A 7-element collapsible 50mm Summicron in screwmount currently being offered by Ebay seller "enogaia" of Anzio, Italy*. To collapse the lens, simply turn to unlock and push in. There's a picture of the lens in collapsed position at the
Ebay page (on a Nicca, no less!).
In 1953, Leitz, of West Germany, makers of the Leica camera, introduced the 7-element 50mm Summicron, which went on to become one of the most famous of all camera lenses.
It's not often remembered now, but Leitz was probably responding to Japanese competition: many Korean War combat photographers, led by David Douglas Duncan, had discovered the screwmount lenses made by a resurgent Japanese company called Nippon Kogaku, and it had become all the rage among them to use the impressively sharp Nippon Kogaku lenses on their Leica camera bodies (screwmount made lenses and cameras of the era broadly cross-compatible). We know Nippon Kogaku today, of course, by its later name: Nikon.
The 7-element SOOIC, with narrow air spaces in both of the front two groups and then-state-of-the-art high-refractive-index lanthanum crown glass, was impressively difficult to manufacture and even more impressive in performance, bettering the Summars and Elmars it supplanted by no small margin. It went on to become the first "normal" lens for the M3, a new model that combined a huge viewfinder with the rangefinder patch in the same window and used a proprietary bayonet mount. Modern Photography magazine called the 50mm Summicron the sharpest lens it had ever tested, and the Summicron was the lens that Henri Cartier-Bresson was to use on various cameras for the rest of his life. Although he also carried a 35mm and a 90mm, and experimented occasionally with other lenses (hey, he was a photographer!), the overwhelming majority of his pictures were taken with the collapsible 7-element Summicron.
There were three basic flavors. There was the original collapsible model, a "rigid" model (in a non-collapsible mount), and a Dual-Range (DR) version that allowed for close focusing. (There's a page showing what the DR looks like here.) I've owned several samples of all three at various times. My second collapsible lens, since sold, had been re-coated by a collector at considerable expense (about $1,000), which, oddly enough, reduced the value of the lens, because it was no longer original. (I'm reasonable certain that Cartier-Bresson's 7-element Summicrons were also re-coated, possibly more than once.) The DR Summicrons came in special mounts that allowed close-focusing with clip-on "eyes" that people sometimes lose; a DR without eyes can be an excellent bargain as a user 50mm. The more important thing to know about the DR was that each optical head (the part with the lenses in it) was carefully hand-picked at the Leitz factory as literally the best of the best. To get the performance without the heavy mount, some photographers would take the optical heads from a DR and put them in a rigid lensmount. So when buying a DR, check that the optical head and the focusing mount have the same serial numbers.
Be careful also of fungus. Fungus is not always a creeping blot that looks like lichen—it can also look a lot like dust; if you shine a flashlight through the lens and see lots of fairly evenly distributed and similar "dust" bits that look like tiny eyelash hairs, that's fungus too. Always avoid lenses with fungus: it can be catching, and "infect" your other lenses. Some claim that lenses with fungus can be cleaned, but it's not advisable: it nearly always comes back, meaning, it's difficult to clean an infested lens well enough.
Some of these lenses are well over half a century old now, and have more sample variation than modern lenses do. How can you know if you've got a good one? Simple: buy it and try it. And that's half the fun.
Finally, beware cleaning marks. Seven-element Summicrons are better than Summarits and especially Summars, but the objectives (the outermost element) was made of fairly soft glass, and repeated rubbings with rough cloth (photographers used to clean their lenses with their neckties, back when every male wore one of those) can leave a haze of random tiny, almost microscopic scratches that often don't look too bad but can cut performance markedly. It doesn't help that Leica lenses were sometimes bought by those with OCD problems who tended to "clean" their lenses much too often.
A bonus of all three types, but especially the collapsibles and the DRs, are their delightfully fine and overbuilt metalwork. Things of beauty, to which not even modern Leica lenses can hold a candle.
In use, 7-element Summicrons can have occasional, not always predictable problems with flare, most likely because of those "air elements," and they are not as good at the two widest apertures as the modern design (which itself dates, I believe, from 1979)—although they were quite a bit better wide open than their predecessors. However, in the "sweet spot" of the aperture range—from ƒ/4 to ƒ/11—they come as close as makes no difference to the modern 50mm Summicron in sharpness and, because of that inimitable way they have with highlight flare, they can have an absolutely lovely way with light.
So, not the easiest thing to find a top-drawer sample of, and a bit more demanding than a modern lens to use; but when they're good, they can be wondrous.
Mike*I found this sale via a normal search and have no connection to the seller.
I'll be taking the day off tomorrow. Hope you have a nice weekend! For more on 50mm lenses, see my article "The 50mm Lens and Metaphysical Doubt" from 2002.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured [partial] Comment by Eamon Hickey: "Just for the record: Nikon (then Nippon Kogaku—i.e. 'Japan Optical') was not a 'small shop' prior to being 'discovered' by David Douglas Duncan, as Dennis suggests in the comments, 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.)
"It is definitely true, however, that the Duncan episode is what made the Nikon/Nikkor brand first widely known outside Japan."