Mirrorless Cameras and Legacy Lenses – Part II

Kiev 4a and lenses

In a previous post, I mentioned my purchase of an old, Soviet-made Jupiter-8 lens. It wasn’t very expensive, and would expand my mirrorless camera arsenal with a short telephoto prime lens. As I mentioned though, it didn’t focus properly through it’s entire range — more on that later — but had a great story. How did a pre-WWII Zeiss lens design come to be mass produced in the Soviet Union after the War? I began exploring the rabbit hole.

A Google search on “Jupiter lens m43” was a good place to start. A number of articles were returned, mostly reviews. The Jupiter 8 was mentioned in many of them, but there were also articles on other lenses in the Jupiter series as well as other legacy lenses that work well with the m43 format. Lots of good information, but only tantalizing hints about the Jupiter’s provenance and usage tips. “Jupiter 8 on Micro Four Thirds Review” by Nico-Foto and “Jupiter 8 vintage lens on Micro Four Thirds” reviews on the DP Review forum were very helpful.

One of those tantalizing hints was the mention of “Charkow” in the Jupiter lens story. A Google search on “Jupiter 8 lens Charkow” added several good articles. “Jupiter-8 (Zorki)” on Sovietcams.com filled in part of the story. It turned out that competing German camera and lens manufacturers Leica and Zeiss collaborated for a brief time during WWII. Zeiss lenses were fitted to Leica cameras in an effort to generate international sales and hard currency for the German war effort. These lenses, modified with the Leica screw mount (also known as “m39”) later became the basis of the so-called Jupiter lens series made by the Soviets.

Zeisswerk Jena um 1910
Zeisswerk Jena in 1910
According to the article, how the lenses got to the Soviet Union is even more interesting. In the closing days of the war, Soviet forces overran Jena (where the Zeiss factory was located) in their race to reach Berlin. The factory, including plans, tools, inventory and even personnel was shipped back to the Soviet Union where the production line was set up to manufacture cameras and lenses.This gave me an idea. I’ve always been interested in the WWII era, and knew that the allied powers — especially the Soviets — were interested in extracting reparations from the now-defeated Axis. I tried “Zeiss lens war reparations” in a Google search.Jackpot! There were several articles, and one very comprehensive one, “Kiev Rangefinders” by Peter Hennig, told the complete story along with a history of Kiev cameras. It’s a fascinating read. “Edward K. Kaprelian” on the zeisshistorica.org site told of an American angle. Both articles are well worth the time, but in a nutshell, here’s the story:

LEI0060 186 Leica I Sn.5193 1927 Originalzustand Front-2 FS-15
Leica Mod. Ia, production time 1925-1936

Before the Second World War, Leica and Zeiss were competitors. Leica’s innovative 35 mm rangefinder cameras were a success and Zeiss wanted a piece of that market. They designed similar cameras of which the Contax II and Contax III are still prized by collectors today. In May of 1945, American troups arrived in Jena. Since that part of Germany was to ultimately become part of the Soviet occupation zone, the Americans quickly appropriated whatever they could before ceding the area to the Soviets. This included the famous Zeiss lens collection which Edward K. Karelian controlled until the end of his military service. The lenses were then stored for the next couple of decades before being disposed of as surplus.

Shortly after the Americans left, the Soviet occupiers dismantled the shipped the entire Zeiss factory to the Ukraine, including parts, plans, tools, remaining inventory and even key personnel. The factory was set up in the Ukraine and began making cameras and lenses. The venture was not very successful however, in part due to the lack of a skilled workforce. Key Zeiss personnel were then returned to Jena and instructed to create three new production lines — two of which were to be shipped to the Soviet Union, and one to remain in East Germany. Ultimately, all three production lines were shipped to the Ukraine, and began producing cameras and lenses. The Jupiter lens series is part of that Zeiss/Leica linage, and they were produced with few changes until well into the 1980’s.

So, what could be done with the lens I had? I’ll reveal the solution in an upcoming post. In the meanwhile though, here’s a sample image.

Texas Redbud
Texas Redbud through a Jupiter-8 Lens

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