Sony E 35mm f/1.8 OSS vs Fujifilm FUJINON XF 35mm F2 R WR

In this post I compare the Sony 35mm F/1.8 OSS with the Fuji 35mm F/2 WR lens. Both lenses are for APS-C mirrorless system cameras, they feature the same focal length, virtually the same maximum aperture and they come for a comparable price. There are of course numerous differences to talk about. The Sony has image stabilization while the Fuji offers some level of weather resistance. But the biggest difference is of course lies on the camera system they respectively belong to.

I think it is a good idea to have a deep look into the lens lineup of any system before committing to one. Since I have currently both lenses in my household, I decided to compare them to help those who are considering these systems.

Flawed methodology

It is important to note that despite all my efforts this comparison is inherently flawed.

On Sony side I can use an ancient 16MP Sony Nex 6. While I mount the Fuji lens to the more recent 24MP Fuji XT-2. The resolution difference makes it hard to compare the images side by side at 100%. This could be a slight advantage for the Sony lens because it needs to resolve a bit lower resolution image.

On the flip side the Fuji clearly benefits from the newer generation sensor technology and image processor and of course from the lack of the anti-aliasing filter.

A more even playing field would be if I would be able to use a Sony Alpha 6300 for the comparison, but unfortunately, I don’t have that camera in my bag.

But of course, resolving power is only one parameter of a lens. Contrast, distortion control, flare resistance, bokeh and overall user experience can be compared good despite the differences of the cameras.
Because of a completely scientific comparison was not possible I have not attempted to execute one. I have not shot test charts and brick walls, but I have tried to measure them up against each other in situations in which I normally use these lenses. I also gathered quite some personal user experience with these lenses and thus I can share that as well.


Build and handing 

The Sony lens is very minimalistic in design. It is basically an almost perfect cylinder with very little variations in diameter. There are no external controls on the lens, apart from the focus ring.

The lens is metal (probably aluminum) from the outside, but it is likely to be plastic from the inside. This combination of materials makes the lens very lightweight (154g) and adequate in terms of quality feel. This is indeed a very compact and lightweight little lens despite the relatively big maximum aperture and image stabilization. The compact size and the fast aperture made this lens our primary lens on the Sony Nex 6 over 4 years now.

Both the rear and the front lens caps worn off or broke during this period under moderate family use. I am not very concerned about this as caps can be easily replaced, but it is a bit unfortunate. (The same happened with caps of the 50mm f/1.8 lens as well).

The included lens hood is a petal shaped plastic piece which does its job, but we just stopped using it as it adds to the size and flaring was never in our way with this lens. The filter thread is 49mm which is shared with the already mentioned 50mm f/1.8 lens.

The Fuji lens has a more traditional look with multiple different levels of diameters reducing towards the end. It has a physical aperture ring as well as the focus ring. Because the lens is weather resistant, it has a small rubber gasket at the mount. This lens is also made of metal and it is just as compact as the Sony. It weighs a tiny bit more (154g Sony vs 170g Fuji). Because of this small weight difference and probably because of the tighter and better sealed focus ring the Fuji lens feels more solid to me. The lens caps feel better made as well although I cannot tell yet if they will hold better on the long run.

There is a small screw in plastic lens hood included which I also rarely use, and a nicer looking but pricey metal hood is available separately. The filter thread is 43mm.

Lens mounts 

This has nothing to do with these 2 lenses, but I could not notice the similarities between the lens mounts when taking the pictures about these lenses. I have done a quick research and from the specifications point of view these mounts are very similar indeed. There is a minimal difference in diameter and flange distance. They both have 10 electronic connectors and a similar bayonet with the biggest difference in the angle of the configuration. Even the position of the screws at the back of the lenses are very similar. I am sure that the way the communication between camera and lens is implemented quite differently. It is just an interesting observation which leaves me wondering about a world where these systems are compatible just like in the M43 system and I could test both on the same camera.  

Maker Mount Flange focal distance (mm) Outer diameter (mm) Frame size (mm)
Sony E-mount 18 46.1 35.9×24.0, 23.6×15.6
Fujifilm X-mount 17.7 44 23.6×15.6

Source: Wikipedia

Focus

Both lenses feature an internal focusing mechanism, they don’t extend while focusing. Both lenses are virtually silent when focusing, no noise will be picked up by the internal mic of the camera.

I cannot compare focus speed of the lenses because of the very different camera bodies, but I can give generic observations.

The Sony 35mm one of the first lens which could utilize the phase detect autofocus of the Nex 6 and newer cameras with the stock firmware already. This lens focuses the fastest from our 3 Sony lenses among the 18-55 KIT zoom and the extremely sluggish 50mm f/1.8. It is not a speed demon by any means, but it is alright in good light. Note that running kids will give a hard time for the lens when paired with the Nex 6 or older cameras. I expect to have significantly better performance on a 6300 though.

The Fuji 35mm f/2 have no issues track running kids with high hit rate on the XT-2. I suspect that the result would be a lot worse on an X-Pro1 as focusing is not only depending on the lens. All in all, I am quite happy to use this lens with area tracking mode while the Sony (on my current body) is limited to center focus point and single shoot

Specialties

The Sony lens features optical steady shoot. I can confirm it working by sticking my ear to the lens while half pressing the shutter. It is quite nice when shooting video, but for stills I see little benefit for a 35mm lens.

The Fujinon lens is weather sealed which means it can take some splashes and probably light rain when paired with a similarly sealed body. I have used the lens in heavy snow fall and in some very light rain but honestly, I am trying not to rely on the weather sealing. It is always a slippery territory to judge what is still considered as a light rain. I take it as the lens would be not sealed at all and enjoy the better feel of the built.

Optical design

SONY E 35MM F/1.8 OS FUJIFILM FUJINON XF 35MM F2 R WR
Focal length F=35mm (35mm format equivalent: of 52.5 mm) f=35mm (35mm format equivalent: 53mm)
Angle of view 44° 44.2°
Max. Aperture F/1.8 F/2
Lens configuration 8 elements 6 groups (includes two aspherical and an Extra-low Dispersion element) 9 elements 6 groups (includes two aspherical elements)

The Sony lens has a very unusual concave front element with a surprisingly small diameter. It is hard to believe that it is a f/1.8 lens, but it checks out. The light gathered and the bokeh is both confirming the large aperture.

Wide open

For me, the wide open or close to wide open performance is the most interesting.  I expect good performance from any modern lens when stopped down to f/5.6 and not surprisingly these lenses are delivering excellent results on smaller apertures. On the other hand, wide open is where the character of a lens shows up. The depth of field is the smallest and the bokeh is the most prevalent especially when the subject is close to the camera. But also, this is the point where aberrations are the hardest to be kept under control.

In general, the Sony is a bit soft wide open and shows an average amount of chromatic aberration. Things get already better at f/2 and even more so from f/2.2.

Sony 35mm f/1.8 @f/2
Fuji 35mm f/2 @f/2

I have not much to complain about the Fuji lens.  Images are looking great even at the widest aperture. There is no noticeable softness, coma or other nasty things, and I had to work hard to find situation extreme enough to be able to produce color fringing.

I had no problems with distortion or vignetting with any of these lenses, but I rarely shoot subjects where it would be a problem anyways. Note that according to some sources the Fuji uses in camera magic to correct these issues while the Sony lens does not require such methods.

The right side with the bigger image is from the higher megapixel Fuji camera. Notice the difference of purple fringing at the contour of the face.

It seems that the Fuji also suffered from CA at the edges, but software helped out and desecrated the problematic part thus we can see a dark line at the contour of my shoulder. The Sony just left the lovely psychedelic color mix in place.

Bokeh

The amount and quality of background blur is very comparable of these lenses. The Sony is tiny bit smoother when shoot wide open but on matching apertures the amount of blur is basically the same.

The Fuji has a bit swirl effect if the background allows it to show up which gives some character to the lens.

Sony 35mm f/1.8 @f/1.8
Sony 35mm f/1.8 @f/2
Fuji 35mm f/2 @f/2

Perhaps the biggest difference in terms of bokeh between these two lenses is the amount of color fringing rendered in the out of focus areas. The Fuji have almost no visible color artifacts in the blurred area behind the plane of focus. In contrast the Sony shows some green and purple outlines around bokeh balls when photographing scenes with foliage in the background. Again, the difference is not very big, and I have no way to tell that it is the result of clever software or superior optical design, but this type of aberrations are harder to correct seamlessly with software.

Fuji on the left, Sony on the right

Conclusion and recommendations

Overall both lenses are quite capable, but I find the Fujinon more consistent. While the Sony creates great results for the most part there are occasions when the image falls apart when shoot at f/1.8. It might be due to focusing issues which are not so uncommon with older Nex cameras or because of the many knocks this little lens received during the years.  This is just my observation based on the very small sample size of 1. There is already less of a difference if I consider the Sony as an f/2 lens. It is probably not the highest priority for Fuji to be faster than f/2 in this case as there is an f/1.4 version available for the same focal length.
Both lenses are quite nice, I can recommend both while mentioning some strength and weaknesses.

For still shooters I would recommend the Fujinon because it performs better wide open with less CA and if f/2 would not be enough there is always the f/1.4 version to switch to.

For video shooters the Sony is clearly the better option because of the image stabilization and on video resolutions the softness wide open might not an issue.

If you already committed to one of these systems and want to get a nice 35mm lens these lenses would be on top of my list. The differences of these 2 lenses would not justify the system switch to me in any direction. On Sony side there is a slower Sigma and a pricier Zeiss alternative, while on the Fuji lineup there is the faster, but bulkier and louder f/1.4 version and the same Zeiss Touit as the E mount version.

Samples Sony

Samples Fuji

Beauty of a Camera Yashica TL Super

We were on a family visit at my father a few weeks back from now. As usual we had a great food and many things to talk about. Also as usual I have spotted something in his garden. A stack of beautify worn wooden boxes many of which had navy green painting and interesting signs on their sides. I was staring them for a brief moment with my suspicious look (I practice a lot in the mirror). I was immediately considering all possible combinations and alignments of them in relation to the direction of light and possible angles of framing. I must have had a look on my face of a hardcore Stanley Kubrick when he discovers a perfect massive monolith in his fathers’s backyard after a long night watching Space Odyssey. I asked if I could use them as background for a few shoots and also about their origin and current use.

As it turned out these were military ammunition boxes originally, but now they are used to store and transport machine parts new and used alike. This meant that there were plenty of scratches, oil marks and shiny metal particles all over them which made them even more exciting to me. At this time they were all empty so I could use them how I wanted. I always have a camera with me and because my Leica was in service I was revisiting old friends from the shelf. That day my bag hosted my lovely Yashica TL Super paired with the mighty 80mm Pancolar. This lens is a sole reason why I still have an M42 mount camera and this Yashica is a great match indeed.

Anyways, I took a few shoots about the Yashica and a series about my father’s Mometta II and I thought they are worthwhile to feature them on the blog. If you would like to read my Yashica TL Super review, you can find it here. These shoots were all taken hand held with my wife’s Sony NEX 6 and I had no softbox or any reflectors with me. Luckily the weather was overcast and overall I am happy with the results. I am curious thought what will I find during the next family visit and if I should better prepare myself with a complete studio setup :-).

Since then I finished the film in the Yashica as well as from the Zenit3M I used recently. The Leica is also back now and I am looking forward to try it. In any case when the film comes back from the lab and I find some time to scan and edit, I will show the results from this kit as well.

Grüner See

What would a photographer do if he  would suddenly need to carry an ever moving child on his back to every location he would take photos?

Photographer with extras, Sony nex 6, Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS (taken by Eszter)
Photographer with extras, Sony nex 6, Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS (taken by Eszter)

Of course he would use the new situation in order to justify a new purchase of a lens for the sake of portability to compensate the extra weight he now has to carry. This is how I ended up buying a Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5 pancake II. It is tiny, extra light and being a wide lens, it is slightly less prone to the shaking introduced by the little one in the carrier. The price is not too steep neither for a native M mount lens plus I have found a quite handsome copy on a local trading site. It was literally no way out of this deal and so far I am very happy with my decision. Thanks to Ben (Flickr) for selling me the lens.

One of our first trips with the new gear lead us to the Grüner See. This is a temporary lake in the mountains which is filled by the water of melding snow every year for a short period of time. As the name suggests the lake has a beautiful green color even though the water is crystal clear. The bottom of a lake is  essentially a meadow with grass and rocks and ordinary objects like a bench. The lake is surrounded with forest and mountains and it is truly spectacular. At the time of our (end of April) visit the level of the water has probably not yet reached the peak.

I have loaded a roll of slightly expired Fujicolor Pro 160NS from my stash, and even finished it on the very same day. Good weather, nice location, one of my favorite film stock and a new lens to test. I think it was a perfect start for the Voigtlander. I am actively fighting my G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), so I hope that I will value this lens on a long term. So far I am quite satisfied with the images I have got with it and honestly I think that there will always be place for a small good performing 35mm lens in my bag.

Grüner See, Leica M2, Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Epson Perfection V700

Grüner See, Leica M2, Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Epson Perfection V700

Grüner See, Leica M2, Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Epson Perfection V700

Grüner See, Leica M2, Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Epson Perfection V700

Grüner See, Leica M2, Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Epson Perfection V700

M9 + Sonnar vs M2 + Planar

Two friends with the same passion for photography, both using rangefinder cameras almost indistinguishable from the distance. The cameras are matched with fast 50mm lenses from the same brand and color.

Sounds like these photographers or at least their choice of gear is quite the same. While this statement is true to some degree, there are significant differences. In fact, there are more differences than the obvious technological dissimilarity between the capturing media used by the cameras (Ilford Delta 100 film in the Leica M2, Kodak CCD sensor in the M9).

Gábor, Leica M9 P, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM
Gábor, Leica M9 P, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM

Ramón uses a digital Leica M9 P which of course captures color information and renders in a very unique way. Many including himself claim that under ideal circumstances the CCD sensor in this camera creates much more pleasing results than other sensors used in other digital cameras with the same sensor size. This is a topic can be argued for a long time, but at the end of the day, it is his subjective view and his decision to use a rangefinder with this sensor.

Ramón, Leica M2 , Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/2 ZM, Ilford Delta 100, Rodinal 1+50, 20°C, 8 min
Ramón, Leica M2, Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/2 ZM, Ilford Delta 100, Rodinal 1+50, 20°C, 8 min

At the same time, I was using a classic Leica M2 with a black and white film. Even though the output of the digital camera is also appealing, the analog workflow is still favorable to me. It is partly because I enjoy the process of creating the image in this old-fashioned way, but also I can achieve the film look what I am looking for much more naturally.

My primary lens is a Zeiss Sonnar f/1.5 which I love for many reasons but mainly because of its bokeh. Ramón has a Planar f/2 from the same ZM series, although I believe this is not his standard lens. Both lenses are fast 50mm primes, yet they are quite different. The Planar is reliably excellent lens, which can be praised for its great sharpness and generally beautiful bokeh.

The Sonnar is a bit more hectic with the potential of surprises both in positive and negative ways. This lens can be bit soft wide open, but the bokeh is just phenomenal most of the time and from f/2 sharpness is already more than enough to me. The Sonnar has a bad reputation of focus shifting which is change of the focus plane when adjusting aperture. I personally don’t have any issues focusing with this lens. We switched lenses for the day, so we could experiment and see the differences. At the end of the day we enjoyed using these lenses, they both performed well on digital sensor and on film.

Also note that we use the cameras with different style. One of us covers only 1 eye with the viewfinder and keeps the other eye free open while the other covers his entire face with the camera and thus limited with single eye framing. Naturally this difference can be explained by the magnification used on the viewfinders, but it is also hugely a personal preference.

The great similarities and the differences between the cameras and lenses made me wonder can be photographers categorized at all by the type of gear they use? I guess the answer is controversially yes and no. Surely we use the same style of camera with the same focal length. This would put us into a technical category of normal lens rangefinder shooters. But even if we would use the exact same gear we would end up different results which we would have achieved in different ways. I think the most distinguishing feature in the photography of 2 individuals is not within their camera, but behind of it.

Eszter & Gábor, Leica M9 P, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM
Eszter & Gábor, Leica M9 P, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM

Eszter, Leica M2 , Carl Zeiss Plannar 50mm f/2 ZM, Ilford Delta 100, Rodinal 1+50, 20°C, 8 min

Eszter, Leica M2 , Carl Zeiss Plannar 50mm f/2 ZM, Ilford Delta 100, Rodinal 1+50, 20°C, 8 min

Kiev 4 + Ilford HP5

If you followed the Camerajunky Facebook page you may have already read about my planned reunion with my beloved Kiev 4 camera after a long period in which it was hidden in a box.  I really felt that I needed to use it again, and my recent discovery about the beauty of Ilford HP5 film gave me the final push to do so.

I don’t know why, but from time to time, I feel serious urge to go back to the basics and pick up a fully mechanical camera such as the Kiev and leave the sophisticated OM4 on the shelf. In addition, I really do like the character of the little Jupiter 8 lens. Especially the quality of the background blur it produces is really appealing to me. I know that many find it not so pleasing, but hey great things are usually dividing after all. It is not the sharpest nor the fastest lens I have ever touched, but an unmistakable character for sure.  I also learned that the grain structure and tonality of the Ilford HP5 ISO 400 film is also very unique and close to me, so I thought, I should combine the unique lens with the unique film.
I usually use lower sensitivity film so it could be that other medium speed films have similar characters as well. I guess I will need to try more. Until that, I leave you with some random but to me very catchy shots.

Eszti, (Gyöngyös, Hungary), Kiev 4, Jupiter 8, Ilford Hp5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Eszti, (Gyöngyös, Hungary), Kiev 4, Jupiter 8, Ilford Hp5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Trumpeter, (Graz, Austria 2013), Kiev 4, Jupiter 8, Ilford Hp5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Nikon F3

Nikon F3 in leather half case with Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 and HP prism.

Nikon F3
Nikon F3

Introduction

This classic camera was undoubtedly one of the biggest and most dividing celebrity of the 80’s. At least among professional 35mm SLR cameras of course. It  created quite significant waves in the world of professional photography because with it Nikon finally put the vote on automation and electronics as the new lead design principles.

Nikon and me
I am not dedicated to any brands, so there is no particular reason why I haven’t wrote about any Nikons until now. In fact my very first camera was a digital Nikon Coolpix 3500. It was hideous to use and broke horribly, but still it was my very first camera.Not much later I owned for a short time a Nikon F75 which was the first and until now the only camera which I’ve ever sold. It was a great tool, but it had a monstrous hunger for not so cheap CR2 batteries and it was way too modern for me anyway. The little Coolpix is still lying around somewhere in a box with serious electronic injuries. Who knows just like any other (now classic) camera, maybe one day it will get repaired too.

By the time it was very hard to accept  these changes by the majority of professionals who simply did not trust anything which was depending on batteries more than a powering of a light-meter. It is a bit hard to imagine today but at that time it had a perfect sense. But the change was already on the doorstep and it was inevitable. The previous F models were already masterpieces mechanically anyway, there was very little room for possible improvements in the purely mechanical realm.

The F3 was their first electronically controlled single digits F camera and despite of the early resistance by the community, it found the way to tremendous success and changed the face of the camera market once and for all.

In fact what Nikon did with this camera was nothing really revolutionary or unexpected as all the technology was already existed and tested by lower-end models of theirs or by the competitors. They simply selected the best components available and remixed them in a very attractive package.

I could write a lot more about the exciting history of this camera, but there are other more competent people who just did it very well before of me.  So instead of a week attempt of a complete and deep introduction of this camera, I simply try to give an overview filtered through my own experience.

I can faithfully recommend this site for the historical overview and for all possible technical details.

Nikon F3 HP official structural illustration
Nikon F3 HP official structural illustration

How did I get this camera

Nowadays my collector nature is being held a back because of the lack of time and dozens of higher priority projects. This is not necessarily a bad thing, sooner or later I need to settle and start to master the gear I already have. The negative side-effect is that I am running out of (new) old cameras to review.  But fortunately it turned out that  I can try out and write about a camera without actually owning it. I have a good friend who has a grandfather with a really good taste and since he moved to digital he gave his old Nikon gear to his grandchild. At first I just spot a box of T-max on the shelf at the place of Andrea’s and I asked her in which camera she intend to use it. Eventually she showed me a really nice bag full with vintage gear including the F3 with motor drive, many great lenses, matching flash unit and many more gems. Few weeks later (when I have recovered the shock, found my jaw and gathered enough courage) I asked her if I could try out the gear. She said yes, so the post you are reading now couldn’t be written without her kindness.

Data sheet

  • Type TTL auto-exposure 35 mm. Single Lens Reflex Camera.
  • Produced 1980-2001
  • Film type 24mm x 36mm
  • Weight 780g (body without lens, but with HP prism, batteries and film loaded)
  • Dimensions (HP version) 148.5 x mm height, 101.5 mm width, 69 mm depth
  • Lens mount Nikon F-mount
  • Shutter electronically controlled, horizontal-travel titanium focal-plane shutter
  • Shutter speeds 8s-1/2000s, B, Aperture priority,  1/60s can be used mechanically without batteries
  • Sync speed 1/80s
  • Viewfinder various interchangeable finders
  • Exposure meter full-aperture TTL centre-weighted exposure measurement at (80/20)
  • Batteries   Two 1.5V silver-oxide batteries SR44 (Eveready EPX-76) or alkaline manganese batteries LR44
  • Self-timer 10s delay electronic self-timer
  • Hot shoe special accessory shoe on the rewind knob supporting TTL flash units; PC synchro socket.
  • Motor drive optional MD4 motor drive up to 5.5  frames per second with mirror lock-up
  • Mirror lock-up
  • Depth of field preview
  • AE-lock
  • Multiple exposure lever
  • Exposure compensation

First and second impressions

When I first had a closer look, I was not exactly impressed. The camera was bit dusty and showed marks of very extensive use. Nothing serious, but I really had the impression that the camera may had some mechanical issues. Nevertheless I took my time, and cleaned the dust and smudges carefully.  During the process I had to realize two very important things. First of all never give up on an F3, these cameras are very hard to kill, no matter how they look like there probably nothing wrong inside. Second of all it has many buttons and switches which I had no idea what are they good for. I have seen many unusual designs like left handed Exactas and other marvels, but the F3 control layout gave us some rounds with Google and the user manual.

Nikon F3 with MD-4 motor drive, Nikkor 28mm f/3,5 and HP prism.
Nikon F3 with MD-4 motor drive, Nikkor 28mm f/3,5 and HP prism.

I also cleaned the lenses belonging to the F3 and since they were protected with  filters all of them were in an excellent condition. They feel a bit dry to me in terms of lubrication, but otherwise focusing very smoothly and precisely. Maybe they act completely normally, only I am not so familiar with Nikon AIS lenses.

After I finished the cleaning of the gear and finally powered up the camera, the moments I spent with trying out every part of it lead me to the conclusion. You can trust this camera. The more I use it, the more I trust. The sound of the shutter, the feel of the advance lever, the snappiness of the motor drive all ensure this feeling. After all this image what a professional camera should show about itself.

Things I love about the F3

As I said the Internet is loaded with much more established articles about the Nikon F3, therefore the very best I can do is to share my personal opinion about it. Let’s start with the things I most appreciate in this camera.

Look and feel

Nikon F3 in leather half case with Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 and HP prism.
Nikon F3 in leather half case with Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 and HP prism.

The F3 is an important milestone in the history of Nikon, but not only because of the technological aspects. This was the first Nikon which appearance was designed by the Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.  He introduced the red mark on the grip, which is an unmistakable characteristics of every Nikon SLRs since then. Indeed, this camera looks different from every previous models and can be distinguished with ease from the competitors as well.

Personally, I like the previous F shapes better, but I have to admit that the F3 looks all right and it also handles great at the same time. The small grip contributes to the secure holding, and I find it very clever how it fits together with the motor-drive.

Butter smooth operation (excellent mechanics)

Every part of the camera carries the marks of mechanical excellence.  Even the smallest moving piece is doing its job with minimal resistance and completely free from any inappropriate noise.

There is virtually no difference in the operation of the film advance lever with and without film loaded into the camera. It is really that smooth that you can have a hard time to say that the camera loaded.

The mirror flips up quietly and gently as well, it produces very little camera shake compare to my other SLR cameras.

Viewfinder experience

For me one of the most important aspect in a camera is the viewfinder experience, and this is where the Nikon F3 really shines.

First and foremost this camera features a modular design, which allows you to choose from a huge variety of focusing screens and finders. This particular kit came with a HP prism and with my all times favorite waist level finder.

Nikon F3 in leather half case with Nikkor 50mm f/1,4 and HP prism. Waist level finder next to it.
Nikon F3 in leather half case with Nikkor 50mm f/1,4 and HP prism. Waist level finder next to it.

The HP abbreviation stands for High eye Point which provides a proper picture in the finder from the viewing distance up to 2,5 cm. This is especially beneficial for those who wear glasses, having larger than average nose or don’t want to squeeze their eyeball into the finder window. Although I don’t wear glasses, I still find convenient to use this finder too. The downside is that the image is slightly smaller than the one found in the usual prism. The finder window is round shaped, which looks very nice and professional in my opinion . The prism also features a window-blind to prevent light entering and thus altering metering results when shooting on a tripod.

I mentioned that waist level finders are very close to me, I have got used to the work with them with my Pentacon Six. Due to the lack of any additional optical elements (prism, mirrors), this finder gives the brightest and crispest image possible which indeed looks marvelous when using the F3.

Viewfinder mock

But the best part of this camera is the way it indicates shooting parameters in within the finder.

A small LCD display shows the shutter speed settings, while the actual aperture marking (from the lens itself) is projected into the finder. In other words, you really see your lens marking in the viewfinder. I simply cannot imagine any cooler solution for this problem.

These information windows are built into the body, therefore all compatible finders benefit from them. The same information can be read in the HP prism and in the waist level finder.

Light metering

But how is the light metering done? Traditionally the metering cell/s are located in the prism.  Obviously it cannot be the case with the waist level finder, besides all readings are passed from the body to the finders.

In case of the  of the Nikon F3, the metering cell is located in the body to support the interchangeable viewfinder design. The cell is located at the bottom of the mirror box facing backwards to the direction of the film. There is a small secondary mirror underneath the main mirror in order to transfer the light for metering. The main mirror is semi transparent at the middle thus the secondary mirror can reflect part of the light to the metering cell. The secondary mirror moves synchronously with the main mirror.

This layout has another benefit of being capable to measure the light reflected back from the very surface of the film being exposed. This way real time exposure control is possible which is essential with TTL flash photography.

1/80s before the first frame

Have you ever tried to load a semi automatic camera with the lens cap on? I committed this mistake quite a few times with my Olymous OM 4. Normally, because the lens cap is on, the camera calculates a very long exposure time so you need to wait a lot before you could get to the next frame. This could be really annoying especially when you are in hurry. Of course, if you set your camera to manual mode during loading, this is not an issue at all, but somehow I walk into this trap quite often.

It seems that the engineers of Nikon knew my kind and built in a mechanism which sets the shutter speed to 1/80s until the frame counter reaches the 0 marking. This prevents me to fire a 30s exposure during film loading.

This can be a disadvantage to those who tries to get the maximum amount of frames out of every roll, but personally I think it is a really nice and clever feature.

Small touches everywhere

The Devil is in the details.  If you take a closer look on this camera, you can notice a numerous fine details which aren’t that necessary to operate the camera, but contribute to the overall feeling. They make you feel confident that the camera you are holding is a very special and fine tool.

Some of the little details are not unique to this particular model, but characteristics of the Nikons at this era.  For example I like the screw cap of the battery compartment. It has a small plastic holder, which positions the batteries and it has a clear graphical indication, how the batteries should be placed.

There is a lock on literally everything which can be accidentally moved such as shutter speed dial, film rewind, exposure compensation and mechanical shutter release. There is no way, you accidently change a setting or open the camera.

Ever-ready case is the best I have seen apart from 3rd party manufacturers.  It can be used as a half case, it lets you see the film notes at the back and it is very stylish.

The window blind on the prism, the mechanical shutter release, the way they implemented multiple exposure control are all very fine details.

Things I don’t like so much

Actually it is very hard to find anything  to not to like on this camera, but I have managed to put together a short list.

Weird switches

Nikon F3 weird switches (Can you spot the self-timer? it is actually around the shutter speed dial)

Probably because the F3 is a completely new breed of  industrial design among Nikon cameras, they had to make compromises here and there. Some switches such as self-timer and the on-off switch are a bit small and less intuitive to use. It took me some time to figure out what is the self-timer switch is doing. But the weirdest button of all is the little red rectangle just below the finder. This is used to illuminate the shutter speed information screen in the finder. It is hard to find and even harder to press during composing  a frame. You need to use one of your  fingernails to be able to push it.

Hot shoe

Because of the interchangeable viewfinder design, the hot-shoe could not be placed at the top of the prism, therefore and alternative solution was needed. The Nikon F3 has a very interesting non standard flash shoe combined with the film-rewind lever. This part of the camera gives home to the film speed settings and exposure compensation.  To use flash, you need a special flash or an adapter.

Test shoots and answer to the scanner crisis

I have asked specifically the guys at my favorite camera shop and photo lab to scan my negatives without over-compressing the resulting jpg files. But they managed to give me once again 50% compressed garbage, therefore I officially gave up on them and decided to give another shoot to my old scanner. This time however, I tried out SilverFast (again) instead of the factory software I used and finally I have found the common understanding with this software. It really gave a new life to the old scanner of mine. I love the possibility to reduce noise by multiple scanning. I still think that this is not the final solution for my scanning crisis, but for the time being it is an acceptable compromise.

Click on the photos for full resolution versions so you can really see the quality of the scans! If you feel like, I would be happy to read your opinion in the comments section about the quality of these shoots and of course about the photos themself. 

Barbara
Barbara (Graz, 2013) Nikon F3, Nikkor 50mm f/1,4, Kodal Portra 160 (Expired), Canoscan 9900F

Olympus OM 4 Ti vs Nikon F3

I know that this is not a fair comparison since the OM4 was released a few years later, yet both cameras represents the top of the manual focus models in their respective brands. Both of them shares the formula of manual focus, electronically controlled horizontally travelling shutter with mechanical back-up, aperture priority auto exposure, somewhat similar light metering system with TTL flash control and separate motor drive. It would be better to compare the titanium versions, but at the moment  I have my hands only on the normal F3.

Obviously the OM4 Ti feels more solid despite its lighter weight. It is smaller and you really can feel that this is a weather sealed titanium body. The F3 feels also solid in my hands, but  not the same. I prefer my OM 4 Ti when it comes to build quality. Again the F3 titanium would probably compare differently.

The multi-spot light metering system of the OM 4 is also superior to the F3, although I had no issues so far with the Nikon even when using flash. On paper though the Olympus offers more in this aspect. It has to be said that the OM 4 is a newer camera, therefore this comparison is not entirely fair neither.

Olympus OM 4 Ti vs Nikon F3

The viewfinder experience is better on the Nikon due to the fact that not only the shutter speed, but the aperture values are shown in the finder. However the OM4 warns you right in the in the viewfinder when exposure compensation is active while the Nikon shows nothing. Both cameras can benefit from a wide variety of focusing screens, but of course the Nikon has the possibility to change the whole finder.

In terms of electronics, I feel more confident with the Nikon, somehow it feels as a more bulletproof system to me. The clever solution of fix 1/80s for the first shoots before the 0 frame and the very long battery life all gives me a good feeling.  The Olympus has a very mature system, but I had some troubles with week batteries and the battery life is also less.

At the end both cameras are excellent choices and I think both can do the job equally well. The F3 offers more features such as mirror lock-up, multiple exposure, interchangeable finders,  high eye-point  prism, but the OM 4 is smaller, features a very unique and excellent light metering and flash system and has a rather classical look.

But no camera worth anything without compatible lenses. I think that the OM lineup is strong enough, but Nikon is definitely has a serious advantage here. So if you are about to choose between these 2 cameras or similar models, consider your lens needs first.

I own the OM4 and I will need to give back the F3 soon,  and while I really enjoyed the time with the Nikon, I still appreciate the Olympus look so my camera-bag remains intact.

Conclusion and recommendation

If you would like modern, but  manual focus camera which you can trust with no compromise in features and don’t mind the size, than this is the camera for you. I think the F3 is affordable today and you can use a really impressive set of affordable quality lenses as well. The motor drive is not my thing, but indeed it can make this camera a speed daemon (~5 fps) as long as you can handle the focus. TTL flash photography is also among the features, but keep in mind that you need a special adapter or a compatible unit.

I really like this camera, it is a pleasure to use, it does look stylish and it has the coolest aperture indication in viewfinder ever. So if you like it, grab one in good conditions and you will not need another camera for a long time because this oe will never let you down.

References

Fun

Nikon F3 in Area 88
Nikon F3 in Area 88

Exakta to EOS adapter

This post is a response to a comment asking me about my Exakta to Canon EOS adapter which I am using for my Trioplan 100mm lens. The reason I wanted to have this adapter is that I had got an Exakta Varex IIa with 2 wonderful lenses (Meyer-Optik Görlitz Trioplan 100mm f/2.8, and a Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm f/2.8) which I really wanted to try on a digital camera.

I have no information about the manufacturer of this adapter since there is no trademark on it and the packaging was also very minimalistic (small white paper box with a price-tag). I bought it new in Hungary for a little more than 20€ which is a little pricey in my opinion if you compare it to regular M42 to  EOS adapters. But it has to be said, that this adapter is very well made, and has a more complex shape than an M42 model, thus manufacturing must be more expensive.

Built and usability

The adapter is very thin and I had no problem to focus to infinity when using it. It does not feature any electronic elements, but my Canon 450D is capable to work in aperture priority mode when I preset aperture on the lens. This works really fine for me with live view for focusing.

Exakta to EOS adapter (lens side)
Exakta to EOS adapter (lens side)

The Exakta mount features 2 bayonets: an inner bayonet for smaller lenses and another one which is outside of camera body for large lenses. This adapter can be used for the inner mount only, but it is not an issue at all for me as I usually don’t use large telephoto lenses.

Note the 2 red dots, they indicate the matching points for the lens is attached, although only one is valid for each lens. I suppose this is necessary to make possible to lock different type of lenses in the right position (aperture indicator it should be at the top). The adapter clicks when the lens is in position, so it is very straightforward to use. The only trouble could happen if you picked the wrong red dot so the markings on your lens could be on an odd position.

Exakta to EOS adapter (body side)
Exakta to EOS adapter (body side)

The copper plates act as strings and they are used to lock the lens in position and also they can be used to release it. You have to remove the lens with the adapter from the body in order to change lens. The locking strings can be accessed only from the back of the adapter.

Troubles with shutter release button

Tessar with shutter/aperture button.

The Meyer Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 mounts flawlessly with this adapter, but I was a bit disappointed when I realized that  I cannot mount my 50mm Tessar. The reason is the shutter release button (1) which is built together with the lens itself.  The little arm which holds the shutter release button collides with the adapter (2), therefore it is not possible to mount. I have read that it is possible to remove this part from the lens, but frankly, I don’t want to do it.
In addition, this button triggers the aperture mechanisms and sets the aperture in place when pressed. It means that it would be very tricky to shoot with this lens on a digital body even if the adapter would work (apart from wide open settings).

Even though I am sure these lenses could be converted for digital use, I prefer to look for lenses without this shutter button construction.

Links

Meyer-Optik Görlitz Trioplan 100mm f/2.8

I have already written a few lines about this lens in my Exakta Varex IIa review where I have published some film shots taken with it. Recently I have purchased an adapter which allows me to attach any EXA mount lens to my Canon DSLR so it is about time to inspect a little deeper what is the Meyer Trioplan 100mm capable of.

The Cooke Triplet

The Meyer Trioplan is a classic triplet (it has three strong lens elements separated by sizable air spaces). It is eventually a modern version of the Cooke triplet which was developed by H. Dennis Taylor (1862 – 1943) in 1893.

The simplest design that is capable of correcting all of the seven Seidel aberrations over a wide field of view is the Cooke triplet. H. Dennis Taylor invented this in 1893, using the advances of Seidel’s theory. It is named after the optical company in York, England, for which Taylor worked at the time, Cooke and Sons (later to become Cooke, Troughton and Sims). The lens is described in two very interesting United States patents, Nos. 540,132 (1895) and 568,053 (1896). Taylor’s designs, despite their antiquity, are close to optimum for the aperture and field he intended, given the glass types available in his day. The triplet uses two of the principles of a good design. First, the Petzval sum is corrected by the use of spaced positive and negative lenses, as described in Chapter 9 on telephoto lenses. Secondly, it has approximate front-back symmetry about a central stop, to control the odd-order aberrations, coma, distortion, and transverse color.

Source: Optipedia

Even though countless variants had been patented of the Triplet designs they cannot be considered as original inventions rather routine designs based on Taylors work.[1]

Similar lenses: Anticomar, Cassar, Novar, Meritar, Radionar, Trinar, Triotar, Voigtar, Eurygon.

Cooke Triplet schema f/3 ±22° [1]

Fun facts

  • Taylor developed his own mathematical tools to design lenses and if we can believe him he never traced any rays. His method was to design and optimize the lens on paper until he reached the best possible solution and then he got the lens manufactured. Finally, changes were recommended based on the experiments on a testbench with the prototype.[1]
  • Cookie of York is still an existing company with slightly different profile and name Cooke Optics Limited.
  • Even though triplets are simple lenses it was difficult to manufacture them initially because the position of the lens elements has to be very precise. Therefore many manufacturers preferred to produce four element lenses instead.[1]
  • Despite that the Triplet design is strongly outdated today, it is still used in the case of many lower-end cameras.

Characteristics

The interestingness of the Meyer Optik Trioplan is the unusually large aperture (f/2.8) which is remarkable because triplets are usually moderate speed lenses for good reasons.
This relatively high maximum aperture comes with a price as the lens shows a wide range of aberrations when used in this setting. On the other hand, this makes the lens somewhat unique with an interesting footprint some might use for artistic purposes.
The out of focus areas  (bokeh) looks very interesting at f2.8, especially when highlights are involved in the background. The light circles (for examples traffic lights) are surrounded by light circles which makes the bokeh really special and as many say psychedelic. In addition, there is a heavy glow around the objects in the in-focus areas, most notably around highlights. This effect can be very dramatic or almost not notable depending on the conditions of the shoot. Last but not least the produced image is rather soft all around the frame in most cases wide open.

Pear
Pear, Canon 450D, Meyer-Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8

Many buy and uses this lens because of the way it behaves at widest aperture,  but we have to admit that this lens is not a bad performer at all if stopped down just a slight bit. At f/4 and below the lens produces sharp images without glow or distractive psychedelic bokeh. In fact, it has some properties which are very respectable. The lens produces a very low amount of purple fringing around high contrast areas even at modern standards. The lens is definitely sharp enough for most purposes an due to the almost perfectly round iris it produces wonderful creamy bokeh. Furthermore, due to the staples aperture ring, it can be appropriated by videographers as it allows smooth continuous aperture control.

Pear
Pear, Canon 450D, Meyer-Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 @ f/4

How the Trioplan looks like

My Trioplan came as a part of a beautiful Exakta kit along with the original box and invoice.

Meyer Optic Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 in box
Meyer Optic Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 in the box
Meyer Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8
Meyer Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8
Meyer Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8
Meyer Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8

The lens can be disassembled very easily almost without any tools. I wanted to unscrew the lens hood only but as a side effect, I have managed to remove an entire lens group. It is not that bad as it sounds because eventually, I could take advantage of the accident. I could clean up the dust from the inside of the lens and fortunately, the assembly went well and the lens performs just the way it did before.  Last but not least you can get a very intimate view of the wonderful circle shaped iris of the Trioplan.

Meyer Optik Trioplan (disassembled) Iris visible
Meyer Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 (disassembled) Iris visible (around f/4)
Meyer Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8
Meyer Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 (disassembled) Iris visible (around f/16)
Meyer Optic Trioplan 100mm f/2.8
Meyer Optic Trioplan 100mm f/2.8

Trioplan on Canon 450D

My film shoots with this lens (with Exakta Varex IIa) can be seen here.

Wide open softness and glow can be beneficial when shooting portraits, although I admit isn’t fit all portraits.

Julianna (Gyöngyössolymos, Hungary) Canon 450D, Meyer -Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8
(Gyöngyössolymos, Hungary) Canon 450D, Meyer -Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8
(Gyöngyössolymos, Hungary) Canon 450D, Meyer -Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8

If you stop down the lens a bit, you are going to get a very respectable result.

(Gyöngyös, Hungary) Canon 450D, Meyer -Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 @ f/4
(Gyöngyös, Hungary) Canon 450D, Meyer -Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 @ f/4
Metal palm (Graz, Austria) Canon 450D, Meyer -Optik Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 @ f/8 (No purple fringing)

Recommendation

Pros

  • Reasonably good image quality when stopped down
  • Very low chromatic aberration
  • Circular iris
  • Good bokeh when stopped down
  • The special character at maximum aperture (crazy bokeh)
  • Continuous aperture selection ring without stops/clicks
  • Good built quality
  •  Aged glue can’t be a problem between lens elements as the number of cemented elements is zero
  • Focusing is very smooth (on my instance)
  • Cheap

Cons

  • The outdated optical formula does not deliver cutting-edge performance
  • Very soft and loaded with aberrations at maximum aperture

The Meyer Optik Trioplan is a fun lens to use, it is out of the question. It is also a cheap lens so the investment won’t make your family mad on you.

I would recommend to those who like to experiment with old lenses hoping to achieve some unusual results due to the character of the vintage glass. On the other hand, it is not a toy so you can rely on it when you need good image quality, you just need to avoid f/2.8.

Videographers could also appreciate this lens due to the click-less aperture ring so they can change aperture very smoothly while filming.

But this lens is not for everyone of course if you are looking for top image quality or features like auto-focus than you should definitely look elsewhere.

Links and references

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 written about. The optical formula alongside the Contax II camera was acquired after the war by the Soviet Union as well as machinery and technical personnel as part of the war compensation.

So let’s look at the formula itself!

Jupiter 8 (Zeiss Sonnar) formula

The Jupiter 8 is 6 elements in 3 groups partially glued anastigmat. The first group is a separate meniscus, the middle group consists of a meniscus, 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 the 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 a 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 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.

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, 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 a real gamble.

How do they look like

Jupiter 8 L39 mount
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 mounts aluminum versions despite the simpler mechanical construction. It also feels much more solid and the click 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 8M Contax mount
Jupiter 8M Contax mount aperture shape at f/4

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 glasses 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 character

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 the character of this image, the backgrounds fall to be blurred slowly while the model is quite sharp. I don’t remember what aperture I used but it must have been around f/4, so in theory, this effect could be 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 to compare to modern standards. Therefore the lens hood is a must if you (like me) prefers to shoot in back-light.

Flare

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 ruin 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 written 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 of 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 through 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 the separation of the model.

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

Exakta Varex IIa

Exakta Varex IIa

“Woow!” This was the first thing came into my mind when I first saw an Exakta in a cabinet in a very small and messy shop of an old camera-repairman a couple of years ago. The second thing? Well, I seriously considered to lick it quickly while the owner looked away. It never happened due to the glass door of the cabinet and I can still feel the sensation of the missed opportunity -What a pity-.

Apart from the joke, I had been seriously touched by the appearance of this family of cameras, especially the older ones. It is an entirely mechanical, full glass, bare metal, chrome and leather piece of jewelry. I am almost certain that this camera triggered the entire steam-punk culture. There is no doubt that this is one of the most beautiful classic cameras of all times.

“True” Exaktas were manufactured by Ihagee in Dresden during almost 4 decades which resulted in an amazingly complete and comprehensive camera system. While I always keen to give a bit of historical overview of a camera system, I had to realize that others have done this on a level I simply cannot match. If you were interested in the different variants and history, please visit this link.  I limit myself to the most interesting facts I found out during my research and consider this post as a kind of tribute to Exakta and the company made it Ihagee.

It is interesting to know that the Exakta camera system was very stable during its evolution, almost all parts were interchangeable among models which are remarkable. There was a huge sort of accessories available for these cameras and they were heavily used for technical and scientific photography. I think this system was one of the most versatile at the time. For example, you can see below a commercial from a 1952 German magazine Die Fotografie where the camera is attached to a microscope.

Commercials from the magazine Die Fotografie 1952
Old poster in a camera shop (Budapest, Hungary)

The Exakta Varex was introduced in 1950 and the big innovation was the possibility to use the camera with the standard waist level finder or with a pentaprism. This interchangeable viewfinder system even further increased the versatility of the camera.   In addition, there were a big number of available finders of both types (4 basic pentaprism types) and all of them allowed to use a huge variety of focusing screens on top of it. They claimed in their commercials, that they merged the good old experience with modern ideas. You can check out the complete list of finders and screens on this page.

One of the interesting characteristics of this camera is the left-handed shutter release which (I believe) is inherited from the times when the camera used only waist level finder. It is very awkward at first and even at the second time to handle the camera because of this using the prism for those who got socialized on right-handed cameras. I guess it was no problem initially with the waist level finder and they kept this property. In fact, it is possible to get used to it, but it requires quite a commitment.

Commercials

I have managed to dig out a couple of high-quality commercials and posters released by Ihagee, this cool half cut camera poster can be seen in a camera shop in Hungary (Soós Fotó).  I have found and included in this post many more nice illustrations from books and magazines. It shows that the Exakta was really among the most prestigious SLRs at the time. It was literally the ultimate way to go for every possible purpose from photojournalism to science and technical applications where larger formats could not be convenient to use.

Commercials from the magazine Die Fotografie 1952

My Exakta

My Exakta is a subtype of the very long lasting and successful Varex IIa. This version was released in 1960 and the distinguishing feature is the logo which is not pressed into the metal anymore and the shape of the prism is slightly different than earlier models.

Varex IIa datasheet

  • Produced 1957-1963 this version was introduced1960
  • Film type 135 (35mm)
  • Lens mount Exakta mount (inner and outer bayonet)
  • Shutter cloth curtain (traveling horizontally)
  • Shutter speeds 12s – 1/1000, B
  • Sync speed 1/50
  • Viewfinder interchangeable waist level or prism
  • Exposure meter none
  • Self-timer
  • PC sync connections
  • Internal film cutting blade

This particular camera was sold in Antwerp, Belgium in 1961 and according to the catalog I have, the list price was 13.185 francs with the prism and Tessar standard lens. The second lens (Trioplan 100mm) had the price of 4.205 francs. I am trying to find out what could that mean at that time, but one thing is sure in Hungary this combo would have cost a complete year salary of a regular person in the 60s. In comparison for a Russian Zenit SLR, some had to work like hell for 2-3 months while consuming solar energy only for survival in Hungary those times.

The camera actually belongs to my Friend David who was kind enough to give it to me for use as he did with the Yashica TL-SUPER camera I reviewed. He received it from the original owner from Belgium, so I can actually track back the history of this camera until the beginning. Thank you again, David!

The camera came in the every-ready case, with 2 wonderful lenses. a high-quality B+W filer, a nice rare Carl Zeiss Jena polar filter, a Sunpak flash unit and all sort of documentation including warranty, and catalogs.

Exakta Varex IIa, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar, Meyer Optic Trioplan, B+W filter, hard-case, catalogs,  warranty
Exacta Varex IIa in hard-case
Exacta Varex IIa in hard-case

Condition and repairs

Lens

The overall condition of the camera is very good, although the Tessar lens was really stiff, it was very hard to focus on.  In the opinion of my repair-man, it could have been stored in a cold place for a while. I have got the lens cleaned and lubricated and now it is as good as new. Again, the arts of lubrication was successfully applied, plus apertures and glass elements got some attention and cleaning. Important to note that the focusing ring is covered with some kind of plastic which became rigid over the years, and it is advised to take care of it as it is very fragile and can be broken for any little hit. If it breaks it needs to be replaced by leather with a similar texture which is a hideous task to do.

Shutter

The shutter was advanced when I first got it in hand, so the springs were tensed probably for many years ago and as it turned out the high shutter speeds are not really usable now. 1/500 and 1/1000 while they sound good the movement of the curtains are not even. As a result, some parts of the frame came out less exposed than others. It could be fixed by the master of the lubricants, but it would definitely cost a load of money. I decided to wait and until it gets fixed I started not to use these speeds. It seems everything works fine up to 1/250s and I have managed to carry out my second roll without any problem.

Mirror

The silvering of the mirror is damaged badly around the edges and it has a negative effect on the clearness of the viewfinder. There is no way to fix the mirror because the silver just melted down. The only solution is the complete replacement, but as I use this camera casually only I decided to keep it as it is for a while.

The way it looks

Exakta Varex IIa
Exakta Varex IIa top
Exakta Varex IIa top
Exakta Varex IIa back
Exakta Varex IIa back
Exakta Varex IIa bottom
Exakta Varex IIa bottom
Exakta Varex IIa back open
Exakta Varex IIa back opened
Exakta Varex IIa Lego

Personal experience

As you have already figured out I like this camera the most because of its appearance. I think it really does look gorgeous even though I prefer more the versions with the engraved or embossed logo on the front plate. Despite this not too serious concern, I feel like holding something really special when I choose this for a walk. For me it is an outstanding experience to carry such a nice piece of history and heritage while I can be almost certain that the camera hanging on my neck is so unique I will probably not meet with anything even close to it. It has its charm and style to not to deny apart from what kind of photos came out at the end. Of course, the shoots are great too, nothing to complain about. What I want to say is that it is so elegant I might walk with it even if it was a bad camera (which is not!).

Exakta on my shoulder
Varex IIa in action

Ergonomics

Well, we have reached the point where I must stop extol this camera because the ergonomics is at least awkward.

The left-handed shutter release is really hard to get used to it. The shape of the body is nothing but convenient. It is in fact quite bulky. The reason is probably practical though,  this shape helps to keep the film more in place and flat according to some opinion and I eventually accept it.

Rewinding the film

To change the shutter speed, you have to pull out the dial and it is the normal procedure in this era, but not really convenient.  To set longer exposures (1/5-12s) you have to operate two dials by setting the main dial to T mode and setting the second for the speed. The film advance lever has an extremely long stroke and the mirror does not return after release.  The film transferred from one spool to another in the opposite way as it is usual as the system is left-handed, and to rewind the film you have to pull and turn a couple of things at the same time. Overall many things are a little bit complicated.

All in all this camera is the hardest to use among those I have ever tried. It is at least challenging and not as straightforward as switching your bicycle. But I think it is worth to fight and it is possible to realize that focusing on your left hand is only a habit, not a testament. After you have learned all the tricks it could be as easy to use as any other camera, but for me, it takes some time.

Proper ways to hold the camera while using the waist level finder. The  image is from the original handbook of the camera

This is how to hold the camera while using the pentaprism.

Focusing

Split screen focusing (Die Fotografie magazin 1952)

I have only a pentaprism with split screen focusing glass. It is dark for modern standards, although it could be also because my lenses are not exactly that fast (f/2.8) and the mirror is damaged around the edges. I suppose with a faster lens like a f/1.5 Zeiss Biotar and with a new mirror, it would be bright enough.

The split screen works as intended, but it takes a too big part of the screen (in my opinion) and I often use the matte parts around the central circle to focus instead.

I would love to try the waist level finder also because I prefer that on my Pentacon Six over the prism because of the extra lightness and the presence of a magnifying glass for pin accurate focusing. I don’t shoot much action with these anyway, I have time to focus precisely.

Ground glass vs pentaprism (Dr. Sevcsik Jenő, Fényképezés 1960 book)

Funny feature

There is a feature of this camera which had been hardly used by most and made me think quite a bit until I have found out what it is for. Interestingly enough you can actually cut the film inside the camera with a razor sharp hook-shaped blade. This way you can change film in the middle of the roll without the need for rewinding and calculating the position of the last exposed frame.

The blade is marked with the number 38. The image is from the original handbook of the camera.
Operation of the film cutting rod.

This blade can be seen on above on my photo where the back is open and for reference point please look the point 38 on the draft above. The operation is simple you have to screw out a lock at the bottom of the camera than you have to pull the rod and the blade cuts the film. I have never seen this before and while I am sure I will never use it, still it is a neat little feature. The engineers of Ihagee thought of everything.

Lenses and test shoots

Ihagee didn’t manufacture lenses by itself, but many brands made glass for the Exakta mount.

A very cool page to visit according to these lenses, in general, can be found here, and in detail with illustrations here.

I have got the camera with two lenses: a standard 50mm Tessar and a 100mm Trioplan. The Tessar had to get cleaned and lubricated, but the other lens is in a really nice shape.

Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm f/2.8

There is no Tessar written on the lens nor Carl Zeiss only Jena and a big “T” letter. The reason is that the East German Carl Zeiss Jena was not allowed to use it’s brand name nor the name of the lenses outside of the eastern block because the West German company owned the brand names. Nevertheless, this is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens and it performs as it should.

The Tessar is a classical construction or base type which consists of 4 elements 2 of them cemented together. These are considered very sharp and having a “hard” character (whatever it means). Because of the good performance, good enough speed and cheap production costs this lens type was very popular and have several siblings such as Elmar, Industar, Primotar, Skopar, Xenar, Ymmar, Ysaron, Belar etc. Apart from the direct relatives, there are many more modifications led to new lens families.

I am going to write a deeper article about this lens as soon as I can get an EOS to Exakta adapter.

Szentendre (Hungary), Exakta Varex IIa @ 1/1000s, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F, high shutter speed fails
Bus station, Gyöngyös (Hungary), Exakta Varex IIa, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F
Budapest(Hungary), Exakta Varex IIa, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F
Underwater chair, Girona (Catalonia), Exakta Varex IIa, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold, Canoscan 9900F

Meyer Optic Trioplan 100mm f/2.8

This is a triplet structure anastigmat containing obviously 3 elements. Although the structure is very simple it allows a relatively fast aperture and also it has the advantage of having no risk to get glued elements separated as there are none of them.

Some of the brothers are Anticomar, Cassar, Novar, Meritar, Radionar, Trinar, Triotar, Voigtar, Eurygon.

The triplet construction does not produce sharp images on large apertures due to the issues with the rays coming from sideways. This problem can be fixed on a level by stopping down. As you can see on the test photos the lens is indeed very soft wide open and it adds some kind of glow to the objects. It could even be beneficial for portraits by delivering a dream-like effect which hides most of the skin imperfectness of the model.

This lens is famous for its bokeh, which contains unusual and for most pleasing circles when shooting wide open. Unfortunately, I have no example taken by me so far, but you can see one here.

Again, I will do a deeper review of this lens as soon as I get an adapter to Canon and have some time to do more research.

Luca, Szentendre (Hungary), Exakta Varex IIa, Meyer Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 wide open, Fuji Superia, Canoscan 9900F
Vetus, Girona (Catalonia), Exakta Varex IIa, Meyer Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 wide open, Kodak Gold, Canoscan 9900F
Clarita and Jose Antonio, Girona (Catalonia), Exakta Varex IIa, Meyer Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 wide open, Kodak Gold, Canoscan 9900F
Girona (Catalonia), Exakta Varex IIa, Meyer Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 wide open, Kodak Gold, Canoscan 9900F
Vetus and SavE, Girona (Catalonia), Exakta Varex IIa, Meyer Trioplan 100mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold, Canoscan 9900F

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