If you’ve been following this series of posts about the path I’ve been walking to find myself a perfect classic Sonnar, you will have likely come to the conclusion that I’ve become a big fan of the Jupiter-8. My experiences finding such an appreciation have culminated in a fairly unusual and – at least without significant knowhow – difficult to repeat outcome. But considering how happy I am, it would be entirely remiss not to document it.
There are many types of Jupiter-8 lenses. They were made for two different mounts, and over the years went through a fair amount of changes to their physical appearance. But as I have talked about throughout my the last few post on the subject, there has never been a Jupiter-8 built to perfectly focus on Leica rangefinders. They were all designed for use on either Keiv cameras that has a Contax mount (the Jupiter-8M) or for Zorki cameras that had a 39mm thread mount that was very similar to Leica’s thread mount, but had a slightly different register.
As such, if you want to mount a Jupiter-8 on a Leica camera you have a few options, none of which are entirely perfect. Firstly you can just deal with the incorrect focusing as I talk about here – this is obviously less than ideal, but workable nonetheless. Another option is to adapt a Contax mount Jupiter-8M lens as I do here. This works, but Contax to Leica mount adapters are expensive – even the cheap ones. Finally you can modify one. I had a go myself as I talk about here, but as you can see, unless you’re fairly well skilled, there are still pitfalls to that process too. The final option – which is what resulted in the lens I have here – is to find someone with the skills to modify a lens for you. In my case, I spoke to Brain Sweeney.
As I mention in my Jupiter-3 post, I actually got in touch with Brian to chat about the idea of fixing up a J-3. But after chatting for a short time via email, most notably with me discussing how much enjoyment I’d had out of my Jupiter-8M he convinced me of a path that he felt might lead to a very positive outcome for me. He suggested that rather than spend a lot of money on a less ropey Contax mount adapter, that instead he could potentially remount my Jupiter-8M into a Leica thread mount lens. In fact, before that, he first suggested I buy a Jupiter-8M already remounted from a seller on eBay in Russia. There is, as he pointed out, someone in Russia who – for reasons perhaps only known to themselves – is taking Jupiter-8M lenses apart and forcing their optics into the shell of an industar-26; a Russian 50mm (ish) f/2.8 lens.
Having not tried one, Brian guessed that there might be a chance that this Russian knew what he was doing and I would find myself with a Jupiter-8M remounted and collimated for a Leica camera. His idea being that if the lens came from Russia working, then it was problem solved, if it didn’t he would happily take my – already proven to be really nice – 8M, scrap the glass out of the Russian hack, and insert mine.
As it transpired, the lens I bought from Russia was – optically at least – completely shot. It didn’t focus as it should, it was scratched and filled with dust. Secretly, I was quite happy about this, as it meant that I got to have Brain perform a touch of his magic on a lens for me. So, off it went on its second long haul trip over to the states. With it I also sent my J-8M and my Contax Zeiss Opton for a once over – I will come back again to the latter another day.
After a few days, Brian got back in touch with a very agreeable bill for the work and some good news. Rather than remount my Jupiter-8M he had decided that a lens he already had contained even better optics. After what sounded like a bit of a nightmare he had managed to unpick the mess the Russian ebay seller had made and had perfectly mounted his set of optics into the Industar-26 shell. Fortunately, the industar already had a pretty smooth focusing helicoid and aperture, so there was no issue there. Another few days passed and I had in my possession what effectively amounts to a perfect (for me) Jupiter-8.
Unfortunately for the sake of my new ltm Jupiter-8m I found myself a little sidetracked. I’d picked up a Jupiter-3 by this time and had on loan from Lomography their Russar 20mm so was concentrating on shooting those. Something else interesting happened though, and that was my purchasing of a Leica Monochrom. I actually can’t begin to tell you how much a big deal owning one of these cameras is for me. I’ve wanted one for years and now owning one and being able to shoot black and white digital in as pure a way as is imaginable – it’s just brilliant.
What was interesting and relevant to this story about the Monochrom is that I found myself with a camera that works very differently to any I’ve shot before. I shan’t go into it now, but in brief the Monochrom clips highlights with some enthusiasm if you aren’t careful with it. Put modern glass on it, and you can quickly find highlights blocking out. Just as an experiment, I mounted the ltm Jupiter-8m – I wanted to see if the older lower overall contrast glass would take an edge off the overall contrast in the result. What actually happened felt like a revelation.
It felt like shooting the Monochrom gave me a much clearer window to a lenses character. I talked about this in my early impressions post about the Monochrom, but it was this lens that made me realise it. The wonderful thing in seeing this lens’s character so clearly was seeing how much I loved it! Until the 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1 turned up, I was shooting it exclusively, and finding myself repeatedly with that wonderful feeling you get when it just feels like all the pieces of the puzzle come together to create an image that really works.
This is probably my favourite lens in this process so far. This habit it seems to have of causing such a strong flare when it’s shot wide, and the fact that it just seems to ooze the 3D look which I love so much in Sonnar lenses are just the traits that I’m looking for. Of course I might be applying a bit of extra affection to it for the fact that it feels like a unique lens that I had to jump through a few hoops to own. But that’s fine by me, as one way or another, I’m extremely pleased with it! Thanks Brian!
Finally, being completely honest, discovering the Jupiter-8 to the extent I have and latterly having this lens put together has definitely now changed the course of this Sonnar project. I can say for certain that this process is no longer a search for a lens. This lens, and in fact the Jupiter-8 that I modded, could easily put an end to this by themselves. They really are wonderful lenses that have just the sort of balance I’m looking for. In short – and as I alluded to at the beginning of my previous post – I don’t feel that I’m this searching for a perfect classic Sonnar lens; I feel like I’ve found that already. From here on out, I feel like I’m now just feeding a Sonnar obsession… Regardless, I shall continue to document the lenses I discover.
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