I don’t use vintage telephoto lenses (over 200mm) very often; in fact this a first time I’m reviewing a 300mm telephoto prime. As you might know, due to the lack of the optical image stabilization, such lenses can be difficult use for video. A rock solid tripod is a must and the actual lens has to be supported properly too, but even then, shake free images are not guaranteed.
If you make such setup work though, you can achieve a pretty special look, which is worth all the trouble!
Tair-3 300mm F4.5 is a perfect example of such lens, producing a very attractive compressed/layered/3D look with effortless shallow depth of field, even when shooting very distant objects. Thanks to the 16 aperture blades, bokeh is always perfectly circular and very smooth too! Being a Russian M42 prime, it also has that popular retro, low contrast, slightly de-saturated look, found on other Russian primes like MIR-20, MIR-1, Helios 44, Jupiter-9, Tiar-11, etc, therefore it’s goes nicely as part of a Russian M42 Set.
My version of this lens has a very simple coating, so even the very nice, integrated lens hood does very little to improve the contrast and vibrancy, but this is probably the lens that you’d choose for this kind of look, so I don’t see it as a problem. It’s worth noting that later versions of this lens had Multi-Coated (marked as MC on the lens) optics which did improve the contrast and vibrancy if that is what you’re looking for.
Interesting fact is that this lens only has 3 elements inside! When shooting in 1080p (video above was shot wide open) images looks acceptably sharp, but when I compare test stills I shot at different f-stops, I can clearly see that sharpness improves as aperture is being stopped down, so for anyone wishing to use it for stills or 4k/6k video, stopping down to F5.6 or even F8 will help improve the sharpness considerably. Same goes for CA, which is quite visible wide open and only gets under control by around F8, so if you’re looking for a 300mm with amazing optical performance wide open, this one might not be the best choice for you, but really, you can’t expect much more for the price!
Build Quality & Usability:
Tair-3 was first made in 1955 and they actually made up all the way up to 2005 (that’s 50 years of Tair lenses). There are 3 main versions of this lens, which are pretty much the same optically, but have quite different bodies. My one is the “A” version, which is build like a tank, a very good looking one too! A fully metal construction, with etched markings and metal focus/aperture rings. I think, apart for the back lens cap, there are absolutely no plastic parts here. Even the front lens cap is metal. There are 2 aperture rings: a common “click-stop” one and a “click-less” one, which is great for video use. Tair-3 has is a solid, integrated lens support, which can be rotated and the M42 mount at the back can also be rotated if you want your lens makings to be on the side or even bottom of the lens. Focus ring has over 300 degrees of rotation, which in theory is great for video use, but here is where we come to some usability issues that I mentioned at the start of this post. The focus ring feels dry and it takes quite a bit of effort to rotate it, which obviously creates camera shake when focusing during recording and it’s not an isolated problem, but seems to be a common problem with this particular model. I think that grease on these particular lenses didn’t withstand the test of time as well as it did on some other Russian primes. It seems that you’ll have to be lucky to find one with a silky smooth focus ring (I know they are out there, but it’s best to try before you buy). What doesn’t help is that focus ring extend significantly when rotated from infinity to the closest focusing distance, excluding the possibility of using a follow focus in effort to keep shake under control. This is a big problem for me, but thankfully there is an alternative.
If you look this lens up on ebay, you’ll notice that not all Tair-3 lenses the look like mine. In fact at least a half them come from a so called “Zenit Photosniper”, an interesting concept for telephoto shooting. Although that version of the lens does not looks as sleek, it features a “follow focus” style focusing knob instead of a traditional focus ring. It’s located on the bottom of the lens and I would prefer it on the side, but it’s still a much better focusing solution for video. Plus, on this version focus ring doesn’t extend, which also makes is much more usable for video. If I was buying a Tair-3 now, I’d choose the photo sniper version instead.
- Optical Design: 3 elements in 3 froups
- Aperture range: F4.5-22
- Aperture Blades: 16
- Font Filter size: 72 mm
- Closest focusing distance: 2.2m
- Mount: M42
- Weight: 1530g (A version)
- Made in USSR/Russia
So, is it a good or bad lens for video? Let’s figure it out!
- Popular, vintage character
- Very affordable
- Easily adaptable to almost any camera
- Step-less aperture adjustment
- Solid construction
- Convenient focus knob (PhotoSniper version)
- Integrated lens support
- Average optical performance wide open
- Heavy & long
- Prone to have a stiff focus ring (A version)
- Focus ring extends when turned (A version)
Even though I have quite a few problems with this lens, I still think it’s a very interesting one with more Pros that Cons. The price is certainly a big one because you can pick this lens for as little $100 ncluding shipping, which is an absolute bargain for such beast. As mentioned earlier I do have a serious problem with the stiff/dry focusing ring, which for me is a bit of a deal breaker, so if you buy one of these, make sure the focus ring is smooth or be prepared to spend more time and/or money re-greasing it. Alternatively take a look at a bit more rough looking Photosniper version which should solve the focusing issues.
Tair-3 is definitely not the best 300mm lens out there, but if you are a fan of Russian lenses, Then even with all its downsides, this lens worth looking at!
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