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Leica 50mm Collapsible Lenses: Elmar 3.5 vs. Elmar 2.8 vs. Summitar 2.0
Old 11-20-2019   #1
jrose125
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Leica 50mm Collapsible Lenses: Elmar 3.5 vs. Elmar 2.8 vs. Summitar 2.0

I'm looking to pickup my first Barnack Leica in the next week or so (likely a IIIa or IIIc) and am having a bit of trouble narrowing down which lens I'd like to buy with the camera.

I do have personal experience with the Elmar 2.8 in M-Mount and did enjoy owning it, but am looking to hear opinions on the Elmar f/3.5 and Summitar f/2 specifically and if possible, how they compare to the Elmar 2.8.

Any comment, recommendation, or general thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated!
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Old 11-20-2019   #2
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HCB has some experience with 50 3.5, he described it as totally enough for amateur.
But what does he knew about us.
Summitar is huge, soft glass which needs special adapter for protecting filter.
I think, HCB meant Summar
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Old 11-20-2019   #3
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Elmar 50 3.5 and Elmar 35 3.5 are real gems in my opinion.
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Old 11-20-2019   #4
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Never used a Summitar, but a nice 3.5 Elmar is awesome. Super compact and sharp enough. I think one could argue that it’s the lens that Leica started its reputation with. I have a Red Scale version and I’ve heard mixed things about whether there was an optical change at the red scale ones or not. I do like the M mount 2.8 Elmar as well, but the 3.5 is positively tiny In comparison. I have a couple images from the MP240 I could send you taken with the 3.5. Another consideration, if you can find it is the LTM Summicron. Or the 50mm Skopar 2.5 that has a vast thread on here as well.
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Old 11-20-2019   #5
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For best image quality (or color film) I would recommend the CV 50/2.5. Not so easy to find but worth every penny. I am through three Elmar 50/3.5s now. One was OK to put it politely (the red-scale), one is quite OK and one (the oldest, non-coated) is outstanding. I had the red-scale Elmar first and always wondered what the fuss was about. I also had two Summitar lenses. One copy developed separation of the glued front group and the other was really nice. However, my favorite of the old 50mm lenses is still the Summar. If it is good or excellent condition (no haze!, few tiny scratches) then it is hard to beat for BW film.


In summary, in case of old(er) lenses really everything depends on condition but also the market has thinned out quite a bit. Therefore, some try and error might be required and it is better to have the possibility to be able to return the lens if it does not perform well.
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Old 11-20-2019   #6
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I owned and used the Elmar 5cm f2.8 and f3.5 versions for a couple years each, and now own a Summar. They are all great lenses. What the 3.5 Elmar lacks in ergonomics, it makes up for in compactness, and makes your screw mount Leica a very compact outfit. The 2.8 Elmar has better handling, and is still compact, as you probably already know.

FWIW, the Summar is my favorite among these lenses.
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Old 11-20-2019   #7
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All three are nice lenses and will take good pictures.

As far as collapsible goes the Elmar 3.5 makes the most compact package on the camera as it adds a couple of mm of width to the camera when it is collapsed. On the flip side it is the least ergonomic of the lenses to use as the aperture is on the front and a little finicky to adjust. Whole lens rotates for focusing. Filter usage makes this more difficult.

If you tend to adjust your shutter for a given aperture this isn't a big deal. If you tend to adjust your aperture for a given shutter speed this slows you down. If you haven't shot a Barnack before understand setting the shutter on these is more finicky than most cameras. You have to advance the film before setting the shutter and then to set it you have to lift the dial and twist it to position and then drop it down. Can't really do it by feel like on a M camera. If you are trying to adjust to lighting quickly the Elmar/Barnack will be the slowest combination unless using a specialized hood with aperture control built into it.

The Elmar 2.8 gives a proper aperture dial, with click stops, but the whole lens still rotates with focusing so you might need to adjust the camera somewhat to see the setting. You can adjust it by feel though if you know the starting aperture based on the click stops. It collapses pretty compact but not to the degree of the 3.5.


With the Summitar it is the least compact collapsed. The entire lens doesn't rotate when focusing and it has a proper aperture ring but it doesn't have click stops so you can't adjust aperture by feel, you have to look at it. It is also somewhat easy to knock it out of position.

The Elmar 2.8 and 3.5 are more alike than not as far as rendering. Condition is going to make a bigger difference here. The 2.8s can get a haze on them from the aperture blades so make sure you check for that. The coatings are supposed to be pretty soft so check those too.

I haven't had the Summitar as long but it seems to have more character. More of the glow and when closer to wide open not as flat of a field so the center is sharp and gets softer to the sides. Different vintages have very different number of aperture blades so that will alter OOF areas when wide open.

Both the Summitar and 3.5 Elmar could be coated or not depending upon the vintage.

None are bad choices.

Shawn
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Old 11-20-2019   #8
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Every barnack needs a 3.5 Elmar as standard equipment.

The key is to find a clean copy of whatever lens you choose. So many of them are hazy or scratched...which lowers contrast on already low contrast lenses...
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Old 11-20-2019   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by splitimageview View Post
Every barnack needs a 3.5 Elmar as standard equipment.

The key is to find a clean copy of whatever lens you choose. So many of them are hazy or scratched...which lowers contrast on already low contrast lenses...

Good luck with that.
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Old 11-20-2019   #10
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Patience is a virtue.
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Old 11-20-2019   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by splitimageview View Post
Patience is a virtue.
Might be.

But 70 years on, finding glass that isn't permanently etched by the haze or scratches is becoming a quixotic quest.
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Old 11-20-2019   #12
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There's a nice Elmar 3.5 listed for sale here CHEAP. Buy it before I do, I don't need a another one. The Summitar is a very nice lens if you get a clean copy. Almost 2 stops faster and IMHO just as good as the Elmar @ f4, just a lot bigger. Get both.
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Old 11-20-2019   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by james.liam View Post
Might be.

But 70 years on, finding glass that isn't permanently etched by the haze or scratches is becoming a quixotic quest.
I guess I've been pretty lucky. I have an uncoated Summitar, a collapsible radioactive Summicron, and a 50/3.5 Elmar that are all scratch and haze-free. And they were all just happenstance acquisitions, as opposed to quests...
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Old 11-20-2019   #14
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coated Summitar:

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Old 11-20-2019   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
HCB has some experience with 50 3.5, he described it as totally enough for amateur.
But what does he knew about us.
Summitar is huge, soft glass which needs special adapter for protecting filter.
I think, HCB meant Summar
I sold a IIIf with 5cm Summitar to a friend not so long ago, the lens was fitted with a Leitz UV filter that screwed straight into the front threads, without any adapter. Perhaps it depends on the type of filter involved?
(Picture)

Last edited by Sarcophilus Harrisii : 11-20-2019 at 21:00. Reason: Image added.
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Old 11-20-2019   #16
Emile de Leon
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I received a Summar uncoated and Summitar coated basically for free back in the day...
Summar is all scratched up but takes "misty" shots...
Summitar has mint glass and is sharp..but the ratchety bokeh is not pleasant..
I like my Elmar 2.8 M the best of the 3 ..it really is one of those outstanding lenses that makes everything look great either in color or B&W.
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Old 11-20-2019   #17
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In 50 years I never had a 50mm Leica lens I wasn't happy with except the Summars. And in the few Summars I had probably they had bad coatings and/or scratched lenses or haze. But all the Elmars, Summitars, Summicrons, or Summiluxes were great lenses. Each newer generation was better than the last but each generation had it's own definitions. Asking which was best is like asking which of my daughters I love the best.
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Old 11-20-2019   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sarcophilus Harrisii View Post
I sold a IIIf with 5cm Summitar to a friend not so long ago, the lens was fitted with a Leitz UV filter that screwed straight into the front threads, without any adapter. Perhaps it depends on the type of filter involved?
The Summitar has unusual filter threads that will not take standard filters. Leitz made special filters for the Summitar and they also made an adapter to allow the use of normal filters.
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Old 11-20-2019   #19
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I've used a f3.5 50mm Elmar since 1964. It has never been serviced, and is still in mint condition. Funny but when I bought it I had no idea about haze, corrosion, lens separation, or coatings falling off, and these have never been a problem. My Elmar is as good as it was in 1964 and probably back to 1953. I don't need a high speed lens so it is fine for me. I also think the Barnack body is the best for film flatness and accurate register. So that little lens is sharpest of the 6 other fifties I have.

Good contrast, sharp, light, accurate f stops:

Arista 400 Premium by John Carter, on Flickr

I have no knowledge of the other two lenses mentions, which I'm sure are also very good.
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Old 11-21-2019   #20
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The 50/f3.5 Elmar is a solid all-round lens. Good sharpness across the aperture range.

The 50/f2 Summitar is considerably softer at wider aperture and lower contrast lens, but that gives it some great character as mentioned earlier.


Summitar (uncoated), Fomapan 100
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Old 12-03-2019   #21
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A big thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on this thread - very informative and helpful.

I ended up getting a few really great deals, namely on a 1939 III with an uncoated Elmar and a 1946 IIIc with a Summar, so I guess that's what lenses I will be dealing with from the get-go.

I will not be keeping both bodies and will likely sell one of the lenses as well, but I'm really excited to get started with my Screw Mount adventure!

Thanks again
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Old 12-03-2019   #22
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The Summar is a nice warm to neutral lens. It suffers from a bit more vignetting than its younger brother, the Summitar. Still a good performer, particularly for portraits.
Something to do with how it renders (or not renders) shadow detail that can give images a 3D-look.
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Old 12-04-2019   #23
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My Summitar (508151) suffers from a severe barrel vault distortion, but my Summars do not!

Erik.

Summar 50mm uncoated.

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Old 12-05-2019   #24
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Gorgeous shot! Do you find you "have" to use a hood with the Summar to get decent results? I've heard that veiling flare is a big issue with uncoated glass
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Old 12-05-2019   #25
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Flare is an issue with the Summar, but there is a very large hood made just for that lens and it does not cost a lot. It will also take the adjustable hood - the one made for 50, 90, and 135 - and it's a lot smaller and not expensive. The Summer is probably the smallest 2.0 50 Leica made. Collapsed it's not much larger, if at all, than the Elmar.
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Old 12-05-2019   #26
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On the Summar I use the FLQOO, a beautiful black paint shade from the thirties. Works perfect on the prewar Leica lenses Elmar 50mm, Hektor 50mm, Summar 50mm and - big surprise - also on the Elmar 35mm.

There are coated Summars around, postwar coated of course.

Erik.


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Old 12-05-2019   #27
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[IMG]20191129 (32) by Steven Pfost, on Flickr[/IMG]

Uncoated Summitar made 1942. Shot at around f/2.2 or so. Has some haze inside, I gently cleaned some of the easily reachable haze myself. I use the sweet ass barn door hood. Yeah, it can sometimes be a pain to frame but I find it fun to use and it looks wild, especially attached to a barnack.
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Old 12-10-2019   #28
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Yes, the coating of uncoated lenses was another upgrade that Leica offered after the war.
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Old 12-11-2019   #29
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Thanks again for anyone who commented and help give direction to my search! I recently shot my first roll through my new-to-me Leica IIIc and accompanying 50mm Summar f/2:


Film is Kentmere 400 which was developed in Rodinal (1:25) @ 21 degrees C for 7 mins 30 seconds.

Again, this is my first roll through the camera but I am really digging it so far. I wasn't really sure what to expect with the Summar in particular but I really enjoy what I got from this roll!
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Old 12-28-2019   #30
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Leica III black/nickel (late), Summar nickel, 400-2TMY, printed on AdoxMCC110.

Erik.

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Old 12-28-2019   #31
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Nice one Erik!
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Old 12-28-2019   #32
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Thank you, Pan.


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Old 12-28-2019   #33
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Leica III, Color Skopar 50mm f/2.5, 400-2TMY.

Not collapsible but the best of all.

Erik.

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Old 12-29-2019   #34
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The 1937 Elmar 50/3.5 that came with my Barnack had only modest internal haze resulting in very low contrast by today's standards although resolution was acceptably good when stopped down a little to f/6.3. A well respected Leica repairman told me the lens wouldn't be worth the cost of service due to etching from the haze. I replaced it with the CV 50/3.5 Heliar which is well regarded as the best 50/3.5 optic available period and images from the lens bear this out. CV doesn't publish MTF data but I suspect it's as good or better than the 50/2.5 Skopar at the same f settings.
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Old 12-29-2019   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by awilder View Post
I replaced it with the CV 50/3.5 Heliar which is well regarded as the best 50/3.5 optic available period and images from the lens bear this out. CV doesn't publish MTF data but I suspect it's as good or better than the 50/2.5 Skopar at the same f settings.
It is optically very good indeed, but the f/2.5 Color Skopar is faster and its ergonomics are superb; much better than those of the Heliar. Try one and you are convinced.

btw, I've cleaned a lot of Elmars, but I've never seen "etching from the haze". Recently I've cleaned one from 1928: no "etching" at all. Elmars cannot be cleaned from scratching, however.

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Old 12-29-2019   #36
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No doubt about the Color Skopars speed advantage. The Heliar's ergonomics are better than the pre-war Elmars but behind any more modern lens like the Skopar. However, the collapsible feature of the Heliar allows it to easily fit the leather Leica camera case that came with the camera. The Skopar might be a tighter fit especially with filter and front cap attached unless you have a case with a larger front nose or just a body case without a front cover.
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Old 12-29-2019   #37
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Don't forget too that the Skopar has seven elements against the Heliar five, nevertheless the lens is much more compact. The seven elements give a kind of "fullness" to the image, comparable to that of the Summicron 50mm rigid. By the way, it is very hard to see in the pictures any difference between the Summicron rigid and the Color Skopar, believe it or not.


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Old 3 Weeks Ago   #38
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Leica IIIc, Summicron 50mm collapsible.

Erik.

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Old 3 Weeks Ago   #39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by awilder View Post
The 1937 Elmar 50/3.5 that came with my Barnack had only modest internal haze resulting in very low contrast by today's standards although resolution was acceptably good when stopped down a little to f/6.3. A well respected Leica repairman told me the lens wouldn't be worth the cost of service due to etching from the haze...

This baffled me too. I would have thought that the uncoated 1937 lens would be very easy to clean.


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Old 3 Weeks Ago   #40
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This baffled me too. I would have thought that the uncoated 1937 lens would be very easy to clean.


Regards, David
Second.. no third-ing the sentiment of bafflement.

All the uncoated lenses I've taken apart and cleaned (some Leica mount, some Contax, some Rolleiflexes) were all very easy to clean. You can also use harder chemicals like hydrogen peroxide and ammonia to get off some of the more stubborn organic haze. This has always worked perfectly for me so far.

I've restored a basket-case 1936 Sonnar lens to basically look like new, excluding the scratches which do not affect anything.

Coated lenses seem to be much softer (regardless of maker) and etch more easily.
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