Modern lens designs such as Lecia’s Aspherical Summilux series are as optically perfect as has ever been achieved. The images they produce have a richness and pop that is hard to explain, it really must be seen to be understood. But for all that perfection, there are more than just a few photographers out there that prefer a somewhat more organic experience. I liken it to those that prefer the crackle, hiss, and pop of vinyl to the crystal clear digital perfection of a compact disk or MP3.
One of the more famous of character lenses is the Summitar 50mm f2. It is a L39 screw mount collapsable lens design, which is great for saving space in a camera bag. To use it on the M9 one must get an L to M mount adapter, and for those of you that were wondering, it does safely collapse on the M9.
The basic design dates back to 1939 and it was produced until 1953. Lenses manufactured after WWII were coated, and the original 10-bladed diaphragm was changed to a 6-bladeed version in 1950. The version I own is from 1949, which places it right in the sweet spot so it retains the 10-bladed aperture, yet is coated. The aperture control does not have any click-stops, and the focusing tab has an infinity lock.
Most of the images I will show here weer taken wide open, but I have included one sample image taken wide open and f2, as well as f8, just to give you an idea of how the performance of this lenses changes as you stop it down. Please note: most of these images have at least a little adjustment to them in LightRoom 3, normally just a quick “Direct Positive” filter application.
The two photos above show just how easy it use to use this lens as a character lens one minute, then as a very respectably sharp normal lems the next. I apologize for the slight difference in framing, these were all shot hand held.
The lower overall contrast of the Summitar compliments the relatively high dynamic range of the M9 sensor to allow one to shoot in challenging light conditions with relative impunity. Shadow detail is retained, and highlights are well under control. Note: I did apply some in-camera exposure compensation on this image, but even so, the range of lighting would have sent one of my Cosina Voigtlander lenses to its knees with its high contrast imaging.
Stopping this down to f2.8 all but eliminates the characteristic swirley bokeh, but it still retains a pleasing 3D rendering.
So there you have it.
I do have to say that this lens has exceeded my expectations, particularly since I was able to find one in near pristine condition for less than $400. It is nowhere near as sharp as most modern lenses. The Cosina Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 Nokton and 50mm f2.5 color skopar blow it out of the water in the sharpness department. But what it lacks in edge to edge sharpness, it mor than makes up for in character.
I like it so much in fact that on my upcoming trip to Kyoto, the Summitar will be the only 50mm lens that I will take with me. I’ll be leave the 50mm Summilux pre-Asph at home in favor of it’s much older and slightly slower sibling. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the sharp center and swirley edge bokeh for some fall color shots.
I’ve been to Kyoto more times than I can count, but each time I go I bring a different set of gear to shoot with, and I think the Summitar/M9 combo will fit the bill nicely. To round out my M9 kit I will likely be taking a CV 28mm f1.9 and Leica 90mm f4. For extreme low-light work I will bring along the the FUJI X100 as it very decidedly blows thew doors off the M9 in the high ISO department. It also takes care of the 35mm field of view if I happen to need it.
So if you are in Kyoto between 23-28 August, you just may run into me there. I’ll be easy to find, just look for the guy with the smile on his face.