Industar 52mm f2.8 from 1968

This time my review is a bit accidental, did not plan this purchase that was rather the outcome of a momentary mood while being on a sea camping vacation at the Bulgarian part of the Black Sea. While browsing carelessly through the online Facebook shops, my eye was caught by a dead cheap offer of a Russian (Ukrainian) FED-3 rangefinder camera, something like 15 USD. An offer one can’t refuse, you know the Russian sentiment for lenses and cameras: when they did not steal whole manufacturing lines, they just imitated the optical and technical schemes. The FED-3 is considered one of the bearable Leica replicas from the socialist times [imagine, say, a Chinese replica of an iPhone today]. Coupled by an imitation of the Carl-Zeiss Tessar optical scheme in the Industar lenses, I was doomed to fall for it.

For a while i have been searching for M39 mount lenses, so archaic now. With the M42 later mount thread it is quite different: the number of lenses that you can buy and test amounts to an incredible variety; still one of my unbeatable top favs among them is the Carl-Zeiss Pancolar 50mm f1.8 Zebra. If I’m given a single lenses choice for a trip, this would be it. Or the Pentax SMC-M 50mm f1.7.

But say M39 and you are restricted: either spend some thousands of bucks on a Leica lenses, or you are confined to the somewhat experimental – standing for synonym of a low quality control – Russian lenses of the Jupiter and the Industar brand. The Industar 50mm f3.5 M42 is now gaining up in reputation among hipsters in its pancake variety, one of the lightest, tiniest and cheapest lenses ever on the market, so good for street photography, with such a characteristics design that I can’t imagine a vintage lenses lover without one in its treasure chest.

But here I’am after something else: a more sturdy, retro Industar variety that has the so-much-loved-by-me Zebra look-like, all shiny and black aluminium. And the copy that I get is not disappointing me, looks almost brand new, as the whole of the FED-3 handed hatisly to me after a face-to-face appointment with the online flea market guy in one of the Varna city streets late evening, among the crowds of tourists. I have prudently taken with me, God knows why, my M39 to Sony-E adapter. I am hopeless, as you see on the picture below. This time I deliberately shrunk my photo gear luggage and came up with this. And still believe that the best one needs when travelling, is any 50mm prime lenses or 35mm one. Any of them, as long as you focus on the frame, and not on the gear.

The whole cameras looks like this, see how lovely it is.

The Industar has been produced in multiple varieties, obviously the Russian imitation of the Carl-Zeiss Tessar needed to be exploited to the maximum – 4 glass elements in 3 groups proves a historically viable recipe. The serial number starts with 68-, which is a common scheme to use when signifying the year of production. The lenses are very compact and small, at the same time beautifully and sturdily made.

My copy has one defect which I think is not due to manufacturing deficiencies but to mere age: the focus ring, this jagged black ring at he back, tends to rotate with difficulty, too stiff yet usable. Otherwise, ergonomics is perfect to my taste, a very long focus throw that allows for a god measure of focusing precision. The aperture ring clicks firmly at each stop till a minimum of f18, something which is not the state of affairs with the later pancake versions of the lenses, that have clickless preset aperture. The lenses has something like 10 aperture blades that produce a nice tiny bokeh, a bit elongated at the corners. Not the sharpest of lenses, I admit, yet for someone who has glimpsed into Wolfgang Ullrich’ „Die Geschichte der Unschärfe“, it is quite sharp and clear that sharpness is not the most necessary attribute of a good frame. Besides the lack of stunning sharpness, this obsession among the more technically inclined of photographers, for me the greatest drawback is not the narrow maximum aperture [after all, with the Sony A7 you can have up to > 26k ISO, who cares anyway about aperture these days], but the minimum distance to object. Similar to the other M39 mount lenses I have, the higher class Jupiter 50mm f2, it is 1 meter. 1 meter to object means you can hardly indulge in objects close-ups. Which is one of my fav genres of photography. The glass shows some distortion, low contrast and flare against the sun.

But hey! – for my sneaking into the abandoned socialist world of the Bulgarian seaside camping restaurants it proves more than perfect. Ken Rockwell, that old respectable photo sheikh, has a very nice review of the similar model, but a later design, the one from 1990s. And for me his opinion is telling. While you can judge on my experience from the frames below.

Yes, eschatology is tangible at our fingertips, everywhere around us. Till He comes.