Mar 052010
 

The Leica 50 Summitar Classic Lens Review on the Leica M9 – It’s time for a classic review! Today I am writing about and showing samples from the 1942 Leica 50 Summitar lens. This is a classic! An oldie but a goodie and it was made before the 50 summicron for the old Leica screw mount cameras. This is an F2 lens and its performance is quite unique and beautiful at the same time. This is what is so cool about Leica M bodies. You have such a vast selection of glass to try out or buy. For example, this lens sells for about $300 on e-bay. To use it on your M camera (MP, M6, M7, M8, M9) you will need an adapter like this one.

I want to first thank a Mr. Max Marinucci! He was kind enough to send me this lens to try out and I loved it so much, well, I now own it :) THANK YOU TO MAX! Btw, Max is the guy who wrote the great article about film (read it here). I think we will have a new article by him soon, and it should be pretty interesting!

Let me start by saying that after owning my Leica M9 since October 9th, 2009 I love it more every day. I have not had the itch to sell it, I have not had the itch to move to a DSLR and my only “itch” has been wanting to buy a 2nd body in Grey. That is actually a goal of mine..to buy a grey one within the next year. TO ME, the Leica M9 is the best digital camera available right now, again, for my needs. Yes it is manual focus, yes it is limited with no macro and no telephoto zooms. Sure it is a little slow with certain things but man, there is really nothing like shooting with an M wether you have a film M or a digital M.

You guys already are well aware of my love for this camera so let me get to this gorgeous classic lens. I want to make a prediction…the price of this lens is going to go up and e-bay will soon be filled with Summitars going for $500, $600 and who knows, maybe more. As soon as M9 owners see what kind of classical sweetness they can get from this lens they will want one. That means YOU if  you shoot with an M9 :)

COLLAPSABLE – BUT BEWARE!

This lens is a collapsible lens. This means that you can twist the lens and push it in to your camera for the ultimate compact setup. When you want to use it, just pull it up and out. BUT BEWARE!! Many say you can damage your M8 or M9 by pushing the lens in while others say it is OK. I can say that I did in fact try it on my M9 going VERY Slowly (Yes, I am crazy). It did collapse and did not touch anything inside my M9, but it had to be VERY close. As a rule, I keep it extended as I would not want to damage my camera. When you extend the lens you can twist it to sort of lock it in place so it will not collapse on its own. But as you can see in the pics below, it is collapsable on the M9.

Here is a shot of the lens collapsed and extended ON THE CAMERA!

CLASSIC = Beautiful Portraits…

When Max sent me this lens he told me how nice it was but I assumed it was going to be soft, flat and dull (kind of like the Noktor I am reviewing for m4/3). When I attached it to my M9 and fired off a few shots I immediately knew that I needed one of these in my arsenal. I found it simply incredible for portraits due to its ability to smooth the skin and draw your subject in a way that no modern lens can do.

Here are a couple of samples, taken at F2 on the Leica M9. One in color (tweaked color a bit in CS4 to make it more classic looking) and one in Black and White (converted in Silver Efex Pro):

Wow…a lens from 1942. I always thought these old lenses were foggy, had low contrast and could not compare to any lenses made  today. It just goes to show you that sometimes these old lenses can be better for certain things than the new lenses! For those times when I want a soft portrait look I will reach for the summitar. One thing to keep in mind though is the minimum focus distance is 1m, not 0.7m. So you really can not get close to your subject. The Black & White image above was at the minimum focus distance.

CLASSIC = Swirly Bokeh

Bokeh. It seems that  today we are all obsessed with this word and effect. When buying a fast or semi fast lens we want to see pleasant out of focus backgrounds and the way a lens renders these backgrounds can sometimes be ugly and headache inducing and can sometimes be beautiful. For example, I think the Leica Noctilux has beautiful Bokeh. I feel the legendary Leica 50 Summilux ASPH has incredibly SMOOTH bokeh. The 50 Summicron can be a bit odd at times but it falls in the BUSY bokeh category. So what about this summitar? Well, I would call it CLASSIC. It has that unique swirly type of bokeh that is loved by some and hated by others but I think its amazingly cool and I was surprised to see this from an F2 lens. In some shots it reminded me of the Noctilux Bokeh and to me, that is a good thing. One thing is for sure…you will not get this look from ANY modern Leica lens!

Here are some photos I snapped with the summitar a week or two ago. Not only will this show you some samples of Bokeh, but also color and contrast. These are straight from camera, just resized.

You can see the “swirl” in #4 and #6. I personally thing this lens produces beautiful out of focus backgrounds. Here are more samples showing the 50 Summitars MOJO. All at F2 :) You can click the images for a larger view :)

If you are a fan of this look like I am then you may want to start searching for one of these lenses :) Not only do I find the Bokeh very interesting and unique but look at the color and contrast! Gorgeous! The samples above are all direct from camera with no processing! The 50 Summitar is a gem indeed. There is not really much more I can say about this lens except that it is a classic, it is built extremely well, can only be found in chrome, and works superbly on the Leica M9!

YES, It is also sharp!

“No way ” I said when I started looking at my images at 100% on my Imac 27. The sharpness of this lens is SUPERB! It’s sort of a smooth but sharp look instead of a clinical sharp look. Here are a couple of FULL SIZE out of camera examples.

This was shot just to test sharpness! Leica M9, 50 Summitar, F4 – Click HERE for full size JPEG

(you may want to right click and save it, or open in a new window to avoid the light box opening the full size file)

Here is a 100% crop if you do not want to download the full file:

And at F2…

PROS AND CONS:

PROS:

  • It’s tiny!
  • Can be found cheap on e-bay (at the time of this writing)
  • The build is 100% Leica!
  • It’s extremely cool to have a lens from the 40′s on your M9. It’s even better when you see the quality it pumps out.
  • Unique and sometimes gorgeous bokeh.
  • It’s actually sharp, even wide open. Not pin sharp like the modern lenses but sharp enough.
  • A great portrait lens when you want a smooth look.
  • Color is sublime.
  • Contrast is good.

CONS:

  • Closest focus distance is 1m, so not very close.
  • Collapsing the lens into your M could possibly damage it, so beware!
  • May be hard to find a clean copy free of haze, fungus and dust.
  • Needs an adapter to mount to an M camera.

Conclusion

If you own an M9 go search for one of these now!!! It’s a great little 50 to add to your collection and while it will not replace your 50 lux or 50 cron, or whatever your main 50 may be, it is nice to have one of these in your kit for times when you want the cool look this lens can give you. I LOVE It and am so happy to now own this one. Again, THANKS MAX! Oh, and if you do not own an M9 it will still work on your M8 or film M.

Here are a few more shots with the lens on the M9. Enjoy!

Shot at F2 (I can’t seem to shoot it at any other aperture because it is so beautiful at F2!)

again, at F2 in direct sunlight. Notice how this lens also appears to keep highlights from blowing. I took this shot with the E-P2 and Noktor and it was not usable. Blown highlights, dull color and mushy results. This summitar handled the light with ease.

This one was also at F2 but I added the “Vintage” filter in Aperture 3 just for fun and to try it out :)

I love the way the Summitar and M9 handled the light here. It almost appears that the leaves have been “sculpted”. Very 3D and superb color/contrast.

F2 – click image for large 1800 pixel wide version

F2…love it!

HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE TO KEEP IT GOING AND GROWING!

Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you!

If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitteror facebook! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader!  Thanks so much for visiting my site!

  37 Responses to “The Leica 50 Summitar Lens Review on the Leica M9”

  1. This is a scary lens! So sharp and yet such beautiful bokeh – “swirly” – I like this definition! Off to ebay to find one … Thanks Steve!

  2. Steve’
    Have you tried it on the E-P2??

  3. Excellent test, and great that you review classic lenses as well, but man, is there some re-publishing going on? I am certain that I have seen the two top portraits of your wife and the other B&W female (a relative?) somewhere else before, in another context… Did you test-shoot with this lens and published those stills before, and are now doing the review? Or did you have a re-sitting with them that is so close, my memory banks get all screwed? Weird, but your portraits are very good and hence memorable…

  4. Nice one Steve! I’ve been out today shooting my M8 with my new lens – A collapsible 1961 50mm Elmar f/2.8. Some great lenses those old collapsible’s, again also collapses just fine into the body of either M8 or M9 – Just do not ever mount the lens on these cameras in the collapsed mode is all.

    The thing I will say though is after shooting all morning in some forests (and thinking I was going to be getting some really great shots!) I really realised how these lenses suffer badly from flare – I guess yours would be no different in that respect. I don’t have the correct Leica hood for mine but just like your Summitar the Elmar is very hard to change the aperture with the Leica hood fitted. All that said, these old lenses are just great and give that old classic Leica look to your images.

  5. Thanks guys,

    Michael, yes I posted those top two shots before when I was first using the lens. When I review a lens I shoot it for a while first. Sometimes I post a sample or two before the review. Thanks for looking.

    Steve

  6. Hi Steve,

    I really like the vintage filter on that lens. I have aperture 3 and can’t find that filter.
    Could youplease tell me where it is?
    Thanks
    Tim

  7. Hey Tim, Just have your image open in Aperture, go t o your adjustments panel on the left, click on “presets”, then “color” and then “vintage”. Thanks!

    Steve

  8. Thank You.
    Awesome !
    Peace,
    Tim

  9. Lovely lens, and apt review, Steve. I am going to go fishing for one of these soon! I love the bubble blowing shot…amazing!

  10. Great review, Steve, and I know you will enjoy this lens…plus it will look great on your grey M9! :)
    These classic lenses are truly a pleasure with the M9 and certainly give a very unique, beautiful rendering that the more modern, “technically” perfect lenses, do not deliver.

  11. Leica lens are really good investment. You can grab an old lens made from the 40′s and still give good results. I found a same lens like the 50 mm Summitar but it is in M mount with a F 1.5 opening selling for U$ 450 very mint, no fog or fungus. I guess this is a Summicron ? Steve, do you set the lens coding off and set it according to the database found in the M9 ?

  12. Thanks Tim, Ashwin, Max!

    Nelson, I find that setting the in camera coding is only necessary with lenses 35mm and wider. For 50′s I really see no difference so I do not mess with it.

    Steve

  13. Beautiful – this lens looks like it would mate VERY nicely with Velvia film. Collapsing this lens whilst it is ON the camera should not be an issue – Leica warn against mounting and dismounting such lenses in a collapsed position lest you not go in entirely straight and hence hit the metering cell at the bottom etc.

  14. damned it u Steve!!! suddenly u have made price of this lens double in ebay, now all my L lenses got stuck in the camera bag, the unsung 50mm summilux, 50 cron and 180 telyt that haven’t been touched for at least 5 years been used again due to your reviews, (plug it on my 5dmk2 and oldie 1ds) can’t afford the M9 yet, but the resistance keep on building day by day… will send you few pics taken with the luxs soon… thanks for your refreshing review day by day…not been to KRW site quite sometimes since been “stuck” to ur site…he3

  15. Hi Steve,

    No thanks to you – I’ve just ordered one to try – you’re becoming an expensive read! I’m astounded by the depth of colours & rendition. The one I have coming is a very early production unit and classed as un-coated. Is your ’42 unit coated? If so, perhaps I won’t get the same results, or are these lenses pre-coating anyway? Can’t wait for it to arrive for my test drive – hope I’m just as blown away with its performance.

    I finally got my M9 and lenses back from Solms re-calibrated, and boy, doesn’t that make a difference. Extremely pleased especially with my 75mm Summicron (an earlier Huff induced purchase!) – it was seriously front focussing previously, but now my current favourite lens. Still pretty slow with rangefinder focussing overall (tired ol’eyes!) but bowled over by all the M glass images. As I needed a close cropping lens I traded in a brand new unused 75mm Summarit for the Summicron – helped by your persuasive review on that one.

    Keep up the good work.

  16. Nelson,

    I think the lens you’re describing is a 50mm f/1.5 Summarit from the 50′s. I have one (a 1956), and it definitely has the classic glow, but very low contrast. It is not collapsible. If you’re thinking of buying one, be aware that the original hood is very hard to come by and is very expensive, and that it has a weird filter size. People have managed to come up with solutions for this, but it’s something you should know in advance.

  17. Had been alerted that Summitar is going to be working great with M9 in your previous topics. Lucky me had found a nice coated copy of it for $320 2 weeks ago, with late s/n 81xxxx, hexagonal aperture blades, F/R caps… Great review it is, to bring the price double on evil bay for sure. Thanks Steve!

  18. Love this review, Steve! Thanks to your first post, I loved what I saw and went ahead and bought one on Ebay a few weeks ago. I’ve been shooting with it this last week and love this little glass! It has a great vintage look and feel, “swirly” bokeh, and sharp images. Your reviews are golden!!

  19. Thanks for this test of a (formerly) unappreciated lens. I already own samples of most of the old 35s and 50s, so I don’t care if the eBay price goes up. ;-)
    I’d really like to see you continue your tests of classic lenses on the M9. I use (and love) them with film. (I won’t be able to afford an M9 until the M10 or M11 comes out.)

    For a completely different experience, try the Summar. From the 1930′s, uncoated, and F2.0 it’s supposed to be “not very good”. Horse feathers. Wide open, it makes amazing “dreamy” portraits. Stopped down a little, it’s really not bad and the images have a unique look. Think Walker Evans, WPA documentary type black and white.

    Regarding flare: when these lenses were made, flare was considered a normal part of photography. It was assumed that you would use a lens hood and never shoot into the sun. If you’re getting flare without a light source in the picture, it’s time to have the lens cleaned.

    There are aftermarket lens hoods available on eBay in most sizes, and worst case, you can find one that’s close to the right size plus a step-up or step down ring. They generally cost about five dollars.

    Great site! Thanks.

  20. Is anyone using this on an M8? What sort of UV/IR filter have you got set up for it?

  21. Great review as always! more reviews of vintage lenses would be great. I just picked up the Summitar and two others I also really like, the 35 Cron f/2 version 1 (1960′s), and 50 Summarit f/1.5 (1950s). Both are fantastic, especially the Cron which is incredible!

  22. Thanks for the great review. When using the Summitar 50 f/2, what lens detection setting did you use?

  23. I concur with Steve Huff’s assessment of the summitar. I have a Leica 3f (red) sn655048 and a summitar f2 sn735029. Both are in great shape. A case comes with it, along with a lens cap. I have never cleaned this lens because of its soft coating, but it sparkles. Instead, I have replaced the cap with a series 6 adapter which grips the lens and holds a Hoya skylight filter. There’s a case for the camera. We all know what a peep hole the 3f has for a viewfinder. I have engineered a shoe-mount viewer with real glass that permits me to do sports. I really don’t want to sell the unit at this time, but if you want to make offers I’ll read them. The only way you will get a reaction from me is if I decide to sell it. I don’t mean to blow you off. I have been known to trade or sell equipment after I have become totally satisfied with myself that I have mastered another camera. That’s part of my hobby.

  24. Love the review, I have a 1942 Summitar that I use on my Lumix G1 and agree with all your comments. I also have a 1935 Summar which I use on the G1 and this lens also gives some surprising results.

    I gave these non-coated lenses a basic gentle clean inside and this is easily done after carefully unscrewing the front elements. I am paranoid about the lenses collapsing and causing damage so I prevent this either by using elastic bands or a collar made from a Loctite Repair Express Power Putty polythene tube cut to length and split.

  25. Steve, isn’t this busy bokeh likely in part due to this lens only having a 6 part diaphragm?

  26. I was lucky enough to find a simply pristine version of the summitar about two and a half years ago. Not shooting digitally with Leica gear yet, but, a couple of observations from my use on the M2 and M3 with color negative and B&W film.

    Get and Use the barn door hood. I am giant believer in hoods, in both helping reduce flare and boosting contrast. This lens, much like the 1st version summicron that replaced it, has a very pronounced convex front element is prone to flare and washing out if you’re are anywhere near backlit.

    Filtration can be a problem, as the front threads will only accept “summitar sized” filters. I am ALSO a giant believer in UV filters for protection on all of my lenses. You can’t shoot M8 without UV filtration, so keep this in mind. I used a summitar sized skylight SL Leitz filter in the beginning, and was then lucky enough to find a summitar sized Leitz UV after months of searching. These are super rare and can be super expensive. I bought a NOS B&W summitar UV, but the barn door hood doesn’t clip on or fit over it.

  27. I have owned one of these gems for years and now that I have acquired an M8 have every intention of putting it to good use again. I first got mine maybe 15 or more years back on an M3 body with adapter. It was a sweet little lens that since, then I have come to think of as being a Summar without its faults. When the SUmamr began to become popular a few years ago for creative use on cameras I nearly bought one but talked myself out of it for this reason. I can testify to how good the Summitar is having used it for many years now with color and black and white film and now, with digital. The only slight problem is that it does not use standard Leica 39mm filters. But you can get an adapter so that those filters can be used and I now understand that its possible to get an aftermarket one which if so is likely to be much more readily available than the original Leica. If you can get one of these lenses, then do, and use it.

    The original lens hood is expensive (and rather ugly) but normal Summicron hoods work perfectly.

  28. Hi!

    In first many thanks Steve Huff for the good review. And the question – whether can be translated this article on Russian and publish it with the link on the primary source?

    By personal experience I shall tell that recently has got old Leica III with Summitar 50/2 and anything like this I anywhere did not see. I have there were many objectives – but this objective of 1950 draws most beautifully.

  29. Because of stylish reviews such as this one every fool is off to ebay to buy these lenses for their 4.3 cameras and ebay prices on old leica lenses have been through the roof lately because of this. haha, charade you are!

  30. Cool results . . but it looks extremely ugly on the M9 . .

  31. I agree Amr, well I will not say it in this way. The result is too clean compared to what it gives with a film. The bokeh style is not accorded to the clean style of numeric. This bokeh looks great with some grain :)

    Anyway, I’m stunned by the precision at F/2 at 100 % really amazing ! Your focus is really perfect !

  32. Sometimes newer is not always better, it’s just newer and different. I was thinking about getting one of these Summitars and the deal fell through. I ended up with a 50mm Elmar f3.5 instead. Yikes, looks like zero distortion and real clarity. Have not done a direct comparison with the newest Summicron but from initial results it’s a stunner.
    I may just end up buying another lens I don’t need with this old Summitar.

  33. Hi steve!!does this lens work with my OMD EM-5,if yes can you tell me the name of the adapter so i can find it!Have you ever try this len with the OMD..is it good?thank you Steve,you have a good day!

    • Just remember that the 50 on an OM-D will become a 100mm, quite long. There are many adapters to choose from. You can search Amazon for Leica M to Micro 4/3 adapters – they all work.

      • Hi Steve,i already bought a leica M adapter to M4/3 but it doesn’t work with the summitar 50 but you said they can work!Is it something wrong with that adapter?or i have to buy another adapter like leica M39 to M4/3…Thank you for helping me!!

  34. I wonder how will be the result on my Leica Monochrom. Anyone have anything to share???

Don't just sit there! Join in and leave a comment!

© 2009-2014 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved