Industar 61 L/D 55mm F/2.8 Soviet Rangefinder Lens Review

Industar 61 L/D 55mm F/2.8 Soviet Rangefinder Lens Review

2400 1350 Josh Solomon

Writing for a photography website comes with some interesting side-effects. Aside from getting to shoot and own some of film photography’s greatest machines, you also end up with a few that leave you scratching your head. The Industar 61 L/D is one such head-scratcher.

I’d heard a lot about the Industar 61 L/D, with most of its acolytes proclaiming it to be one of the finest pieces of glass ever manufactured in the Soviet Union. Considering my past experience with Soviet lenses, I balked at the idea of getting one until a nice copy appeared on eBay for the paltry sum of twenty-five dollars. I bought it, and after a few weeks of waiting, finally mounted it onto my Leica to see what it could offer.

After a single roll, I promptly took it off of the Leica and replaced it. It wasn’t a bad lens, but it wasn’t particularly good either. It was just one of those in between lenses that never really got the blood hot. Every couple of months I’d click the lens back onto the camera and see if it could change my mind, and for the longest time, it couldn’t. Then the lens would go back on the shelf. But the most recent round with the Industar may have changed things.

But before we get into all of that, let’s start with some history. It’s important to know that the Industar 61 L/D is a product of tradition. The earliest Industars were Leica Elmar-esque, Zeiss Tessar-derived kit lenses that mostly came fitted to the Soviet Leica copies of the day, namely the FED-1. From the mid 1940s all the way up to the fall of the Iron Curtain, the formula remained the same; stick an Industar onto a Soviet Leica copy and you’ve got a winner.

With Industar 61 L/D, few things changed. The lens was still derived from the old Zeiss Tessar design, and the FED-5b is its knockoff Leica of choice. The lens’ designers did, however, make a few improvements. The 61 L/D features lanthanum glass elements which have a higher refractive index to improve sharpness and resolution. The lens also features click-stop apertures, a rare and welcome feature in a Soviet rangefinder lens.

Apart from these two notable improvements to the usual repertoire, there’s little here to differentiate the Industar 61 L/D from other Soviet-made lenses. The lens barrel and focusing ring are made out of lightweight aluminum, and they feel cheap. The paint on the lettering is there only occasionally. The focusing scale lacks tick marks and is decidedly inaccurate, and generally speaking, the lens feels like something straight out of the bargain bin.

Okay, so build quality isn’t setting the world-standard. But for many of this lens’ ardent fans, it’s the 61 L/D’s optical performance that sets it apart from the rest. After using the lens, I can say that sentiment is justified. To a point. It’s not a Leica or Zeiss killer by any stretch of even the most imaginative mind, but it holds its own, optically, quite well when compared to other Soviet rangefinder lenses.

Where many old Soviet lenses really seem to falter is in the departments of sharpness and resolution. While the Industar’s tried-and-true Zeiss Tessar formula is a nearly foolproof design, the spotty quality control of Soviet lenses often keeps the formula from achieving the sharpness and resolution of which that lens type is capable. But the Industar 61 L/D is one of the sharpest and highest-resolving Soviet lenses on offer. Past about f/5.6 the lens resolves fine detail perfectly well, rendering images with the signature clarity and accuracy of the best old-school Tessar lenses.

When opened up to f/2.8 to f/4, things start to get more interesting. The lens suddenly makes images that are attractively smooth (as opposed to soft and spongey) when opened up, and at its minimum focusing distance gives surprisingly pleasant bokeh. These two traits make full torso portraits surprisingly simple, as the lens will flatter details and yet still render them clear as day. As a people shooter, the lens is quite good.

Vignetting is minimal wide open, chromatic aberration is present but far from distracting, and while there is a fair amount of field curvature in images made with this lens, it’s never so bad that you’ll think less of the image. It’s also worth noting that the lens’ slight technical deficiencies are much easier to correct in Lightroom or Photoshop than those of some other, higher-specced lenses.

Things begin to get a little dicey when we take a closer look at how the lens renders color and contrast. The 61 L/D tends toward a very cool color cast, which may be attributable to those warm yellow high-index lanthanum glass elements. But the lens lacks the fine micro-contrast characteristic of the legendary lenses of its era.

The real weaknesses of this lens may be the most obvious ones. To start, its maximum aperture of f/2.8 leaves a lot to be desired in low-light shooting situations. Diehard slow lens shooters might take exception to that statement, but the Industar 61 L/D’s overall performance doesn’t impress enough to justify the lack of speed. The lens’ relatively long minimum focusing distance of  approximately one meter also limits its up-close performance, making this lens unsuitable for up-close portraits of people or objects.

But perhaps the greatest flaw of this lens is the one thing that plagues most Soviet-made lenses – intermittent and lackluster quality control. It’s no secret that finding a good example of any Soviet lens is tough, and often involves the testing of multiple samples. Users often complain of stiff focusing rings, dented filter rings, and misaligned elements, even when sellers have described nothing more than “A Tiny Dust” on the backside of the front element. Although I was fortunate enough to find a reputable seller who sold me a new old stock 61 L/D, it only came after spending a few weeks poring over eBay listings for good Industar copies.

This leaves me in a strange spot with the Industar 61 L/D. I don’t think it’s a terrible lens, but it’s not an eye-catching one either. It’s miles better than most Soviet-era rangefinder lenses, but it falls short of pretty much every other standard rangefinder lens. And for all of these reasons, it’s always felt out of place mounted to my M2.

Then I remember something rather important; this lens only cost me twenty-five bucks.

Considering the price, the Industar 61 L/D starts to make a lot more sense. I can’t think of another lens that gives that kind of performance at such a low price. Twenty-five bucks might be able to get you a no-name point and shoot with a slow, humdrum lens, but not a genuine 55mm f/2.8 shooter’s lens. Factoring in price, 61 L/D suddenly looks like a great deal. 

This also brings me to a central truth about Soviet cameras and lenses. When evaluating any kind of Soviet camera or lens, I’ve learned that context is everything. And far too often, these lenses are talked about in the wrong context. The truth is that these lenses and cameras will never be Leica or Zeiss killers. They’ll always be a couple of steps behind the lenses they were derived from. But if we start to consider these cameras and lenses as fun things to learn on, to experiment with, or just to throw around on vacation, they’re some of the best camera and lens deals out there. 

The Industar 61 L/D has held up to use and abuse better than any other of the many Soviet lenses I’ve owned. Image sharpness and resolution from this lens is great, and even though it comes with a lot of limitations the lens rarely ever disappoints on a technical or artistic level. And after trying to understand the lens mounted to a “serious” Leica M or LTM body, I realize that I’ve been doing it wrong the whole time. This lens should be mounted to a beat up FED 5b or a Zorki-4k. There it would shine. Context really is everything.

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon
10 comments
  • Soviet lenses on Soviet cameras; non-Soviet LTM lenses on non-Soviet LTM and M cameras. The reason is very simple, the two systems use different thread pitches on the focusing helicoids of their respective lenses, therefore although you can adjust a lens from one system so that it focuses correctly on the other system at a particular distance, it will never be in focus when adjusting to the rangefinder convergence for other distances.

    For historical reasons, the Soviets always used the Zeiss thread pitch on their focusing helicoids, as Zeiss helped the Soviets set up their nascent lens production in the 1920’s. This was reinforced in 1945, when much of the lens making machinery was removed from the Zeiss plant in Jena, then in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany. If you use the lenses at small apertures, because the discrepancy is not huge, you can just about get away with it but best to stick the rule set out in my first sentence.

    The new Leica compatible Jupiter 3 50mm/f1,5 Sonnar clone lens, being marketed by Lomography is either using the Leica helicoid focus thread ptich or has a rotating RF cam at the back of the lens, ground to compensate with a sloping cam, rather like the “goggles” Leica 35mm lenses for M3’s. Conversely, the modern version of the Jupiter will not now focus correctly on a Soviet era rangefinder.

    Wilson

    • You are indeed correct Wilson. I learned this the hard way, when I finally got a good deal on a great condition Leica M2. I already owned a Jupiter-3, so I planned on using that until I could afford some Leica lenses. Whoops, back focused like a son-a-bitch. Then I researched it and found the details you mentioned. Happy ending though, I soon after found a good deal on a 1949 Elmar f/3.5 🙂

  • Traeton Janssens July 30, 2018 at 9:37 am

    Great lenses for <$25? I think my Minolta MD 50mm f1.7 set me back all of $9.99 on shopgoodwill dot com

    • Bargains are out there. The big problem with Shop Goodwill is there’s no return policy and nothing is guaranteed, cleaned, tested, etc. But I’m glad you found one at such a great price. Good job.

      • Traeton Janssens July 30, 2018 at 10:05 am

        Right, very spotty place to get photo gear- I seem to have decent luck with stuff on there, though. My Polaroid Land 250 works great after converting to triple-A batteries, and was also around $10. All the same, wouldn’t buy anything serious on there

  • Nice writeup. I can say through my own rudimentary testing that my I-61 L/D is way sharper than the Industar 26M that came attached to my Fed 2b. I’m sure neither would win any awards, but there’s something about the I-61 that makes me want to get out and use it. That alone makes it very worthwhile to own, as your review pointed out. I’m currently running a roll of Ultramax through a Bessa R and the I-61, a handy little combo.

  • dancomanphotography August 1, 2018 at 5:33 am

    Nice piece.

    I’ve had some good results with a Jupiter-8 I picked up about a month ago for £20. The only annoyance is the lack of click-stop apertures, but I’m used to that after shooting with a Helios 44-2 for a while. You just need to get into the habit of always checking the aperture before you shoot which sounds more tedious than it is.

  • This might sound strange, but it’s good to read a less than glowing review here on CP, as so much you test seems to get rave reviews. Makes the site feel more balanced and authoritative, if that makes sense.

    What I don’t know of course is how many cameras and lenses you set out to review, which don’t make it to publishing because there’s nothing much to recommend about them! I know I’ve done this a few times, just struggled to find anything interesting to say, so ended up ditching the post entirely and focusing on something I’m more enthusiastic about.

    I thought I’d had this lens before but mine was M42 mount and I think it was an Industar-61 L/Z. It focused ridiculously close and had star shaped bokeh a few stops down. Fun lens! I don’t know if the optics were a similar formula to the L/D, strange that the names are almost identical but they look so different.

  • I got one of these along with a Zorki-1 for next to nothing, so I valued it as such. I have shot 1 roll with it and it did nothing for me. Plenty sharp I guess, just no character that I could tell. As far as FSU lenses, I much prefer the Jupiter-8 I got from Alex, who said it was as perfect as they come, and it is.

  • Most FSU lenses that I’ve come across need to be optimized for whatever camera you are using them on, especially for a body built to the Leica standard. An FSU lens will typically back-focus on a Leica, the same way a Contax mount lens will back-focus on a Nikon RF. With the I-61L/D, the machining of the mount tends to be sloppy. I ended up converting mine to Contax/Nikon rangefinder mount using the left-over mount of the collapsible 5cm F2 Sonnars after converting to Leica mount. I ended up selling the I-61L/D to other Nikon RF users. The machining of the I-26 mount is much better than the I-61. At some point, I’ll try a transplant.

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon