After selling my Leica M8 a while ago, there was a huge gap in my camera collection: physically and metaphysically. There was a gap in my shelf, there was a gap in my lineup but there also was a gap in my soul. Because let’s face it, a Leica is not a camera you buy with your head, but with your heart. So I decided to get a replacement for it and bought a CL body — the smallest and cheapest M-mount camera ever made. And what is the cheapest lens you can get for your Leica? Well, the Russian Jupiter-8 of course!
The Jupiter-8 may not be the cheapest lens you can get for your Leica (or any other M- or M39-mount camera), but it is certainly one of the cheapest. Made by KMZ in the former Soviet Union between the 50ies and 90ies, the Jupiter-8 is a copy of the pre-war Contax 50mm f2 Sonnar lens from Zeiss — but in M39 Leica screw mount (so you’ll need an adapter to use it on an M-mount body like the CL). During the time that it was made, it came in a number of different chrome (earlier) and black (later) versions, with the one pictured above being out of one of the last batches that were made. It’s a simple lens mechanically and optically, and it may not work properly from the get-go. But it can be had so cheaply that you can assemble a nice one yourself out of three broken ones.
Click each image to show a larger version.
The one I have was bought as new-old-stock but was never used by its previous owner. When I received it, it was not focusing properly — it had strong back focus on my CL. But as I found out — thanks to the help of the online community –, adjusting it was pretty easy and straightforward. And with the help of a friend’s M8, I was able to bring the optical unit to the right distance from the film plane, so that its focus is now spot on even wide open.
The Jupiter-8 is made from solid metal, and contains only very few parts as compared to other lenses: The optical unit including the diaphragm and (stepless) aperture ring, and the main body including the focusing ring. The two can be unscrewed from each other in order to space the optical unit closer to or further away from the film plane. The main body with the focusing ring can also be disassembled to fine-tune infinity focus or — with a little filing applied to its innards — extend the close-focusing limit to .7 meters (it’s 1 meter by default.) Due to its simple mechanical construction, the whole lens rotates during focusing. So no using linear polarizers with this one.
Now, it’s working nicely. I mean, what can you say for a lens that cost about $100. Yes, it is slightly soft wide open, and the corner performance is terrible. Yes, it’s low contrast. And no, it’s neither T-coated (but it is coated at least) nor is it particularly resistent to flare. But it has charms, lots of. The bokeh is ‘classic’ (which you have to like — many find it harsh), it has that typical Sonnar look with a sharp center and blurred edges, but chiefly: it delivers good image quality, especially considering the price.
Personally, I couldn’t be happier with it. I wanted a cheap lens so I could actually use my CL and not just have it sit on my shelf. I wasn’t looking for performance — I lost way too much money hunting the ‘perfect’ lens when I had my M8. The Jupiter-8 is a dog, it can be frustrating at the beginning (especially when it’s not focusing properly, or needs CLA). But if you happen to own one that works, you’re rewarded with pictures that you wouldn’t have though are possible with such a cheap lens. And best of all: it’s small! Not as small as a 4omm Summicron, but small enough to make for a great little package together with the CL. And it also works on digital!
Verdict: highly recommendable!
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