The Jupiter 8 is undoubtedly a magnificent piece of glass! To me it is more than a great lens it is a magical item like an exotic rare wand which can be really powerful in the hands of a trained wizard. What makes it so special is the underlying optical formula at the first place which is the pre-war Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2  developed by Ludwig Bertele in the early 1930s.
In other words the Jupiter 8 is a post-war Soviet copy of the pre-war Zeiss Sonnar initially made for the Contax copy Kiev cameras like the Kiev 4 I have already wrote about. The optical formula alongside the Contax II camera was acquired after the war by the Soviet Union as well as machinery and technical personal as part of the war compensation.
So let’s look at the formula itself!
Jupiter 8 (Zeiss Sonnar) formula
The Jupiter 8 is a 6 elements in 3 groups partially glued anastigmat. The first group is a separate meniscus, the middle group consists of a meniscus, a two times convex and two times concave lenses glued together and the third group is a composed of a two times convex lens and a meniscus.
The sonnar negative triplet consisted of a high-index outside and a lower-index element between. The design uses less elements than Planar, so when coating tech was primitive, the lens had much less flare due to less surfaces in design. Simpler than Planar, smaller and comparatively inexpensive. Good contrast at edges at all apertures. Exhibits some softness at wide apertures. Sharp when stopped down.
Interesting fact that the name Sonnar was derived from German word “Sonne” (Sun).
With the addition of more lens elements the lens speed can be further increased like the Zeiss Sonar 50mm f/1.5 or the Soviet counterpart Jupiter 3 50mm f/1.5 which contains 7 elements in contrast to the 6 elements only f/2 version I am writing about here.
Naturally as anything can be advanced even further, the Sonnar formula can be modified to achieve aperture greater than f/1 like in the case of the Tachon. But this is really a different story and I should not get that far in this post. So let’s go back to the starting point (Jupiter 8 and Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2 formula).
To make you more excited (I know you are already itching because of the Sonnar formula :-)) here is a photo where I “accidentally” inserted THE mighty Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 180mm f/2.8 Pentacon Six mounted lens into the frame as comparison. This lens is not mine (Thank you László for lending it to me!) but you can expect exhaustive writings about it at some point as well
My Jupiter 8 lenses
I have got my first Jupiter 8 with my beloved Kiev 4 camera from a Hungarian auction site. I was so pleased with the results I have got from this lens that I have picked up two more instances with L39 thread mount for my screw mount rangefinders (Fed 3, Fed 5). I have got them in one package from the same auction site for a real bargain. One of these will go to a friend who will hopefully enjoy it a lot on a digital mirror-less system camera. Yes, these lenses can be great fun on MILC cameras and here is an excellent article of what can you achieve.
Jupiter 8 L39 screw mount
The Jupiter 8 was made originally for the Contax copy Kiev cameras with the matching bayonet mount, but later it was made in many different versions for L39 (Leica thread) mount rangefinders.
The advantage of the L39 screw mount version over my original Contax mount lens is the ability to focus with the lens itself. On Contax system cameras the focusing is done by a mechanism integrated into the camera body and the lens has nothing to do with it. The only thing you can do with the lens is set the aperture.
|Construction:||6 elements in 3 groups|
|Angle of view:||45°|
|Distance scale:||1m – infinity|
|Diaphragm:||Manual; f/2 – f/22|
|Filter size:||40.5mm thread|
Specification table 
Construction and handling
My L39 Jupiter 8 lenses (1960, 1963) are made of aluminum alloy, therefore they are very light but at the same time vulnerable too. I never drooped any lens so far, and I hope I will keep this good habit.
The aperture rings on both lenses are a bit dry and have no stops or clicks therefore the aperture must be set with great care. The focusing rings are nice and smooth on both lenses, which gave me the impression that these lenses were lubricated once after their production. What I do like the most is the metal lens caps though.
The overall build quality is fair but nothing outstanding, yet pretty good for Soviet lenses. By the way the Jupiter 8 is one of the most reliable FSU (Former Soviet Union) lenses in terms of quality. Most instances are focusing good and have a nice optics while Jupiter 3 instances are real gamble.
How do they look like
Jupiter 8M Contax mount
The Jupiter 8M differs from the Jupiter 8 in only one thing! The 8M has stops/clicks while setting the apertures. This is a nice improvement indeed although some videographers might prefer the original version.
As I mentioned the Contax mount type has no focusing mechanism on the lens therefore it never needs lubrication and probably it was a bit cheaper to produce for the more complicated and expensive camera body.
Construction and handling
My instance (1965) is made of steel which makes it heavier than the screw mount aluminum versions despite the simpler mechanical construction. It also feels much more solid and the clicky stops on the aperture ring are very welcomed additions. Overall, this version just feels and handles better for me and does suggest a higher quality because of the steel barrel.
How does it look like
So what is the big thing with this lens (and any other Sonnars)? Of course the way it renders the image is the thing for me. Many claims that the contrast is a bit lower than the Tessar type lenses and Sonnars are not outstandingly sharp wide open but fast apertures can be achieved, they deliver a wonderful creamy bokeh and less resistant to flare due to the few glass to air transitions. All this sounds like a great portrait lens especially because Sonnars are typically short and medium telephoto lenses.
Well this is the theory, but let the samples talk.
3D-ness and charcter
The following image is taken by me with the lovely Kiev 4 rangefinder and it was on the very first roll I have ever shot with that camera.
First of all I really love the 3D like character of this image, the backgrounds falls to be blurred slowly while the model is quite sharp. I don’t remember what aperture I used but it must had been around f/4, so in theory this effect could been even more emphasized by a wider setting. On the other hand I like that the background is recognizable.
I have not done any serious post processing apart from crop and a tiny bit of contrast increase, so this lens/film combination is capable to produce similar images without any super scientific computerized evilness.
Note the flare effect on the top right corner of the frame! I know Sonnars must be less prone to flare but in reality these old lenses have got a not too effective coating compare to modern standards. Therefore the lens hood is a must if you (like me) prefers to shoot in back-light.
Flare can be a real issue but not because of the formula rather the ancient coating used for these old lenses.
This example (left) shows what could really happen when the sun shines (almost) directly into the lens. Although the sun is not in the frame (It was upper a bit) it did ruined the shoot by this ugly flare. This could have been way better by the usage of a lens-hood or by shooting from a different angle.
I know I have already wrote down here a couple of times but it is never enough to emphasize: Always use lens-hood for vintage lenses when possible unless you want to get more flares (which could be fun for some).
Sharpness and contrast
The next two images are supposed to stand here as examples how nice sharp, contrasty and colorful images can you get when the conditions are appropriate and of course you don’t mess up with the exposure.
The second shoot with the chairs is done trough the glass of a showcase and you can even see my reflections on it, but still I am very satisfied with the result especially the colors which I like the most. Fuji Superia is a consumer level “cheap” film, yet what it delivers is simply lovely to my eyes.
Portraits and bokeh
The Jupiter 8 being a 50mm “standard” lens is quite versatile and can be used for many different purposes and portraiture is not an exception. It is just long enough to take nice upper torso portraits while showing some of the environment around the model thus giving a little bit of context. Also as you can see, it can produce a nicely blurred background which is essential for separation of the model.
These portraits were taken in a restaurant in mixed light and with maximum f/2 aperture. The depth of field is certainly shallow enough and the background is pleasant in my opinion.
The next photo has been already published in my Kiev-4 post but with heavy post processing including black&white conversion. The original version looks like this and notice the character of the bokeh at f/2.8.
I didn’t like the photo because of the dark foreground, so I created this processed version in black and white with aggressively increased contrast.
All in all I really love these lenses because of their great character, bokeh and overall image quality which together leads to a unique classic look. It is true that they are not the only and probably not the best Zeiss Sonnar type of lenses ever made but surely the Jupiter 8 is the cheapest to start with.
You can find many more advanced versions made by Zeiss, Nikon, Canon and others. Even today you can find new Sonnar type lenses by many manufacturers and of course you can get a new Zeiss Sonar T* 1.5/50 ZM which was reviewed by Ken Rockwell here.
These lenses are not perfect but they have a unique fingerprint on the images and it is only a matter of taste to love or hate. I am definitely will carry this or similar lenses with me all the time.
I hope I could transfer a part of my excitement related to the Jupiters, Sonnars and their siblings and you will have great moments with them too.
Links and references
- Ludwig Bertele (Designer of the Sonnar formula)
- Camerapedia (Jupiter 8) 
- panix.com (Contax lenses) 
- Alfred Klomp’s Jupiter 8 page 
- anticcamers.com (Sonnar lenses)
- Zeiss (New Sonnar lens)
- Ken Rockwell’s Sonnar page
- Dr Sevecsik Jenő FÉNYKÉPEZÉS (6 elements Sonnar shema)
- Nico Foto (great article about Jupiter 8 on digital camera)
- How to avoid Zeiss Sonnar fakes