Aug 04 2010

Lenses

Randall Kelley @ 16:19

Descriptions and images of the lenses we currently have are posted below in focal length order, wide to long:

15mm

Voigtlander f/4.5 super wide heliar lens (purchased new)

Don’t ask me what heliar is. I don’t know or really care. This lens makes some really wired color shifts on the M9 digital, but it is SO cool and SO wide and on the Monochrom there is no color shift to worry about. I just LOVE the fact that it is WWWWIIIIIDE, but still has very little of that wide lens effect. Looking at the shots from this I am most amazed that you have to know how wide it is because the shots don’t LOOK it. While some people say not to use wide angle lenses to get more in a shot, I say, you can DO that with this lens and not have ill effect. You can get an near panoramic view in a normal format, and not have it seem distant or “fishy”. It is also stellar in the sharpness category, and has near unlimited depth of field.

21mm

Zeiss f/2.8 T* ZM Biogon (purchased new)


Shown next to big brother Zeiss 35mm on camera. The 21 is a bit longer and a bit slimmer, but otherwise, almost looks the same.

I first tried a Zeiss 18mm but even with coding it has the red shift problem on the M9-P. So I tried the 21mm and while it has it if left with no profile, if it is coded for, or entered manually as, the Leica 21 f/2.8 11134 it exhibits none whatsoever. It is also well built and fantastically sharp. And of course, at that width it has plenty of depth of field, even wide open. And lastly, the 2.8 speed really helps for interiors of dimly lit museums and churches. When I travel, this is one of three lenses that I literally don’t leave home (well, the hotel) without. My one complaint is not with the lens, it’s that I hate having to use an external finder. But I use one with it because I am a “full frame” fanatic and hate it when I must resort to crops. I can’t guestimate from the 28mm frame lines. Heck, without chimping I really can’t frame properly on the 28 with those as I wear glasses and can’t see both sides at once.

28mm

Leica f/2.8 Elmarit (purchased new)

My main lens. Wide angle for most people, but what I consider a normal lens for me. I must have bug eyes or something, because for me this is the angle of view that closest fits what I’m looking at when I shoot. This is the second of the three I always have on me when we travel, and almost all my outdoor day work is on it. Switching to the 21mm for indoors or on really tight streets or with taller buildings, and to the 50mm f/1.4 for speed at night. I love the small size of the lens. It isn’t super fast, but at 2.8 it isn’t slow either. Also, it is an ASPH design and appears as sharp across the aperture range and at most any distance. If I want to catch candid shots, it is plenty sharp to do even extreme crops from. And for that kind of work none are better at focusing by estimate and shooting “from the hip.”

Leitz Hektor f/6.3 (used, 1936 copy)

I got this when I started playing with old glass on the Monochrom. As it is prewar, uncoated glass, it performs as that glass always does. That is it flares easily and has less contrast. This particular copy also is subject to weird defocused spots that have no apparent relationship to depth of field, only happen in certain areas of the frame, and don’t appear to have anything to do with point of focus. At least not that I can determine. This makes it a very unpredictable lens. However, If I really want something, I shoot multiple frames anyway, and usually at least one is reasonable. It is also, obviously, very slow and so one needs higher ISO quicker, but this can be a perk on the Monochrom files, as it is very “film grain like” at higher ISO. The upside is it looks like old photos, vignette, grain, and all. It renders colors nicely on the M9-P, like most older glass, but as there is no profile for it, it gets the red shift of the wides. It can be taken out with a profile from an older Leica 18mm lens (the other 28mm profiles have no effect on it), but I find it also takes out the vignette and alters the color unacceptably. So this is an MM only lens.

35mm

Leitz f2.8 Summaron (used, 1958 lens, the version without “goggles”)

Why 1958 f2.8 is named “Summaron” and 2010 f2.8 is named “Elmerit” I don’t know. I guess just to be quaint. When I first decided to try out a 35mm lens,. I wasn’t sure if I’d find 35mm different enough from 28mm to warrant any expense, but wanted to use it a while and see. I was wavering between old Leica glass and a new Voightlander. I really liked the Voightlander 15mm image quality, except for the color shift on the M9. But I was thinking I probably was throwing money away, and an old Leica is easier to sell than new Voightlander so I snagged this. This is a really nice lens. It is not as predictably sharp as the new 28mm, but it is just as sharp on occasion, so I just fire multiple frames. The thing is, it has some of the best color, and files from it take as little adjustment, as any of the lenses I have. It is amazing to me that a lens only 4 years younger than me can be this good. It’s weak point is mechanical, as it is not a pristine copy and the focusing gets stiff right around the infinity lock.

Zeiss F/2 T* ZM Biogon (purchased new)


Shown alone and with it’s baby brother 21mm (see above).

After using the 35 enough, I decided I wanted a new 35mm lens and got a Leica Summacron f/2. However, I found it was much less usable with prefocusing and handling was much more demanding than my 28mm. I though about a 1.4 but after trying one at a Leica seminar, I didn’t like that one either. Plus it was even larger and even more demanding with the point of focus. I sold the f/2 on ebay, and ordered this Zeiss to give it a try. I have to say I’m very satisfied with it. It has more depth of field than the Leica did and has better bokeh in my opinion (what little there is). It is almost as good as the Leica 28mm for prefocusing and shooting from the hip. If I have ANY complaints, it might be TOO sharp. It really tends to set of the moiré effect on the M9-P far beyond any other lens I’ve used. I suspect this will be a killer lens on the new M with its better resolution.

Leitz Summaron f/3.5 (used, 1950 lens)

To be honest, I got this because Rita asked if I was going to by a lens “her age” after I got my second lens “my age”. And, NO, one of them is not the 1936 28mm! I had first snagged a 1954 Soviet 50mm lens, then a 1954 Leica 90mm lens. So after she asked, for fun, I started poking around for a really cheap 1950 lens of some sort. Then two copies of this lens popped up, both with “buy it now prices” (horrible for us whim shoppers). One was more than I wanted to spend, but caught my eye as it was labeled “mint”. And indeed it looked it. However the second copy, labeled an “8 of 10″ was substantially less, and from the pictures, looked just as nice. If it isn’t mint, it must be the loose lens cap (original) that cost it 2 points. Honestly, if it wasn’t for that it would seem “out of the box”. It handles great, is really sharp, is very small, and it looks beautiful. The aperture ring is strange, in that it turns with the lens (as apparently a lot of old lenses did). And of course, it is a slower lens at 3.5 maximum aperture. That said, this one is the current winner of the great color contest, with the vintage Tri-Elmar (still to come on this page) a close second, and the previously described 1958 35mm Summaron a little behind these. It’s amazing they are both Summarons, as they are as different as night and day. This older one seems even less prone to flare. And while it is not sharper, it is more consistent in it’s results. I don’t know if that’s simply due to the more near original condition that the other, but it’s noticeable. I picked apart Rita’s first shots (in the woods along Big Bear Lake) at pixel level, and I never found a soft shot (beyond the different rendering of all the pre-aspherical glass out there).

One final thought on the 35mm lenses. I have also owned a Leica Summacron ASPH f/2 lens and test drove a Leica Summilux f/1.4 ASPH. I did not find either superior to my older one except in predictability. However, they had shallower depth of field than my 28mm and were therefore more demanding that one actually focus and not preset focus and shoot like I often like to do. I alway thought D.O.F. was the result of just the focal length, but all the 35mm lenses I have used have varied greatly. My Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon is my main 35mm lens because it is just as good as the 28 for pre focusing. It really does get everything in the range predicted in focus. That said, the oldest 35mm, the last one here, has the best color but the least D.O.F. It is so shallow, I’d say my 50mm beats it. So like the 50mm, the trick to using it is to carefully focus on what you want, and to stop down substantially if you want much D.O.F. Maybe someday, someone will explain the other factors that make a difference in it, but in the mean time I just say, each lens is an individual, and while the generalities about D.O.F. may be true, your mileage may vary.

50mm

Leica Summilux F/1.4 (purchased new)

I shot it this way to make it look as big as it feels. This thing is made of Dark Matter and Unobtanium. The camera carried lens down with this mounted. But it’s really not that big, it’s just big by leica standards, but it IS as heavy as it looks in this picture. Second shot is it is near the new old 35 for scale, remember all the part in the rear lens cap of the 35 would be inside the camera, so you are just comparing to the silver front portion. This 50 is small compared to DSLR lenses, but is one of the larger lens in the normal focal lengths for Leica glass. I’m told my chrome version is substantially heavier than the black version, but the specs don’t say that, I’ve not used the black one, so I can’t be sure.

Once I put this lens on I have had a hard time getting it off the camera. Not that it sticks or anything, I just LOVE this glass! This thing is made of Dark Matter and Unobtanium. The camera is carried lens down with this mounted. But it’s really not that big, it’s just big by Leica standards, but it IS as heavy as it looks in the picture. If I could ever get myself converted to being a 50mm guy, this would be my number one lens. I’ve never see image from any other lens with creamier, smoother bokeh. Even at pixel level, I’ve never seen any sharper, though their may be something out there (I’m looking at you new Leica 50mm Summacron), But the thing most amazing is that this lens has both. It can be a bear for demanding accurate focus, but the rewards for the work are unmatched by any other lens. Did I mention I LOVE this lens? Yeah, hock your car. This is the lens.

Indusrtar-22 f/3.5 (used, 1954 lens)

This was the first lens I got when I went looking for something my age. I liked the old glass shots on the Monochrom I was seeing on the interwebs, and decided I wanted some more. However I was looking for something more “lomographic” and so started scoping Russian knock offs. This is a direct copy of the Leitz of the same vintage, focal length, and speed. Collapsible and all. After I got it and tested it, I had two reactions. One, it has amazing glass, in terms of sharpness it is a close match for even my 50 lux ASPH (above). It has no speed, not as good bokeh (though as good as most 50mm lenses and better than the new Leica Summacron f/2 I had for a while). It’s down side is mechanical quality, leading to lack of dependability. Well that ad the results don’t look old. I really wanted some “old look”, and this lens really only has it when it flares. Which it does. More than a new lens, but not that much. No where near as easy as the 1958 35mm summaron I spoke of above. What can I say? It’s disadvantages over my new 50 are not really supplemented by more old lens look, so it won’t get much use. But then, it cost me $40, so what?

85mm

Canon Serenar 85mm f/2 (used, 1948 or 49 lens)

I can’t find an authoritative source on the exact age of this lens. They made them from 1948 to 1951 and while there were two versions (which could narrow it down) I haven’t yet found a discription that would tell me which mine is. SO I’m taking to calling it a “late 40s vintage” lens. So far my results are such that I think this will be far from an “every day” lens, but may become a real “go to” lens for certain things. It’s big by Leica standards, and heavy by any but DSLR zoom standards. I got it as I craved some fast Japanese glass to play with and I couldn’t afford any of the faster 50mm or 35mm lenses. It is a VERY weird handling lens but in excellent shape. I may add more here after I get some more testing in.

90mm

Leitz Elmar 9cm (90mm) f/4 (used, 1954 lens)

I went through a nice old (1974 copy) Tele-Elmarit f/2.8. I was really pleased with that lens. Pretty sharp. Great bokeh. Tiny for a 90mm lens. I find 90mm a real specialty lens, but this was great at that specialty. I had to force myself to shoot just with it for a while to see what it could do. I highly recommend anyone getting a lens spend a day or two using only that lens. (Don’t get one the day before an important trip). Once you get a feel for one, than you will know when to get that lens out. Than said, after I decided I didn’t use it enough, I sold it to a friend. I honestly didn’t miss it. However, when I was looking for “cheap” old glass from my birth year, I stumbled on this old 90. Even though I was actually looking for wider, all the real Leica glass 50mm an below was still more than I wanted to spend. I spotted this with almost no bids on it and snagged it dirt cheap (for a Leica). It’s about the same size as my earlier one when extended, which I leave it when on camera as it’s long enough I don’t trust it collapsing on the M9-P or MM. Of course its slower and I don’t think the bokeh is as good. But it sure is sharp, and it’s focusing is very slow and so I find I am more accurate with it. Collapsed into a new style rear cap it becomes quite small for packing. As I rarely use the focal length, it will be great for a “zoom”, as its long enough and sharp enough I can shoot something far away, crop to a fragment and get a very decent shot out of it (maybe not for enlargements, but for travel blogging, it will be great. I wish the 135 I have was this good. Then I’d really have a great tele. More on that lens next.

135mm

Leica Tele-Elmar f/4 (used, 1972 lens)

I picked up this old 135mm f4 Tele-Elmar at the same time I grabbed the first old 35mm. It’s a 1970s copy also like the 90mm Tele-Elmarit, but that was 74 and missed our wedding by two years. This one is 1972. It seemed destined to be mine. I have used it just a few times. It can be quite sharp, but is very difficult to focus and undependable. I think I do well enough to make it worth traveling with, but should probably make myself use the viewfinder magnification eyepiece I have.

Zoom (or as close as Leica M cameras can get to a zoom lens) 28mm, 35mm, 50mm

Leica Tri Elmar M f/4 28-35-50 (used, 1997 lens)

This was first purchased when hoping to have Rita use an M camera. Then, when that didn’t happen right away I tried to sell it, but didn’t get what I wanted for it. In the time during the auction, I was reconsidering the sale anyway, and so did not repost the sale. Then it turned out Rita did move into my M9-P when I got the Momochrom (Leica’s spelling), and when I found the auto settings on the Sony RX1 that I planned on her using were not up to snuff. My first thought was this lens was a bit soft. But after doing more test, I realized it was actually only the 28mm setting that was soft, and if a person fired off several shots when shooting (in continuous shooting mode), one would usually be a bit crisper anyway. And the 35mm was just fine, and the 50 was actually quite excellent. And the kicker is the color on many of the older lenses is superior to the modern ones. This has become Rita’s daily lens, and she just has instructions to fire multiple when shooting in 28mm mode. She really doesn’t go to that wide a setting often anyway. And when I say soft, only a pixel peeping idiot like me would know. You have to be looking at full 1 to 1 pixels to see it. I am not hugely grateful that this did not sell when I tried.

2 Responses to “Lenses”

  1. Sportin' a WATE says:

    Time for you to detail your arsenal of toys in this section, mister.

    • R K Kelley says:

      That would be a good idea. All I need is the time to do so. But I guess I better get in great if I want to beat the Departure for Eastern Europe in September, hadn’t I?