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Many moons ago, I wrote a piece on this blog about the classic Nikkor 105/2.5 lens. I went on and on about how fabulous it is with its crisp contrasty images, compact size, reasonable speed and 52mm filter size. In fact you can read that article right here as a refresher since its been a few years back. I mentioned in that article Nikon’s bigger, faster, and way spendier 1.8 version which the bigger and spendier was often too much to justify the faster.

I however have always had a weakness for fast glass. I have been fortunate enough to own some of the world’s fastest glass over the years. I even have some pretty speedy stuff now, including the Nikon AI 105/1.8. In fact I picked it up at the last PhotoFair show in Newark back in February. Now that I mentioned PhotoFair, the next show is in Newark, CA on May 18th and just around the corner, this weekend is a big show up in the Seattle area, the PSPCS show in Kent, WA. Graham and I will be there, hanging out with Emanuelle from PhotoCamera. I got a sweet deal on this 105/1.8 from Seawood Photo at PhotoFair and maybe you can find a sweet deal to at one of these next two shows!

OK, back to the lens. This is a chunky lens friends, it is about the same length as the 2.5 just a tad longer, but the filter size is 62mm instead of 52mm and it weighs in at a hefty 600g with both caps. The 2.5 comes in at a much slimmer 450g. But frankly the weight and girth is a small concession to gain a full stop of light gathering power. Yes 1.8 is a full stop faster than 2.5, so now that ISO 400 shot at 1/60th becomes 1/125th and you get even better soft background. As for the price difference, it is about two and a half times more expensive and that can take a toll on your wallet, but… worth it 🙂

I have read reports that this lens is actually sharper than the 2.5 model and honestly I don’t see it. I think they are pretty close and if you stop down the 1.8 to 2.8 it isn’t noticeably sharper than the 2.5 at 2.8. Wide open they perform similar other than the extra 2x blast of delicious EV afforded the lucky owners of the 1.8.

The shot of Betsy, my sleepy lab was done on my EOS R with the Nikon lens 1/45th at F/1.8 hand held at ISO 3200. Look how her eye just pops out against the soft foreground and background. This is what I live for, shallow depth of field and a subject the jumps off the screen or print at you. This shot does have a hint of camera shake, but I like it anyway 🙂

It should be noted that these higher speed longer lenses are difficult to get sharp focus wide open hand held. Why you ask? Because we are alive and even the steadiest hand will have some movement. If the shutter speed is fast enough to stop camera shake, it won;t stop your back and forth undulations that move the point of focus slightly ahead and behind as your move ever so slightly.

The shot below of my venerable test still life subject, the Kodak Signet 35, was done with the EOS R on a monopod 1/125th at F/1.8. I like that bokeh, it’s not really creamy and dreamy but it has just a touch of highlight harshness to add some character. These older 1970s and 80s vintage Nikon lenses are really top shelf quality. You will find your self paying well north of $300 for these in really clean shape and that is quite a bit more than the 2.5 variety. The 2.5 version was made for 40 years and the oldest versions are often under $100 while the last version the AI-S in really good shape will get up in the low 200s.

The 1.8 is worth the bulk and price to get that extra stop of speed and the extra soft background, but take it from me, a guy who has owned them both, the 2.5 is a great deal, the AI units from the mid 1970s run around $150 and they have the multi-coating so they are one of the best lens deals out there. Pick your poison fast or faster and go shoot some awesome images!

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At the PhotoFair back in November last year, I picked up the 85mm L and this little Summicron 40mm C lens. I worked out a trade for my Canon 5D Mk III for these two lenses. This is one of my favorite things about camera shows, the trading! I wrote up the L lens last year and fiddled around with the 40mm after that.

The Leica C lenses are M mount lenses that were designed specifically for the Leica CL and Minolta CLE cameras. There were two Leitz lenses made specifically for the CL and Minolta made three lenses for the CLE all of which were interchangeable with each other and even other Leica M mount rangefinders. There is differing opinions on whether precise focus was achievable when using CL lenses on an M body. My experience is that they work fine on M bodies.

The lenses were as follows:

  • Leica Summicron-C 40/2
  • Leica Elmar-C 90/4
  • Minolta Rokkor 40/2
  • Minolta Rokkor 90/4 Ver I
  • Minolta Rokkor 90/4 Ver II
  • Minolta Rokkor 28/2.8

In our modern age of mirrorless digital cameras these old rangefinder lenses are a great way to get some classic Leica images on your modern camera. The 40 Summicron-C is a very small lens that delivers big image quality. I actually like shooting it on my EOS M5 more than the full frame EOS R because the small size compliments the EOS M5 but is a bit out of sorts on the larger EOS R. These CL lenses are full frame 35mm format so they cover the large full frame sensor of cameras like the Sony A7 series and both the Canon EOS R series and Nikon Z series cameras.

One of the troubles with rangefinder lenses is that lack of close focusing ability. Most Leica M mount lenses including this C lens focus to about 2.5 feet or 0.7m. On a 40mm lens this is not by any measure “close.” There are some mount adapters that feature a helical style extension to offer a closer focus option, these are much more expensive than the standard mount adapters. On the EOS M5 the 40mm lenses is cropped 1.6x so it shoots like a 64mm and that allows for a tighter shot.

Optically the lens is very good. I have heard some reports that the Minolta Rokkor version is even better. I have never shot that lens so I don’t know, but this Leitz lens is a strong performer. It is extremely well made and offers a fast f/2 aperture in a crazy small package. it is almost a pancake design, very thin. To be certain, modern native glass from Sony, Nikon, and Canon will be even sharper, more contrasty, and focus super close but there is a whole lot of character with these old school lenses. Shooting with Leica glass is cool no matter how sharp or not sharp the lens is. People pay millions of dollars to drive a 1960s Ferrari that will get absolutely embarrassed in race against any random modern day, hot hatch. Why? Because a random hot hatch is still just a random car, a classic Ferrari is legendary. Leica is legendary.

I haven’t made a lot of images with the lens but I have made enough to say the lens is solid. It is sharp, contrasty, and almost never produces flare. The shot of Graham was made on my EOS R with the Summicron-C in low light at high ISO around 2500. Shots like this make me wish Canon had IBIS in the mirrorless bodies! I see some shake there, but this was the very night I bought the lens and was one of the very first images I made with it. In general the Leica ‘purists’ tend to feel unfavorable towards the C lenses and that means the prices for them tend to be more reasonable. Who doesn’t want to get a ‘deal’ on the Leica lens?

I took the test shot of my cars-cameras display when I got back home after the PhotoFair and the lens is tack sharp! Seek out this mid-70s gems at camera shows and in particular the Rokkor or Leitz 40/2. If you want to shoot film, you can use these on Leica M film bodies but the Leica CL is a great little camera and they sell for way less than M3s or M4s.

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