40mm, the blind frame by Daniel Schaefer

40mm, the blind frame

by Daniel Schaefer

40mm, the blind frame.
As any photographer building out a kit knows, the stresses of balancing both budget, and usability when purchasing lenses is always a daunting challenge. When I was an SLR shooter, I always tended towards two fields of view, primarily 35mm for my everyday carry, and 50mm for portrait work. I was however always frustrated by the limits of the two and found myself stuck switching more often than I would like.

I was never entirely able to settle the frame in a way that I liked, 35mm was near perfect horizontally, but for a vertical portrait I found it unflattering, the 50mm had the opposite issue, near flawless for the vertical frame, but far too tight for any horizontal image, far too isolating to show scene the way I wished I could.

I was one day lucky enough to be handed a friends beautiful silver M6, with the task of putting the long retired workhorse back to good use. The task then came down to finding a lens to put the camera to use with. I’ve spent the past few years doing freelance Vintage equipment maintenance, resale and repair, during that time a lens that came across my desk time and time again, yet never managed to catch my attention was the oft forgotten Leica/Minolta Rokkor 40mm f/2

The particular lens is an interesting amalgamation of German and Japanese construction, German optics, shipped in brass tubes to Japan to be assembled under the Minolta monicker. The one hazard, was the lack of 40mm frame lines on the M6, I had the 50mm, I had the 35mm, but for my new weapon of choice I needed to figure out a way to compose…

So, blind to the edges of my frame, I began shooting, both from my eye as per usual, but with my new-found freedom that ignorance of the frame gave me, I began for the first time, shooting almost exclusively from the hip. I began to learn the frame, roll after roll I began to learn the space that the lens occupied, near perfect both horizontally and vertically, the lens sang just as sweetly for street, or portraits.

I’ve been shooting almost exclusively with the 40mm for the past six months, both on the M6, and now an M9. I always approach equipment choice by wondering what story it might let me tell, and so far, I’m enjoying the one the 40mm is writing.


Photographer and Cinematographer

New York / Los Angeles / Firenze















Related Post


  1. I have the Voigtlander 40/F2 Aspherical. I would never sell this lens. Sharp as a tack on my Nikon F2 & F3. I use it for landscapes amongst other uses. Shoot with this lens and it may be hard to use a 50mm lens again.

  2. I agree: I prefer 28 and 40 over 35. Love your style. That basket player on the Klein blue is iconic.
    Ciao from Milano

  3. 40mm is just the best. I sold my 40 Nokton but had filed the flange to bring up the 35mm frame lines on my M9. The results were a more accurate set of frame lines than with a Leica 35mm lens. lol. But i LOVE the focal length. Great shots.

  4. The cheap R3A / R3M have 40mm frame lines with 1:1 finders. I love mine with 40mm CV. Minolta CL and CLE from memory also use 40mm frame lines. Bessa T can give very accurate RF focussing and bolt on any VF you like to suit (chances are a 35mm finder on average is closer to accurate 40mm framing).

  5. Yeah, the 20/1.7 on an E-P2; I remember it well. Great for portraits, and these are impressive Daniel. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Love your images- I think the 40mm is an excellent lens size and it used to be the size used by most of the old film point and shoot cameras no doubt for a good reason. If I had the choice of lenses to use say on a full frame Leica it would be 40mm and 60mm.(Konica Hex 60mm). The 58mm lens used to be popular choice on the 35mm film slr’s in the old days. If I had only one lens it would be 50mm. I agree with Steve about 50mm lenses ! If you find yourself cropping images for better composition it can be a guide to your particular vision of a photo and what lens or lenses to concentrate on. I have 3 lenses for my M8 35 ,50 and 75. The 35 functions as a 46 approx on the M8 and it’s my stay on lens. I sometimes go out with the 50mm. It’s my lazy lens when I can shoot from slightly further away. I chose which to put on before heading out and never carry both. Strange things these primes!
    Would be interested to know other photographers opinions.
    Best Wishes

  7. Using a Sigma 19 – (38 equivalent on my G3) – daily, I have to agree. Always found a 28, my previous favourite *just* that little bit too wide for street use, whereas the 40 seems to hit a sweet spot, as your pictures demonstrate quite nicely.

  8. I have to say I loath 35mm. It always gave me big noses and wasn’t wide enough for family portraits.
    So with that bias in mind, and don’t take this the wrong way, but those samples look like they’ve been cropped from something wider.

  9. Not that I have taken shots as good as these, but I reached the same conclusion and recently bought a Fujiflm xe-1 27mm (41mm equiv) bundle. Brilliant for street photography, urban architecture, landscapes and holiday snaps! Thanks for a great article.

  10. My standard combo is the Leica/minolta 40mm and the Voigtlander 15mm. With those lenses, i dont need to carry a bag. I just slip them into my pocket.

    The lenses never disappointed me and work very liberating.

  11. Just shoot that M-Rokkor on a CLE and your frame lines will be just fine 🙂

    This is seriously my favorite lens, both in rendering quality and FOV. Shoots wonderfully on the A7 as well.

    Great photos – thanks for posting.

  12. I was going to write a bad comment how it is another mindless gear discussion as both 35mm and 50mm are such good lens… which ever I use, I would adapt and see the world around me in such way and approach it in this way also. I agree in many ways it is little tricky from time to time, but nothing that can’t be resolved with little leg use, change of perspective…
    Then again, I am not a quick shooter.

    And then, photos shown here are great, I like them very much.
    Absolutely opposite of all I would have done in the same place… but that is the point… God forbid we all make same ones.

    Vive la différence!

    Great job, thanks for posting.

  13. My favorite film camera in my collection, the Cannonet QL17 GIII, has a fantastic 40mm f/1.7 lens. For my digital Canon 6D DSLR, one of my favorite lenses is the humble 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens, which is cheap, tiny, weighs almost nothing, and is sharp wide open. For my style of shooting, the 40mm feels more versatile than the 50mm.

  14. Nice images. I carry a 40mm + 5Dmk3 in my jacket pocket and find the focal length extremely versatile. Plus the Pentax 43mm is my all time favourite lens on a film body 🙂

  15. I shoot µ4/3rds, so the Panny 20/1.7 is on one of my bodies all the time for exactly the same reason: it is the perfect focal length for me.

    The 30/2.8 on the NEX series is another favourite, and I have an Olympus 40/2 waiting until I can get a FF Sony later this year. I have never tried the Leica/Minolta…

    Excellent portraits, too; really lovely; my favourite is the B/W blonde. Thank you!

  16. Hi Daniel, I’m glad you posted about the 40mm Rokkor. Nice work, I like the basketball player shots especially. I rarely see the Rokkor lens discussed and/or appreciated. It was my first Leica lens (M8 initially) due to low price of entry, and remains my primary lens of choice on my M9 today, despite upgrading to some modern aspherical glass. I find it plenty sharp enough with great 3D separation and also find the 40mm length suitable for a vast number of subjects that I shoot professionally and for pleasure. I’m curious though, do you trust your lens wide open? It could just be my particular copy, but I pretend that f2 does not exist on this lens because the results are drastically different (poor in my opinion) between it’s wide open aperture and that of 2.5 onward. From 2.5 through, it is about the sharpest, most pleasing rendering lens I’ve shot with on any camera system. How’s yours at f2? Thanks again for sharing, keep up the good shooting.

    • Hi Tyler,

      I have the latest version of this lens and use it on my x-pro1/x-t1 and find the same as you. At f2 everything drops off, sharpness, contrast etc are basically unusable for me so I do the same and don’t ever shoot at f2.

      I actually find the 3D separation is not be that pronounced, in fact I think the way it renders is uniquely flat in a good way, almost painterly. I have the MC Rokkor-PG 50mm 1.4 and had the cheap MD 50mm 1.7 and found the images very 3D in comparison.

      The way the m-rokkor renders colour is very different to ‘usual’ Rokkors too, much more ‘chrome’ like I think. I also have the 90mm f4 and love it, the mechanics are wonderful and f4 is fine for me for a telephoto on a crop sensor. I also find it performs better above it’s largest aperture and shoot it from f5.6.

  17. NIce work, Daniel. I particularly like the basketball shots for their sense of motion, depth of field, and poppy color.

    I, too, seem to be drawn to the 40 – in my case, the Nokton 1.4. It seems to be a perfect one lens solution – I have a wide choice of lenses and, yet, the Nokton 40 seems to be used in 70% of my keepers. I would recommend filing the flange to bring up the 35 frame lines in your Ms. No more blind frame; they will match perfectly. There are instructions on the web – very easy, just use a metal nail file. And, as to devaluing your lens by doing this: are you really going to sell it?

    Cheers, Jim

    • Hilarious, Daniel — I just went to your terrific website and realized 1) we’ve met at the Leica store, 2) you were the guy at the Leica store who advised my wife to buy me a Summilux pre-asph 35 for Father’s Day – thank you, and 3) my wife and I are recent donors to the amazing Get Lit. Small world.

  18. Beautiful work! The 40mm Rokkor-M is practically the only lens I use with my M8 now – perfect size and weight combination. I’ve had several versions of this and the Summicron-C version. I’ll look forward to checking out more of your work.

  19. Thank for your post! I am using a 40mm equivalent (20mm/1.7) lens on my m43 camera and I really like it as my everyday lens. I understand that for some it is just a strange in-between focal length, but I think it is a great overall angle of view for landscapes, street, portraits and so o

  20. Very interesting. I recognise the dilemma and am currently wondering whether to buy the 50mm teleconverter for my X100S. Though this would still end up being taken on and off, at least I wouldn’t be exposing a sensor every time. So your comments were a useful reflection. Thanks.

Comments are closed.