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Review: Leica Classic Steel-Rim Summilux-M 35 f/1.4 and a look at the new M6 Classic

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Leica has announced two new Classic releases: The 35mm Summilux version I (often known as the ‘steel rim’), first released in 1961, and the Leica M6 classic, first released in 1984.

This article will concentrate mostly on the new lens, which I have been testing on and off for a little over a year. However, I held the M6 in my hands for the first time at the Leica Society International meeting in Dublin last week and fell immediately in love!

Reach for the Sky: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

The new Leica M6

First of all, I haven’t tested this camera. There isn’t so much need to test a film camera, so I’ve not had one sent my way. I thought it was a great idea, but I didn’t know the full details until visiting Dublin last weekend, where Stefan Daniel was carrying the new camera with the 35 Summilux V1.

Superficially the camera is a replica of the 1984 version of the M6, complete with the Leitz red spot and the engraving on the top plate. The shutter speed dial is also exactly as the original camera and the MP (smaller and in the other direction).

The original camera had a die-cast zinc top and brass bottom plate, but the new camera is machined out of solid brass. In addition, it has the latest version of the 0.72 rangefinder. The viewfinder itself now has a red dot between the two arrows (as did the M7 and the M6TTL).

The Classic M6 remade: Image Leica Camera AG

The paint is the same as the M11 (which is incredibly durable) but with a slightly smoother finish. This camera will brass, but it’s going to take a long time. Better get rubbing!

Most of the rumours about the new camera suggested that it would be a limited edition, but this is not the case. Leica have completely revamped the supply chain for components so that they should be able to produce the cameras quickly and be able to repair them for the foreseeable future.

This is Leica reaffirming their allegiance to film photography whilst every other manufacturer has abandoned it.

Happy Birthday: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

Leica Classic Lens remakes

Many photographers are discovering the charms of older lenses (and, coincidentally, their vices). Collectors have long understood which lenses are interesting or scarce, so prices for vintage lenses can be extremely high.

For instance, a quick check on eBay finds copies of the Leica 35 Summilux (Steel Rim) in good condition on sale for as much as €30,000. The hood was an accessory, and the OLLUX (12522) is now trading for around €2,500 (and considering how easily it falls off, you would have to be very brave to use it). I note, however, that you can buy a spare of the revamped OLLUX for just £195.

Morning Loutro: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

If you are a collector, that’s all well and good, but if you’re a photographer and you would like to use these classic lenses, then it’s pretty hard to justify the cost. More than that, these lenses were at the cutting edge of technology in the fifties, sixties and seventies and were extremely difficult to manufacture. So there was quite a large sample variation between different examples, adding to which many have suffered misfortunes over the years.

Sunshine: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

Leica had the bright idea of remaking some of these iconic lenses. In most cases, the original glass is no longer available, so they have carefully used equivalent modern glass and coatings with similar characteristics. Lens technology has come a long way in 60 years, so manufacturing is now much more straightforward, and the sample variation which plagued the lenses of the 60s should not be an issue.

Sunshine and Bokeh: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

So far, they have produced the 28 f/5.6 Summaron from the mid-fifties, then came the 90mm f/2.2 Thambar soft focus lens from the 30s, and then, last year saw the introduction of the 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux (which I wrote about here).

This brings us to the newest lens in the series…

The Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M version 1 (Steel Rim)

Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim taken with Leica Q2 Reporter

History

The 35mm f1.4 Summilux 1 was produced from 1961 to 1966 and came either with or without goggles. The lens was produced in a silver-chrome finish and black anodised aluminium (Leica didn’t use black chrome plating until 1971). The insides of the lens were brass in both cases. There were around 8,000 lenses made in total.

Lenses for the M3 cameras came with goggles (and focused down to 0.65m) those for the M2 came without goggles and focused only down to a metre.

Clint: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

The Leitz shipping records for the lenses did not indicate either their finish (black or silver) or their mount version (goggles or not). Lars Netopil has estimated the quantities of the different versions by interpolating from the number of M3 and M2 cameras sold during the period and come up with the following:

• 4,400 chrome lenses with goggles

• 3,360 chrome lenses without goggles

• 160 black lenses with goggles

• 80 black lenses without goggles

Because the M2 was the accepted camera for wide-angle lenses, Lars suspects that there might actually be around 200 black lenses without goggles.

Above left to right: Misty Walk and Facing the Sea, both taken with Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

The classic remake

The remake of the 35 Summilux is a lovely thing. The lens itself is made from brass and silver chrome, like the original. It weighs only 200g and is not a great deal larger than the 28 Summaron. It handles so nicely on an M11, a great camera and lens combination you can hold in your hand all day.

It comes with two different lens hoods. The original Ollux remade and a round screw-in hood. Leica have retained the ‘fall off’ characteristics of the original Ollux, so the screw-in shade is very welcome! Unlike the original lens, the remake has a 46mm screw thread for attaching filters; the round shade screws into this and retains a thread inside so that you can attach filters with either shade (or with no shade).

As an object and a package, the whole thing is irresistible; I would recommend you don’t look at one if you aren’t going to buy.

Night Dining: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

Image quality

Erwin Puts, in his book “Leica M-lenses Their Soul and Secrets (2002), wrote:

This lens has low overall contrast at full aperture with a modest definition of fine details and subject outlines. Stopping down, the improvement is commendable, becoming excellent around f/8. The overall performance characteristic should be put in the context of its age and small volume.

This is a perfect description but perhaps doesn’t cover the ‘soul’ angle enough.

Seaside Residence Thorpeness: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim
The Utility Room: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

 Wide open, the lens is dreamy and never quite sharp. Depending on the subject, it can produce really interesting effects.

Bar and the Deep Ble Sea: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

Stopping down, even to f/2.8, makes the lens sharper; by f/5.6 in the centre, it’s really very sharp indeed. The edges of the frame are sharp by f/4, but the furthest corners never quite make it.

Fen Morning: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

The lens is also rather subject to flare – often in the form of a rainbow — which again can be fun to experiment with.

Clearly, the point of buying this lens is for its ‘look’, not because it compares well with the latest 35 APO Summicron, and the ‘look’ it delivers in spades.

Above left to right: Fern and Rainbow, Last Light: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

The Bokeh (as with all lenses) depends very much on the subject. With very detailed backgrounds, it can seem busy and ‘nervous’ but never nasty; more often, it’s sumptuous and creamy.

The Dinosaur Band: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

Handling

Focusing is with a focusing tab, and it’s really delightfully smooth and tactile, with an infinity lock. I’m not personally a fan of the infinity lock.

Still, Leica have made it easy to escape, and the release button is natural to use.

Like the original lens, you change the aperture by holding the tabs for the lens hood; this is a bit fiddly, but the aperture ring feels lovely, and it soon becomes second nature.

The small size is a bit of a revelation after using a modern 35mm Summilux; it’s wonderfully tiny.

Two Cups, a Plate and a Spool (and a little CA): Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

Desire

Perhaps this is the point at which I should confess that I have mostly been an advocate for Leica’s modern lenses, especially the APO lenses, which I see as having a real character of their own — detailed, gentle and with a lovely bokeh.

However, I own (and love) the little 28 Summaron, and when I tested the f/1.2 Noctilux, I was definitely impressed.  I didn’t buy one at the time – mostly because I like to shoot wide open in bright light, and I had an M10 with a top speed of 1/4000th (I’m much too lazy to use Neutral Density filters).

Goat: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

Having tested this 35mm lens over an extended period, it’s been a long time since I’ve known I had to buy one.

A few months ago, I got an email with some questions about the Noctilux f/1.2 and couldn’t remember the answers. I was referred back to my own article when googling it, and I promptly placed an order on reading it!

Three of the Nine Maidens on a dreek day: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

With the M11’s hybrid/electronic shutter, there is no need to use ND filters, and the new EVF makes critical focusing much easier. Of course, these advantages are also relevant for the new 35 Summilux classic.

So, although I still love modern lenses, I now have a firm base in classic lenses with the 28 Summaron, the 35 Summilux and the 50 Noctilux (keep them coming).

Oscar at Zennor Head: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

Conclusion

Leica has gradually grown its commitment to classic remakes, and today’s announcement of the M6 and the 35 Summilux Steel Rim really brings it into clear focus. Leica are celebrating their heritage by producing exciting new tools for both analogue and digital photographers, made to modern manufacturing standards but with designs from their illustrious past. One can imagine remakes of other classic lenses, such as the Mandler 75mm Summilux or the 21mm Super Angulon.

Fen Down: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

The reissue series is a wonderful opportunity for photographers who want to use classic lenses. The 35 Summilux is not much more than a tenth of the cost of a 60-year-old version and has none of the problems of variance or deterioration. In addition, it has the advantage of being properly 6-bit coded and corrected.

But the real point is that this lens is a delight to use, producing lovely images on modern digital cameras and classic film Leicas.

Odysseus in Loutro: Leica M11 with 35 Summilux Steel Rim

Acknowledgements

First of all, my lovely wife Emma, who puts up with all the stress of my writing these articles.

Then to my gorgeous grand-daughter Scarlett, who kindly provided the lead picture for this article

Murat Akkas at Leica Camera – thank you for proofreading this so carefully and stopping me from making any dreadful mistakes!

Lars Netopil, who kindly gave up time getting me up to scratch on the history of the lens

Also, to Stefan Daniel, Jesko von Oeynhausen and Christoph Mueller at Leica, who are always so great to work with.

Evris Papanikolas at Rock & Roll straps for being such fun and making such great straps (get well soon!)

Milan Swolfs for many interesting discussions about classic lenses and for his inspiring photography.

Amitava Chatterjee, Marke Gilbert, Hari Subramanyam, and Paulo Silveira – partners in crime!

Special thanks to Kirsten Vignes from Leica Store Miami, who makes these articles look even better in the Viewfinder Magazine of the LSI.

Finally, Bill Rosauer, the editor of Viewfinder, and all my new friends on the Board of LSI.

If you didn’t know about the LSI (previously known as the LHSA), then you should definitely join!

Click here for more information on the LSI

 

Click here for more images


24 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for your review Jono. I love the images and the qualities of the lenses you describe. My question is whether all these characteristics could not also be created using software in LightRoom or equivalent?

      • One person’s soul is another person’s imperfection. You can create that (imperfection) in software if you want. Music production has been doing it for a while.

        • What may be more important is “authenticity”. The original will always be more valuable to the user/owner than a modern reproduction, whether that’s manufactured or accomplished through software.

    • Hi There
      I don’t thing so – veiling flare, coma and CA is something you can get rid of in Lightroom, but putting it in?
      Anyway, I’d rather spend time taking photographs, I never introduce effects in post processing but I suppose one could . . .
      best
      Jono

      • Hi Jono
        Some other post asked you about vignettes in some of your photos and answer was that you put them.
        Here we are in a similar case:
        Reach for the sky, Sunshine, Misty wall, Facing the sea, Seaside Residence Thorpeness, Bar and deep Blee Sea, Three of the Nine Maidens on a dreek day clearly show a good amount of corner vignette (actually central bright in contrast with surrounding) for an expensive high end Steel-Rim Summilux-M 35 f/1.4
        But here you remark “I never introduce effects in post processing but I suppose one could”.
        So,

        • Hi George, I assume Jono is referring to special effects. Adding vignette to an image is basic image processing since the darkroom days to enhance an image. Ansel Adams and others educated to also add subtle edge darkening to keep image balanced. I do this to many images. A raw image needs sharpening and other adjustments to create at least a basic image. So I am not surprised by Jono’s adjustments. But the core rendering of the lens still remains. I am unaware of any competent photographer that imports an image and does not adjust brightness. white point, black point, contrast (global constrast), clarity ( a form of contrast), structure (a form of contrast), white balance, and so on. These are basic image adjustments to process your image. Or you can pick jpeg in the camera which does simalar things based on your jpeg settings. However, doing major adjustments, of using things like masking to soften areas to try to mimic a classic lens is major image adjustments which is time consuming and not what Jono or I want to do. I hope that clarifies but I will also let Jono, of course, speak for himself.

          • Need no clarification. I know very well what image processing is about. Adding vignettes is a pretty effect. If used or not here is important, because image quality of a Summilux lens is in question. If so, it’s really neglecting what’s a lens review about.

          • Need no clarification by your side. My question is for Jono. No need to make sweeter what the point is about.
            I know pretty well what’s an effect and what not. Whether vignettes or not is crucial here, because it shows how good or not the Summilux lens is. If intentionally done it’s just neglecting what a review should be done for

          • I know very well what an effect is, no need your response. It’s Jono who knows if it’s vignetted or not.
            Here it’s crucial because it’s a lens review and quality is in compromise. If intentionally done, it just neglects the review pursue.

        • Hi There George
          Sorry for the delay in replying. Thank you Brian for replying, I couldn’t have put it better.
          I do sometimes add vignetting, but I can see that in this context it might seem like duplicating faults.
          In fact, this lens does certainly vignette wide open on digital sensors and I haven’t added vignetting to any of the images you mention.
          I was careful to choose images which did show up the flaws in the lens (hardly surprising in a 70 year old design). Leica (to their credut( also chose those images in their product page.

          • Hi
            Thanks for replying. My 3x reply (cybernetic excess due to mis functions) explains it well.
            If you place vignettes in a lens review it spoils it, I think. You didn’t.
            Weather that’s or not an effect it’s another song.
            Even so, that’s a kind of a good deviation from an excellent expensive lens rendering. I guess.

          • Hmm George
            I can’t reply directly, but basically I’m replying to “If you place vignettes in a lens review it spoils it”
            It’s a difficult one really – I suppose the logical extension of this is that one should only include ‘out of camera’ images with no adjustments. . . . and if it was strictly intended as a critical review then that might be right, but perhaps it would be rather dull!
            Best

          • I can’t reply your further response:
            I don’t make reviews Jono, but vignettes are insufficient light rendering in corners. If you want to enhance a photo with them that’s ok. If that’s part of a lens “character”, well you can get it cheaper. Modern Fuji AF lenses for instance are usually vignettes free at a shorter price.
            About Ivor, the last news I have is he’s enjoying a coffee in a cool place

    • Hi Le Chef, software does not duplicate the signature of a lens. As an example, the Leica 28/5.6 Summaron has a gorgeous signature I love, and I am very competent at processing images and have not the slightest idea how to mimic its rendering nor do I want to even try. I just press the shutter and enjoy the soul it creates for the right subjects and lighting. I also prefer creating images with my camera and minimize my time processing. That is one reason that I loved slide film.😂
      Every lens has its own signature. A lower contrast lens may be more appropriate in harsh light or portrait photography and so on. A high contrast lens will capture more detail in the midtones but not be kind to the highlights and shadows. The bokeh of a lens cannot be fixed in software in most cases. I could go on and on but the rendering of a lens at capture puts a signature on the image that is unique with the combination of lighting and various subjects and foregrounds/backgrounds. Hence, buying a lens in particular, based on a typically somewhat simplistic review is risky for those that care about rendering. As an example, I loved the rendering of my Leica SL 35/2 AP0 but the Leica Sl 50/2 APO was without soul for me and I replaced it with the awesome Leica SL 50/1.4.
      Hence, I choose glass that delivers the rendering that achieves the rendering I want. So, sometimes I have more than one lens of the same focal length so I can match the lens to my creative vision.

      • I understand all that and understand that everyone has their personal preferences. My point is it can be done. It’s about possibilities not preferences.

        If Fuji and Lightroom etc can mimic the characteristics of particular film stocks, why not lenses? If LightRoom can already correct for lens flaws/distortion etc., so why could they not create profiles of the particular characteristics of a lens?

        Maybe Leica should consider copywriting the profile characteristics of their lenses electronically before Adobe does…

        • I strongly do not believe software can mimic the characteristics of a lens for the breadth and depth of capture situations. Hence, we will have to agree to disagree. Anyway, my pragmatic solution is to pick my lens carefully as the software does not exist and if it did I am more interested in doing photography rather than playing on my soulless computer.

        • Good question, but I think it’s about Both possibilities and preferences. Not one or the other. It’s a stretch of the imagination but if in the future, technology can mimic the characteristics of a real person, let’s say someone you love. if you had the choice, which would you prefer talking to the simulation or the real thing?
          Given the current state of technology Leica could work ( a lot, and with some difficulty I imagine ) to produce software that mimics the character of their classic lenses but how much work would that be and how well received would it be?
          Getting back to lenses, would you be happy if Leica produced just two or three lenses and everything else was achieved with software? You might, if you wanted to save money and like spending more time looking at a computer screen I suppose, but it would take away a lot of the enjoyment of photography for some people. The ‘characteristics’ of a Leica Lens are after all, a big part of why many appreciate them and why in 2022 we have a new M6 film camera for those who still love the tactile feel and character of using film even though they could do perfectly well with an M11.
          Implementation of technology, clever as it is, doesn’t always replace physical characteristics. A good example is Leica’s use of frame lines and cropping in the Q which simulates the effect of different focal lengths. It’s a brilliant idea but hasn’t replaced cameras and lenses with different focal lengths.You also mention Fuji’s film simulation ( I haven’t used it ) and I wonder ( for those that have ) how accurately it replicates the characteristics of the film it is intended to mimic. I could play for a while with Adobe or Lightroom and get an image that kind of looks like Kodachrome, but it won’t be the same as Kodachrome under all circumstances and changing light conditions.
          “Why could they not create profiles of the particular characteristics of a lens?” You’d best ask Peter Karbe. I’m guessing that some of those Leica characteristics come from how the lens is constructed not solely from technical calculations.

    • I strongly prefer the lens to have those special qualities, or what Jonathan calls soul, when it arrives in the box than to have to create them in software. Most especially if I’m using a film camera like my M6TTL or the new M6 variant.

      • As I write, I am enjoying a coffee in Costa round the corner from Red Dot Cameras. I am about to pick up the first “True Bokeh King” (attrib. Leica press office) from Ivor and his crew. Just couldn’t resist it, bokeh waffle or not. When I produce my next out-of-focus blog post I can make a virtue out of it. Like the editor himself, this lens has a vintage render with a touch of attractive vignetting.

    • Tea answer would a question. Why film makers use different, often rather expensive lenses to render a specific mood in their works instead using one set and fixing rest in post?

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