[Originally published on 35mmc.]
The Industar-69 (Индуста́р-69) is a strange but beguiling beast. Originally designed for the Chaika (Чайка) camera, it wasn’t really meant to be used with other cameras. The original Chaika’s lens wasn’t removable; on later models it was affixed with an M39 thread, apparently with the intent that photographers could mount it on an enlarger for printmaking. This intent might be apocryphal, I can’t properly tell. There’s not a lot of primary sources of information on this lens out there on the interwebs that I can find, only a handful of people repeating the same information.
What makes it strange? First of all, the Chaika was a half-frame camera, so the lens is extremely compact for its focal length and maximum aperture. Second, that M39 thread comes with a non-standard flange distance, sitting 1mm farther from the film plane than lenses meant for Leicas.
What makes it beguiling? Although a half-frame lens is a non-starter for full-frame cameras (unless you _really_ like heavy vignetting), APS-C sensors are only slightly larger than half a 35mm frame. And on APS-C it’s a great normal lens, its focal length working out to a 37,5mm equivalent.
Moreover, it turns out there are relatively easy, reasonably non-destructive fixes to shorten the flange distance to something Leica-compatible. I bought mine off eBay already adjusted, requiring only some light shimming of my lens adapter to calibrate to infinity.
This lens has a lot to love about it for APS-C shooters (read: Fuji shooters). If like me you dig the Soviet toy-camera feel, you’re gonna love this lens. All of its features make it great for street photography. Let’s dig in!
A technical note for those keeping track: All the images shared here are straight out of camera (SOOC) JPEGs with either the default Provia or Acros photo simulation—the most neutral. In some cases, I might normally process these differently, but I wanted to emphasize the character of the Industar-69 over the processing capabilities of modern Fuji cameras. Check out my Instagram to see some of the edited results.
It’s tiny, so so tiny. Just look at it! It’s smaller than the M39 adapter it’s attached to. It’s almost smaller than the Fuji rear lens cap on the other side of the adapter. And as you'd guess, it weighs essentially nothing.
Despite the size, the focus ring is easy to find and use, even with very large hands as my own. The focus scale is interesting, because some of the numbers have been replaced with iconographic representations— 0.8, 0.9, 🧑🏼, 1.2, 1.5, 2, 👨👧👦, 5, 🏡, ∞. Cute. Also surprisingly handy for zone-focusing, which we’ll come to in a moment.
The aperture ring on the other hand is buried in the front face of the lens, and very difficult for my large fingers to grip and turn. You can see it as a textured black ring just around the optics in the images above. Aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/16, and is unclicked. Best to decide ahead of time what aperture you’ll be using for the next little while and just forget about changing it.
Searching the internet reveals the common opinion, without source, is that this lens takes a 22,5mm filter, or maybe a 22mm. I can’t find any definitive evidence, and I don’t have anything at home I can try out. The threads are along the inside of the aperture ring, so if you can find some kind of step-up adapter, you’ll also automatically get a better grip on the aperture ring. My lens did come with a plastic press-on lens cap (inner diameter ~45–46mm), so that’s something.
Unless you can find a filter to screw into the aperture ring, you’re not going to be changing the aperture on the fly. The Industar-69 is more of a set-and-forget. Which honestly is just as well—it’s not like at 28mm the lens offers a very shallow depth of field, even at f/2.8.
Which fact makes this an interesting shooting experience. On one hand, if you set the aperture to f/16, and the focus to somewhere in the middle (I usually go with “👨👧👦”), you have a modestly wide point-and-shoot lens perfect for street photography. On the other hand, if you set the aperture to f/2.8, the lens provides more nuance (and more vignetting…) for specific subjects.
Now, image quality is not this lens’s forte. But that’s not why you buy this lens, is it? As I’ve mentioned in my review of the Industar-50, lens character matters to me. It might not always be desirable, but understanding a particular lens’s character opens possibilities.
All that said, this lens is optimistically described as full of character. This is a lens for people (like me!) who found the Minotar lens in the original Lomo LC-A desirable. It can give toy lens-like rendering, but you can also tame the character by stopping down.
At f/2.8, just forget any notion of corner sharpness. Expect something, um, let’s call it “dreamier”. The center is sharp-ish, but everything glows. For certain kinds of photography, especially in dimmer light, this can work OK. For a landscape shot such as this at mid-day, people will have strong opinions about those corners. At f/5.6 and up, it’s perfectly fine for street photography or related genres where sharpness is not the highest priority.
Yes, you can get this lens to give strong rainbow flares, which are to me not especially pretty. Most of the time, though, you just get a lot of veiling flare, reducing the overall contrast.
That said, with its 5-bladed aperture stopped down a little, and the right conditions, the Industar-69 will happily yield some very cool pentagonal lens flares.
The Industar-69 offers some heavy and dreamy glow, wherever there’s something brightly lit. It shows up even when stopped-down, though of course to a lesser degree.
Distortion and aberration
I can’t see any obvious geometric distortion in my images. Chromatic aberration is likewise essentially non-existent. Yeah, I was surprised too!
Color and vignetting
In general, I find it hard to distinguish the subtle differences in lens rendering—I need a reference. So let’s use my Fujifilm XF 16-80mm lens as a benchmark, not because it’s a great lens, but because I expect it to not have especially strong opinions on color.
The colors produced by Fujifilm and the Industar are quite similar: Equally saturated and, and the Industar is marginally warmer. The difference is hardly noticeable to me.
The Industar does have somewhat less contrast, with blacks not as deep and slightly cool.
When pixel-peeping, the highlights and midtones appear slightly warmer, and the shadows slightly cooler than my Fujifilm benchmark lens. Contrast is markedly flatter.
At f/2.8 the lens is noticeably soft, and shows heavy vignetting. This is where the lens is most similar to the plastic Minitar and other “toy” lenses.
Curiously, the softness seems to arise from what looks like a double or ghost image. Here’s a very close crop of the above photo showing what I mean. The result is an Orton-effect like rendering that you can see in some of the other photos. As you can see, the image is actually reasonably sharp—but there’s a second image slightly offset from the first! In the right circumstances, this can be a very pleasing effect indeed. It certainly yields a nice glow in high-contrast situations. But you have to want this.
At f/5.6 it’s only a little soft, but let’s be honest you’ll never notice if you use this for street photography. It’s only a problem if you spend a lot of time pixel-peeping, or intend to blow your images up very large. For my purposes, I find this perfectly acceptable. Vignetting is still present, but it’s not serious.
Bokeh is essentially non-existent, even at f/2.8. Set to f/2.8, and with a close subject and a very distant (and heavily dappled) background, you can achieve some swirly bokeh effects. Otherwise, this is the wrong lens for achieving any kind of subject separation.
Who is this lens for?
OK, so this lens is clearly not of the highest quality. It’s not even second-tier. Probably not third. It has a lot of flaws and troubles. But for me, this is precisely what attracts me to the lens in the first place! You see, I’d rather not use the sharpest lens on the highest-quality 100-megapixel medium-format sensor, then achieve the desired look in post. I prefer to choose my tools to suit my needs. What needs does the Industar-69 serve?
- It’s so, so small, and weighs nothing.
- It gives very deep depth of field, and reasonable sharpness across the frame regardless of subject distance, at f/16.
- It gives images a dreamy Orton-effect like look wide open. Combine with smearing and blur in the corners, the heavy glow, and the lens flaring, the resulting images can be enormously striking.
So, who is this lens for?
- Street photographers who want a point-and-shoot experience with an APS-C digital body, and are OK with not-perfectly-sharp images.
- Photographers chasing character and lens flaws, wanting to craft dreamy, unreal, or uncanny images in camera.
Here are more images that capture something of this lens’s emotional range from a recent visit to Lisbon, Portugal.