IronGlass Amber PL Set Review | Soviet Lenses on Steroids!

 

If you’ve watched the review above, you should now be pretty familiar with what IronGlass Amber PL Set is all about, but for those who want to know more, here is some additional info about each lens in my set in case you are not familiar with them.

My set consists of 6 lenses:

MIR-20M 20mm F3.5 – This is the widest lens in this set, closely based on the Carl Zeiss Flektogon 20mm optical formula.  The first thing you notice about it is the huge, curved front element which makes this lens look like fish-eye, but it’s not. Mir-20 is the widest Soviet rectilinear full-frame lens that you can buy. At F3.5 it’s one of the slower lenses in this set, but being ultra-wide, everything is pretty much in focus anyway, so you are not losing much “bokeh”. I generally use wider lenses at F4-F5.6 anyway, so for me, it’s not a problem.  The minimum focusing distance is just 0.18m, which makes it one of the shortest focusing distance lenses in its class and is great for getting very close to your subject. If you want the maximum depth of field though, focusing to around 2m brings pretty much everything into focus!
The huge front element picks up the light from every direction, so this lens flares a lot and has quite a low contrast look, but it’s pretty sharp, especially in the middle of the frame. The edges though are quite soft even at F8, so it’s not going to be your high-performance lens. Saying that it’s definitely one of my favourite Soviet lenses and one of my most used lenses in this set! (1st, 3rd, 4th,5th shots (in my video above) to name but a few were filmed with this lens)

Specs:

  • Min Focusing Distance: 0.18m
  • Angle of View (FF): 90°
  • Focus Throw: Approx. 220°
  • Aperture Range: F3.5 – F16
  • Aperture Blades: 6
  • Weight (with mods): 501g

MIR-10A 28mm F3.5 – This is a bit of a dark horse of this set. I’ve never tried this lens until I got this set. It’s the only lens that I didn’t send to IronGlass, but got directly from them based on Vadim’s recommendation. Unlike all the other lenses in this set, this one doesn’t seem to be based on any Zeiss optical formula. It also has a different style aperture design, resulting in “sheriff star” bokeh when you step this lens down. At F3.5 it’s again not particularly fast, especially for a 28mm, but it turned out to be a very usable lens nevertheless. Being a bit tighter than Mir-20, it has more prominent (and smooth when wide open) bokeh at its closest focusing distance, which is again very impressive at just 0.20m. I really do love shooting with this lens because it has minimal distortion, a very cool 3-dimensional feel and good sharpness even wide open. (see shots including 00:15, 00:35, 01:08 in my video above).

Specs:

  • Min Focusing Distance: 0.20m
  • Angle of View (FF): 75°
  • Focus Throw: Approx. 300°
  • Aperture Blades: 6
  • Aperture Range: F3.5 – F22
  • Weight (with mods): 588g

MIR-1B 37mm F2.8 – This lens very popular wide/mid-range lens, same as Mir-20 was also closely based on Zeiss Flektogon equivalent. It’s a favourite lens of many thanks to its incredible flares, if that is your thing (see 00:45 & 01:23 for a few examples of those flares). This lens also has one big downside: the closest focusing distance of just 0.70m making it somewhat unusable for capturing proper close-ups. If you want to learn a bit more about this lens, make sure to check out my review.

Specs:

  • Min Focusing Distance: 0.7m
  • Angle of View (FF): 60°
  • Focus Throw: Approx. 270°
  • Aperture Blades: 8
  • Aperture Range: F2.8 – F16
  • Weight (with mods): 311g

Helios 44 58mm F2 – My all-time favourite vintage lens: small, cheap, far from perfect, but incredible in so many ways. There are many versions of this lens with the 44-2 model being the most common. All versions though were based on the amazing Zeiss’s Biotar 58mm, which explains why Helios 58mm is so well regarded. It’s always the first lens I recommend to anyone wishing to try out vintage lenses. It pretty much has it all including the beautiful dreamy flares, very unique swirly bokeh and a great sharpness (providing you get lucky with your copy). Minimum focusing distance is 0.50m, so gets you pretty nice close-ups with this lens, making it very popular for mid/close portrait shots. (see 0:41 & 00:49 for a few examples)

Specs:

  • Min Focusing Distance: 0.5m
  • Angle of View (FF): 40°
  • Focus Throw: Approx. 270°
  • Aperture Blades: 8 (13 blade version exist and IronGlass can install a 16 blade version)
  • Aperture Range: F2.8 – F16
  • Weight (with mods): 319g

Jupiter-9 85mm F2 – This lens competes the very popular Soviet Trio (37mm 58mm 85mmm).  This one based on Zeiss Sonnar equivalent and shares most of the characteristics with the other 2 lenses it’s often used with. One of its coolest features is the 15 blade aperture, which keeps that bokeh nice and round at any F-stop. Even though at 0.8m its minimum focusing distance is not outstanding, it’s great for really tight “bohehlicios” shots (see 01:41 & 01:43). The only reason I don’t use it more is that I love my Helios 44 so much!

Specs:

  • Min Focusing Distance: 0.8m
  • Angle of View (FF): 28°
  • Focus Throw: Approx. 250°
  • Aperture Blades: 15
  • Aperture Range: F2 – F16
  • Weight (with mods): 474g

Tair-11A 135mm F2.8 – This is the tightest lens in my set. Same as with Mir-10A I’m not sure if this lens has any direct relation to Zeiss lenses, but it’s a very impressive telephoto lens nevertheless, especially the updated A version, which had improved sharpness and better close focusing distance than the original Tair-11. The focus throw of approx. 300° is also particularly helpful with this lens helping you dial it in perfectly in a smooth and precise way. If you thought 15 aperture blades on Jupiter-9 was impressive, how about 20 on this beast? It’s safe to say, that bokeh is absolutely perfect. The “anamorfake” bokeh mod is also the most effective on this lens! (see 01:11, 01:49, 01:57).

Specs:

  • Min Focusing Distance: 1.2m
  • Angle of View (FF): 18°
  • Focus Throw: Approx. 300°
  • Aperture Blades: 20
  • Aperture Range: F2.8 – F22
  • Weight (with mods): 724g

Hopefully, the info above gives you a nice overview of each lens and here are also some additional thoughts about the mods not mentioned in my video.

Step-up Rings and Hoods – all the lenses, except the MIR-20 (which doesn’t have a filter thread), come with the step-up rings and hoods, which really improve the usability in terms of the filter / anamorphic adapter use as well as the light/flare control. I particularly like that IronGlass went into an extra effort to make them chrome silver too.

PL mount – While you can buy M42 to PL adapter, it only works with Helios 44-2 (my compatibility list here), so this PL conversion is not the same as that adapter, but a much more complicated, mechanical conversion which probably involves machining of the bodies (at least for all the lenses except the 44-2) and this makes it particularly valuable to me.

PL caps – My lenses came with these cool, super rugged PL caps, but the coolest thing about them are the glow in the dark stickers they came with.

It all sounds great, but as mentioned in the video, these mods don’t make these lenses perfect, so let’s recap all the pro and cons.

Pros:

  • Amber Colour Mod adds warmer tones and flares, unifying the look these lenses produce
  • Amamorfake Mods modify the bokeh and flares making it even more unique
  • Chrome Silver body finish makes these lenses incredibly good looking
  • PL Mount is much more suitable for professional work
  • Metal Follow Focus gears improve the focusing experience
  • Step-up Rings and Hoods improve usability and light/flare control

Cons:

  • Some Colour Mod options work better than others (subjective opinion)
  • Anamorfake Mod blocks some of the light entering the lens, making it darker
  • Chrome Silver body makes lens makings very difficult to read in bright daylight
  • PL can’t be used in combination with a speed-booster, therefore not recommended for M4/3 users
  • Modded lenses are more expensive to buy

 

Conclusion: If love Soviet lenses and want to make them even more unique, if you want to use them on more demanding, professional shoots, especially higher-end cameras like ARRI & RED, then these mods make a perfect sense and are somewhat essential. IronGlass lenses aren’t as dirt cheap as the original unmodded versions, but even at $2300 (the cost of such set at the time of writing), you won’t really find anything with a proper PL mount that would give you such images and such usability. If not these, then you are looking at PL converted Lomo lenses or even rehoused Cooke Speed Panchro which will cost from $5-10k (LOMO) to $40-50k (Cooke), so in comparison, these lenses still feel like absolute bargains!

Where to buy: If you want to buy one of the pre-made sets or individual lenses, check out IronGlass’s eBay Page, but if you want to create a custom set based on your exact specs, use the “Lens Designed” on their website.

Lastly, if these lenses are just out of your budget, I’ve negotiated a 10% Discount for the VLFV family ordering via the website, bring the cost of my set by $230 which is a decent saving, so make sure to add the code VLFV on checkout.

If you still can’t make up your mind and need to see more, check out Tito Ferradans’s test video below, who has a similar spec’d set.


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