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Before I dive into the title subject matter: I bought a Fotodiox EOS R to 4×5 Graflok adapter for shooting a series of stitched images with a 4×5 camera. I am testing it out now on my Linhof, so far it is really cool. It has several “modes” the one I will certainly get the most traction out of is the 6 shot panoramic that is a 2:1 ratio similar to a 6cm x 12cm roll film back. The unit allows you to take 6 horizontal images on two rows with precision alignment. This is done by moving the camera on a slider to preset locations. You end up with a final stitched image that covered a 44mm x 88mm image area on the 4×5 inch image plane. Very cool, I’ll write that up maybe next time 🙂

OK the subject today is the often maligned Leitz Summitar 50mm F/1.5. The lens was produced from about 1949 to 1960 when Leitz introduced the Summilux design still in use today. People often talk about how this lens is not sharp and if we are honest about it, it is not a particularly sharp lens especially by modern standards. But this lens has so much charm, character, and a gloriously delicious bokeh. It should not be overlooked. You can watch my video on this lens, here.

You can find these lenses at camera shows like the PhotoFair or on EBAY for around $400-$600. A comparable early Summilux is at least 3 times that amount and the modern Summilux Aspherical versions fetch well north of $2500. Those lenses are optically superior in nearly every measure except the intangible measure of intrinsic artistic value. It is here in the subjective that this lens becomes legendary.

The pre-aspherical Summilux lenses had what was often referred to as the “Leica Glow” which was caused by an optical aberration called ‘coma’ that caused out of focus highlights to seemingly “glow.” This in itself had some artistic value but like my Canon LTM 50/1.2 it can be a bit busy at times. This Leica Summarit has a smooth and creamy bokeh that is almost never distracting.

So is the lens as many claim, soft? Well yes a little, but for portraits wide open it is sharp enough. Stop it down to f/2 and it becomes sharp and at f/2.8 it is really sharp. So if I’m taking a landscape am I likely to shoot wide open? No probably not in fact probably more like f/4 or f5.6. This is a useful lens for most things a photographer would ask a 50mm lens to do on full frame.

First I have six bokeh shots showing an out of focus background with some highlights. Three lenses were used at two f/stops. The Leitz Summitar 50/1.5 at f1.5 and f/2.8; Canon LTM 50/1.2 at f/1.2 and f/2.8; Canon EF 50/1.2L at f/1.2 and f/2.8. Take a look:

So that is the basic bokeh look but that doesn’t tell the whole story. How is the lens to use in the real world? I love it actually. Here are some shots made recently on my EOS-R with the lens wide open.

Now here is a shot stopped down to f/2.8:

The background truly melts away, even at f/2.8! At 2.8 it is pretty darn sharp at the point of focus. At f/1.5 it is reasonably sharp as well. I love the way this lens renders the background. The lens is also very compact, a tad heavy for its size, but compact. Now full disclosure, I edited all of these in either Lightroom or Photoshop, that means I essentially enhanced to image to help the lens perform better. Below is a selfie shot of my ugly mug, you’ve been warned 😉 The image is hand held with the flippy screen out, 800 ISO 160th sec @ f/1.5 on my EOS R with a macro focusing M mount adapter. (This is an LTM lens with M adapter as well) It was taken right out of camera no edits other than a resize to 2000 pixels wide. You will see the contrast is pretty flat. The lens has a single lens coating that is 70 years old and the design was for a B/W film era so color and contrast are both pretty flat. Below the straight out of camera image is a screen shot of the same image with some minor camera raw adjustments, then finally a completed image with some additional localized enhancements around the eyes. You be the judge, is the lens any good?

Straight out of camera

Some Camera Raw tweaks in Photoshop

Final image after additional tweaks

So I think the lens is pretty awesome. I love the bokeh, love the overall look and it is easy to correct its shortcomings save for the softness wide open. Remember this is a small lens originally designed for small rangefinder cameras like the Leica IIIg. It only weighs 345 grams with my metal lens hood on it. It is small enough to close my hand completely around it. And it renders delightful images, that might need a little TLC in software, but that’s OK by me.

A few years ago at the PhotoFair I bought a Spiratone T-Mount Bellows system that had a simple 150/4.5 view camera lens attached and is able to use T-mount adapters for most cameras. What really intrigued me with this item was the amazing build quality and the full suite of monorail view camera movements. Seriously this thing is a Sinar miniaturized to work with small format. I really haven’t played with it much in fact it is a bit dusty, but I pulled it out recently and fiddled about for a while.

This particular unit is equipped with a standard T-ring in the back and a T-ring adapter for M42 universal lenses up front. The Spiratone lens is a 150/4.5 that is mediocre and appears to be uncoated. The Bellows, uh, er, I mean camera is well made with solid lock down and smooth controls for movements.

The 150mm lens has decent coverage for 35mm/full frame but the movements can rather easily find the edge of the image circle. Using an APS/C camera like my EOS M5 adds substantial range of movements if you really want to tweak the bejezus out of it 😉 I used my EOS M5 with the Metabones speed booster so I was getting closer to 35mm/full frame coverage. I needed the extra working room as 150mm is a bit long for my small “man cave” / office space.

I decided to make a few images and use the camera movements to try and compensate for various “problems” that might come up in a studio situation. The first shot is a simple picture of two lenses one near and one set back. The lenses were inside a small light box. This was a test shot just to see how sharp or “unsharp” that Spiratone 150/4.5 is. The lens is as I said earlier “mediocre.”

Then I put a couple of smaller EF-M lenses in the light box and decided to leave the camera in a fixed position and try to use nothing but movements to remedy the “problem” you will see in the first image. keeping the camera perfectly level left me with the camera too low. Now I could easily just raise the tripod, but sometimes in a studio situation it may not be that easy. Perhaps the subject is really large and the camera needs to be 10 feet in the air. Well that was not the case here, but hey, I needed a reason to mess with the movements, right?

So this first image on the left was with no movements, straight through the bellows. You can see that the back lens is chopped off and the camera position is too low. The first movement to remedy the low camera position is a simple rise on the front standard. That produces the second image on the right. Here we see that without moving the camera position at all we can effectively “raise” the camera by raising the front standard. You may recall I did a shift lens adapter article a few years back discussing this technique.

The focus is on the front smaller lens leaving the back lens way out of focus. The back lens was about 6 inches behind the front lens and with a 150mm focused at 6 feet distance, even F/8 or F/11 would be a challenge to sharpen up that back lens. F/16 is available but diffraction tends to soften things up a bit at F/16 not to mention the epic long shutter drag to get the exposure and the increased depth of field reveals “flaws” in the background.

So to sharpen up both objects wide open would normally require a change of camera position to a diagonal that create a nice focus plane through the two lenses. But these are in a light box so that is not possible and I did agree at the onset not to change the camera position, right? Right.

Here is where a swing movement can make a dramatic change in the image. I decide to keep the lens WIDE open just to make a point about the benefits of view camera movements. Ideally stopping down to f/8 would have sharpened it up wonderfully. I used the rear standard for the swing movement because that won’t change the lens to subject distance like a front swing will. Now without changing the camera position or the focus and still shooting wide open, both lenses are now more or less sharp. Again if this were a real product shot F/8 and a slight tweak to focus would have made both lenses razor sharp. Full disclosure here, I was right at the limit of the lens circle thus you see some heavy vignetting on the left, Had I not used the Metabones speed booster and backed the camera up a bit that would not have been the case. or better yet if that silly Spiratone 150mm lens had more coverage 😉

This miniature view camera has surprising quality. On the front standard you have a geared smooth shift, geared smooth rise/fall, front and back tilt, front swing. The rear standard has all the same movements but the rise/fall on the rear standard is not geared. This is a true mini monorail camera! With a little machine work or shopping time you could find mountts to allow for true view lenses to be used on this unit. I would recommend 75mm – 105mm for full range use with infinity focus. Shorter focal lengths will have little or no movements at infinity or long focus as the bellows is collapsed. Shorter focal lengths work great for super closeups.

If you are interested in finding one of these, I occasionally see them on EBAY as well as camera shows, like PhotoFair, where I found mine.

I have also played with some real view lenses on this mini-camera. I made some images with the Kodak Ektar 100/4.5 and some other silly stuff like a Holga lens and even a few with my beloved Zeiss Biotar 58/2. Ah too much fun.

Kodak Ektar 101/4.5 @ f/4.5

A super closeup using a plastic Holga 60mm F/8 on a stack of US dimes

Super close Zeiss Biotar 58/2 on stack of US dimes. @f/4

There’s that dime-stack again, this time Russian Helios 58/2 @f/2

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