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Testing Times Again | by luminousowl
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Testing Times Again

Not a very interesting picture - but it has a gear story behind it :)


Nearly two years ago I gave some help to a photographic historian in the Ukraine, who kindly sent me a couple of intriguing lenses. Perhaps the most interesting was a 1953 J-3, which had belonged to a senior member of the optical department at the Arsenal factory - home of Kiev cameras. He had adjusted the lens for his personal use and I was assured that it was "absolutely superb".


You're probably thinking that this sounds much too good to be true. Well I thought so too, particularly as the J-3 is notoriously "variable", especially in LTM form. Not that it mattered as bad luck with cameras meant I was never able to use it. Until now.


The lens has a beautiful blue coating and was obviously "worked on" a long time ago - a repainted area has weathered nicely. The performance? Well... This is a picture taken on a test roll shot a few days ago whilst I was adjusting the camera. It has not been sharpened and the film is Agfa APX400 - which is rather soft. The picture has no merit, but in technical terms "absolutely superb" seems pretty fair. The lens is wondrously sharp, with a lush, archaic richness. It focuses accurately and with fine definition wide open and close up, despite the "focus shift" in the design. This leads me to think that the adjustment was similar to that employed by the renowned Brian Sweeney, the western master of the J-3: I find the results simply gorgeous. Have a look at it "Large" :)


I really can't imagine that the original Zeiss 1.5 Sonnar was in any way superior. And I can certainly see why such lenses were the "professional" choice in the 30s and 40s. Compare this with the subjective softness of the rival Leitz Summarit - (thank you Donald!). It's a matter of "different" rather than "better" but different they assuredly are. And I'm very happy :)


Incidentally, the picture is straight for once - that "horizon" really does slope up to the bank! :)


Contax II, J-3, Agfa APX400, 1/125th@around f6.3. Kings Farm, Horseway, Cambridgeshire.


EDIT (2011): Does this picture look too dark :( ? Please look here :)



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Taken on January 24, 2009