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Leica Summarex 85 1.5

Published August 12th, 2013

I went for a nice long walk today with my Summarex. I hadn't used it for a while, and it was calling out for a bit of attention. Now that I'm back home and having a look at the pictures I took, I feel like talking about it.

As you may know, this is an unusual lens (to say the least) - it was rare and expensive when it was new 60+ years ago, and I suppose even more so now. My Summarex is in really great shape for it's age, looks almost like new :-) and has it's original hood, Leica UV filter and caps. It was a lucky find several months ago.

You can read more about the technical details here:

It is suggested that the lens was designed by Dr Max Berek back in the 1930s, but not manufactured until after the war. Even then, it had only a brief commercial life. Mine is a very early one of the batch of 1951.

The lens has some remarkable qualities. Wide open it is (as you would expect) rather soft, and has an extremely narrow depth of field at closer distances. Some of the perceived 'softness' is a by-product of that, of course - sometimes there is just one edge of a petal or leaf in focus! But the glow and colour of out-of-focus areas is often gorgeous, so there is something quite special here in the way it handles light at full aperture. Stopped down even only one notch to f2, it changes quite dramatically - things sharpen up hugely and the DOF becomes much easier to handle. Stopping down beyond this, it becomes actually quite a sharp lens of the vintage kind - and by the time you get to f8 it even works well for landscapes, with plenty of detail and lovely colour rendering. I'm mentioning that just because I suspect some people think of this mostly as a nice portrait lens (which it certainly is), perhaps without realising that it can be quite surprisingly versatile.

The lens is a beautiful piece of work, magnificently built and finished. I must admit however that it is darned heavy. I used to think that my Voigtlander 35/1.2 was a heavy lens... but the Summarex is in a class of it's own. It also has a very long, heavy focus throw. This is probably a good thing in some ways, as getting a precise focus with a range-finder at f1.5 is fairly 'trial by error' anyway. I tend to take a couple of shots in succession, hoping that at least one will have something near what I was aiming for in focus ;-)

So, here are a few of the photos I took today - not necessarily representative of all that the Summarex can do, given that it was around sunset and fairly dark. I've cranked up the contrast and tweaked the shadows and highlights a bit in Lightroom, of course. The original RAW files are nicely low contrast, as you would expect from a lens of this period.

the tree has eyes

No, really - there is a little spot in focus :-) or maybe not. It was quite cold, so I think this might be infected by a bit of shiver-shake....

This was wide open - the M9 mis-guestimates the apertures in the exif data.

gone to seed

I think might have been f2.
very pleased with this one!

happy wasp

this one was f4

iron & water

also wide open

dark rising

this way

the concrete looked boring in colour, much nicer as B&W.

stump with orange and green


I was aiming for the bigger flower in centre, but missed a bit.
I still like it, though.

a little spring

the wide-open character. There is at least one petal there in focus ;-)
Background out of focus area is much less busy and smoother than the Summarit 50/1.5 of similar vintage.

piano music (j c bach)


the beast resting up at home...

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