1959 Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 – Collapsible
Matthew Osborne Photography – “Mr Leica”
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 Version 2 of this lens is said to be the most popular Leica lens ever made until it was superseded by the first Leica Summicron 50mm f2 lens in 1953.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!