Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Review of the Leitz 85mm Summarex whets the appetite for fast vintage...

Review of the Leitz 85mm Summarex whets the appetite for fast vintage glass

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If you’re not a fan of Japan Camera Hunter, Bellamy Hunt’s eclectic camera blog and shop, then you are missing a treat. Bellamy specialises in sourcing used cameras for discerning users and collections, and his website is a treasure trove, especially for Leica fans.

The hefty Summarex looks the part even on a modern M10
The hefty Summarex looks the part even on a modern M10

For years I have been hooked on Bellamy’s In Your Bag series, where photographers famous and obscure are persuaded to tip out their daily photo bag to reveal all sorts of secrets.

Bellamy takes us into some interesting byways of camera geekery. Earlier this month, for instance, he carried an in-depth review of a super-fast Leitz lens you have probably never seen or handled. The 85 mm Summarex f/1.5 is a beast and a half, and it’s not surprising since it was aimed at the professional photojournalist who had to deal often with uncomfortably low-light situations.

The Summarex on a pristine 1956 IIIg, one of hte very last of the screw-mount Leicas
The Summarex on a pristine 1956 IIIg, one of the very last of the screw-mount Leicas

Announced in 1943, the Summarex didn’t get into the hands of the public until 1949, by which time production had virtually ceased. However, it remained in the catalogue until 1954. So it had a very short active lifespan and a relatively low production run of 4,500 units, according to the Red Dot Blue Book. All this means that it’s a rare lens and one you probably haven’t had the opportunity to see or own.

Michael Nguyen: "The dreamy soft vintage look is not everyone’s cup of tea but I personally love this lens’s rendition"
Michael Nguyen: “The dreamy soft vintage look is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I personally love this lens’s rendition”

So when a prime black example — one of only 276 made — found its way to the Japan Camera Hunter offices in Tokyo, a detailed appraisal was called for. Colleague Michael Nguyen stepped up to the plate, and his review is definitely one to whet the appetite. You can read the full article here. It is well worth the effort, if only for the gorgeous camera porn product shots. Highly recommended by Macfilos.

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Japan Camera Hunter has just relaunched its popular “In Your Bag” series with this taster article.

Images reproduced with permission of Japan Camera Hunter


7 COMMENTS

  1. Canon also made an 85/1.5 in LTM mount from 1952-1960 — total official production 1230. The Leitz Auction June 2022 Sale N40 Lot No. 272 lists a Canon 85/1.5 LTM example with an estimate of €10000 – €12000 and a start price of €5000 — but it failed to sell. No idea why Leitz Auction estimated such a high price. A similar lens sold via eBay last year for its BIN £1500 price.

  2. In my days as a Canon FD user, I managed to acquire a s/h Canon FD 85mm f/1.2L, which I suppose was a logical lineal descendant of the lens Dunk Sargent mentions above. With its 8 elements and rare earth glass, it was quite a lump – Ken Rockwell quotes a weight of 743.45g with caps and its dedicated hood – but it was very Leica-like in its performance, especially wide open (why have that insane max aperture if you don’t use it?!). On reflection I should probably have kept the T90, so that I could still use it occasionally, rather than moving it on with the rest of my FD gear (I vaguely remember the 85 went to someone who had an adapter that would let him use it on his (?) Lumix – never heard how that worked out).

    • Tony, The FD 85/1.2 L is sought after by videographers. Sold mine for a VG price even though its front element appeared to have been cleaned with a Brillo pad.

      • I certainly didn’t lose money on mine’s ‘re-homing’ either, even though its front element lacked your special effects filter …

  3. Hello Mike, I have an original Black Summarex that was delivered to the US post-war, and used by a photographer for the Indy 500 for many years. I would love to post images of it here. Let me know how to do so. The one that Bellamy is featuring is not an original black one in my opinion. I would have to look up the serial number, but I think it was originally chrome, and as described in the article is a repaint. My serial number is 593XXX, so it was actually produced just after the war, and was one of the few to be sent to the States.

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