50mm - Elmar-M vs M Summicron?
If you are looking for a new, affordable 50mm Leica optic, then inevitably the choice boils down to either the ƒ2.8 collapsible 50mm Elmar-M or the ƒ2.0 50mm Summicron-M.
Many users are attracted by the smaller size and "retro" styling of the Elmar-M, but worry about the lens being any good. Is it as sharp as the Summicron? Is it as mechanically robust?…
Elmar vs. 'Cron
For a year I had both lenses - both the latest formulation Elmar-M and a 1993 version M Summicron (with focus tab & no built-in lens hood). Both were in mint condition and with mint glass etc. Observations follow:
- Sharpness at ƒ5.6-ƒ11 is difficult to tell apart. You have to go to extremely high magnification to see the Summicron's benefits, making the Elmar-M more than sharp enough everyday use.
- Differences in contrast are easy to see however, with the Summicron definitely more contrasty at all apertures. While this is an advantage in the polluted, constantly overcast Northern Hemisphere, it isn't so good in sun-blasted Australia.
- The Elmar-M doesn't cope with flare so well when photographing into the sun or a strong backlight. Mind you, the 'Cron can flare under these conditions as well, it's just that it isn't as bad. Mind you, neither lens is as flare resistant as the Noctilux or Summilux.
- The Elmar-M isn't as weather resistant as the Summicron. I found this out the hard way when shooting outdoors in the rain and I noticed the lens interior had fogged up. Oops.
- Having to de-collapse the Elmar-M every time you prepare the lens for a photo is a pain. For the occasional snap-shot it's okay, but if you are shooting a lot and stowing your camera each time, then the extend-the-lens-before-you-shoot make-sure-the-lens-clicks ritual can get on your nerves.
- Despite this, the Elmar-M barrel extension lock is surprisingly robust. Occasionally a tiny smear of Vaseline on the detent knobs at the rear of the lens barrel cylinder will help keep the mechanism smooth and reliable for hundreds of clicks.
- When collapsed the Elmar-M makes the M/lens combo robust and v.compact. With the lens body safely tucked into the camera's lens cavity, there is less chance of damaging the lens barrel if you have a habit of banging your Leica about. However if you use the Elmar cylindrical Hood (strongly recommended to help keep fingers away from the glass), when collapsed the lens isn't much shorter than the Summicron without a hood (or with a rubber hood rolled back).
- Oddly enough, the Summicron's extra stop isn't significant for outdoors work. Indoors however, even the 'Cron's ƒ2.0 isn't enough!
Mainly due to it's compactness & lower contrast, in the end I decided to keep the Elmar-M and sold the 'Cron. I now use the Elmar-M to compliment my 50mm M Summilux, with the 'Lux doing the bulk of my everyday 50mm work and the Elmar-M used for fun or knocking around.
Links / Reviews
To read User Reviews of the Elmar-M, see the following link:
For general discussions of Elmar-M vs. Summicron, see the following links:
50mm DR Summicron
Wondering which particular 50mm M lens is the "best"?
Many imagine it's the 50mm DR - see the following op.ed. piece by Seth Rosner in LHSA Viewfinder Vol. 34, where he is convinced his 1960s DR 50mm Summicron (11118/11318) provides greater resolution and generally gives a "better quality" image than the latest 50mm Summicron (11819) formulation:
<lhsa.org/pdf/341newmusing.pdf> (PDF 140 KB)
(N.B. this link may be broken due to a change in web policy by the LHSA in March 2004.)
BTW Mr Rosner forgets to mention that you must set the DR to infinity when mounting and dismounting, otherwise it won't mount properly or focus-couple accurately. Additionally, there are reports of incompatibility problems with some versions of the DR 50 when used with the newer M6 TTL and M7. See Stephen Gandy's detailed notes on his "Leica M50/2 Dual Range Summicron" page, as well as this May 2002 online discussion at <Photo.net: #003OvN>.
Before you get too misty-eyed about the DR, in May 2002 Andrew Schank provided the following reality-check:
I had the 50 DR and it is an excellent lens for sure, but I didn't find it to be as good as the current 50 [Summicron], especially when wide open. It flares easier as well, not having the benefits of multicaoating.
I find it interesting that certain lenses attain such cult status basically based on something written somewhere by someone I never heard of. The DR 50 is also very heavy, and prone to fogging like all of the older chrome lenses. Mine actually eventually had the internal coatings fail and was basically beyond economical repair.
So in answer to your question, I shot with both extensively and prefer the current 50 [Summicron] based on my results. If I had to chose between the two, I'd pick the current 50. By the way, the DR feature was more of an issue back then when the regular 50 only focused to about 40 inches. The current 50 focuses to 0.7 meters, about 24 inches, without fooling with goggles and stage two focusing cams, etc.
After reading the above remarks, in June 2002 Mr Rosner responded:
[…] Mr. Schrank correctly states that the 50 DR/Rigid is more flare-prone than the current 50 Summicron. It also carries its slight contrast advantage better into the corners of the image. The contrast difference virtually disappears at medium apertures. On the other hand, the DR/Rigid resolves better than the current lens on and off-axis and maintains or increases the resolution advantage as the lenses are stopped down.
The Rigid and the DR without the close-focus finder weigh only very slightly more than the chrome version of the current lens (made of brass rather than alloy and significantly stronger as a result).
I find Mr. Schrank's reference to the DR's cult status amusing. If there is such a thing as cult status, it is not achieved by something written somewhere by someone he has never heard of. It is achieved by recognition by professional and serious amateur photographers over a period of 46 years of heavy-duty use as the best all-around 50mm lens.
Voigtländer Heliar 50mm ƒ3.5
Despite the rave reviews, you can forget about the Voigtländer Heliar 50mm ƒ3.5 collapsible lens. It is strictly a collector's item at the moment and is only available with purchase of the 101 Heliar Edition Bessa T camera body. Nevertheless Erwin Puts has done a glowing review of the 50/3.5 Heliar in comparision with the Leica Elmarit-M, see here.
In June 2002 Jeffery Smith noted the following about his Heliar 50mm:
The Heliar 50/3.5 is a phenomenally good lens if you can live with the slow speed. It is quirky and takes some getting used to (you can change the f-stop by rotating the lens hood). The optics of this lens are exceptional, and I feel that I am getting to the point that I can recognize which images I have shot with the Heliar based on their appearance. I have some test shots posted at:
I find the images taken with the Heliar to be clear, sharp, and with no suggestion of light fall-off anywhere.
Other 50mm lenses
In late Feb 2002 Cosina announced the LTM Color Skopar 50mm ƒ2.5 lens - a compact 7-element, 10 aperture blade "high quality" lens and maybe a good compromise between the quality of the 50mm Summicron and (lower) cost of the Elmar-M? Before you get your hopes up however, early reports about the 50/2.5 aren't very encouraging (see the following August 2002 online discussion at <Photo.net: #003Z6H>).
Speaking of collapsible lenses, here is something to think about. Maybe one day Leica should release as a separate M-mount lens the 50mm ƒ3.5 Anastigmat they used on the "O" yuppie-nostalgia model. Apparently this lens is very, very good - much better than the Elmar-M and yet just as compact. See the discussions at:
For more info on 50mm Leica lenses in general, See Stephen Gandy's M lens guide at:
Also see this April 2004 summary of Leica 50mm lens features and differences by Feli di Giorgio at: