Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Beatles Dissolve and a Lens is Born

Picking a Leica lens is a black art. Leica designs a lens with certain qualities in mind, and then make that lens for quite awhile, leading to a market full of seemingly similar lenses and varying prices. Deciphering the basics is key to finding a lens.
Leica lenses roughly fall into six named categories:

  • Elmar: These tend to be the slowest lenses (though the collapsible 50mm Elmar produced between 1957-1974 was an f/2.8). They have a lot of sharpness and clarity.
  • Elmarit: Upping the speed to a standard f/2.8.
  • Summarit: Leica started these designs to compete with lower-cost competition from Zeiss and Voigtländer. They don't match the quality of construction or glass of Leica's other lenses. 
  • Summicron: When people talk about "Leica lenses," this is the line they're usually talking about. Fast at f/2, and with the "Leica feel" established in the glory days of photojournalism in the  early to mid 20th Century.
  • Summilux: Fast f/1.4 lenses that have stunning quality. And prices to match.
  • Noctilux: Feats of engineering. f/1 or faster.

Conveniently, until you get to Noctilux, the alphabetical list correlates to the increase in price!

Confusingly, Leica makes changes to its designs during the production life of a given lens. Researching these changes can be important, because the "same" lens may have been adjusted to meet certain demands, such as increased sharpness with a trade-off in contrast for use on digital bodies.
When I went looking for a street lens for the M6's, though, my factors were limited: 50mm Summicron, in good shape, for less than a new Hyundai. I found what I was looking for on eBay, from the UK.

This particular Summicron was made in Germany in 1970 (the same year Paul McCartney dissolved the Beatles). On the street, it's known as a Type 3, and Leica made this version for a decade. Some were made in Germany, and some in Canada. It has a bias toward more contrast than its predecessors.
It operates as if it were new, but the loss of paint leaves no doubt that it's not. The optics are excellent, and the smooth focusing and aperture despite more than four decades of use are testaments to why Leica lenses are expensive when new, and keep their value forever. I'm very pleased with the results, and look forward to adding a few more decades of use to this particular Summicron.
Excellent contrast on bwxx.
The Summicron is excellent at resolving fine detail.