Leica’s 50mm f/1.5 Summarit, which comes in M- or LTM mounts — I bought last year a mint LTM lens copy which I can use with an adapter on my Leica M3 — is often reviewed as an old vintage lens not being sharp enough in the center of the frame wide open. Even though it might not be as sharp as the modern f/1.4-based Leica Summilux lenses, it is more than sharp enough wide open for my taste.
The lens provides me with a unique vintage flair and bokeh which no other 50 mm lens provides. It is also the best deal out there price/quality-wise for a fast Leica 50 mm lens. To avoid lens flare, I bought a cheap screw-in E41 metal lens hood with cap, which works perfectly fine and is less conspicuous than the original Leica one for this lens. I enjoy using this lens, especially on my Leica M3 with its 0.91x magnification viewfinder which makes focusing at f/1.5 accurate and easy.
I tend to shoot mostly with B&W film. One of my favorite films is ILFORD’s PAN F PLUS film, which is ideal for use with this fast lens on sunny days. Due to the low ISO 50 speed, I don’t need to use an additional ND filter at wider apertures. The film provides low grain with fantastic tonal range and dark shadows. It dries quickly as a flat film strip after development at home. This makes it easy for scanning or digitizing with a digital camera. Needless to say, the prints which I make from this film in my darkroom are superb, too.
One of my favorite locations to shoot is at Sandy Hook National Historic Park in New Jersey. Old buildings at Fort Hancock and military ruins provide excellent photo opportunities, especially for B&W. In mid-May I ventured out there with a self-rolled 40 frame roll of PAN F PLUS with my recently repaired (due to broken shutter!) and cleaned Leica M3 and 50mm f/1.5 Summarit lens. Since the Leica M3 has no internal light meter, I used my small and handy external Gossen Digisix2 light meter. Depending on the scene, I am applying either reflective or incident metering, sometimes an average of both.
The focus in my photography is often shapes, structures, and the interplay with light and shadows. This was also the focus in my photography on this sunny afternoon. I love to envision a scene and the look I might get on film by applying composition, field of view, and aperture. After developing my film with Rodinal (1:50), I scanned the negatives with my Plustek 8200 Ai 35 mm scanner. I was amazed to see the smooth transitioning between bright and dark, a wonderful bokeh, and great contrast in the scenes. I only had to do minimal post-processing to remove a few dust spots and apply a slight tonal adjustment curve. All the photos shown were taken with handheld camera.
This lens has quickly become one of my favorite 35mm film lenses to shoot with – it also works great when attached to my mirrorless camera if needed.
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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