Note: If you don’t use or don’t care about BMPCC you might want to skip this post as the lenses I will talk about below, (at the time of writing) can only be used with this camera.
Everyone who knows me at lease a little bit will know that I absolutely love vintage Russian lenses, especially the Helios 44-2.
When I started using the BMPCC though, I suddenly found that my favorite Russian Trio suddenly became a set of telephoto lenses, all because of almost 3X crop on the pocket cam, so I started looking around at what other Russian lenses could give me a wider field of view. I even posted a question online, but no luck.
After a quick search on Ebay, I ended up buying a MIR-20M 20mm F3.5 prime lens (m42 mount), which is a very nice lens, but wasn’t as cheap as my other Russian lenses at £100/$200 and it’s not even that fast and does not solve my wide angle problems on BMPCC, because it has a 58mm (full frame) equivalent on the pocket cam.
While searching for other MIR lenses on Ebay I came across a very interesting set of 3 little Russian lenses, which consisted of 12mm, 20mm and 50mm primes, all at F2. I thought to myself, how awesome would that be if these would work on the pocket cam, especially that all 3 together with postage costs from Ukraine would cost me less than one MIR-20M lens. Unfortunately these 3 lenses came from some completely unknown (at the time) Kiev-16U video camera. They also had some unfamiliar looking mounts at the back, so I quickly dismissed them as hopeless.
That is until a fellow vintage lens fan & now a good friend Alec Moore got in touch, informing me that since I love vintage Russian lenses so much and I want to find some wider ones for BMPCC there is a set he found that I should check out. He also pointed me to a Micro 4/3 adapter for these lenses. So guess what, the set he told me about, was the same set I saw a few hours before. Excited with the news that the M4/3 adapter for these lenses actually exists, I quickly snapped up that set and bought the adapter.
A few days later 3 tiny Russian lenses arrived at my doorstep.
I think I’ll call them a Mini Russian Trio, as on paper at least they are so much more suitable for the pocket camera than the “Full Size’ Russian Trio. They are really small comparing to common photo lenses which makes them look perfectly at home on equally small BMPCC.
So lets take a closer look at each lens:
MIR-11M 12mm F2 – This is the widest and physically the smallest lens in this set. This lens has a 35mm full frame equivalent on a pocket cam, so while it’s still not mega wide, it’s getting to a fairly wide field of view, enough for most shots. The F-stops range from F2 to F16 with 5 click-stops in between. I was surprised to find that aperture ring has click stops rather than fluid adjustment usually found on lenses designed for video use, but in this case I guess it’s a good thing; due its tiny size, the focus and aperture rings are right next to each other on this lens; fixed stops on the aperture ring ensure that you won’t rotate it by accident when you are focusing with the other ring. When focusing with 2 fingers, they constantly brush against the aperture ring and without these stops I would definitely keep changing the aperture by accident and I don’t even have sausage fingers 😀 Talking about the focusing ring, it’s really smooth & dampened, although a little stiffer than on the other 2 lenses, which I guess is something that will vary from one lens to another depending on its age/condition. The focusing throw is very impressive at (approx) 270°. This lens also has the most impressive closest focusing distance out of 3 at 25cm. Now as far as sensor coverage goes, this lens is really pushing it on BMPCC. I understand that it was designed for 16mm film, so it just about covers the sensor. It does vignette a tiny bit which is only clearly visible in certain situations, like clear blue sky as you can see in the test shots above. The mild vignetting seems to be visible at all F-stops, but more testing is needed to find the sweet spot. Optically this lens seems to be pretty sharp even wide open and there is no softness at the edges that you’d expect from a lens that just about covers the sensor. In coming weeks I will test this and other 2 lenses individually to get a more solid idea of their performance.
VEGA7-1 20mm F2 – This is mid range lens with a 58mm full frame equivalent on BMPCC. Physically it’s also a little bigger than MIR-11M; the focus & aperture rings are more spaced out, so no worries about changing the f-stop by accident there. The aperture ring still has exactly the same clip-stop adjustment from F2 to F16 and the focus throw is similar at about 290°. The closest focusing distance is 40cm, which doesn’t sound as impressive as 25cm on MIR-11M, but in fact the field of view when focused to the closest point is literally the same with both lenses; VEGA7-1 simply has more natural look to it. Sensor coverage at this focal length is not a problem and sharpness is similar to MIR-11M; useable even wide open. So far, from my short test, this lens stood out to me the most, because it reminds me of my favorite Helios 44-2. Not only does it have an almost identical field of view on BMPCC to what you’d get by using Helios 44-2 on full frame camera, but in my test it also produced the nicest flares out of 3, which is also one of the things I also love about 44-2. I think VEGA7-1 has a great potential of being a walk around lens for BMPCC. It’s small, fast, sharp, produces nice flares, has nice amount of shallow depth of field and a very natural field of view. What else could you ask from a vintage walk around prime? Like I said, I will do some individual tests with this and other 2 lenses, but even now I can tell for sure it’s worth $50 you’d pay for it!
TAIR-41M 50mm F2 – the longest and physically biggest lens out of 3, although still much smaller than even smallish Helios 44-2 58mm F2. The TAIR has a 145mm full frame equivalent on the pocket cam, so this is a lens that you’d use for these distant, compressed shots with more shallow depth of field. As with the other 2 lenses, aperture adjustment and click-stops are exactly the same on TAIR-41M. Focusing throw is the same as on VEGA7-1 as is the sensor coverage and sharpness. Now considering that 50mm lenses are generally so cheap, why would I use this lens instead of a faster 50mm, like F1.4 or F1.8? If want to keep Russian style, why not just use Helios 44-2, which is so similar on paper and well known to be a great lens? The main reason why I would still use TAIR-41M over other lenses would be if I used it in conjunction with other 2 lenses from this set.
All 3 work with the same adapter, similarly sized, have exactly the same F-stops & same amount of click-stops; they also have almost identical optical performance and even though all 3 have different names, they are actually made in the same factory, so their overall performance seems to be very close. Even other Russian lenses like Helios 44-2 or MIR-1 are likely to have a completely different performance/look.
What I mean by all this is that if you get one of these, buying the other 2 makes a perfect sense. Luckily, most of them are sold as sets anyway (at the time of writing all sets are sold together with the Kiev-16U cameras). No one really uses these Kieve-16U cameras any more, so when buying these together with a camera you won’t be paying that much for the camera itself. It adds only £10/$20 to the overall value, so if you don’t care about the camera, I would recommend inquiring if a seller would post these lenses without a camera, which should reduce the postage costs quite a bit.
It’s important to note that these lenses are no good for the BMPCC without the magic adapter I was initially unaware off. This adapter is made by RAFcamera, which I’m sure some of you heard about it already. I did too, but never bought anything from RAF before. I must say that I’ve had an absolutely amazing experience dealing with RAF (short for Rafael). After finding that the original adapter didn’t work for me too well due to its thickness and positioning of the focusing ring on TAIR 41M, I’ve asked RAF if he could make the adapter thinner. He machined one of his adapters down and very kindly sent me the “test” version (silver one below), which now let’s me grip the focusing ring on TAIR 41M perfectly. I think once the design is finalized the thinner adapter will also come in anodized black finish with proper markings. I don’t know how long it will take him to update his inventory, so if you want one of the slim adapters make sure to ask him before you buy.
And while I’m on the same subject; the eagle eyed among you might have noticed from my screen shots, that one of my lenses doesn’t have the back cap, which is very unfortunate as these are literally impossible to come by if they don’t come with the lenses at the time of purchase. This can be a problem when buying a set already mounted on a camera. The front optical element can have marks, small scratches and the images will still be perfectly usable, but I tiny mark on the back optical element will be very visible in the shots, almost as visible as dust /marks on the sensor itself, so the back obviously needs a good protection, but thankfully RAFcamera took care of these too, so now you can add both front & back caps to your lenses if they didn’t come with them. Other accessories that you can get for Kiev 16U lenses include various step up rings (not recommended for 12mm due to increased vignetting) and even follow focus gears, so with a bit of money and effort it’s possible to turn them into real macro cine primes 🙂
If you are a BMPCC (or whatever S16 cam comes next) I highly recommend checking this lenses out!
I’ll leave you with an amazing video by Onni Vakkuri, all shot using just these 3 tiny lenses. Impressive!
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