Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How I Accidentally Made Cheap Macro Lenses For My Fujifilm X Camera [Jupiter 8M, Jupiter 12, Helios-103]

Fujifilm X-E1 & Jupiter 8M
In the 1930's Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez coined the phrase, "I'd rather be lucky than good."

Just two weeks ago I was thinking about macro lenses. They are great when you need to capture something that's really small or when you want to focus close on very fine details. I used to have a macro lens when I had a Nikon DSLR, but not with my Fujifilm camera. It would be nice to buy one, but I don't have several hundred dollars to spend on a new lens right now.

I like to use vintage lenses on my Fuji X-E1. It's a good way to add quality glass with character without breaking the bank. There are many different inexpensive adapters that allow you to attach most any lens to your camera. Fujifilm X cameras are designed especially well for doing this.

About a month ago I was searching eBay for M39 screw mount lenses. I have an M39 to Fuji X adapter that is underutilized, so I wanted to get a lens that would allow me to use it more. As I was scrolling through the search results I saw a listing with three vintage Soviet lenses for $60: Jupiter 8M, Jupiter 12 and Helios-103. "Awesome," I thought, and I made the purchase.

If you know a lot about old Soviet Union lenses, you probably already recognize my mistake. The three lenses that I purchased are not M39 mount (despite coming up in an M39 search), but Contax RF mount. I discovered this the next day, but by then my order had already been marked as shipped and the seller was specific about no returns or refunds.
Fujifilm X-E1 & Jupiter 12
I didn't think that this was a real big deal. I'd just buy another adapter, which are typically pretty cheap. Then I Googled Contax RF to Fujifilm X adapters and got the shock of my life: a fully functioning adapter is over $300! A semi-functioning adapter is $70, which is a lot of money for something that isn't going to completely work. There are also some cheap adapters that will only work with certain RF mount lenses. Thankfully I found a fully functioning home-made adapter (made from a broken Kiev camera) from Ukraine for $30. That's much more reasonable!

The particular home-built adapter that I purchased is not made for Fujifilm X mount, but M42 screw mount. I figured it wouldn't be an issue attaching the adapter to my M42 to Fuji X adapter that I already own, utilizing two different adapters to make the whole thing work.

Something to know about Contax RF mount is that there are actually two types: inner mount and outer mount. The inner mount lenses require mechanics in the camera or adapter in order to focus, while the outer mount do not. Typically longer lenses are outer mount and those 50mm or less are inner mount, but that's not always the case.

The adapter showed up in the mail last week. A few days later the three lenses arrived. I ripped open the package, pulled out the lenses, attached one to the Contax RF to M42 adapter, attached that to the M42 to Fuji X adapter, and attached that whole thing to my Fujifilm X-E1. I turned on the camera, set it to "shoot without lens" and all of my typical manual focus settings, pointed the lens down the hall and began focusing.

Except everything was blurry. Nothing was in focus. Uh, oh! I tried the other two lenses and got the same result. Bummer! I thought, perhaps, that it might focus on something far away, so I placed the lens up to the window to see. Nope! As I pulled the camera away from the window I noticed that for a brief moment the window screen seemed to come into focus. That's weird, I thought, and I put away the lenses, disappointed that they didn't work. Were the lenses defective? Was it the adapter?
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios-103
That night in the early morning hours, well before the sun came out, it occurred to me what exactly I had: three vintage Soviet macro lenses! These aren't really macro lenses, but the M42 to Fuji X adapter acts like an extension tube, essentially turning them into macro lenses. Extension tubes are an old and inexpensive trick for turning non-macro lenses into macro lenses. As soon as the sun came up I gave it a try and sure enough all three lenses worked!

The Contax RF to M42 adapter was made from a "for parts only" Kiev rangefinder, so it wouldn't surprise me if there was something not quite right about it. There's the possibility that something along those lines is contributing to the lenses only focusing really close and not focusing beyond a few inches from the end of the glass. Whatever the reason, I feel fortunate to have stumbled across this. It's better to be lucky than good, right?

The Soviet Union began manufacturing the Jupiter 8 lens beginning in the late 1940's. There are versions made for M39 mount, M42 mount and Contax RF mount. The Jupiter 8M is the Contax RF version, and it is an inner mount. My particular lens was made in 1977. It's a Russian copy of the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2 (the Russians took control of a Zeiss factory in World War II). A real Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2 will cost you around $150-$200.

The Jupiter 12 is a Russian copy of the Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2.8, manufactured beginning in 1947. My particular lens was made in 1966. There are two versions, one for M39 mount and one for Contax RF mount (it's an outer mount). The lens has this weird bulging glass element in the back, and the M39 mount version will damage your Fujifilm camera if you try to use it. A real Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2.8 will cost you between $300 and $1,000.

The Helios-103 is similar to the Jupiter 8M, and that's because it is an "original" Soviet design but based closely on the Jupiter 8M. The Helios-103 is a 53mm f/1.8 manufactured between 1978 and 1994, exclusively for Contax RF mount (it's an inner mount). My particular lens was made in 1983. Helios lenses are known for their "swirly bokeh" and this lens has that trait, although not nearly as pronounced as other models.
Contax RF Adapter
All of these lenses are sharp and create beautiful pictures with lovely bokeh. Image quality is not an issue whatsoever. Because I'm using them for macro photography, I'm shooting mostly in the f/8-f/16 range, to maximize the very narrow depth of field. I'd be interested in using them in a non-macro fashion, but in the current setup they won't focus beyond a few inches from the end of the glass.

While the three lenses seem similar to each other, they each offer something different. The Jupiter 8M is my favorite because of the lovely way in which it renders photographs. It just makes beautiful pictures! It is, however, the least macro of the three lenses and might not technically qualify as a true macro lens. The Jupiter 12, surprisingly to me, is the most macro, despite having the shortest focal length. Weird, huh? The Helios-103 is the fastest (not something you'll be using often in macro) and has swirly bokeh (when the conditions are just right), which adds an interesting element. The Jupiter 8M and Helios-103 lenses are noticeably smaller than the Jupiter 12.

If I could only buy one of these lenses it would be the Jupiter 8M. But since these Soviet knockoffs are so darn cheap, it's not a big deal to try a few. Mine were just $20 each! There are also other Contax RF mount lenses out there that are inexpensive, so don't be afraid to experiment.

When life throws you lemons, make some macro photographs! This whole experiment was nothing more than a happy accident. It didn't work out how I initially planned, but this outcome is actually better than I could have imagined! I can't guarantee that it will work the exact same way for you as it did for me (I don't see why it wouldn't), but if you are interested in macro photography it is something to try perhaps.

Below are 12 sample photographs that I captured over the last couple days using a Jupiter 8M, Jupiter 12 and Helios-103 lenses on my Fujifilm X-E1 camera, with the help of two adapters. Enjoy!
At the Edge of the In-Between - South Ogden, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Jupiter 8M
Purple Flower Pedals Macro - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Jupiter 12
Jupiter 8M - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios-103
F/8 - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Jupiter 8M
Zenit-E Shutter Dial - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios-103
Macro Flower In Monochrome - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios-103
N-Scale Mail - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios-103
Blue Glass - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Jupiter 12
Ground Coffee - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios-103
Pretty Weed - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Jupiter 8M
Pollination Isn't Always Pretty - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Jupiter 8M
Lily Stamen - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Jupiter 8M

6 comments:

  1. Great great shots / and a funny story :)

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  2. I highly recommend Ebay seller kosbik84. He makes Contax RF to Fuji X mount adapters and generally includes a Jupiter 8 or Helios 103 lens with his adapter sales. Although you won't get the macro effect described here, it will allow to use these excellent old Russian lenses.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the tip! I will definitely check it out.

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    2. Can't find that seller on eBay - does he have a different user name?

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    3. http://www.ebay.com/usr/kosbik84?_trksid=p2047675.l2559 I've purchased several lens from him and have pleased with all of them. Also, if you already have some Russian lenses that are not in best repair, he has tutorials posted on youtube with step by step instructions on taking them apart for cleaning and repairs. Not for the faint of heart but I was able to rescue a Jupiter 9 lens I picked up from another seller by following his instructions.

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