Leica f/2.5 Summarits

Late in 2007, Leica introduced a new range of four lenses: 35/2.5, 50/2.5, 75/2.5, 90/2.5. In keeping with Leica tradition, they used the same name for a series of lenses of the same speed, not of the same design. The 35mm appears to be a heavily modified Cooke triple derivative with a concave front glass; the 50mm and 75mm are substantially symmetrical; and the 90mm is a Cooke triplet derivative.

The original Summarit (1949-1960) was a 50/1.5 based on Taylor, Taylor Hobson patents but the Summarit name had already been hijacked for an f/2.4 lens on a digital camera. The lenses are made in Germany, by Leica, but cost significantly less than most other lenses in the Leica line-up.

 

Four Summarits

 

Clockwise from the top: 75mm on M2, 90mm on MP, 35mm on M8, 50mm on Voigtlander Bessa-R2. The M2 is fitted with a Tewe finder, which gives 75mm frames, with manual parallax adjustment -- though all Leicas except the M3 and the original M3-derived MP can be fitted with a 75mm frame, which appears at the same time as the 50mm frame. The 75mm frames on the MP and M8 are much better than on the M4-P.

Note the focal length numbering (seen clearly on the MP); the focusing finger-grip on the 50 on the R2 (the 35 is similar); and of course the famous red dots.

four summarits

 

In November 2007 we received all four for review.

 

s90, chapel

 

 

Chapel

 

One of the great advantages of the new Summarits is that they are very light and compact. The day after we received the first three (the 75mm came ten days later), Roger put the 90mm on the front of his M8 and the other two in pockets, and set out around the Sentier des Lavoirs in Moncontour. This was taken with the 90mm; ISO was set to 160. There is more about lavoirs later.

 

How did they save the money?

 

There is an inevitable suspicion that these 'cheap' lenses (in Leica terms) are somehow not up to Leica standards, but there are several entirely legitimate ways in which they have saved money.

First, they are comparatively slow. For example, other current 50mm lenses include the f/1 Noctilux, f/1.4 Summilux, f/2 Summicron and f/2.8 Elmar. The last is collapsible and sells partly on this and partly on its retro appeal. It is very much easier to build a sharp, well-corrected slow lens than a fast one.

Second, their close focusing distances are modest: 0.8m (just under 3 feet) for the 35mm and 50mm, 0.9m (3 feet) for the 75mm and 1m (39 inches) for the 90mm. This makes for a smaller, lighter, cheaper mount. For a given standard of engineering, there is a very close correlation indeed between size, weight and price. For comparison, the 75/2 Summicron focuses below 0.7m.

Third, there are no built-in lens hoods (shades). Hoods are sold as accessories and fit on an external (male) screw thread with a Leica-patented positive stop that allows the hood always to stop at the same position when fully tightened, as on the Tri-Elmar 16-18-21. The lenses are supplied with a bumper ring -- a simple collar -- that covers the thread when no hood is installed; the hoods come with their own lens caps. The male thread is simple anodized black, not the rather anatomical-looking red of the Tri-Elmar.

Fourth, there are no aspheric surfaces. All are made with common curves. There is no real need for aspherics in comparatively slow lenses with modest close-focus limits.

s35 path & railing

Path

 

s35 rotten door

Rotting door

There is an old saying that 'your legs are your best zoom'. The door in the picture on the right is just visible on the end of the path in the picture on the left. Both were taken with the 35mm lens on the M8 -- equivalent, of course, to 47mm on full-frame 35mm.

Fifth, there are no floating elements. This results in a slight loss of correction when focused close, but not one that is significant for most people.

Sixth, they are supplied with suedette pouches instead of lined, real leather cases.

summarit 50 on mp

Summarit 50mm on MP

The controls of all the lenses are identical, except that the 35 and 50 have fingertip focusing and the 75 and 90 have focusing collars. Here, the 'bump stop' protecting ring (described above) has been removed from the male thread for the lens hood and is leaning against the rewind end of the camera. The proper, deep, God-fearing pressed-metal lens cap (described below) is leaning against the accessory shoe.

Seventh, they have pressed metal lens caps in two sizes, one for 35mm and 50mm (39mm filter) and the other for 75mm and 90mm (46mm filter). Made in sufficient quantities, these are cheaper (and in the opinion of many, more attractive) than pinch-type caps. They are surprisingly deep (10-12mm; 12.7mm is half an inch) which makes them particularly secure.

Eighth, the lenses are available only in black anodized light alloy; the more expensive brass chrome mounts are not offered.

s50 mill

Mill

The river Dive (pronounced 'Deeve') is substantially artificial, formed by draining and canalizing wetlands; the work was begun some time around the 10th century by the monks of St. Jouin de Marnes. This mill is probably only two or three hundred years old in its present form, though water mills go back a lot further than that. Unusually, there are several windmills in the area too: so much corn was grown that there was work for all of them. This was the 50mm lens (67mm equivalent on full-frame 35mm).

What are they like?

In a word, gorgeous. They are the sort of lenses that inspire immediate acquisitiveness, though Roger gravitated to the 50mm and Frances to the 90mm as 'the lens I'm in love with'.

The 35mm and 50mm have 'spar' or 'finger-grip' focusing, while the 75mm and 90mm have focusing collars. The focusing mounts are all 'quick' at 90 degrees from infinity to the nearest focused distance, but have that silky-glide feeling that you expect from Leica lenses. All have feet/meter scales, feet in yellow, meters (and other engraved data) in white, on the black lenses supplied.

On both the 35 and 50, the lens cap covers the diaphragm numbers and index mark, making it much harder to forget to remove the cap before shooting. On the 75, it covers the index mark but not the numbers. On the 90, the index mark and numbers are revealed. There is an initial 1/3 stop click to f/2.8, then equidistant half-stop clicks from f/2.8 to f/16.

 

Mounting an exhibition

 

We address the question of speed below, but this is a reasonable illustration of the truth that with modern high-speed films or sensor speeds (the 35mm was on the M8 with the ISO equivalent set to 2500) there is seldom any need for fast lenses unless you are into 'available darkness' shots: this is an averagely lit village hall (Martaizé).

Shooting at f/2.5 gives much more usable depth of field than full bore on our faster 35mm lenses (f/1.4 Summilux and f/1.7 Ultron), and what is more, because Frances has a 'benign essential tremor' and needs to use shutter speeds at least a stop faster than most people, she is more sensitive than most to the advantages of fast lenses.

 

 

There is a certain amount of marketing twaddle about the type-face used in the engravings and the colour of the red dot, so if these matter to you, the chances are that you will be delighted.

s50 signs & posts

 

 

signs & posts crop

Signs and Posts

A modest amount of unsharp masking has been applied in the crop on the right, which obviously is only a tiny fraction of the all-in picture. This was taken with the 50mm on the M8.

How do they perform?

This is only a 'first look', not a full-scale test, and besides, you cannot tell very much from an on-screen image at the best of times. Also, the pictures that accompany this test were all taken using only the M8 -- for which, of course, all the lenses are bar-coded. Film tests will come later.

s90 flats

 

With these reservations in mind, the lenses look very good indeed: very sharp, very contrasty, very 'clean'. Put it this way: we would have no hesitation in using these lenses to shoot professionally for reproduction in books and magazines, though no doubt, those whose interests lie more in shooting test charts and discussing the minutiae of lens attributes, rather than in actual photography, will have a great deal to say about their ultimate resolution and bokeh. On the last, we leave you to form your own opinion of the quality of the out-of-focus image, which we find more than acceptable; but then, we are not as sensitive to bokeh as some people.

 

 

Flats (Apartments) with satellite TV

 

It is easy to forget that in a village like Moncontour, people are now living in the 21st century, not the 19th or 18th. Well, most of them, anyway. This is on the same sentier (footpath, walking circuit) as the rest of the pictures in this First Look, but it is a completely different mood: far more modern. There is a bicycle on the balcony, and in the original picture, needless to say, every spoke of the wheels is clear.

The limiting factor to resolution is pixellation rather than the lens, in this case the 90mm, again with ISO set at 160. The verticals have been 'trued up' in Adobe Photoshop, and the picture 'stretched' slightly on the vertical axis (about 10 per cent) to compensate for the foreshortening effect intruduced by the manipulations.

What about the speed?

What you regard as a 'fast' or 'slow' lens is very much a matter of your age and experience. When the f/3.5 Elmar first appeared in the 1920s, it was regarded as a fast lens. The '50s, '60s and '70s all saw new ultra-fast lenses of f/1.2, f/1.1, f/1.0 and even f/0.95, but it is worth remembering that in those days, film was for the most part a lot slower than today. This was especially true in colour: High Speed Ektachrome (160 ASA) was a real speed demon when introduced in 1956/57, and would not be surpassed until Ansco 200 and 500 appeared, over a decade later.

Today, the minimum speed on an M8 is ISO 160 equivalent; 2,500 is the maximum; ISO 400 is pretty much regarded as standard in both colour and monochrome films; and Ilford Delta 3200 can be pushed to 12,500 and beyond. Arguably, therefore, there is far less need for super-speed lenses than there used to be.

And, of course, compared with either zooms or Tri-Elmars, these are fast lenses.

s90 japonica

 

 

s90 bokeh special

Japonica

Another concern with 'slow' lenses is whether they can deliver adequately narrow depth of field for differential focus. The answer with f/2.5 certainly seems to be that they can.Both this shot and the one on the right were taken with the 90mm at, or close to, the minimum focusing distance of one metre.

90 Bokeh

Bokeh -- the quality of the out-of-focus image -- matters a lot more to some people than to others, and a lot more with some subjects than others. This was taken to illustrate the quality of the out of focus image. Go to the very end of the module for 'bokeh' pictures with the other lenses.

Digital or film?

Some internet pundits have dismissed the Summarits as 'cheap digital lenses for the M8'. This does not make a lot of sense. First, if you can afford an M8, are you likely to want cheap lenses? Second, the focal lengths are classically film: 35-50-90 is the old M2 trilogy. On the M8, the four focal lengths equate to 47-67-100-120, which is not too dissimilar to the 50-90-135 of the M3. Third, they work perfectly well on film.

We suspect, it is true, that they will appeal to M8 users. This is partly because of their compactness and simplicity, but equally importantly, if you can turn the ISO equivalent up to 2,500 you do not really need anything a lot faster.

On the other hand, they have a great deal to commend them for film cameras as well, because with either, they really do offer the option putting one lens on the camera, another lens or two in a pocket, and sallying forth like the photojournalists of old, minimally encumbered. Look at the brilliant low-light reportage done in the 1950s with 400 ASA film and f/1.5 lenses, and reflect that if you use Ilford Delta 3200 today, you are running a full three stops faster on the film, so 12/3 stops down on the lens doesn't matter so much. Even with the M8 at 2500, f/2.5 still leaves you a stop ahead of the old combination of 400 ASA and f/1.5.

Lavoir

A lavoir is a washing-place. For some reason, during the 19th century, these became a great status symbol in some parts of rural France and they were built in surprisingly large numbers. In Moncontour there must be well over a dozen of them, possibly even two dozen or more. The platform, seen here, could be raised or lowered on chains to make it level with the river: the washerwomen knelt on them, their knees protected from the slopping water with odd little box-like constructions, open at the top and back, and with sloping sides. The 35mm lens used here really 'sees into the shadows' (ISO equivalent on the M8 set to 160) without losing the highlights, though how clear this is in the picture will depend on how your monitor is set up.

Leica's own descriptions

Uniquely, in the instruction books, Leica list in plain English (and German, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish), the defects of the lenses. They also give MTF curves for 5, 10 20 and 40 line pairs per millimetre (lp/mm), which are very impressive indeed. MTF figures for 5 lp/mm may not sound important, but they give a very good idea of 'sparkle', which these lenses possess in abundance.

In each case, they say, the lens offers 'very good imaging performance . . . over the entire field of view. Only at the corners of the image -- which are not registered by the somewhat smaller format of the digital LEICA M8 -- can a slight reduction be perceived, and it is largely eliminated by stopping down to f/5.6. In comparison, the imaging performance is slightly reduced at close range.' They summarize the dimensions, vignetting and distortion as indicated in the table below the next illustrations, adding that vignetting is effectively absent in all lenses by f/5.6.

Door and ivy

 

 

s75 shadow

Shadow

One if the most critical tests of a lens, for us, is whether it makes you want to go out and take pictures. All the Summarits do! We also find, increasingly, that we accommodate our picture-taking to whatever is on the camera, rather than being especially worried about the focal length. Both of the above were taken (by Roger) on the M8 with the 75mm, ISO set at 160. In the picture on the left, the colour saturation is turned way down; in the one on the right, it was turned up slightly.

Summarit specifications and dimensions

Focal length

Glasses/groups

Image size at closest focus

Length to bayonet flange

Maximum diameter

Weight

Distortion 

Vignetting at full aperture (film/M8)

35mm

6/4

1:20.4

33.9mm (1.33 in.)

51.4mm  (2.02 in.)

220g   (7.75 oz.)

Slight barrel

1.5 stops/1 stop

50mm

6/4

1:14.1

33mm (1.30 in)

51.5mm (2.02 in.)

230g (8.1 oz.)

Slight pincushion

1.7 stops/0.7 stops

75mm

6/4

1:9.9

60.5mm (2.38 in)

55mm (2.17 in)

345g (13.58 oz)

0,8%

1.6 stops/<1 stop

90mm

5/4

1:8.9

66.5mm

55mm

360g

0,75%

1.5 stops/0.7 stops

 

s75 service incendie

Service Incendie

This is the old Moncontour fire station, now used for municipal storage. No rangefinder allows the same precision of framing as a reflex, and the M8 (used here) has unusually pessimistic frames: you get a lot more in the image than the frame-lines indicate. What is more, the 75mm lines (the 75mm was used here) are somewhat exiguous, sharing the field of view as they do with the 50mm. If you have an older Leica without 75mm frame lines they can be added (comparatively) cheaply to any M-series except the M3 and original M3-based MP. Here, though, the lower left-hand corner is a happy accident: cover it up with your finger, and the picture is much weaker.

Value for money?

These are brand-new Leica lenses, with a 2-year Leica warranty. The day before we received them, we saw (and were tempted by) a second-hand Canadian 90/2,8 Tele-Elmarit for 220 euros; about one-fifth of the price of the 90/2.5, though admittedly unusually cheap. This sort of comparison is going to be uppermost in the minds of many purchasers who are existing users of older Leicas, or Voigtländers or Zeiss Ikons, though buyers of new cameras are more likely to look at new lenses.

Many, too, will make comparisons with Voigtländer and Zeiss lenses, especially (for the latter) the ones that are made under licence in Japan by Cosina. The majority of Voigtländer lenses are a good deal cheaper, though when it comes to comparisons with Zeiss, the margin is small enough for other factors to enter into the equation: in particular the handling (Leicas win in our book), the lens shades (we fractionally prefer the Zeiss bayonet), lens caps (with Leica the winner by a country mile), the size (the main competitor to the 50mm is the 50/2.5 Voigtländer Color-Skopar) and more, including not least Leica's reputation.

Our own view is that they are excellent value for money. It is true that they are not the best, fastest lenses that Leica can make, but then again, they are not the most expensive either -- and Leica's 'second string' are still in the same league as, or better than, many manufacturers' best lenses.

 

Gault

 

A gault is an irrigation channel fed by the canalized river; a side-ditch, if you want to be unromantic about it. Curiously, although Roger's standard lens on full-frame 35mm has for many years been a 35mm, he finds than on the M8 he very often (as here) uses a 50mm, which is equivalent to 67mm on full-frame 35mm. Then again, on 35mm, his standard pairing is 35mm and 75mm. On the M8, it seems to be 21mm and 50mm, a slightly wider pairing than the 35/75. What he would really like to see for the M8 is a 24mm Summarit...

s50 gault

 

When it comes to the choice, reflect that there are after all two ways to buy lenses. You can buy them on specification (or to be brutal, for snob appeal) or you can buy them because they do what you want. The option of extra speed is always welcome, and if you often find yourself shooting at full aperture, you should without doubt consider one of the faster (and much more expensive) lenses in the Leica line-up. Likewise, if you want maximum sharpness in close-ups, you may do better with one of the more expensive offerings, though we hasten to add that you are looking at the difference between 'superb' and 'the best available, regardless of money'. After all, you could pretty much buy two Summarits for the price of one faster lens. In fact, for the price of a 50/1 Noctilux, you could very nearly buy the lot.

s75 grotesques

Grotesques

These carved stone faces are one of the mysteries of Moncontour. They would be at home on a 12th century church or chapel, but they are incorporated in a building that shows no sign of ever having been any such thing. They were probably 'borrowed' some centuries ago from a ruined and now disappeared building. This is from the full width of a picture taken with the 75mm.

The bottom line

Lenses like the new Summarits can take better pictures than most photographers, and very few photographers have any need for faster, aspheric or floating-element lenses. We are not convinced that we do, but there are several reasons why we have them. One is historical accident: when we started in photography, today's fast films were simply not available, and high-speed (or indeed any) digital sensors were unknown. This inevitably shaped our perception and our buying patterns. Another is that sometimes, there is simply a pleasure in owning the best available, such as the 75/2 Summicron.

s90 donjon

 

s35 donjon

Donjon de Moncontour

The Donjon was begun in about 1020 by Baron Fulk de Nereau: various spellings of his name exist. It played a significant part in both the Hundred Years' War (when it was briefly held by the English) and the Wars of Religion. It was heavily restored -- almost to the point of over-restoration -- in the late 20th century, in time for its thousandth anniversary. The picture on the left was taken with the 90mm and shows the west and north sides: the converging verticals have been made parallel in Adobe Photoshop. The picture on the right, showing only the west side from the Loudun road, was taken with the 35mm and is unmanipulated.

Because of our freight of photographic history, it is almost impossible for us to imagine ourselves in the position of the beginner buying his or her first Leica or Leica lenses. Roger has been using Leicas since about 1970; Frances has been using rangefinder cameras on and off since about 1985, and more or less exclusively since the late '90s. We have three 35mm lenses, four 50mm, one 75mm and two 90mm, so we certainly don't need more. What is more, Roger would take strong persuasion to give up his old 35/1.4 Summilux, new 50/1.5 Sonnar and 75/2 ASPH and 90/2 (non-ASPH) Summicrons.

Frances, on the other hand, would be very tempted by all of the lenses we received for review. She doesn't shoot much low-light, and if she does, she normally uses a tripod or Ilford Delta 3200 (or both), so f/2.5 does not deter her. What she very much likes is the small size and light weight of the Summarits, and the promise of Leica build quality and durability, though of course the latter is something you can only test fully over several years.

s90 wall tie end

Wall tie end

Wall ties or tie bars -- long strips of wrought iron or steel, with big flanges or loops on either end -- are common in old French houses. Without them, the walls would belly out and collapse. This one is on the right-side wall of the mill pictured above, just out of shot: clearly, it did not do its job very well. This also illustrates the way that even f/8 may offer barely adequate depth of field in close-ups with the 90mm, so f/2.5 is far from invariably a drawback. ISO 160 equivalent again.

For some, the new Summarits will be all they ever need; for others, they may be a stepping-stone to more exotic equipment, even perhaps as exotic as a 50/1 Noctilux. But as we say, we'd have no hesitation in using them professionally. They will give you eminently publishable pictures. How much more do you want?

Go back to First Look OR scroll down for some more pictures taken with these lenses.

s90 lavoir, wheelbarrow

 

s50 broken window

 

Lavoir and wheelbarrow

A few lavoirs have fallen into decay but many are preserved as 'features', like this one with an elderly wheelbarrow and a small oven. 90mm.

 

Broken window

Some pictures you just take for the shapes and colours. This is the Atelier de Buissonier, where children can make toys from scraps. 50mm.

s90 red leaf

Red leaf

Believe it or not, testing some new lenses is just a chore: you have to struggle to find things to photograph. The new Summarits are not like that: they make you want to take pictures of everything you see. 90mm.

s90 frosty leaf

 

 

s90 teazle

Frosty leaf

It was well gone noon and the frost was slowly melting, so the spiky crystalline structure of the frost was no longer clear. Even so, the only way to do full justice to the textures on this leaf would have been to use a tripod and a small aperture -- f/11, say -- whereas Roger shot it hand-held at f/5.6, losing ultimate sharpness to camera shake. 90mm, ISO equivalent 160.

 

 

Teazle

The Atelier de Buissonier is a little workshop, open to all, where children can make toys and ornaments out of corks, tooth-picks, bits of wood, teazles and other things that can be picked up in the surrounding fields and woods. It is very dark, so Roger cranked the ISO equivalent up to 2,500 with the 90mm and shot at full bore. He should also have focused more carefully!

s50 knot

Knot

On the sentier, there is an old mûrier (mulberry tree) that is all but falling down. It is held up by a cat's-cradle of rope and props. See what we mean about how you want to photograph things? Depth of field with the 50/2.5 at full aperture is barely sufficient.

s35 bokeh

 

 

s50 bokeh

35 Bokeh

No, it's not a snake, though that's what it looks like at first sight. It's just a couple of stones, weighting down some corrugated iron sheeting beside our studio. It was shot to illustrate the bokeh of the 35mm lens, at its closest focusing distance (80cm/just under 3 feet).

 

 

50 Bokeh

As we say elsewhere in the piece, we are not especially sensitive to bokeh but we know that some people are, so we shot this to show how it looks with the 50mm lens. Again, shot at the closest focusing distance of 80cm/just under 3 feet.

s75 ivy fruit

 

 

 

Ivy (75 bokeh)

Perhaps not the best subject to choose, as out-of-focus ivy flowers or fruit are not a pretty sight at the best of times. But compare it with the two shots of the Donjon, below, and you should form a reasonable idea. This is at full aperture and the closest focusing distance (90cm/3 feet), on the M8, ISO equivalent 160.

 

Drunk walls

Especially on the M8, where it equates to a 100mm lens in 35mm terms, the 75mm gives detectable perspective compression. This picture shows how some of the older walls in Moncontour are, as the English say, a bit 'drunk', leaning away from the vertical. Usually outwards, alarmingly enough.

 

 

 

s75 bokeh donjon

Donjon, 75 Bokeh

Both are shot at full aperture, one focused on the donjon, the other on the twigs.

s75 cobweb

Cobweb

This is one of the advantages of websites. No magazine would bother to publish this, because it takes up too much space and is not visually attractive. But Roger wanted to see if he could capture the spider-thread that runs diagonally across the picture. In the high-res image it can be followed all the way... 75mm, ISO equivalent 160.

 

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© 2007 Roger W. Hicks