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LEICA 50mm f/2 SUMMAR
5 cm (1932-1939)
© 2014 KenRockwell.com. This page best with Corporate S regular and bold activated.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Service   Recommendations

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LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2

LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2 (A36 filters, 6.2 oz./177g, about $175). This sample is from 1937 and shipped with a LEICA IIIa. bigger. My biggest source of support is when you use these links to approved sources, especially this direct link to this lens at eBay (see How to Win at eBay) when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.

April 2014      LEICA Reviews    LEICA Lenses   lesser-brand reviews

See also the newer LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm.

LEITZ SUMMAR 5cm f/2 on LEICA IIIa

LEICA SUMMAR 5cm (50mm) f/2 mounted on the LEICA IIIa with which it shipped in 1938. bigger.

 

Sample Images (more throughout the review)

Katie and Ryan clean Noni's pool

Katie and Ryan clean Noni's pool, 10:43 AM, 07 April 2014. Cropped from 1938 LEICA IIIa and original uncoated 1937 LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2, Gossen DIGISIX, Fuji Superia 400, Costco Laguna Niguel/Heather Road process and scan, f/11 at 1/200, Athentech Perfectly Clear. bigger.

 

Ryan at Stacks

Ryan at Stacks, 11:36 AM, 10 April 2014. (1938 LEICA IIIa and original uncoated 1937 LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2, Gossen DIGISIX, Fuji Superia 400, Costco Laguna Niguel/Heather Road process and scan, f/6.3 at 1/100, 1.1 m focus, Athentech Perfectly Clear.

 

Katie at Hot off the Grill

Katie at breakfast, 10:30 AM, 05 April 2014. 1938 LEICA IIIa and original uncoated 1937 LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2, Gossen DIGISIX, Fuji 400H, Costco Laguna Niguel/Heather Road process and scan, f/8 at 1/100, 1.0 m focus, Athentech Perfectly Clear. bigger.

 

Introduction       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Service   Recommendations

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The SUMMAR is LEICA's first super-speed lens.

The SUMMAR was so advanced and desired that LEICA was backordered for over a year after they were introduced. When new, it sold for the equivalent of nearly $2,000 in today's dollars.

The LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2 is an extremely sharp lens in the center, and softer on the sides compared to LEICA's newest lenses. In most cases, no one will notice any difference since the sides are never in focus anyway most of the time.

But wait: this SUMMAR isn't really softer on the sides; it has field curvature which pulls the plane of best focus closer to the camera at the sides. In other words, the SUMMAR may look less sharp for photos of boring walls and tree ridges at infinity, but in actual use where things at the sides are often close to the camera (think walls and floors), the SUMMAR may be sharper in actual use than newer lenses. Better, for portraiture where the background is further away at the sides, the SUMMAR will throw the background a little more out of focus.

This LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2 was Leica's highest-performance normal lens from its 1932 introduction until it was replaced by the SUMMITAR in 1939.

Today the SUMMAR remains ultrasharp even by modern standards in the center at all apertures, and becomes softer on the sides at larger apertures, which is only visible if you're shooting boring flat walls where everything would be in focus in the first place.

The SUMMAR is uncoated, meaning that it looks like it's made out of ordinary window glass (which it's not). This means that it may have less contrast in the shadows under contrasty light, and using a hood is a good idea most of the time. Even uncoated, you can see that it creates sharp, contrasty and colorful images.

The SUMMAR is also the smallest and lightest of all LEICA f/2 lenses. With a small A36 front filter mount, it doesn't block the finder of any LEICA screw mount or M camera.

 

Compatibility       top

This SUMMAR works flawlessly on all screw-mount LEICAs, like the popular LEICA IIIf and LEICA IIIa.

With a trivially simple screw-mount adapter, this LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2 works perfectly on every LEICA M camera, from the LEICA M3 of 1954, today's LEICA M7, LEICA MP and LEICA M9. It works great on the M typ 240, but you'll need an off-brand adapter if you also want to use it with Live View.

These screw-mount lenses are thus perfectly compatible with all LEICAs made since 1932.

Be careful with the lesser LEICAs, like the LEICA M9 and LEICA M typ 240, whose user manuals caution that design flaws in these newer cameras may not be compatible with collapsing this lens as designed. LEICA goes so far as to warn that these defects will lead to the destruction of the M9 if you collapse a lens into it as intended by The Prophet.

I measure 18.18mm extension from the rear flange when fully retracted. I collapsed this on an M9 with no problem, which seems to have a few millimeters left over for safety.

 

Specifications       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Service   Recommendations

 

Name

Leica calls this the Ernst Leitz Wetzlar SUMMAR 5cm f/2.

 

Optics        top

6 elements.

Uncoated.

Anastigmat.

48º angle of view.

 

Diaphragm       top

LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2

LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2, at f/5.6.

6 blades.

The aperture ring has no clicks and may be set to any aperture

It is marked at:

f/2

f/2.2

f/3.2

f/4.5

f/6.3

f/9

f/12.5, its minium aperture.

My sample stops down a little bit past f/12.5, maybe to about f/14.

There are no click stops; these weren't introduced until 1953's SUMMICRON.

 

Close Focus

1 meter or 3.3 feet (one scale only, meters or feet, depending on where you bought it).

 

Filters

The SUMMAR takes A36 filters which slip over its front.

To use today's standard E39 filters, use the SOOGZ adapter.

There are threads which should take E34 filters, as do the 90/4 ELMAR and 135/4.5 HEKTOR.

 

Size        top

Slip-over front-mount diameter: 36.00 mm (1.417").

 

Collapsed

39.10 mm (1.539") overall length.

20.86 mm (0.821") forward extension from flange by 47.50 mm (1.870") maximum focus mount diameter.

18.18mm (0.716") maximum rear extension from flange.

 

Extended, focus at infinity

47.04 mm (1.852") overall length .

39.40 mm (1.551") forward extension from flange by 47.50 mm (1.870") maximum focus mount diameter.

 

Weight        top

6.240 oz. (176.8g), measured.

The newer SUMMITAR (1939-1952) weighs 7.275 oz. (206.2g).

 

Caps        top

Slip-over A36 cap, felt-lined.

The rear cap is any standard screw-mount rear cap, or M-cap if you use an adapter.

 

Hood        top

Rear, LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2

SOOMP hood for LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2.

The dedicated SOOMP hood for the SUMAR is cast aluminum and attaches with a thumb screw.

The thumb screw works via a ball bearing to cinch-down a steel sleeve onto the A36 mount of the lens.

It is cut-out to minimize finder blockage. The biggest finder blockage is from the circular mount.

 

Part Numbers        top

50 360 or SUMUS.

It comes in collapsible screw-mount only, as The Prophet intended.

 

Quality        top

Made in the Holy City of Wetzlar, Germany: MADE IN GERMANY.

 

Price        top

August 1938: $1,900 catalog price, corrected for inflation in 2014. ($114 in period dollars).

April 2014: about $175 used, if you know How to Win at eBay.

 

Performance       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Service   Recommendations

Overall   Bokeh   Color Rendition   Curvature of Field   Distortion

Ergonomics   Finder Blockage   Focus   Falloff   Lateral Color

Mechanics   Sharpness   Sunstars

 

Overall       performance   top

This LEICA SUMMAR 50/2 is a sharp lens with slightly softer sides at larger apertures. Being uncoated, it may have less contrast than newer coated lenses. Its central sharpness is extraordinary.

You'll probably need to send any purchased lens out for an overhaul to Gus Lazzari because these lenses all get foggy internally over the decades from the lubricants LEICA uses.

It's not as sharp on the sides if you count pixels, but if you do, it is highly unlikely that you are a good photographer, in which case you should be shooting a new SUMMICRON-M.

 

Bokeh       performance     top

Katie plays ping pong

Katie plays ping pong, 11:09 AM, 07 April 2014. 1938 LEICA IIIa and original uncoated 1937 LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2, Gossen DIGISIX, Fuji Superia 400, Costco Laguna Niguel/Heather Road process and scan, f/4 at 1/500, 2.1 m focus, Athentech Perfectly Clear. bigger.

Bokeh, the character of out of focus backgrounds, not simply how far out of focus they are, is fairly well controlled for a vintage design.

Bokeh doesn't vary much with aperture setting on this lens, even though the amount of defocus of course varies. At f/2 the blur circles are soft blobs, and they get the busiest at f/4 as shown above.

It's never very good, with blur circles that often have exaggerated edges, but since these blur circle edges stay soft, bokeh is more pleasant than distracting.

LEICA's lenses usually have fair to poor bokeh, with only today's 50mm SUMMILUX ASPH having good bokeh, but it's only about as sharp as this lens!

 

Color Rendition       performance     top

It's an uncoated lens made of clear optical glass.

Its color rendition is completely neutral.

Whatever color you get will depend on where you point it and on your choice of filtration, film and processing.

Buccaneer Cove sign

Buccaneer Cove sign, 2:40 PM, 07 April 2014. 1938 LEICA IIIa and original uncoated 1937 LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2, Gossen DIGISIX, Fuji Superia 400, Costco Laguna Niguel/Heather Road process and scan, f/11 at 1/500, 2.55m focus, Athentech Perfectly Clear. bigger.

 

Bubblefest

Bubblefest, 12:55 PM, 05 April 2014. 1938 LEICA IIIa and original uncoated 1937 LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2, Gossen DIGISIX, Fuji 400H, Costco Laguna Niguel/Heather Road process and scan, f/2.8 at 1/40, Athentech Perfectly Clear. bigger.

 

Curvature of Field       performance   top

As explained at the top, the plane of best focus actually pulls-in closer to the camera at the sides. This may lead to sharper pictures for interior and landscape shots, and helps throw backgrounds more out of focus for portraits.

Bravo!

 

Distortion       performance   top

The LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2 has very minor pincushion distortion.

For more critical use, use a value of -1.0 in Photoshop's lens distortion filter at 3 meters (10 feet).

 

Ergonomics       performance   top

Ergonomics are classic LEICA: rotate to unlock and extend or retract, aperture ring up front, and focus is a button in the rear.

There are no aperture click stops. LEICA didn't invent them until 1953 with the SUMMICRON. The smaller stops are closer together.

The focus locks at infinity so you can grab the focus tab as a lever with which to mount and unmount the lens.

This lens collapses for compact carrying.

 

Finder Blockage       performance   top

There is no blockage on an M or screw-mount camera, bravo!

The big dedicated hood will block some of the finder, but it's not bad. The hood is designed so you can se through it.

 

Focus       performance   top

Focus accuracy is a personal issue between your sample of body and your sample of lens.

This said, this particular sample focussed a little close on my 2009 LEICA M9 with LEICA screw adapter.

 

Falloff (darker corners)        performance   top

The LEICA 50mm f/2 SUMMAR has minor falloff at f/2, and none by f/4.

This is pretty funny, because most of LEICA's bellyaching about why you needed to buy the newer lenses it designed to replace this lens were based on FUD trying to scare you that newer lenses had larger elements to fix the edge falloff of this lens. Well, this first f/2 lens doesn't have enough falloff to worry about in the first place! Ha!

I've greatly emphasized it below by shooting a gray field and presenting it against another gray field:

 

LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2 falloff on M9 at infinity,
no lens profile:

f/2
f/2.8

f/4

f/5.6

© 2014 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2 falloff on M9 at infinity,
with 50/2 11817 profile:

f/2
f/2.8

f/4

f/5.6

© 2014 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

Lateral Color Fringes       performance   top

There are no color fringes on a LEICA M9.

Color fringes, if there were any, would be even less visible on film.

This SUMMAR is a lot better than most modern DSLR zooms!

 

Materials and Construction       performance   top

This SUMMAR is the standard against which other lenses have been judged for over 80 years.

It's all chromed solid brass or nickle-plated steel. There is no plastic; screw-mount lenses have no mounting index balls.

All the markings are engraved and filled with paint.

Done.

Rear, LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2

Rear, LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2.

 

Sharpness       performance   top

The more you know about photography, the more you know that lens sharpness doesn't matter.

This SUMMAR is as sharp in the center as the modern SUMMICRONs at every aperture, and just a teeny-tiny bit less soft in the center at f/2 than today's SUMMICRON-M. This means that even if you're shooting M9 DNGs and looking really close, the center sharpness will scare you.

The sides are less sharp, mostly due to field curvature. This is this lens' character. If you want surgically-sharp sides, duh, shoot a new SUMMICRON-M.

This SUMMAR is sharp enough for most work today, and is a perfect example of why LEICA's lenses have always been held in such high regard. In its day, LEICAs had to compete in sharpness with the more popular 4x5" and 5x7" cameras shot by most people.

 

Sunstars       performance   top

LEICA SUMMAR Sunstars

Sunstars on The Star, 05 April 2014, 10:26 AM. 1938 LEICA IIIa and original uncoated 1937 LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2, Gossen DIGISIX, Fuji 400H, Costco Laguna Niguel/Heather Road process and scan, f/11 at 1/500, 1 m focus. bigger.

The 6-bladed diaphragm creates weak 6-pointed sunstars on brilliant points of light.

The 6-pointed stars are most useful for Christmas, ski and snow-boarding photography, mimicking snowflakes, but you need a really brilliant point of light and need to stop most of the way down to get anything.

 

Usage       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Service   Recommendations

LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2

LEICA SUMMAR 50mm f/2. bigger.

The SUMMAR collapses for easy carrying. Be sure to extend it before shooting, or your photos will be nothing but blurry round images in the middle of your film.

There are guide lines for collapsing and erection. You'll see an index mark on the focus mount near the erection tube, just beyond the "r" in "mtr." Twist the lens one way to unlock, and the other way to lock in the erect position.

My service man, Gus Lazzari, recommends that the diaphragm not be left stopped down for more than 24 hours at a time, otherwise lubricants can vaporize and start recollecting on the insides of the lens after Gus worked so hard to overhaul it. Try to put it away set to f/2

 

Service    top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Service   Recommendations

Many thanks also to Gus Lazzari for doing a complete overhaul so I could review it here.

Gus, America's leading LEICA specialist, completely renovated my SUMMAR, which had so much internal fog and haze that I thought it was good only for the trash. Miraculously, Gus was able to clean it all out.

LEICA's lubricants vaporize, and as the decades pass they condense back on the optics inside the lens, so every SUMMAR will need service at some point in time.

Remember if you send him yours for service that he does all the work himself, so it takes a while for him to give each camera the care it deserves.

 

Recommendations       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Service   Recommendations

This SUMMAR is a perfectly swell and sharp lens for straight photography today.

As an uncoated lens, you are asking for flare if pointed into the sun. Use a hood.

The front of the lens is made of chalk-soft lead-crystal flint glass, so most samples have a lot of wear; it's hard to find a clean one after 75 years of use.

If you want a classic look, there's also no better way to get it than to shoot a real classic lens like this. If you want the SUMMAR look, there is no way to duplicate it with computer filters.

99% of the SUMMARs you may purchase will require an overhaul to bring them back to proper performance. It there's any significant amount of haze in the flashlight test, your images will be much more foggy than they should be. As shown on this page, your images from your SUMMAR ought to be as sharp and contrasty as from any other lens within reason.

If you have any problems with your SUMMAR, it's probably because it's foggy and needs an professional service. All LEICA lenses older than about the 1980s need internal cleaning today; it's LEICA's choice of gassy lubricants that causes this.

If you find these reviews of old gear helpful, my biggest source of support is when you use these links to approved sources, especially this direct link to this lens at eBay (see How to Win at eBay) when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live.

Thanks!

Ken.

 

Help me help you         top

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Thanks for reading!

 

 

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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