The Classic Leica 5cm Elmar f/3.5 Collapsable Lens on the Monochrom

The Classic Leica 5cm Elmar f/3.5 Collapsable Lens on the Monochrom

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Hello to all! Happy Tuesday! It is 9 AM, I am sitting down at my desk to write this article with my morning coffee and a cookie. Life is good. Today I want to share my experience with an old classic lens. The gorgeous and TINY collapsible Leica Elmar 5cm f/3.5 Lens (50mm f/3.5). Yes, it is old, it is slow in aperture, but it is a beauty for shooting in decent light, especially with the Monochrom, which I absolutely adore. So why do I adore the Monochrom when it is just a black and white sensor camera? I mean, any camera can shoot in B&W, right?

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Yes. You can also convert using the pricey software solutions. Even so, I find there is nothing quite like using the Monochrom, or the quality I get from it when it comes to tonality, detail and overall look of the files. I also love using a rangefinder and since this one is based on the M9 body with a CCD sensor, it has a different look than most CMOS sensors made today. I especially like the fact that it is so simple. When using it you know what you are going to get. No color issues, no color casts, any lens can be used without issues and you do not have to fiddle with White balance or worry so much about high ISO as this guy shoots up to 10k with ease.

But today I want to talk briefly about a VERY classic lens. The Leitz 5CM f/3.5 Elmar. It is chrome and looks stunning on the Monochrom. It is tiny and weighs next to nothing. It is built and made to Leica standards and my copy that I found locally for $200 looks like it just rolled off the assembly line.

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My lens was made somewhere around the 1940’s but this lens was made through 1961. Even though my lens is more than 60 years old, it appears and functions as brand new. I bought it mainly just to have it, and seeing that it was so affordable I could not pass it up. I never thought it would get much use but I took it to Las Vegas with me last weekend when meeting up with some great guys from Germany at CosySpeed testing out some cool products.

I decided to take a 30 minute stroll around the strip to see who and what I could photograph. I found many people staring at the camera, some asking me if it was a film camera and others just saying “cool camera”! While most were shooting with iPhones, iPads and even quite a few Sony NEX cameras, no one was shooting with a Chrome Leica Monochrom with this classic lens attached 🙂

The lens will render in a classic way as it should for being a 60+ year old lens. 

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Being limited to f/3.5 Aperture scared me as I am used to shooting wide open at f/1.4 or f/2 most of the time. I realized that I may have a large DOF but hey, the old masters shot with lenses like this if not this exact lens for a while. I am nowhere NEAR as good as those guys..I am not even a pimple on their chin..but to use a lens that some of them used felt good and I knew the limitations and I accepted them. After I thought more about it I realized there were no real limitations and in fact, it should be easier to shoot with a lens like this as focusing would be made easier with a larger depth of field!

So away I went, walking, smiling, interacting, laughing and observing…

When you walk in Vegas be prepared for many who are only out to have a GREAT time..for many this is a break from stress, work, and their hectic lives so most are friendly and will be happy to let you snap their image..

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It was easy to use and shoot with this classic lens and I am pretty quick with a rangefinder and manual focus. I usually prefer to do more “street portraits” than “street shooting”. I find most street shots that people post online are usually quick sneaky grabs of people and many of them are not so good. I prefer some form of interaction with these people, some form of eye contact. A few words, or even a nod and smile. If they are receptive then I take a shot. Sometimes they are not and I still grab a shot but its all part of the experience of being immersed in the action…

This is one of the guys who pass out the cards for female strippers and escorts who come to your room..they usually hate their photo being taken, but this guy just gave me an odd look when I nodded and asked for a photo. He was probably wondering what I was using to snap the shot. 

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While this Elmar will not be a favorite of mine, it will be pulled out from time to time when I want to feel nostalgic and classic 🙂 It’s a beautiful lens and if you find a mint copy for a good price SNAG IT! I find it worth it to have it in my collection for  the price I paid of $200.

A few more images below using this lens, at wide open at 3.5:

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49 Comments

  1. Actually, I got the number wrong. It’s Industar 22, and they seem to have gone up to about $50 on average based on my perusal of ebay. Still…pretty darn cheap and good.

  2. The image rendering reminds me of what came out of my M3, the collapsible Elmar 3,5/50 and T-Max 100, as used as my ‘pocket camera’ in the early 1990ies…

    I admit I do like what I see here.

    (And I regret having traded lens and camera with my brother a few years back, for something “more modern”, as I hadn’t used it for a decade…)… well, at least it is staying in the family.

  3. I own this exact lens, as it happens. It’s from the mid-1950s. Mine is affixed to a Leica III, circa 1937. Whole kit was my dad’s. Great to see how well this lens performs on a modern digital body!

  4. Thanks, Steve, for posting these pictures. They are great! Is this an M mount lens or a screw mount? Thanks, again.

  5. The post-war coated Elmars produce a gorgeous image, as are shown here.

    For anyone looking for filters… it uses the same 19mm filters as the Argus C3 Cintar 50/3.5. Some Walz filter sets were marked for the Argus C-3, makes for a decent search on the auction site.

  6. Thanks for the article Steve. I purchased one on eBay UK yesterday after reading your article. I was watching a fantastic condition one on eBay US but up for $420 which also sold – possibly also to someone who read your article.

    Can’t wait to try it

  7. Hi Steve,

    You mentioned the unique CCD look. I too, see a certain sharpness at base ISO with the M9 that I don’t see on the M 240. If Leica comes out with a Monochrom 240, do you think it will be as bitingly sharp? The main reason to switch from an M9 to a 240 is for shooting above 640 ISO. But the Monochrom has good ISO up to 6400. Is it the best of both worlds?

  8. steve is your 5cm a red scale lens!!! because the red scale was made with the same glass as the new sumicron f2 50 i had one on a 3f red dial a great combo

  9. I have 35mm f3.5 Summaron screw mount from the 50’s which is great on my A7 – lovely and compact and gets that feel that more modern glass lacks. Haven’t yet done many B&Ws but your shots make me want to try it out!

  10. The outdoor ones in lots of light look best. Love the security guy photo.

    Does the lens interfere with the body of the MM? Much wider than normal fit m-mount lens. Does the screw adapter make the lens sit proud of the camera body?

    • Can I add, have you dared try collapsing the lens down i.e. will the MM accommodate?? According to Ken Rockwell it’s ok on an M9.

    • The lens is much smaller than any M mount lens made. In fact, this is the slimmest smallest lens I have ever used on an M, so the lens in no way interferes with the body, it can’t! It is too small. It is in no way wider than any other M lens, quite the opposite.

  11. Great shots and this lens really gives off the classic look of you could be in the fifties or sixties hmmm I might have to get one thanks for sharing

  12. Hi Steve,

    Another fun and inspiring article. I have a few vintage screw mount Leica lenses and because of your article would like to try them. I shoot mostly b&w film M’s. I am curious what adapter your are using and would recommend?

    Thanks in advance,
    Fred

  13. Great shots. And, while I hate to tout the benefits of a lens that I might want to buy on eBay, fantastic lens. I have the 35 3.5 – and, when I use it, people on the street see it as so old and funky that they don’t mind me photographing them. Especially when mounted on my IIf. On the street, 3.5 isn’t a handicap, as usually you’re shooting between 5.6 and 11. And, yes, it collapses into the body safely (I have an M9), so it’s a very compact combination.

    Great set and lust stoker for the MM. Yes, I want one….

  14. Great photos and love the camera.
    It is hard to not get great images with this combination and it feels great to use it.

  15. I would love to have a Monochrom but I think the m8 m9 duo really rock with old Leica glass !

  16. Looks like a great little lens. Thanks Steve. The first image (the selfie of yourself) looks a little solarized. Was that intentional? Straight out of camera? Or post processed?

  17. Steve, these are stunning images. With that lens I might have guessed that you had used an M3. You’ve captured some magic moments in classic B&W style.

    You are making it tough for me to decide which 50 I’m going to use with my Monochrom.

  18. Nice to see a reviewer actually enjoying and even having fun with gear instead of just analyzing it. You (Steve) and Kai at DigRevTV reviews on YouTube should get together and do a street-shooting duo gig.

  19. Lovely photos ,sharp as the new lenses.
    I was happy to see you love your MM again :), Some weeks ago i bought the new M-P ( never thought i will as i adored my M9) and aske the salesman if i should sell him my MM as part of the payment. ( Germany).
    He said : no, never sell your MM, it is a unique camera, so i did not sell it ofcourse . I love this camera.
    I also think part of your very nice photos is the use of this lovely lense with a MM camera, as those photographers you were talking about. They used B\W machines.
    Anyway i liked your work very much
    Take care
    Danny

  20. These are the best Leica Monochrome photos I’ve ever seen! Around 1962, I traded a like-new Konica rangefinder camera for a Leica with a f3.5 Collapsable Elmar from a pro who had been using as his backup camera for years because it was so small and sharp. The body was a Luftwaffin Leica that had been carried by Nazi fliers in their cockpits to confirm kills. I used the camera for about 2 years before trading it for another camera; and I’ve always regretted trading it. Loaded with Tri-X you could take it anywhere and get great photos providing there was enough light. I may have trade it for a new Olympus half-frame 35 that was even smaller and was a great hide-away camera also However, looking back on it, I should have kept the Leica!

    • Oh, boy you really should be sorry not keeping That Leica! If you`re not telling stories, Luftwaffe Leica, engravings, ball bearings on shutter and the rest, goes for something 10 times and up the normal body.

  21. Yup, this is what I use too, as it’s so small and so -l-i-g-h-t-w-e-i-g-h-t- ..though on a trip to Japan last year I bought the newer (made till 2007) collapsible 50mm f2.8 ..so sharp you can slice diamonds with it!

    Both are delightful, and let you do what a Leica was made for: slip it into your pocket!

  22. These are what good photographs used to look like when I was a boy – good! Particularly like the portraits. Also liked seeing what the 50mm focal length will do, as I have a Leica 5cm Elmar f/3.5 NON-collapsible lens which I am about to start learning to use with my newly-acquired IIIf red dial film rangefinder. Steve: Do you happen to know whether there is any significant optical difference between the non-collapsible and collapsible versions of this lens?

    • Erwin Puts notes that over the 35-year production of the Elmar there were some 30 variations, all similar optics with similar performance. However, the only rigid mount I’ve heard of was a ’50s prototype of the f2.8 version. I have 5 cm Elmars from 1941 to 1956, including an f3.5 bayonet mount for the M3. In my tests the ’50s versions tend to be a bit sharper wide-open.

      • Thankyou for this, Tom. My lens is an Elmar 5cm L-39, serial number 1540551 – screw mount of course, but I don’t have the year – beautiful condition, cost 300 GBP.

        • That serial number was assigned to a batch of 1957 50mm Elmar 2.8 lenses. The 2.8 Elmar was released along with the IIIg camera.
          They still made the f3.5 along with the 2.8, so it’s possible yours is a 3.5. In either case should be a fine performer – I use one from that year on my IIIf.

        • Think your lens was made 1957, Check out Ken Rockwell site for lenses numbers and Cameraquest for Camera serial numbers. Not a bad buy at that price in UK. Cheers Alan

          • John,

            The f3.5/50 Elmar design was pushed to f2.8 and Leitz retained the Elmar name for this lens. I use one on my M3/M6. It was only when Leitz standardised on its lens names according to aperture, that we see the use of Elmarit for f2.8 lenses, for M an R, and Elmar for slower speed lenses.

    • John,

      Puts comments that whilst there were minor updates to the f3.5 design over the years these didn’t change its overall character. However, it is interesting that you have a rigid Elmar and it is possible that this may give you an edge over the collapsible version. I base this on Puts’ comments about the later 1957 f2.8 Elmar where he says the collapsible mount made the lens mount a little unstable and refers to a Leitz prototype rigid mount that never went beyond prototype status as promising better performance.

      So, extrapolating his comments about the f2.8 to the f3.5 rigid lens you have, it is possible you may have a very slight advantage and of course you won’t suffer the wear and tear that the collapsible mount may be prone to over many years of use.

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