Friday, June 7, 2013

Shooting with old glass:
The Leica 8.5cm Summarex f/1.5 lens

With all the adapters now available for digital mirrorless cameras, such as the Fuji X-series, Sony Nex, and Leica M-series, it has become very easy (and fun) to experiment with attaching folder, classic lenses to the newer digital bodies. Since many of these old designs did not have the super lens coatings of today's made-for-digital optics, they often deliver a more muted look while still maintaining their original sharpness. This series of posts, which I call "Shooting with old glass", will explore some of these old classic lenses.

The 8.5mm Summarex is a high speed portrait focal length lens made from 1943-1960. It has a minimum focusing distance of 40" (1m), a bit long but typical for rangefinder cameras. At 25oz (705g) is very heavy for its size. When you focus it the entire front end of the lens, including aperture dial, turns. Since it was screw mount, I first needed a screw mount to M-mount adapter. Next I mounted that to the Fuji M mount adapter for X mount and put it on my X-Pro1 and off I went.

The f/1.5 aperture made it tempting to shoot with the lens mostly wide open to achieve a very shallow depth of field. Although the images did have the low contrast, muted quality I anticipated due to the lack of heavy lens coatings, the real surprise came when I discovered how truly sharp the lens is. 

The Summarex mounted on a Fuji X-Pro1 via a combination of screw mount to M adapter plus M to Fuji X mount adapter. On the APS sensor of the Fuji, the lens focal length became equivalent to 127.5mm making it more of a telephoto length. 
Putting it to use:

Once I discovered the softly muted effect of the lens combined with a high degree of sharpness, even wide open, I began to use it on the X-Pro1 with subjects such as these -- all shot at an open aperture of f/1.5 - 2.

The softness of the low contrast caused by the older optics worked well with the Autochrome technique I demonstrated in an earlier post.  A larger version of the image is necessary to see the full effect.   Click here to download a hi res version of this file.

The 8.5cm Summarex shown here on a period camera, a 1938 Leica IIIb.

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