Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 (Review & Flickr Photos)

Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 (Review & Flickr Photos)

PART 1: Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Lens

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.

 

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.

1954 Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5

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).

Camera Porn!

Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Flickr
Street Portrait
Stop!
Retro Leica
London Fashion
Leica Summarit 50mm
Leica Engagement Shoot
Leica Engagement Shoot
Leica Summarit
Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5
Leica Summarit Bokeh
Leica Summarit 50/1.5
Vintage look landscape

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

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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.

6 thoughts on “Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 (Review & Flickr Photos)”

  1. Reading this article inspired me to buy my own Leica Summarit last year. It made me believe that this often frowned up on lens could be good. Thanks for that, Mathew! By the way, I am a follower of yours on Flickr and really enjoy your stuff!

    Stopped down, I think that any shooter will appreciate the sharpness and separation with creamy bokeh that the 5cm 1.5 Summarit offers. But no, the flare and softness at full aperture are not typically what an available light shooter is looking for. I find that shooting in contrastier light with a contrasty, high accutance film/developer can really lend some help at 1.5 though. The crescent shaped out of focus points of light and slight swirlios really give this lens character that, for me, compensates for its shortcomings. I also enjoy the size and weight of this lens. It feels a bit heavy for my IIIc but fits great on my M6 TTL and finder blockage is minimal even with the original hood mounted. Despite the aperture ring rotating opposite my other Leica mount lenses, the positive feeling click stops are quite nice for the age of this lens. Admittedly, however, I switch to a modern 50/1.5 when I want that sharper, more glassy look at full aperture. Anyway, here are some of my results with the Leitz 50mm 1.5 Summarit. I hope that others become interested in giving this fun lens a second chance!

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnnymartyr/albums/72157657787134441

    1. Hi Johnny, thanks! I agree with your findings and although I normally strive for ‘perfect’ images in terms of sharpness and contrast I have been testing a Petzval 85 Art lens on my old Nikon D800 and like the Summarit it is the imperfections that make the photos so special. Perhaps it is time to dig out the Summarit again 🙂

      Sorry your link didn’t work but thanks for the long message all the same. Thanks Matt

  2. Thanks, Matthew, for this post. Long story short – snagged a ’59 Summaron 35 2.8 at an estate sale for my Sony A7R2. Adapter fits the lens and camera perfectly – just not at the same time due to the goggles and grip blocking any closure. So, I’m contemplating taking the goggles off or trading/trading up to a ’54 of ’56 Summarit 50 1.5. This post (and Johnny’s post) is most helpful. Among other lens (with strong preference for my Sony Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 and Zeiss Batis 85 1.8), I am presently enjoying a Nikon 50 1.4D and a Minolta Rokkor-X MD 50 1.4. The vintage bug has hit me but it seems like the Summarit could be used professionally based on your various posts. I welcome any thoughts on the choice and mainly wanted to say “thanks!” as this gives me confidence regarding the Summarit. Also following you on Flickr and have to confess preferring the Summarit to the Petzval but this is subjective, of course. One other comment: I’m writing a novel and was looking for a face… I spent 3 hours one winter afternoon searching and searching, then came up with a lovely smiling girl standing in an alley wearing a hat… B&W pic. This was Jan/Feb 2015. It’s how I first saw your work… for what it’s worth! (portrait website now under development so pardon anything after the first three tabs…efgimage.com)

    1. Hi Scott, sorry for the delayed reply. I missed the notification. I’m trying to specifically see what questions you included in your post and I can confirm the Summarit can produce some of the best soft and dream bokeh images with a Leica if not shooting into bright light (flares easily). The Noctilux obviously does this type of look but at the same time is very different (and expensive). My M240 has needed recalibrating for a long time so I have not been shooting with fast lenses but I will dig out the lens and try to post some more recent work with it soon.

      The Petzval 85 Art lens is good.. in that it makes a Nikon D800 image look interested! 😛 This is a true statement as much as long in cheek. I think it is maybe similar to the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AI-S lens that I used a huge amount when I shot Nikon. I will post a full Petzval 85 lens review as soon as I get chance.

      Good luck with your novel! Matt

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