Nowadays more and more photographers are using the old Soviet optics in modern digital cameras. There are several reasons and the most important one is reasonable price. The «Made in USSR» lens is way cheaper than a similar modern version.
The Soviet lens has its own unique artistic pattern which is good for making portraits. Besides, modern optical lenses are characterized by complex optical scheme and by using dozens of lenses sometimes. However, every new lens leads to inevitable losses at the air-glass interface or in glass, and sometimes even special multi-antireflection coatings are of no use. Most old fixed-lenses are based on the simple optical system and have only three-seven lenses. It can be considered as an advantage than a disadvantage for portraits.
Another thing to note is the fact that old Soviet lenses are notable for a robust and reliable metal construction, for using only real glasses in the optical system. Therefore, in spite of the release year, they are in excellent condition until now.
All the lenses which are presented in the rating can be mounted on any modern digital camera by means of special adapters.
Five best Soviet portrait lenses
1. Helios 44-2 58mm F=2.0
Helios 44-2 is a prominent representative of soft focus optics. This lens allows you to create soft, «airy» images and hide minor skin imperfections. Helios 44-2 produces not too contrasting, «airy» photos with a beautiful, slightly twisted bokeh. The use of this lens with the open aperture of f/ 2.0 and contrasting lighting allows you to blur the background without distracting from the main photo center.
Helios 44-2 lens is the cheapest one in the ranking.
Here you can buy this lens in excellent condition and with 12 months warranty — helios44-2.com
2. JUPITER-37A 135mm F=3.5
Jupiter-37A lens is one of the best examples of the Soviet optics. This lens has a number of great features including low price for such a focal length, proper lens speed, 12-leaf iris aperture, sharpness at maximum aperture of f/3.5, portability. A nice bokeh gives a good blurring of the background. On APS-C matrix cropping it provides a focal length of 200mm. Changing the aperture value is smooth, the values are not fixed.
At the open aperture of f/3.5 portrait shots are quite soft, plastic, and if you close the aperture, you are still able to create the necessary sharpness for almost any task.
Jupiter-37A has twelve leaves of the diaphragm and copes with background blurring perfectly.
To avoid blurring through hand trembling, it is recommended to shoot at exposure time less than 1/200. When using the lens on DSLR cameras, you should set the increased color saturation and contrast mode to produce high quality images. If there is no metering in the camera, it is necessary to make a test shot, and then with the help of histogram or by eye determine what it should be and make amendments.
3. TAIR 11A 2.8/135
Tair 11A is a fast lens with coated optics. The lens was developed for portraits and group shots. In 1958 at the World Exhibition in Brussels, Tair 11A lens won the Grand Prix. When shooting the lens allows you to control the depth of field and receive pictures with beautifully blurred background. Big lens speed allows to single out small field sharpness, which is important for portraits. The advantage of the lens is 20-leaf aperture, thereby you can get a smooth circular bokeh.
4. Jupiter-9 2/85
A good analog of Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85/2. It has a soft, beautiful design and excellent resolution. Jupiter 9 has a high lens speed with a focal length of 85mm, which makes it easy to control the depth of field. The lens uses a 15-leaf aperture, which is great for portraits and for creating a beautiful, smooth bokeh.
5. Helios 40-2 85mm F=1.5
Helios 40-2 lens is the only one presented in the ranking that is still produced at the Krasnogorsk Mechanical Plant in Russia. Now the lens is produced in small lots by using a multi-layer achromatic blooming. Apart from M42 threaded lens mount, there are lenses with Canon EF and Nikon F bayonets produced.
Helios 40-2 lens with the focal length of 85mm and aperture of f/ 1.5 is certainly one of the best Soviet portrait lenses. It is designed for portrait and street photography. It has an iris aperture and preset ring. This optics is quite massive and bulky. However, this applies to almost all the Soviet lenses. Helios 40-2 has been manufactured by Krasnogorsk Mechanical Plant since 1970. As for images made by them we can mark several features. First, Helios 40- 2 lens creates a three-dimensional and a very plastic image, it easily converts a two-dimensional images into a three-dimensional one. Second, this Soviet lens provides soft rendering of details, and the pictures become soft, not contrasting, without gaps and failures in the shadows. This quality makes it an excellent portrait lens.
Third, with the open aperture Helios 40-2 lens provides sharpness only in the center of the shot. It means that the photographer will have to place the main subject in the center of the shot when shooting at the aperture of f/1.5. At the same time, this feature allows to separate a sharp object from the background, making the picture more artistic and interesting.
Here you can buy brand new Helios 40-2 lenses in the original packaging — helios40-2.com