Thoughts on Lenses

Shooting Leica Rangefinder Cameras with 3rd-Party Lenses is not a Crime!

There’s an odd misconception about the use of Leica cameras that I often get challenged with – especially on social media. As someone who frequently uses 3rd-party lenses on my Leica cameras, and posts photos of them on my Instagram, I’m often told that what I am doing is somehow wrong. Apparently, the only reason to shoot a Leica camera is to give the photographer the ability to shoot with Leica lenses. Case in point, I recently posted a photo of a Leica M6 with a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 lens mounted and I was told: “Putting a Voigtlander lens on a M6 is like driving a Ferrari with retread tires”.

Personally, I really can’t get my head around where this idea comes from, and, to be frank, pretty much think it’s a load of nonsense. As such, I thought I’d pick this perspective apart a bit, as well as hopefully explaining why I think that it’s an entirely illogical conclusion to come to!

My personal preferences

I guess the place to start is to first explain my feelings toward Leica brand cameras and lenses. If you’re new to this website, you might not be aware that I’m a massive fan of Leica rangefinder cameras. They are, to me, the absolute peak of camera design!

Now, just for clarity, let me say that I don’t think they are the best cameras ever made, or that everyone should own and shoot them, or that they take better photos than other cameras. I’m well aware of their flaws; I’ve shot most of them now, so I know what about them works, and indeed what doesn’t.

All I’m saying is that, for me, and the way I use cameras, they do work – in fact, they suit me down to the ground. They’re small, they have a simple interface which I appreciate a great deal, they are rangefinders – which work better for me than SLRs – and I’d even add to those pros by saying I like the way they look. Call me shallow if you like, I don’t care! As a photographer, I think I’m well within my rights to appreciate the things in front of my eyes based on their aesthetic appeal!

As for the lenses though, I’m not so smitten. It’s not that I don’t like them, in fact I’ve had a lot of appreciation for all of the Leica lenses I’ve shot for one reason or another. They just don’t ever give me what I want from a lens that I can’t find elsewhere. In fact, more often than not, what I find elsewhere costs less money, and I like what I find slightly more.

But, before I get to some some of the realities of Leica lenses, I just want to touch on the odd fact that this sort of ideal doesn’t really exist in other brands – at least not to the same extent. What compounds the oddness here is that it would actually make more sense in some other brands.

Camera choice

For example, if someone were to purchase a Nikon SLR film camera, just to access the Nikkor lens range, I don’t think it would seem particularly unusual. This is primarily because to shoot a Nikon lens and retain full functionality, ideally a Nikon camera is required.

Things are different with Leica rangefinder cameras because their lens mounts are so universal. Many brands over the years have made lenses that fit Leica cameras too. In fact, Canon, Nikon, Zeiss, Voigtlander, Minolta, Konica, Fuji, Olympus and many more, have all at some point in their history made lenses that will – without compromise to functionality – work perfectly on the Leica mount camera systems.

Not only this, but many if not most of these brands have also made cameras that take advantage of the Leica lens mounts, meaning it’s just as viable for someone to buy a Leica camera just to shoot a Konica lens as it is valid to buy Konica camera just to shoot a Leica lens.

My M-Mount Konica Hexar with the only Leica lens I currently own – a Leica thread mount 50mm Elmar

With Leica mount kit, it all comes down to subjective preferences for both camera and lens, but since the lens mounts are the same – and there’s no compromise to functionality with either combination – the choices made can be for subjective preferences for either or both camera and lens, and not just for technical compatibility.

Lens choices – by objective measures

So what about the arguments made that Leica lenses have always been objectively better? Well, given the fact that the likes of Voigtlander and Zeiss (all be it largely via Cosina) still make Leica Mount lenses today, and the fact that even very old Leica lenses demand a significant premium on the used market, there’s a good chance there’s a 3rd-party lens that offers objectively more than what an equivalent Leica lens does at the same price point.

For example, if you’ve just bought a Leica M6 for £1200, and you want 50mm lens for it and have a budget of up to £800 to keep your total spend less than £2k, you could buy a brand new Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar, a Voigtlander 50 f/1.2 or f/1.5 Nokton. Or you could buy a 1970’s version 3 Summicron – a great lens in its own right, but the modern 3rd-party alternatives are – objectively speaking – better lenses (sharper, less flare, etc).

If you want a new, or at least modern Leica lens, you need to push that budget to at least £1000, if not more. A new 50mm Summicron will set you back £2000, and bring you very little, if any, objective advantage over the Zeiss Planar. And if you want something that’s as fast as some of the 3rd-party lenses I’ve just mentioned, well you’re not likely to get much change from at least £2500, and that’s on the used market. In short, if you buy a Leica camera and want the best bang for buck in terms of your image quality, you’re probably better off buying a non-Leica lens.

Of course, for some, money is no problem. But even without the financial boundaries to entry, the 3rd party alternatives from Zeiss, for example, often offer something that’s simply “different” rather than “worse” – and are sometimes in fact “better”. The Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZM for example is reputed to be sharper into the corners and have a flatter field than the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux. The compromise being that it’s a bigger lens.

Hereford & Wales day out

Taken with a Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZM lens on a Konica Hexar RF

That said, it is fair to say that there are a couple of Leica lenses that are objectively “better” and offer something other lenses for the system don’t, at any price point. Take for example the Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron – a snip at just clear of £6000. As great as I’m sure that lens is though, it seems to be designed for digital cameras, with one of its key selling points being good control over colour-aberrations on digital sensors. In short, you’d have to be looking pretty damned close to see any advantage over the Zeiss Planar if shooting one with a Leica M6 film camera.

Lens choices – by subjective measures

So maybe then the argument isn’t really an objective one, maybe it’s all all about the subjective quality of Leica lenses. It’s hard to argue that Walter Mandlers’ Leica lenses from the 1970’s don’t have a wonderful optical qualities. I loved my version 3 and 4 Summicrons, when I owned them, and got some great results too!

First shots with 50mm v4 Summicron

One of my favourite pictures taken with a Summicron – note the odd bokeh on the wheel in the background…

But, if it comes down to subjective preferences, why is it not just as viable that I’d have a subjective preference for a Zeiss or a Voigtlander lens? I do, in fact, prefer my ZM Sonnar to the 50mm Summicron that I owned prior to it.

Of course, there are some people out there who wax lyrical about the wonderful character traits of all Leica lenses. More power to them, if that’s what they like, thats fine by me. You won’t find me questioning other people’s subjective preferences when it comes to any lens – even ones that cost a great deal more, and to my eye aren’t as “good” as the ones I like. Because… it’s subjective!

Subjectively speaking, I think Zeiss lenses are better than Leica lenses. And suggesting I am wrong would be no different to suggesting I am wrong to prefer brown bread to white – it’s just personal taste!

50mm ZM Sonnar mounted on a Leica M10-P

It’s the outcome that counts

Of course, when comparing the likes of Zeiss and Leica, what’s subjective and what’s objective in terms of the ideas about what makes a lens “good” can blur. Both of these brands produce lenses that are designed to be optically optimal within the scope of the particular series of compromises they are designed. In photographers seeking to shoot with lenses like these – at least in most cases – there is likely some desire for high quality optics and results without aberrations.

But, not all photographers want high quality optics. Because lens choice is so subjective, it’s entirely viable that some photographers might find the most joy mounting the least expensive, lowest quality lenses to the most expensive Leica camera. The fact is, “good” photography is not simply about “good” optics.

I might think that Zeiss lenses are “better” than Leica lenses, but this doesn’t preclude me from a potential desire to shoot lenses that I know are “worse” once in a while. As I go to great pains to explain in my post about what defines the perfect lens, what counts is the end result – especially when considering that everything prior to the end result is meaningless to the 3rd-party observer of a photo.

I for one, have a great deal of love for the Russian Sonnar-knockoff lens, the Jupiter-8M. A lens, that given the right light, has a wonderful propensity toward gentle rendering and flare:

Family snap

Taken with a Leica Monochrom and Jupiter-8M converted to ltm

Of course, I accept that the way that the image above looks might not to be everyone’s taste. But the point is, I like the way it looks, and it’s a look I achieved using a very inexpensive lens on a fairly expensive Leica. I might have been able to produce a similar look with Leitz lens of some sort – maybe an and 50mm Summarit for example – but would it be any more valid an image? Would my wife appreciate the image of our daughter more had I spent more money on the lens I took it with? Of course not, that’d be ludicrous – my wife doesn’t give a shit about the camera or lens I took the photo with, she just likes photos of her babies.

Affordability

Finally, once again touching on the subject of money, I just want to make a point in favour of those who do have a desire to shoot Leica lenses, for whatever reason, but can’t yet afford to.

A lot of what I’ve talked about in this post comes down to people with elitist attitudes sneering at people based on myopic ideals about how other people should do things. This is bad enough in the context of the arguments above, but it’s worst in the context of the affordability of Leica products.

Leica kit is expensive, but that doesn’t mean people with less resources shouldn’t be allowed to own it. If someone wants to buy a Leica camera, and then shoot it with a Voigtlander lens until they can afford a Leica lens, they are well within their rights to do so without people questioning them for any reason.

The image that resulted in the offending comment

Now, to be fair, I don’t think the chap on Instagram that I highlighted at the top of this post was having a go at people who can’t afford to put Leica lenses on their Leica cameras. But, if you take his his opinion in the context of affordability… Well, to me, that sort of opinion leaves a funny taste in my mouth! In what world do we live it where it’s ok to look upon people with less financial resources and regard them with such disdain?!

In conclusion…

What makes a camera or lens right for the individual is, of course, down to the individual. There are many factors that determine the choices an individual might make about what camera or lens they choose to shoot – from price point, to potential image qualities, and everything in between.

It is therefore perfectly valid to buy a Leica just to gain the ability to shoot Leica lenses. What is not valid, is then claiming that everyone else should do the same! Photography is far too rich with creative options and possibilities to be so blinkered and narrow minded as this!

Ultimately, If you want to shoot a £2 lens on a £6500 Leica, then fill your boots, I say! It’s not a crime, and never will be – despite what some of the elitist morons on the internet might think!

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64 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Rob Kent (jazzycamel)
    April 15, 2019 at 10:09 am

    Couldn’t agree more! Currently shooting the 1st roll of film in my very first Leica (IIIc). Due to my relatively impoverished state, I am using an Industar-61 (53mm, f/2.8 version) as I’ve shot this lens on both a FED4 and a Zorki 4K and it performed very well (the cameras didn’t do so well!). Until I can find an affordable alternative (or win the lottery!), I shall happily continue with this heathen pairing!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 15, 2019 at 11:41 am

      The Industar-61 is a cracking little lens! Good work on your entry into the would of Leica! Don’t forget, you’re now entitled to view all other cameras and photographers as inferior now. If you tilt your head back, you should find you can look down your nose in their direction. It feels odd to start with, but you’ll get used to it once the power of the Leica camera starts entering your blood stream

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    Steve
    April 15, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Absolutely nailed it. ..exactly how I feel.
    I’ve been lucky and not run into too much lens snobbery…but I like what works for me and an old enough to not really care what others think of my lens choices..
    Owning Leica lenses should never be a barrier to owning a Leica….
    I’ve recently after years with NIkons SLRs picked up a Leica M2 which was sub £600.
    I did find a Summitar 5cm f2, with bags of character for only £150 …but have no desire to spend a small fortune on anymore Leica glass.
    I’ve shot and developed ten rolls since I got the M2 a few months ago, using a jupiter 8 (50mm) and a jupiter 12 (35mm) as well as the Summitar taking photos of my two little ones on family holidays etc.. and love photos I’m getting with Trix 400.
    I think the reason to get a Leica is because it has such a wide selection of lenses.
    All my lenses are screw mount adapted to M and picking up these old russian lenses is all part of the joy of Leica M ownership I reckon.

    Steve
    https://www.instagram.com/stevenamyah/

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Adrian Rose
    April 15, 2019 at 10:35 am

    Hi Hamish, I totally agree with you, and it’s similar to your recent topic regarding software adjustments of analogue film images (and your choice for what kind of packaging to procure for pixl-latr:-)). It’s your money, and up to you how you have fun with the photographic equipment and tools that you have. I think it’s reasonable to state “personally I wouldn’t do that because…”, but definitely not acceptable to criticise others for having a different view or different financial capability. For most of us this is a hobby and should be fun. Criticism is good if offered with respect and constructively. Sadly the internet is full of bullies writing things they probably would not say in person.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Steve Ember
    April 15, 2019 at 10:42 am

    Very eloquently expressed, Hamish. And thanks – especially – for that last sentence. Pithy – and dead-on accurate.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Ian Dean
    April 15, 2019 at 10:56 am

    The Ferrari analogy says it all – the camera world is dominated by people who think, as you say, ‘it’s ok to look upon people with less financial resources and regard them with such disdain?!’ Thank you for an always stimulating array of images and equipment commentary. Leica is the setup I know best, because it suits the way I make photographs, with a range of great lenses from various makers, including varieties of pinhole!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Mr. Nigel Vernon
    April 15, 2019 at 11:10 am

    Anyone put a Fuji X lens on Leica M, or is it not possible?

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Alan S Chin
      April 15, 2019 at 4:36 pm

      Not possible in real world use for following reasons :

      1) flange distance. Fuji x being mirrorless design is less than Leica,by about 7 mm. No Fuji less will reach infinity or even 10 feet. Super macro only, if that. ( Not that I’ve tried)
      2) sensor size / coverage : Fuji lenses designed for aps-c sensor size, not full frame. Images would vignette severely.
      3) electronic controls for aperture and focus — although most fuji lenses have analog looking aperture ring and focusing ring, these do not physically control lens, they only transmit electronic commands for the relevant things to happen. A Fuji lens mounted on no Fuji camera becomes a dead optic with focus stuck at one point and aperture also.

      The other way around, mounting Leica lenses on Fuji x , is easy.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Terry B
      April 15, 2019 at 4:45 pm

      Nigel, not possible. The flange distance of the M mount is too great, there’s about 10mm difference. But, a Leica lens on a Fuji X works wonderfully well. The Fuji, not having an AA filter, will draw the utmost from the lens. At the risk of receiving a broadside, I love the X-trans.

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    Reply
    Sroyon
    April 15, 2019 at 11:13 am

    As someone who uses a Leica camera with one Voigtländer (28) and two Leica lenses (50 and 135, which for various reasons were in fact cheaper than the Voigtländer), I couldn’t agree more. I suspect there’s an element of validation-seeking in some of the comments you referred to. People spend a lot of money on Leica glass, and when they see others happily using third-party lenses, perhaps they feel it undermines their choices.

    Having said that, on photography forums I also see an element of anti-Leica reverse snobbery, which I find as questionable as blind-faith Leica cultism.

    A related dogma which I sometimes encounter on forums is that a camera is just a light-tight box, and it’s all about the lens. I get the logic, and strictly speaking, as long as the camera is otherwise functional, it is the lens which forms the image and determines how it looks. But at least for me, photography (and by extension, camera and lens choices) is not all about the final image. The pleasure of using a beautifully-crafted piece of machinery is also a big part of it. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the camera body.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Nick Lyle
      April 15, 2019 at 2:10 pm

      It is not possible. Fuji X lenses do not function without electronic linkage to a Fuji X camera, and in addition the flange-back distance of the Fuji system is shorter than that of Leica. You can use LM lenses on a FujiX camera though.

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    Reply
    Charles Morgan
    April 15, 2019 at 11:33 am

    I shoot Leica (both M and LTM), Voigtlander and Zeiss lenses on my Leicas. I shoot exclusively Leica glass on my Leica R7 solely for the reason in the focal lengths I want there are no alternatives. I am quite certain that soon I’ll also shoot Jupiter and other lenses on my Leica III to see what they offer too. Whatever suits you best as a photographer is the best lens to use. I slightly prefer Leica to Zeiss but ultimately it’s pointless to worry about what other people think, they aren’t the ones taking your photographs for you!

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    Reply
    BONNIN (Jean-François)
    April 15, 2019 at 11:59 am

    My Leica M4P (Canada) is still going on with a 35 mm Summicron (Canada), and my remaining 50 mm is….an Industar (excellent; cost me about 35 euros); I also purchased 5 years ago a 90 mm Rokkor-M (not very fast but as good as a former Leitz 90 mm).
    Due to another G.A.S secondary tremor, my next purchase is likely to be a Voigtlander 75 mm.
    I am not intending to be judged by any Photographic Police for treason.
    Best regards, make great photos, enjoy !
    JF Bonnin

    • Avatar
      Reply
      John Falloon
      May 26, 2019 at 8:37 pm

      I have the 75 mm CV Classic Heliar 1.8 – superb lens

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    Reply
    JamesW
    April 15, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    We’ll find anything to argue about, won’t we? I ride motorbikes, and acknowledge other riders on the road. Don’t ever expect a Harley rider to nod to you – unless you’re on another Harley. Canon/Nikon, film/digital, Leica/non-Leica glass. I’ve seen some awful images taken on screamingly expensive kit (you paid HOW MUCH for a camera?) and images that have made me weep that were taken on the cheapest naffest budget quality box.
    I enjoy playing with cameras, from 35mm to ULF cameras. It’s part of the fun, and I use them to enjoy MYself. I could never decide for anyone else how they should enjoy themselves……
    I bought/made them, I play how I want to, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to play the way I do. They’re my toys, not yours. Now off you go and have your fun. It’s better to spend time enjoying yourself than it is to spend time looking an idiot by telling me how to enjoy myself.
    Right. I’m off to stick my head under a blanket to expose a sheet of 10X8 FP4+ using a 60 year old lens with a pneumatic shutter.
    You have your fun, I have mine.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Flavio Colker
    April 15, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    Who cares about lenses or cameras? It´s about subject, light and composition.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Tom Sheppard
    April 15, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    Hamish, I could not agree with you more.
    Those of us who like to make images in the fashion in which we like to make them, will use whatever we have found to be the tools that allow us to create accordingly.
    Too often I see the postings of elitists that contain nothing more than images of the cameras that they own.
    It seems that they regard ownership of an expensive camera as an end in itself, rather than as a tool for allowing their image making to soar.
    Now, if that ownership opens a door to creative image-making, then more power to them. But if it is simply another “look at me” moment, then all I can feel is pity.
    Go make some images people, and be gladdened by the process.
    Tom Sheppard

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    Reply
    Crispin
    April 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    I think the real fault of your actions, is to post on Instasham. With their new censorship policy for ‘questionable’ material, I’m unclear as to why anyone would want to continue using it.

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    Nick Lyle
    April 15, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    When I heard the Ferrari with retread tires analogy mentioned above I had the same reaction as you did Hamish, and the analogy is a poor one for other reasons as well. I still have not been willing to pony up the dough for my first Leica camera to use with my Cosina-Voigtlander lenses and my Jupiter 8. For now I am quite happy with a couple of Cosina made Leica-mount rangefinder bodies. The Voigtlander bodies are even arguably “better” than some Leica film bodies from a functional perspective, though the Leica options are usually “nicer” to use in other respects, with subjectively more pleasing mechanical qualities. Anyhow, it seems to me that lenses have more to do with outcomes than bodies do, so the analogy ought to be inverted, with the Ferrari representing a lens and the tires standing in for a camera. The Leica bodies are better made, but it is the lens that matters most to the results. Even with retreads on it the Ferrari will beat that VW wearing racing tires. Finally, Ferraris and Cameras with red dots on are used as social signifiers, and in this sense the analogy does hold up. These power symbols only stand up to scrutiny by fellow snobs with the correct accessories attached.

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    Reply
    BC
    April 15, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    I must plead guilty for having bought my first (used if not battered) Leica (M2) in order to have access to Leica lenses. After all Leitz is a lens-maker first. I had also just had a compelling demonstration by a friend of mine that had lent me his M6+lenses and challenged me to take exactly the same photographs with it and my Nikon (and print them with the same enlarger on the same paper). His point was that he could tell the difference. He did and I could not (which does not mean he was wrong, simply that I was less experienced than he was). I never regretted buying my almost new 35 mm summicron from a friend who had bought it new a year before. Since then I have also used Zeisses and Voigtlanders, even 7 Artisans. All these brands produce very decent lenses, Zeiss being the best. However there have been times when I needed the corners of my photographs to be reasonably sharp, not to have to correct vignetting at full aperture (and sometimes funny colors) in the corners, shoot with a light source in the frame without bad flare, distorsion with a 35 or 28 mm reasonably handled. And there without discussion the Leica lenses shone. Now do we need this for every photograph we take, certainly not. Sometimes a little softness even helps (in this hard world). And Hamish your portrait of the small boy is a example. But the day one needs to bring back the right pictures without blaming one’s equipment for just adequate results (and if one is a professional it is quite essential although one does not have to be a professional to recognize quality when one sees it), the day when one is in the presence of a unique moment and wants to capture it without regretting it could have been done better with a better lens. Why refuse quality? Cannot anyone that can do the most do the least? Isn’t getting quality when one needs it impossible with a mediocre or average lens? The only valid argument, in my mind, is the financial one. Of course the experienced and creative person will do better with any equipment than a clueless one with the best equipment possible. But why not give the good stuff to the good person too to make the comparison fair? The choice of a lens is not that “subjective” it has to be the right tool for the right task and a quality lens is more likely to work in a greater variety of situations (one can always put a bad filter in front of a good lens if one desires softness but there is nothing one can put in front of a mediocre lens to make it work better). AS for the financial aspect of things mentioned earlier, my experience has been that buying an average lens because of my financial situation had several negative consequences: 1-I ended up buying the better one I wanted in the first place, so the first one did not prevent me from spending that money BUT for a few years I photographed with an average lens and in some situation it shows and now I cannot even think of using these negatives so it ended up being a waste of my money, a waste of my time, a waste for my photography. Since that first experience I have either waited until I could afford what I needed/wanted, or simply have stopped thinking I needed that tool if it were not an absolute necessity or simply used my credit card and even if I ended up paying slightly more if I missed a payment, all that time I was working with the right lens without any regret or second thought. That peace of mind, as far as I am concerned, is priceless. The end word is still perfectly captured by quoting Hamish: “The fact is, “good” photography is not simply about “good” optics.” Agreed 100%,… but in many ways good optics help guarantee the quality of the results and the versatility of our tools, “bad” (as a counterpoint to “good”) lenses do not.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 15, 2019 at 5:36 pm

      There are some Zeiss lenses that are objectively better, and many that are as good a Leica lenses.
      I rely on my zeiss lenses when I want to not be let down, and never am. In fact, I would be surprised if I found myself let down by the new Voigtlander 50mm 1.2. In fact, I recently shot professionally using it, and know I wouldn’t have had any advantage in shooting a Leica lens instead.
      None of these lenses are anything short of the quality I need for my work, personal or professional.
      I’ve shot a good few modern Leica lenses too, and didn’t find they offered any more than my Zeiss lenses.
      Also, putting a “bad filter” on a good lens doesn’t necessarily create the look I might want to achieve. It just creates the look of a “bad filter” on a good lens.
      Have a read of my post about defining the perfect lens for more on this – I suspect we simply don’t talk the same language here, but hopefully that post will give you a little more insight into my thinking here

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    April 15, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    Certainly ‘elitist moron’ has a nice ring to it, but I still prefer the classic ‘running dog imperialist lackey’. Leica stuff is great, but the prices attract a group who couldn’t take a good picture to save their lives (soon to be a reality show from a major producer). Thanks for the article!

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    Reply
    George Appletree
    April 15, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    I think the reasoning is like smoking a cigarette without rolling paper. I mean, adoring and at the time ignoring Leica products. The main reason to not buying a Noctilux is really it’s 11.000 priced.
    That said, yes I sold my perfect Summicron, I refused the idea of a nearly 1 kilogram M10 when having a lightweight Fuji hanging from my neck. And at the end perceiving the arrogance of some Leica sellers and fans. And, to be honest, I finally bought another Leica camera (and lens), after a period of deep disappointment about the brand.
    Obviously I happily keep a Voigtlander M mount lens

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    Reply
    Terry B
    April 15, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    It’s not a crime? Thank god for that, Hamish. Now no need to keep ducking into side streets whenever I see a patrolling policeman or area car, and then furtively peering around the corner to see if it was safe to come out.
    Interesting topic. I feel it was easier to assess a lens’ characteristics using a slide film. I could see that my K25/64 and Ektachromes all looked slightly different depending upon which make lens I had used, and up until the point where I saw an expert nature photographer’s original K25 shots using his Leica R4 and lenses, I just accepted this. But his K25/Leica slides opened my eyes, literally. They were so clean, it was though a veil had been lifted. As we both used K25, the difference could only be down to the lenses. That was it. My Nikon gear helped, only a little, to finance a demo, but mint, R3 and 3 new lenses, a 50 f2 Summicron and 28 and 90 Elmarits.
    I wouldn’t argue that the Leica lenses were sharper, but what I saw in how they rendered an image was far more to my liking. I suspect it was the same thing that you look for in a lens.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 15, 2019 at 5:22 pm

      Sounds a bit like how I feel about Zeiss lenses. The results just look right to me. The recent experience with the 35mm 1.4 zm really reminded me of that fact!

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    Reply
    George Feucht
    April 15, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    I fully agree. Initially, I bought some “cheaper” lenses to round out my focal length variety and planned to eventually upgrade. I enjoyed the rendering/sharpness of my (LTM) Voigtländer 35mm f1.7, but the .9M close focus was frequently tripping me up, so I decided to “upgrade” to a 35 Summicron ASPH. Plus, I would be amazed at the so-much-better image quality of the Summicron!

    After testing 3 different samples of used 35mm Summicron ASPH (purchase contenders or just borrowed from friends), I found that my old Voigtlander out resolved them all wide open. PLUS, every Summicron had significant focus shift. The Voigtlander had none.

    I still wanted .7M focus, so I tested the Zeiss f2 Biogon. It was razor sharp with no focus shift. It had a miniscule edge over my Voigtlander and beat all of the Summicrons in sharpness.

    I FULLY planned on buying a nice used 35mm ‘cron. But objectively and subjectively I just didn’t like it. I now have a stellar 35mm f2 Biogon and a sharp-but-painterly Voigtlander Ultron. I have friends who would never buy an “off-brand” Leica lens (and I have nothing but love for my 50mm Summilux ASPH) but there are so many choices on the pallet for us that it would be a shame to turn a blind eye to some remarkable lenses we might truly love.

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    Reply
    Joe Van Cleave
    April 15, 2019 at 6:53 pm

    The elephant in the room is rangefinder focus cam calibration between various brands. IIRC, Zeiss and Leica weren’t always calibrated to the same standard. Same with FSU lenses. Even between Leica lenses people still report focus issues.

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 15, 2019 at 10:29 pm

      Zeiss lenses are fully compatible, FSU lenses less so. But yes, the rangefinder focusing system can fail

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    Reply
    Karl
    April 15, 2019 at 6:55 pm

    Couldn’t agree more as someone in his younger days thought a better camera and lens meant better pictures whatever that meant. When I did my various city and guilds modules. The pictures favoured most were take with Kiev rf. Moscow 3. Lubitel and a bx20 praktica.

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    Dave
    April 15, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    Recently purchased my first Leica, a M3.
    I’m using a Canon 1.8 ltm with it at the moment, & I’m happy as a pig in s**t with the results.
    I can’t imagine buying a Leica lens would make any happier than I am now!

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 15, 2019 at 10:27 pm

      It’s on my list, that lens!

  • Daniel Castelli
    Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    April 15, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    Henri Cartier-Bresson was photographed with a Zeiss lens on his Leica. David Douglas Duncan photographed Marines in both Korea and Vietnam AND Picasso in France using Nikon lenses on his Leica’s. Deal with that lens snobs.

    Brits are faced with Brexit, we’ve got Trump and the French (and the world) are dealing with a horrific tragedy with the near destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral. And some people are upset because you or I may not get perfect out of focus highlights?

    The Leica M4-2 helped revive Leica. Voigtlander helped fuel an interest in film/rangefinder photography when it was lagging in the late 1990’s. And now, people bash both camera & lenses?

    When I see someone with a (film) Leica, what goes through my head is that ‘here’s someone with more than just a passing interest’ in shooting film. Then, if they have fitted to the camera a non-Leica lens, I’m thinking ‘this person has done some research’ and found something out of the ordinary that meets their way of looking at the world. Now, just for the record, I really don’t run those exact words through my noggin, but you get the idea.
    To quote Steve: “…but I like what works for me and an old enough to not really care what others think of my lens choices…” well, that’s me. I’ve mounted on my m2 & m4p the tiny, 40mm M-Rokkor. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it works for me. I’ve tested it against the viewfinder lines, and I know where the limits of the angle of view of the lens as it relates to the camera. I like the weight, the size and I can get filters that fit (the Summicron-C has the weird thread pitch which makes it almost impossible to get filters & shades.) . With it on my CL, I can see the 40mm viewfinder lines.

    So lets the snobs rant. We’ll be out taking pics.

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    Neil
    April 15, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    I like the planar 50 f2 ZM, after owning a few summicrons I prefer the Zeiss.

    What’s this Leica glow people always refer to? Can anyone explain it? This might be what the snobs are getting at.

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    Reply
    Peter
    April 16, 2019 at 2:10 am

    Great, and needed, article. My M2 (while in my possession) has yet to meet a Leica lens. It’s only met my Voightlander 50 f/1.5 Nokton. When will folks realize the age old truth that it is the photographer behind the equipment that makes the great photo!

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    M
    April 16, 2019 at 4:50 am

    Until the 50 Rigid (1956) and 35 8-element (1958) arrived on the scene, Canon and Nikon bested Wetzlar in these key focal lengths. And unlike the Leicas, these lenses are less-prone to irreparable and fatal hazing.

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    Graham Line
    April 16, 2019 at 6:45 am

    Flavio is right, of course. It’s about the image, not the hardware, for me.
    I was with you all the way until you mentioned the Mandler lenses. Everyone should experience shooting with that lens series if they can possibly arrange to do so.
    In my opinion (which doesn’t amount to anything in most circles, the best M-mount lenses are the Minolta M-Rokkors and the slower Voigtlander products of 50mm or less.
    Putting other-brand lenses on Leica bodies hasn’t been a crime since DDD and other war shooters discovered L39-mount Nikkors during the Korean War, and there were creditable English (Reid) and various German lenses earlier. Probably French, too, and maybe Italian.

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    eric
    April 16, 2019 at 8:00 am

    Of course “no crime” 😉
    This is a question of rendering and personal test.
    Actually, my favorite lens with the M3 is the Canon Ltm 50/1’4 ! The rendering is superb, sharpness is here, not top, but really enough, and this lens works very well with a lot of digital camera. And, … this is an inexpensive lens ! The difference of price enter this lens and the Summilux, does not give a very big difference in the images !!!
    This lens in one hand is beautiful with her vintage look ! Not maybe as beautiful than the Summilux, …
    I am very happy with it …This is the most important point. But, if someone wants to offer me the Summilux in a special edition vintage, OK 😉

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    Andrew Pemberton
    April 16, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Nice blog. Very nice and thought-provoking website. PS: Albeit is a word in itself (‘all be it’ in para 12).

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    Greg
    April 16, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Well put Hamish.

    Happier with my M6 and several Voitlander lenses than I would be with my M6 and one 50mm ‘Cron.

    Saying that, you’d have to tear my Q from my dying arms as the lens on that is spectacular for what I want it for.

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    Reply
    Martin Smith
    April 16, 2019 at 9:07 am

    Attaching a ‘Voigtlaender’ lens on any camera is a crime, sounds to me like a badly made knock off copy from some back of beyond country that no one cares about.
    I do love what people publish online without checking their spelling!

    Unless your a ardent collector or money is no object, I don’t think it really matters what glass you use. After all, we are all about image making, are we not?

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 16, 2019 at 9:12 am

      Hah, that’s actually how it’s spelled if you don’t have access to the accent. So it’s Voigtländer or Voigtlaender … I think. I suspect he was just trying to be clever… strikes me as the type!

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      Terry B
      April 16, 2019 at 10:10 am

      “I do love what people publish online without checking their spelling!
      Unless your a ardent collector or money is no object.”
      “Unless your a ardent” I’d suggest you check your English grammar. So you know, it should read “Unless you’re an ardent…” Smacks of people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

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    martin bruntnell
    April 16, 2019 at 9:17 am

    My Lada 1200 goes great with Ferrari wheels;-)

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    Reply
    Martin Smith
    April 16, 2019 at 9:36 am

    In German ä stands for [ɛ] or æ, but not ‘ae’ which is quite different spelling, for now that’s another story!

    Clever, I thought him slow-witted myself.

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 16, 2019 at 11:36 am

      Haha, you and I both – maybe it’s because the Voigtlander website url uses the ae spelling…
      I dunno why I’m trying to find excuses for this guy!

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    Reply
    Adam
    April 16, 2019 at 10:26 am

    To use non Leica lenses on a Leica is an affront that breaks the Lens Purity laws of 1516 promulgated by Prince Wetzlar of Mandler, that any lens not made from the sand of a virgin beach, lapped by the balmy waters of the Baltic , melted by meistercraftsman apprenticed at the bellows and adept at shaping the philosophers stone, was heresy; punishment for which was to be put in pit and stoned by Contax 1s until you found one with a reliable shutter. Or was that the beer laws; Hamish , you are right. Back in the 1950s there were adapters so you could improve your Leica by using thoses wonderful Zeiss Contax lenses. Likewise my Leica is much enhanced with the addition of 2 inch Taylor Hobson, or in the gloom a 50mm 1.2 Canon. Lens are brushes, use the brush for look you want. …………..P.s having once had a go in 1980s Formula One car , and was overtaken by a better piloted Ford Escort I can tell you it aint the car , it aint the tyres, its the driver. Can’t imagine how that would apply to photography (yeah right!)

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    Daniel Fjäll
    April 16, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    I care a lot about how my Leica camera looks. Not so much about other brands for some reason. I liked the pictures from the 50mm Summicron V3 I had but the shape of the lens looked off. The shape resembled something like a chopped off cone. I sold it for that reason alone. I had the Planar 50mm briefly and it looked out of place with that shiny black finish and blue dot. Very few third party brands looks good on a Leica if any IMO. It’s like running Windows on a Mac.

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    Laurence Kesterson
    April 16, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    After reading your piece yesterday I mounted a Jupiter 8 on my digital Leica and shot a job with it. The 50mm 1.4 asph Summilux is one of my favorite lenses and I find it hard to beat by any standard. However, the Jupiter produced some beautifully “round” yet sharp images. (I shimmed mine to focus properly with the Leica).

    I love my Leica glass, it’s one of the reasons I use the system. I also enjoy what I can do with the cheap Russian glass that’s so readily available to experiment with. Oh yeah, and the 7Artisans lenses are the bomb! The 50mm f1.1 and the 28 f1.4 are incredible for the money.

    Keep up the good work, Hamish. I really enjoy your blog.

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 19, 2019 at 11:30 am

      Cheers, Lawrence! That’s how I think of the Jupiter look too

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    Reply
    jeremy north
    April 17, 2019 at 12:20 am

    Surely you would have to shoot on film made by Leitz and processed in Leitz chemistry and printed on Leitz paper using a Leitz enlarger in a darkroom with a Leitz safelight. In fact the darkroom must be constructed using only Leitz bricks and mortar …
    The reason that most second hand Leica kit is in such good condition is that the people who own them never use them. Much like their Ferrari cars. Fan boys are just collectors with p3n1§ envy

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 19, 2019 at 11:33 am

      Haha, quite right

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    Reply
    Brian Sweeney
    April 17, 2019 at 12:27 am

    Actually… The J-8M is NOT a Sonnar knock-off. The J-8M is a unique formulation of a lens in the Sonnar family. It’s “optical Prescription”, type of glass, surface curvature, thickness of glass- etc is much different from the 5cm f2 Sonnar. And I recognize the one of the camera… It is really good.

    I have a lot lenses in Leica mount. Many that I adapted in RF-coupled Leica mount. The point of shooting a camera with a “universal mount” such as LTM is to have a lot of choice in lenses. Most real Leica users know this. Those that don’t are usually compensating for some photographic inadequacy by hiding behind a brand name as being the magic sauce of making a good photograph.

    Since you have an M10, and have “An Electronic Viewfinder”- pick up a Konica 50mm F1.7 AR-Hexanon. It matches the type 2 Rigid Summicron, but costs about $30. I use mine on the M8, made a custom Cam for it. My M8 gets all the cool lenses.

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 19, 2019 at 11:34 am

      Thank’s Brian, I was being a little flippant with my wording …
      I do love the fact that you’ve gone as far as to make cams for SLR lenses – very cool

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    Reply
    Eric
    April 17, 2019 at 1:01 am

    Hiiii Daniel Castelli,

    I like too the Summicron-C 40/2, this is an excellent lens. The sharpness is high, bokeh is average, at 5’6/8 f no big difference with other Summicron. Just this special little rendering of this Leica 50/60/1970 history great material.
    About the Zeiss ZM 35-1’4, for me it is the same rendering when I had the Contax 2 with all lenses ! I miss a black box with the 4 lenses to exchange with my M7, I have sold later. Just 2 things have stopped me : Contax G2 will not survived and these Zeiss lenses I have used before are too pop for me, this my thought about the ZM 35/1’4. too pop, too sharp, despite it is better than the Summilux.
    We have to hunt old lens there are a few gems, and for me, I do not care to mount on my Leica !!! 😉 it is not a crime, this is an honorific for my Leica to wear so great lenses.

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    Reply
    David Wignall
    April 17, 2019 at 2:07 am

    I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments in this article. I think using and enjoying what you have instead of wishing for some type of holy grail lens makes for more satisfying and more successful photography.
    I’m currently shooting mostly with a Leica M6 and Voigtlander 35/1.4 and I have to say that I love this combination! In my opinion this is ergonimacally the best MF lens I have ever used and with the exception of a touch of flare (which often looks cool) the IQ is fantastic.

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    Rollin Banderob
    April 17, 2019 at 4:00 am

    Hamish,
    Well said. Within color digital photography do you think there is a unique “Leica look” in images with current cameras and software?

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 19, 2019 at 11:37 am

      Yeah, to a point. Leica lenses are cooler and Leica cameras have thier own colour science – of course, much of this can be overwritten, but getting it right in camera gives a better starting point. I’d rather have the slightly more magenta look of a leica photo than the green look of an older sony photo for eg

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        Reply
        Rollin Banderob
        April 21, 2019 at 3:35 am

        Hmmm, guess when I have seen the term “Leica look” I thought they were talking about sharpness/microcontrast and “3D pop.” And my thinking is with the current software sharpness/microcontrast can be enhanced and was wondering if Leica had lost that exclusivity due to software, and others improving their lenses.

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          Reply
          Hamish Gill
          April 21, 2019 at 8:15 pm

          Maybe people are. I think the system still has an advantage as most of the lenses, regardless of brand, are of more simple formula which in my experience tend to have more “pop”. I think a lot of leica people will try and find a lot of reasons to justify the expense of the lenses/system… most of this is of course subjective anyway…

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    Reply
    Dan
    April 17, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    I keep saying this to everyone who will listen – Leica bodies make a lot of sense $$$ wise. If you’re a RF kind of person, all roads really lead to a Leica body imho – especially M2, M4. You can pick up a Metered Contax, sure – but it will eventually break. $800 a pop for what will become a paperweight.. I know a guy on his 4th.

    Leica glass is optional – the bodies kick ass.

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 19, 2019 at 11:38 am

      M4-P and M3 for me, but, yeah! 🙂

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    Reply
    Brandon
    April 20, 2019 at 10:58 am

    I haven’t read all the comments and I’m a few days late to the article, but wouldn’t this argument mandate the use of only the highest resolution/finest grain films? Why use Delta 3200 with your summicron when Ilford Pan F 50 would give you “sharper” results? Sounds like a pretty boring way to shoot honestly. On a somewhat related topic, Hamish, have you used any of the Konica m-mount lenses? Just got the 50 f2 and I’m loving it. Most are relatively inexpensive.

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 21, 2019 at 8:20 pm

      Well, quite…
      I haven’t yet – the 50mm is on my list though… the list is long! 😉

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    Reply
    Nick
    April 26, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Not to mention the Konica 35mm f2 (UC LTM) which looks to be a fine lens. Out of interest, what is your favourite 28mm with a compatible look (eg to 50mm 1.5 sonar or the ZM 35mm 1.4, both of which deliver my favourite look) or is that not a focal length you use?

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