My old 81-year-old granny from Hessen, Frau Nickela Elmar, has got herself a new toyboy. Fuji-san is a strapping youth with muscles to die for, a memory to match and a set of new hybrid glasses straight from the computer age. Grandma always did have eclectic tastes. She met him on Tinder.
Can she keep up with the Fujimojo? I had to find out. So I married them up and took the honeymoon couple for a spin on a dull London Sunday (dullness was fortuitous because granny tends to flare up a bit in sunlight. She needs a new bonnet). It’s a long time since she went on her first Flitterwochen with grumpy old Grandpa Hektor just before the war.
Above: A visit to the Rutland Arms, including some indoor work for the old girl
Wakai Fuji was a bit puzzled by older focal lengths: “Maji kayo Oba-chan”, said young Fuji, “I thought you said you were a 35 and now you tell me you’re a 3.5”. I had to explain that in granny’s day they used centimetres when Fuji has been bred on millimetres. Even more confusing, granny blossoms into a 5cm (or 50mm in modern terms) when, ahem, coupled with the Japanese youth. All this was a bit confusing at first.
But let’s get down to some serious business. Why would anyone in their right mind slap an 81-year-old nickel-plated 3.5cm Leitz Elmar on Fuji’s finest, the X-Pro2? Well, apart from the obvious possibility that I might not be in my right mind, I did it because I could. There’s a whole arsenal of ancient and modern but serviceable Leica lenses out there, not to mention Leica-mount lenses from other manufacturers, all just waiting to be discovered and used.
Above: The devil is in the detail. This crop shows there’s a lot of life left in the Elmar
Frau Elmar needs an adapter, of course. In fact, she needs two because she is a screw mount (LTM) and needs a wafer-thin ring to convert her to Leica bayonet. Then there’s the Fuji X-M adapter to fix her to young Fuji.
I’m getting in deep waters now so I’ll drop the tortured analogy.
Well, I did it because I could; but also because it’s fun and I’m an inquisitive soul who asks himself difficult questions and then sets out to the find the answer.
So what did I conclude? First, although this lens takes on the guise of a 50mm focal length when fitted to the APS-C Fuji, it acts more like the wide-angle it is. It has such a deep in-focus field, especially at f/6.5 or f/8, that the Fuji’s focus-peaking goes into overdrive over most of the frame, most of the time. This is a good little lens to use for street photography because if you set it to two or three meters you will have both nearby pedestrians and Mars in focus.
It’s a good idea, however, to hit the rear control ring to bring up the magnified view because the focus peaking fibs a bit. It is actually a bit overwhelmed and tells me everything is in focus when it is obviously not. For precise close focus at a fast f/3.5 it’s best to use your eyes and the enlarged view.
Soft corners? My colleague William Fagan makes the excellent point that while older lenses are often noted for softness in the corners, this is largely avoided when the lenses are mounted on a crop-sensor camera such as the Fuji X-Pro2. I am now minded to take out Granny together with my Leica M-P so see if there is a big difference in the rendering.
Have a look at the following six imagines. The top row was taken with the X-Pro2 and the new 35mm f/2 prime (Velvia, jpg). To the right of the full frame are crops to drill down the detail. On the bottom row is the same exercise but this time with Granny Elmar, still going strong after 81 years. She is clearly softer than the modern lens but, all things considered, this is a magnificent performance. Again this is a Velvia jpg.
The above two shots are the unprocessed RAW files referring to the gallery above. On the left is the shot from the Fuji with the Fujinon 35mm f/2. On the right, the result from the 3.5cm Elmar, with the blue sailing boats. The Elmar is noticeably softer, as you would expect, while the modern lens deals better with the far distance detail. The pictures were taken on different days so there would naturally be a difference in the sky colouring. In retrospect, the in-camera Velvia processing (which applied to both the original shots in the gallery) has not worked as well with the Elmar picture. Note the blue tinge in the sky and on the water (in the top gallery) which reader Stephen Jenner picked up on. This is not apparent in the RAW files and manual processing would certainly have produced a more attractive result
If you like the clinical approach of modern lenses from Fuji or Leica you will be surprised by granny Elmar. She belongs to an era when soft focus was valued. She’s also uncoated so flare is a constant problem in brighter conditions. Incidentally, she loves Lightroom’s new dehazing tool.
But this isn’t to say that this is not a superb little lens. Handled carefully it will provide atmospheric and attractive pictures. It is even surprisingly sharp at smaller apertures.
It has another very important attribute. It is miniscule. Unlike the 5cm Elmar, which has a collapsible barrel and has to be pulled out for action, this 3.5 is fixed and is tiny. Even on the Fuji, with the adapter (which is nearly as deep as the lens), it is small. On a Leica M it is positively invisible. Pack one of these if you want to get back to Leica’s roots and present your M240 as a compact II or III from granny’s time.
What’s more, these lenses are relatively cheap and will not lose you money. If anything they will go up in value if treated well. This particular nickel Elmar attracts a higher price than the more common chrome-plated version which you can buy for around £250. This lens was sold by Red Dot Cameras for £350. It cost £9 in 1935 and the chrome version was £9.5s.0d.