Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Leica on Leica

My 1936 Leica IIIa had the good luck to take a walk yesterday with an actual Leica lens, a 5cm f-2 Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Summitar.  I have never held such a well-crafted lens in my hand, let alone shot pictures with one, so it was a marvelous experience all around.

 The outing was made possible thanks to an ultra-generous loan of the lens with the stipulation that I should use it as long as I want.  So, my plan is to devote the better part of February to exploring the world through the Summitar.

The Summitar has an all metal body and weighs over seven ounces, so it adds more weight to the camera than would an Elmar or my Industar 22, but the lens is collapsible like those lenses and the whole package is still compact and pocketable.

The Summitar first appeared in 1939, but this particular lens is a post-war product, as evidenced by the beautiful blue coating.  In fact, the Summitar was the first of the Leica-thread-mount lenses to have such an anti-reflective coating.  The lens has seven elements in four groups.  The focus scale on this one is marked in feet.  There are virtually no signs of use on either the metal or the glass.  Given the superb construction and the good condition of the lens I had little doubt that it would turn in a fine performance on the first outing, and I was not disappointed.

[ left-click the images to view full size ]

My first inclination when I learned I would be able to use the Summitar was to do some systematic comparisons between the performance of the Leica lens and my Soviet LTM lenses.  On reflection, however, I'm not sure that would be particularly useful as the seven-element Summitar is clearly in a different league than the four-element Industar and FED lenses.  Also, there is no lack of good data available about the capabilities of all these old lenses.  One of the best sources of information about all the screw-mount Leica type lenses is the SLR Lens Review where there is an excellent page on the Summitar and three thorough chapters on all the common LTM Soviet lenses.  For examples of pictures made with the Summitar, take a look at the rangefinderforum thread.
    My thought is at this point is that if I work for the next month at learning to make good use of the Summitar's capabilities I will be able to use that experience as a benchmark for better judging my results from the Soviet lenses as well as from some others that are closer in design to the Summitar such as  some of the six and seven-element lenses from the same time period from Voigtländer, Zeiss and Kodak AG.


JR Smith said...

Once you have shot with Leica lenses, you realize how extraordinary they really are.

I remember getting my first scans back from my M3 mounted Summicron and being just delighted with what I saw. Enjoy this adventure!

Mike said...

I'm sure you're right. I felt that way about some of the images that came from my Nikon S. More broadly, I think that discovering what is possible through photography is what makes it interesting.

Jim Grey said...

The photos of the chains and of the tree trunk show this lens's resolving power. I look forward to seeing more of your work with this lens.

Mike said...

The lens does seem to capture textures and tones better than others. I'm looking forward to trying it out on a variety of subjects, and maybe doing some color with it as well.

James Harr said...

Great stuff Mike. I like the converging tree lines and the leaves at the end. I've never held a Leica. I'm afraid that they are so built up in my mind that the actual experience would be somehow disappointing. I'll stick to using my oddball RF's and adequate SLRs, but will certainly enjoy looking at the art created by my friends with the elite gear from the fatherland.

Mike said...

I feel like the Leica has provided me with some good perspective on my collection of old cameras. I think the good Japanese cameras that came along after the war had lenses that surpassed what Leica produced, but I haven't seen anything from the period that features smoother operation. There is just no play in the Leica mechanisms, and the craftsmanship can't be topped. I don't really plan on adding anything much to my Leica kit because of the collector-driven prices, but I'm looking forward to exploring the capabilities of what I have.

jon campo said...

Nice work Mike. Interesting links too. All great shots, but the winch is a favorite.

Mike said...

Thanks, Jon. I thought I didn't really ace the composition with the winch, but the Summitar certainly turned in a stellar performance.