Re-Visiting the Leica 50 Summitar lens on the M9
By Steve Huff
With all of the Fuji X100 craziness lately I decided to switch it up and dust off the old Leica M9 🙂 Ahhh, feels good!
Are you one of those Leica shooters that CRAVE that creamy classic Leica look but there is no way in hell you can or even want to shell out crazy dollars for a classic 50 Noctilux F1 or even a 50 Summilux PRE-ASPH lens?
What if I told you that you can get that crazy, classic, swirly look for anywhere between $200-$300 with a classic lens that not too many Leica shooters know about or would even think about buying? A true classic in every sense of the word, the Leica 50 Summitar is a 1940’s lens that can be found for $300 or so in pretty decent shape.
I reviewed this lens a while ago but there are still many of you who missed that review or have no idea what a 50 Summitar is! Basically it is an f2 lens that was made before the Summicron and it has a cray classic signature that will add some uniqueness to your photos. Be sure and check out the review to see what I had to say about this lens when I first received it. I even shot it on the Sony NEX-5 with good results.
Lately I have been shooting my M9 here and there around the house, or when out and about and I have been bringing along this little Summitar. It’s looking pretty good, even on the all black M9 (IMO).
If you ever see this lens available, and in good condition, snag it up! You will need an Leica screw mount to M adapter and after that you will be all set. BUT BE PREPARED! The crazy Bokeh of this lens will not be for everyone as it is sometimes pretty swirly, sometimes busy and always unique. Here are some recent shots with this lens on the M9…
My 14 year old dog Scrubby. He has seen better days but is always willing to pose for a photo, haha
Testing color and bokeh. This is a pretty smooth file and has great color and that classic feel. Even makes the ridiculously boring subject matter somewhat interesting for a minute or two 🙂
My copy of the lens is pretty sharp when shot in close to medium range. After that it back focuses a bit, but this lens is OLD so I can’t complain. Maybe I will send it in for a cleaning and adjustment soon.
Now you can really tell that Scrubby has seen better days! Shot at f/2
Saw these horses and grabbed a couple of shots with the Summitar. Once again, at f2, which is the only aperture I shoot this lens at, for its signature.
For portraits the 50 Summitar is pretty nice. It will give a totally unique and different look that something like a 50 Summilux, or 50 Summicron. It’s closer to the original Noctilux, though not as fast. This one was shot today at lunch…
and one I shot about 6 months ago…
Looking for the swirl! Can you see it?
Just testing the focus from about 10-12 feet away…I personally really enjoy the rendering of this lens on the M9.
The Leica 50 Summitar lens may be tough to find today, but a year ago I saw at least 6-7 available on e-bay and some online shops, no one wanted them. The secret must have gotten out 🙂
Bottom line is that it’s a great lens to shoot with on the M9 though it doesn’t focus close (1m) and it can be soft and hazy, especially if you get a not so clean copy. But price wise, it’s almost a no-brainer. At $250-$350 for a true German made Leica 50 f/2 lens I would say GO FOR IT.
Here are a few more images that I posted some time ago that some of you may have missed. One thing I notice is that the color is AMAZING with this lens. Sure I enhanced these a bit during the raw conversion, but the lens was able to produce nice colors and contrast, even wide open. This may be one of the best deals going in used Leica lenses! If you want to look for one, e-bay may be best. Even Ken Hansen may have one or two of these laying around as he seems to have loads of used gear sometimes. If you look for one, good luck! If you shoot with one, leave a comment and let me know how you like it!
As always, click images for larger versions!
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I have this lens and ABSOLUTELY love it. I have the 10 rounded blade version. Simply INCREDIBLE. It’s been my go to lens for nearly the past year on my M3. Although sometimes I do find the bokeh a little bit too busy with things like tree canopies. I’m getting the 50 Lux ASPH soon, but I’m sure I’ll still definitely come back to the Summitar from time to time.
Am I correct to say that this lens will only work on the M9 and not the M240 b’cos the M won’t be able to detect the lens with the screw mount adaptor conversion to M mount, hence the shutter won’t release… Would love to try it on the M240 … If there’s anyway around it please let me know. I’ve already traded the M9 so I no longer have it since it has the sensor corrosion issue. I just bought this 50/F2 Summitar lens in Tokyo this trip. Thanks for the article and post it gives me more insight about the lens and it wasn’t a impulse purchase even before reading this 4 years old article. Thank you, C.
No you are not correct. The M 240 will work just as the M9 did. ANY old lens will work on the M 240, same way it does on the M9.
yes indeed, I’ve tried it after confirming with another friend / owner of a used-Leica shop in Singapore – same comments as you – thanks for the prompt reply ! C.L. @ Shanghai
Summitar follow up:
In those “old days” (late 40s and 50s) we had a very good color slide film – ASA 10 Kodachrome. Leica photos were famous (among those in the know) for their sharpness and contrast – even in the corners. The f/2 Summitar delivered those crisp images.
In the early 50s, I was a young high school photo enthusiast and took hundreds of photos for my prep school yearbook (with my Dad’s IIIf, and Summitar lens). These shots were taken in B&W on Plus-X film, and reproduced in the yearbook at a modest resolution. Still, you can pick out my Leica shots from all the others – they are crisper and sharper than those taken with other cameras which included Contaxes and Arguses, etc.
Today, Leica prides itself on “controlling dispersion” in its lenses. (coated lens elements play a key role here.) In layman’s terms, this is the secret to the extraordinary contrast Leica lenses deliver – even at wide open aperture. If some light passing through the lens is dispersed, it has to go somewhere, and thus lightens the shadows. Likewise, this dispersed light doesn’t make it to the high lights which in turn are not as bright as they should be. The obvious result is a less contrasty image which also gives the impression of reduced sharpness. The Summitar had the coating technology going for it, hence the “sharp” images.
The f/2 Summitar was a very popular lens in the late 40s and early 50s. Though the f/2 Summicron superceded it, the Summitar was no slouch either. I am not an expert on lens design, but can offer some insight. Note that in the old days, lens designers tried to minimize the number of lens element surfaces exposed to air and thus favored multiple elements cemented together to minimize internal reflections and dispersion. (the f/3.5 50 mm Elmar, for example) Then, Kodak developed the lens coating process, which minimized reflections.
Leica took advantage of this coated lens technology shortly after Kodak developed it, and utilized it in the Summitar design. The modern Schneider Xenotar, Zeiss Planar, and Leica Summicron lenses are all based on this Gauss (famous physicist) “air spaced design” which utilizes the air space between lens elements as an optical component. Without coating, these modern lenses would likely be mediocre. Note that the Summitar was one of the first quality lenses to successfully utilize this optical technology.
Thank you for all your fine observations and sharing of this unique little gem!
The Summitar is, indeed, a joy to use, and my first Leica lens when I purchased my M2.
I have come to enjoy the same passion for the Summar, mine uncoated from 1936, the 50mm that I use mostly.
Perhaps, you could share a review of an uncoated Summar sometime?
LOVE this lens Steve. Here is it’s immediate successor, the M mount 50mm Summicron Collapsible, in a great bokeh comparison pic:
(M2 Tri-X 400)
Im going to get me on of these as soon as I find a good one at a decent price. Great!
finally picked up a Summitar (1950) for my GF1. Really loving this lens!! What an interesting mix of very sharp but somehow soft, somehow less pop but still great color and contrast. Just seems to draw in a more natural way. Similar but not identical to my Nokton 40mm f1.4. Works fantastic on the GF1.
great article on a really interesting piece of kit, I liked the portraits but above all Steve, that’s one damndably pretty pooch you have there!!
It reminds me a lot of the Helios 44 I use on a 1Dmark2 (I know, strange combination). I like old lenses and I think these two are very simmilar in the way they render the image. I amazed on how sharp they are, well, at least the one I use. The Helios is 58mm f2, but it is “converted” to a 75mm on my camera due to the 1.3 factor, so great swirly-bokeh-portrait lens! I wish I had a full frame though!
Just for fun, here are a couple of images that show the bokeh and wonky highlights you can get from the Summitar wide open.
Christmas light coma. This is a crop of the upper right quadrant of a test shot. The center of the original frame (and the focus point) is at the bottom left corner of this image. See how the round lights at the lower right corner (the center of the original frame) turn into funny satellite-dish shapes at the right edge (relatively in-focus), and to squashed lentils near the top (where they’re out of focus). You can have all sorts of fun with these effects.
Great article, Steve. Have you ever tried any other Leica screw mount lenses? I personally own a Leica iif (old screw mount camera from the 1950s) with an Elmar 5 cm F/3.5 lens. Even though it is super tiny, it delivers wonderful pictures and I can very much recommend it.
I’ve purchased a few of these over the past three months, trying to find the best one possible. Because I, like you, love the look; it’s not to replace my modern Summicron but it’s great for occasional use and to photograph those a little further on in life (my mother for instance, much prefers how she looks in portraits taken with the ‘softer’ Summitar than in those with my summicron 50 or summarit 90).
Great site by the way.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE the way it renders the out of focus areas!!!! I ve tried so many Lenses and none seem to do it the way this one does it – it creates this magical swirl as if it was to port you into a different dimension after taking the photo!!!
Love the site keep up the good work!
Steve: I’ve used a Summitar both in my film days, and currently on my M8. It’s what I call a “time machine” lens. At f/8 it looks pretty much like a modern lens. Open it up, and each stop takes the “look” back a decade or more. Wide open, you get not only the wild swirly bokeh, but coma near the edges and a pastel color effect that is often very pleasing. I also like it at f/2.5, 2.8 and 4, where the aberrations don’t dominate the picture, but contribute a more subtle effect.
Another “time machine” lens is the Sonnar–including the real Zeiss Sonnars old and new, and the Canon 50/1.5 and Nikons 50/1.5, f/1.4, and f/2. Not to mention the humble “Russkie-Sonnars: the Jupiter-8 (f/2) and Jupiter-3 (f/1.5), if you can find one that’s been adjusted to work properly on a Leica.
I don’t shoot with these lenses all the time. But when I want their effects, they are wonderful. And they make me feel a connection to the Golden Age photography of the 1930s-early 60s.
The portrait of your son is stunning — almost Zeiss-like 3D-nees, but far less contrast and colour “pop”. Very nice!
Thanks for the kind words!
that should read “shouldn’t have sold it”…
haven’t had a chance with summitar but had a jupiter 50mm and that was incredibly sharp/great contrast and had a lovely bokeh feel….bought it for 30 quid
should have sold it!
Very cool. I love the draw of the older Leica glass, especially the ones from the 60’s. Probably why I like Voigtlander lenses so much, they have a very similar draw as the older Leica glass.
wow! amazing! from straw to bottle in six months. kids are growing really fast these days.:)
I think Julian was showing concern that you may not have been aware that a person was using
your name to get a better price on the camera…
and it was a fair enough question about the camera, as it would have confused the most recent posts about the x 100…
great to see the post about the classic leica lens… very encouraging to all of us to try out different things…
I agree Steve. I have a ’48 Summitar that an aunt bought in Germany back then (with a IIIc). It’s images compare favorably to my late ’50s Summicron rigid mount. There can be wide variation in the samples you find, and stiff diaphragm rings are common from dried grease. (These also have no click-stops on the aperture.)
My Summitar is better matched to the rangefinder of my M9 than the later Summicrons, but that’s individual variation.
I also like to use the old Elmar 50s on the M9, for a really “classic” look. My ’41 3.5 Elmar is sharp at all aperatures, while the ’54 2.8 Elmar is somewhat soft wider than f4.0, but still gives nice pictures. I get a lot of strange looks using them on the M91
Steve, I owe you for this recommendation. After your first review, I found one for a great price in excellent condition on eBay. I have lots of shots from this little lens that I just love; the bokeh is exquisite and unique.
Glad to see a follow up post; inspired me to use this one again soon!
Awesome, glad you are still enjoying it.
that 3rd from bottom pic is magnificent! heck, i’m a sucker for fluffy clouds and deep blue sky. lovely. 🙂
Its almost impossible to find these in the UK, Steve. You know how much I like vintage lenses so believe me I’ve looked! Might have to email Ken and see if he has one 🙂
Ken may have one! Good luck!
Been visiting your site for awhile and want to thank you for providing a wonderful photography site.
“redlight” is a great image. Doesn’t matter what it was taken with, it is great image. The ennui on the lady’s face in the rear view mirror is, to me, emblematic of our car culture here in the Southwest. I know a bit about it, being from Tucson.
The b&w’s are stunning. It’s a classic.
Steve did you ever talk to that guy at the other forum I mentioned? The day after I told you that he was claiming that he was selling your X100 (the same one you used for your review), the ad was taken down. I hope it wasn’t for real, and that no one is using your name to sell their items online.
On a side note, if it was true, why’d you sell the X100? Considering you said you were loving it each day you use it.
What does this comment have to do with this post, and yes I sold one of TWO X100’s I had. I pre-ordered two and both came in, so sold one. I do love it more each day and it’s sitting right here on my desk in front of me now. It’s a keeper, highly recommend it!
Just trying to look out for a fellow. I’ve come across quite a few people claiming they bought it from someone quite known, but turns out they didn’t. Sorry for trying to be nice.
“What does this comment have to do with this post,” Testy, amateurish, and childish. Disappointed I am.
Tom, your comment is kind of adult childish.
Julian emailed me a day prior to this about the ad. I emailed back and explained that yes, I sold one of my X100’s to the person he was referring to. The guy was legit. So why he posted the comment here, in a 50 Summitar post was beyond me. Anyway, I still love the X100 and it is a keeper for me along with my M9 and possibly now, an Oly XZ1 for quick snapshot JPEG/Art Filter shooting.
I just re-read your comment and I apologize if I came off as rude. It sounded to me at 1st like you were just questioning why I sold my X100 after raving about it (to start trouble, as there are so many troublemakers that attempt to start trouble here). I did e-mail you back initially and told you the same thing though. If you did not get it, again, I apologize. Just read it the wrong way. Thanks for posting, and hope you continue to enjoy the site.
Hey Steve, I think you might have gotten the wrong person. I was the one who emailed you and I am not Julian. Hope this clears things up!