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  Version 2 of this lens is said to be the most popular Leica lens ever made until it was superseded by the first Leica Summicron 50mm f2 lens in 1953.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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Leica Lenses Are Coming!

Leica Lenses

Leica Lenses Are Coming!

After buying my Leica M9 roughly 3 months ago I have so far used all non-Leica lenses for my portraiture, model / fashion photography and Leica wedding photography. I have also learnt a great deal from reading about the various lenses available for the Leica M mount. I started by buying Voigtlander lenses and then some Zeiss lenses also. My current line up is:

Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide Heliar
Voigtlander 21mm f4 Color Skopar
Voigtlander 35mm f1.2 Nokton ASPH ii
Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 Nokton Classic
Zeiss ZM Planar 50mm f2
Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5

I avoided Leica glass initially as it is well known that lens prices start at over £1k. But, when reviewing the cost of my non-Leica lenses I noticed I am getting close to or exceeding that bench mark already. So, I then started to review Leica lenses. Many Leica lenses have had the same basic design for years and different versions have been released with updates over time. As a generalisation, the older lenses still have the amazing Leica glass and build quality but without the latest modern lens coatings. The end result of which is the older lenses give a lower contrast apparent less sharp look verses the latest lens releases. The more I read the more I wanted to join in with the Leica shooters using Leica glass. What surprised me the most is how cheap some of the older Leica lenses can be bought for second hand. Better still, Leica lenses are known to hold their value so any purchases I did make would be as much an investment as something to get enjoyment from.

As a result of all that reading I got myself on eBay this week to see if there were any potential bargains to be found. My first purchase was a very cheap 1960s Leica Elmar 135mm f4 lens. Ken Rockwell for any readers that know him, absolutely raves about this lens so after seeing some example photos using the Elmar 135/4 I purchased one.

elmar

I then spent many many hours looking at 50mm lenses. As you may have read in one of my recent posts I just bought the Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5. (I will post an update with more Sonnar example photos soon). Although it is a great lens with lots of character it is not practical to use the Sonnar on my M9 for Leica weddings. My copy of the Sonnar is optimised at f1.5 so it is sharp shot wide open but if I stop down to say f2-5.6 (perhaps to shoot in very bright light) it will not focus accurately due to the well known Sonnar focus shift. Using the ZM Sonnar for weddings when using a single Leica body (plus Nikon D800 as backup) would be crazy so I looked at Leica 50mm lenses. The latest Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4 is said to be one of the sharpest 50mm lenses but when I reviewed many many sample photos I was not really ‘feeling’ it.

(What makes me laugh/ confused is Leica cameras and lenses are known to be some of the best in the world yet if you ever spent 10 minutes reviewing some Leica camera photos, say on Flickr, I would say at least half are out of focus or very soft. It’s crazy! I know a photo does not need to be sharp to be good but it still amazes me at the masses of ‘low’ quality photos posted by Leica camera owners)(IMO)(By this I am only talking about photos that are not it focus. Nothing to do with composition, subject, colour or any other photo characteristic).

So, the well regarded ‘Lux’ currently doesn’t seem to impress me so I continued my research. That brought me to the Leica ‘Cron’ or Summicron. A small, compact 50mm f2 lens with sharpness at f2 said to be the same as the ‘Lux’ at f2. Ken Rockwell has done a great review comparing the 5 pre-APO Summicron variants. Thanks Ken! I liked the results of the Summicron version 3 looking at examples but then spotted a low price auction for the latest pre-APO Summicron with the built in hood. I placed a last minute bid and I am now the proud owner of my first modern Leica lens – Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 (made in 2003). There are lots of opinions on the internet but many people regard the Cron as their favourite 50mm lens due to the sharpness, small size and smooth focusing ring.

cron

You may note that I already own a Zeiss ZM Planar 50mm f2 and in comparison reviews the results of the Planar vs. Summicron are almost impossible to tell apart. My ZM Planar is crazy sharp wide open (almost too harsh for some female portraits) and I am expecting the Cron to be slightly less sharp and less contrasty. I can then decide my favourite lens and whether or not to keep both or sell one.

Here is one of my favouite ZM Planar photos. Shot in Ukraine with model Yuliya

Leica M9 6x6

So, after 3 months of non-Leica lens photos the Leica lenses are coming! Examples using the Leica Elmar 135mm f4 and Leica Summicron 50mm f2 to follow.

If you think Leica lenses are too expenses have a look on eBay.. you might get a nice surprise 😉

www.MatthewOsbornePhotography.co.ukLeica Wedding Photographer

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Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5