Archive for April, 2016

Leica Summicron 35/2

summicron35-0689Last time I talked about vintage lenses and the relatively high quality optics that do not bear the expensive badge of fine German lens makers. Today it’s a 180 and I’ll talk about my 35/2 Summicron and make some comparisons. There have been five versions of the Leica 35/2 Summicron. Four types with standard spherical glass elements and the latest an aspherical version. Of the first four, the 8 element Type 1 made from 1958-1968 is considered the sharpest but at the expense of contrast. This is the version I own. The Type 2 and 3 are 6 element designs that are a little softer but have better contrast. Some prefer the 7 element, Type 4 which was introduced in 1979 and carries the nick-name, “Bokeh King”. It has a nice Bokeh that is partially due to coma and astigmatism flaws in the design.

If you are shooting film or a full frame digital body such as the Leica M9 or the Sony a7 this 35mm lens will yield a modestly wide-angle of view with little or no distortion. On an APS/C body, which I am using, this lens is a “normal” lens yielding an equivalent 55mm and virtually distortion free. On Micro 4/3 it is a portrait length 70mm equivalent.

summicron35-0690I own a Zuiko Pen 40mm/1.4 and this Summicron is only a little bit wider. But it makes a big difference sometimes. I like the Zuiko because it was made for Olympus Pen, Half-Frame 35mm SLRs. It has a very close minimum focusing distance of about 12 inches. That comes in real handy. The lens is moderately sharp wide open and very sharp at f/2.8. The Zuiko lens will not cover a full frame sensor however. The Leica Summicron is sharper at f/2.0 and 2.8, but not noticeably better further down the f-scale. The problem with the M-Leica lens is that it only focuses to 2.3 feet, which absolutely sucks. The reason is that rangefinder film cameras have a parallax concern and focusing close is simply not feasible with that type of lens/focus relationship. Parallax is caused by the focusing being done through a separate viewfinder window rather than through the lens. It is a non-issue when using the lens on a digital body as the focus is done through the lens via the electronic screen display.

The Leitz Summicron 35/2 is a much better optical performer than the faster Summilux 35/1.4. Any version of the Summicron will out perform any version of the Summilux until you get to the later aspherical designs. The Summilux of course, offers a full stop of additional light gathering, and with almost no penalty to size and weight. However, a further advantage of the Summicron over its speedier brother is the 39mm threaded filters that are found on most examples (A few early Type 3 Summicrons had a Series VII). The Summilux lenses use a proprietary lens hood/filter mount. That translates as, “EXPENSIVE”. For my Summicron, I was able to order a standard 39mm metal shade that works excellent and was less than $10 delivered to my door! I also ordered a deeper shade since I am using it as an effective 55mm lens.

32616-0548I am truly delighted with the 35/2 Summicron. It is razor-sharp and the contrast is fine despite the reputation for being flat. I feel that contrast is easier to fix in processing than sharpness.  I am a speed freak, but this lens is fantastic in just about every measurable way. My example is a Type 1 designed for a Leica M3. This lens originally was equipped with the “eyes” lenses that corrected for the M3’s lack of a 35mm finder frame and coupling for the focus cam. Other examples were designed for the M2 bodies that had 35mm frame finders and proper cam alignment. Thus no “eyes”. For digital use it is all academic. The “eyes” have been removed and as I no longer own a Leica film camera it’s all good. It should be noted that Leica claims the eyes are factory aligned, so removing them and replacing later may not be effective and may reduce the value of the lens. If you intend to shoot on a film camera, it is best to be certain you have the proper lens for the camera you will be shooting. I bought mine with the “eyes” missing. I got a sweet deal.

CarroneditMost of the Summicrons were made in the Leitz factory in Canada. There are some marked “Wetzlar” and these will carry a premium, although experts have said there is no performance difference. Canadian versions of the lens will vary between $900 and $1500 with Wetzlar version getting ten percent more. The Asperical models are much more expensive fetching well over $2000. The later Aspherical lenses are amazingly sharp right out to the far corners wide open, but they do suffer from some distortion that is not present in the older lenses. The newer Asherical lenses are also bigger and heavier than these ultra compact older designs.

The Bokeh is actually decent most of the time wide open when the background is distant and well blurred. The ten blade diaphragm leaves out of focus highlights circular without those annoying trapezoids, and lens flare when induced doesn’t have them either. Speaking of flare, you won’t see much with this well coated and optically controlled lens. Occasionally the Bokeh is crappy; I find that when the background is not sufficiently blurred the Bokeh gets rough.

The Leica Summicron 35/2 is a fabulous lens and is worthy of your admiration. Like I said last time however, there are much less expensive lenses that on many digital bodies will yield comparable results. Keep that in mind. I will say there is something special about shooting with a Leica lens, they are the pinnacle of premium performance and it shows in the build quality, optical performance, and finish.

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