Welcome to part #6 of Vintage Lens Jeopardy. Today I am taking a look at the Jupiter-21M 4/200 telephoto lens. When shopping for vintage lenses one type of lens that is all over Ebay are cheap telephotos. They usually go for less money than even a simple brand name F1.8 fast fifty standard lens. I bought a couple of telephotos but I never really found good use for anything more than 135mm. Nevertheless I am fond of East German and Soviet era lenses so I got this together with a Zenith 12XP film camera. Let’s have a look at this monstrosity of a lens and see if it is any good or at least any fun.
Jupiter was a Soviet brand of camera lenses. They made a whole range of prime lenses from 35mm to 250mm in several mounts like M39, M42 or Kiev/Contax, often copied from German prewar designs and initially built with tooling captured after the war. As usual with Soviet consumer products they were often made in different factories. The Soviet Union and other communist countries emphasized heavy industry and when people demanded more consumer goods these heavy industries had to set aside factories for production of these items. The Jupiter-21M was made by “Vologodskiy Optiko-Mekhanicheskiy Zavod (VOMZ)” or Vologda Optical Mechanical Works.
The brand still exists today and manufactures mostly rifle sights, mounts and other military accessories. Of the different Soviet manufacturers the lenses from VOMZ are not considered as having the best build quality. I own several other Soviet lenses which are much better constructed. They all do not reach the quality of German or Japanese engineering but they are usually solid and robust. They just lack finesse, they are heavy, cumbersome anf usually not coated. But the lenses are completely fine to use. Old VOMZ lenses though have a reputation for high copy variance and a somewhat “shoddy” construction. These lenses were only sold in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. They were not much in use in East Germany because of it’s own camera and lens industry which was superior to anything made in Russia. So superior that they actually sold optical equipment to the West for hard cash.
The first thought I had when picking up this lens was “hey I did not order a Russian tank optic”. The lens is heavy and has a very thick barrel for an F4 lens. It comes in at almost 1000g with a more reasonable length of 165mm. Still the filter thread is an easy 58mm. The minimum focus distance of 1.80m is on par with other lenses of this type. It is made completely out of metal. The aperture control feels like a ratchet and clicks every half stop with markings for every full stop. The focus ring is huge and turns about 320 degrees. The thick barrel makes focusing quite uncomfortable unless you have large hands. Maybe it was designed with the Russian winter in mind because every control is large enough to use with gloves. The lens has an aperture automatic which on my copy does not work. The control rings are slightly wobbly.
My lens was most likely made in 1995 so after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Maybe this explains the shoddy construction. I had opened this lens to fix the auto switch. A thin strip of metal was torn out of shape and became irreparable. Looking at the inside of this lens made me shudder. It seems like it was made out of spare parts. The construction tolerances and the quality of the material are quite bad. The grub screws holding the control rings are also bent and warped. Still optically the lens is fine with clear glass elements. The aperture works without a hitch and the focus is only somewhat scratchy but still very usable. Infinity focus can be achieved on my Fujifilm XT3 and it is fully compatible with the Lens Turbo II focal length reducer. There is an integrated hood which does not do much to prevent haze. Despite it’s weight there is no tripod mount or any other kind of mounting bracket. There seems to be no space for installing an aftermarket bracket too.
I wonder if Soviet KGB agents used this lens on their stakeouts. But then maybe they got themselves something better from Germany or Japan to spy on their people. Who knows?
Image Quality and Samples
If not specified otherwise I shot all images with the Fujifilm standard film simulation called “Provia” to show the inherent color rendering. Looking through the images colors are quite neutral and natural. I took most shots wide open at F4 because in all honesty these lenses are supposed to be used at F4 to isolate subjects. A soft 50mm lens can be used for dreamy portraits wide open and stopped down for everything else. A soft telephoto of this focal length wide open seems to defeat its purpose.
The lens renders pretty neutral but suffers from washed out colors with any kind of sunlight into the front element. The reds ought to be just a tad more saturated. Sharpness at F4 is pretty decent in the center. The softness here comes from the slow shutter speed. Shooting this lens handheld is challenging due to the weight and thickness.
Again pretty decent sharpness and good bokeh. The trash can is barely recognizable in the background. My kid loves to blow dandelions and it is beyond cute to watch her muster all her breath to blow the seeds away.
The German religion of recycling. The rules about what goes in which bin are sometimes very confusing. I always wonder if it might be cheaper to simplify recycling and hire people to actually sort the trash. But a high wage countrie like Germany can’t afford this so we have to do the work for free and still pay sanitation fees.
A most German sign. “Keep driveway free”. No please or thank you but a nice red and yellow attention grabbing color scheme. Would I need a 200mm lens for this shot? No a 50mm and some walking would do.
Getting a shot of this flying UFO is what these lenses are made for. I have to come back at night once it is illuminated. Maybe I can see little aliens inside. Bokeh tends to swirl which can be used for great effect.
Ah … benches. I can’t leave benches uncaptured. Stopped down this lens is quite sharp but again why would I need a 200mm lens for this shot. Maybe it is just me being unimaginative with telephoto lenses. I am neither hunting for birds nor celebrities.
Here we go. Some light from the side and haze appears. This is really a weakness of the Jupiter-21M. Sharpness also tends to suffer in this case.
This is what the Jupiter-21M was made for. Hunting cats. Thanks for holding this pose. The cat is beautifully sharp and the colors are very accurate. I wish I could cuddle the little hunter. Sure a modern lens would be much sharper but it is such fun to capture a moving subject with a clunky manual lens.
Children love this wooden cow and obviously play with the udder. And again the dreaded haze. The small integrated hood did not help. Is this considered animal pornography?
No one knows what these signs mean. They are the secret language of the gas people (or water if blue). The lens allows for nice subject separation and a minimum focus of 1.80m is short enough for most scenes.
The horror of haze clearly seen here. It wasn’t even that sunny. But still the grass has decent definition.
Oh well. Discarded masks. The signs of a neurotic society. Beautiful colors and nice sharpness though. I kind of like the image despite it’s subject matter.
Grabbing architectural details is another good use for this lens. Nice colors and decent sharpness. The blue suffers from some desaturation though
The Jupiter-21M 4/200 is a decent and reasonably priced telephoto lens if you can live with some flaws especially the pronounced tendency for haze. Buying one is a bit of a lottery due to high copy variance. Don’t expect good build quality. The optical quality is quite good stopped down at F8 and at least in the center at F4. I really like the neutral and pleasant color rendering of this lens. Ergonomics are a nightmare with the thick focus ring, the ratchet of an aperture control and just the sheer weight. Imagine mounting this lens on an equally heavy Soviet film camera. Holding this lens by hand and manipulating it’s controls was not enjoyable for me. Especially considering the excellent Pentacon 200mm lenses I own who come in at about 600g. I paid 15€ plus shipping together with a Zenith 12XP camera. An bargain price nonetheless.
Will I keep this lens? Definitely no. First of all I rarely use telephoto lenses anyway and for the few occasions I do not need such a heavy and uncomfortable lens when I have something lighter and easier to use. But for some people this lens might just be fun to use. The optical quality is pretty good and it probably balances better on a large full frame camera than my rather compact Fujifilm XT3. So I guess this Jupiter-21M will need to find a new owner on Ebay.
– neutral color rendering
– pleasant bokeh
– good center sharpness wide open and overall sharpness stopped down
– usually cheap
– integrated hood
– “shoddy” construction
– not very ergonomic focus control (barrel thickness)
– no tripod mount
– prone to haze