Four New Summarits; First-Class Tools For The Working Photographer Page 2

The actual designs are what appear to be a heavily modified Cooke Triplet with a concave front element (35mm), two Gauss-type symmetrical derivatives (50mm and 75mm), and another Cooke Triplet (90mm). Despite Leica's own slightly misleading descriptions, neither the 75mm or 90mm are "short tele" lenses: this is used as shorthand for the focal length, not the optical design. True tele lenses have a rear negative group to shorten the lens physically, which does nothing for contrast or image quality.

What we have not looked at so far is handling, which can be summed up in one word: "sweet." The 35mm and 50mm both have "spur" or finger-grip focusing, just like the very first Leica lenses 80+ years ago. This is quick, easy, compact, and allows focusing by touch, so that by the time you have your camera at your eye, you have only to make the final adjustments using the rangefinder. The larger 75mm and 90mm have conventional collar focusing, because they are too big for finger-spurs.

A 35mm on M8 = 47mm equivalent. You can see from this that there is no problem with vignetting at full aperture.
© 2008, Roger W. Hicks, All Rights Reserved

All controls--mounting and removing the lens, focusing, setting the aperture--are as smooth as you would expect from Leica. There is a 1/3 stop click to f/2.8, then 1/2 stop clicks to f/16. Paint-filled engravings are in yellow for feet and focal length (beside the focusing scale) and white for everything else. All four lenses have the 6-bit coding for use with the M8.

What more is there to say? Very little. Obviously, these lenses will face external competition from both Voigtländer and Zeiss, and internal competition from Leica's own more expensive lenses. There will be some people who need (or merely want) more speed, but with today's ultra-fast films and high digital ISO settings, this is a lot less important than it was. Others will need (or merely want) the closer focusing of Leica's more expensive offerings.

Although many would-be buyers will do it, it is all but meaningless to say, "But for the same money, or less, I could buy a secondhand [insert lens of choice here]." Just before we received the lenses for review, we saw and were tempted by a Canadian 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit for 220 euros (about $330). This was about a fifth of the price of the 90mm f/2.5 Summarit, though admittedly unusually cheap. But how much sense does it make to compare a new Summarit with a lens that could easily be a quarter of a century older; that is 1/3 stop slower; and the history of which you do not know?

Lens Specs
Yes, they are economical by Leica standards, but a glance at the specifications of the lenses shows that they are still Leica-class objectives:
Focal Length 35mm 50mm 75mm 90mm
Glasses/Groups 6/4 6/4 6/4 5/4
Image Size At Closest Focus 1:20.4 1:14.1 1:9.9 1:8.9
Length To Bayonet Flange 33.9mm 1.3" 33mm 1.3" 60.5mm 2.4" 66.5mm 2.6"
Maximum Diameter Weight (g/oz) 51.4mm 2" 220/7.8 51.5mm 2" 230/8.1 55mm 2.2" 345/12.2 55mm 2.2" 360/12.7
*Vignetting At Full Aperture (Stops) (Film/M8) 1.5/1 1.7/0.7 1.6/<1 1.5/0.7
*Giving vignetting values may create the impression that these lenses vignette more than most, but in fact, these are fairly typical figures. By f/5.6, vignetting is of course negligible. Likewise, the information Leica gives for distortion boils down to "very low." They give no figures for 35mm ("slight barrel") or 50mm ("slight pincushion") but they quantify 75mm (0.8 percent) and 90mm (0.75 percent). In practice, none of it is of any consequence whatsoever: it's only the Internet number chasers, who don't take pictures and don't know what they are talking about, who would take any notice. The view that these are "digital-only" lenses is nonsense.

For us, it kept coming back to the same thing. Imagine that you are going out to take pictures. It doesn't matter much whether you're shooting just for the pleasure of it or (as we have been doing recently) shooting for a specific purpose, in our case for a major extension of www.rogerandfrances.com. You want a kit that's small, light, sweet handling, and easy to use, stuff you don't have to think about. You want to spend your time taking pictures, not playing with the equipment. That's what the Summarits are made for. If you want bling, they're a waste of money. If you want pictures, they're a very good value indeed.
For more information, contact Leica Camera Inc., 1 Pearl Court, Unit A, Allendale, NJ 07401; (800) 222-0118; www.leica-camera.com.

For further information on the art and craft of photography from Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz, go to www.rogerandfrances.com.

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