About a month before Japan’s world-famous cherry blossom season in late March, is the lesser-known plum blossom season in late February. Plum blossoms in Japan are the first hint of the coming spring, and while not as explosively striking as cherry blossoms and the warming weather than accompanies them, plum blossoms are enough to attract Japanese for plum blossom viewing if not tourists from overseas. There are some famous Japanese gardens for viewing plum blossoms in Ibaraki Prefecture where I live, like the Mount Tsukuba Bairin and Kairakuen in Mito, the prefectural capital, but I don’t need to travel too far from my front door to see plum blossoms, as there are many plum trees in my own neighborhood, and these make excellent subjects for photography.
When I bought my first Leica M3, one of the first lenses I bought for it was a 1950s era Summicron Dual Range 50mm f/2—’dual range’ because it has attachable optics that allow for shooting subjects up close, from just under 50cm up to 90cm as opposed to the standard minimum range on the lens from one meter. As far as I know, no other Leica Summicron 50mm f/2 allows for focal distance from 50cm, although later versions of the lens do allow for shooting from 70cm rather than one meter.
The Summicron DR is often considered the Summicron 50mm to go for when on a budget. It sells for substantially less than later Summicron models and even its non-DR sibling which sold contemporaneously. There is a reason for that. First, the Summicron DR is heavy, and if you check Ken Rockwell’s excellent comparison of Summicron 50s, the DR weighs in at a whopping 339g, the heaviest Summicron 50mm of them all. But what can you say? Brass is heavy.
And then there is a design flaw that precludes mounting a Summicron DR on a Leica digital camera like the M9, M240, and M10—the only Leica M-mount lens I know of that won’t click into place if you try to mount it on the digital Leica M cameras—which in any case I don’t recommend trying for yourself! If you do, definitely do not force the lens, or you will do serious damage camera body, the lens, or both!
Even non-recommended lenses like the collapsible Elmar 50mm f/2.8, 1950s and its later versions, will still mount on a Leica digital M camera. Just don’t collapse it while mounted like you would on an analog Leica M, or you risk damage. The 1960s era Leica Super Angulon 21mm f/4 will mount on a digital Leica M. However, the rear element sits far enough into the body as to mess with the light meter. So, it is only the Summicron DR that turns its nose up at a digital Leica M like a cranky Leica film camera purist!
That being said, as long as it is an analog Leica M that you want to use, the Summicron DR is fine. Even though it was designed for the M3, it works fine on the M4, the M6, the M7 even with the optics, and presumably with the M2, M5, MP and M-A. As for lens quality, you won’t get the extreme sharpness of later versions of the Summicron 50mm, but who cares? On film, it is hard to distinguish the results between the DR and its progeny, and sharpness really does not matter that much most of the time, unless you are into spy plane photography. I’m not.
If you use the DR without the optics, it works just like a regular Summicron. In fact most of the time you find a Summicron DR for sale, it is sans optics, which you might have to buy separately. Watch out though. The optics tend go for around $400. In my case, I bought the lens with optics and freshly overhauled from Kanto Camera in Japan, one of the best old Leica servicers in the world.
When it comes to attaching the lens, the Summicron DR has a few quirks. First, the focal distance must be set at infinity in order for it to mount. I am not sure why this is, but I suspect it has something to do with the same design flaw that makes it unmountable on the digital Leica M cameras.
You switch from standard range to close-up range by tugging on the focus ring and twisting a protruding physical stopper on the rotating focus part of lens barrel from one side of an immovable barrier to the other on the top of the lens. However, the focus ring will then be lock until you attach the close-up optics. There is a protruding button on the optics mount which the optics frame depresses when attached. Presumably, that unlocks of the focus ring.
Once the optics are in place, you can focus with the range finder as usual on anything between fifty and ninety centimeters. Impressively, the Leica M3 corrects for the parallax at close range when the optics are attached. I suspect other analog Leica models do the same, but I have not tested this.
I shot all the photos in the piece one sunny morning during plum blossom season with a Leica M3 and Summicron DR 50mm f/2 with close-up optics attached. I used a yellow filter and shot with Kodak T-Max 100 at EI 800. I set the light meter for ISO 500 to compensate a half-stop for the yellow filter, and to slightly overexpose the T-Max 100 film to get the results I like. I developed using Kodak T-Max Developer as per Kodak guidelines when pushing T-Max 100 three stops.