5 frames with... Lenses

Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron DR – Plum Blossoms – By Steven Bleistein

April 3, 2020

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.

I am a street photographer who lives in Japan. If you would like to see more of my work, have a look at my website bleisteinphoto.com, or my Instagram @sbleistein

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40 Comments

  • Reply
    Wim van Heugten
    April 3, 2020 at 10:34 am

    Nice pictures, but I’m wondering why you shoot plum blossoms (or any blossoms) in B&W. Furthermore I’m asking myself why you would push Tmax100 for this kinf of subject. Like to learn more!

    Regards,

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 3, 2020 at 10:49 am

      Glad you like the photos. Even though they are monochrome, I like them too! Monochrome accentuates textures and contrast that would be less apparent in color. I usually shoot T-Max 100 at 640 and push process to 800, as overexposing monochrome film tends to deliver better results. Pushing gives me a lot of flexibility in wide range of light conditions. Some of the photos were shot in the shadows, whereas others were shot in the sun. I also like the effect. Pushing T-Max tends to result in higher-contrast images, whereas pulling results in lower contrast. Also note that I used yellow filter, which I think also helps with the contrast and darkens the blue sky backgrounds in some of the photos. With a yellow filter, I lose about half a stop of light or so, so I metered for 500.

      • Reply
        Leo Tam
        April 4, 2020 at 1:25 am

        You must hate shadow detail

    • Reply
      Terry B
      April 3, 2020 at 11:02 am

      My thoughts, too. As I scrolled down I was fully expecting to see some colour shots. I’m not a gardener and know little about flowers, but just seeing them in colour gives me a lot of pleasure.
      When I think about all my b/w negatives, there are no flowers. Would anyone find this surprising? Slides and colour neg, yes, and they weren’t just simply point and shoot objects, but were woven into the composition.

      • Reply
        Steven Bleistein
        April 3, 2020 at 11:35 am

        Try shooting flowers in monochrome as an exercise. Doesn’t have to be film. It will change your perspective, and you will learn something worthwhile from the experience. I did.

        • Reply
          Terry B
          April 3, 2020 at 11:45 am

          Sorry, Steven, but it won’t change my perspective at all. And what makes you believe I’d learn something worthwhile? I had about 42 years doing my own b/w D&P, and I know flowers in b/w don’t cut the mustard as far as I am concerned. You learned something, good. But please don’t preach to me that I would, too.

          • Steven Bleistein
            April 3, 2020 at 12:06 pm

            No need for you to apologize to me. Not preaching. Just suggesting. Up to you to do what you do.

      • Reply
        Chris
        April 3, 2020 at 12:43 pm

        I have also tried shooting similar photos and sometimes they work out sometimes not. Some of these blossoms are white anyway so there is no special colour that would make the photo more interesting. I wouldn’t say you can’t make an interesting b&w photo of flowers or blossoms. It mostly depends on what’s interesting about the particular flower/blossom. If it’s the colour it’s obvious that b&w is probably not the best choice. But there are many flowers/blossoms where the most interesting aspect is the shape and in that case b&w often works better then colour in my opinion. This works especially good in still life studio photos with a uniform background. Out in the field it is often difficult to make the shape stand out against the busy backround you have most of the time.

        • Reply
          Terry B
          April 3, 2020 at 1:04 pm

          Chris,
          I’ve seen some very interesting still life shots of flowers shot in b&w with imaginative use of lighting to excellent effect. This type of shot wouldn’t work in colour, I agree, as it relies on the inter-play of form and light, and the result is more than a mere record shot of a flower. So, yes, b&w can work, but for me the magic of flowers is colour. And in this respect I have the support of millions of nature’s pollinators who agree with me.😊

          • Steven Bleistein
            April 3, 2020 at 9:21 pm

            Interesting article on what bees see. https://www.beeculture.com/bees-see-matters/

            Bees can see color, but the range of visible light they can see is different from ours. Bees can see ultraviolet, but red is beyond their visible spectrum. We can see red, but UV is invisible to us. I would love see what a field of flowers looks like to a bee.

          • Terry B
            April 4, 2020 at 12:31 pm

            Thanks for the bee link. Very interesting. Then there are certain birds for whom some flowers rely on being pollinated. These flowers are in the red to yellow range. Some friends have a very colourful garden which I’ve been photographing for many years and I’m fascinated by the choice of colour the bees mostly select. Earth bees, “bumblebees” as they are mostly called in the UK, seem to love red and which I’ve noticed them favour first in a patch of different coloured flowers. Hive bees, on the other hand, will flit from flower to flower.

  • Reply
    Des McSweeney
    April 3, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    Two things Steve. 1) they look superb in black and white and encourage thought (as you suggest ). 2) I have had two later Elmar collapsible, which are fantastic lenses. Worried by online comments on collapsing them into a 240 then a 10 I asked Jimmy Hughes (the great tech at Leica London) and he said: “I think they’re just being uber-careful – there is no problem ‘collapsing’ any of the Leica collapsible lenses on M digital bodies, and I have never encountered a camera that has had its shutter/sensor damaged by one of these lenses”. I worked successfully with both lenses in both cameras. Additionally, they are a joy to use.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 3, 2020 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks. Love my 1950s era Elmar 50mm collapsible. It works fine on the M240, but I have never had the courage to try to collapse it. Good to know your experience. I still advise caution.

  • Reply
    Floyd K. Takeuchi
    April 3, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    Lovely photographs, particularly four and five. Sakura in full bloom is stunning, of course, but I am partial to the plum blossom “season” with its promise of what’s to come. Your photos capture that sense of expectation well.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 3, 2020 at 9:11 pm

      Thanks, Floyd! Coming from you, that means a lot! Plum blossoms are like the first breath of spring in Japan, and often bloom even while it is still cold and wintery. Plum blossom season is one of my favorite times of year.

  • Reply
    Daniel
    April 3, 2020 at 3:52 pm

    I’ve owned most of the Summicron versions in 35 & 50mm ranges. Favorite being the 35mm V4 second place the 50mm Rigid for everyday use. Absolutely superb lens.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 3, 2020 at 9:09 pm

      I have the Summicron 50mm v4 as well. It is by far my favorite.

  • Reply
    Huss
    April 3, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    Always enjoy your articles Steve.
    As for the DR lens, I have that as well as other Leica 50s including the Lux Asph, but nothing is built as well as the DR. Interestingly Leica made two sets of goggles for the DR, and the lens needs to be matched to the correct set. I did not know this when I bought my DR and when using my goggles the image is off in the vertical axis. It still focuses correctly as it seems that in this scenario all that matters is the horizontal axis, but nonetheless it bugs me!

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 3, 2020 at 9:08 pm

      Thanks! I did not know about needing a matches set of optics. This is important, because optics are often sold separately. I’ll see if I can find more info on that. If you have any sources, please post.

  • Reply
    Charles Morgan
    April 3, 2020 at 8:43 pm

    Lovely – while I love flowers in colour, black and white gives a totally different take. I have the 50mm DR Summicron and consider it sublime. Joyful old style rendering and the whole thing is wonderfully rocket baroque, with a quality of construction unsurpassed by anything. Sadly it does not fit my M5 (I use it on the M3 anyway) but if you remove the rubber rest at the back it will, but why bother.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 3, 2020 at 9:06 pm

      Thanks! I did not know that the Summicron DR does not work on the M5. I have personally used it successfully, even with the optics, on the M3, M4, M6, and M7.

  • Reply
    Ben
    April 3, 2020 at 9:27 pm

    Really great pictures Steven! I have the DR with goggles and this post reminds me I should use them more. Might have to get out in the garden now we can’t go out. I have to say I absolutely love my DR and after owning the v5 previously I personally much prefer the rendering of the DR, might not be for everyone but love the results I get with it. Thanks Ben

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 3, 2020 at 9:34 pm

      The V5 Summicron 50mm is a wonderful lens, probably sharper than the Summicron DR, but who cares? The Summicron DR was optimized for monochrome film, and in my experience the Summicron DR does have distinct rendering.

  • Reply
    Ben
    April 3, 2020 at 10:09 pm

    I agree, the v5 was a joy to use and got great results – I failed to mention I shoot 99% bw film which is why maybe the dr is more pleasing to my eye for what I’m doing. Anyway – enjoyed the images, hope to see more

  • Reply
    eric
    April 4, 2020 at 12:40 am

    I am surprised of the rendering of this Summicron DR, normally also wide open, it has better rendering.

  • Reply
    Bryan Costin
    April 4, 2020 at 1:11 am

    There are very nice. And I like flowers in B&W!

    I inherited an externally ugly DR Summicron that had lived a hard life. It’s slightly hazy but not enough to worry about.

    I’ll repeat the warning about using the DR on a digital Leica. I was overly curious and mounted it on my M240. It sort of worked at close distances but would bind up at various points. And I’m pretty sure it nudged my rangefinder cam a bit out of alignment, because I had to adjust it shortly thereafter.

    The lens and its goggles live on my father’s M3 now, where it’s very happy.

  • Reply
    Eric
    April 4, 2020 at 2:09 am

    To make this wonderful beautiful blossoms without the help of color, great BW can render … This is not an easy easy task, but for example Carol Sharp is great, maybe her name helps, … or she has a better Summicron DR, … nobody knows, but I should like to see how she will make these Japanese Blossoms in BW.

  • Reply
    Steven Bleistein
    April 4, 2020 at 2:36 am

    I am a bit stunned that photographing flowers in monochrome could generate such controversy! It is hardly an original idea. Ansel Adams also photographed flowers and plants, and so have many others! Images of flowers do not require color to be beautiful.

    During the same season, I did go to the Tsukuba Bairin, a garden of plum trees on a mountainside, not far from where I live, and made photographs there as well–in monochrome! You can view my gallery here.

    https://adobe.ly/2UTnOYI

  • Reply
    eric
    April 4, 2020 at 7:52 am

    My favorite is The Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, but this time I really like your silver Leica meter, … BW is not a problem, it depends how it is made. You speak of Ansel Adams, he is a Master … !!! He has not images of Japanese blossoms … really miss.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 4, 2020 at 1:33 pm

      I love the Philospher’s Path, particularly during sakura season!

  • Reply
    jeremystrange
    April 4, 2020 at 11:44 am

    Great shots here Steven, although I’m sure you know that as you chose to share them. Don’t worry about the grumps on here 🙂

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 4, 2020 at 1:32 pm

      Thanks! No grumps here, just people expressing their views, likes, and dislikes.

  • Reply
    ed
    April 5, 2020 at 2:30 am

    I think you’re mistaken about being able to use it without the goggles. Don’t think it will work. The option is the 50 Rigid, without the close-focus capabilities. Sweet optic.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 5, 2020 at 3:10 am

      No mistake. I use the Summicron DR all the time without the goggles. It performs just like a Summicron rigid.

      • Reply
        ed
        April 5, 2020 at 3:20 am

        Interesting. I know the goggled 35 (Summicron and Summaron) can’t be focused without the goggles attached. Is its mechanism different? Goggles only for close-up work?

        • Reply
          Steven Bleistein
          April 5, 2020 at 4:24 am

          Yes. The Summicron DR is designed for bother regular and macro work. Hence the “DR.” The “DR” stands for “dual range.”

          The Summaron detachable goggles were designed only to make storage easier. The lens will not function without the goggles attached. The goggles are meant only to covert the M3’s 50mm frame to 35mm, as the widest from on the M3 is 50mm.

  • Reply
    Ian R
    April 5, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    Nice shots Steven. I haven’t shot many flowers in monochrome, but on the back of this article and some other shots I have seen recently it is something I shall have to try. I don’t own a Leica but that shouldn’t make a difference. Black and white is an area that I am definitely going to have to take more seriously. I find myself being drawn to Black and White shots more and more.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 6, 2020 at 1:04 am

      Give it a try! And no, you don’t need a Leica to take great photos.

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