Three Versions of the Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron - APO, Elcan, and Dual Range on the Leica M10 and FujiFilm Superia Venus 800
Hong Kong always looks better at night. So for the sake of capturing the city at its best, I decided to wait for the cover of darkness, when the bright lights of the big city would come alive. Unfortunately, I didn’t exactly think through the finer points of my Eureka moment. You see, Hong Kong may indeed look better at night. But I was doing a lens comparison of sorts when lower ISO would have provided a better demonstration of lens performance.
Needless to say, I really got myself into a pretty pickle with such overreaching ambitions. And to think I originally thought the idea of hauling six cameras with me as being clever. Why six cameras, you ask? Obviously, I wanted to save myself the trouble of switching between three lenses on a single camera body. So logically, I brought two sets of cameras for each of the three lenses - one digital body and one film body. In retrospect, my over-preparedness in compelling me to bring more cameras did speed up the switch between lens testing. However, the extra weight of carrying so many cameras nearly killed me over the course of the two hour photowalk.
So which three lenses and six cameras did I bring? For the film portion of the comparison, I brought the following:
- Leica M6 + Leica APO 50mm f/2 Summicron ASPH
- Leica M4 + Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron Vers. II, "Dual Range"
- Leica KE-7A + Leica Elcan 50mm f/2 Summicron
The film I used for this comparison was Fujifilm Superia Venus 800. I selected it, because I had three rolls lying around. But more importantly, I needed a higher speed film for whatever nighttime photography I was able to salvage.
For the digital portion of the comparison, I brought the following:
- Leica SL + Leica APO 50mm f/2 Summicron ASPH
- Leica M10 + Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron Vers. II, "Dual Range"
- Leica M10 + Leica Elcan 50mm f/2 Summicron
I included a Leica SL in this comparison, because I don't have three Leica M10 bodies - sad isn't it. Moreover, I selected the Leica SL as a substitute, because its high ISO and low light performance were similar to the M10. As to why I paired the APO 50 to the Leica SL, it's because I wanted to evaluate how the Elcan 50 and Dual Range 50 performed on a digital Leica rangefinder. Besides, I've already seen what the APO 50 is like on the Leica M10, so it wouldn't make sense to repeat that pairing again.
Admittedly, I could have simplified this comparison and my subsequent burden by not performing a due diligence on film. But to me, that didn't seem quite right. Of the lenses I was comparing, two of them were designed to be optimized on film, not digital sensors. So at the very least, my inclination to follow accepted testing practice insisted I undergo the extra step of collecting side-by-side images on film. Only problem is, I forgot to take into account the increased difficulty of shooting film at night without the benefit of high ISO.
Indeed, two of the lenses I selected were designed to be optimized for film capture, since they predated digital technology. The first lens in this comparison is the Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron Vers. II, colloquially referred to as the "Dual Range" Summicron. The second lens is the Leica Elcan 50mm f/2 Summicron, which is a special limited production lens made for military application. The third lens is the Leica APO 50mm f/2 Summicron ASPH. I included this current version Summicron to provide an example of contemporary image rendering for a baseline comparison.
Of course, you are probably wondering why I selected the other two lenses. With regards to the Dual Range Summicron, I've often been curious how it would perform on modern digital Leica rangefinders. The only reason why I haven't done so already owes greatly to the common assertion that the Dual Range Summicron would not function properly on digital Leica rangefinders. From my understanding, the close-up shooting goggle will not be able to work on the optical viewfinder. Moreover, I've even heard accounts that the Dual Range Summicron would experience focusing issues beyond 30' (roughly 10m).
Even so, I didn't think much about the common assertion regarding focusing issues experienced by the Dual Range Summicron on digital Leica rangefinders. But then, I've become obsessed with Leica lenses with closer minimum focusing distance. I thought it was a shame the Dual Range Summicron would not function properly on the Leica M10 - because I really wanted it to work on the Leica M10. So, it was only natural for me to verify this assertion.
As for the Elcan 50, the motivation to include it was more of a curiosity, given its rarity. However, it is also a lens with the reputation of being exceptionally sharp. So naturally, I wanted to see how the Elcan 50 compared to the APO 50. But in shooting film, and shooting digital capture at modest image resolution, it meant I couldn't compare sharpness conclusively between the two lenses. It's not as if I brought a Sony A7R Mark III to compare how each lens resolved details at high resolution.
Alright! I admit it. I really goofed up for not burdening myself further like a pack mule. But then again, what's the point of pixel peeping at 42 megapixels. It's not as if Leica manufactures a high resolution full frame digital camera. Though to be fair to my oversight, I don't think I could have stopped down at lower ISO speeds to properly demonstrate sharpness between lenses - even if I had brought along a Sony A7R Mark III. With how dim the light had become, it wouldn't have been possible.
Naturally, with the light quickly retreating into the night, I started my photowalk with the film portion of this comparison. I reasoned the available light wasn't enough for me to shoot at higher shutter speeds to prevent motion blur from happening. In retrospect, it was the wrong decision. I had forgotten to take into account the bright lights of the big city that come to life after the sun goes down. So essentially, I made my shooting conditions more difficult than it should've been, because I was playing it safe. Ironic isn't it.
Nevertheless, it wasn't the lower shutter speeds that impacted my ability to prevent motion blur. Rather my difficulty in hitting tack focus on the lead eye derived from an unexpected source. On both the Dual Range 50 and the Elcan 50, I found the focusing ring too tight. As a consequence, it was difficult to fine tune for focus. Of course, it is possible that this issue is isolated to just the two examples I was testing.
Then again, a tight focusing ring on the Elcan 50 does make sense. It was designed for precision use. As such, I suppose the Elcan 50 is the type of lens that requires a certain amount of familiarization before optimal focusing can be consistently achieved. Having said that, it is also possible that its tight focusing ring was designed for cold weather use - not that it would be beneficial at subfreezing temperatures. However it could compensate for a less delicate touch on the focusing ring, when thick winter gloves reduces sensitivity in the fingers.
This speculation isn't groundless. As precedent, the Elcan 50 does have another design feature added specifically for cold weather use. It has a protruding rectangular tab on the aperture ring, which enables better tactile handling with thick gloves on.
As for the tight focusing ring on the Dual Range 50, I can't help but feel the modification I made in coloring the lens blue made the focusing experience less smooth. With that said, I also noticed the focusing ring on my version of the 50mm f/2 Summicron Vers. II "Rigid" to be suspiciously tight. In any event, whatever the cause may be for the tight focusing ring of the Dual Range 50 is speculative at best. Still, it greatly impacted my ability to achieve focus when shot wide open, especially when the subject was further than 6' away (roughly 2m).
To be frank, I did find the focusing experience of the APO 50 to be noticeably better than either the Elcan 50 or the Dual Range 50. By comparison, the focusing ring of the APO 50 was noticeably smoother, which greatly assisted in fine tuning focus. Because of that, I was able to hit focus more consistently with the APO 50, which likely gave it an advantage in demonstrating relative sharpness.
Still, the APO 50 wasn't the best all around lens. If only it could focus closer than 2.3' (roughly 0.7m). By comparison, the Dual Range 50 can focus closer at 1.6' (roughly .48m). But unfortunately, the Dual Range 50 cannot "mount on any digital Leica" according to every Leica pundit in the known cyberverse. Of course, I never understood why the Dual Range 50 wasn't compatible with digital Leica cameras. On the Leica SL, it seems to work perfectly fine, with the EVF eliminating the need to use the goggles. So I figured that the Dual Range 50 should work just as well with the Visoflex 020 external EVF on the Leica M10.
Being the goof-up that I am, I forgot to bring my external EVF for this comparison. So instead, I decided to give the goggles the old college try. Well, much to my surprise, the goggles appeared to have worked perfectly on the Leica M10, at close focusing mode. So now, I'm confused why the consensus insists the Dual Range 50 cannot be used on any digital Leica rangefinders? As far as I'm concerned, I mounted the Dual Range 50 on a Leica M10, with the goggles on, and was able to get tack focus at the minimum focusing distance. Furthermore, I didn't notice any significant issue in focus beyond 30' (roughly 10m) with the goggles off.
Anyway, this is just my observation. Take it as you will. I'm probably missing something, since so many reviewers agree the Dual Range 50 cannot work on any digital Leica rangefinder. But then, the documentary evidence on this post would suggest otherwise... I suppose? Honestly, I don't how I can reconcile the prevailing consensus with what I captured for this blog post.
As far as rendering is concerned, the APO 50 is noticeably clinical in being sharper and more contrasty, which is typical of contemporary rendering. At the other end of the spectrum, the Dual Range 50 is softer and more forgiving in being less sharp and less contrasty. As for the Elcan 50, it is surprisingly sharp and contrasty for a non-aspherical lens. In fact, I would even go as far and say the rendering of the Elcan 50 appears almost contemporary. At times at normal resolution, it even seems as if the Elcan 50 is as sharp as the APO 50.
If only I had been a pack mule and brought along a Sony A7R Mark III. Only then could I settle - once and for all - which lens resolves more details at high resolution. If only I did.
You didn't think I would've gone ahead to share this blog post without amending my goof-ups. Anyway, here's a second day of shooting with three close-up shots at 42 megapixels on the Sony A7R Mark III.
From the sample images, it's clear the APO 50 resolves noticeably more details at high resolution. Clearly, the edge of Judit's eyelashes are remarkably well defined in the image magnification. That said, the Elcan 50 doesn't appear to resolve significantly less details than the APO 50. The image magnification of Judit's eye does show some signs of feathering along the edge of her eyelash. But, it's mostly well defined. As for the Dual Range 50, it does appear to resolve the least detail of the three lenses at high resolution. In the image magnification, there's obvious feathering on the edge of Judit's eyelashes. Still, I wouldn't exactly say it's lacking in resolving details.
By the way, the final image capture below is an example of the Dual Range 50 on the Leica M10, focused on the optical viewfinder, shot from 30' away (roughly 10m). As far as I can see, the Dual Range 50 does not appear to have any noticeable issues focusing at greater distances. Again, I could be wrong about my observation. But again, the photograph would suggest otherwise.
With that said, why would anyone with a 50mm lens expect tack focus when shooting from that distance? The subject will be too far away for any fine detail to benefit from tack focus.
So what do I think? The APO 50 rendered as expected. The Elcan 50 impressed me by rendering close to the APO 50, despite how more compact it was in size. However, the lens that surprised me the most was the Dual Range 50. It might not have been the sharpest lens, but it was the most versatile in the comparison. Admittedly, you lose some sharpness and contrast in rendering, which is typical of lenses from that generation. But, it's still surprisingly sharp, while still being less harsh in rendering. And if that isn't enough, the minimum focusing distance is 8.5" closer than the APO 50, the Elcan 50, and probably every other M-mount 50mm lens. Plus, it's the best value of the three lenses in this comparison.
If only the Dual Range 50 worked on the M10. Now, wouldn't that be special?
*** UPDATE *** January 29th, 2018
I conclusively understand what the issue of incompatibility is between the Leica M10 and the Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron "Dual Range". Unfortunately, it's difficult to explain. I have a video on my Facebook page that better explains it. However, if you prefer I explain the issue to you, it's like this. The rear element of the Dual Range 50 has a metal cylindrical casing, called the cam. The cam protrudes out, when focus is set to infinity. Unfortunately, it protrudes out so much, the cam rubs against the bottom part of the lens mount opening. As a result, it will scratch that inside portion of the lens mount opening. Mind you, the damage will be minimal, and will not affect your sensor or your lens. You will be able to focus all the way to infinity. Only thing is, if you're adverse to wear and tear on your camera, the Dual Range 50 will not be for you. That said, the Dual Range 50 does indeed work on the Leica M10.
By the way, I do find the rendering of the APO 50 to be a tad harsh on film - or at the very least, on Fujifilm Superia Venus 800. Having said that, the color balance was the most natural on film.
Last, Anna's back from her winter hiatus. Nice of her to grace us with her presence on the final image. Also, special thanks to Judit for filling in this week.
The tonal values of the digital capture have all been optimized in Lightroom, unless stated otherwise. Colors have not been altered. Film capture have not been edited. Digital images have not been cropped. Film images have been cropped by the film scanner.
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