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Tuesday, 27 September 2016


I'm not sure about manual focus lenses like this on a DSLR. The focusing screens don't really work, not even the specialised manual focus ones of which there are one or two left. Nor in my experience do the various digital focusing aids. There's nothing like the good old "snap" into focus you got with (for example) things like the OM series (excellent screens) or various Pentaxes.

Using this with an M body (digital or film) you at least can use the rangefinder finder. Satisfying it it's own quirky inaccurate way

For me, it's the "utterly forgotten yet absolutely magnificent" (to quote yourself) Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2 Macro. Your Luminous Landscape article 'The 50mm Lens and Metaphysical Doubt' had sold it to me and it's barely left my camera since! It put a stop to my quest for the perfect lens...

That "underappreciated sleeper" costs twice what the Oly 45/1.8 costs, and, well, I don't see how a lens could be that much better than the Oly. Oh, and it's over a stop slower, too.

[Well, I told you how it's better...it has better bokeh. And of course it focuses closer, too (6 inches as opposed to 19.7 inches), since it's a macro. Of course there's nothing wrong with the lovely Oly 45/1.8. --Mike]

Whilst I am sure there are many good lenses out there, as a retired person that always wanted a Leica, even though my photography is only so-so...

I reckon that there are two Leica lenses that are better, one is technically better, but outrageously expensive, the APO Summicron 50, and the other the Mandler designed Summicron 50, which I have just bought new, I traded my DR Summicron 50, the ocoloy that you inspired me to partake in Mike, is now complete...

NB: I started with an M2 (ocoloy), went to the M6 (I use T-Max) and now I have a digital M-P and an old Canadian (elcan) TeleElmarit 90.

Keats, a cockney like me, was right.

Now all I need to do, is to justify the expense...

I expect I will die trying.

I shot with the prior version on an M6, and it was truly exquisite. In an act of temporary insanity, I gave it and my M6 (along with two other lovely lens creations from Leica) to a young family member who was (and still is) a serious nascent artist. She still has them and uses them regularly. I haven't asked her, but would bet she is a frequent reader of TOP.

An M, a 50/1.4 ASPH and a few rolls of Tri-x. Was there ever anything better?

Raytheon's Elcan made more than a few lenses for Leica
Some carried the Elacn Name, like the legendary 66mm f/2 which came attached toy a US Military Leica, like the one you almost bought a case of... I think
Just search Leica Elcan
I guess they really were so good that Leica decided to OEM ??


"And if you want a lens with just as good bokeh, try this underappreciated sleeper for your Micro 4/3 camera. Granted it's got a different angle of view, 90mm-e."

or this new one:


which has been kind of tested here:


Raytheon's Elcan facility used to be called Leitz Canada before it was sold by Leitz. They designed and manufactured lenses and took over manufacturing the M series before it was transferred back to Germany.
As a Canadian enthusiast I have been slowly collecting a basic M outfit with the body and lenses all manufactured in Canada.

I was particularly struck by Karbe's comment that the one glass element in the new lens cost as much as ALL the glass in the prior lens version. These are things that we would typically never know when considering huge price differences for seemingly small incremental benefits.

I think the easy adaptability of M mount lenses is the strongest case I can make for why Fuji should have made a 35mm (full frame) sensor camera instead of or in addition to APS-C. I don't know if you've tried out an Xpro2 with the digital rangefinder patch overlaid on the optical finder yet but it is so good...would love to use my old collapsible 50/2 summicron with it, as a 50mm.

Hi Mike, I have been using various 50mm lenses. This lens has become one of my favorite lenses along with the Leica M 28/2.8 ASPH since I bought it in 2010. I read somewhere in the interweb that this 50/1.4 lens is an APO lens - not sure about it since Leica does not market this as an APO lens. Regardless, I would not hesitate to recommend it to any M user who is looking for an excellent 50mm. Thanks & best regards, Armand

Don't mean to go off-topic but do people really still care where stuff is made?

Russian optics had this kind of aperture shapes due to the blades used. One of them, the Helios 40, has that very same shape:


It produces very swirly bokeh, but if used at night, you´ll see a lens shaped bokeh [how´s that for meta?].

Other russian optics worth considering: the almost perfect circles of the Helios 44 with 13 [!] blades, and all the Jupiter series [9-11-19-21], with the number not related to the focal length.

Why all that? Because Zenith, the maker of SLR´s in the soviet era, used Pentax mounts [M42, K mount later].

Regarding the perfect lens, I do find myself going time and time again to the "best 50" as per the author of this blog time and time again [look at the archive]: the 50 1.4 FA.

For some reason, it is always there. I do think it has a life of its own. Been shooting Oly a bit, but it was still there.

I once tried the Summilux 50 in a store when I toyed with the idea of buying one. It's surprisingly heavy and has imaging flaws, I suspect an Otus 55 will be clearly better. That said, the rendition is subjectively very pleasant, save for some special cases and thus it's a desirable lens.

Would it compare to something like a Sony Zeiss 55/1.8? Well for one thing, the 55/1.8 is lighter and focus-by-wire with an electronic aperture, so the tactile aspects are very different. Performance-wise, I suspect the 55/1.8 to be able to hold its own. In fact, the Zeiss Planar 50/2 is a very good lens and can produce some bitingly sharp photos. Modern 50's are very good, but the nicer ones can resolve fine detail over the whole image better than the average ones.

But amidst all this sophistication in lens design, I'm slightly yearning for some somewhat slow, extremely compact Tessar that would offer a more classic look without being soft.

It's the first and only new Leica lens I have ever purchased, back when it first came out and "cheap" (by current pricing standard). The great things about lens like this is that they leave nothing on the table. If my pictures suck, then it's definitely not because of the lens.

The only better Leica lens, IMHO, is the 35 Summilux ASPH, and only because the if there can only be one lens, that the 35mm is a more versatile focal length.

The most perfect lens ever though, is the large format Cooke PS945.

Imperfect lenses are often more fun.

[That is true! --Mike]

I came very close to buying this lens for my m6. Really wanted the speed and loved everything else about it, on paper at least. But when I went to try it out I couldn't bond with it as much as my v3 summicron. In the end, for me, that summicron was too hard to beat and I decided to leave the Summilux.
I found the focus a smidgen too stiff for my liking. I'm also not really a fan of the aesthetics of the lens hood built in; I know this shouldn't matter but when spending these sort of bucks it's more about liking having and using the lens than practicality. Lastly, the size. Yep, it's a nice size but that v3 summicron with focus tab is just perfect on an M and makes me so glad that I took the time to really pick out this particular 50mm.
All the above said, your post sure does get me wanting a Summilux again... Maybe one day I'll convince myself the aforementioned shortcomings don't matter, or Leica will produce a newer one again, that ticks those last few boxes for me.

I don't quite get the point of recommending a lens so highly if you've never used it. Perhaps you could have gotten Leica (or some photographer) to lend you the lens so that you could write about it with some first-hand experience.

[I'm not recommending it. I wrote, "I can't recommend it unless cost is no object to you." I really don't want to try one. Its cost is an object to me [g]. --Mike]

Amen, Nigel:)

I have an 80's 50 'Cron, and that's a brilliant little lens. That, the Elmarit 90 2.8, the Sigma 35 Art, and the Fuji 24 1.4 are the lenses that make me smile more than any others...and since the Fuji can mount 3 outta four, the Sigma and Nikon went. I can imagine the 'Lux being better, but I can't imagine needing better that much. I love the mirrorless cameras as it means all these fun lenses get to be played with again...

As always, I'll make the greatest work with the lens I own.

I have this 50 Lux ASPH along with a pre-war, uncoated Sonnar that was converted to M-mount. Beautiful, different, and I don't need another 50 in this world :)

Mike, take a look at this interview from Thorsten Overgaard with Peter Karbe about the 50mm Apo summicron. It really answers what makes the new 50mm APO so special.


I don't know if I am allowed to quote this here but it is: “You point the lens and shoot, and where the focal plane is, the contrast should be high. The front and behind should fall off very fast. That is the difference between the older Summicron lenses and the APO-Summicron. Not in terms of sharpness but in terms of contrast behavior.“

"overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."

I love the reference to the Arthur C. Clarke story. I figure that when I finally get all the lenses I want, the stars will have finally gone out.

Mike: I have been fortunate to own Leica's 50mm Summilux F1.4 ASPH for some time. It is an excellent lens among the crowd of fast 50s in my stable. Sharpness / definition / contrast are good without being harsh. Plus it features the tonal warmth so characteristic of Leica's best lenses.

Briefly, however, there are two other points worth noting. First, while the Summilux is excellent it is not my workhorse 50 on the Leica M platform. The 50mm Summicron F2 gets most of the action from me. (This is the much less expensive predecessor to the current model.). It's a much smaller and lighter lens with a smoother focus mechanism than the Lux. Its image characteristics are virtually identical to the Lux through most of the aperture range. Though the Lux has faster specs, the 50 Cron F2 is the more usable lens to me, with no sacrifice to quality. Honestly, I would not have bought the Lux if I had first bought the Cron. Point here being that true "perfection " is elusive. Specs aren't everything. And, at least for me, "bokeh" means little.

Secondly, with regard to adapting M lenses to the Sony A7 platform, my own experiences have been surprisingly disappointing. I don't have time to detail this here, but mounting the 50mm Summilux to the A7R2 has been a bust for me. The Sony-Zeiss 55mm FE F1.8 produces a far superior image on these cameras. Plus it's far lighter and much more usable due to good auto-focus. Ditto my other Leica lenses, with the wider angles producing worse results.

Consequently I simply don't bother trying to cross-mount Leica lenses onto Sony any more. They're outstanding on their native M bodies and that's good enough for me.

It lacks sufficient imperfections to make it a perfect lens. Now the crappy Mandler Summicron IV - perfect lens! If you don't have enough light, shoot 10 minutes earlier.

Verve, the best lenses are always the ones one has never used :-)

The perfect lens is usually the one that you have with you.

That said, as a 4/3 and now m4/3 user, my 14-35mm f2 is about as good as it gets (the 35-100mm f2 is also exceptional).

I totally agree with this: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/05/olympus-zd-zooms.html

Without comparing their performances we all can agree that this Summilux makes a prettier picture than that bulky Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens you showed a few days ago. Leica stuff is always so well designed and made. Also the Leica promotion is done very well. Their products, the LFI magazine, the gadgets are all part of the same culture.

Some of you might have seen the review of the new Olympus 25mm f/1.2 by Neil Buchan Grant at Steve Huff’s site or Ephotozine. He writes that he’s going to trade in his Leica gear including this Summilux for the Olympus lens as soon as it is available. Probably that is part of the Olympus promotion, but his samples, shot in Cuba, are very convincing indeed. And for one-third of the price I know where my money would go. But I would not mind having that Summilux as a presse-papier. Even without a camera. Just looking at it now and then already would make me happy.

"It's not made in Germany. "

In much the same way, the all conquering Mercedes Formula One team is based in the UK.

Wonder how much difference there is between the wonderful Sigma Art 50mm f1.4 and the Summilux and how many people could spot it?

You say "..I'd use it on a Sony A7 series camera". Yes, the 50mm f1.4 Aspheric does give beautiful pictures at f1.4 on the A7RII, using a Techart Leica-to-Sony adaptor (..but the adaptor needs the phase-detection focus of the A7RII, and so it hunts forever on, for example, the contrast-detect A7S).

But Sony's 55mm f1.8 also works beautifully "..on a Sony A7 series camera.." and its photos are pretty much indistinguishable from the Leica's.

It's the - yes it's the - bokeh of the Leica 50mm f1.4 A which really makes this lens so superb, but the Sony 55mm is no slouch. (At normal distances (..about 6 feet..) the background blends away into nothing when taking a portrait of a person with the Leica f1.4, whereas with the super-duper Noctilux, its depth-of-field is so shallow at f0.9 that the back of the person's head goes soft (so to speak!) rather than isolating the head from the background.)

However, for about $180 (used) you could buy an old Leica screw-fit Canon 85mm f1.8, which also takes pictures almost indistinguishable from the Leica 50mm f1.4 A ..except that the Canon is heavier, larger, needs more effort to twist, and has a much longer "throw" to adjust from close-focus to infinity.

But to say, as if authoritatively, "..It's reasonably well built, about 80% as well as Leitz lenses used to be 50 and 60 years ago.." is utter nonsense if, as you say, you've "never tried" it?

[No, it isn't, because I've owned and used a large number of 50-60-year-old Leitz lenses, including the DR and the collapsible 7-element Summicron, and I've owned and used a number of modern post-Solms Leica lenses and even have the 35mm Summilux ASPH in the house right now. (And it has a poorly designed and built hood and cap contraption.) Saying the new ones are 80% as well built as the old ones is of course a generalization--it was as I stated it in the post, too--but it's a perfectly defensible one. An exception might be the collapsible 50mm f/2.8 Elmar-M that was discontinued in '07, because it was indifferently built by anyone's standards--it's maybe 50% as well built as the old collapsibles. There are modern Voigtlanders that outclass that one in build quality quite easily. --Mike]

[Note: David later sent a long reply disputing my comment above, and I hereby acknowledge his disagreement. --Mike]

That's like my saying that - without ever having read it - Mike Johnston's blog is "reasonably well written, but only about 80% as well as Geoffrey Crawley wrote".

Saying (..and later being quoted, as tends to happen on the web..) that the "absolute best" is "..a lens I've never owned, never tried, never seen" is like saying that "the best" photo blog is one which you've never seen, have never read, and is in a language which you don't speak.

Whatever makes you believe that this lens is "the absolute best"? ..that's hearsay. That's propagating ignorance as a virtue.

Nothing non-Leica-like about the Midland connection. ELCAN stands for E. Leitz Canada, the North American Leitz/Leica design and production facility later bought by Raytheon. This is where Walter Mandler designed many of Leitz/Leica's best lenses.

Made by Raytheon.
Needless to say, it means High Quality Made!

Since someone mentioned the new Olympus 25mm f/1.2, there's an interesting report up now in Japanese on DCWatch. It says how in contrast to the usual design process -- first achieving a certain level of resolution, then correcting for remaining aberrations -- this one was designed from the ground up to produce subjectively beautiful imagery. In other words, aiming not for technical perfection, but for character. (Though with 19 elements, it's not going to lack for correction.)

As long as we're talking 35mm format and "Best lenses", after years of using Nikon, and not being happy with any of their 35mm focal length lenses (my most used focal length), I switched to Contax in the mid-80's, and was drop dead floored by the Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2.8, this and the 85mm f/2.8 Zeiss (with the smallest lens close-up ring / don't start me on this), is all I ever wanted and needed.

If I had any money, I would hunt down a mint Contax S2b, and those two lenses.

I am surprised to hear you say you would use it on a Sony after your anti-adapter stance. But I too find that the current M digital cameras just don't appeal, at least for how I work, and I have used M-Leica film cameras for 40 years, and love them.

I tried this lens on a Leica SL and it is really an amazing combination (even though it does require an adapter) The SL finder is so much better than any other out there it's breath taking.

I would never buy the SL, too big and heavy. But if Leica were to put a finder like that in something like the Q (I have not tried one of them) with interchangeable lenses, I might make the switch. And I think it would quickly become Leica's best selling camera.

One odd thing about electronic viewfinders is that their peaking feature, which is pretty much mandatory for manual focus, works very differently with different lenses. The 50 Lux on the SL was just about perfect. My 40 Summicron on the Sony a7 is pretty poor, it just show peaking focus all over the place where the image is no in focus. I didn't try that lens on the SL though

“A beautiful thing is never perfect.”
- Egyptian Proverb

An interesting thing about why Leitz set up ELCAN. Leitz couldn't get export licenses * for the computers that they were using to design lenses, or for the machine tools they were using to manufacture them. The same thing for some of the glass that couldn't be exported in its raw state. In fact there are many finished products that ELCAN makes that can't be exported from the US without a license from the federal government.

*google itar 126.5 Canada** exemption
Why do I remember this stuff and forget the names of my cousins kids?
** that country south of Detroit

"One odd thing about electronic viewfinders is that their peaking feature, which is pretty much mandatory for manual focus, works very differently with different lenses. "

I've noticed that too. My wild ass intuitive guess is that with lenses that have overcorrected spherical aberration ( fast 1970's nikon lenses for instance ) the focus peaking is really off, and peaks a little behind the plane of focus. You can recognize overcorrected spherical aberration by the harsh ring around the out of focus highlights in the background, and I think the focus peaking is getting fooled by that.

@hugh crawford said: @doug "One odd thing about electronic viewfinders is that their peaking feature, which is pretty much mandatory for manual focus, works very differently with different lenses. "

Zebra and focus peaking come from the world of broadcast television, where they use Big Bux constant aperture zoom lenses, not legacy-primes. Maybe you should try focus peeping, e.g. use the supplied magnification feature of your still camera 8-)

Ming Thein said: There’s one more thing the manufacturers haven’t counted on: photography itself is becoming passé; the nouveau riche and hipsters are getting bored and are moving on to other hobbies, like cycling…
Emphasis added.
Analysis: Photokina 2016
https://blog.mingthein.com/2016/09/28/analysis-photokina-2016/#more-13630 An interesting read concerning us vs the great unwashed and their cell phone cameras.

#cameradoesntmatter #lensdoesntmatter I worked most of my life in Hollywood, where the Producer picks the camera-&-lenses, lighting/grip packages, etc based on his/her budget constraints. And professionals in the camera, lighting and grip departments make it work.

So, I find discussions like this amusing.

A name fashion photographer, crew, models, etc arrived at a Caribbean island for a shoot, but the cameras, lenses and lighting gear went on to Argentina. Being that they were all pros, this wasn't a big problem. An assistant went out and bought several cases of single use cameras. Top-shelf people shot the job with bottom-shelf gear 8-)

When I clicked on that flickr link for an example of the Summilux's odd aperture shape, I noticed that it was taken using something called the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus adapter. Curiosity led me to the lens that the adapter was designed for: Voigtlander's 40/2.8 Heliar, a recent all-metal collapsible(!) lens without a focusing mechanism (!?).

But if a dozen online samples are anything to go by, I may have found my own perfect lens that I've never owned/tried/seen. (At least pending perusal of many more samples.) IMO, it's breathtaking!

So, thanks, Mike, for posting about yours, and for that link! Mine's a lot cheaper. On the other hand, it's slower, vignettes mightily, has a clickless aperture and needs a $300 accessory to make it (manually) focusable, and it's only usable on Sony E mount, not anything I own. Figures! So I'm not about to own it any time soon.

But I love the way it "sees"!

Hugh, I will check my Nikkors, but I don't recall the problem with them, though I tend to use them rather differently.

But the darn 40 Summicron just throws peaking all over the place, near and far. A shame since it makes such a nice package with the a7. I still like the combination, but focus is slow since I often have to check it.

Doug, I haven't tested it but I get that feeling from using them. There was widely held belief in the 70s that a slightly overcorrected lens would look sharper if you were shooting a fast grainy film like Tri-X, but would look harsh or "Wirey" with fine grain film. Folklore had it that some Nikon lenses were thus optimized for halftone reproduction. The Nikkor 50mm 1.4 seemed that way to me.

"An assistant went out and bought several cases of single use cameras. "
Terry Richardson can get away with that. The rest of us, not so much.

I was going through a box of stuff that I haven't unpacked from three or four moves and 20 years in storage and found a matched pair of 50mm Xenar Deckel mount lenses for the Braun Paxett. They just showed up like peafowl*, although I have a vague recollection of maybe planing on building a stereo camera out of them 30 years ago. I just happened to have a DKL mount adapter for my retina lenses and mounted the Xenar on the Sony A7. Wow, what a nice lens, and I don't think I would have paid $5 for one. Very Elmar like with really good color correction. On the other hand that 55mm 1.8 Sony/Zeiss so good that I wonder why I have all these other lenses.

*Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition or Peafowl .

My ideal "perfect" lens and camera combination is the
Olympus E-M1 Mark II with 5+ stops stabilization and
the 25mm f1.2 Pro M. Zuiko Digital ED lens.

Stopped down (say to f5.6 or f8), even notoriously modest lenses, like Russian Leica screw Jupiters, perform far better that you have any right to expect and for all practical purposes can match their fantastically more expensive brothers - at least in terms of resolution. Contrast characteristics are of course a matter of taste.

If you really have to step down older Leica lenses in the way described you begin to wonder what the point is.

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