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Introduction

Summitar 50mm f/2 is a classical Leica thread (or screw) mount lens, manufactured by Leitz from 1939 through 1953. It replaced an even earlier Summar 50mm f/2 model and in turn was eventually replaced by Summicron 50mm f/2. The lens did not have coating until after WWII (circa 1945-1946), although many of the uncoated lenses were sent back to Leitz for post-manufacture coating. The lens is more or less readily available on used markets, although finding one in good quality is rather hard, with best copies selling for ~US$300-$400.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 7 elements in 4 groups. The build quality of the lens is superb - all metal parts help the lens withstand decades and while most lenses would have some cosmetic blemishes, unless users really abuse the lens, it can probably last another 50 years. Summitar is a collapsible lens, meaning that the top half of the lens can be collapsed into the mount, reducing the overall size of the lens, but needs to be expanded before you can start shooting with it. The lens measures 50 x 42cm (1.9 x 1.6in) when fully expanded and only 42 x 42cm (1.6 x 1.6in) when collapsed. It weighs 205g (7.2oz). The lens accepts special, L type filters, which screw-in to the front side of the lens, although you can also use Leica SNHOO 39mm to L adapter, which would allow you to use standard 39mm screww-in filters with this lens. The minimum focusing distance is 1m (3.3ft) and the minimum aperture is f/16.

 

Summitar 50mm f/2 lens was designed for traditional film cameras of the days past and therefore is compatible with a number of modern cameras, including Leica M8 and M9 (using an LTM to M adapter) as well as Micro Four Thirds and Sony NEX systems. Within the scope of this review, the lens was tested on an APS-H type Leica M8.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 7 elements in 4 groups
Angular Field 46 degrees
Minimum Focus 1m/3.2ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2-f/16, manual
Filter Size L-type
Lens Hood SOOPD (optional)
Weight 205g/7.2oz
Dimensions 42x42mm/1.6x1,6"
Lens Case N/A

 

 

Handling

If you are into camera/lens historabilia, Leica Summitar is one heck of a lens to try out and own. In many aspects, Summitar represents a transitioning point in Leica's history - first lens to receive coating, last design with continuous aperture, last dedicated LTM lens (while first generation Summicron was also made in LTM mount, it was also available in M bayonet mount as well). But, Summitar is certainly a lens that would require getting used to - you have to be patient first and foremost  to understand many nuances of this almost century old optical piece. Many users would consider Summitar archaic, particularly when modern benchmarks are used, and opt for newer designs (I don't blame them). But I am jumping ahead...

ISO 160-1/1500, f/2.8, 50mm

Summitar follows a traditional collapsible design, very popular between 30s and 50s - basically you need to expend the lens by pulling the front side of the lens and then twist it to lock in extended position. To collapse it, twist the front in the different direction and then push the barrel in. Be careful though - when pushing the lens in, you risk hitting the camera's sensor with the rear element (assuming you're using M8 or M9). There is no definitive opinion among users on this subject - some claim that the lens collapses without any problems, while others mention that the lens does not clear the mirror. I did try collapsing the lens on my M8 and did not not touch the sensor, but I would still not recommend anyone risk damaging their cameras - the lens is not particularly large even when fully extended.

As mentioned earlier, Summitar is the last model sporting an 'click-less' aperture - you simply rotate the aperture ring freely to the desired position as there are no clicks. There are two problems with this design (I never learned how to avoid either of these issues) - firstly, the aperture ring can accidentally shift while you're using the lens and you might not notice it; secondly, the spacing between the aperture levels is uneve,n with more rotational room between large apertures, which makes it hard to set fractional levels harder at smaller apertures (as well as more prone to erroneous shift).

Like its predecessor Summar, as well as the first and second generation Summicron, Summitar has a focusing lock, which allows you to lock the focusing ring at infinity position. I personally dislike this feature in the lens since it requires pushing the locking pin in to unlock the ring every time you need to move it from the infinity to some other position. But, the locking ping is actually useful in a different way - the focusing ring is very thin, which makes it somewhat hard to grasp well, and so grabbing the lock-pin to use it as a lever to rotate the ring is a welcome option. The ring has distance markings engraved (only in feet on my copy of the lens) and the barrel has a matching DOF scale, which allows you to preset the lens for quick shooting. When preset to f/16, the lens would give you a working focusing range from about 8ft to infinity.

When mounted on the digital M8, Summitar blocks about 2% of the viewfinder, but does not overlap with the 50mm  frame-lines. Blockage is going to be mich higher if you are using original, barn-shaped SOOPD lens hood. You can try using traditional A42 Leica lens hood, but the thread on Summitar is 0.5mm narrower, so you risk of having the lens hood fall off in the midst of shooting. The best option is to use the SNHOO adapter and then use regular 39mm screw-in type third-party hoods readily available on eBay. I have not tried either of the hood options I described and so cannot really comment on how much of the viewfinder will be blocked in either of the cases.

When buying this lens, you should exercise caution - these are 60 year old copies we're dealing with and so the quality of samples will vary a lot. Summitars are prone to fogging and haze, and so ideally you should try to secure an inspection period with the seller. Another typical issue with this lens is excessive scratches on front and rear elements, particularly with older copies that do no have coating to protect the glass. It is practically impossible to find a sample that has absolutely no scratching, the question is the amount.

Assuming you're going to be using the lens on any of the M mount cameras, including digital M8 and M9, you will also need to invest in an LTM to M adapter. I chose Voigtlander 50/75 LTM adapter, which costs ~$60 and has a shallow groove in the base, which allows for DIY lens coding with a sharpe. I have not really coded the lens myself and so cannot really recommend which of the codes would work best for Summitar.