Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 (Review & Flickr Photos)
PART 1: Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Lens
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.
PART 2: Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Flickr Images + Follow up review
Here is a follow up review and some Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Flickr images. I have used the 1954 vintage Summarit for everything from Leica fashion beauty, portraiture, engagement shoots, landscapes, flowers and as a walk around lens.
Below is a photo of my vintage silver Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 on my vintage 1958 Leica M2 35mm film camera (Photo taken with a Leica Summicron 90mm f2 on my Leica M9).
Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Flickr
Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 vs Summilux, Summicron, Sonnarm Planar 50mm lenses?
I have 6+ 50mm lenses including Leica Summilux ASPH, Leica Summicron v5, Zeiss ZM Sonar and Zeiss ZM Planar. Despite owning all these ‘pedigree’ lenses I am finding myself chosing the vintage Leica Summarit first. Why? The Summarit has an amazing glow shot wide open at f1.5. It is sharp enough for female portraiture and I like the flare for my style of photography. The bokeh is like no other lens I own and together these traits give a photo a very unique and vintage look straight from the camera that I love.
Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 – why bad reviews?
The Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 lens is prone to flare (as mentioned) due to the old lens coating applied when manufactured in the 1950s. The coating was soft so on many copies of this lens it is damaged. I was very lucky to buy my lens with the original Leica UV filter meaning the lens optics are in near mint condition. The lens is also known to suffer from focus shift and to be optimised at f2.8 rather than at f1.5. I have not noticed any problems shooting at f1.5 so I guess I got lucky here also. Lastly, older lenses can be prone to fogging but again my lens optics are clear so I have not experienced this problem.
One of my favourite lenses on my Nikon D800 is the 1970s manual focus Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AI-s. This lens also has an amazing glow shot wide open at f1.2 yet is easily sharp enough for portraiture.
I am very happy to have discovered this amazing old lens and I loved the vintage Leica look so much that I then bought a 1951 Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5. Full review on the Summaron to follow.
MatthewOsbornePhotography.co.uk – Leica Photographer