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LEICA 50mm f/3.5

World's First Interchangeable Lens for a 35mm Camera
© 2011 KenRockwell.com. This page best with Corporate S regular and bold activated.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

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LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5 (A36 filters (later E39), 3.9 oz./111g, about $350 used). Vergrößern. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay) when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep reviewing these oldies when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.

November 2011      LEICA Reviews    LEICA Lenses   lesser-brand reviews


LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5

Collapsed on a LEICA IIIf. Vergrößern.

Sample Images

Yosemite, November 2011.

The Yosemite in Winter (© 10 MB JPG from M9 DNG at f/18).

Los Angeles, 1934 (© 1.3 MB JPG from M9 DNG at f/4,5).

Foresta Fence (full-size © JPG from M9 DNG at f/18).

In all these two images, know that close and far objects aren't in focus: depth of field is always limited when you peer at them at 100%.


Introduction       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

Ritz Camera

I use Adorama, Amazon, eBay, Ritz, B&H, Calumet, J&R and ScanCafe. I can't vouch for ads below.

This LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5 is the lens that started 35mm photography.

Even uncoated, it gives sharp, colorful, contrasty images. Shooting this made-in-1934 sample makes me wonder why so many people worry so much about their lenses. It works fine today.

Better than the newest lenses, it weighs only half as much as a SUMMICRON, and far better than any SUMMILUX, has no distortion or finder blockage.

Better than any current 50mm lens, it collapses almost completely into the camera and pokes out less than 10mm (0.37mm)!


Compatibility       top

This LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5 first shipped as a screw-mount lens from 1930-1959. With a simple M-adapter ring it also works perfectly on every LEICA M camera, from 1954's LEICA M3 through today's newest LEICA M7, LEICA MP, LEICA M9 and LEICA M9-P.

A heavier M (bayonet) mount version shipped from 1954-1961, which also works perfectly on every LEICA M camera, but not screw-mount cameras.

Although LEICA warns that the LEICA M9 and LEICA M9-P have catastrophic design flaws making them incompatible with collapsible lenses, I've had no problems collapsing this sample fully into my LEICA M9.


History       top

Like all products made over many years, there have always been slight variations in optics and mechanics, however the performance stayed the same.

The bayonet-mount lenses weigh almost twice as much as the screw-mount lens seen here.

All versions collapse.


1925-1930: Fixed lens.

The 50mm ELMAR first shipped as a fixed, non-removable lens on the first LEICAs, the world's first 35mm cameras.


1930-1959: Screw Mount

Leitz first made the world's first interchangeable-lens 35mm camera in 1930, and this was the first interchangeable lens provided with it.

From 1930-1932 lenses were shipped to match only one body.

In 1932 the lens mounts were standardized so that all lenses were interchangeable among all LEICAs.

Standardized lenses are marked with a small "o" engraved on the rotating barrel near the focus lever.

The lens seen here is a 1934 screw-mount version, with standardized mount.

These take A36 (36mm push-on) filters. Use the SOOGZ adapter to use modern E39 filters with these original lenses.

Starting in 1946 these were both anti-reflection coated and the aperture scale was standardized to the usual f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11 and f/16. The earlier lenses were marked at f/3.5, f/4.5, f/6.3, f/9, f/12.5 and f/18.


1954-1961: Bayonet Mount (M)

The bayonet-mount version is heavier, rated 7.4 oz./210g, and takes modern E39 (39 x 0.5mm) screw-in filters.


LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5. Vergrößern.


Specifications       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations



Leica calls this the LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5.

ELMAR means it's an f/3.5 lens.


Optics        top

4 elements in 3 groups.

Not a Tessar; claimed to be a Cooke triplet variant.

Uncoated 1925-1944, then coated from 1946-1961.

The 1934 sample seen here is uncoated.


Focal Length       top


If used on the failed half-frame LEICA M8, it sees only an angle of view similar to what a 66mm lens sees on a real camera.


Diaphragm       top

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5 at f/5.6. Vergrößern.

10 mostly straight blades.


Close Focus

1 meter (3.3 feet).



The early versions use A36 (36mm push-on) filters. Use the SOOGZ adapter to use modern E39 filters with these original lenses.

Later versions use standard 39 x 0.5mm (E39) filters.


Size (measured)         top


47.15 mm (1.856") maximum diameter of focus scale and mount, measured.

36mm (1.417") front outer mount diameter.


Length, Extended

31.64mm (1.246") extension from flange.

39.25mm (1.545") overall.


Length, Collapsed

9.40mm (0.370") extension from flange.

31.63mm (1.245") overall.

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5

Collapsed LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5. Vergrößern.


Weight        top

111.2g (3.920 oz.), measured, 1934 version.

(123.6g/4.360 oz. mit 12.4g/0.435 oz. M-adapter.)

210g (7.4 oz.), rated, for bayonet-mount version.


Caps         top

The front uses a standard drawn-brass LEICA push-on cap.

The first versions use a slightly smaller A36 (36mm push-on) cap, while the newer versions use the same A42 (42mm push-on) brass cap used on all proper E39 lenses.


Hood         top

The original A36 version uses the FISON hood.

I prefer to use the the SOOGZ adapter ring and a standard A42 front hood, like the 12 585.


Part Numbers        top

ELMAR (screw mount).

ELNAM, later 11 610 (bayonet).


Production      top

A very popular lens, LEICA made about 350,000 of these.


Quality        top



Price, USA         top

Considering inflation, it listed for the equivalent $750 in 1937.

This was listed $48 (in 1937 dollars) on the May 1, 1937 price sheet.


Performance       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

Overall   Bokeh   Color   Distortion   Ergonomics   Falloff   

Finder Blockage   Flare and Ghosts   Focus   Lateral Color  Mechanics

Sharpness   Spherochromatism   Sunstars


Overall       performance   top

The LEICA ELMAR 50/3.5 was so good that it allowed 35mm cameras to make big prints as sharp as the popular 8 x 10" cameras of the era.

This is the lens that was so good that it established 35mm as the world's most popular format, a format which both lives today and which spawned the 24 x 36mm "full-frame" digital format.

Even the ancient, uncoated 1934 version I tested here works great. It's not as sharp under the microscope as the SUMMICRON, but nothing else is, either.


Bokeh       performance     top

Bokeh, the character of out of focus backgrounds, not simply how far out of focus they are, is neutral and undistracting at smaller apertures.

At f/3.5 it's reasonably neutral as well.


Color       performance     top

Red Tree, El Portal, 20 Nov 2011

Red Tree, El Portal, 20 November 2011. f/9 on LEICA M9. bigger.

This is the lens that exposed most Kodachrome when it was first invented.


Distortion       performance   top

The LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5 has no distortion, far better than any 50mm SUMMILUX, and even better than today's hottest and most expensive LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH.

Correct with
10' (3m)

© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.


Ergonomics       performance   top

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5. Vergrößern.

It's the lightest 50mm lens made, and it collapses into the camera for pocket carrying.

It's easy to focus with just one fingertip. Its little button makes it much easier than the newer focus tabs. Unlike tabs, the precise and locking little button has a perfect little grip on it.

The focus locks at infinity. This is a huge help because this is designed to give us a good grip for mounting and unmounting, and it works great.

The aperture is a pain to set. To move it, you have to use a fingernail to push the tiny little tab on the black ring around the glass from the front of the lens.

If you're using a filter, you'll have to remove it to get to this little aperture setting tab.

The 1-meter close limit isn't very close. Newer lenses focus to 0.7 meters, the and extraordinary LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2 with near-focusing range gets down to 0.5 meters.


Falloff (darker corners)        performance   top

The LEICA 50mm f/3.5 ELMAR has no significant falloff.

I've greatly emphasized it below by shooting a gray field and presenting it against another gray field:


LEICA 50mm f/3.5 ELMAR light falloff on M9 at infinity, n o lens profile:




© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.



Finder Blockage       performance   top

This 50mm ELMAR is so tiny that there is no viewfinder blockage, even on the LEICA IIIf whose finder is right next to the lens.

There is certainly never any blockage on an M-kamera.


Flare and Ghosts       performance   top

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5

1934 homes at night as seen through a 1934 lens. 32 seconds at f/4.5 at ISO 160 on the LEICA M9. Vergrößern.

This is a simple lens, so ghosts aren't a problem.

This image is the only way I've ever seen even the slightest ghost. In this shot, there are two easy-to-cover dots, each opposite the light that was shining directly into the lens in this shot.

The lubricants of most LEICA lenses evaporate and collect on the inside glass after 20 years, so most samples of this lens will be a bit hazy and need a professional cleaning, after which they'll be like new.

I don't know that this 1934 sample has ever been cleaned, and it works great — even uncoated.

Even with whatever flare it does have from either a lack of coating or residual haze, the auto levels command I use when importing all my LEICA M9 DNGs makes all the shadows look just swell automatically, as you see above.


Focus        performance   top

Focus Accuracy

Focus accuracy is fine.

Slow f/3.5 50mm lenses have larger depths-of-field than the potential inaccuracies of the LEICA rangefinder system.

Of course all cameras and lenses vary, but I doubt you'll ever have much of a problem with any of them, so long as its never been touched by an unauthorized technician.

Some images looked as if they might be focused in back of the intended subject, but when tested specifically, all is well.


Focus Feel

Focus feels great: just push the button to unlock, and move it back and forth to focus with a fingertip.


Focus Pitch

The helicoid pitch gives fast and precise focus setting.

The focus button is at the bottom at a setting of 3 meters.


Lateral Color Fringes       performance   top

There are no lateral color fringes as shot on a LEICA M9. Any fringes present are much smaller than the potential lack of sharpness at the sides.

This is excellent performance, and far better than most of Canon's DSLR lenses.


Materials and Construction       performance   top

Rear, LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5

Rear, LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5. Vergrößern.

This ELMAR is extremely well made of solid brass: brass mount, brass helicoids, brass filter mount, brass barrel, brass focus scale, brass focus tab, brass focus lock, etc.

All markings are engraved and filled with paint.

The serial number is stamped into the tiny aperture ring.



Sharpness       performance   top

Have a look at this sample image and see for yourself.

Yosemite February 2011

Yosemite Valley, February 2011. (full-size © 10 MB JPG from M9 DNG at f/18.)


Wood at Forresta

Wood at Foresta Barn, 18 November 2011. (full-size © JPG from M9 DNG at f/18.)

In each of these two images, know that close and far objects aren't in focus: depth of field is limited when you peer at them at 100%.

Warning 1: Image sharpness depends more on you than your lens.

Warning 2: Lens sharpness doesn't mean much to good photographers.

With these caveats, this ELMAR 50mm f/3.5 is always sharp and contrasty in the center, but potentially blurriest in the zonal areas (the areas about 12-18mm from the image center).

It gets sharper on the sides and zonal areas as stopped down. Sharpness there keeps improving all the way to f/18, at which setting the center is duller from diffraction.

For best results, stop down, but if you need to shoot at f/3.5, it works fine.


Spherochromatism       performance   top

The LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5 has no visible spherochromatism.

Spherochromatism, mistakenly called "color bokeh" by laymen, is when out-of-focus highlights take on colored fringes, usually green and magenta.

This lens isn't fast enough to show any.


Sunstars       performance   top

LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/3.5

10-point sunstars at about f/12,5. LEICA M9. Vergrößern.

The 50mm ELMAR's mostly straight 10-bladed diaphragm begets 10-pointed sunstars on brilliant points of light.


Usage       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations



Set the lens to infinity, at which point it locks.

Now hold the lens by its focus lever to wrench it in and out.


Use on M-Kameras (M3, M9, etc.)

With screw-mount lenses, simply use a 50mm M-adapter ring.

Newer bayonet-mount lenses need no adapters.


Filters and Hoods

The early lenses as shown here use filters and hoods that push-over the front of the lens.

To use modern E39 filters and A42 hoods, use the SOOGZ adapter ring which clamps over the front of the lens and provides standard E39 threads and a standard A42 front accessory mount.

I don't find a hood necessary, even with the early uncoated lenses. If the sun's shining into your lens, use your hand to shield it.



To extend the lens for use, pull it out and rotate to lock.

To collapse, rotate then push in.


Aperture Setting

Move the little aperture tab on the inside of the front of the lens. It's the black ring between the glass and the chrome front.

I set one aperture and leave it alone with automatic-exposure LEICAs. I'll use f/12,5 all day, and open to f/3,5 at night.

If you're using a filter, you'll have to remove it to change the aperture.



Press the focus button towards you to unlock from infinity, then slide it left and right to focus.

For focus by feel, when the focus button is at the bottom, it's focused at 3 meters (10 feet).


Depth-of-Field Scale

LEITZ ELMAR f/3,5 50mm

Focus and Depth-of-Field Scales. Vergrößern.

The focus distance scale is fixed on the mount, and the focus index and depth-of-field scale rotates as the lens is focused.



All TTL and shoe-mounted LEICAMETERS of all LEICAs of all ages work great with this 50/3.5. No problem!


Lens Profiles (für digital LEICAs only)

Use a manually-set 50mm lens profile on the LEICA M9 or LEICA M9-P.

There is no profile specifically for this lens, so pick any and you'll be fine.

Since it has no significant falloff, the only reason for setting a lens profile is to set "50mm" in your EXIF data.


Recommendations       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

While a SUMMICRON of any vintage might be sharper in the laboratory, this tiny screw-mount ELMAR weighs half as much and collapses almost completely into the camera body, so if I'm traveling light, this is a great 50mm lens, and it's completely devoid of distortion.

A LEICA and this lens fit into a sock and then into my luggage as a spare camera.

The newer bayonet-mount version (1954-1961) weighs as much as any SUMMICRON, so I would use the superior SUMMICRON instead. There is also a collapsible SUMMICRON. The bayonet-mount f/3.5 ELMAR was always a poor mans' lens, while the first universal screw-mount version was the LEICA lens for many years.

If you've found my research helpful, this free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay) when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep reviewing these oldies when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.


Help me help you         top

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

The biggest help is when you use any of these links to Adorama, Amazon, eBay, Ritz, Calumet, J&R and ScanCafe when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. These places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

If you find this page 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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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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