Spooky Fun with 50mm! Leica M, Summilux, Summarit and Nikkor 5cm

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Spooky Fun with 50mm. Summilux, Summarit and Nikkor 5cm

I was going through my bag today and wiping down my Leica M 240 as it was getting full of smudges, dust and skin oils. I looked down into my bag and stared at the three 50mm lenses that lay inside on this particular day.

  1. The 50 Summilux ASPH
  2. The 50 Summarit 1.5 (Vintage)
  3. The 5cm Nikkor 1.4 (Vintage 50mm)

The Nikkor 5cm, 50 Summilux ASPH and 50 Summarit

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First of all, there is not much I can say that has not been said of the legendary and amazing 50mm Summilux ASPH. I still say it is the best 50mm in the world for any camera system. While expensive at $3995, many times it is all one needs with a Leica M body. One camera, one lens. If there was ever any one lens to own with a Leica, this is it. I have written so much about this lens over the years and have shot it with an M6, M7, MP, M8, M9, MM and now the M.

It is a fantastic lens that everyone should at least try once in their life if they shoot with a Leica M or Zeiss Ikon or Epson RD-1 (when I 1st used the lens it was with an RD-1 years ago). Also, if those Sony rumors are true, and a high-end FF mirrorrless is on the way then a lens like the 50 Lux will be a hot commodity once again. I imagine it would do amazingly well on something such as a Sony FF, if indeed  that really happens.

If so, Leica Dealers Ken Hansen and the Pro Shop have plenty in stock right now. 🙂

So after looking at these lenses in my bag today and cleaning them up a bit I asked Debby to throw on a Halloween mask I picked up a few days ago for $10. It’s creepy as well as spooky and with Halloween coming up soon, I figured it could come in handy for a creepy lens test 🙂

So what I will show you first is a series of three images. One taken with the 50 Summilux ASPH at 1.4, one with the classic Leica Summarit 1.5 at 1.5 and one with the 50mm Nikkor 1.4 Vintage RF Lens. Then I will talk a little more about the Nikkor and Summarit and why at least one of these lenses is good to have in ones stable of lenses, even if you have a Summilux already.

The 1st image: Taken with the 50 Summilux ASPH at 1.4, wide open. Click it to see the detail. It’s clean, and it has the micro contrast the older lenses lack.

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The classic 50 Summitar at 1.5. This lens is a fave of mine though I only use it sparingly due to the special effect Bokeh. 

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The 5cm Nikkor 1.4 – A classic and sometimes hard to find lens in the rangefinder world. This one is LTM mount and needs an adapter that costs $10 to fit an M. It can focus to .4 meters but you must use live view to do so.

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Three images of the same subject with each lens wide open. Each lens renders in a totally different way when shot at the maximum aperture. The Summilux is contrasty, crisp and has a smoother Bokeh effect with higher micro contrast. The Summitar is wild, with a melting blob of blur behind the subject (which is actually pretty sharp considering the age of the lens) and finally, the Nikkor. The Nikkor is a Sonnar design so gives an even different rendering with that classic glow we expect from older vintage glass. Which one do you prefer? Do you have a vintage heart? Hmmmmmm.

Two more:

Converted to B&W with the DXO film pack, this one was with the Summarit. Many HATE the look of this lens, I LOVE it but only on certain occasions will I use it. These lenses can be had for as little at $350 and as high as $800 depending on condition. I have had 4 of them looking for the best one and all were fantastic and in fact, the one that was the most beat was the best performer.  The subject pops out of a blob of blur! Click it for a much better view!

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again with the Summilux ASPH, but this one at f/2. 

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Summarit 1.5

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So why would I own all of these 50mm lenses? To be honest I own two other 50’s because I am a 50mm junkie! But remember, these classic lenses are cheap when you think of “Leica” pricing so it is easy to own multiples when talking about classic vintage glass. For example, the 50 Summarit I settled with cost me $399. It has some slight cleaning marks, a couple of visible marks on the front element and the barrel looks old and worn. But, the focus is spot on and it was the sharpest of the ones I have owned and tried by a slight margin. So $399 vs $3995, big difference. But the Summarit is nothing like a Summilux ASPH. They are totally different beasts and are tricky to master 🙂

Two more from the 50 Summarit 1.5 wide open. They have a unique character that only this lens will give.

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The Nikkor 5cm 1.4 LTM

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As for the Nikkor, I have been curious about this lens for a long while now after testing Ashwin Rao’s copy of it at his home in Seattle. I liked the fact that it was a Sonnar design AND had close focus ability, much closer than the usual .7 meters of the modern Leica glass. I believe the Nikkor focuses as close as 1.4 feet compared to 2.3 feet of the Lux ASPH. But to use this feature you need Live View because once you pass .7 meters it loses rangefinder coupling and can not be focused with the RF.

Still, it offers a Sonnar quality and close focusing in a small and tiny solid all metal package. I found an EX condition copy that is MINT+ with perfect focus, no damage and in chrome for $599. Not exactly cheap, but again, much less than buying new Leica glass that will run you anywhere from $2000-$11000. Plus, experimenting with classic lenses is fun and they are easily resold if you decide the lens is not for you.

After all of this time and finding the Nikkor 5cm 1.4 close focus lens I am not 100% I will keep it. It is gorgeous, it is haze free, fungus free and scratch free but at the same time, I am not sure I will ever use it when I have a Lux, Summarit and even a Nokton and Cron lying around! I am a 50mm madman!

The Nikkor 5cm 1.4 LTM on the M 240

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The M240 is a pretty amazing camera, and fun as well. With so many adapters available today you can mount SO many lenses on to the camera and use them due to the M now having Live View. Want to mount a Canon lens, Nikon Lens or even a Soviet Helios 40-2? Go for it. Using the Live View and EVF you can focus these lenses even though they are not RF coupled. Sure MANY mirrorless cameras can do this, but the Leica M 240 is the only one that is full frame, at least for now.

I expect that over the next couple of years I will try a slew of lenses out just for fun because some lenses render in such a unique way that they are worth owning just for those occasions when you want that look.

Old vintage rangefinder lenses can be found easily, some are very rare and some are readily available. Some are insanely cheap starting at $90 and some are pricey in the $1500+ range. I like having a modern 50 and a vintage 50. Which one I grab depends on my mood really 🙂 My fave vintage 50mm lens is the Leica Summarit 1.5 in LTM mount. I also loved the Canon Dream Lens but at $3k, could not justify it as  keeper as it is a special effect lens. The Nikkor 5cm is also very nice and the close focus sets it apart along with the classic and vintage glow. There are so many 50’s out there but I warn you…if you start trying them out it can get addicting! SO be warned 🙂

To those reading who own or have shot with vintage 50mm lenses, which is YOUR favorite and why?

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20 Comments

  1. I use a Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, with bayonet adapter. It stands up well to modern glass, especially considering its age. It is a well-built and durable bronze and glass lens. It was considered a high-quality professional lens in its day, one of the best of the Canon LTM lenses, It was relatively affordable when I bought it some years ago, though it is probably more expensive now as it is considered collectible. I’m shooting it on a Leica M2, rather than a modern digital body, and it works well with that body in terms of size, weight, balance and handling. If this is any indication, it’s still in my Leica kit along with with a 35mm Summicron v.1, a 75mm f/2 Summicron, and a 90mm f/2 Summicron from the 1970s.

  2. Steve – great post and thank you so much for this comparo. I’ve been getting into vintage lens with my Sony A7R2 and have very cheaply scored a Minolta Rokkor-X 50 1.4, a more recent Nikon 50 1.4D and am thinking about the Summarit 50 1.5 or the Minolta 58 1.2 or the aspherical Canon 55 1.2. One key and quick question. You largely reference the Summarit but several times your article references that we’re looking at the Summitar. That’s a typo, right?! Please confirm… my future happiness might depend on it. (Also, welcome any recommendations!)

  3. I love my Summarit. I have a Summicron 50, a Nokton 50, and a few Elmars and Elmarits. The kooky-Bokeh is really fantastic. Im a bit of a 50 nut…

  4. I have several 50’s. However, the last one I purchased is the Nikkor 50/1.4 LTM and it has not come out of my M9 or M8. It shines on the M8 in B&W. I wanted to buy the Summarit 50/1.5 but I am not sure between it and the Canon 50/1.5 LTM. I do like vintage look on my photos.

  5. I really like my Topcor-S 50/2 LTM, super sharp wide open, and great colour, I would love to try their 50/1.5 & 50/1.8.
    Another one I like is my Chiyoko Super Rokkor 50/2, it has tons of character wide open, and gets very sharp stopped down and has that great Rokkor colour, the 50/1.8 has very good reviews.

    Fujinon’s are also very nice, but not cheap.

  6. I’m afraid to count all the 50s I have. Favorites include-all M or LTM mount-50mm DR, 50/1.4 Canon-a late one, 50/1.4 Nikkor, 50/2 Seranar, and a 50/2.8 Elmar-my normal lens.
    I use them on my film Ms and my NEX-5N. No problems at all.
    Can’t wait to get a 240.

  7. The 50 Summilux ASPH is hands down my favorite 50. Although the 0.95 looks amazing and 50 planar but I’ve not used them.

  8. I used a lot Fifties in the last years. First version Summilux, almost all versions Summicron, Heliar, Planar, a russian lens and a sonnar. My favourite Fifty for the M is the one I use now, the Planar ZM 2/50. That’s because for me it is the best Allround lens with excellent sharpness, beautiful bokeh and generally a beautiful rendering.

  9. That Summarit… What a cool lens. Lots of character. I’m sure you could have a lot of fun with it and colourful backgrounds. What outstanding unique little lens!

  10. My vintage 50s are the Summicron DR with goggles that can focus super close, and the v1 Summicron collapsible. The DR only works with film Leicas due to physical incompatabilities, but is fantastic there and has almost modern boquet. As well as being super sharp of course.
    The v1 has busy bouquet similar to your Summarit and it is currently attached to my M3 on my trip to England. (the Lux is on my ME). I picked the v1 because it packs smaller and ,well, is just so cool to use in its steam punk way.
    The DR is the best built lens I have ever used.

  11. >There are so many 50′s out there but I warn you…if you start trying them out it can
    > get addicting! SO be warned 🙂

    Sure. Now you tell me. Well, I don’t have fifty 50s in Leica mount anymore. Sold some to pay for the M9 and M Monochrom. Might be down to thirty.

    The Nikkor 5cm F1.4 has some wild Bokeh wide-open, settles down by F2.8 or so. More contrast than the Summarit. The 5cm F2 Nikkor is a “sleeper”, much smoother Bokeh and cost a fraction of the price.

  12. If you like the Summarit, keep an eye out for the ’59-’61 original Summilux 50. It is basically an improved Summarit and performs in-between it and the later Summilux introduced in ’61, which looks the same outside, but has very different optics. Still quite a glow wide open, and can be all-around use stopped down.

  13. Im sorry but your wife cant pull off the mask… She still looks too pretty even with the scary mask on! Her one eye peeking out chases the scariness of the mask away haha

  14. My favourite would be the Pentax 43mm f1.9, both PK mount and LTM. It has the vintage glow and bokeh wide open, but insanely sharp with a modern rendering when stopped down just a little.

  15. My fav 50 is the cron ridged, love it cause its’ got crazy amounts of resolution and has a painterly palette of pastel colors. Sharp as hell too when stopped down to f4

  16. *Sigh* – Steve, your pieces should come with health warnings. I REALLY want to own a Leica M240 every time I see pics & bokeh like this. Love the site, thanks for constantly entertaining, informing and always being a fun read.

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