A Day at the Zoo with my Leica M9-P and 50 Summitar f/2

 A Day at the Zoo with my Leica M9-P and 50 Summitar f/2

Since I live in Phoenix AZ I get to enjoy mild and beautiful winters. Full sunshine, and mid 60’s in December makes for a perfect time of year to head outdoors. In the summer when the heat rises to a blistering 105-115 degrees I tend to stay indoors. That could mean my house, my car, in a mall, or in any building with Air Conditioning. Today my son and I decided to take a photo stroll through the Wildlife World Zoo in Phoenix to enjoy the nice day and get some cool snaps out of it  as well. My son Brandon has really been getting into his Nikon D2h lately. Such a classic but oh so huge! He doesn’t seem to mind it but he is eyeballing the little Nikon V1 and Sony NEX-7 that I have been carrying around. Good thing he only uses small primes with his D2h. He hasn’t felt the full pain of lugging it around with a 70-200 VR yet, hahaha.

Many years ago when he was really young we would go to this same Zoo and I would have to rent a stroller. NOT for him, but for all of my camera gear! I used to shoot with a Nikon D2h myself and I had the typical lenses most Nikon shooters had at that time. The 70-200 VR, the 85 1.4, the 24-70…all big and heavy lenses, especially the 70-200. It performed exceptionally well but at the end of the day I was so tired of lugging it all around AND having to push a stroller through the zoo.

These days I always travel light as possible so today I was the one with the smaller cameras. My M9-P and Tiny super old 50 Summitar made it in my bag along with the Sony 50 1.8 OSS and NEX-7. Some of my shots with the Sony will be in my 50 1.8 lens review either later today or tomorrow but for now I wanted to post a few snaps I shot with the M9-p and 60+ year old 50 Summitar. I have written quite a bit about this classic 50 and I am one of those in the camp that love the lens. It can provide crazy swirly bokeh at f/2 with a classic softness thrown in and by f/4 it is super sharp and crisp. The colors can be pastel like at times but I enjoy the lens. The cool part is that if you can find one used they usually go for $250-$350, which is super cheap for a Leica.

If I ever find another super clean copy I will probably buy it as a back up. It is a wonderful lens LOADED with character. As I walked through the Zoo today with two cameras and two 50mm lenses I loved the fact that I didn’t have a huge zoom like everyone else at the zoo that day. Usually the zoo shooters come in with their huge lenses just like I used to do and they end up with photos that look like everyday Zoo snapshots. When shooting with a shorter lens on something like a Leica M9 or even NEX-7 you have to think a bit differently. You lose that power to zoom in on the animal faces but at the same time you gain the power to be different. Pretty cool huh?

Next time you take a stroll through the Zoo leave the zoom at home and shoot with a 50mm. You may enjoy it! Below are a few snaps I took today as we casually walked around. You can click on the images to see larger and better versions.

This kangaroo was just relaxing in the sunlight and enjoying the cool 60 degree afternoon. He didn’t mind when I got right up to him (they are not caged, but free roaming)

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I have taken pictures of these McCaws a couple times before when I was reviewing the Olympus 45 1.8 lens and the Ricoh A12 Module. Personally, I love the way the M9 and 50 Summitar renders the light and colors. Click on them for larger views.

This warthog saw us and started walking up towards us looking for food. The light was shining down and the nearly 70 year old 50mm rendered this with a crispness and glow that I am pleased with. 

This Meerkat was on the lookout. I have a similar shot I took with the NEX-7 and 50 that will be in my 50 review but as you can see in this M9-P shot with the old 50, the Bokeh is sort of swirly and crazy. The Meerkat is sharp though, and I like this look. Many do not as the background can be distracting. I shot this at f/2 because I knew this would make a good example of the Bokeh this lens produces wide open.


  1. When comparing the dude in the kangaroos costume (can’t be a REAL kangaroo, can it?? 🙂 with the shot of the SEL50/1.8, the Sony looks less crisp in the infocus area, but the colors and bokeh are more pleasant to my eye than this Leica lens.

  2. You note in this “review” the rendering that the lens does. I wonder if you think that in the case of digital, the sensor plays a major or minor role in this rendering? In other words, on an M8.2 and this same lens would the result be significantly different or would you expect the rendering to be approximately the same regardless of digital sensor?

    I guess you could try this experiment on the NEX 7 with the same lens to see how much the sensor factors into the rendering.

    Finally, by rendering I am assuming the overall look and feel — color and bokeh — vs. sharpness.

  3. Some people love the “perfect” bokeh.. and I love the noctilux but I think I’m more of a fan of “crazy swirly”. Thanks for sharing. Can I go with you guys next time?

  4. Hi Steve –

    Your son Brandon probably knows this already, but he should try out the D2hs… A huge difference in terms of high ISO, and the same gorgeous (workable) RAW files. I’ve owned 3 D2h bodies and “graduated” to a D2hs this summer – what a camera! And they’re available in great condition on CL, etc., for around 700 bucks!

    (Side note – of course, they’re all gone now in favour of other stuff… My never-ending GAS!)

    • Just saw a comparison and you are right, there is a big difference in high ISO capability of d2h and d2hs. Didn’t know that. Thanks.

      Just a note, it is pretty disappointing (ha..ha) to see that the old d2h blows away all the new smart high end APS-C and 4/3 cameras in IQ (at least in normal daylight). The only thing that is better on these new cameras is high ISO capability and more mega pixels if you want to print big posters.

      So if you want to get into digital photography and want superior IQ for next to no money get a d2h (if you don’t mind the size).

    • A lot of folks have made the same comment about the high ISO capability of the D2hs over the D2h. BUT, for me, I prefer my D2h over the “s” model. I have used a D2h since they first hit the streets in 2003 (original body has over 160,000 clicks and counting) and also used a D2hs for three years while working as a newspaper staff photographer. To my eye, the D2hs images were always softer that my D2h images. And this was shooting RAW on both bodies. I even conducted some subjective tests with one prime lens to see if I still perceived the D2hs images as soft compared to my D2h and still preferred my D2h over the “s”.

      The D2hs belonged to the newspaper so when I left the industry at the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008 I bought a Nikon-refurbished D2h as a second body for less than $550. I know the bodies are large and heavy but for me they just work. I love the small file size for post processing and storage and with software can clear up high ISO noise (Nik Dfine) and resize easily to 12×18-inches (Perfect Resize Pro) for prints out of my Epson R2400 converted to the Piezography CIS b&w inks. For me, the D2h is the clear winner for sharper images over the D2hs. BUT, like everything in photography, opinions are varied and all that matters is do you like your images. Obviously, you do like what you are getting and that is all that counts. For me, I will stick with my “poor man’s D3”, my steady D2h….

      • Nice information Richard. Thanks.

        I was almost getting ready to find a used D2Hs, but guess I’ll just keep my good old D2H which I bought for $500 2-3 years ago with a shutter count of around 8000.

        • Don’t give up your search for a D2hs too soon… I’m also a newspaper photog – I’m only saying this to let you know that I’ve also used both the D2h and D2hs “in the field”. To note – both cameras are amazing and you really can’t go wrong with either. I really did find, though, that the “s” model made me happier and – now that the price for both models is almost identical – is the way to go! If you can get your hands on an “s” model (they’re quite “rare” to find), see for yourself.

  5. Wonderful photos…
    I too find shooting with older Leica lens to be very enjoyable …
    last month I bought a F 2.8 28 mm and a F2.8 35 mm Elmarit -R lens, have gotten the mounts switched off so I can shoot them on my Pentax K20D.
    Both lens were made in the early 1970s …
    am using Nik’s Silver Efex and just love the feeling that these lens give my photos …

  6. Getting comfortable with the idea that you are not going to get *every* shot is key. One prime is enough for any situation. If you focus on which shots you can get with the lens you have, rather than thinking about all the possibilities with a bag full of lenses, I think you end up with better results. Not to mention, a lot less to carry.

    I actually think this may be down to experience. If I were a better photographer I might be able to handle the big bag of lenses without losing creative focus. Even a zoom, I think, detracts from my ability to really *see* the world as it will be on film (or pixel). By choosing one prime — any prime, almost — I think my vision gets better in sync with what the camera will see and the resulting images benefit. A better photographer might be able to see what a bag full of lenses could see, but I can’t.

    • Perfect! Best statement for photography ever.

      I’m not used to make statements in blogs. But here I’d like to fully support the above oppinion and to motivate critical readers to check this out to understand what impact there will be on ones skills: The self-limitation will lead to superior results. Without self-limitation, equipment will distract from the essential.

      With my best wishes


    • I like the statement, but I’m not so sure it is true for me.

      Recently I have been using the x100 a lot, but in fact I think I often get better images with a zoom (depending of the situation).

      The D700 has been in the closet for a while because it is liberating to take a smaller camera.

      I got really lazy at some point and took my s95 on holiday and going to town because it is so small and IQ is fine in good light.

      Currently I use the J1 a lot and again I often get better compositions than what I get with a fast prime on the x100 or a DSLR.

  7. Thanks for sharing Steve, its funny to see how kangoroos relax.. Hahaha.. But I think any Leica lens despite its age, if its great condition, will perform very well..

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