Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5

Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5

Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5

My latest purchase! A 1954 Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 lens. This is the later version of the lens with the Leica M bayonet mount. The earlier version released in 1949 had the Leica screw mount (LTM). Both these lenses were based on the design of the 1936 Leica Xenon design.

Why did I buy another Leica M mount 50mm?

I wanted an older Leica lens with that signature ‘vintage’ look. This in plain English means a lens that is low contrast, prone to flare and produces soft focus images when shot wide open. Why would anyone want those characteristics from a lens!? Surely all the manufacturers are trying to make the sharpest lens ever with the greatest micro-contrast and most flare resistant lens coating? This is true, but I already have lenses that can do all those things, sharp, contrasty and without flare. Example lenses include the Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4 (“Lux”), Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 (“Cron”), Zeiss ZM Planar 50mm F2 T and Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5 C. (All to varying degrees).

As you may have seen I shoot mostly female portraiture and a soft focus lens can be perfect for this if used correctly. I like to use flare in a creative way in my photos so a lens prone to flare is something I look forward to. The Leica M8 and Leica M9 colours in camera tend to be over saturated for my taste. Zeiss lenses especially are known to produce rich colours but I often like de-saturated tones if I am shooting colour portraits. Low contrast images means you retain maximum shadow and highlight detail so perfect for black and white photography.

The right tool for the job –

If you know that in your camera bag you have a high contrast Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5 lens and a low contrast Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 lens then you can select your most suitable tool for the task. If a day is overcast with very little direction light I would select the ZM Sonnar to boost the contrast from the even light. If however, I was shooting in potentially unflattering low direct sunlight, then I would chose the Leica Summarit to minimise blown highlights and retain both highlight and shadow details.

Why not correct the photos during post processing?

If I am shooting colour 35mm Kodak Portra 160 film with my Leica M2 film camera and get a lab to scan the negatives and also run me a set of prints then I want to get the desired look of my images in camera. If I am doing black and white photography and shooting with Kodak T-Max 100 film then I can adjust my B&W film developing method accordingly to increase or reduce contrast yet further depending on the conditions in which I took my photos.

If I took the photos with my digital Leica M8 or Leica M9 cameras then I can edit the images in Lightroom to obtain the desired look but even then I can only work with the details captured in the DNG (RAW) or JPEG files. If I have blown the highlights with a high contrast lens then I can only save so much detail in post processing. For example a bright sky becomes completely white in the final image. If however I used a low contrast lens such as the old Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 then the cloud detail is retained in the sky and I can then boost the contrast without losing detail if desired during post.

I will get some real examples images posted to Flickr and shared here as soon as it arrived.

A big thanks to Charlie for selling me the Summarit lens!

MatthewOsbornePhotography.co.uk – Leica Photographer


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.

9 thoughts on “Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5”

  1. I suspect the poor reviews for the Summarit are due to 3 things: they are prone to internal haze on each side of the aperture, which can be cleaned out; the coatings are soft and most Summarits have a lot of cleaning marks; and the Summarit is optimized for F2.8 rather than wide-open use. at F1.5, the Summarit will front-focus about 1″ at 3ft. Find a clean one, beautiful results. I ended up optimizing one for F1.5, and left the other for F2.8. Well worth it.

    1. Thanks Brian. I think you hit the nail on the head with that statement for the majority (and in theory for all points). I am very lucky in that the lens I bought has no noticeable internal haze, no cleaning marks or marks to coating as came with the original Leica UV filter and for me the lens appears to be optimised at f1.5. I can nail focus at f1.5 at 1m and also further back (it seems). Very happy as I prefer to shoot more wide open when conditions suit.

      I just spent the morning doing an engagement shoot with the Summarit and I noticed at f1.5 without hood even on an overcast day it can flare very easy. I shot most photos at f2-f2.8 for this reason. Blog and samples to follow.

  2. the flare you encounter at f1.5 is merely due to the crown glass Leica used in the 50s/60s which was much softer,unfortunately you have to accept that this lens was designed when cameras had ASA100 films.I love using it , and have honed it into one of my regular lens now,its rarely off my M9. Bokeh on this gem is amazing,shallow depth of field can in some types of light be just as good as a Nocti f1.0, and sharper.

    1. Thanks Smon, I do love flare as it happens (if used well) so I think f1.5 flare may come in very handy at times. When you say it was designed for film are you hinting it performs well/ better with film? I shoot film too so will definitely try it once the leaves are on the trees. Like use I think it will become on of my most used lenses because it does what many modern lenses can’t and that is give a unique look. I will push it though it’s paces and see what I can get from it. Cheers

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