The Best Lens for a Leica
In the last issue of the newsletter, unfortunately, what with all my gushing about the new 50mm and all the other lens-related stuff, I left out the promised "best lens for a Leica" recommendation. Readers, of course — well, okay, a few of you — let me have it. Herewith, for your holiday lens purchase enablement, are my thoughts.
The best basic lens for a Leica, in my humble opinion, is a 35mm f/2 Summicron (or an equivalent Voigtlander or Konica lens). As for which version, take your pick — they're all good enough, although the later the better. If finances are a factor, try looking for a 35mm f/2.8 Summaron, or the very nice little Voigtlander 35mm f/2.5. Summarons sell for $400 to $600 or so, and the C/V lens, which is actually quite a sweet little lens, can be had for less than $300.
(Note that many 35mm Summarons are those with "eyes" (attached correction lenses for the viewfinder and rangefinder) made for the M3, which didn't have 35mm framelines in its viewfinder. For your M4, you would want one without the eyes.)
Most people these days buy cameras off the spec sheet and the feature list. Not counting setup parameters such as loading and rewinding the film, attaching the lens, and setting the ISO speed, the Leica MP has precisely six operating controls on the camera. (You may have to read that again: it did say six.) Namely, the film-advance lever, the focusing ring, the aperture ring, the shutter speed dial, and the shutter release. That’s five. The sixth is a little lever that allows you to preview the viewfinder frames for other lenses when they’re not on the camera.
I know. That sixth feature, although convenient, isn’t absolutely necessary. Leica went nuts.
In an era when a leading digital SLR may have eighty controls and a more powerful CPU than an early personal computer, there is something to be said for simplicity and directness. You always know where you stand with a mechanical Leica such as the MP: it is supremely unconfusing. Each control is mechanical, and each knob, button or lever is given only one unambiguous function. The Leica never second-guesses you, it never thinks on its own, and it never obstructs you or gets in the way. You always know exactly what it’s doing. And it does just exactly what you tell it to — no more, no less — quietly, and quickly.
There’s more, of course. The camera is completely mechanical. It’s
extremely overbuilt and understressed; the shutter, which fills most of
the body cavity, is one of the most reliable and durable ever made.
Ansel Adams on the way to the mountains.
Photo by David Vestal, Leica M2, 35mm Summaron
To its devotees, handling the camera is something to be practiced, as a violinist might practice that instrument. Nothing else will do. Like a classic wooden view camera and virtually alone among small hand cameras, an M6 can truly be a camera for life.
I would add that the 35mm Summicron (I prefer the pre-ASPH; others may well like the ASPH better especially if they often shoot at f/2 and f/2.8) makes the perfect companion piece for the camera. Let me propose a few reasons why:
Conclusion: All in all, you can do more, better with a 35mm Summicron on the camera than any other lens for general photography, although a 50mm comes close for all-around usefulness. With the 35mm as an 80% lens, you can add as a 20% lens a 90mm (if you mainly work outdoors) or the wonderful 75mm (if you do a lot of low light and/or like portraits, and don't mind the awful framelines), and you will have an outfit with which you can do almost anything worth doing with a rangefinder, by which I personally mean, most anything worth doing with a 35mm camera.
And any 35mm Summicron fits nicely in a stocking, too. What more do you need to know? Happy holidays!
He was East Coast Editor of Camera & Darkroom magazine from 1988 to 1994 and Editor-in-Chief of PHOTO Techniques magazine from 1994-2000, where his editorial column "The 37th Frame" was a popular feature and where he presented, among other things, a set of three articles on "bokeh" by John Kennerdell, Oren Grad, and Harold Merklinger that were subsequently widely discussed among photographers.
His critical and technical writings have appeared in various publications
and newsletters such as The Washington Review and D-Max. A number of his
articles written under the pseudonym "L. T. Gray" (el Tigre) appeared in the
English magazine Darkroom User.
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