Summicron twins


I have been too busy these past couple of weeks to do any meaningful image making. Instead, here is an image for the first day of the new financial year – A pair of beautiful rangefinders, each fitted with the incredible Summicron 50mm f2 so-called “standard” lens, both showing the iris at f16.

The screw mount collapsible chrome unit on the Barnack IIIf body is the very first version (mine was made in 1953, long before I was born, and the black version on the M6 is the last (current) version of this lens, perhaps the best rendering and most perfect lens on the planet today.

These words from”The Tao of Leica” are far better describing the science of the Summicron than I am able to put together in my tired state tonight:

The Summicron lens was introduced in 1953, slightly ahead of the Leica M camera, that came in 1954. The Summicron design started in 1943 and was derived from the Summitar. In those days, the available optical glasses restricted the designer in his wishes for ever better image quality. They had to use different methods to crate improved imagery. One of the ‘tricks’ is to split a lens element in two separate elements. Then the incoming rays can be bend more smoothly when traveling through the glass. The Summitar design has two lenses in the front group, consisting of cemented elements. The first one was split into separate lenses (distance of the air lens was 0.78mm), but the glass (BK7) had a too low index of refraction. In 1947 there is a new design where the front element has a higher index. (SK2). In 1949 the final design was derived with a smaller distance between the front elements (0.28mm) and glass of higher index (1.69100). made by Chance Brothers in England. This glass (SBC) had a thorium oxide in its formula and was slightly radio active. In 1954 the Glass lab of Leitz and Schott created a new glass with the same properties and without the thorium oxide: this is the well known LaK9.

Optically the current Summicron can still claim to be the world’s best 50mm lens. This is not the same as saying that the Summicron 50mm is the best lens in the world. it is a very versatile lens, that performs very well in close up and infinity settings and at intermediate distances and at every aperture. You can use it without reservation at f2 and 70cm and can expect excellent quality. The current Summicron offers performance that exceeds the capabilities of most users.”

The fist version was designed by (I think) Max Berek, and the 4th version (“blackie”) was designed by Dr Walter Mandler. If Im’m wrong about this, please let me know.

Here’s some more information about the original Summicron:

“In 1953, Leitz, of West Germany, makers of the Leica camera, introduced the 7-element 50mm Summicron, which went on to become one of the most famous of all camera lenses. It’s not often remembered now, but Leitz was probably responding to Japanese competition: many Korean War combat photographers, led by David Douglas Duncan, had discovered the screwmount lenses made by a resurgent Japanese company called Nippon Kogaku, and it had become all the rage among them to use the impressively sharp Nippon Kogaku lenses on their Leica camera bodies. We know Nippon Kogaku today, of course, by its later name: Nikon.

The 7-element SOOIC, with narrow air spaces in both of the front two groups and then-state-of-the-art high-refractive-index lanthanum crown glass, was impressively difficult to manufacture and even more impressive in performance, bettering the Summars and Elmars it supplanted by no small margin. It went on to become the first “normal” lens for the M3, a new model that combined a huge viewfinder with the rangefinder patch in the same window and used a proprietary bayonet mount. Modern Photography magazine called the 50mm Summicron the sharpest lens it had ever tested, and the Summicron was the lens that Henri Cartier-Bresson was to use on various cameras for the rest of his life. Although he also carried a 35mm and a 90mm, and experimented occasionally with other lenses, the overwhelming majority of his pictures were taken with the collapsible 7-element Summicron.”

For all of the M6’s beauty, I am drawn to the simple elegance of the 1954 Leica. Why? Primarily because it’s smaller:

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