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rivi1969

Summarit 5cm f1.5 image character?

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Good evening,

I have been toying with idea of getting a 50mm lens to use it with my M9P, so I wonder if there are users of the old Summarit 5cm f1.5 that can give me some insights about its image rendering qualities.

I know it won’t have Asph sharpness, and I am not looking for that. For reference my only M-mount lens is the Zeiss 35mm F2 Biogon.

Thank you!

Ricardo

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The Summarit never reached the standards of comparable 50mm lenses - even at its time. It was designed in the 30s under the name of Xenon when Leitz feared the original Zeiss Sonnar, but it could not compete with it (if you don‘t look at distortion which was the price the Sonnar had to pay for its other qualities). 

Coating helped a little bit after the war when the Xenon was sold as a Summarit, but it didn‘t save it. If one wants to use a lens with 1:1.5  it should be usable fully opened - but with colour the Summarit isn‘t. Colours look washed up and if one tries to „improve“ them in postproduction the result look like they came from cheap Lomo lenses. It gets a little bit better if one stops it down, but why looking for a 1:1.5 lens when one uses it only at 1:5.6? With black and white there may be a chance to achieve good results with a Summarit, if you don‘t look for sharpness and know very well how to get the best of it.

If one wants a fast but not so expensive lens there are much better modern ones by Zeiss or Voigtländer. If one looks for „old style“ a rigid Summicron or a non-aspherical Summilux are ways ahead. 

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I used one 3 years ago to see it would work as a stop-gap while more modern lenses had their 6-bit coding upgraded for use on the M10 (which ignored my "sharpie-codings" which had worked on the M9). It was a native-M-mount version, free of haze or the rather common cleaning scratches on the front coating.

My experience matched Uliwer's description in most ways. I found it essentially unusable at f/1.5-2.0 - rather like a 35 Summilux pre-ASPH without the benefit of "glow" - just dull and fuzzy.

But by about f/2.8, the contrast and laydown of tones could produce "apparent" clarity, rather like a chalk-and-charcoal sketch. Zooming in, one can see that the out-near-the-corner details are "vibrating" somewhat, as though there was motion blur (in reality, probably aberrations: coma and/or astigmatism.) But at more moderate "print" magnifications, these just added a certainly "liveliness" and "brightness" in those areas. Even on a gray day, there was a unique "presence," especially to things like draped cloth folds or "jewels." The center is reasonably sharp, on the order of a 50 Summicron DR from the 1950s used at f/2.0.

A shot with some details from the top left and bottom left center

By f/5.6 most of the picture is acceptably clear, but never the corners, at any aperture. However, the tones do still have a nice 1950s look - an odd mix of gentle overall contrast with clearer mid-tone punch.

Bokeh at middle apertures shared some of the "vibrating" quality, but was not bad (nor excellent).

Contrary to Uliwer, my copy produced surprisingly nice color for a lens from an era before color film was widely used (except Kodachrome fanatics). Although that is with the benefit of digital saturation and WB adjustments. Very little color fringing or color aberrations visible (possibly hidden by the other aberrations).

It was an interesting lens to explore. But I didn't keep it long....

 

 

Edited by adan

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Without getting into "better or worse" arguments (lenses, new or old, are just like different brushes IMO), I'd suggest to search the forum and/or Flickr, where numerous examples of pictures taken with this lens are available. FWIW, I have posted a few recently in "The View Through Older Glass" thread.
Whilst it's easy to find, clean copies aren't (scratches and cleaning marks due to soft coatings and, more importantly, a propensity to develop haze over time). A CLA is almost inevitable if one wants the lens to perform as intended.
If you are getting a screw mount copy, you will need an LTM to M adapter. Also, the lens features an infinity lock: make sure you are comfortable with that.

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Some facts:

After the war the wide-open lens craze really started to kick in. Zeiss had the Sonnar 1:1.5/50 mm for Contax since 1932 and Leica was a bit upset about it as they did not manage to develop their own fast lens. In order to keep competitive with Zeiss, Leitz sublicensed the double Gauss Xenon design from Schneider in 1935 who had licensed the patent from Taylor-Hobson (now Cooke) in UK. In 1949, Leitz began coating the Xenon and renamed it Summarit. Having a lens on the camera with a maximum aperture of f/1.5 was back then not only a matter of prestige, but also a very useful tool with slow film emulsions of the era.
Produced in considerable quantities (75.000) with both the LTM and (since 1954) M mounts, the heavy silver Summarit was a relative commercial success, which explains the superlative Leitz sales figures.
My Summarit, made in 1957 was very nice. Got it for 350 euros used. The lens had all the imperfections of Cooke lenses the DOP's love so much and retained its character as one of the legendary classic lenses people loved (and hated).
Never sharp wide open except for a small central circle. At f/8 the lens was stellar. I would NOT recommend it for general use though. It is a character lens. YMMV.

Here is my MDa with the Summarit.

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In this thread I showed full frame and pixel level crop shots comparing the summarit to the collapsible summicron, modern Zeiss sonnar C and summilux ASPH.

I found the summarit to be surprisingly good (though it depends what your expectations are). In the centre at least it seemed better than the summicron at f2 and to give the sonnar a run for its money. At f 1.5 it was quite glowy and somewhat dreamy - I found that in maybe half the pictures I took wide open the effects detracted significantly but that sometimes a very special image would result, say with certain types of vegetation in the background blurring in a unique way. By f2 there was a marked reduction in aberrations and I found the lens perfectly useable for most purposes (other than those requiring real edge to edge sharpness) say from f2.8 up. I would have no hesitation in recommending this lens to complement a modern 50 mm, especially if you can get one which has been CLAed or cheap enough to factor in the cost of having it done yourself. I'd think twice about getting it as a sole 50 mm.

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7 hours ago, UliWer said:

The Summarit never reached the standards of comparable 50mm lenses - even at its time. It was designed in the 30s under the name of Xenon when Leitz feared the original Zeiss Sonnar, but it could not compete with it (if you don‘t look at distortion which was the price the Sonnar had to pay for its other qualities). 

Coating helped a little bit after the war when the Xenon was sold as a Summarit, but it didn‘t save it. If one wants to use a lens with 1:1.5  it should be usable fully opened - but with colour the Summarit isn‘t. Colours look washed up and if one tries to „improve“ them in postproduction the result look like they came from cheap Lomo lenses. It gets a little bit better if one stops it down, but why looking for a 1:1.5 lens when one uses it only at 1:5.6? With black and white there may be a chance to achieve good results with a Summarit, if you don‘t look for sharpness and know very well how to get the best of it.

If one wants a fast but not so expensive lens there are much better modern ones by Zeiss or Voigtländer. If one looks for „old style“ a rigid Summicron or a non-aspherical Summilux are ways ahead. 

I question if you suffered from a bad lens copy with this experience. My Summarit lens copy has beautiful colors - as shown in my lens review linked in my earlier comment above. I really like to use my lens copy fully open at f/1.5 or f/2.0. It is obviously not as sharp than any modern Leica 50/1.4 lens, but therefore the Summarit exhibits much more character especially with its bokeh. I rather prefer to have this than absolute center sharpness wide open. 

As I mentioned in my review, the lens has a unique property to transmit UV light which can potentially wash out colors if you don't use an UV filter. I didn't test the lens without UV filter when I took the shown color photos on my A7R with this lens. No idea how big this effect might be, but it just came to mind when you mentioned washed out colors as an issue.

For me this lens is a keeper lens - especially since I got an unscratched and mint looking lens version!

Edited by Martin B

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I use a Summarit ltm sometimes on my III series Leicas, where I only shoot B&W. I have tried it on digital, and agree it is usable. When it was made, photographers weren't so enamored with using lenses wide open, except when necessary to get a shot in dim light with the low speed films available then. So it was intended to give good results stopped down, with the 1.5 speed available for getting otherwise impossible pictures that would be acceptable. Erwin Puts suggests its stopped-down performance could get close to a 50mm Elmar 3.5.

It's high sales reflect the rather low price asked for the model (same as a Summicron DR). Indeed it could be called a coated Xenon, so the development costs were low. According to Erwin Puts, Leitz has no factory records for the Xenon - so it was probably made by Schneider and supplied to Leitz. However Leitz did manufacture the Summarit.

Edited by TomB_tx

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I use my Summarit 1.5 almost exclusively on the M9-Monochrom.  I don't know if i've ever used it on one of the color cameras!  Mine did need a CLA, it was pretty hazy when I got it.  Sherry Krauter did her magic and it's an enjoyable lens. It can have a "nervous" bokeh, and I almost always shoot it open.  It sharpens up significantly beyond 2.8.  I would probably look for an older Summicron if you want a less "character" look.

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I have a M-mount 50mm f/1.5 Summarit from ca. 1953. It produces lovely results. It seems to be optimized for about f/4 or f/5.6. It has character, lots of character. Colors are beautifully natural and it is plenty sharp without being clinically sharp.  If you want lurid, super saturated colors and clinical sharpness, then any modern lens will do. Otherwise, you need something with some character.

Here's an example snapshot of my son on Fujicolor 200 film...

Edited by BradS

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Thanks for your replies. I have seen some samples on eBay in ex+ condition for at least 500 USD, so I might skip it and get the Helier f3.5 instead, while slower- produces beautiful images. -EDIT: However, after seen the samples from sinjun's post, I think is perfectly usable at f2... 

Edited by rivi1969

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10 hours ago, Ecar said:

Without getting into "better or worse" arguments (lenses, new or old, are just like different brushes IMO), I'd suggest to search the forum and/or Flickr, where numerous examples of pictures taken with this lens are available. FWIW, I have posted a few recently in "The View Through Older Glass" thread.
Whilst it's easy to find, clean copies aren't (scratches and cleaning marks due to soft coatings and, more importantly, a propensity to develop haze over time). A CLA is almost inevitable if one wants the lens to perform as intended.
If you are getting a screw mount copy, you will need an LTM to M adapter. Also, the lens features an infinity lock: make sure you are comfortable with that.

Yes, I usually check Flickr for references but it is plagued with fake tags (fake meaning people add tags even though they are not the same camera or lens that actually were use take the pictures) and sometimes is hard to find good material of interest.

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5 hours ago, sinjun said:

In this thread I showed full frame and pixel level crop shots comparing the summarit to the collapsible summicron, modern Zeiss sonnar C and summilux ASPH.

I found the summarit to be surprisingly good (though it depends what your expectations are). In the centre at least it seemed better than the summicron at f2 and to give the sonnar a run for its money. At f 1.5 it was quite glowy and somewhat dreamy - I found that in maybe half the pictures I took wide open the effects detracted significantly but that sometimes a very special image would result, say with certain types of vegetation in the background blurring in a unique way. By f2 there was a marked reduction in aberrations and I found the lens perfectly useable for most purposes (other than those requiring real edge to edge sharpness) say from f2.8 up. I would have no hesitation in recommending this lens to complement a modern 50 mm, especially if you can get one which has been CLAed or cheap enough to factor in the cost of having it done yourself. I'd think twice about getting it as a sole 50 mm.

Thanks for the link, interesting findings, yes wide open reminds me my Canon 50mm f1.4 very much, at f2 I think is perfectly usable.

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I think, when people comment that this particular lens is essentially useless, it is because they don't know HOW to use it-- the Summarit is not an all purpose lens-- but character? It has that in spades...

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7 hours ago, mdg1371 said:

I think, when people comment that this particular lens is essentially useless, it is because they don't know HOW to use it-- the Summarit is not an all purpose lens-- but character? It has that in spades...

I didn’t know it such special lens. All I did is read Leica lens compendium. I used it as it was described in this book. Street photography, portraits and reportage. What is general purpose? Landscapes? :)

Sold it because it is heavy lens and Jupiter-3 outperformed it at f1.5.

But original Summarit gives lovely images at 2.8-5.6 better than Crons in some regard.

If I would be 50mm person, I would get first Lux which is still Summarit, but next to modern build.

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5 hours ago, Ko.Fe. said:

 

If I would be 50mm person, I would get first Lux which is still Summarit, but next to modern build.

Agree : I have both a Summarit (1950) and a Summilux (1961) : though Summarit is by sure a "character" lens, the Summilux is better built and absolutely comparable to Summicron from f2 on (with,imho, even a more pleasant OOF).

 

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Hopefully I can be of some help here. I have a very clean copy of the lens with a near mint front element against all odds. The lens was literally just back from CLA when these test shots were made. Focus is on the "Leica" script and my phone's torch was on and hitting the top plate directly in an attempt to make a very high contrast edge to torture test the lens. 

The first shot is f1.5. The second is f2 and what a difference. Lastly is a shot at f8. A Xoons hood was attached and the shots were made near the minimum focus distance.

I hope these help. The test photos were made on an a7.

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I should also add that I have owned the Zeiss 35/2 as well and I'd describe it as brutally clinical. Depending on taste that can be fantastic or undesirable. The classic Summarit is basically the polar opposite of the Biogon. 

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1 hour ago, Andy_Shields said:

I should also add that I have owned the Zeiss 35/2 as well and I'd describe it as brutally clinical. Depending on taste that can be fantastic or undesirable. The classic Summarit is basically the polar opposite of the Biogon. 

Thanks for the samples Andy, yes the difference between f1.5 and f2 is enormous, wide open the numbers are hard to read., the glowy effect is a little too much for my taste, and considering nice samples goes for 700-800 usd I think I will consider the Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 instead. BTW, that Safari 50mm looks extremely sexy!

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