My first memory of a camera goes back to my childhood in USSR and me holding my grandfather’s Zorki or FED (I don’t remember which). I remember looking through a Soviet Universal turret “revolver” viewfinder. I really liked rotating it and seeing different image sizes as the viewfinder changed for the different focal lengths. I really don’t remember what lens my grandfather’s camera had, but I imagine it had to be a Jupiter of sorts.
Fast forward fifty some years later, and I have just returned to the world of analogue photography after an 18-year digital intermission. I have been taking pictures as a location scout/manager in New York for film and TV commercials for over 30 years, first analogue and then digital.
The return to analogue in my personal photography progressed in the last 2 years with a stratospheric speed from an Olympus LT point and shoot from FB marketplace through a return to Ricoh GR and Nikon FM2, with a very quick flirt with Zorki 4K. Finally I stepped up to Leica 3 and a 50mm Summicron.
But yes GAS is real! As an avid reader of this site I came across more than one article about a Soviet Jupiter-3 which brought me back to my Soviet childhood. These articles described its special qualities and unique bokeh. It also mentioned that it is a great portrait lens. In one of the articles I found out about Chris Andreyo from Skyllaney Opto-Mechanics in the UK and his amazing work restoring and calibrating for Leica old Russian Jupiters among other lenses. Chris called them a secret Sonnar. Before I knew it, I was emailing Chris to find out if he had a Jupiter-3 to sell me. Chris said he did not have one at the moment, saying that they are getting more uncommon and expensive to source in Russia in these days. Then the idea was born that as a fluent Russian speaker I could try to source the lens back in Russia myself and then have it mailed over to Chris so he could do his restoration and calibration process to it.
My next step was to reach out to Oleg Khalyavin from okvintagecamera in Russia. Oleg is one of the best resources for vintage Soviet and now Russian analogue cameras. I knew him from before as a source of my Zorki 4. Oleg said that he does not have a Jupiter-3 to sell as they are kind of expensive and rare in these days.
Oleg suggested that I will look on Avito, Russia’s most popular classified site, to source a Jupiter-3 and have it sent to him so he can check it before forwarding the lens to Chris. As it turned out, they knew each other from before. I scoured Avito for Jupiter-3 ads, which were not plentiful. During this time I reached back to Chris and offered to get two more J-3s for him to restore and calibrate on top of the one I was procuring for myself. The plan was for me to get three J-3s from Avito, have them go to Oleg for vetting, and Oleg would send them on to Chris in UK.
During my search time on Avito I got into intense correspondence with a Russian pensioner named Sergey who has been selling vintage Soviet photo equipment through that site. He was selling equipment for his older friends who needed money for medication. To supplement their small pensions they were willing to part with old cameras in their closets. During the course of our texting he sent me a picture of a family birthday party for his older mother, along with many other postings from Russian social media covering politics and other hot subjects.
I ended up getting two 1955 J-3s from him. Another one from a disreputable Russian dealer was sent back by Oleg because its condition was not as it was described in the ad. The final acceptable third one was a 1957 Jupiter-3 which came from a private seller in the city of Saratov and looked brand new, with original Russian plastic case and original sticker. That transaction was unremarkably similar to an Ebay purchase.
Finally all three Jupiters-3 were on their way to Skyllaney in the UK!
After Chris’s thorough examination, the 1957 J-3 was deemed to be the best of the litter and became mine after Chis did his thorough work on it. When Chris took it apart, it turned out that one of the aperture leaves had a broken nub and was no longer held correctly.
This could have not been noticed by Oleg because you could only see it when the lens was completely taken apart. Fortunately we had 2 other Jupiter-3s to work with. Chris switched sub optics block from one of the other J-3s (that one became spare parts for Chris) and we were good to go!
A few days later I received a package with my 1957 pristine looking Jupiter-3 which happens to be the year I was conceived.
The only right thing to do was to initiate this portrait friendly lens with a photo of my NJ-residing Russian parents on Mother’s Day… And here is a picture taken with the lens, which completed its circle in time and place!
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