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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #1
fWord
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Lightbulb Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics


The Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 mounted on a 1Ds MKI using a Leica R-EOS adapter

It's hard to figure out what came over me towards the end of last year. But I convinced myself that 35mm was a natural focal length for me, and I should ditch a zoom (the very good 24-105mm f/4L IS) and go for a quality prime lens.

The Canon 35mm f/1.4L was the obvious choice although expensive. Then some devil put the word 'Leica' into my head. Leica lens users rave about the 'characteristics' of such lenses, the tonality, '3D' rendering, ability to handle high contrast and difficult lighting with ease, and last but not least, the obscure 'Leica glow'.

I had to see this for myself. Looking into the Leica system I could see that the R lenses were the most viable, so when I could lay my hands on a well-used 1983 specimen of a 35mm Summicron for just $100 more than a 2nd-hand Canon 35mm f/2, the deal was virtually done even before I had personally seen the lens.

Initial Impressions


The Summicron looks even more handsome with a Titanium-colored Contax filter

The lens is well-constructed, solid, boasting an all-metal barrel engraved with numerals and figures. The focus ring is buttery smooth with negligible wobble. There is some play in the aperture ring but it is by no means loose, and is supposed to be normal. The ring clicks confidently in half stops from f/2 to f/16.

The lens features a built in hood, but it appears impossible to me to pull the hood into position with the Contax filter in the way. The Summicron takes 55mm filters and the front element does not rotate during focusing.

The lens carries 6 elements in 6 groups, none of which are cemented. The closest focusing distance is 0.3m, identical to that of the 35mm f/1.4. Because of the build quality the lens weighs in at 430gm but still remains quite compact.

The Quirks

When attached to an EOS camera with the adapter, the Leica lens remains an all-manual lens. Focus is done manually and the aperture closes down to the specified aperture as the aperture ring is turned. This means that it is often necessary to focus with the aperture wide open before stopping down to take the picture.

Adapters with reverse-engineered chips do exist and allow for AF confirmation. However I had no success with this and had to deal with sporadic Err 01 and Err 99 messages. Apparently a piece of paper must be inserted just behind the camera's lens mount to hold a specific pin in place. Not something I wanted to mess with, so I went with the plain adapter in the end.

With this lens mounted, I often need to dial in +2/3 exposure compensation even for an average scene.

Manual focusing with this lens is relatively easy assuming you use a camera that has a large viewfinder. This is where the FF cameras have a clear advantage. With the 100% viewfinder of the 1Ds, this lens was a joy to use except under low light conditions where focusing becomes challenging. Because of the reasonable depth of field even at wide open aperture, there is some room for focusing error...not that you'd intentionally do so.

Optical Quality

It is difficult to objectively quantify the optical quality of this lens. I'm not a lens expert and have not been in the hobby for too long. However the most obvious difference between the Summicron and a good L lens appears to be in color rendition. Colors from the Summicron do not appear to be as 'red-heavy' and are muted in a very pleasing manner. The resulting pictures are almost vintage and some have colors I only remember getting from film.

Naturally, post-processing affects this to some degree. Nevertheless I get the feeling that the colors of the Summicron never seem to shout. Under terrible indoor lighting conditions the Leica reproduces these conditions faithfully.


Cousin preparing for his wedding ceremony

The lens has an excellent feel of sharpness at wide open aperture, but a certain smoothness. Perhaps it demonstrates what some reviewers have said: that the 'Cron 35 has excellent contrast and micro contrast from wide open but the resolution is not very high. Stop down to f/2.8 and beyond and sharpness and contrast picks up across the field. But even at f/5.6 or so the very extreme corners of the image still show some softness on a FF body.

In outdoor photography the lens really shines when used slightly stopped down. A circular polarizer and fill-flash was used in the image below, producing something resembling a 3D effect and rich colors. I'm surprised at the result, particularly because it was taken under the harshest mid-afternoon lighting. More than one person has seen this image and remarked that it was either 'unreal' or looked 'fake'. Needless to say, there's no such thing as a magic lens and lighting plays a big role in the appearance of an image.


'Unreal' or 'fake'

Let's talk about bokeh. The shape of out-of-focus highlights looks oval like a football rather than the usual circular discs which we are accustomed to seeing from modern lenses. This may be the result of coma (or comatic aberration). This may or may not be desirable, depending on the individual. One way of looking at it is, if you have a photo that is comprised of a large number of OOF highlights, their unexpected shape can add an element of interest in the picture.


Great performance wide open: attractive bokeh without any compromise to image quality

That being said, I have no complaints about the bokeh at this stage, and it's nicer than most I've seen from a wide-angle or standard lens when used for general photography. In closeup photography and when stopping down, the bokeh can look rather harsh and highlights take on a hexagonal shape, which is not particularly desireable. Just as with any other lens, increasing the subject to background distance will help to negate some of this issue.


Acceptable bokeh when used at normal distances, even stopped down

It is rare to find significant instances of CA in an image. However under more extreme backlit conditions it's entirely possible to force some of it to the surface:


CA in a backlit situation...arguably, not all that disturbing given the conditions

Vignetting is visible at wide open aperture and it is obvious. However, given the scope/ nature of photography at such apertures, it may not be a significant issue.


Vignetting at wide open
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Last edited by fWord : 13th of June 2008 (Fri) at 21:05. Reason: Updated review 14 Jun 08
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #2
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Flare resistance is excellent, based on limited testing at this stage. The flower photo below was taken with the help of some extension tubes and the aperture setting was between f/4 and f/5.6. It depicts the late day sun shining through the leaves in the background. A flash was also used to add some light to the foreground. While it's not a great picture it does demonstrate the ability of this lens under challenging lighting conditions. It also shows that the bokeh of this lens isn't all that attractive at smaller apertures, which is arguably expected from a wide angle lens.


Commendable flare resistance, even when shooting directly into the sun

Conclusion

The Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2, despite having its qualities, is not a mainstream lens because of the lack of AF and electronic aperture control. It is a tool that requires some deliberation and thought when used. For fluid scenes such as those of a wedding I was forced to shoot wide open in almost all instances because the added step of stopping down the aperture invariably means missing a shot.

The side effect of shooting wide open however meant that it was possible to photograph down to almost abysmal light levels and having the bokeh as gravy.

It is arguable as to whether the Leica's 'qualities' are worth losing the AF and electronic control that would be present on a cheaper Canon 35mm f/2. However the build quality, performance at wide open, subtle color rendition, low CA and flare resistance make it a strong candidate if 35mm is your favorite focal length, and if you're not always doing reportage or event photography where AF is very helpful.


Personally I've had much joy using this lens to date. If you can find a used copy at a good price, it's probably one of the best ways to get into Leica glass and experience it for yourself.

Additional Samples:







Is it the Leica glow? Or is it simply the lighting? I'd leave that for you to decide.

Update:

In the past week I chanced upon a Leica Summicron-R 90mm f/2 and will be testing that as soon as it arrives in the mail. If you're keen, keep an eye on the Lens Sample Images Archive.
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Last edited by fWord : 13th of June 2008 (Fri) at 21:13. Reason: Updated review 14 Jun 08
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #3
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Thanks for putting this together.

There really needs to be a section to collect inventive and nontraditional equipment posts like this. I love to see people breaking from the norm with their gear.
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #4
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Quote:
Originally Posted by carianoff View Post
Thanks for putting this together.

There really needs to be a section to collect inventive and nontraditional equipment posts like this. I love to see people breaking from the norm with their gear.
Thank you too for reading through it all. In more than one way, I've tried breaking away from the usual gear. All those lenses are great but I'm keen to try something new.

The Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 macro lens that I bought awhile back was an incredible purchase. A MF focus only lens with AF confirmation and electronic aperture. Not as flexible as a Canon 100mm macro, but I love the Voigtlander so much that I doubt it'd be ever be put on sale.

Some day I hope to have a CZJ 50mm f/2 Pancolar review in the pipeline, but I haven't done any photography with it yet.
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #5
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Wonder if this would be worth trying on a crop body? i imagine alot of the love would be gone, like the Vignetting :/?
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #6
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Quote:
Originally Posted by carianoff View Post
Wonder if this would be worth trying on a crop body? i imagine alot of the love would be gone, like the Vignetting :/?
Depending on your purposes it might still be a workable combination. Personally I've steered away from using standard lenses as walkaround tools because I cannot 'see' at 50mm.

What you say is true...the vignetting would mostly be gone. For those who find it artistic it would be quite a loss. The biggest problem would be focusing this lens accurately on a smaller viewfinder. At another forum where I hang out, there's a number of other photographers who use this lens on a 20D or similar and they say that it's not easy to get the focus right.

Ideally you would want something along the lines of a 1Ds, but it's all dependent on what budget allows.

As an aside, I've heard that the 5D mirror is larger than that in other FF cameras and mirror clearance is a problem with many lenses. But not with this lens, as far as I've read.
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #7
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

I was thinking you spent $1500 on a prime lens when the Canon 35mm equivalent is $250 or something. Leica stuff is rediculously expensive..

Good to see you trying something different!
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #8
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

I personally prefer the more muted colour rendition of some of the classic MF lenses I have owned. I just get seduced by AF!! I particularly like the Pentax 200mm 4.0, 50mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.7, plus the Zeiss 135mm 3.5 (awesome!) and 35mm 2.4. Very difficult to get top shots on the tiny, dark viewfinders on crop bodies tho' but great fun trying. You got some lovely captures in there. there is a useful FF compatibility list here
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #9
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Interesting stuff... maybe once I get some more cash up I'll start experimenting with lenses like this. Thanks for the review, it sure makes for interesting reading
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #10
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Nice review, I like the colours it produces. If I compare that to examples of the Sigma 1.4 stopped down to f/2 though I think i'd choose the Sigma for the AF and electronic control.
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #11
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Agree with Adam ... the most expensive MF lens I have cost 65, that was the Pentax 50mm 1.4. I wouldn't pay more for the Leica than for the 30mm 1.4. The beauty of the Sigma is 'feel' of the images.
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #12
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Quote:
Originally Posted by daleftw View Post
I was thinking you spent $1500 on a prime lens when the Canon 35mm equivalent is $250 or something. Leica stuff is rediculously expensive..

Good to see you trying something different!
Not so dumb, I would hope. The Leica equivalent (Summilux) of the Canon 35mm f/1.4 is a lot more expensive than this Summicron, but again it's one whole stop faster.

I've been told that the Summicron offers good value for money though, and may be some of the best lenses Leica made.
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #13
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Quote:
Originally Posted by condyk View Post
I personally prefer the more muted colour rendition of some of the classic MF lenses I have owned. I just get seduced by AF!! I particularly like the Pentax 200mm 4.0, 50mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.7, plus the Zeiss 135mm 3.5 (awesome!) and 35mm 2.4. Very difficult to get top shots on the tiny, dark viewfinders on crop bodies tho' but great fun trying. You got some lovely captures in there. there is a useful FF compatibility list here

AF is so much more convenient. At least it reduces the chances that the focus will be off. With MF things are much more tricky.

Have you tried the Pentacon 135mm lens before? I keep reading about this 'bokeh monster', and it's supposed to yield good results.

On a crop camera I doubt if I'd try MF lenses. I'm giving this Leica a shot because I can use it at its desired focal length on a FF camera. I can't think of a fast 35mm prime equivalent for a crop body...not off the top of my head anyway.

Thanks for the link. For those who are interested, this was the link I used to determine that the Summicron-R 35mm f/2 will fit on a 5D without clearance issues:

http://www.pebbleplace.com/Personal/Leica_db.html
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #14
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim G View Post
Interesting stuff... maybe once I get some more cash up I'll start experimenting with lenses like this. Thanks for the review, it sure makes for interesting reading
Thanks, glad you took the time to go through it. I just thought to rant a little about this lens.

It doesn't cost all that much if you get lucky and catch a good deal. Otherwise the good condition specimens are still running for large sums of money.
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Old 13th of January 2008 (Sun)   #15
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Default Re: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (Type 2) Mini-Review & Sample Pics

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Originally Posted by adam* View Post
Nice review, I like the colours it produces. If I compare that to examples of the Sigma 1.4 stopped down to f/2 though I think i'd choose the Sigma for the AF and electronic control.
Heheh...at least I know that I'm not just imagining that color reproduction is different. The Sigma 1.4 is an attractive proposition on a crop sensor. But as far as I know, on a FF DSLR there's pretty much only a few choices for a 35mm prime for low light.
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