Jupiter 8

Jupiter 8

Jupiter 8 50mm f/2 LTM and Contax version

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 [1] 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.[2]

Interesting fact that the name Sonnar was derived from German word “Sonne” (Sun).

Six element Sonnar shema (Jupiter 8)

Seven element Sonnar shema (Jupiter 3)

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

Jupiter 8 & CZJ Sonnar 180mm

Jupiter 8 lenses vs CZJ Sonnar 180mm f/2.8

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.

Jupier 8

Jupier 8

Jupiter 8

Jupiter 8

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.

Focal length: 50mm
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
Length: ±45mm
Weight: ±130g
Fitting: L39

Specification table [3]

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 8

Jupiter 8 L39 mount

Jupiter 8

Jupiter 8 L39 mount aperture shapes at f/11 and f/2.8

Jupiter 8

Jupiter 8 L39 mount

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

Jupiter 8

Jupiter 8M Contax mount

Jupiter 8

Jupiter 8M Contax mount aperture shape at f/4

Jupiter 8

Jupiter 8M Contax mount

Image quality

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.

Eszter (Nagymaros, Hungary) Kiev 4, Jupiter 8 M, Fuji Superia 200, Canosacn 9900F

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.


Heavy flare (Lens hood is a must)

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.

Church (Szentendre, Hungary) Kiev 4, Jupiter 8M, Fuji Superia 200, Canoscan 9900F

Designer’s chairs (Girona Spain) Kiev 4, Jupiter 8M, Fuji Superia 200, Canoscan 9900F

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.

Yolanda (Catalonia) Kiev 4, Jupiter 8M, Fuji Superia 200, Canoscan 9900F

PepLluis (Catalonia) Kiev 4, Jupiter 8M, Fuji Superia 200, Canoscan 9900F

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.

Pista bácsi(Szentendre, Hungary) Kiev 4, Jupiter 8M, Fuji Superia 200, Canoscan 9900F

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.

Pista bácsi (Processed) (Szentendre, Hungary) Kiev 4, Jupiter 8M, Fuji Superia 200, Canoscan 9900F

Final words

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.

Morning lights (Girona, Catalonia) Kiev 4, Jupiter 8M, Fuji Superia 200, Canoscan 9900F

Links and references

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Leave a Reply

  1. jasonehowe · April 15, 2012

    Hi Gabor, I have three of these also, two on M39 mount (Black and Silver) and one on Contax mount. The J8 is a great lens, incredible value really. It can lack contrast but this is easily corrected in post and more than made up for by the bokeh. I don’t shoot my J8’s as ofter as I should because I am usually persuaded to pick up the Jupiter 3…….Your images are superb and really do justice to the lens and your skill with the camera. Cheers Jason

  2. camerajunky · April 15, 2012

    Hi Jason,
    I am always really happy to read your comments and appreciate them much. I am also looking forward to have a chance to pick up a Jupiter 3 even though I have heard many times that the Jupiter 3 is a risky lens as the quality can vary widely. Still I will try to get a good one because the bokeh must be even better than in the case of J8. It would be also fun to compare these lenses side by side.

    Bests, Gábor

  3. Mah · April 15, 2012

    Hi Gabor,

    You have a very nice weblog here. You made it directly to my reader list.

    I was thinking of buying myself an old mechanical camera for fun. I found your website when searching for a review of Jupiter 8. Seems that many people like this lens and some even use it on their M9s – again I guess for fun!!! Do you think a Zorki-4 is a good match for this lens? I can find so many clean copies of Zorki-4 on ebay for cheap bundled with a Jupiter 8, which seems to have been the kit lens for this model. Do you think a Kiev-4 would be a better choice (I guess Kiev-4 has a lightmeter while Zorki does not)?

    Keep on doing the great job…

    • camerajunky · April 15, 2012

      Hi Mah!

      The Zorki 4 is one of the best Soviet rangefinders. it has a relatively big and usually bright rangefinder. The Kiev is generally a better camera I think, but there are differences in quality depending to the year of production. Usually the older Kievs are better 60s. I would go for the Zorki though for 2 reasons.

      First the Zorki uses L39 screw mount lens which was used by old Leicas as well. You will find more good lenses with this mount than with the contax mount found on the Kiev. Plus screw mount lens can be used easily on digital cameras with a simple adapter, while contax lenses are dificult to attach to digital bodies.

      Second, the light meter of the Kiev is usually not precise due to the age and type of the meter. So, you should use an external meter or digital camera for metering for both cameras.

      In short, if you want only 1 camera, go for the Zorki, as it is simpler contruction, and uses a more common lens mount. But of course sinse these cameras are cheap, I recommend to get both a Kiev and a Zorki.

      Good luck and have fun. Gabor

      • Mah · April 15, 2012

        Hi Gabor,

        Thanks for the hints. I think I will pick a Zorki 4K (unless if there is an objection about the build quality) because it features a modern tripod screw, it has a fast film winder and it has the normal shutter speed steps.

        Do you have any hints on where to buy it or what to check? Are there more desirable years or serial numbers? Does the “the older the better” rule applies here as well?

        Thanks in advance…

        • camerajunky · April 15, 2012


          The Zorki 4k is a good option, because of the features it provides.
          I have no big experiene with this model, but usually this cameras are working OK. But as all FSU cameras, there could be quality issues with both the camera and lens. You should be lucky on a level. Do not forget that you buy an old gear.

          I would go with ebay or similar local site depening on where you live. It is great if you can expect the camera before payment. Always check the shutter by sound (you should hear the difference between times) an by opening the back and point it to bright light to check the curtains. The shutter needs to travel evenly and there must be no holes on it. Finally check the lens. It should be relatively clean and smooth to focus with. It is not worth to fix a broken camera of this type, better to pay a bit extra and buy one in good conditions. So, basically apply the rules, you would follow in the case of any used cameras. Ask a lot from the seller, and if he doesnt know it works, dont buy.

          I have no information about which years are the bests, but I guess you cant be wrong with the 4k.


  4. Linda · April 15, 2012

    I have one of the black ones. It handles great, and is tiny and light. Great lens, BUT the pincushion distortion is very bad. Since I live near the beach I must sell mine, as every shot that has a horizon line looms upward i the middle, then tapers down at the sides. Otherwise excellent image quality, but this defect should be spoken of.

    • camerajunky · April 15, 2012

      Thanks for the comment. I have not noticed the distortion so far, but it is true that I have used this lens in situations where such problem is less obivious. I am definietly going to take some test shoots.

  5. Mike · April 15, 2012

    Just a couple of things, great site but I noticed a few more strange comments. You mention a Jupiter 8 for M42 SLR mount but I’ve never seen or heard of one. I know the Jupiter 9 and 11 were produced in M42 but not the 8 or the 3. There was an Industar 61L/Z made for Zenit.
    the other thing is in the comments. Leica lenses were L39, the designation M39 applies to the early soviet SLR cameras which used 39mm screw thread lenses. They are not interchangeable due to distance from lens to film. M39 Jupiter 9 will fit on a Zorki but won’t focus & vice versa.

    • camerajunky · April 15, 2012

      Yes, you are right according to the M39 vs L39 confusion, I am going to fix this. Thanks for pointing it out.

      Thanks again for the comments, it is really helpful.

    • camerajunky · April 15, 2012

      I have to say you are right about the Jupiter 8 as well, I must have seen something which I thought was an M42 Jupiter 8, but I cannot find it now. It was most likely a Jupiter 9.

  6. Digoy · April 15, 2012

    Hi, I enjoyed reading your review about the said lens and you have great images too. I have two jupiter lenses, the J8 and the J12 (35/2,8, zeis biogon copy). I love them both.

    • camerajunky · April 15, 2012

      I also would like to get a J12 some time as I have heard many positive opinions. Enjoy yours and thanks for the comment. Gábor

  7. Zena · April 15, 2012

    With my Zorki 4 and Jupiter 8 I realise dias or photos just as good as my ex- Leica M4-2 with Sumicron F2.
    I am more surprised just because the quality of pictures is no at the “rendez-vous” with said leica equipment, that I am pleased today to have sold, believing that the value will fall like the stock exchange because of the numeric democratization. I was mistaken for the price fall of the leica, but not for swithching to the Zorki. Despite my exceptional results, now I do not have to worry if the crap in the streets break my car to get the hands on my Leica!

  8. Chuck Foreman · April 15, 2012

    enjoyed so much reading your J8 blog here. Kudos on the product pictures. I have Three in Contax mount. I may get another just for fun. They are so good. One needs some TLC, the aperture ring slips.( missing screw) .I came here because the another one also needs work. In trying to ease the focus (which of course there is none) , I managed to drip Naphta in between the elements and the aperture. Anyway, since I’m looking for help in dis assembly, I will continue, but wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your blog. Oh.. and definitely get a J12. A personal favorite. Love it!!

    • camerajunky · April 15, 2012

      Hallo Chuck,

      Thank you for your nice words and Kudos. I am really pleased that you like my site. I have done many things recently on Jupiter/Sonnar side of my arsenal. I have got a current production ZM Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 as well as a Nippon Kogaku 85mm f/2 lens which is also a Sonnar type. Furthermore I have cleaned my L39 Jupiter 8, changed the lubricants and polished the barrel. I have not got into the interiors of the optical system, just cleaned the helicoid, so I afraid I have no more experience in cleaning the elements and the blades than you. But at least I have put one of these guys apart and managed to put it back together in a way that it works on my Leica M2. Maybe both my camera and lens are misscalibrated, but they work together nicely :-). Anyways, I will need to update this post with some new shoots and experiences. And yeah a J12 is really an interesting little gem, which I should puts my hand on some time.
      I wish you a lot of luck with your lenses. Gabor