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Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2

 

Introduction

Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 was one of the three 35mm lenses manufactured by the company for its range of SLR cameras. I say was because the company discontinued one of the models - Elmarit-R 35mm f/2.8, in mid 1990s. The other 35mm version, Summilux-R 35mm f/1.4 is still being manufactured though. Summicron-R 35mm f/2 was first introduced in 1970 and went through three revisions. The original design had a Series 7 filter thread, while the second edition was offered in E55 as well as Series 7 variations. The third and last edition was released in 1997 and was available only with ROM contacts. The lens reviewed here is a second generation variant with 3 cams.

The optical construction of the lens is made of 6 elements in 6 groups. Build quality is similar to pretty much all other Leica lenses, meaning that the lens is superbly built. Lens barrel, aperture ring, focusing ring and even built-in lens hood are all metal. The focus ring moves very smoothly and the aperture ring is snappy with no sense of play (the aperture ring moves in half f-stop increments). I can't say that the lens is very compact or light - its slower cousin Elmarit-R 35mm f/2.8 is smaller and lighter and some other lenses (most notably ones from Olympus OM series) are even more compact, but Summicron-R 35mm f/2 is certainly not a bulky heavyweight either. The lens measures 54 x 66mm (2.1 x 2.6in) and weighs 420g (15oz), although the lens extends slightly during focusing towards closeup. Due to its all metal construction, the lens looks pretty sturdy, practically ready to withstand a major hit or even drop (not that I recommend trying it). The minimum focusing distance is 30cm (12in) and the minimum supported aperture is f/16. The lens accepts 55mm screw-in type filters.

Image

Like all Leica SLR lenses, Summicron-R 35mm f/2 was designed for traditional 35mm cameras. Hence when used on APS-C type cameras with 1.6x crop sensors its field of view is equivalent to that of a 56mm lens on a full frame camera. The lens can be easily adapted to a number of alternative mount systems, including Canon EOS cameras and Micro Four Thirds cameras. Within the scope of this review, the lens was first tested on an APS-C type Canon 400D and FF type Canon 5D and later retested on a FF Canon 5DMk2.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 6 elements in 6 groups
Angular Field 64 degrees
Minimum Focus 30cm/12in
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2-f/16, manual
Filter Size 55mm
Lens Hood Built-in metal
Weight 430g/15oz
Dimensions 54x66mm/2.1x2.6"
Lens Case N/A

 

Handling

As mentioned in the intro section, Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 is not a particularly large lens, but its weight is quite substantial for its size, thanks to the all metal construction. The lens balances well on cameras - on 5D and 5DMk2 the wight is distributed towards the base of the camera, not towards the front of the lens, while on smaller 400D the weight sits right at the base of the lens.

If you are using an AF confirmation adapter with Summicron, be aware of a couple of common limitations. Firstly, your camera's AF system would give up around f/5.6 under normal lightning conditions and at even wider apertures in dimly lit environments. As you stop down the lens, the iris of the lens closes up and the amount of light getting in is simply insuficient for the AF to work adequately. Secondly. your camera's metering system would err and therefore would require you to compensate for. This is common to pretty much all adapted lenses, not only Summicron - at wider apertures your shots will be underexposed by about half f-stop, while at smaller apertures they will be over-exposed by one to one and a half f-stops.

Unlike most wide-angles, Summicron offers a fairly long focusing thrust - about 200 degrees, with the bulk of spacing (~180 degrees of rotation) from the minimum focusing to 1m. The focusing ring actually goes a little bit beyond the minimum marking of 30cm to allow for slight close-focus correction. 30cm minimum focusing seems to be the standard for most fast wide angles, as most 35mm primes I have seen from Canon, Nikon, Carl Zeiss focus down to that distance, but Summicron, by far has the longest focusing thrust. which allows for pretty accurate focusing, partocularly at close distances.

I found focusing Summicron to be  of a mixed bag. Generally speaking, I find manual focusing wide angles to be much harder then normal or telephotos simply because they don't bring up the subject as closely. Summicron is very bright at f/2 and so focusing it at close distances is a breathe. Anything beyond ~2m and I need an AF confirmation to get me into the right zone, at which point I often use focus bracketing to compensate for any potential back or front focusing (a habit I developed to increase my keep rate). Alternatively, I set the lens to hyper-focal distance using the engraved DOF scale - my favorite setting on Summicron is f/11, which gives me a working range of 1.5m to the infinity, and then use the combo as an uber-compact.