Leica Summar 5cm/f2 (1937 – 50mm) Lens Experience

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Over the past few months I’ve been having a lot of fun with older lenses. Using them on the Sony A7 range is a breeze thanks to focus peaking and one of my favourites has been the Ernst Leitz Wetzlar (Leica) Summar, a 5cm (50mm) F2 lens built on the L39 screw mount. So I thought i’d talk today about the lens and some of its more interesting characteristics…

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My version of the Summar was manufactured, according to some research online, in 1937 and is the lens which eventually evolved into the Summitar. I purchased it with a few extras, a push on lens cap with fabric lining (not sure it’s original but it is certainly old), an in box orange filter (more on that shortly) and a replacement leather case. From memory it was about £130 ($175) for the lot…a fair deal as far as I am concerned. I specifically bought one with a little bit of the brass showing through in places. You buy a lens from the 30’s you want a bit of character, right?

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In the image above you can see the lens mounted on the adaptor which allows it to work with my Sony A7 series camera. It’s a simple metal adaptor with the Leica screw mount on one side and the Sony E Mount on the other. It adds roughly 1cm to the length of the lens, though this is a fun model (as the image below shows) which collapses for transport (either in its case, or on the camera body). Twist and pull or twist and push depending on which direction you need it to go.

Around the bottom edge of the lens we have the focusing scale (1m to infinity) and a small lever which locks at infinity or can be pushed around the lens to change focus. Given the compact size, it makes focusing easier than trying to rotate the barrel. You’ll notice in the images that the glass is quite different to most modern lenses, this lens pre-dates coatings so we get some clear glass here. Something that brings me to my next point, fogging.

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A lot of these older lenses suffer from fogging. When it is not too bad you can get a nice glow to images, at worst it can ruin them. It mainly only shows up when pointing into the sun and, from what I have read, seems to be caused by the oil used on the aperture blades ageing and causing a reaction between the elements. Fortunately many older lenses are quite easy to take apart (some just have screw in mounts on the front and back elements, so turn them and everything falls out) and so are easy to clean. To ensure it was done properly I took mine to a classic Leica shop nearby and had them do the work. It cleaned up nicely.

Note: It’s quite simple to test for fog. Just hold the lens up to a house light and tilt it at a few angles. You will soon see if there is an issue, especially with the aperture wide open. Which reminds me, the aperture ring is the thinner notched ring on the end of the lens and it varies from F2 to F12.5. It’s lovely and smooth by the way.

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In the above image you can see the orange filter installed on the lens (in its collapsed state). The filter pushes on and the small screw on the side turns to clamp it in place. So what does it do? It’s designed for use on images which are destined for black and white and affects the way various colours pass through the lens. A red filter for example allows through that colour but has a bigger impact on greens and blues. There is a nice explanation here for those who want to know more.

I love the look the orange helps to provide and as I was putting this little post together I realised that more often than not the images I most like from the lens are created with it… like the two shots below.

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Above: Taken on the Isle of Skye.
Below: Taken in Edinburgh.

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I really like the feel of these images however it is also great to see that a lens so old has no significant issues with sharpness. In the full res version of the second file as an example, the graffiti at the base of the turret just left of centre is fairly detailed when zooming in. The window frames are nice and crisp too.

So let’s talk about some of the unique characteristics of the lens…

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With this being an uncoated lens some would say it is prone to flare. I’d say it’s flaremazing. The two examples above are just for fun but you can see how the flare could become overpowering, or spur you on to get creative with it.

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The other aspect worthy of note is the cool bokeh that the lens offers. In the portrait above you can see that the background has those cool cats eye style bokeh and they swirl around the edge of the frame. Again, elements which are a lot of fun to play with, driving some creativity.

So there you have it, the Leica Summar 5cm/F2. For less than $200 including the adaptor it offers some really nice image quality, potential for some great looking images with the help of that orange filter and the added bonus of some cool flare and bokeh to embrace.

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