|Leitz 50mm ƒ/2.0 dual range Summicron lens in original box.|
A convenient summary with photographs of the different Summicron versions is on Ken Rockwell's site.
|5cm ƒ/2.0 Summitar lens in extended (ready to photograph) position|
Summicron Type 1. The first Summicron, the Type 1, was introduced in 1952. It was an update of the Summitar, also mounted in a collapsible barrel. I do not know if the formulation of this new lens benefitted from early-vintage electronic computers. For a German consumer product, I suspect no. The first electronic computers after World War II were used for ballistics analysis, atomic weapons research, rocket trajectories, and military optics. The 1953 USA cost for the Summicron was $183. (Update: I read that Leitz started using computers for lens formulation in 1960 at the Midland, Ontario, plant.)
A note on collapsible lenses: When E. Leitz company introduced its first camera in 1923, it used perforated cine film but doubled the frame size to 24×36 mm. All other cameras then used much larger roll film or individual sheet film. So the new small image surface became known as miniature format. The cameras were intended for travel or adventures like mountain climbing. Therefore, the manufacturers wanted to make the cameras compact and portable. One way to do that was to build a lens in a barrel that could collapse into the body. As the years went by, cameras grew larger and heavier (like automobiles or, most grotesquely, American SUVs). The Zeiss Contarex of 1960 had grown to 910 grams for just the body. The Nikon F with its metering head was a big package, as well. And today, the digital single lens reflex (DSLR) in "full frame" size is an enormous bulbous thing graced with a protruding penile lens that points at its subject like a cannon. Just tell the DSLR users that they really have the miniature format.
|1963 Type 2 Summicron lens with single focus range.|
Leitz began computer-aided lens computations after about 1960 at their factory in Midland, Ontario, Canada, under the guidance of Dr. Walter Mandler (from Erwin Puts). It is an interesting history of international competition that about this time. Japanese optical companies such as Canon, Nikon, and Topcon were also exploring new lens designs with the aide of early computers. They were able to market lenses with almost as refined optical characteristics as Leica but at lower price. The brilliance of the Japanese companies was to bring superb optics to a wide audience at reasonable price.
Leitz made two version of the Type 2 lens. One had a single focus range covering 1m to infinity. The photograph above shows a 1963 lens that I bought from a friend in town. It was available in M-mount (63,055 units) as well as the 39mm thread mount (1160 units; now a rare collector item).
|1967 Dual range Summicron without goggles.|
|Dual range Summicron with goggles attached on the flat plate. The lens has been extended to its closest focus distance.|
My stepdad bought the DR in the pictures above in 1966 or 1967. This lens and M2 camera took family pictures in Greece and traveled to Asia, Africa, the Indian Ocean, and North America. Now it photographs urban decay in Mississippi. This one has pristine coating.
I could not find a complete Leica price booklet from the 1960s, but I found a few prices in US $ for M2 body and lenses:
- M2 w/50mm f/2 rigid Summicron 423.00
- M2 w/50mm f/2 DR Summicron 465.00
|Optical unit and focus mount of Summicon-DR lens. Serial numbers must match.|
I also have a Type 4 50mm Summicron from 1984 or 1985 production. I will write about it in a future article. It is mounted in a lighter weight black alloy barrel as opposed to the gorgeous brushed chrome of my DR unit.
Test with Kodak BW400CN film. On a recent day trip through rural Mississippi south of I-20, I grabbed a roll of Kodak BW400CN. I have had mixed results with this film in the past. Sometimes it looks muddy, but sometimes I like the tonality. Could there be differences in the C-41 chemistry? Regardless, here are a few samples from my Leica M2 and the 50mm Summicron-DR. I was surprised how the film renders green as quite light, but only for long exposures in settings such as dense underbrush. I do not recall seeing this before. The BW is pretty grainy, but I like the effect. (Click any picture to enlarge it.)
|Abandoned farm house, Rte 18 in Brandon, MS.|
|Remains of a gasoline station, Raleigh. Taken with polarizer filter.|
|Big Smittys, MS Hwy. 149, Mendenhall, MS. This is a former Pan-Am filling station.|
|Main Street, Mendenhall, MS. Polarizer used to darken sky.|
|Shop on MS 28 east of Georgetown.|
|Historic Crossroads Store on Old Port Gibson Road, Reganton, MS.|
Laney, D. 1994. Leica Camera and Lens Pocket Book, 6th Edition revised and updated, Hove Collectors' Books, East Sussux, UK, 142 p.
An interesting 2007 article about Leica cameras is in The New Yorker, September 24, 2007 Issue, Candid Camera, The cult of Leica.