Sequel to my latest lens revisit, the Leica Tele-Emar 135mm, I am here to showcase another series of photos I took with yet another old-time master, Leitz Summicron 90mm 1:2.0 version 2, recently when I was wondering around Chinatown and Covern Garden the other day.
Yes, this lens, just like other long and heavy lenses that Leica made in the past, isn’t a popular choice by default, at least for Leica shooters. Why? Because it’s dawn big and heavy, umm.. for a rangefinder lens. But from a DSLR stand point, this lens is tiny. I bought this lens after reading Ken Rockwell’s review on this lens and also after I dumped my Leica Tele-Elmarit 90mm because of that unbearable flare that kept occurring in most shots. Despite what Ken said, I actually paid top money (well.. £500) for this lens. It was in very tidy condition except the front lens cap. But what pleases the most after trying it on my M240, it’s perfectly mated to my focus! I know most people who buy used long and fast Leica lenses need to send them to a service man to calibrate to match its camera’s focus since ‘nailing’ the point of interest at the long end is very very difficult with rangefinder even with very good eyes. Mechanical linkage could have been misaligned over the years of use or abuse. But once sorted, they are good to go. I am fortunate enough (or I paid enough) to get an ‘accurate’ copy of this lens, especially so when it’s a Summicron (when shot wide open, depth of field is very shallow!).
If you’ve missed my previous review on this lens, based on film and my M6, it’s HERE. So I am not wasting time to repeat things I’d said about it so let’s get to the juice of this blog.
How does it perform with a 2014 camera and in the digital age? Well well well, surprisingly good indeed. After all the disasters I had with other 90mm lenses on Leica (namely Tele-Elmarit and good but not good enough Konica Hexanon-M 90mm), I finally find a good one that I like, as much as I did with film but better! Here’s the reasons.
This lens has that very unique classic rendering that’s perfect for portraits!!! Well, I love portrait lenses. I’ve used many in my life and the legendary Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM is by far my favourite but this comes very close in terms of that uniqueness. I would love to try the latest APO version to see if it’s any good but from what I’ve learnt, it’s the sharpest 90mm ever produced on this planet!! Umm… not sure if my clients (brides) will like such ‘detail’ draw of their faces. Of course I can tone down that sharpness during post but perhaps I will reserve this for the future.
This old Summicron is very sharp in a very unsharp way. I brings out all those edges yet blurred out those little details like blemishes on skin. I love this lens on my film M6 but trying it on the M240 is a totally new experience. So I want to try a few more portrait lenses in the future, Leica Elmar 90mm lightweight, Leica Summicron 90mm APO and Leica Summarit 90mm… and perhaps the odd ball Voigtlander 75mm Helio? So before I make up my mind on the ultimate Leica portrait lens, then I may have to try them all? Yet.. that’s a long haul flight so you will have to wait but please stay tune for any new development here. For for not, I am not letting go my Canon lens because it’s special.
The biggest challenge on using such a fast short tele lens on Leica is focusing. Leica’s rangefinder window, is big but because it isn’t a reflected image on what’s coming through the lens so framing and focusing requires the tiny frame line and patch in the middle of the window. M240 has a 0.68x window which isn’t exactly big. It’s great for 35mm and 50mm but anything longer will be asking for trouble. I already mentioned about using the 135mm on the M240. I have use the EVF a lot just to get the perfect focus. But 90mm is probably the longest I would use without using the EVF. This series of photographs proves just that. I can still nail 100% of my shots! I am not joking. I took around 35 frames for this short Chinatown walkabout and all of them were IN FOCUS!!!! So I guess for any M users or rangefinder shooters, having a perfectly calibrated lens is critical for sure, especially for ultra fast lens like the Noctilux and fast short tele like the 90mm APO.
In use, like any old time fast tele, they are a little front heavy. The focus of this lens is slow because of the need for precise focusing. The built-in hood is functional but nothing more (doesn’t particularly look that good). But the most important thing is that this lens has that magic mojo that I, as a portrait lover, truly treasure. For the money you can get this Summicron, you can afford to send it to Germany, get it serviced and calibrated for your digital M. For an average condition 90mm Cron, you expect to pay around £250-300 and you can leave some spare for service and calibration if you wish. Leica lenses do last so getting a good one can last you a lifetime if you are not chasing the latest and the best. For me, the best lens is the one that helps me to create the perfect pictures that I want. This is surely one of them. (I will be updating more photos through my Flickr page HERE)
eBay is currently the largest market in used Leica lenses so if you want to try a sample of this lens, feel free to click on to the following links
I have shot black and white jpeg from the M240 for this test so I don’t have any colour photos to show but please check out my flickr page for more as and when I update it to include more photos. My flickr page is HERE.