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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jupiter-9 85mm F2 Review


There are some lenses of legend in this world and the Jupiter 9 is one of them. It fortunately doesn't come with a huge price tag with careful shopping, often between $100 to $150 depending on condition. They are also apparently still being made new ( at least new as of 2007 ) for not much more, around $200 to $240. It seems that ebay is probably the best place to find them right now. New may mean made in the last 2-4 years.
Legend ?
Why is this lens one of legend ? because of its 15 blade iris that makes a perfect circle even stopped down. You will never see hexagons or octagons from this lens. It also renders a very nice bokeh when focused close. Early versions of this lens seemed to create swirly bokeh but the one I have doesn't. My lens seems in this respect more modern and perhaps more well behaved.
First some background. This lens is basically a copy of a Zeiss Sonnar 85mm f/2 lens from pre WWII. There are at least 5 versions of the Jupitar 9 starting with the oldest silver ones made in the 50's and 60's thru the black version that appeared around 1980. Part of this is due to the fact that they were built in 3 different factories over the years with the optical formula being kept the same. However the mechanics changed and the exact glass formulations used changed. This is evidenced in how different versions produce different color reproduction when compared side by side. 
The Quick Incomplete History of this Lens
Black MC Jupiter-9, M42. Made in 2000+ in Lytarkino
Black Jupiter-9 M42 Made in the 80's - The one I have dates to 1986. I has a smooth focus barrel and preset iris. 
Black Jupiter-9, M39 Made in 1960's in Lytarkino. This one may have the knuckled focusing ring which was common of lenses of that era. It may be referred to as "type 1". There are versions made for rangefinder cameras that you probably don't want as they may lack an aperture stop down ring. The camera is supposed to do this instead through the lens mount.
Silver ( Aluminum ) Jupiter-9, M39  Made in 1965 in Lytarkino
Silver ( aluminum ) Jupiter-9, M42 Pre 1980's
There is also a Kiev mount version, Leica ( LTM ) and possibly a Nikon mount version out there in the older versions.
 With new versions of this lens it may indeed come with a M42 to EF or Nikon mount from the factory.  The factory website show the specs on this lens  however it doesn't appear that this lens is currently in production. I suspect they probably do batches of this lens every so often once stock is gone.
I realize a great deal of this is vague, but finding authoritative information on these lenses is hard. This is do in part because of their long history and so many versions.
The Differences ?
The general consensus out there is : 
MC ( MultiCoat ) version: strong soft focus effect at f/2 with halos around bright objects. Very sharp at f/2.8. Flares in contrasty light, but less than both SC versions.
Black Body: no soft focus wide open. Sharp at f/2. Very sharp at f/2.8. This lens is very prone to flare in contrasty light. 
Silver: no soft focus effect; reasonably soft wide open; rather sharp at f/2.8. It's very similar to the black version; might be copy variation or prior service history that made this lens softer than the black M39 version. 
Production of the black and silver ones seems to of perhaps overlapped.
Another note : the older silver ones  may have backwards focus throw compared to normal canon / cine / video lenses. The black one I have has normal throw, but in buying one you need to be careful as I have seen ones that focus backwards.
The quality of these lenses can vary a LOT from the original manufacturing to simply how the lens lived out its life : was it well cared for or not. When shopping for a lens be aware that many Russian lens sellers will say a lens is in good condition when its not. Really look at the pictures carefully because some of the older lenses are in pretty bad shape. Pass on them and get a better one. Be prepared that you may not get a good version and  will need to deal with that.
Being made in 3 different factories over the course of 60 years there are lots of variations out there. If you don't like one copy try another or three if you must. 
My Jupiter 9 Cicra 1986
My experience with my lens is that it does have that diffused glow wide open. It seems sometimes prone to flare that can be ugly. Its not the sharpest lens wide open by any means and there in lies its magic. By being soft wide open and having a diffuse glow its a great portrait lens. For moving pictures its the lens you use in an image piece where you are looking for a more emotional or glamorous  look. This lens has its uses for stylized softer looks. Stopped down it does improve… well at least some versions do. Mine still looks a bit glowing stopped down. 
This glow also tends to reduce low in contrast. Thats good thing for expanding dynamic range of your camera. It can tame some high contrast lighting with less or no supplemental lighting  even if its just a fill card. At times you can produce some very artistic almost painting like images with this lens that are simply amazing. Here is an example of flat light + lens diffusion + ice on trees.
The iris is marked on the front of the lens rather than on the lens "top" facing the user when mounted on the camera. There is a preset iris ring which actually has the numbers on it. Actually stopping the lens down requires turning another very slender ring right above it, closer to the lens mount. The activation ring is really skinny and hard to feel when shooting and you more often wind up grabbing the preset ring instead. That said, the activation ring does provide stepless iris changes which is great, if you can actually grab it. I have to say I do hate the iris stops being marked on the front of the lens too. I makes handling tricky.
Focus it smooth and pretty accurate. I had no problem handling it with gloves on outside in the cold. However, you might find some copies of this lens are a bit stiff for follow focus use and may want to use a small gear on the focus drive. Be aware that some versions of this lens focus the wrong way, while others focus the standard cine way. Be careful when buying one and look at the pictures of it carefully. 
Image Samples
So, what does this lens look like ? here is a series of matched shots at 3 iris settings to get an idea, along with some other samples. 
So what can I say except very tasty here ?  Certainly this lens can make interesting "modern" images. Of note - the strobing from the canon sensor. Unlike film which would of made a continuos blur, the camera seems to be reading the sensor 5 times in this exposure of maybe 1/4 sec and combining them. Not the most organic look, not much you can change about that. I've had this result regardless of lens. 
Bokeh ?
Again just a pure sample of wide open bokeh thats quite nice. Stopping down those rings stlll stay round which is something that puts this lens in its own class regardless of price.
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So where is that famed look ? take a look at how wide open this lens makes a diffused look. Once you stop it down... quite a  bit it gets sharp.
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Yet you can still get some very nice shots. This is NOT a lens for when you need a super clean image unless you can stop down to F8 or so. Please keep in mind that MY copy may not be anything like yours. A silver lens may be sharper but have more circular bokeh while a version made 20 years later may do something else. Also expect that not all sellers in the RU are rating these lenses as well as they should. So look at pix carefully.
Here is another street shot that I liked... sharpness is there as well as the look.
Click For full size image
Here is a shot that came from 1080 video, but shows the lens more wide open and its more diffused look.
This lens like to flare. Often its organic and lively, sometimes it just completely washes out the image. In the image below it looks like reasonably normal contrast. In the original image the black level was more like medium gray. Either way I thought this image showed off some interesting flare this lens can produce
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Should You Get One ?
If you are looking for a clean look wide open, this is not your lens. Even stopped down a bit its still got some diffusion. On the other hand if you are looking for very pleasing people images that are soft and glowing you may really like this lens. It can certainly take the digital edge off. As always, know what you want to get in an image when picking gear. I still plan to add a Rokinon Cine 85mm 1.5 to my collection sometime soon as a complement to this lens. Instead of viewing some gear as either or decisions, sometimes both is better !