Soviet Rangefinder Lenses, Redux

Some of you may remember that last year I wrote a post detailing how Soviet LTM/M39 lenses (i.e. lenses built for the Fed and Zorki rangefinders) do not work correctly on Leica cameras.

Well, I was never particularly happy with that post. Why? Because it was reliant on film scans, and I don’t trust them. Or, more to the point, I don’t trust my scanner. It produces an image suitable for the internet, but the scans are never as sharp as a traditional wet print.

Luckily, I recently had my Leica overhauled, so I went back and approached the subject again.


What you’re seeing above is the testing ground. Appropriately, I used three different Soviet rangefinders (one from each major product line), and ensured the middle one (the Fed 2) was 1m away from the film plane. The Leica IIIf I used to take the photos was set on a tripod and focused with each lens in turn, using the rangefinder, on the Fed 2 logo. The lenses were all set to f/4 (as the Industar 22 is a 50mm f/3.5 lens, and I wanted to ensure all lenses were at the same aperture. It’s worth noting that I honestly thought that the increased depth of field from wide open would actually compromise the test, but I was wrong). I also checked the distance scale of the lenses matched to ensure there were no rangefinder errors, and I’ve used all of these lenses successfully wide open and close-up in the past (on their respective bodies).

But what’s the point of doing the test again without removing the weak point in the old one? So rather than scanning the film, I went into the darkroom and did some quick 5×7 prints, starting with the full frame you see above and then fitting just the center of each photo onto the 5×7 paper. The resultant crops would be equivalent to a 11″ x 17″ print if I was to print the full frame. All exposures were identical, and in hindsight I should have printed them considerably lighter – but sharpness is what we’re looking at here, not exposures.

First, we start with the baseline, and my favourite lens – the 50mm f/2 collapsible Summicron.


Results are as you might expect – the sharpest focus is on the Fed 2 logo, and while there’s noticeable falloff to either side, there’s still enough sharpness to make out details on the front plate of both the Zorki 5 and the Kiev 4AM – which are each 35mm away from the Fed’s logo – but you can’t make out the Jupiter 3’s front ring (even when you’re not looking at a bad scan of a grainy, dark print).

So let’s look at the Jupiter 8, the Zorki’s equivalent of the Summicron:

Jupiter 8

Oh dear. This lens worked fine on a Zorki or a Fed in similar conditions. Here, nothing’s particularly in focus, but the Kiev’s nameplate is getting close. You can’t really tell from the small files I’m having to use to prevent the page from being unviewable, but it’s obviously backfocusing by more than 4cm. Probably not a big deal once you’re not close up, but remember – this is at f/4, and this is a 50mm f/2. If it’s this bad at f/4, wide open it’s going to be nigh-useless for critical close focus.

But then the Sonnar design of the Jupiters can cause various problems, so let’s move to the Tessars.


The above frame is from the Industar 26m, and amazingly, it looks almost exactly the same. So what about the little collapsible Industar 22?


Yep. That’s just as bad. In fact, the focusing – well, mis-focusing – is so similar on the three, that it would go some way to explaining why they all work without any issue on my Fed 2. And to eliminate arguments of adjustment or recalibration, they’ve all been purchased from totally different sources. One – the Jupiter 8 – came from a charity shop in England. The Industar 22 came from an eBay seller in Russia. And the Industar 26m? That came with a Fed 2 from Lomography. None of them have been serviced or adjusted since I bought them (although I have relubed the Industar 26m – but didn’t touch or adjust the shims), which means this is probably how they left their various factories (I26m: FED, I22: KOMZ, Jupiter 8: KMZ).

Like I said earlier, the images you’re seeing in this post are fairly small; you’d need critical eyes to see that the Kiev logo is, in fact, out of focus. Hopefully, you can all appreciate that the Fed’s logo is out of focus too, but just in case you think that it’s just low-contrast, here’s a gargantuan collage of the different prints on Flickr. Pixel-peep away and try to prove me wrong.

Either drunk Soviet workers in three factories all made the exact same mistakes, someone has a small workshop that exists only to collect and adjust Soviet lenses to the same inaccurate specifications and then redistribute them, or the point of my original post remains: the lenses for Fed and Zorki cameras are calibrated differently to those designed for true Leica-mount cameras, and while some correctly calibrated lenses exist (see the comments on the original post for discussion of “true” LTM-spec Drug 2s), the chance of getting one is slim.

But hey, maybe you’re just not as picky (read: obsessive) as I am.


  1. Brian says

    Jason Howe hosts my PDF’s for adjusting the Jupiter-3 and for converting the Contax mount pre-war Sonnar to Leica mount,

    I put some of the math for computing the adjustment to the shim and the focal length of the lens. The manufacturer’s data sheet for the J-3 pictured in the article lists the focal length as 52.4mm with a 1% deviation. That would explain why some work, and others don’t- even of they were bought unadjusted.

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