5 Frames in Ferrari Heaven with an Leitz 50mm Elmar – By Terry B

Going by how much internet reviewers seem obsessed with the speed Kings of today, the little Elmar f2.8/50 seldom seems to get a look in. With its lowly f2.8 aperture it can’t deliver the restricted DoF and bokeh so beloved by those shooting f/1 lenses wide open at the height of the noonday sun. No, this is a general purpose lens for photographers.

It is a development from the original famed Elmar f3.5/50 released at the same time as the first production Leica in 1925, and which was arguably the first lens designed specifically for 35mm photography. The reputation of this lens and the camera helped seal the Leica’s fame, and it wasn’t really challenged until 1936 when Zeiss released the great Contax II with its superb Sonnar lenses.

The Elmar is a relatively straightforward design comprising of 4 elements in 3 groups, but Leitz chose to place the aperture blades directly behind the front element. All 50mm and the older 35mm Elmars were available only in collapsible bodies, and this is despite being in bayonet mount for the M3, as well a Leica screw.

As one would expect from Leitz, it is beautifully crafted and the only negative in use that I find is setting the aperture. Unlike solid body Leitz lenses, the Elmar rotates when it is being focused as it is not front cell, so setting the somewhat firm click stopped aperture ring is a two-handed exercise.

The five images here are selected from a Ferrari Owners’ Club Meeting many years ago to which the public had access. With Ferrari, there are so many beautiful cars that selecting just five was proving difficult. But how many cars are just as beautiful viewed from the rear as the front, as in the final image?

Looking back, I’d hate to think what the total value on display was. What made the event unique is that unlike many motor museums I’ve visited over the years where the cars are roped off, here one had unrestricted access to photograph the cars at one’s will.

A note on the scans

A Canon 9950F flatbed was set at 2820dpi for all the scans. For some reason, this film proved more problematic than any other. Usually, I have no colour shift issues using the Canon’s own driver software, but with this film the scans came out consistently with a slight yellowish/greenish tinge. The colour mask on this film is darker than anything else I’ve used, so I’m guessing it lies outside the Canon’s film profiling. Other than adjusting white balance, only the necessary amount of sharpening has been applied.

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12 thoughts on “5 Frames in Ferrari Heaven with an Leitz 50mm Elmar – By Terry B”

  1. Martin South of France

    Excellent article. By the way the film colour looks very period with the cars. What film was it that you used? Nice to read an article about the lens rather than the camera and you are right; these days it is all about out of focus backgrounds…. and “fast” lenses. ….the fad….

    1. Martin, thanks for the kind words.
      I’ll get back to you regarding the film. After an initial period of about 20 years when I dutifully filed all my negs in sleeves, I then became somewhat blasé about systematic filing. The result: I’m not very good at curating my negatives, they’re all over the place!
      The purpose behind the title of the article was for the exact reason I chose it, well spotted. I wished for readers to have foremost in their minds to concentrate on the lens, and not for it to be another push for the camera used, although clearly, it had to be a Leica. Hamish asked for a pic of the lens, but by itself it doesn’t make a good subject and I was never happy with the images I tried. So, I went for the shot you see in the opening and which, although this let the cat out of the bag as to the camera, I thought it did illustrate better a collapsible lens on an M body.

  2. Erwin Puts says “Analysis by modern computer based design programs of the original Elmar configuration show that the basic design is difficult to improve upon. A tribute to the old masters no doubt.”
    I have the collapsible Summicron v1 and I can set the aperture normally (using one hand). Interesting that the Elmar is different.

    1. Reading your comment, I went and checked my collapsible Summicron in screw mount. It is on one of my IIIf’s and I agree with your observation. The aperture can indeed be set one-handed at any point in the focusing range. It’s click stops are much less positive than my Elmar and are easier, if this is the right word, to set. The Elmar clisk stops are very positive in their action. They have always been this way since I purchased the M3/Elmar set around 1977.
      Interestingly, comparing the lenses side by side, the focus of the Elmar is quite a bit lighter than the Summicron, which is in absolutely mint condition. Four years separate them, 1954 for the Summicron and 1958 for the Elmar. Not sure if this explains the difference as both lenses are not abused, but the click stop mechanism is different between them.

  3. I have this lens too. It seems silly, but it fits better than any other lens in a Leica body. I ignore if it can be collapsed in all other Leica M’s as it does in mine (M7)
    I got it in a Leica store for a really reasonable price, which is rather a rare thing. Although not in mint condition I doubt a brand new one would do it better.
    Definitely a great alternative for those daydreaming full time inside a noctilux paradise.
    Yes, it’s better working with a pre fixed aperture. … A good manner to take things easy.

    1. George,
      That’s a good point you raise. I suspect all film M’s are safe to collapse it on, except the CL and M5, but with no experience with any digital M, I don’t know, so this is a good warning.
      The nice thing about top jolly optics, IMHO, is that as long as the glass is not damaged, they still perform when their bodies become pensioners, and the money saved can be put to another good cause, like another lens.????
      Pre-selecting the aperture is actually the main way I used it. F8 all day in sunny conditions, f5.6 later on as these are within its optimum range.

  4. Nice work, well done! I used a late version of this f/2.8 Elmer for over 20 years. Mine had the dual scale focus with m and ft. It was excellent for portraits. But for architecture, my 1980s Summicron did show better resolution. However, I wish I had kept the Elmar. You know that story……

  5. Andrew, thanks.
    Sure, we’d expect a Summicron to outperform it, I bet you’d have been peeved if it didn’t, but taken overall, the Elmar can still compete with its slightly different rendition. That’s why you want another!

  6. Interesting article, thanks for posting. I have just bought an M2 with that lens I am running the first film through it just now to test it.

    1. Paul,
      I’m sure you will be pleased with it. I’d be interested to learn if your lens has the very positive click stop action.

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