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LEICA 50mm f/2.8
ELMAR (1957-1974)
© 2009 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

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Leica 50mm f/2.8 ELMAR

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8 (39mm filters, 7.3oz/207g (6.8oz/192g screw-mount), about $400 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.


November 2009     Leica Camera Reviews    Leica Lens Tests

Newer Model: LEICA ELMAR-M 50mm f/2.8 (1994-2007)


Introduction         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations


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The 1950s LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8 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.

Its advantage over newer, faster lenses is its smaller size, less weight, and it's collapsible for carrying.

Collapse it, and your LEICA M becomes a pocket camera, fitting in the large pocket of your hiking shorts, opening a spiritual channel to Oskar Barnack, the martyred saint of LEICA, the inventor of the 24x36mm full-frame format and the creator photography as we know it today.

As you can see at the full-resolution image, it's scaldingly sharp stopped down.

Sample Image

Proof of Performance: Sample from LEICA M9 at f/8.

Full-Resolution © 10MB JPG.

The LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8 also has a perfectly circular 15-blade diaphragm that works just like your eye; it never opens like a hexagon as does the simpler, newer 50mm f/2.8 ELMAR-M lens.

This ELMAR 50mm f/2.8 is optimized for daylight use. It isn't as sharp at larger apertures. For available-light work, you choose the f/2 SUMMICRON or ultra-speed f/1.4 SUMMILUX instead. Invocation of the NOCTILUX is reserved for religious and devotional services.

This ELMAR also only focuses to 1 meter (3.3 feet), not 0.7m (2.3 feet) as do most newer 50mm lenses.

This LEICA ELMAR is hewn from solid brass, thus it weighs more than the aluminum-barreled newer version of the f/2.8 lens (1994-2007). In fact, the 1970s f/2 SUMMICRON weighs the same as this brass f/2.8 lens.

Be careful to extend the lens before use, otherwise you can waste pictures.

Be careful collapsing the lens on newer cameras, in case it might hit any of the internals, like the flipping meter cell in the M5 and CL. It's no problem on the M3, M2, M1, and M4, and works fine on my M7 and M9. See your instruction manual for specifics with your camera about collapsing it. If you leave it erect, there's never a problem.

Front LEICA 50mm f/2.8

Front, Leica 50mm f/2.8 ELMAR. 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 this 50mm f/2.8 LEICA ELMAR.

Earliest versions had only one distance scale; the sample shown here from 1963 has both feet and meters. (part numbers for all these are under specifications.)

This 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.

This modern f/2.8 lens was never that popular with the core Leica customers, who of course chose the f/2 SUMMICRON for sharpest results and the f/1.4 SUMMILUX for available-light shooting, especially for color work which was becoming popular. Leica users bought twice as many SUMMICRON as this ELMAR, and bought about half as many exotic SUMMILUX as they did this ELMAR.


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 it as a stand-alone lens starting in 1996, and made it through 2007.

The 1994-2007 ELMAR-M is a different and superior optical design from the original f/2.8 lens reviewed here. However, the newer lens comes in a lighter-duty mount with an inferior 6-bladed diaphragm.



In 1972, the catalog price of this lens new was $575, corrected for inflation in 2009.

By comparison, the high-speed SUMMICRON was about $1,250 and the exotic, ultra-speed SUMMILUX was $1,650. People probably paid about 9% less than that at their dealers.

In 2009, used ones sell for about $400.

As you'll see, even as the decades pass, all these lenses hold their value, even if bought brand-new.


Specifications         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations


Leica calls this the LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8.


Optics        top

4 elements in 3 groups.




Front LEICA 50mm f/2.8

Front, Leica 50mm f/2.8 ELMAR at f/5.6. enlarge.

15 curved blades, resulting in perfectly circular openings, just like the irises of our eyes.

Stops down to f/16.

Full-stop clicks with uneven spacing.

Dual-scale aperture ring, repeated on two sides of the lens 180º apart.

The scale rotates with focus, so having a duplicate scale 180º away can be handy. Likewise, you can lock the extended lens in any of three positions, another reason to want duplicate scales.


Close Focus

1m (39").


Actual Focal Length

Focal Length Code Number

Secret Focal-Length Code Number.

The actual focal length is about 51.9mm.

The exact focal length of each lens is engraved as a two-digit code between the "feet" and "m" engravings. Divide this number by ten and add to 50 to get the actual focal length in millimeters.

For instance, "19" means 51.9mm, and 16 would mean 51.6mm.

(Regardless of the actual focal length, the small sensor of the old M8 only sees an angle of view similar to a 70mm lens.)


Size        top

Extension from flange, collapsed: 0.824" (20.94mm), measured focused at infinity.

Extension from flange, extended: 1.584 " (40.24mm), measured focused at infinity.

Overall length, collapsed: 1.586" (40.29mm), regardless of focus distance.

Overall length, extended: 1.854 " (47.09mm), measured focused at infinity.


Maximum diameter (focus ring base): 2.006" (50.96mm), measured.


39 x 0.5mm screw-in filters.


Weight        top

M mount (as shown at most of this review)

Lens alone: 7.310 oz (207.2g), measured.

7.8oz. (220g), specified.


Screw Mount

Lens alone: 6.757 oz. (191.6g).

Screw lens with M-adapter: 7.195 oz. (204.0g).

Chrome front cap: 0.455 oz. (12.9g).

Sanitary plastic container: 1.440 oz. (40.9g).

Sanitary ensemble for storage: 8.655 oz. (245.4g).


Hood        top

Leica 12 525 Hood

1970s Leica 12 585 Hood. enlarge.

1957-1972: 12 571 J (chrome and black conical), later 12 580.

1973-: 12 585 (black vented, reverse-conical), as shown above. This hood is also used on most of the 50mm and 35mm lenses made from the 1950s through today.

I wouldn't bother with a hood: it covers up the moving index dot for setting the aperture, and it has to be taken off to rotate the lens to collapse and extend it.


Part Numbers        top

Screw-mount: ELMOO, later 11 512. (Earliest feet-only version was 11 012.)

M-Bayonet: ELMOM, later 11 612 (meters) and 11 112 (feet). The dual-scale version shown here was also called 11 112.


Scope of Delivery        top

Sanitary polystyrene container with chromed brass cap.

The brass cap is lined with Hungarian yak felt.

Since the lens arrives in a container, there is no separate rear cap included.

You'll need an extra-deep rear cap to put it away collapsed. With the current rear cap, you only can collapse it halfway.


Rear, Leica 50mm f/2.8

Rear, Leica 50mm f/2.8 ELMAR. enlarge.


Performance         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

The 50mm ELMAR f/2.8 has no distortion.

Stopped down to the range of f/5.6 ~ f/11, it's a super-sharp performer.


Bokeh        top

Bokeh, the quality of out-of-focus areas, is quite pleasant.

At f/2.8 it gets a bit slanty-eyed in the sides and corners, and otherwise it's quite lovely: out-of-focus areas simply fade away without distraction.

This is an advantage of such a simple design: nothing that screwy can happen.


Diaphragm Calibration        top

The blades always form a perfectly round aperture, unlike SLR lenses which often are uneven.

The calibration is right-on: the meter in my M9 tracks each full-stop click perfectly.


Distortion           top

The LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8 has no visible distortion.

The ELMAR is a huge improvement over today/s newest SLR lenses like the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S which have noticeable barrel distortion.

This ELMAR has less distortion than the original ultra-high speed SUMMILUX, sold from 1961-2004.


Ergonomics        top

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8. enlarge.

The 50mm ELMAR isn't as easy to use as the newest LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2.

The ELMAR is a bit weird to focus because it expects you to use a finger on the knob. You press the knob in towards the camera to unlock it from infinity. This is a vestigial feature from screw-mount lenses, which used this as an aid in grabbing the little lens when unscrewing it from the camera.

You can focus by grabbing it by the scale; there is no grip ring for focus.

Focus button

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8. Note infinity-locking focus button on right.

The aperture ring should be adjusted before focus because some ELMARs turn in their focus mounts easily enough that you'll change the focus when turning the aperture ring.

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8, Collapsed. enlarge.

Always remember to extend the lens before shooting. If you don't, your images will be totally out of focus and vignetted like this:


Image as shot on M9 with collapsed 50mm ELMAR.

Forget using the hood. If you do, it covers the index dot against which you set the aperture. If you do use a hood, set the aperture by counting clicks.

Since you can't grab and rotate the front of the ELMAR with a hood mounted, you'll have to remove the hood to collapse or to extend it.


Finder Blockage        top

All the LEICA ELMAR 50mm lenses are small enough that there is no finder blockage.


Focus        top

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

There is no falloff. This is excellent.

You almost can see a little below at f/2.8, but only because I've shot gray and presented it on a gray background. With actual photos, this is zero.


Leitz ELMAR 50mm f/2.8 falloff on full-frame M9 at infinity:


© 2009 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.



Lateral Color Fringes        top

There no color fringes anywhere.


Materials and Construction        top

The ELMAR is made like they used to, which makes sense considering its 50 years old. It will be taking great pictures long after you and I are long dead. 100 years from now, all it might need is a cleaning to be ready shoot for another 100 years through 2209. It may be the lens to document Man's first contact with other intelligent races on other planets after Man has conquered space. We can only dream.

Filter threads, barrels, aperture and focus rings: Chromed brass.

Focus lever: Chromed brass.

Focus helicoids: Brass.

Markings: Engraved and filled with paint.

Mount and mounting grip: Chromed brass.

Red index dot: Plastic.


Sharpness         top

The more you know about photography, the more you know that lens sharpness doesn't matter.

It's not as crazy sharp as newer lenses 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, it is just as sharp as the newest lenses. Have a look at this sample image shot at f/8 on an M9. This sample was shot as a DNG and processed in Photoshop CS2, opened with ACR.

This is better than anything I can get from Canon or Nikon today, and this sample of lens was crafted in 1963, almost 50 years ago!

At f/2.8, it's sharp, but lower contrast. It gets softer towards the sides, while the corners are better. It has a slightly veiled look if you're looking at huge magnifications, otherwise, it's fine.

Stopped down to f/4, the contrast improves a lot. The veiled look is gone.

At f/5.6, sharpness improves a bit more, and it's very, very sharp edge-to-edge.

f/8 is optimum, as shown in the sample.


Usage         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations


To extend the lens, pull it forward and rotate to the left about a third of a turn until it locks.

It locks in any of three angular positions. If the aperture index isn't where you want it, lock it in another rotational position.

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, your photos will be out of focus and probably completely wasted.



Set the aperture first, since turning the aperture ring often moves the focus.

To unlock from the infinity focus position, push the focus button towards the film plane. It will lock whenever the lens is set to infinity with no pressure, and requires pressure to unlock it.


Compared         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

ELMAR f/2.8
Optical Quality
Good enough
Very Good
Very Good
Made in
Germany, later Canada
Canada, later Gemany
Black or Chrome
Black or Chrome
Infinity lock
15 blades
15 blades
6 blades
10 blades
8 blades
Close focus
No (but some 1950s versions did)
A36, later 39mm
FISON Press-on


Recommendations         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

This 50-year-old lens can still belt out extraordinarily sharp images, especially if you stop it down to f/5.6. At f/2.8, it looks a little dreamy, but in the low-light you'd use f/2.8, this can help tame harsh lighting.

This ELMAR is small and easy to use, too.

For the same $400, the 1970s-era LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2 is a much better lens optically, but it's also bigger.

The 1994-2007 ELMAR-M is a different and superior optical design, in a lighter-duty mount with an inferior 6-bladed diaphragm.

I wouldn't go out of my way to find one of these lenses, since the 1970s SUMMICRON is a better lens and weighs as little for the same price, but if you have one of these, you can use it to make extraordinary images as good as with any other lens today.


Deployment        top

I wouldn't bother with a hood: it covers up the moving index dot for setting the aperture, and it has to be taken off to rotate the lens to collapse and extend it.

For use with color transparency film outdoors, I prefer a 39mm B+W 81A filter.

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 collapsed, you'll need a special extra-deep cap. Otherwise, the back of the telescoping tube will hit the back of today's rear cap and the ELMAR won't collapse as far. No big deal.


Acknowledgment: Many thanks to Stefan Lukas of Jönköping, Sweden for loaning me this lens to review.


More Information        top

Leica's data (see pages 42-45, and specifically page 47 for performance graphs.)


Help me help you         top

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If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

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Thanks for reading!


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