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.
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
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.
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.
“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
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.
“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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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
“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.
“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.
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
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.
“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.
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.