because the lens is man­u­al. You can take sev­er­al adja­cent frames by smooth­ly mov­ing the val­ue to the stop. So at least in one of them you def­i­nite­ly will not miss.

Pho­to: primelens.ru

Aper­ture is one of the strongest sides of Tair. For com­par­i­son, mod­ern kit lens­es have a max­i­mum val­ue of 135 / 5.6. This means that “Tair” gives a slight­ly brighter pic­ture and out­per­forms them in qual­i­ty.

The lens is sharp, but due to the “cream” blur out­side the depth of field, the pic­ture is soft. Ide­al for por­traits. Many also use it as a tele­pho­to lens, espe­cial­ly on crop fac­tor sen­sors.

As befits a self-con­fi­dent lens that won the Grand Prix in Brus­sels, the Tair-11A is entire­ly made of met­al and glass. But this means a sol­id weight of 600 grams.

7. MS Zenitar 16/2.8

Advan­tages: sharp, con­trast­ing, com­pact, holds back­light well, smooth focus­ing, high-qual­i­ty assem­bly

Flaws: the inabil­i­ty to install fil­ters on the front lens, may lose sharp­ness at a ful­ly open aper­ture

Image: sturman.ru

The pearl of the selec­tion is the ultra-wide-angle MS Zen­i­tar, which is still pro­duced at the Krasno­gorsk Mechan­i­cal Plant to this day. Through­out its exis­tence, var­i­ous mod­i­fi­ca­tions have come out, so that the lens can eas­i­ly fit on the pop­u­lar Canon, Nikon, M42 and Pen­tax mounts.

Of the minus­es — the inabil­i­ty to install fil­ters due to the spe­cial design. There is sim­ply nowhere to screw.

Pho­to: radojuva.com

“Zen­i­tar” has a mul­ti­lay­er coat­ing on the front lens, which pro­vides a con­trast­ing, rich image and elim­i­nates some of the glare, “hares” and light spots. Despite the age of the ear­ly mod­els, it is quite fast.

At full aper­ture, it can be a lit­tle soapy at the edges, but retains sharp­ness in the cen­ter. Accord­ing to users, from 5.6 and above gives a sharp pic­ture across the entire field with­out loss. Min­i­mal chro­mat­ic aber­ra­tions at the periph­ery of the frame. It copes well with back­light — there is no loss of con­trast and glare.

Pho­to: c11rem.ru

Fish­eye is not a sto­ry for every­one and not for dai­ly shoot­ing, how­ev­er, it is one of the most com­mon and reli­able options in this price range. The lens has a view­ing angle of 180 degrees and strong bar­rel dis­tor­tion, which in its case is only a char­ac­ter­is­tic fea­ture.