Friday, July 08, 2016

Stepping Up To The Mark

Morning folks - it has been a long time hasn't it, and my apologies, but well, this is Scotland, you have to make the most of the daylight and sunshine when it comes, or else rickets and S.A.D. is the order of the day!
I have had some very exciting times photographically over the past couple of months, what with new developers being tried, holidays and travails that resulted in some unexpected results, and, the realisation that whilst I own a vast array of 35mm camera lenses, I have never owned the right one . . that is until now.

Coo, that's exciting isn't it!
Well, I note the trace of irony and scepticism in your sneering, lip-curl, and one man's meat and all that, but for my humble purposes, what I have said seems to fit the bill, so, step up to the mark, Herr Brille . . . my new (very old), beautiful, best damn 35mm lens I have ever owned . . . a 1958 Leitz 35mm f/3.5 Summaron.

There he is, and he looks lovely don't you think?
But before we get into the nitty gritty of why I am expounding, I'll preface this with some hunting and research.

I don't know about you, but I look at a lot of photographs, a lot. And when you expose yourself to such vast quantities and start thinking about things, one thing comes clear with regard to photography, we might have got sharper, we might well be able to control flare and boost contrast, but you know what, I don't think lens design is quite what it was.
The strange thing is, that the numerous 'vintage' Japanese lenses I have (1959-ish Canon 28mm f3.5 LTM, 1960-ish Canon 50mm f2.8 LTM, lots of Nikon SLR lenses [running the gamut from a 55mm auto-compensating Micro-Nikkor through to an early 80's 28mm f.3.5]; even my journey into Pentax K-Mount resulting in the excellent 50mm f/.1.4 SMC) all look remarkably similar - they're contrasty, and in a way that stands parallel with a lot of modern lenses too. Obviously there are exceptions - the one that stands out in my collection is the 28mm LTM f3.5 Canon, but even that is sharp and quite contrasty, not ott contrasty, but enough to make me feel that it just isn't quite there for 'the look'.

'The Look' Sheepy - wot dat den?

Well that's a hard thing to define really, but it is sharp and soft and mildly-contrasty, but not overly soot and whitewash, just a sort of overall cream that is defined.
There, that's the look old son, and good luck trying to find it, but the thing is you can if you look hard enough And I did, so . . . enter the Summaron.
Now looking around out there you'll find a lot of mention of the 35mm f2.8 Summaron, Rockwell and all these guys saying it's the dog's danglers, and whilst it might be for a lot of people, for me, it is just a tad too contrasty, and reading through some Leica literature, it becomes obvious why . . they changed the glass!
The f3.5 and f2.8 Summarons are optically identical as far as I can make out, with the exception that the f2.8 was made possible by using newer and more effective glass, but what that glass has done apart from adding the extra stop, is made things more contrasty, and that was just a step too far.
Now, just reviewing that, it is like it's some new revelation - so please bear in mind this happened a long time ago, when old Sheephouse was nothing more than a speck in the eye of God. It's old knowledge, but a quote from Kisselbach's Leica Handbook book states it clearly:

"35mm. Summaron f/2.8

This is a six-lens Gauss type.
The introduction of new types of glass has made it possible to increase the speed of the well-tried 35mm Summaron to f/2.8. It's colour correction has also been improved."

f/2.8 Summaron

f/3.5 Summaron (sorry for the poor quality!)

There are tiny differences if you look hard at it (a slight sphericity to part of the rear inner element on the 2.8; less air gap on the 2.8 and a lesser proportion of spherical to the front inner group on the 2.8) but one wonders whether that could just be down to differentiations with illustrators - who knows (last minute editorial add-on: actually, I found another diagram of the f/.2.8 in the Focal Press classic "Photographic Optics" by Arthur Cox, and it is identical to the 3.5 . . . !)
It looks pretty damn similar though doesn't it, so unless you need that extra stop and contrast, why buy the f2.8 when you can get the f3.5 instead!

The full specs are here:



Show Wotsh It Loik en Sheepsh, eh? Wotsh It Loik?

Sorre - oiv jus red Riddley Walker by Russel Hoban . . yewd need to reed it to no wot im on abowt, it hav alot in comon wiv Down Wiv Skool.

Anyway, what's it like?
Ah, this is where I go all gooey-eyed . . .
It's like peaches and cream; like fish and chips; like pasta and tomatoes. In other words it's the perfect compliment to my dreams! I know this all sounds rather flowery, so please let me qualify it.

I'm not a 35mm camera user really as I have always been inclined to the larger things in life like plates of food, shoes, hats, guitar collections and so on, but this being said I seem to have acquired rather too many 35mm cameras (about 12 at last count)!
It's kind of mad actually, so much so, that at the start of the year I said to myself, I am going to sell everything except for my trusty Nikon F.
Now obviously that would have meant a massive clearout, and it might still get done, however included in my list of 'have to go' things, was, dare I say it, the Leica M2!
I know!! 
But I felt there was enough money tied up in it and the differing lenses, to enable me to maybe get another lens for the Hasselblad, or, a CF tripod.
I felt sad, but also thought, well, you know, it's a devil of a lot of money tied up in the whole system and maybe it would suit some other person and go on giving them a lovely photographic experience in the same way it had me.
Then a dichotomy weighed in, because you see I was also enamoured with the LTM Canon 28mm!
I liked the slightly wider viewpoint,  and so to that end (and thinking I'd just be Nikons from there in) I purchased a 'K-Series'** 28mm f3.5 Nikkor for the F. It was very reasonably priced and I used it on a trip to Moffat and thoroughly enjoyed it - here's an example of what it can do if used carefully!


Now I think that is actually a fine photo - the graffiti on the plexiglass really stands out on the print, but for all my enjoyment of the lens I felt that something was missing and I couldn't place it, so, after reviewing some ancient prints I nagged myself into thinking that the best lens I'd ever used on the F was the old and venerable 35mm f2 "O" Nikkor . . . which was (and is) great.

But still something nagged and from that, I thought well how about other 35mm lenses for other systems? The f2 is a great lens for the Nikon, but I found myself seriously contemplating Canon SLRs, Leicaflex and Minolta and Olympus and then I found myself drawn to old books of monochrome photos, and also my old (M5 era) Leica Manual.

Mary Ellen Mark and Bill Pierce had all contributed photos to the Manual that I admired (though they were probably using Summicrons, however, I think possibly not given the contrast of a Summicron . . anyway . . I am wittering) and sadly for my pocket that made me think, that there really was something about the late-'50's and 1960's Leitz 35mm focal length that had something.
It was a look I loved.
Sharp, not too contrasty, but perhaps best of all, the most incredible skin tones, so, suitably having talked myself into it, I raided my piggy-bank and Alec Turnip's Uni fund and bought one.

Now the one thing I will say about these is that as well as the obvious attributes of the lens, there's been a bit of secret-squirelling too . . . Pyrocat-HD!
But that's a different story which I will write up - it has been a process of discovery and revelation and one I am enjoying very much . . and, unusually for me, these ARE ALL NEGATIVE SCANS. That's right - not prints, though you'd think they could well be - but nope they're all from the super-crumby, base-metal Epson Photo Perfection V300 flatbed - imagine what you could get with a dedicated film scanner! To be honest, I've never had such consistent and beautiful negatives before with any developer, and some 120 negatives I've also developed with Pyrocat, print beautifully.

But anyway, onwards with the Summaron.
It's wonderful to me, but does fall (slightly) short in a few areas, and especially so if you are comparing to a more 'modern' lens:

1. Basically any strong light source that is even remotely near the front element will cause that lovely veil of flare. Now my lens is clean, totally clean, but even with the requisite (and feckingly stupidly expensive) correct lens hood, you'll still get it, so urge your subjects to move so you can have the sun at your back . . luckily this is Scotland, so there's little sun and it is in overcast conditions that this really comes to life.

2. The aperture selection bit is quite difficult to use, and even more so with a correct lens hood on! But you get used to it, learn to anticipate and take things from there.

3. If you are using the M3 be-spectacled version on anything other than an M3, I think you'll find that there is enough play (and I mean tiny) to put your rangefinder out vertically. It still focuses with ultra-accuracy normally and horizontally - that's fine - but you will notice that the there's a slight differentiation along the top edge of the rangefinder window. It didn't affect the image making in any way whatsoever. But of course that might just be with my camera . . .

4./ Nothing!

I feel it's as near a perfect fit (for me) as I could ever wish for (as evidenced by the photographs above).
OK, the first three exhibit that flare, but the rest . . well you get the idea!

Good mate Bruce of The Online Darkroom reckoned they had a James Ravilious look to them, so that is fine by me. You're not quite getting that super-low contrast you'll get with really early Leitz lenses, but you are getting some of it . . but that's OK - learn to live with it because it is giving you more, much more: crisp micro-contrast and detail, smooth oofa, and just a lovely vintage look.

At this moment in time, comparing Herr Brille with all the other 35mm lenses I have, I'll nail my trousers to the flagpole and say, this is the one I'll keep above all others.
You can't be more definite than that.

So, there y'go, a new member of the family!
It's fun this photograhy stuff ain't it!

TTFN, thanks for reading and remember, chips. No, not C.H.I.P.S., that was a terrible show . . . no . . .chips.

** K-Series Nikkors were Nikkors made at the end of the pre-Ai period - optically similar to the new super-tooty Ai Series. They certainly seem to have attracted attention in recent years as being optically similar yet sharper than what preceded them and in some cases what came after - they're identifiable by serial numbers.