85mm lenses are often said to be the perfect lenses for portraits. Indeed, thanks to this focal range, you are able to take some distance from your subject and isolate it more from its background than you would with using a 50mm. Still, 85mm lenses should not be limited to portraits. Indeed, I believe we can use it simply for all occasions where a telephoto lens would be too narrow, and a 50mm would be too wide. I have been using this focal range mostly for closeup nature photography and portraits and this is where I believe this specific lens shines the most. However, you would still definitely be able to shoot other things with it, through creativity and experimentation.
An interesting fact is that APS-C cameras turn any 50mm lens into a 80ish mm lens because of the sensor’s crop factor (x1.5 or x1.6). Since most photographers who got into photography with an entry level digital camera potentially started with either a 50mm lens or a something 18-55m kit lens, without knowing, it means that they definitely had to cope with a focal range that is close to 85mm. This proves that it can still remain a versatile tool. Anyway, let’s focus on the Jupiter-9 now!
About this lens
The Jupiter-9 unit that I have is one of the most recent to have been produced (the serial number indicates a manufacturing year of 1992). Indeed, the lens was manufactured from 1951 up to the early 2000s by various different factories and for a wide variety of camera mounts (for example Pentax K, M39, M42 and even Leica M). However, the optical formula never changed since its creation, and was only modified a little bit to fit to adjust stuff like the glass coatings, or to make it compatible with other mounts. Just like many legendary vintage Russian lenses, this one is also a copy of an early Carl Zeiss lens : the Sonnar. The reason for this being that the Russian inherited many patents and technologies from Germany after WWII, granting them a wealth of photography history to use freely. Some of the first Jupiter-9 produced batches were even made entirely by Zeiss at the beginning, which shows how close the optical formulas and qualities of the Sonnar and the Jupiter-9 are tied.
The Jupiter-9 is quite a heavy lens, and its full metal build quality is more than excellent. It features 7 glass elements divided in 3 groups (formula introduced and popularized by the Zeiss Sonnar as mentioned above). As this lens was made for 35mm film photography in mind, it covers both full frame and cropped digtial camera sensors, so this lens is quite easy to adapt to digital bodies without having to struggle too much. The focusing barrel is quite precise and convenient to use, and the minimum focusing distance is around 80cm (around 1m on rangefinder versions). However, the aperture mechanism takes some time getting used to because it’s a preset aperture mechanism meaning that you either:
- change the aperture smoothly by turning the ring without any clicks from f2 to f16.
- or set an aperture value of your choice with the preset ring (for example f4) in order to limit the aperture range from the maximum f2 aperture to the chosen value to be able
I have no problem using this mechanism but I’ve heard it can be annoying or weird to some people. I like the fact that I can set my aperture without any clicks because I feel like it’s more practical and smooth this way. Also, if I want to make sure I don’t go above f2.8, I know I can put the preset ring to that value and that without looking at the lens, I’ll always know that I’m in the desired aperture range.
Apart from that, one of the key features of the Jupiter-9 is its aperture blade layout: indeed, it features no less than 15 blades, resulting in a very round bokeh at every single aperture setting. This lens literally is a bokeh monster! No matter the conditions, you can always manage to produce either very bubbly bokeh bubbles with a very defined edge, or a more painting-like soft bokeh. Color rendition on this lens is truly excellent, but contrasts are quite light at F2. It can be very easily fixed by stopping down to 2.8 or 4 while keeping interesting depth of field, and I said above, bokeh quality will not degrade either. I have heard that the Jupiter-9 could have some trouble with direct sources of light and intense flaring, but that isn’t the case with my lens. Maybe it’s because I have a recent unit with the most up to date coating? I usually love taking advantage of lens flares for artistic purposes but on this lens, I almost can’t / never encounter situations where it’s significant.
Sharpness is definitely not the strength of this lens, but it is also not its point. The lens is better at producing dreamy and kind of diffused pictures with character. Pictures are sharp where they need to be, but the most important thing is that elements of the pictures truly pop out.
Overall, I’m more than happy with the results produced by this lens. At the beginning I found it really hard to nail good shots especially at F2 because of the very narrow depth of field entailed by the 85mm focal range, but once I “mastered” it, it really became a magical lens to me, turning many scenes into dreamy and bokehful pictures with a well emphasized subject. It is my go-to lens for nature shots and portraits above all, as well as for night shots and other kinds of weird artistic or abstract experiments involving depth of field.
Side note : I also simply love how beautiful this lens actually is ! Very simple and minimalist outer design with a huge front glass element that definitely makes an impression. Earlier copies of the Jupiter-9 had a more vintage-looking body and until the late 60s, they were all made with a silver body rather than a black body. But I think I have the most beautiful of them 😉 !
I bought this lens in July 2018 off eBay from a Latvian seller. My unit is in perfect condition and cost me 100€, which is both expensive for a vintage lens, and cheap compared to the prices we often see online for other Jupiter-9 models. Still, I believe that it was worth it as the pictures I was able to take with it have been very convincing. As of today, I don’t think that I have used this lens at much as I should have especially now that I shoot on a full frame camera, so I will probably update this article after some time. Still, after using it in a wide variety of situations for more than 6 months, I can already say for sure that this lens is amazing and that it is a great addition especially to the lens vault of people who love bokeh with character and playing with blur and depth of field.
I hope you enjoyed this little article. As usual if you have any comment or suggestion, or if you own that lens and would like to give your opinion about it, please contact me or a leave a comment below.