More Classic Lenses: Leica 50 1.5 Summarit & the Canon 50 1.2 LTM

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More Classic Lenses: Leica 50 1.5 Summarit & the Canon 50 1.2 LTM

1st up, the classic but unique Leica 50 1.5 Summarit

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The Leica 50 Summarit has had a weird reputation as an oddball “crazy bokeh” super soft lens and for years I held off on buying one for that very reason. Every time I have seen samples they were crazy soft and without any sharpness to be seen along with almost NO contrast. But at the same time, it had a unique look..almost like the lens was painting the pixels on to the memory card from the sensor. When I thought about it more I knew that this lens may be just about perfect for shooting B&W due to the lower contrast and “glow” it usually has in images I see.

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After deciding to try one I recently had the opportunity to acquire an old stiff focusing 50 Summarit 1.5 lens. This copy was made in 1951 and 3000 of them were made that year. This lens started production in 1939 and was made through 1957 so there are many copies out there from super old to just really old. There were a total of just under 75,000 Leica Summarit 1.5 lenses made and I always see them for sale on buy/sell forums or sites such as KEH.com.

This lens on the M 240 at higher ISO

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When my 1951 arrived I was pleased with the small size, hefty build and chrome classic look. I attached it to my Leica Monochrom and took some test snaps. When I pulled them up on my display I was shocked! Expecting to see super fuzzy soft low contrast images wide open I was instead seeing images that were pretty damn sharp, had medium contrast and a Bokeh I could describe as “unique” with some swirl and pleasing attributes. Hmmm. I think I am going to like this little guy.

Here is a shot at f/2 from my Summarit and Monochrom. Looks good to me. 

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The lens I have looks a bit dirty inside when looking through the glass. I see a bit of dust, dirt and crud but not really any haze. The problem many have with this lens is HAZE. If you shine a flashlight through your old lens and it looks cloudy or “hazy”, you may have some  haze going on. For this summarit all I see is dirt that has somehow been trapped inside for many years, but it still gives a decent image. No fungus, no oil, no scratches on the glass, no other issues. Dirt and dust will not really affect your images.

When shot wide open it appears that the lens can be sharp in the center with a super quick falloff into softness. The hydrant shot above…the hydrant is sharp but it is in the center of the frame and also at f/2 where my copy sharpens up considerably.

When shot at 1.5 you will see the Summarit character come out.

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I have to say that I love what I am seeing coming out of this old classic but I wish my lens focused smoother. It is very stiff so I may just send it off for a CLA but I am afraid I will be trying to fix what is not broken, lol. It focuses SPOT ON perfect, even wide open. I have no focus shift and am loving the output, even the wild Bokeh it can give. I will be shooting more with this lens including some color when I get another new M 240 🙂 When I do I will add to this page with samples.

A full size from camera shot wide open with the little Summarit. Look at how sharp this lens CAN be. Focus is on the center leaves hanging from the tree.

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Next up, the Canon 50 1.2 LTM Lens. A Superfast and nice sized 50mm on the cheap, and guess what? It’s awesome!

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If you want something REALLY unique and different with Bokeh that no other lens will give you then take a look at this Canon 50 1.2 LTM. Expect to pay around $600 and up or so for a good copy (compare that to $7-10k for a Noctilux) and if you want the original 50 1.2 hood, another $200 on top of that. This lens is larger and fatter than most of these classic lenses but it has a massive front element. It looks bad ass on a Leica M and amazing on my Monochrom with a mix of chrome and black. While having that short and stout appearance it is not too large and sized very nicely and still much smaller than even a classic Leica Noctilux f/1.

Stopped down to f/4 it looks great. Sharp, contrasty, and just about as good as most 50’s around.

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But this lens is no Noctilux when shot at f/1.2, not even close really.

When I shot this lens I was let down at first as what was coming from the camera was VERY washed out with the lowest contrast I have seen coming from ANY lens..ever. I was about to sell it until I saw the Bokeh and realized that with some Processing the contrast is not an issue. I also realized that I have never seen a lens with this type of output. Just like the Leica Noctilux has its own unique look that some love and some hate, so does this Canon 50 1.2 LTM.

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In fact, it is one of those lenses that can define you as an artist, just do not expect razor-sharp results or even normal results. After messing with the files a bit and adding some contrast to wide open shots I started to realize that this lens was staying in my collection of classic glass.

The Bokeh can be gorgeous (if you like crazy and unique)

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Using this lens for a while  makes me want to find an M mount Canon 50 .95 “Dream Lens” which uses the same formula but is much larger, heavier and of course faster at 0.95. Those are usually much more expensive but could be worth it if you get a good copy and like the look these old Canon’s put out.

So for me, this lens is a keeper for me and one day I will try the 0.95 (if anyone has one they want to sell already modded to M mount or see me write about/borrow let me know). It offers such a unique way of seeing the world and while far from perfect, and very far from the norm, it has a beauty to it in the rendering as well as the build and feel. Focus is smooth, is almost spot on with my Leica MM and is easy to adapt to an M camera with a $20 adapter.

Since committing to the Leica MM I have become a classic lens Junkie, especially for 50mm lenses. Most are so cheap you can buy a few and decide what type of look you want for any certain day or project. You can also just buy one you love and shoot that one and only lens. For me, this one may be my new classic 50 fave next to the Summarit above. Both are lovely.

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29 thoughts on “More Classic Lenses: Leica 50 1.5 Summarit & the Canon 50 1.2 LTM

  1. I started shooting with my grandfather’s M3 and a 50mm &/1.5 Summarit back in 1969. At the time I was shooting journalistically (but didn’t know or understand that at the time), documenting a teenager’s life. That camera got me my first photo store job when I went to buy film for it.

    The lens was sharp enough on Tri-X at f/1.5. My teen-aged self was into cleanliness (at least for the Summarit), using lens tissue and soft cloth on the Summarit’s front element. Many years later, I ended up with spiral cleaning scratches in the coating.

    The Summarit goes to John at Focal Point in Colorado for re-coating today. They’re going out of business in January 2018, so get your lenses re-coated now. No one else does lens re-coating in the U.S.

  2. Steve – among the hundreds of posts and emails that blizzard your way, I just wanted to comment that I felt the photo subject posts here were slanted in favor of the Canon (it had opportunities for better readings, renderings and demonstrations of potential sharpness). Perhaps the relative same photos would help me understand the purchase I’m struggling to make (a vintage Summarit + the new Zeiss/sony 50 1.4 OR a kicka…uh, Summilux). You did this in your excellent, fun and “spooky” comparison linked below. I’m thinking the former combo for portraiture as it provides more options but I worry about getting a bad copy of the Summarit and the Sony for that matter). Thanks for “listening” and referring readers to

  3. I know this is old, but if you haven’t tried the Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, give it a go. It’s a better lens than the 1.2.

    1. Im currently tossing up between the 2 and have heard the same. The 1.4 is a better lens (sharper, better in corners etc) but the 1.2 has 1.2…. has anyone owned both and can give some light as to which I should get (comparisons, ups & down of both etc.)?

  4. Who shot the slower version of the Canon 1,5 LTM? Could get a clean and perfect example made in the 50s at € 400. Need some advise please.
    Thanks & good light
    Jan

  5. I have been singing the praises of these old lenses for years, specifically – for me the Minolta Auto Rokkors, MDs and Konica AE & EE on digital bodies. I use them with my X-Pro and the results have been nothing short of amazing… They just make sense!

    Steve, as you stated in one of your other posts regarding these lenses – is the cost, for a fraction of what one would pay for a modern lens, you get the same if not better IQ in most cases, well worth it and that is a no-brainer.

    Since my discovery, i have vowed never to buy any modern lens… Glad to see you are on the bandwagon of these gems, i can assure you your journey have just begun. Leica may not like you very much though, but your pocket will…

  6. Not a huge fan of Canon rangefinder lenses myself. The FL series (pre FD) is much improved in comparison but has the same excellent all-metal build. Maybe time for a review of FL lenses on the Sony nex?

    1. The Fl series will be nice on the M240, as will many of the SLR lenses of the 60s and 70s used with a Fotodiox adapter. The FL series lenses are big, the later 50/1.4 (1968 version, 7-element/5-group) uses 58mm filters.

      The FL series 50/1.4 is great on the M Monochrom.

  7. Do yourself a favor and try a good copy of a Summar. I had just had mine cleaned and polished at Focal Point and would never let it go. I also have a Summarit, and they are similar. The cool thing about the Summar is it’s weight, size and collapses into the camera.

  8. Hi!

    I think it’s great that you’re looking at classic lenses on your MM.

    I picked up a Canon 0.95. I sent it off to DAG to get it cleaned, and mounted on my M9. While I was waiting for it, a brand new 0.95 Noctilux appeared at my local camera store, and I went for it.

    I’m sure you’ll have plenty of offers – but if you’re interested . . .

  9. Steve…you are on GAS again^^
    Be careful :p

    These days I am on GAS too but I think it’s becoming financially crazy.
    I recently bought a 50 lux ASPH for my beloved M3 and I just bought a Zeiss ZM 28 + Hood + Finder to along with…
    But I just found a good deal on a 35mm lux ASPH v1…so I may go for it and then I’ll have to buy a Leica SBLOO 35mm finder…hahaha…without saying a word about the 90mm Elmarit-M 2.8 (I’ve read your review).

    God…for a normal guy with basic incomes like me that is becoming an issue…but can’t help^^

  10. Hi Steve,

    I have to say I’m loving this series of articles on classic lenses.

    With so many new lenses appearing on the market week to week, it’s great to see some research into classic vintage lenses and to see their distinctive character used on a modern camera. After all these are very valid options, widely available and affordable.

    I’ve long thought that natural, candid portraiture is in many cases benefited by the ‘flaws’ of these older lens designs. Soft corner falloff, vignetting, glow and a lack of super-clinical sharpness is often more flattering to subjects than the precision rendering achieved with many modern lenses.

    Save those for architecture! Natural subjects look great through these old gems!

    I’d highly recommend trying some of the inexpensive russian jupiter lenses based on zeiss designs – particularly the 50/1.5 if you can find a good copy.

    I’m just starting out down this road myself and find it fascinating!

    Do you still have your M9P or M6? Stick a roll of HP5+ or Tri-X through that with some of your new (old) lenses and you’ll be taken back to the early 20th Century!

    Keep these coming, great stuff and your site is always good daily reading.

    Doesn’t help with GAS though. 🙂

    James

  11. I sold off the Canon 50/1.2 after getting the Nokton 50/1.1. Always be careful of later Canon lenses with damage to the glass behind the aperture.

    The Summarit is under-rated. Most are going to front-focus at F1.5, were optimized for F2.8 used close-up and F1.5 for infinity. I’ve taken apart 5 of them, all marked “51.1” internally. I modified one of mine, increased the focal length using a 0.2mm shim to increase the distance between the front/rear section. Better agreement at F1.5 across the range.

    The glass surfaces are easy to get to, the optics module unscrews into sections. Be careful of the aperture blades, don’t blow to hard- they will come out.

    1. The modern Cosina/Voigtlander adapter for the 50/75 is the best made. The less expensive Chinese adapters usually work, but the lens might not come up “top-Dead center”. I probably have 6 or so of the Voigtlander adapters, all are perfect.

  12. Steve, I have the Canon 50/1.2. If you want to have a little fun, try it on the OMD.
    Really interesting how it draws

  13. Would love to see some RX1 vs MM with this classic lenses. Personally I have come to prefer the bokeh of the RX1 compared to the output of some of these unique lenses.

  14. Send it to John Van Stelten (www.focalpointlens.com) for a CLA – not inexpensive, but the true character of the lens will come out! I sold my CLA-ed Summarit as I found it too close in character to my Summitar which I opted to keep for sentimental reasons as it was my Dad’s lens from his days in the AAF.

    1. +1 on this suggestion; I sent one of those lenses to John to take care of a VERY scratched front element (you are lucky if yours did not have this issue, 99% of summarits out there seem to have a scratched front lens – it turns out that the coating was super soft and just repeated cleaning would suffice to mess it up badly).

      probably not the cheapest option, but the lens came back as new, he did a fantastic job, well worth it.

      i ended up selling the lens when i sold all my Leica stuff, but it had a very nice character.

      1. Looked at mine and don’t see any scratches, maybe one faint teeny one but it would not cause any issue. My problem is very stiff focus. I may send mine in but did not see any fees or costs on his website.

        1. you are lucky, all the ones i have seen so far had very harsh cleaning marks.
          just send him an email and he will give you a quote, i think prices vary according to how much work is needed, he may or may not need to see the lens in person.
          enjoy it, i thought it had a wonderful character too.

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