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Introduction

Leica Summarit 50mm f/1.5 was first introduced in 1949 in Leica Screw Mount. An M bayonet mount version of the lens was added in 1954. Summarit is effectively a coated version Leica's Xenon design (same optical formula), which was first released in 1936. Leica discontinued manufacturing Summarits in 1960. To the best of my knowledge, there are total of two versions of this lens that you might encounter these days - the most common version will have Wetzlar made in Germany engraved on the barrel. A less common, and also typically slightly more expensive version you might see once in a while will have Taylor-Hobson engravings instead of Wetzlar (also made in Germany). There is no difference between these two versions as there was no difference between similarly branded Xenons - the original Xenon/Summarit optical formula was invented by Taylor Hobson and later licensed then sold to Schneider, which in turn licensed it to Leica and even manufactured the actual lens on Leica's behalf. The Taylor-Hobson branding seems to indicate that the lens was exported to the UK/US where Taylor still held some rights on the design. These days the Summarit 50/1.5 could be found on eBay, but finding a good quality copy is next to impossible - the virtual majority of these lenses will have coating marks as well as haze and potentially even fungus, so shop carefully. Decent quality copies go for ~US$500 as of Aug 2011.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 7 elements in 5 groups. The lens barrel is metal in chrome finish, with metal aperture and focusing rings. The aperture ring rotates from f/1.5 to f/16 in one full f-stop clicks. The minimum focusing distance is 1m (3.5ft). Most lenses these days will probably require lubing to improve the focusing ring action. The lens accepts rarely found these days A43 type or more commonly encountered E41 filters. Original lens hood is the barn-door style XIOOM, which you could replace with a modern after market rubber hood mounted on a step up ring. The lens weighs 300g (10.5oz).

Like all LTM lenses, Summarit 50/1.5 can be used on all modern M cameras, including digital M8/M9, using an LTM-M adapter. The lens can also be mounted on Micro Four Thirds and NEX cameras, using readily available 3rd party adapters. Within the scope of this review, the lens was tested on an APS-H type Leica M8, where it gives you an EFOV of 66mm.

Summary
Lens Composition 7 elements in 5 groups
Angular Field 40 degrees
Minimum Focus 1.06m/3.5ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/1.5-f/16,manual
Filter Size A43/E41mm
Lens Hood XIOOM (included)
Weight 300g/10.5oz
Dimensions 49x45mm/1.92x1.77"
Lens Case N/A

Handling

The original Leica Xenon 50/1.5, which was manufactured under the license from Taylor Hobson, was Leica's attempt to introduce a competitor to the well-respected Contax Sonnar 50/1.5 lens manufactured by the arch-rival Carl Zeiss. Original Xenon left the factory uncoated, although after Leica started coating its lenses, it also offered post-manufacturing service to the owners, so some of the Xenons these days might have post manufacturing coating applied. Unlike collapsible Summitars, also manufactured around the same time period, Xenons as well as Summarits were rigid body designs. Leica ultimately dumped the design in favor of the in-home designed Summilux. The Summarit name was retired until 2007, when Leica decided to brand the range of its 'low-end, slow' lenses, introduced to answer the market demand for 'cheaper' Leica glass.

ISO 160, 1/125, f/1.5, 50mm (Leica M8)

As is the case with all Leica LTM lenses of the past, Summarit 50/1.5 can be used on all M series cameras with an LTM to M adapter. I used a Voigtlander branded, Type II 50/75 adapter. Type II adapters have a shallow groove, which allows you to bar-code the adapter to be recognized by the M8/M9 camera firmware. While Cameraquest (an official Voigtlander reseller here in CA) claims that Type II adapters cannot be used with lenses that have infinity locks, i.e. Summitar, Summarit and collapsible Summicron v1, I have never had any problems with these adapters and have managed to mount all of these lenses on my M8 without problems. Voigtlander Type I adapters are said to be designed specifically for lenses with infinity lock, but don't have the groove in the mount and therefore your bar-codes will get erased eventually, after mounting the lens on and off the camera. I have not coded the lens and used Adobe Photoshop to correct various artifacts during post-processing, but online reports claim that coding Summarit as Summilux V1 works quite well and removes a good amount of vignetting. Anyhow, Summarit 50/1.5 is rangefinder coupled and so with a 50/75 adapter will bring the appropriate frame-line, however, aperture setting is not always recorded properly, which can be either due to miscalibrated diaphragm or more commonly due to the LTM-M adapter itself.

The construction of the lens is fairly typical of Leica lenses from 40s and 50s - chrome finish with a focus lock tab on the focusing ring and knurled aperture/focusing rings. However, unlike the Summicrons from that era, Summarit's aperture ring rotates in the opposite direction - to reach the minimum aperture, you need to rotate the ring  clockwise for Summarit and counter-clockwise for all Summicrons. I have always complained about the focus lock tab because of the hassle it introduces in focusing the ring close to the infinity - the tab stops the ring at 50ft marking and then rests in a locked position at infinity, but there is also a 100ft marking in between and to rest the focusing ring in this position you need to be holding with your fingers, preventing it from sliding either into the unlocked position at 50ft or locked position at the infinity. Meh, not my favorite process.

Another common to other lenses from this period characteristic is Summarit's MFD of 1m - a limitation in my world because of my preference to shoot as close to the subject as possible. You'd think that the extra 30cm that Summarit gives up when compared to modern 50s like Planar 50/2 or Sonnar 50/1.5 is not that much, but that 30cm of focusing distance translates into ~45cm difference in DOF when shooting the lens wide open. Other than that, the rest of the operation is pretty standard, including ~90 degrees of focusing ring rotation from the infinity to MFD and one full f-stop clicks of the aperture ring.

When mounted on a modern M8, Summarit blocks ~3% of the viewfinder area, but does not protrude into the 50mm frame. If you mount the ridiculously large XIOOM hood, I am sure you will get some interference in the framelines, but an after market rubber hood should be fine - it touches the corner of the 50mm frame, blocking ~5% of the 50mm frame