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The overlooked workhorse: 35mm Summarit


hansvons

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In the last half a year or so, I considered getting a third 35mm M lens for my three cameras (M6, M4P, SL2-S), as I shoot 95% of my work with 35mm lenses, being the 50mm focal length the rare exception for portraits proving the rule.

I shoot primarily on film. But that doesn't mean that I don't need a sharp lens. On the contrary, despite the limited resolution, film relies on sharp glass as much as the most modern, high-resolving sensor. But sharpness isn't my most crucial trait, although I want a lens capable of creating sharp corner-to-corner images for landscapes. I like the lens to show some soul, quirks and shortcomings that can be leveraged for creative intentions. But unfortunately, you can't have both: tons of soul and images that are tack sharp from corner to corner.

That's why I bought for high-resolving, corner-to-corner sharp images the 35mm Summciron ASPH and for soul and character Cosina's Steel Rim copy, the Voigtländer Nokto f1,4 SC in the second version. Both lenses are outstanding in their respective use case, somewhat spanning the spectrum of 35mm M glass in character and performance, from magnificent flares to lush colours and tack-sharp corners. However, I have three cameras and don't want to swap lenses.

My first thought was getting something between, e.g. a Summicron V3 or V4. But do I need another lens that wants to be stopped down to f 5,6-8 for those sharp corners? Not really. Then, I considered buying a second copy of the Summcuron ASPH. That thought led me to the Voigtländer Ultron, which is said to be on par with the Summicron ASPH in sharpness. But will it be as gentle to the skin and render faces as flatteringly with that inimitable flatness?

In the end, I figured that I wanted another ASPH copy. But my photography is also about economic thinking, as it's part of my professional life. Finally, the 35mm Summarit appeared in my orbit. Last week, I stumbled across a pristine, barely used copy that cost 60% of a used Summircon ASPH, and I pulled the trigger.

It's roughly the same size in length as its more costly sibling. But it's a bit lighter and more compact. The focus tab is super smooth and a bit smaller, with a shorter focus throw, making it quicker to focus. The aperture clicks solidly into place. In terms of quality, this lens is as good as any other Leica M lens.

Below are a few test images I shot to evaluate the lens. I shot them on the SL2-S. All photos are shot at full aperture of f 2.5, where the character is revealed. Vignetting will be less pronounced on film and digital M bodies.

 

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hansvons

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  In the last half a year or so, I considered getting a third 35mm M lens for my three cameras (M6, M4P, SL2-S), as I shoot 95% of my work with 35mm lenses, b
Alberti

A still at 80cm & really wide open:

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So yes, what is that worth? I'ld go for it if it is mint. [My lens was €500 fifteen years ago; I had it CLA'd for €
hansvons

Flare torture test:

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  Sharpness at full aperture:

Posted Images

Infinity sharpness at f 2.5. As you can see, the building on the left side is in focus while the centre is in focus as well, and even the right edge is fairly sharp for that aperture. Vignetting is quite pronounced. As said above, vignetting will be less visible on digital and film M cameras. No CA visible anywhere.

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There is no flaring. At least I didn't manage to make the lens flare. The Summciron ASPH would flare in that condition. A nice trait, as a virtually flare-free 35mm was missing in my set (I love flare for moody people images, however. But for that, I have the Nokton, which is super-prone to flaring).

 

Edited by hansvons
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The Summarit shows a slightly bent focal plane, as does the Summicon ASPH at full aperture and medium distance. Please note the sharp traffic sign at the left edge, which is on the same focus distance as the sign in the image's centre. I like that very much! At f 2,8, the focal plane is virtually straight.

 

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At 15m distance, the focal plane is pretty straight at full aperture and the sharpness is good. I find the highlight a tad halating (if that is a word). This is similar to how the Summicron ASPH behaves and, of course, much less pronounced than earlier Summicrons. 

 

Edited by hansvons
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I too shoot heavily using 35mm lenses and I now have just two; the pre-FLE Summilux and the f/2.5 Summarit. I have owned a lot of other 35s but these two are certainly as good as any of the others. I find them very complimentary. The Summarit is, IMO, as good as any of the Summicrons I have owned.

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7 minutes ago, Alberti said:

To me it is very prominent, so to say. I would expect this to reflected in MTF curves, but those seem very ruler flat.

That is because the lens is pretty sharp at the edges, which is what the MTF curves show. However, that sharpness is projected on a bent focal plane. Thus, you get sharp edges, but these edges are not at the same distance as the intended focus distance and would appear soft when shooting a brick wall at a medium distance, say 5 metres.

Non-aspheric lenses with classic Double Gauss design variants show similar bent focal planes at low apertures. However, they won't render those sharp edges when the subject is at the right distance (like the traffic sign in the image above), and the edges would appear soft, only sharpening up when stopping down (which also straightens up the focal plane). 

This phenomenon of a bent focal plane AND sharp edges is a quirk I really like. My Nokton cannot do that. 

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14 hours ago, hansvons said:

That is because the lens is pretty sharp at the edges, which is what the MTF curves show. However, that sharpness is projected on a bent focal plane. Thus, you get sharp edges, but these edges are not at the same distance as the intended focus distance and would appear soft when shooting a brick wall at a medium distance, say 5 metres.

Non-aspheric lenses with classic Double Gauss design variants show similar bent focal planes at low apertures. However, they won't render those sharp edges when the subject is at the right distance (like the traffic sign in the image above), and the edges would appear soft, only sharpening up when stopping down (which also straightens up the focal plane). 

This phenomenon of a bent focal plane AND sharp edges is a quirk I really like. My Nokton cannot do that. 

Yes, I too like the effect from the bent focal plane.

 But I have a question for you.  You are saying "bent focal plane." Are you referring to the effect that a 3D reality is being projected onto a flat plane - the focus is a point in the center of the lens at a particular distance.  then follows a radius at that distance for the arc of the FOV of the lens?

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The 35/2.4 Summarit was my first M lens and I shot with it exclusively for a few years.  I own a bunch of other Leica M lenses now and, despite it being the least expensive, the Summarit more than holds it's own.  I have the 75/2.4 as well and it's also a very nice lens, although it's not a focal length I shoot much.  

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4 hours ago, KFo said:

the focus is a point in the center of the lens at a particular distance.  then follows a radius at that distance for the arc of the FOV of the lens?

Yes. And if that radius of the focal plane is perfectly rounded in a spherical shape, everything in the picture at that particular distance, as seen as a flat field in 2D, should be perfectly sharp. Imagine a group photo where everyone from the centre to the edge is sharp, even though the distance from the lens to the faces will become longer from the centre to the edge. Without a bent focal plane or field curvature, the people would gradually lose sharpness towards the edge.

Now, if the field curvature (bent focal plane) is even more pronounced towards the edges and loses its spherical shape, you will see results as mentioned above (and in a group photo, you might arrange the people accordingly or stop down). If the focal plane is perfectly straight, and you shoot a brick wall, only the centre will be sharp as the distance to the edge is longer than the centre where the focus has been set. That's why shooting brick walls is a moot exercise. Alas, the web is paved with brick walls.

Field curvature (bent focal plane) is not necessarily an issue. On the contrary, it can be a helpful feature. Its shape varies with the focus distance and loses its visibility as you stop down, as the circle of confusion will become smaller across the image and the depth of field increases.

BTW, focal planes can have different shapes. They can be wavy (saw that once ridiculously pronounced in a 7Artisan lens), more or less straight or show an almost perfect spherical shape. 

 

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18 minutes ago, hansvons said:

..... or show an almost perfect spherical shape. 

Underwater, shooting through a concentric port, produces a spherical virtual image which effectively limits the shorter focal length as corners are soft. Its the only time that I have come across a spherical image in practical photographic situation. Otherwise the curved field is only slight in relative terms.

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22 hours ago, hansvons said:

these edges are not at the same distance as the intended focus distance and would appear soft when shooting a brick wall at a medium distance, say 5 metres

I can imagine what you say in words. However it would be better for me to understand what it means in practical shooting if you showed me two takes. One focused in the middle on a clear object, for instance text, to see what it does with the edge and one focused at the edge and turning back to the middle before shooting. 

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Just responding to the “overlooked” wording in the title: all of the (sadly) discontinued M-Summarits are overlooked - except by those who own and enjoy them. They are not revered by many of the Leica cognoscenti, but my 75mm f2.4 is one lens I will never sell. I will add the 35mm Summarit at some stage. A cracking series of lenses. 

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I took a few shots with the Summarit on Kodak 5207 250D recently. It is plenty sharp and shows no flaring. 

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Posted (edited)

Flare torture test:

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Sharpness at full aperture:

Edited by hansvons
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Summarits are awesome. Snobs (unfortunate majority of M owners/operators) hated them so Leica discontinued them. Had they been given the "proper", non-"economy class" cosmetic layout they probably would have been a hit, but then again the low price most likely could not have happened.

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3 minutes ago, Al Brown said:

Summarits are awesome. Snobs (unfortunate majority of M owners/operators) hated them so Leica discontinued them. Had they been given the "proper", non-"economy class" cosmetic layout they probably would have been a hit, but then again the low price most likely could not have happened.

The 35 and 50 are increasing in price. The 75 ad 90 are still relatively cheap but when people realise how good they are and that there is a limited supply I expect that this will change. I have the 35, 75 and 90 and they are great little lenses. I keep looking for a 50/2.5 but can't find a reasonably priced one with its hood - most I've seen for sale lack the difficult to find hood.

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1 minute ago, pgk said:

The 35 and 50 are increasing in price. The 75 ad 90 are still relatively cheap but when people realise how good they are and that there is a limited supply I expect that this will change. I have the 35, 75 and 90 and they are great little lenses. I keep looking for a 50/2.5 but can't find a reasonably priced one with its hood - most I've seen for sale lack the difficult to find hood.

What's a reasonable price? A dealer I know has one brand new...

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4 minutes ago, Al Brown said:

What's a reasonable price? A dealer I know has one brand new...

The ones I've seen are hovering around £1k here but they are thin on the ground. In fact a quick look at several reputable dealers reveals none. And here are few on ebay and as ever prices are higher still.

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39 minutes ago, pgk said:

The ones I've seen are hovering around £1k here but they are thin on the ground. In fact a quick look at several reputable dealers reveals none. And here are few on ebay and as ever prices are higher still.

His is 1330eur brand new 2.4 version before tax, which adds about 20% or so

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Posted (edited)

Reasonable price? It has a signature that I can hardly distinguish from my Summicron 35mm V4:

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3D and those typical bokeh blurs of that time.

Edited by Alberti
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