Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 – Collapsible

1959 Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 – Collapsible

Matthew Osborne Photography – “Mr Leica”

elmar 50v2

Continuing my quest for the smallest lightest most compact Leica M camera setup I decided to buy myself a smaller 50mm for when I need to pack light, a 15 blade 1959 chrome Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 lens with bayonet mount and E39 filter thread.   The newer version 4 Leica Elmar-M 50mm f2.8 lens is lighter, sharper and with only 6 blades but I wanted a lens with quirks and more character and also with a smaller price tag!  The older version 3 Elmar lens I bought can be picked up for about half the price of a used Leica Elmar-M 50mm.  The original 1920s Leica Elmar 50mm lens was f3.5 and even smaller.  I want to be able to use my 50mm Elmar lens when there is less than ideal light so I opted for the 1950s f2.8 version.  Version 2 of this lens is said to be the most popular Leica lens ever made until it was superseded by the first Leica Summicron 50mm f2 lens in 1953.

So why did I pick this particular lens?  The Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 lens is a collapsible design so the lens becomes more compact when not in use.  I could have bought a 50mm f2 collapsible lens instead such as a Leica Summar 5cm f2, Summitar 5cm f2 or an early Summicron 5cm f2 all of which share the same basic design where the lens is collapsible into the camera body.  In an ideal world I would chose f2 over f2.8 but the early 50mm f2 lenses are said to have very soft lens coatings so finding one in good condition is not as easy.  The slower Elmar lenses are also less in demand so old versions can be picked up on eBay at a good price and in nice condition.  Shot wide open the 50mm Elmar lens will have the old Leica lens soft glow look similar to my Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 but stopped down to f5.6-f8 it should be almost as sharp as my Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4.  I have seen sample images with the exact lens I bought and it is sharp at f5.6.  With clever use of light I will try to get it looking sharp wide open too.  (See the results from my new Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 lens shot wide open.  They look sharp to me and that is supposed to be a soft lens wide open).

When will I use the Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 lens?  I think lens is too soft shot wide open for wedding photography but I will use it for at least three types of photography.  Personal work which is normally model photography and portraiture.  To be more specific I will use this lens when I want to pack light such as for a day trip to London or a location shoot in Poland.  I will use it for engagement photography if the Elmar has a signature look that I really like.  Engagement sessions let me get creative so I use more unusual equipment than I might at a wedding.  Lastly, travel photography.  When I was in Mallorca last year there was so much light I was doing landscape and street photography at f8-f11.  The little Leica Elmar is the ideal lens for this occasion as stopped down I could use any of my 50mm lenses and get similar results (I think!).

What camera will I use the Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 lens with?  I will test the lens on my Leica M9 digital camera so I understand what it can and cannot do in different light conditions.  After that I will use it with my 1950s Leica M3 film camera for a full 1950s camera-lens combo!  I think if I load the Leica M3 with 35mm Kodak Tri-X 400 film and develop it in Rodinal as normal I can get sharp looking images at f2.8.  That is the plan anyway!  I don’t plan to use this lens with colour film shot wide open as I think it will be too soft.

Sample images coming soon!

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Author: matthewosbornephotography

Coventry, UK studio based Model and Wedding Photographer offering both Medium Format Film and Digital Images. 1-2-1 Photography and Lighting Tuition also available.

10 thoughts on “Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 – Collapsible”

    1. Many thanks Charles. Can you confirm whether a SOOKY-M or SOMKY accepts a bayonet mount Leica Elmar 50? it looks like it accepts screw mount versions only. Other than that they look a great piece of kit. Thanks for telling me. Matt

      1. You need to SOOKY-M to get the bayonet mount. There will be a number available on ebay germany i’m sure. The thing to watch out gir id that it won’t work with the recently reissued lens. If you want to know more i suggest you do a search on rangefinderforum

  1. Recently I bought an M2 for what I thought to be a reasonable price. However to find a reasonably priced lens is another matter.
    The Elmar could be a great solution to my problem. The lens I’d really like is the Sonnar 50/1.5 that you have reviewed, but it is almost double what I paid for the M2 body. A friend of mine has the same Elmar as you and has had fantastic results.

  2. I use this lens quite a lot with my Leica M3 bodies, 1955 double stroke and 1960 single stroke. It’s part of an outfit that includes 35mm f2.8 Summaron ‘spectacles’ to convert the field of view from 50 to 35mm , and the 90mm f2.8 Elmarit. I was using the 50 yesterday at an event. The viewfinder of the M3 is optimal for this lens and gives a bright view. My lens gives me a very natural perspective that others do not. It reflects the way I see things in the world. Compact when retracted, this makes the M3 pocketable if the Leicameter is not attached to the top. A vintage look when lens is extended too. Chap in a pub remarked on it the other day and asked me if the lens retracted and I demonstrated. He remembered the debacle of the M5!

    1. Thanks David, yes it is still my smallest Leica setup. My next smallest setup is using a 21mm f4 Voigtlander for landscape photography when I am travelling by bike. I prefer a wider view for landscapes and buildings but 50mm usually for people shots. Enjoy the lens!

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