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Tair 3C 300mm F/4.5 Vintage Lens Review

John Riley has been putting a classic, 1970s Tair 3C 300mm F/4.5 vintage lens to the test on the much more modern Sony A7R III.


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Tair 3C 300mm F/4.5 Vintage Lens Review: Tair 3C 300mm F4,5 On Sony A7RIII Showing Adapters | 1/5 sec | f/16.0 | 100.0 mm | ISO 100
 

Very familiar to photographers, from 1944 to the end of production in 2005, is the PhotoSniper outfit, manufactured by KMZ (Krasnogorsk Mekanicheski Zavod) in their factory in a suburb of Moscow. Housed in a metal case that even had straps for carrying like a backpack, we find the 300mm f/4.5 Tair lens, a pistol grip with a detachable gun stock to mount the lens into, plus filters. There is usually also a 58mm f/2 in the kit. These kits are still widely available used, although often just the lens is offered for sale. Such is the case here, where a 1970s Tair 3C has lost its accessories a long time ago. This is probably just as well as wielding a pistol grip with gun stock around the streets may not be the wisest thing to do. So, lens only, plus two adapters, plus the 42MP Sony A7R III, and we are ready to see what we can do with this heavy 300mm lens.  

 

Tair 3C 300mm F/4.5 Handling and Features

Tair 3C 300mm F/4.5 Vintage Lens Review: Tair 3C 300mm F4,5 On Sony A7RIII | 0.5 sec | f/22.0 | 53.0 mm | ISO 100
 

This is obviously a solidly made metal and glass lens and indeed it weighs in at a hefty 1550g. It is also large, measuring 246mm long and 120mm in diameter. The front element really needs the protection of the lens hood, but this lens has lost its hood. There is a standard 72mm filter thread. The lens has also lost its filters and the gun stock. This is a pity in terms of stability as it would make wielding the lens much easier. As mentioned though, using a gun stock out and about could well be misinterpreted. Also missing from the kit is the Helios-44 58mm f/2 standard lens and the Zenit E body. However, our focus here is to see how the lens behaves and performs using a modern digital camera body.

There are numerous oddities to adapt to, and the first is focusing. Manual focus only of course and this is effected by using a rotary dial under the front of the lens. At first very odd but soon, after a little practice, actually a pretty good way to focus and one that aids stability. All is not rosy though, as focusing on this lens is not the easiest to judge, making it very difficult to use with moving subjects. Using whatever focusing aids are available plus a sturdy tripod is the way forwards for sharp images, or at least images as sharp as the lens can deliver.

Next along the base of the lens is the tripod mount, and this is the larger 3/8” size, so use on a tripod will likely need an adapter down to the usual 1/4”. It is an interesting anachronism that we still measure our tripod mounts in inches. It is not a particularly deep socket, so all the adapters to hand were found to protrude slightly, resulting in a connection that has to be constantly checked for tightness to avoid embarrassment.

 

Tair 3C 300mm F/4.5 Vintage Lens Review: Tair 3C 300mm F4,5 Oblique Bottom Side | 0.5 sec | f/22.0 | 60.0 mm | ISO 100
There is also a mysterious silver lever, and the reason for this is to make the diaphragm release operate with the trigger on the pistol grip. In the absence of this accessory, it can be operated by hand. We need to turn the lens over and examine the top to see what it does. To focus we need a wide open aperture, for the brightest image, so there is a spring-loaded ring that turns to open up the aperture, also arming it for release when the silver lever is pressed. The sequence is to open the aperture, then focus, set the aperture value required and then press the lever to set the lens to that aperture. With the gun stock this would happen as the shutter is released, without it we close the aperture and then release the shutter as a separate action. It is a slow and tedious process that speeds up somewhat with practice.

Optical construction is 4 elements in 3 groups, coated but not multi-coated. The diaphragm has a whopping 16 blades, something that promises to enhance the bokeh. Focusing is down to 3m, around 39 inches, so not really much in the way of magnification. This seems to indicate that this is intended as a long-range lens, and the gun stock design would seem to confirm this. In its day, a 300mm full-frame lens would have been considered quite long.

Finally, the mount. The lens as-is has a T2 mount, which is not the same pitch as the usual 42mm Pentax/Praktica mount. In this case, a 42mm adapter has been used, followed by a 42mm to Sony FE adapter to fit to the camera. All of this is manual only, with no electronic contacts, but as the lens is as manual as they come anyway, nothing is lost by this. There are no extra lens elements involved either, so no loss in quality.

 

Tair 3C 300mm F/4.5 Vintage Lens Review: Tair 3C 300mm F4,5 On Sony A7RIII Showing Preset Diaphragm Setting Dial | 0.3 sec | f/16.0 | 135.0 mm | ISO 100
 

So why would we use an unwieldy, heavy and slow 300mm lens, when huge numbers of excellent plastic-based AF lenses are available that cost little more and are more compact, lighter and easier to use? One answer to this is that we keep some fine pieces of optical engineering in use rather than wasting away to be eaten by fungus, for the interest of what we can achieve, for whatever special optical qualities they may have. For some styles of photography, older lenses may have unique qualities that have less to do with sharpness and more to do with the overall aesthetic effect. Another reason may be curiosity, which is a large part of why we are looking at this lens now.

So how does it perform? Time to have a closer look and see what those unique properties might be.

 


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