Monday, August 2, 2021

Leica Summarex 8.5cm f/1.5 - an old dog with new tricks

The Leica Summarex 8.5cm f/1.5 lens was originally designed in 1936 by Max Berek but had a production run from 1943-1960. It is quite rare in that only 4066 silver and 276 black versions were made. The one shown below was manufactured in 1951. 

I just sold this lens on eBay and was intrigued by a question the buyer asked me about it. He wanted to know if the lens was up to the resolution status of a modern M10 Leica camera, which is how he planned to use it. My curiosity was piqued so I mounted it on a Nikon Z6 camera and took it outside for a test run. I have to admit to being extremely surprised at the high-quality images delivered by this vintage lens. It was sharp, even when used wide open at f/1.5. But the really pleasant surprise was the unique bokeh effect it displayed when used wide open.

The lens mount is solid metal and quite heavy with its 5 groups of 7 elements. The controls take a bit of getting used to because of the way the barrel turns as you focus it.

The optical design is made up of one major hunk of glass!

You will need two adapters to mount the screw-mount Summarex lens onto a Nikon Z-camera. On the left is the Fotasy Leica-to-Nikon-Z adapter, and on the right is a Leica screw mount to Leica M bayonet mount. This Fotasy Leica-to-Nikon mount only accepts a Leica bayonet mount lens.

This is how I normally imagine a Summarex lens -- mounted on something like a Leica IIIG camera with an 8.5cm viewfinder accessory and Leicavit rapid advance base.

Below are some of the test images I did with the Summarex mounted on a Nikon Z6 camera body. All images were taken with an aperture value between wide open at f/1.5 and stopped down to only f/2 or f/2.8. Note, too, that there is no vignetting in these pictures. 

The colors, contrast, and sharpness achieved by the Summarex, even at very open apertures are quite amazing for a lens of its age. We have to keep in mind also that it has none of the very sophisticated coatings of a modern-day lens. Click here to download a high-res file of this image.

This image -- shot at f/1.5 -- shows the beautiful bokeh effect in the out-of-focus areas behind the foreground palm leaf. Click here to download a high-res file of this image.

One of the chief advantages of using an older lens like this Summarex is that it can deliver a softness in the out-of-focus areas that is very appealing in a very different way from the bokeh of more modern coated lenses. The Summarex was introduced in 1943 as an uncoated lens, which accounts for some of suffused, glowing light in the softer areas of the photographs. 

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