Choosing a 50mm (lengthy post)

Discussion in 'Leica M and LTM Lenses' started by chalkdust, Jan 3, 2014.

  1. chalkdust

    chalkdust Leica Place Regular

    78
    Apr 3, 2013
    Which 50mm?

    Summicron-M (“type 5”)
    C Sonnar (focus optimized for f/2.8)
    Classic Heliar f/2
    Classic Heliar f/3.5

    I decided to compare my four 50mm lenses. I wanted to become more familiar with their individual characteristics. I have read about how a lens draws, and about the "glow" of some lenses. Of course, I also expected to see some of that Leica magic from my Leica Summicron.

    I decided that I would not mark a lens down for focus shift or curvature of field because I can learn to compensate for those if I really like the way the lens draws. I would evaluate each lens based upon the realism and clarity of whatever part of the image was in best focus. I checked the images from each lens at f/1.5 (C Sonnar), f/2.0 and f/2.8 ( C- Sonnar, Summicron, f2.0 Classic Heliar), f/4.0 and f/5.6 and f/8.0 (C Sonnar, Summicron, both Classic Heliars).

    I set up my tripod about 2 meters from a flower arrangement on my front porch that has indirect northern light. I focused each lens on the same middle flower as carefully as I could with a 1.25 magnifier. The size of the flower arrangement gave enough object field for some part to be in crisp focus. I kept the exposure constant by varying shutter speed as I ran through each lens's range of apertures.

    I examined the images from the RAW files for overall impression and at 100% for details.

    For each aperture range, the lens producing my favorite image was given a score of 4; next best, a score of 3; so on down to 1. If a lens did not produce any image at a given aperture it was given a score of zero. Spreadsheets and totals and over-all rankings ensued.

    Because my first results surprised me, I repeated this test three more times. One of the four repetitions was indoors, photographing the field of clutter on my work-table at about a 2 meter distance. All of my repetitions produced the same rankings.

    I think other people would rank these lenses differently. My approach in these comparisons was entirely subjective. Publishing my number scores for these lenses would be useless and potentially contentious.

    My conclusions:
    1. Focus is much more critical than lens selection. Apparently it is easy to mis-focus any of these lenses within an inch or so at a 2 meter object distance. At apertures of f/2.8 and wider the exact focus point affects an image more than any other factor. Each lens produces an excellent image of something, but not always what I tried to focus on with the rangefinder. Among my four repetitions there were no consistent mis-focus results (other than the well-known front focus of the C Sonnar) from which I could suspect serious mis-calibration of my equipment.
    2. These are four excellent lenses. None of them disappoint in any way. The differences are extremely slight. My preference goes to an ability to give a 3-D impression in the image. This seems to have something to do with the transitions of resolution and contrast from in-focus to out-of-focus.
    3. When I can use it, the f/3.5 Classic Heliar is the winner. This has prompted me to order that rare 27mm IR blocking filter for it.
    4. The f/2.0 Classic Heliar draws nearly identically and gives more aperture range.
    5. It is not wise for me to use f/1.5 on my M8.2 because the depth of field is so shallow that accurate focus is almost by chance. For low light, I stick to f/2 and slightly higher ISO. I find that f/2.8 does a beautiful job of isolating subjects for my purposes. So f/1.5, for me, is very rare, special purpose and used with plenty of focus bracketing.

    50mm Photography 2013:
    As a result of these tests, the 50mm Summicron has spent most of 2013 in its case on my shelf. I have no intention of abandoning it. The Summicron is a spectacularly fine lens. I merely wanted to become more familiar with my other lenses. I have primarily used the C Sonnar and f/2 Classic Heliar for my 50mm shots, which are my most numerous. I like the handling of both the C Sonnar and the f/2 Classic Heliar. Both of them focus easily with a nice “feel.” Both of these lenses have produced bad images when I goof, excellent images when I do things right, and great images occasionally (because I am not a great photographer). Neither lens has produced an image which prompted me to think, “I wish had used the Summicron on this shot.”
     
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  2. asiafish

    asiafish Leica Place All-Pro

    Aug 9, 2013
    Bakersfield, CA
    Andrew
    Here are my three 50mm lenses testing focus accuracy at 1 meter (MFD for the Sonnar and Jupiter 3) and wide-open.

    First the benchmark, my 2013 production 50mm f/2 Summicron M (non-APO), 6 bit coding enabled on M Monochrom Focus is pretty much dead-on.

    View attachment 6346
    Summicron by Lawman1967, on Flickr


    Now the 1937 Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm f/1.5 Sonnar at 1 meter, wide-open. Back focusing just a tad, but focus shift starts to work in its favor and it holds true focus at f/1.5 all the way to infinity.

    View attachment 6347
    Sonnar by Lawman1967, on Flickr


    Now the 1963 Zomz 5cm f/1.5 Jupiter 3, again at f/1.5 and 1 meter. Splits the middle in terms of back focus between the Sonnar and the Summicron, but this one needs to be stopped down to f/2 before it will focus accurately at infinity.

    View attachment 6348
    Jupiter by Lawman1967, on Flickr
     
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  3. raid

    raid Leica Place All-Pro

    Apr 12, 2013
    USA
    Raid
    Thanks for the thread.
    I have both Heliar lenses, and I like using both. My Summicron is the Rigid Cron, which has lower contrast than your Summicron, but it has very high resolution. It does very well on the M8 and on the M9,
    I use the old Zeiss Sonnar 5cm 1.5, which is very different from your modern C Sonnar.
    There are many superb 50mm lenses available.
     
  4. Duane Pandorf

    Duane Pandorf Leica Place Regular

    198
    Mar 30, 2013
    So many choices so many different looks. One could have a pile of lenses in this FL and not get tired of the renderings one can achieve. So I will just stick with the one I have......until I can afford the last model version of the Leica 50mm f1.0.
     
  5. agfa100

    agfa100 New to Leica Place

    5
    May 11, 2013
    No. Virginia, USA
    Sometimes I think it's best to just have one FL lens, the old joke about "man with one watch always knows what time it is, man with two watches is never sure" seems to ring true. I just picked up a Jupiter 3 1.5 a 1973 model year to play with and really like the size and weight, after reading all these wonderful things about the 1.5 Sonnar design. So it joins my line up of 50 1.4 summilux V2, Hexar 50mm 2.0, Jupiter 8's (4) different years, Fed 50mm 2.0 pre-war 1937 Summar copy, Fed 50mm 3.5 post war coated, industar 50mm 3.5, Alpa Kern-Macro Switar 50mm 1.9. Way too many lenses to own and be able to use, in the last couple of months I have been using the Macro-Switar and one of my Jupiter 8's. I seem to always have a Jupiter 8 with me and really like it for people, hope to change that to the Jupiter 3 after it see's Brian as the inf focus is way off but the lens looks like new. Only time will tell. The Jupiter 3 is in a Kiev/Contax mount and I have the Amedeo adp. that works well with the Jupiter 8's I have.

    wbill
     
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  6. Brian

    Brian Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 3, 2013
    Welcome aboard! At last count I had forty 50mm lenses in Leica mount.... It happens. More than half of those are custom.

    We'll get the J-3 straightened out. It's an amazing lens.
     
  7. Kookie B.

    Kookie B. Leica Place Regular

    40
    Dec 26, 2013
    Brian,

    > "More than half of those are custom."

    I think I speak for many of us: We'd love to know more about those lenses! Some of the less well known, of course, you've already written/posted about -- the 50/2.8 Xenar comes to mind, but if you have others please consider sharing them with us.

    Best,

    Ed B.

     
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  8. Brian

    Brian Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 3, 2013
    The Pre-war Sonnars, SLR lenses, Leica Varob in M-Mount, Can-Nikkor 50/1.5- and others! The 1950 J-3 has the focal length modified. I even did a Wollensak 35/2 in Contax RF mount... Need to find a cheap J-12 LTM mount for the other one.
     
  9. agfa100

    agfa100 New to Leica Place

    5
    May 11, 2013
    No. Virginia, USA
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  10. asiafish

    asiafish Leica Place All-Pro

    Aug 9, 2013
    Bakersfield, CA
    Andrew
    The second one really shows the Sonnar look.
     
  11. Kookie B.

    Kookie B. Leica Place Regular

    40
    Dec 26, 2013
    Brian,

    I doubt it will help, but I've got a J-12 with a scratched rear element in Kiev mount that you can have (or put into inventory).

    Ed B.
     
  12. Brian

    Brian Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 3, 2013
    I actually have spare glass for a J-12- if you want yours replaced, that can be arranged!
     
  13. Kookie B.

    Kookie B. Leica Place Regular

    40
    Dec 26, 2013


    Thanks, Brian, but the Kiev mount and I have irretrievably parted ways. If you want this one for inventory just let me know as I've no use for it. That offer goes for anyone else in the group as well. If they can use it, they can have it.

    Ed
     
  14. Brian

    Brian Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 3, 2013
    I would be happy to have the J-12. Always looking for parts lenses.
     
  15. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Leica Place Regular

    76
    Jan 17, 2014
    New Mexico, U.S.A.
    Larry
    I think my 50's chose me. They came on cameras I bought, or were what I could afford. I only have 2 Leica LTM 50's -- a 1953 Summicron 50mm and an Industar 61/LD, which is a decent lens, though I don't use it much since getting the Summicron.

    What I really need is a 35mm thread mount, but it's not in the budget for a while. I'd get the Jupiter 12 until I could afford something better, but it will damage my Bessa, which I use more often than the iiib.
     
  16. Brian

    Brian Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 3, 2013
    Oddly enough- my 1952 J-12 fits the M8 and M9. It's the double curtains of the Bessa that is the issue, required so film will not fog behind the copal type shutter. Not a problem with SLR's as the mirror prevents light from hitting the film, and not required for digital.