The issue: you are sitting there in front of your computer looking at the eBay posts trying to find a used Soviet Jupiter, Mir, Orion, or Hélios camera lens and you are thinking to yourself“all of these lenses look like they have been through a war. If I order one will it work? Who are these guys in Ukraine? Can I trust them? What if I need to send it back? These things are so cheap. They can’t possibly work like the people in the forums say the do. Right? Am I stupid for ordering one of these? Aren’t these the same images they are using for like 50 different eBay posts? Are these all the same lens? Why are some more expensive than others? How do I know if they even grab the right one if I make a purchase? Do they really have 50 of them sitting in a warehouse somewhere? This has to be a scam.”
Don’t lie. You know that is exactly what you are doing. I was right there with you. I am no psychologist but it seems that two things are going on.
- First, you are fighting your lizard brain because you (like everyone else) believe that more expensive things are less risky. For example, if we spend more on a bottle of wine, we see it as a less risky “investment” because we associate higher prices with higher quality. Reference. Conversely, you (consciously or unconsciously) believe that because these lenses are so inexpensive this whole Soviet camera lens thing is a scam and you will get burned.
- Second, you are a closet xenophobe. Many of these lenses are shipped from Ukraine or another country in the former Soviet Republic. You believe that because your government doesn’t get along with their government, there are Russian troll farms, and you have heard of the Ukraine bride scams, you believe that the normal people in those countries are also out to get you.
Those are powerful feelings that are paralyzing you from making a purchasing decision. I am no different than you. The great irony here is that some of the lenses are less expensive than dinner and a beer but you still can’t take the risk because you are worried about getting scammed.
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Online retailers I trust
The good news is that you have options that will mitigate your risk when ordering Soviet and Russian camera lenses online. I have experience with two of them. There may be others. This is certainly not an exhaustive list.
- Fedka: Fedka is a store in New York run by Yuri. If you order direct from the website rather than going to eBay you get a discount. He passes the eBay savings directly to you.
- Retro Photo House: Roman (Kosbik84 on ebay): runs the YouTube channel Retro Photo House If you are buying a rangefinder lens to use on a Leica camera you should consider Roman. He personally tests each lens and calibrates them to his Leica. It is likely that you passed over his eBay postings because his lenses are a little more expensive than others but this is short-sighted. You are paying a tiny premium for his time to mitigate your risk. It is worth it. My Jupiter-8 lens (review coming soon) came from Roman, it was sold with an adapter, and the focusing on my Leica M10 was spot on when I got it.
If you decide to work with either Fedka or Roman, my recommendation is to contact them before ordering. They generally respond back immediately and will answer as many questions as you have. What I do is say “Roman or Yuri, I am looking for your best copy of [enter name of lens]. What do you have? Please send me your best. I will even pay a little more. Also, since I am placing an order do you have anything inexpensive that you can recommend that I might not know about?” If my experience is any predictor of yours, you will get a functional lens with little risk in the process.
Get your expectations in check.
An excellent+++ Leica lens coming from Japan is different than an Excellent+++ lens coming from The Russian Federation even though they both have the same description on eBay. Age-related disease is expected with vintage Soviet lenses. Sometimes the damage is cosmetic and the lens looks really ugly on the outside but functions perfectly on the inside. Other times, the focusing ring or aperture doesn’t work properly. All the men in the forums (always men…never women) repeat the mantra that there is copy to copy variation with image quality. I have no reason to contradict the forum dwellers so I heed their advice. Before I knew about Yuri and Roman I had been known to buy two copies at a time when ordering Soviet lenses because they are so inexpensive.
Get an LTM rather than an M42 lens for your mirrorless camera
When I started exploring vintage and manual focus lenses for my mirrorless Sony camera I only considered M42 versions of Soviet lenses. Knowing what I know now, that was a dumb mistake. The M42 lenses are larger and, more importantly, the adapter is huge compared to the tiny M39/LTM adapter. If you are going to be adapting these lenses to a mirrorless camera, my recommendation is to get a lens with an LTM/M39 mount rather than the more common M42 mount. The size savings is remarkable. Additionally, if you ever decide to get a rangefinder in the future, you wont have to get new lenses.
Beware of rangefinder focusing issues.
My experience with directly adapting Soviet lenses to my Leica M10 is limited and poor. If you plan to use a Soviet lens on a Leica rangefinder, you will need to have some assurances that it will focus properly before you waste your money.
If you want a Soviet lens for your rangefinder buy it from a private seller who has tested it on the same rangefinder you own or from Retro Foto House. Roman sells his lenses with an adapter and gets them dialed in for you before shipping. He also has a little video Skip to 8:25 . showing you how to do micro-adjustments when you get them if you need to tweak the focusing.
Expect a 30 day (or more) wait
If you need something fast, and you live in the United States, contact Fedka or purchase from a private seller in the USA.
If you order on eBay from a seller in Ukraine, Poland, The Russian Federation, etc, and you live in the United States, you can expect a wait of at least 30 days before your lens gets delivered to your door. You can expect a shipping confirmation within 24-48 hours and then nothing for weeks. The USPS tracking will not be updated for weeks and then it will show up on your door one day. It is always the same routine. This is not the fault of the seller.
Get ready for confusion
There are so many different Soviet lenses it is hard to keep them all straight. The numbers and naming conventions are confusing and not helpful at all. I am no expert but this website is the best review I could find that helped me sort through the options.