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Friday, 14 May 2010


My first DR, bought from its original owner who hadn't used it in many year, produced unbelievably soft photographs -- and, callow youth that I was, it took me a while to work out why. Fungus (I'm guessing) had chewed its way through the coating on the rear element:


I eventually bought a replacement, and they are definitely wonderful lenses when they're in good shape.

Yeah the Nikon 50 1.8 is sharp enough but it's a bit harsh as you mentioned. Mike when it comes to cheap check out Canon's version. It ought to say Fisher-Price on the barrel. Nikon's cheap little 50 is a Zeiss in comparison.

My 50 2.8 collapsible Elmar M for me really has a unique look compared to some modern 50's. A bit less contrast and it makes up of any lost sharpness with character the Japanese newbies don't have.

And finally have you ever used the Contax 45 2 for the G series? I'm wondering what you opinion was on that lens.

It is always a surprise when you first heard the DDD story of how he discovered and essentially made that small shop (which make lens for Canon using Leica mount at that time?) so famous. It is especially good when you talk to a photography friend as he/she will be very surprise about when the punchline comes.

I am not sure about this lens as it has all those wipe marks in the front. But well, in the mood of collecting old and cheap leica lens in the M3 era even though no longer keen on 35mm, I decide to have a go and got this to try. My old 50/3.5 and 35/3.5 so far is surprisingly goodbut does not have these wipe marks though.

Would try the DR lens later.

BTW, where can one do recoating especially if this is a keeper, may be I have to recoat the front element.

I have the collapsible version of this lens on my M3, it is indeed a very nice lens.

Don't forget that with the lens collapsed, and even with a reversed 12585 hood and 14033 hood-cap, an M camera is only 65mm thick. (Note that you have to modify the hood in order for it to be reversible on the collapsed lens).

Another thing to watch out for when shopping is whether the infinity-lock button is still in place. For screw-mount lenses, this is pretty much invaluable when dismounting the lens, for M-mount lenses less so (it does hinder near-infinity focus a bit, so some people see its absence as an improvement, which is why you'll occasionally find lenses without them). Of course, if it's your only lens this is less of a problem, and a nice way to get a cheapy on the `bay, as a missing button knocks of a bit of the price, and keeps collectors form bidding.

After reading your linked article to 50mm lenses Mike, I was reminded of the sad, stupid loss of my favourite ever lens, and the only one I really regret loosing, in a system change moment, that ultimateley ended in a cul-de-sac. I speak of the magnificent Zuiko 50mm f2.0 Macro which I simply cannot replicate the look of with any other lens. I miss this lens more than some early girlfriends: do I need therapy ?
I wonder if the new digital incarnation has any similar qualities ? I thought I was stable and adjusted, I feel some boggle-eyed surfing approaching, oh noooo..

"Even without trying it, though, I can promise you one thing. If it's the lens you've got, you're going to do just fine".
That´s probably the best advice from your great article, just get out and shoot with whatever you´ve got. In the end photography is really only about making photos isn´t it.

Cool post, and why I love TOP, from modern to digi-madness to smart evaluations of immortal classics. Thanks.

I've been looking for a good DR for about half a year now, since I bought a Leica at your suggestion. For now I'm using a more modern summicron 50, the least desirable one if you look at Cameraquest, but I love the results.


Try John Van Stelten at focalpointlens.com for recoating.

My two favorite things about this lens:

1) Very fast to handle because of the limited number of f-stops (2, 2.8, 4, 4.6, 8, 11, 16) and the increasing rotating distance between each of them.

2) The focusing knob points directly down when focused at 10 feet.

Quick response to Dennis Ng's Q about re-coating - try John at Focal Point

I've been using one of these on my Lumix GF1, with very satisfying results.

Dear MJFerron:
Ever tried the "other" japanese glass?
Such as the 43, 85 and 15 rectilinear Pentax glass?

Or the Cosina glass in Voigtlander form for SLRs? [not the SLII, but the SLI].

Japanese glass is as broad in character as any other country´s glass.

Not to forget the Oly camp, which is stellar as well [although contrary to the owner of this blog, I think the real gems to discover are the lower tier lenses, not the ultraexpensive SHG lenses].


An eye opening and interesting article. Unfortunately, I've only got the modern cron 50, which is perfectly competetant but on the flipside also somewhat characterless.

It also makes me wonder how we will be talking about modern lenses in 50 years time...

... if they still work that is!


@ Dennis Ng

It is always a surprise when you first heard the DDD story of how he discovered and essentially made that small shop (which make lens for Canon using Leica mount at that time?) so famous.

It is a good and interesting story, and has the unusual added benefit of being mostly true, apparently.

But just for the record: Nikon (then Nippon Kogaku -- i.e. "Japan Optical") was not a "small shop" prior to being "discovered" by Duncan, except insofar as virtually every Japanese company of any kind was small and crippled after WWII. Nikon was by far and away the biggest and most prestigious Japanese optical firm in the years leading up to the episode with Duncan. At its height in WWII, Nikon had 20 factories, employed tens of thousands of workers, and was easily the largest manufacturer of optical munitions in Japan. Nikon had been formed in 1917 at the behest of the Japanese Navy with the express purpose of providing Japan with its first world-class integrated optical manufacturer (i.e. from raw glassmaking to precision finished optics) and was the beneficiary of huge investments and procurement contracts from the Japanese government. It was easily Japan's leading optical company in all respects from 1917 on, and the first Japanese optical firm to offer advanced optical products that could compete with German, French, and British optics in the international marketplace (binoculars and microscopes, especially, early on.)

Also, in 1950, when the Duncan episode began, Nikon was no longer making lenses directly for Canon, and it had been making its own 35mm camera for two years. And even that was not Nikon's first camera -- starting in the 1930s, the company had been making aerial reconnaissance and artillery cameras.

It is definitely true, however, that the Duncan episode is what made the Nikon/Nikkor brand first widely known outside Japan.

Anally retentive amateur historian noodge mode off now.

Not that it matters (it really does not) but I always thought that Cartier-Bresson used a post war, coated, Summitar.

1. Nikkor (Nikon) lenses were "discovered" by Horace Bristol, not DDD.
2. The collapsible Summicron is optically different from the DR and non-collapsible lenses.

"I always thought that Cartier-Bresson used a post war, coated, Summitar."

He might have until the Summicron came out, but I have it on good authority that he used the collapsible Summicron from the time it was introduced until he essentially "retired" voluntarily from active photography, although he tended to use the latest bodies. I was fortunate to get a tour of Magnum's New York premises from the late Erich Hartmann, a past President of Magnum and a longtime Magnum photographer, and he's the one who told me. We looked through Henri's contact books together, and Erich said that although Henri also carried a 35mm and a 90mm, you can look at page after page of proofs and never see a single picture taken with either the long or the short lens.


First thanks for leads on the polish/coating leads.

Second, about the featured comment may I say a bit more as that DDD story was came from my "This is War!" by DDD and The New Nikon Compenium (2003) plus several web site.

a) Bristol were involved in the episode and both have their parts. But DDD seemed more in the story.

b) Nikon is quite small by the time after the war. The no. of workers has been down from 30,000 to 3,000. Not sure from 1945 to 1950 how big it can grow back but I guess it would not be a large firm.

c) At least not in camera. Nikon camera one talked about in 1948 is the Nikon I doing the odd 24x32 negative size and even in 1949 its second camera Nikon M is still odd size 24x34 (which DDD has tested a copy). It is not a major success and it seemed altogether only 4,000 has been produced. (You may compare this with Nikon S which has 37,000 produced in 3 years.)

The small and unknown is key here as it is DDD introducing Nikkor to the wider audience that make Nikon the camera brand to go to. It is not some American who come to discover a story everyone knew about. One has to point out that in those days (and in fact up to 1970s), I do not think that "made in Japan" is a good quality label.

BTW, another interesting line is about that Nikon story is about DDD received a telegram from staff at Life that while they like the quality of the pictures he made, he was asked why "he was shooting pictures of a war on a plate camera". Not sure how true it is given that negative are sent to US to develop.

The major reason to bring up Nikon is that around 1950-1960s Leica may not produce the best lens in those time. Zeiss lens and Nikon lens (which is copied of Zeiss Sonnar design) could be good if not better. In fact it was said that HCB used Zeiss Sonnar in those times, not Leica. Not sure how true that is once again.

Well not a historian but that what I read in books and web sites. Nikon has beaten Leica not just because of the basic camera design game win (Nikon F essentially a Nikon SP with a mirror box) but also very good in manufacturing good lens as well.

"Be careful also of fungus."
I believe that the older generation Leitz lenses are also susceptible to another type of fogging which is fixable with cleaning. About 10 years ago, Dad gave me his 1956 M3 DS and collapsible Summicron. The lens was fairly soft and shining a light through showed a sort of fog or haze . The mail list theory of the day was that the lens lubricant used (whale oil?) caused fogging over time. I sent mine to Sherry Krauter for cleaning and it came back fog free.


That's a very familiar-looking lens! Mine was bayonet, it came with my M3, which I got used in 1973. Haven't had it since maybe 1979, either (it got stolen, and I got out of Leica at that point, using all the insurance money to replace and enhance the SLR side of the collection; the Nikon FM was quieter and had a brighter viewfinder than my previous Pentax Spotmatic, so while it wasn't as good as the M3 in low light it was "good enough" that I didn't spend the money to replace the Leica too).

I had the 35, 50, and 90 Summicron lenses, the other two bought new. I believe I used the 35 and 90 most, myself. A 90mm f/2 in 1974 was unusually fast.

"the lens lubricant used (whale oil?) caused fogging over time"

Yes, and some--I admit nothing--used this knowledge to get perfectly good lenses nearly for free from un-knowledgeable dealers.


Whale oil?

So that's where the whales are going! And all this time I thought it was Japanese research vessels!

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