LEICA 50mm f/2.8
LEICA ELMAR-M 50mm f/2.8 (39mm filters, 5.9 oz. (167g, about $700 used). enlarge. You can get these at this link to them at eBay; you also can get them from Adorama and OC Camera. It helps me keep reviewing these oldies when you get yours through these, links, thanks! Ken.
Older Model: LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8 (1957-1974)
This collapsible LEICA ELMAR-M 50mm f/2.8 is a remake of the original collapsible LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8 of 1957-1974.
This new version is called the ELMAR-M, while the classic version is simply called the ELMAR f/2.8.
Its advantage over faster lenses is its smaller size, less weight, and being collapsible for carrying while mounted to a camera in a big pocket.
In black, it is the lightest 50mm lens ever made for LEICA M. Of course the faster and wider LEITZ SUMMICRON 40mm f/2 is the smallest and lightest LEICA M lens made, at 126g, but few LEICA M cameras have 40mm framelines.
If you demand top optical performance, the current LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 is far superior (by LEICA standards), takes the same tiny 39mm filters, and weighs only 75g (2.7 oz.) more.
Every image here of this tiny little lens has been enlarged. Printing the images only life-sized would be too small to print. In fact, this lens is so small that if you're reading this page on an iPod or iPhone, the images are still a little bit bigger than the actual lens.
This tiny ELMAR-M works just fine on today's latest cameras, like the M9 and M7. It is a superb lens for use in daylight, or on a tripod in any light. Of course it also works perfectly on every other LEICA M camera made since 1954.
It is designed to collapse on all cameras; there is no restriction on the M9. On the CL and the M5, the retraction must be limited to 9.5mm, which Leica suggests doing by wrapping the right sized piece of Dymo label maker tape around the barrel.
Be careful to extend the lens before use, otherwise you can waste pictures.
Leica 50mm f/2.8 ELMAR-M. enlarge.
1924-1925: Leitz Anastigmat and Leitz Elmax 5cm f/3.5
The Anastigmat was designed by Dr. Max Berek. It has 5 elements in 3 groups.
A few months later its design was changed slightly, still with 5 elements and 3 groups, and its name was changed to Elmax.
These lenses were permanently attached to the earliest Leicas.
1925-1961: Leitz Elmar 5cm f/3.5
The original LEICA f/3.5 50mm ELMAR was made for decades.
It had 4 elements in 3 groups.
It came in many mechanical variations, including versions for the earliest fixed-lens cameras, and in screw and bayonet mounts.
The optics remained the same for all these decades, with uncoated glass at the beginning and coating added after WW II. The Germans invented lens coating as a military secret during WW II.
This was the world's most advanced 50mm lens in the beginning. It was extremely poplar and Leica's most popular lens ever. Leica made about 400,000 of them, averaging 1,000 of them every month during its most popular period from 1929 through 1957.
It became the cheapie lens at the end of its life when the extraordinary LEICA 50mm f/2 SUMMICRON was introduced in 1953 and then the LEICA 50mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX ultra-speed lens was introduced in 1960. These bigger, faster lenses became the lenses of choice for Leica men, who accept nothing but the best.
1957-1974: LEICA ELMAR 50mm f2.8
Leica spruced up the 37-year old design in 1957 and added almost a stop of speed, thus creating the original 50mm f/2.8 LEICA ELMAR.
Earliest versions had only one distance scale, most had both feet and meters.
The f/2.8 ELMAR came in both screw and bayonet mount, with screw mount slightly more popular in the 1950s and the bayonet mount more popular in the 1960s.
Leica made about 27,000 screw-mount lenses and 38,000 bayonet lenses, at about 500 per month in the most popular years for each.
This lens died out from lack of interest after only 17 years, a short life for any LEICA design.
1994 - 2007: LEICA ELMAR-M 50mm f/2.8
Leica redesigned this f/2.8 lens sort of as a goof, sold only as part of a kit with the M6J, in 1994.
Leica sold this as a stand-alone lens starting in 1996, and made it through 2007.
This 1994-2007 ELMAR-M is a different and superior optical design from the original f/2.8 lens. However, this newer lens comes in a lighter-duty mount with an inferior 6-bladed diaphragm.
In 2009, used ones sell for about $700, if they still have all the boxes, as most do.
Leica calls this the LEICA ELMAR-M 50mm f/2.8.
4 elements in 3 groups.
Leica 50mm f/2.8 ELMAR-M at f/5.6. enlarge.
6 traditional blades.
Stops down to f/16.
Arbitrary half-stop clicks from f/2.8 to f/8, then single full-stop clicks at f/11 and f/16. Uneven spacing.
Dual-scale aperture ring, repeated on two sides of the lens 180º apart.
0.7m (2.3 ft).
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
Extension from flange, collapsed: 0.850" (21.6mm), focused at infinity.
Extension from flange, extended: 1.480 " (37.6mm), focused at infinity.
Maximum diameter (focus ring base): 2.0" (52mm), specified.
Front slip-on diameter: A42.
39 x 0.5mm screw-in filters.
Lens alone: 5.885 oz. (166.9g), measured.
Wimpy aluminum press-on cap: 0.180 oz.(5.2g), measured.
6.0 oz. (170g), specified, black version.
8.6 oz. (245g), specified, chrome version.
Original chrome version is 7.310 oz (207.2g), measured.
It comes with a screw-in hood. What a pain, but at least the same 39mm cap pops over the hood when it's attached.
The 1970s 12 585 black vented, reverse-conical hood snaps on perfectly. An advantage is that it can reverse over the lens, even when it is collapsed! You then would need the special hood cap for the 12 585.
Part Numbers top
Black lens: 13 131. Screw-in hood: 12 549. Front cap: 14 285.
Silver lens: 13 132. Screw-in hood: 12 550. Front cap: 14 321.
Soft leather case: 439-606-059-000.
Rear cap: standard 14 269.
Scope of Delivery top
Screw-in lens hood.
Leica 50mm f/2.8 ELMAR-M. enlarge.
This lens works great. It's the fastest-focusing LEICA lens I've used, and it's more than plenty sharp to wipe anything from Nikon or Canon.
The 50mm ELMAR-M f/2.8 is better than the original LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8, but not by that much. If you count every pixel, especially at large apertures, pass on either of these lenses and step right up to the remarkable LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2, which costs not much more if you buy used.
LEICA shooters don't waste time counting pixels. They just shoot.
Bokeh, the quality of out-of-focus areas, is pleasant.
This is a simple design. Nothing that screwy can happen.
Diaphragm Calibration top
The calibration is right-on: the meter in my M9 tracks each full-stop click perfectly.
The LEICA ELMAR-M 50mm f/2.8 has no visible distortion. Shoot the M9, look at it at 100%, drop a ruler on it in Photoshop, and it's flat.
The ELMAR-M is a huge improvement over today's newest SLR lenses like the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S which have noticeable barrel distortion.
LEICA ELMAR-M 50mm f/2.8. enlarge.
The 50mm ELMAR-M is extremely easy to focus. The tiny helicoid moves with the slightest breath of a fingertip's brushing, and there is zero play.
If anything, it focuses too fast. There is only 90º of rotation from infinity to 0.7 meters. This is great for fast shooting, but feels too fast for precise shooting.
This ELMAR-M is much easier to use than the classic LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8 because the moving button and long, precise focus travel of the original ELMAR f/2.8 drives me crazy. This ELMAR-M focuses with an ordinary, but thin, focus ring, devoid of any infinity locks or buttons.
The aperture ring clicks are horrible. Both this ELMAR-M and the original ELMAR have unequal spacing. That's no big deal on the original ELMAR, since its full-stop clicks make it trivial to set the aperture by feel, even if some are close than others.
Forget trying to set aperture by feel on this ELMAR-M. Leica made a huge mistake and added half-stop clicks where they could, between f/2.8 and f/8, but only had enough room for full-stop clicks between f/8 and f/16. Now the clicks are useless, because you can't just feel clicks and know what you're doing unless you also stop photographing and squint at the lens barrel. Forget that.
It's easy to set the aperture. The front of the lens never rotates, while the original ELMAR f/2.8 spins in its mount. The original ELMAR f/2.8 needed two repeated scales, this ELMAR-M has just one scale that always points north.
LEICA ELMAR-M 50mm f/2.8, Collapsed. enlarge.
Always remember to extend the lens before shooting.
If you don't, you'll be able to focus. compose and shoot as always, but your images will be totally out of focus and vignetted like this:
Image as shot on M9 with collapsed 50mm ELMAR.
Finder Blockage top
The LEICA ELMAR-M 50mm is small enough that there is no finder blockage.
I get perfect focus all the time.
The Leica rangefinder offers more precision than the large depth of field of this lens at f/2.8. Focus is always right-on.
Falloff (darker corners) top
This ELMAR-M has a negligible amount of falloff at f/2.8, and none by f/4.
Oddly, it's got about a half-stop more falloff wide-open than the original ELMAR f/2.8.
You almost can see a little at f/2.8 below, but only because I've shot gray and presented it on a gray background. With actual photos, this is zero.
Lateral Color Fringes top
There no color fringes anywhere.
Materials and Construction top
This black ELMAR-M is weaker than the classic brass ELMAR f/2.8. The chrome ELMAR-M is brass, but I haven't played with one.
This ELMAR-M is smooth, precise and made with zero play, it just doesn't feel as tough as the ELMAR f/2.8.
Filter threads, barrels, aperture and focus rings: Anodized aluminum.
Focus ring: Anodized aluminum.
Focus helicoids: Brass.
Markings: Engraved and filled with paint.
Mount and mounting grip: Chromed brass.
Red index dot: Plastic.
The more you know about photography, the more you know that lens sharpness doesn't matter.
It's not as crazy sharp as the current LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 or the 1970's SUMMICRON, when shot at f/2.8, but at f/2.8, there isn't much in focus on which to notice this unless you're shooting test charts.
Stopped down around f/8 and smaller, it is just as sharp as the newest lenses.
It's better than the classic ELMAR f/2.8, which at f/8 is this sharp, but not by enough to make it worth while to replace the ELMAR f/2.8. If you want the ultimate, just get the current, and almost as small, LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2.
f/2.8: Sharp and contrasty in the center (much better than the ELMAR f/2.8), but softer in the periphery.
f/4 to f/8: The periphery gets better as stopped down. This is no SUMMICRON-M, which is always sharp everywhere.
To extend the lens, pull it forward and rotate to the left about a third of a turn until it locks.
To collapse the lens, rotate it to the left to unlock, then push it in.
Warning: You can happily focus and shoot regardless of whether or not the lens is extended, or if it is locked. If you forget to extend and lock the ELMAR-M, your photos will be out of focus and probably completely wasted.
This ELMAR-M is much sharper than the ELMAR f/2.8 at f/2.8. At f/4 - f/8, this ELMAR-M has about half the fuzziness of the ELMAR f/2.8.
Focus is easy with this ELMAR-M. The ELMAR f/2.8 has a goofy infinity lock that gets in the way.
Filters are easy to use and apertures are easy to set; the front doesn't rotate with focus and extension position as it does on the original ELMAR f/2.8.
The ELMAR-M has a crappy 6-sided diaphragm, making bogus 6-pointed sunstars, while the original ELMAR has a perfectly circular 15-bladed diaphragm.
The original ELMAR is easy to set by feel with its full-stop aperture clicks, while you can't do that with this new ELMAR-M because LEICA copied Pentax and arbitrarily sprinkled half-stop clicks in between some, but not all apertures.
This is LEICA's lightest 50mm lens.
With this tiny thing, especially at moderate apertures, you can create extraordinary images technically beyond what we can get from Nikon or Canon SLRs.
If you want the most exquisite sharpness, or want super sharpness at large apertures, the current LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 is superior, and not much bigger, and not much more expensive used.
This ELMAR-M is priced as high as it used is mostly because it's trying to catch some part of the dream. I don't understand that, since if I want the dream, I'd rather shoot the genuine ELMAR f/2.8 for half the price.
I wouldn't bother with a hood.
For B&W outdoors, you want a yellow filter standard, like the B+W 39mm #022.
For color print film or digital, you want a Leica 39mm silver-ring UV filter for protection.
(the old M8 needed a Leica 39mm silver-ring IR filter.)
If you want to attach a rear cap with the ELMAR-M collapsed, you'll need a special extra-deep cap. Otherwise, the back of the telescoping tube will hit the back of today's 14 269 rear cap and the ELMAR-M won't collapse as far. No big deal.
Many thanks to Alan King for loaning me this lens to review.
More Information top
Leica's data (see pages 42-45, and specifically page 46 for performance graphs.)
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