There is a lot that can be said about Mir-1 37mm F2.8 Lens. Internet is filled with in depth information and reviews, but to save you guys time, I’ll fill you in on the background of this lens before we move on to its use in this day & age.
The production of this lens originally started all the way back in 1954. It was manufactured in USSR (along with my favourite Helios 44-2) and was mainly made in 2 mounts, M39 and more popular M42 (although both are adaptable to modern cameras). The design of the lens was based on Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 35mm f/2.8 and unlike Helios 44-2 was not a complete clone, but using same optical formal as Flektogon 35mm f/2.8, which is definitely a good sign considering how much more affordable they are than just about any Zeiss glass.
In 1958 Mir-1 received a prestigious Grand-Prix Award during the Brussels World Fair. Russians were probably so proud of the award that every Mir-1 lens produced since the 1958 World Fair, sports the “Grand Prix Brussels 1958” inscription on the side of the lens, so don’t mistake these lenses for some sort of special/limited edition (I know I kind of did when I first saw one).
So let’s talk about the build quality and features of this lens. As you would expect from a lens of this age, it’s beautifully made (unlike some modern lenses), sporting “tank like” fully metal, solid construction. You can tell that if you drop this lens, it’s unlikely that something will happen to it, but don’t do it anyway 😉
Both focusing ring and aperture are smooth and easy to adjust. While being one of the cheapest lenses out there, often selling for under $50, Mir-1 has a few features that will make any filmmaker very happy.
1st: Step-less Aperture Adjustment. This is absolutely awesome feature usually reserved to very expensive cine lenses, but some vintage photo lenses also had step-less aperture adjustment, which is so much better for video use and is probably the best way to adjust the exposure during recording without making it obvious.
2nd: 10 Aperture Blades. More aperture blades, nicer is bokeh when lens is stepped down. 10 aperture blades provide round circle throughout the aperture range. I usually like to step down my lenses by a stop or more to get the best performance out of them, which often means compromising of appearance of the bokeh with common for vintage lenses 6 aperture blade. With MIR-1 I can step down as much as I want and the bokeh will stay nice and round.
3rd: Very Long, 270 Degree Focus Ring Ration. This is yet another feature commonly reserved to cine lenses. Most modern lenses like Canon EF have between 45-90 degrees of focusing throw, which makes focusing manually a real pain especially when you need to track a moving object. Just a little bit much rotation and your subject is complete out of focus, which is the reason why I almost never use the amazingly sharp Canon EF 100mm F/2.8 Macro which I have from my photography days. Focusing with MIR-1 on other hand is an absolute pleasure. You can really dial in your focusing point very smoothly and with a great precision, perfect for video use.
Optically MIR-1 is also quite a special lens. It has the most amazing flares you’ll find on a lens. My test above really doesn’t do this lens any justice when it comes to flares. Below is the video by Vimeo member kCine which shows off the MIR-1 flares in their full glory!
A fellow filmmaker & great blogger Peter Prevec (website & twitter) shared his flare lens test (see video below) where he’s compared a bunch of completely different lenses to see what kind of flares the produced . Everyone’s opinion is different, but I’ll agree with Peter that MIR-1 produced some of the nicest flares you could imagine only challenged by fellow Russian Helios 44-2 and Tair 11a primes.
I personally love flares and I think that they add bags of character to a right project, but even I realize that they are not suitable for every project, some projects need a clean look in which case flares become unnecessary and simply distracting.
So for me, flares on MIR-1 is one of the best & worst features of this lens. This lens flares almost too easily due to it’s basic & not very effective multi-coating. If you look at my test above, the shots that were shot against overcast grey sky have a lot of flare just from that grey sky. Now I do love the flares from low sun like in this Helios 44-2 test video I’ve shot, but when the lens flares from being pointed at overcast sky, that is not very good, so what I’m coming to here is that this is very much a lens for a right project rather than an everyday, walk around prime. It does have that very natural field of view on a crop/super35mm sensor camera, but probably not the lens I would use for a corporate shoot. It’s much more suitable for films, music videos, fashion videos, arty commercials where you can let yourself be much more creative.
One more negative I wanted to mention is that this lens has unimpressive 0.7m close focusing distance, so close-up portraits are no-no with this lens. That is a shame, but I’m still definitely keeping this lens as a partner to my all time favorite Helios 44-2. I know I’m not the only one who absolutely loves the 44-2, so if you are like me, you’ll also love MIR-1.
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