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Photographing with Leica gear automatically moves you into a special world of photographic gear and attitude which comes with pros and cons. And this is what I want to talk about today. I categorize my main observations of the past 6 years with 10 Leica camera gear based bullet points below.
1. Leica makes the best lenses
This saying derives from the earlier days in photography especially when Leica actually developed and marketed one of the first 35 mm based rangefinder film cameras. Leica had lots of knowledge in optical design from building microscopes and objectives. Their lenses remained "gold standard" for many years to come with a very unique character. Things started changing when Japanese manufacturers entered the market with alternatives to Leica screw-mount L39 lenses. A race started in keeping rangefinder lenses small but making them faster in maximum lens aperture - often Leica stayed ahead of the competition. SLRs changed the game another time significantly in the late 50s where predominantly Japanese camera manufacturers successfully entered. Leica also entered later the SLR market (and then stopped making them) but kept focusing to this day on rangefinder cameras. In the past few decades, (D)SLR lenses have become optically excellent, and even Leica lenses kept their reputation as one of the best, regular users can get nearly undistinguishable image quality from a Japanese camera brand for a much smaller cost. Many Leica lenses have become collector items driving further up used as well as new Leica lens prices. So even Leica lenses are still technically excellent, they are now much more comparable to competitive lens products than > 30 years ago. But the name has developed into a luxury brand reputation, and there are not few who purchase Leica lenses as investment option to sell it even for a higher price later. Trick is to find Leica lenses which are reasonably priced, have an outstanding built and image quality, and fit the photographer's need. When I get such "gem", I don't let it go!
The vintage Leica 50/1.5 Summarit LTM or M lens (it came in both mounts) is such gem in Leica's lens line.
Two Leica 50 mm versions which are 60 years apart from each other: On the left, the Leica 50/2.0 Summitar LTM lens attached to my Leica IIIc camera, on the right the modern Leica 50/2.0 Summicron pre-ASPH lens attached to my Leica M3.
2. Leica means luxury
One the first look this is the case. I don't even go into well advertised reasons why Leica gear supposedly needs to be expensive - German manufacturing with highest standard in quality control etc. Certainly all good reasons but still won't explain the huge jump in price compared to highly reputable Zeiss lens gear for example. Leica keeps purposely prices high by making gear only in limited amount. Since demand seems always high, prices remain high and never drop. So far I have not seen any Leica lens which has dropped in value. If a lens is made as new item in larger quantity for regular consumers, the lens price might stay constant over multiple years after introduction. But for many other Leica lenses, the price rather increases significantly over time. Depreciation occurs with digital Leica camera gear. But used lens prices won't drop significantly from the original introduction price for quite a while. You can get now in 2021 a used standard Leica M 240 for about $2500-2800. The camera was introduced 2012 for approx. $7000. If you compare this to the drop in value of other digital camera brand gear, Leica cameras hold their value much better. This is one benefit when buying into Leica gear - you can often resell it easily and for a smaller loss in value compared to the purchasing price. Debit remains to make the first plunge into the Leica eco-system. IMO best option is to buy Leica gear used - instead of going after the latest and most expensive "luxury" priced gear, better go for a camera one generation earlier and inform yourself about older Leica lens versions to buy used. You might not shoot with the latest digital sensor on the market by doing so, but it won't stop you from taking remarkable photos with the gear.
My Leica M6 with 35/2.0 Summicron IV lens sitting on the 7th edition Leica pocket book with the corresponding 35/2 MFT charts. The photo itself was taken with my Leica M-E 240 camera and 50/2.0 Summicron pre-ASPH lens.
3. Leica has a huge used gear market
From my experience this is definitely the case and one big benefit combined with the brand. Even the latest camera gear is backwards compatible with lenses made in the 1930s! A simple screw-mount/M-mount adapter is enough to use the big majority of vintage lenses on modern digital (or film) Leica rangefinder cameras. It is a personal decision to use vintage lens gear and/or newer lenses. Leica has released so many different lens versions just in one focal length that it will take time for a new Leica user to familiarize just with the basics and differences between versions. This is definitely a challenge I struggled also with for quite some time when I started with Leica. I was forced to crosslink given serial number and lens version to determine how this corresponds to performance. It is important to vest this time since lens versions can be very different in price for multiple reasons. If you are lucky, you might find a Leica lens which is priced much lower than it should be for this specific lens version. Likely the lens was grouped into the wrong lens version category by the seller. It doesn't happen often though - I only experienced it once which saved me a good amount of money when I purchased this lens. In general patience is a virtue when looking for used Leica gear - good stuff tends to move fast, but with patience you can simply wait for the right opportunity. I waited about 3 years to finally find a nearly mint Leica 35/2.0 version IV lens for a price below my upper limit for it. The pandemic has driven used Leica prices up due to limited supply because less people were selling. I found times in the past that the used market had good choices to purchase from and others where I decided to rather wait. It is rather unpredictable, so it is a good idea to keep an eye out if interested in something to purchase used. Some stores/websites are better than others to purchase used Leica gear from my experience, but I am not disclosing here my preferred sources. You will figure it out yourself when you did your homework first! Make sure to avoid accidentally going after collector lens items if you want to use regular camera gear.
4. Leica community
Leica takes good effort to maintain a community of users. There is the fee-based LHSA membership program and the free online Leica forum just to name two. I don't want to over-generalize, but Leica seems to attract enthusiasts who are embedded with the name Leica and people who like technology excellence. There is also a large group of collectors and resellers. Be aware of this in discussions because it seems generally open for criticism when bringing up gear price and competitiveness to other brands. But the Leica forum can be a good resource to get specific help when looking for a photography or Leica gear based solution. The forum has quite good discussion threads about analog gear, too. You will find multiple Leica-based or Leica-associated YouTube channels. I benefitted a lot in gaining technical knowledge about camera and lens versions from Leica Store Miami videos and photography-wise from a series named Leica Conversations.
5. Das Wesentliche
Means in English "The Essential". Leica uses this slogan to advertise ease of use and lack of high tech controls in their cameras as benefit over more advanced competitive cameras which tend to have more bells and whistles. Leica purists applaud this, and for many this is an important reason to use Leica. On the other hand, I find myself conflicted with this. I can see that having too many options in a camera can be confusing and distracting from focusing on the composition and just at focusing, aperture, and exposure time to take the shot. This is probably because I am using multiple brands with different kind of cameras in parallel. And sometimes more options to have in a digital camera are a benefit! I can always choose not to use an available menu option, but I can never use it if it is not available in the first place. Video in my Leica M-E 240 camera is such example for me - I rarely use video, but it is a nice option to have if it is actually needed. IMO it doesn't make the menu more cumbersome if there are one or two video options designated to select from the main menu. Good thing is that Leica now offers different variations of the main camera version - versions with limited and with more functions.
6. Leica gear is less intrusive
Yes. But it depends what camera is used within this description and to which other systems it is compared with: Leica LTM/M and the Leica Q cameras are generally small that they can be easily carried around in an inconspicuous camera bag or just carried around the neck or with the hand strap. M lenses are small that the overall camera plus lens size is similar to a Fuji mirrorless camera (MLC) system. Since MLCs are more common in the market, people often mistake Leica M cameras for a MLC. This is good because it is even easier now as Leica shooter to blend in. The red Leica dot can be detrimental for inconspicuous shooting but never actually happened to me in the US where the brand is less known (but I experienced it once to be a big eye catcher when shooting with my Leica M6 in Germany a few years ago). Taping the dot and name labels helps but can harm the paint when the sticker is removed. Really small in size are older Leica II and III series film cameras with L39 (or LTM) screw-mount. I love to use my IIIc for travelling when I need to keep my film photo gear as minimal in size as possible. Those pre-M series rangefinder film cameras don't have a red dot and only carry the Leica name on the top plate. Other Leica cameras and lenses like the newer SL and S-series are much larger in size and much more rarely used for example for street photography.
7. Leica's rangefinder system is best for manual focus lenses
This is true from my experience. Hitting the focus with any of my Leica rangefinder cameras is faster than using the same manual lens attached to my Sony A7R MLC with focus peaking or focus magnification. But rangefinder focusing can be cumbersome also in specific situations - for example when the composition includes lots of repeating patterns like a blind or brick wall for example. In this case it is better to estimate the distance to the subject and adjust slightly with the rangefinder after some zone focusing. Focus tabs on lenses can be helpful even it took me a long time to get used to them: when focusing with the left pointer finger and holding the camera to the eye, the more the finger is extended on the focus tab, the further away the subject is and closer to infinity. When the pointer finger is pulled back, the lens is focused to closer distance. A tab position in the middle and vertical underneath the lens is about 1.5 meters (5 ft) which is the standard distance for street or portrait photography with some zone focusing to create sufficient depth of field. I find the focus spot much easier with any rangefinder camera than I can do it with a SLR and split focus screen.
Also keep in mind that Leica made and makes different viewfinders. The smaller the magnification number, the smaller the middle rectangle (finder image) gets to align both of the image parts for focusing. Probably one of the best viewfinders is in the Leica M3 especially when shooting 50 mm and longer M lenses: this camera has a unique magnification of 0.91x which is no longer made. With more shallow depth of field at longer focal lengths, this magnification ensures much better focusing especially also for faster lenses. Debit of larger magnification is that wide frame lines like 35 and 28 mm get too hard to see in the viewfinder. Standard magnification in most Leica M cameras is around 0.68x or 0.72x. Sometimes you might see one with 0.58x magnification which is made predominantly for using the camera with wide lenses.
Debit of rangefinder focus systems is that they might require recalibration after many years of usage. In some cameras like the Leica M6, a reflection phenomena in bright light can occur which is called patch flare. Then the finder image window turns reddish and doesn't move anymore when trying to focus. Only way to to resolve this hiccup is by shaking the camera body carefully a bit back and forward. This might take a few seconds, and I had it happen that by then the moment was gone where I needed to take a picture of. The M3, M2, and M4 cameras as well as the ones starting with newer versions of the M7 and later camera versions don't suffer from this.
The minimum focus distance (MFD) of rangefinder cameras is at least 0.7 or 1.0 m. Leica lenses normally don't offer a focus scale below this MFD. But other M lenses like some Cosina-Voigtlander lenses do - when using them on a Leica M camera without LiveView, make sure only to focus down to 0.7 m (or 1.0 m with the Leica M3 for example). Otherwise you will misfocus and get a blurry photo - happened to me multiple times! Digital M cameras can make use of shorter MFD lens focus with either LiveView or electronic viewfinder attached. Both methods circumvent the rangefinder focus system.
View through the Leica M3 viewfinder with 50 mm frame lines. The rectangle in the middle is the finder image to focus by overlaying the viewfinder area with the rangefinder patch view.
For wider focal lengths, an external viewfinder is needed to compose the image. Focusing still needs to be applied through the rangefinder. Here shown the Cosina-Voigtlander 21/25 external viewfinder to be used with the 25/4 Snapshot-Skopar LTM lens on the Leica IIIc.
With digital Leica M cameras starting with the M 240 series, external electronic viewfinders (EVFs) can be used to work with any attached lens. The VF-2 EVF allows vertical composition, too. Here shown in combination with the Leica M-E 240 and 35/2 Summicron-M lens Vers. IV.
8. Leica M and long lenses?
Biggest limitation of the Leica M system is using the rangefinder system with longer lenses. 135 mm already gets difficult to focus within the rangefinder patch (better to do this with an external viewfinder on the hotshoe), and even less common 200 mm lenses are the maximum what is available for this system. I believe most Leica M photographers use lenses generally only up to 90 mm focal length myself included. This limitation in tele lenses is a debit when a longer reach is needed for sports/race events, and wildlife. For action photography, Leica M cameras are limited to 1/4000 sec in the most modern ones - film Leica M cameras only shoot up to 1/1000 sec. For longer focal lengths, either another camera brand system is better, or the Leica SL which offers longer lenses.
Photos above: Taken with my longest M lens, Leica 135/4.5 Hector lens on my Leica M3. Internal rangefinder focusing was applied.
9. Shooting wide with Leica rangefinder cameras?
Leica rangefinder cameras only offer frame lines down to 28 mm but not wider (older cameras are limited to 35 mm like the Leica M2 and 50 mm in the Leica M3). I love shooting wide, and it is not uncommon for me to use 21 mm for landscapes or indoor photography. In such case, I need to use either an external 21 mm based external viewfinder which is then mounted on the hotshoe. Even there is some parallax between external viewfinder and the view through the lens, it is small enough for wide lenses that it doesn't matter. Alternatively, I can make use of LiveView or an external electronic viewfinder (EVF) on a digital Leica M where the image is exactly what the sensor sees. I believe the widest available rectlinear M lens is the Cosina-Voigtlander 10/5.6. Only one fisheye lenses is currently available in M mount - the TTArtisan 11/2.8 lens (stay tuned for my review!). Zone focusing works very well with ultra-wides on Leica film cameras. It is especially easy with digital M cameras and using LiveView or EVF.
Princeton Public Library
Photos above: Taken with my widest M lens, Cosina-Voigtlander 12/5.6 lens on my Leica M6. I used the Voigtlander 21/25 external viewfinder which provides approximately a 12 mm field of view outside the frame lines.
10. Leica Service
A needed but unfortunately expensive option to be aware of when buying in this system! Most common service with Leica M cameras and lenses is the so-called CLA: Cleaning-Lubrication-Adjustment. Prices for this service vary significantly between Leica service centers and third party Leica-focused repair shops. Leica service centers tend to take a longer time with service and repairs. For repairs of older Leica M film cameras I recommend from personal experience third party shops. I sent in my Leica M3 twice to a third party repair facility after I bought it used: first for CLA and then a few years later again after the shutter broke. I also had a CLA done with my Leica IIIc and a 50/2 Summitar LTM lens which I won at a local auction. Not all Leica M cameras are accepted by third party repair facilities - often their possibilities are limited in case electronic parts of older M cameras have to be replaced. Make sure you send in your gear as certified package where a signature is required when delivered.
This vintage Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens is much less known and hyped than its closest counterpart, the Canon 50/1.2 LTM lens which is nearly twice as expensive than this f/1.4 version. I tried twice to get a good copy of the Canon 50/1.2 LTM lens which both turned out to be failures: one copy was in excellent shape, no scratches and no haze, but the aperture ring was misaligned - when the lens was fully open, it showed f/2.8 as fastest f-stop on the aperture ring. I returned it to the store where i bought it from and asked for a repair which was refused - instead I got my money back to purchase another copy from a different domestic seller. Also an excellent lens copy, but I instantly realized when testing it on my digital mirrorless camera that one lens element was reversed not allowing me to focus to infinity. I again had to return the lens - the seller confirmed the issue and returned the money. Then prices went to the roof for this 50/1.2 LTM lens, and I gave up looking for another copy - instead I found a good deal for a Leica 50/1.5 Summarit lens which is great (link to another of my photo blogs: Leica Summarit 50/1.5 review).
Coming back to the Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens: I used to shoot with a Canon 50/1.4 EF lens on my DSLR many years ago which I traded in for a Canon 50/1.2 L EF lens at the time and never looked back. Therefore I never really looked closely at the Canon 50/1.4 LTM version until found an excellent copy. Before I purchased, I read a few reviews of this lens and watched some YouTube videos which mentioned it - not too much information is available describing this lens in detail regarding the performance both digital and with film. I found that all reviews mentioned its good center sharpness wide open at f/1.4 in opposite to the Canon 50/1.2 LTM version which is all about bokeh but doesn't provide sufficient sharpness even in the center wide open. I could also tell from photos shown as examples in other review articles that the 50/1.4 bokeh is smooth and much different from the Leica 50/1.5 LTM Summarit counterpart. This made the Canon 50/1.4 LTM an attractive alternative to test.
This lens has an interesting history, and good thing is that nobody ever has to compete with collectors and collector prices for this lens since Canon made millions of it from 1957 until 1972. The Canon 50/1.4 LTM got the nickname "Japanese Summilux" since it hit the market in 1957 before Leica was able to offer the first Summilux f/1.4 lens to the market in 1959. Leica felt the pressure from Canon and its success with the Canon 7 rangefinder camera plus 50/1.4 lens. Even the Canon f/1.4 lens is nicknamed "Japanese Summilux", the lens design is different from its Leica successor. The Canon 50/1.4 LTM is a Planar lens design, 6 elements in 4 groups. Canon made two identical versions of the 50/1.4 LTM lens - version II starts around SN 29700. Optics of both versions are exactly the same. The lens I got and review is version II.
The 50/1.4 LTM lens is not bulky like its 50/1.2 counterpart - the lens does not interfere with the viewfinder. It's fully made of metal but only weighs 250 grams. Regarding the design, there are few limitations to be aware of: Like most other LTM lenses of this time, minimum focus distance (MFD) is 1 meter. The filter thread is an unusual one which makes it difficult to find suitable filters for this lens: 48 mm. When I bought my lens copy, it came with a 48 mm UV-skylight filter. Often the original lens hood has to be purchased separately - I saw the metal Canon S-50 lens hood going on ebay for up to $40. If you are lucky, you might find a deal of a good one for less than $15 which sounds much more reasonable. The hood clamps on the outside lens barrel but will sit on top of an attached filter. I would be cautious with filter plus hood placement since the hood barrel is pushed out a couple of mm in such combination depending on filter thickness. This can potentially lead to vignetting. Therefore I am using this lens without filter when attaching the S-50 lens hood.
The S-50 lens hood blocks some part of the lower right corner of the viewfinder but which is still well workable. If better view for composition in the viewfinder is needed, the hood needs to be removed from the lens. The lens itself won't intrude a lot into the corner of the viewfinder.
Photos above: Front and top view of the Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens without and with hood attached to Leica M3 with LTM/M adapter.
Partially blocked Leica M3 viewfinder with part of the lens and lens hood
The Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens (version II) is not as sensitive to lens flares like many other LTM lenses are from this time period. I was able to shoot without lens hood with the sun high up and only getting few flares when actually shooting directly into the sun. The photo below was taken at f/5.6 and providing a nice artistic looking circular shaped flare. I did not experience lens flares when the sun came from the side independent on aperture used.
Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens @f/5.6 against the afternoon sun and observed sun flare. The flare provides a special artistic look into the landscape.
The lens copy I received was a bit stiff regarding turning focus and aperture rings after I received it. It might not have been used for a while. Just working the rings back and forward, made the turning much easier again. The aperture ring clicks into the f-stops and makes a bit of a different metallic sounding click when opening to f/1.4. The aperture can be closed to f/22 - so far I have only used the lens between f/1.4 and f/11. I suspect you will run into lens diffraction issues at apertures f/16 and f/22. The focus ring has a click-stop at infinity which needs to be released to be able to focus closer. Focusing with this 50/1.4 LTM lens is very precise due to the long focus path the ring has. This can be a pro or con depending on the user of the lens: if quick refocusing is needed, the lens is not ideal because the focus ring has to be turned a much longer way from one distance end to the other. If you have time to spend for precise focusing, this ring is ideal. Personally I got very quickly used to it, and it is not an issue for me at all. The focus ring is able to turn a bit further below 1 meter MFD - not an issue with more modern rangefinder cameras which focus down to 0.7 meters MFD. But it is something to keep in mind when using an older Leica LTM or M camera (for example Leica III series or Leica M3) where the rangefinder focusing path is limited at 1 meter MFD. If you overturn the focus ring below one meter in such older camera arrangement, you will misfocus on the film.
The lens shines wide open - that's the aperture where it should be used most of the time in my opinion. Not mentioned anywhere else to my knowledge and to my full surprise, it provides a circular bokeh effect which I really like in vintage lenses. Reason for its smooth bokeh is its 9 blade diaphragm. Closest in similar performance here is the Leica 50/2 Summitar lens which has 10 blades. But both circular bokehs are very different - the Leica one has much more expressed bokeh circle rings whereas the Canon lens is much more smooth in this effect. The center focus at f/1.4 is sharp even on the Leica M-E 240 digital 22 MP sensor. Sometimes it can be a bit challenging with a 0.72x rangefinder magnification to focus this lens accurately wide open especially with repeating patterns present in the center of the image.
Photos above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens @f/1.4 on digital Leica M-E 240 camera. Circular bokeh pattern on the left and smooth out-of-focus blur on the right
Photos above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens @f/1.4 on Leica M3 camera with Kodak Ektar 100 film. Beautiful bokeh pattern at f/2.0 in both photos.
Photos above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens @f/1.4 on Leica M3 camera with Fujicolor Super HQ 200 film. Beautiful bokeh effects at f/1.4 in both photos.
Stopped down, the lens is sharp throughout the frame at f/8 and already delivers impressive sharpness at f/5.6 with slight corner blur. B&W photos look great with high contrast provided by the 50/1.4 LTM. But also the color rendition is fantastic - tones are a bit more on the warmer side compared to modern Canon lenses. Especially blue sky and tones in yellow/orange/red tones appear very natural but well saturated. The contrast of this lens is worthwhile pointing out since it provides sharp looking photos with depth. JPG files out of the camera barely need any additional post processing.
Photos above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens on digital Leica M-E 240 camera @f/2.0 (left) and f/8.0 (right)
If you are in the market of a fast regular focal length vintage lens for relatively low budget, this lens should be seriously considered. Even named "Japanese Summilux", it certainly is not a competitor of a more modern aspherical lens element based Leica Summilux 50/1.4 lens. But if you are in for a vintage photo look with dreamy and sometimes circular bokeh, the Canon 50/1.4 LTM provides this all. This lens is IMO at least as well built as the Canon 50/1.2 LTM counterpart, maybe even better. The lens is made to be shot wide open and will perform in situations where shallow depth of field is used as artistic element in the image composition, for portrait work, or in low light photography. Risk of sun flares is significantly reduced with the lens design and some lens coating and can be further avoided with the optional Canon S-50 hood. The relatively low weight for a lens with metal housing and small size for a f/1.4 lens makes it very attractive for inconspicuous photography and low weight travel. The lens has its limitations regarding minimum focus distance (MFD), unusual and less practical filter diameter size, and longer focus path of focus ring. In my opinion no really big dealbreaker for the interested semi-professional amateur using this lens. In a short period of time, this lens has become one of my favorite 50 mm rangefinder lenses to use in digital and on film.
+ Sharp in center at f/1.4
+ Some nice corner vignetting at f/1.4 further emphasizing blur-out effects (disappears when stopped down)
+ Circular and soft bokeh effect wide open with 9 aperture blades
+ Low sun flaring issue with sun hitting the lens without hood from the side
+ Rigid metallic lens built
+ No focus shift and very low/negligible field curvature
+ Very sharp throughout the frame at f/8 and f/11
+ Excellent low light performance
+ Great for B&W photos due to the higher contrast provided by the lens.
+ Price for a f/1.4 lens able to be mounted on LTM- or M-cameras
- Focus and aperture rings are not as easy going as on Leica and CV lenses
- Longer focus ring turn needed from one focus end to the other (potentially a con depending on need)
- Unusual filter size of 48 mm and hard to find low cost filters of this size
- S-50 lens hood doesn't work well with lens filters
Photo above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens on digital Leica M-E 240 camera @f/1.4 with single focus point on the tiny bred berry in the lower right. Busy but smooth circular bokeh in the background
Photo above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens on digital Leica M-E 240 camera @f/1.4. Some clearer formation of bokeh circles which get more oval shaped towards the corners of the frame. This provides a vortex bokeh effect.
Photos above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens on digital Leica M-E 240 camera @f/1.4 (left) and @f/8.0 (right)
Photos above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens @f/1.4 on digital Leica M-E 240 camera in a dim light shooting scenario after sunset. The photos were taken handheld at ISO 400.
Photo above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens on Leica M3 camera with Kodak Ektar 100 film @f/2.8. Even stopped down a bit, the bokeh is still great.
Photo above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens on Leica M3 camera with Kodak Ektar 100 film @f/2.8.
Photos above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens on Leica M3 camera with Kodak Ektar 100 film @f/2.8 (left) and f/5.6 (right).
Photos above: Canon 50/1.4 LTM lens on Leica M3 camera with Fujicolor Super HQ 200 film @f/1.4.
This photo blog is about the smallest 25 mm wide angle lens made - the Cosina-Voigtlander 25/4.0 Snapshot Skopar lens. I purchased this lens as nearly mint copy online to have a wide angle LTM lens to use with my Leica IIIc camera. I got it for $200 which was a very good deal at the time. I didn't want to spend a lot of money for a LTM lens. I could also use it in combination with my already existing external metal combination Voigtlander 21/25 mm viewfinder (the newer round one model with improved optics than the plastic body predecessor).
The lens is tiny - without hood and caps only 35 mm from rear to front. The lens fits conveniently 39 mm filters - standard diameter size of many Leica M lenses. The small lens size comes with one debit - it has no rangefinder focus coupling. Instead the lens allows quick focus with a click-stop focus ring applying zone focusing: it has stops at 0.7, 1, 1.5, 3 meters, and infinity. I was skeptical when I first tried this lens and afraid to have many out of focus photos - but the opposite is the case - it is very hard NOT to focus correctly with this lens. The wide angle of 25 mm allows a good wide range to be in focus - therefore the lens does only supply a very simple hyperfocal distance scale. More is simply not needed - already at f/4 and a rough estimate of the focus point will nail the focus. Aperture f/8 is a guarantee to have everything in focus. I never used this lens at an aperture smaller than f/11 (meaning f/16 or f/22). I am used to the metric system, so having the distance scale in meters is a benefit to me. It might be a culprit for somebody used to the ft distance scale though which is not printed on the focus ring.
I also like the lens design a lot - both focus and aperture rings are small but can be easily moved. The focus ring has a tiny metal focus tab which has to be used to turn the focus ring. The focus ring does not allow to be turned directly on the ring itself. I personally prefer turning focus rings just on the checkered ring pattern instead of using the focus tab. But I got quickly used to turning this ring by using the tab. The distance locations from minimum focus distance (0.7 m) to infinity are very close next to each other which makes it very easy to quickly move from minimum distance to infinity quickly.
The aperture ring has click half stops from f/4 to f/22 and contains 10 aperture blades.
The lens comes with a small round metal hood which seems to be sufficient to avoid flares from my experience with this lens so far. The round hood can be screwed into the outside lens thread. It has one debit - if a 39 mm filter is attached before the hood ring is mounted, the hood often does not fit outside the attached filter. I sometimes simply push the round hood loosely onto the outside of the filter to allow some flare control.
The Voigtlander metal front lens cap sits both on the metal hood ring or directly on the lens itself. The cap sits a bit better and tighter on the hood ring. The lens has a quite long rear plastic lens cap to allow for the protruding back lens element. Important to hold on to this cap because it is unique for this lens.
The lens is built very well with full metal housing. Only debit as in all of my other Cosina-Voigtlander lenses is the too easily removable black paint. The paint starts to loosen first at the aperture and lens holding rings. The silver metal starts shining through - it does not affect functionality of course but will certainly affect the used lens value just for viewing reasons. None of my black Leica lenses experiences the same issue. I wish Cosina would do a better job with the black paint on their lenses.
The lens performs very good optically. B&W photos turn out crisp and sharp with good contrast. Colors appear with excellent tonality. There is barely any corner vignetting wide open and certainly not at f/5.6 and smaller. Big and often overlooked benefit of this lens is its capability to perform excellent in infrared light. There is no IR hot spot seen at f/8.
Photo above: Cosina-Voigtlander 25/4.0 Snapshot Skopar LTM lens with caps and round lens hood
Photos above: Cosina-Voigtlander 25/4.0 Snapshot Skopar LTM lens from side and rear view
The lens was discontinued over 10 years ago but can still be found as used copy online. The name "Snapshot Skopar" likely refers to its potential usage in street photography due to its fast zone focusing capability. But the lens can be used in far more situations other than street photography. It's a perfect small and light travel companion to get the wide shot (85 grams weight). Cosina made a similar 25/4.0 M-mount lens without the click stops of the focusing ring. There is also the discontinued Cosina-Voigtlander 25/4.0 Color-Skopar M-mount lens which has rangefinder coupling and focusing. It is a bit heavier with 144 grams. Both lenses have 7 elements in 5 groups.
I haven't tested my CV 25/4.0 Snapshot Skopar in combination with my digital Leica M-E 240 yet but will add photos taken in this combination when available. I have only seen that this lens doesn't work well when attached to my Sony A7R - severe corner vignetting with purple colors.
A few example photos of the CV 25/4.0 Snapshot Skopar lens mounted on my Leica M6 with LTM/M adapter and Rollei Infrared 400 film:
Taken in combination with Leica M3, LTM/M adapter, and Ilford PanF+ 50 film:
Taken in combination with Leica M6, LTM/M adapter, and Kodak Porta 160 film:
Cliffwood Beach, NJ - Kodak Porta 160 film
After using Leica LTM and M cameras for five years, I decided to add a digital Leica M camera. Main reason for me was to use my good LTM and M lenses on a suitable digital camera without adapter - I managed it well to use my rangefinder lenses with my Sony A7R camera for many years, but especially ultra-wide rangefinder lenses caused some color fringing and blurred corners of the full-frame sensor due to the thicker sensor stack used in the A7R. Problem with Leica M cameras is of course the price - I am writing this blog shortly after the latest flagship model - the Leica M 10-R - was released for over $8K new. But even when looking for used Leica M 10 cameras, the price tag was still around $4.5-5.5K. As I learned from buying Leica M mount lenses used, patience is key to wait for a suitable offer. One day I found a Leica M-E 240 offered on a local online sales platform for a good price. The M 240 sensor has a bit lower dynamic range (DR) than its M 10 successor and the high ISO is limited to ISO 6400 but the 24 MP resolution is the same as in the M 10. Not a biggie for me since I know that I am rarely needing high ISO in my style of photography and can live with a bit less DR. I met with the seller and it turned out that the description of the camera stood up to its promise: it was a nearly brand new M-E 240 originally purchased in summer 2019 with only about 800 photo frames taken. No scratch or any kind of mark on the camera either, also the sensor appeared perfect. I bought the camera and so far have no regret of doing this purchase. Later I found out that the M-E 240 was only produced for a short period of time in 2019 - only 750 cameras were made. I believe I got a great deal regarding price/quality ratio - impossible to get with any kind of M10 camera models for a while to come. The only compromise I had to make was in regard to sensor resolution - I was originally hoping to keep a resolution similar to my Sony A7R with 36 MP full-frame, so 24 MP was pulling me back to my Canon 5D MkII shooting days I thought. But meanwhile I am glad that I made the purchase since the M 240 sensor has benefits over the older generation of Canon 5D MkII sensor from 2009 (for example the M 240 has much better DR!). I summarize my pros and cons seen in the M-E 240 in bullet points below:
Photos above: Leica M-E 240 with Leica 35/2 Summicron-M vers. IV (pre-ASPH) lens
Photo above: Leica M-E 240 with optional VF-2 EVF. It can be flipped into vertical position. Olympus VF-2 and Leica Viscoflex EVF2 are exactly the same model and only different in price.
What do I miss in the M-E 240?
Overall I am very happy with this camera purchase. Leica is and remains an expensive brand, but getting a used (and nearly mint) camera for a good deal limits value depreciation significantly and allows me to actually use the camera in the wild without being afraid to carry a big jewel around my neck or shoulder. The M 240 was its first and last hybrid camera series made by Leica combining rangefinder, LiveView/EVF capability, and video. The M-E "entry" version has the same capabilities as any other professional M 240 series mostly just compromising in electronic handgrip accessory functionality. Leica currently doesn't make entry-level cameras or Summarit-lenses anymore, they also removed video capability from the M camera series fully. I believe therefore the M 240 series is and will remain in demand for many who accept the camera's lower ISO limitation compared to expensive current M systems. I will use the M-E 240 for years to come in combination with my Leica LTM and M film cameras. The M-E 240 won't replace my track-proven Sony A7R camera either - both will be used in different shooting situations.
Recently I was shooting my Hasselblad 500 C/M with Fuji Velvia 50 slide film which I really like due to its color tonality. I found myself in a situation where I had to take long exposure shots with this kind of film - anticipating that this could be the case before heading out to shoot, I looked up online how much time needed to be added to the measured external light meter reading to compensate for lower light sensitivity of film with exposures often above 2 to 4 seconds. This factor is specific for every kind of film, and is named "reciprocity" failure or factor.
This factor is not needed in digital photography since a digital sensor receives and reacts to light in a linear way from dark to bright. This means that even long exposures are measured correctly by an external or internal camera-based light meter for digital photography. Since the majority of photographers is shooting digital, most have never come across the term "reciprocity" factor. It plays a huge role when taking photos with film - light is not received in a linear way like in digital. Film is less sensitive at both ends of the dark/bright histogram ends - it can be shown as a double-S-curve with turning point in the center. You might know that you can overexpose film quite a bit - it depends on the film, but 3-4 stops can be handled by most negative films quite well for overexposure without losing detail (this is different with slide film which can only handle a maximum of one stop overexposure before blowing out highlights - similar to digital where beginners often overexposure highlights instead of pushing shadows in PP). The same goes for dark areas with longer exposures needed - you actually need to increase exposure to avoid getting pitch dark shadows without detail using film. This is valid both for negative and positive (slide) films! Only that the amount how much more light is needed depends on a) the film, and b) the situation/scenery.
Best is to explain this with examples. As I mentioned in the beginning, Fuji Velvia slide film is not a beginner's film to be used since it does not allow a wide margin for wrong exposure - both at dark and in the bright. Rule of thumb is to avoid overexposure at all cost and rather underexpose this film half or one stop to avoid clipping highlights when present. The film is great to use during regular daylight in colorful scenes - what I like a lot is that it does not require any PP with color saturation after digitization/scanning. Kodak Ektar 100 negative film is also giving great colors but always annoyed me with its tendency to show shadows in blue/magenta cast. Fuji slide film fully avoids this issue and looks very natural in darker areas instead.
I have never tested Fuji Velvia 50 for low light photography - I only found few examples of night shooting with this film online. This time I gave it a try - it was sort of a gamble since I only had three frames of my 120 film left to hit it. I wanted to cover the sunset and the night scene of NYC from Liberty State Park across the river. How did I get to the results shown below?
First, I had to keep in mind the extension or reciprocity factor of this film above 4 seconds. It states to add an extra stop between 4-8 seconds, and multiply the exposure with factor 1.5x between 8-12 seconds. Above 16 seconds, the reciprocity factor increases to 2x. The first shot with this scene was taken before sunset at f/11 with 2-stop ND filter to blur the water a bit. The exposure here was 1 second - no need yet to use the reciprocity factor:
The sun was setting soon after, and quickly the light intensity dropped. I was still at f/11 but now without ND filter since there was no more need to extend the exposure time with less available light. My external light meter showed for ISO 50 an EV-value of 6 which corresponds to 2 seconds at f/11. Now I am hitting the range where the reciprocity factor comes in play - using the scale shown above, I would need to apply 2+1 = 3 seconds instead of the measured 2 seconds. But the situation/scenery also comes in play - I wanted to have the scenery darker to bring out the blue/magenta sky better. I estimated that 2 seconds should be sufficient and ignored the additional second. The result turned out exactly as I anticipated just with more saturation than expected:
The light quickly vanished after the sun disappeared, and the city became alive with artificial light. Now my light meter showed me an EV value of 2 which corresponds to 30 seconds at f/11 and ISO 50 film. Using the required reciprocity factor of 2x, I would need 60 seconds to accommodate for the lower film sensitivity. But I wanted to avoid overexposure at all cost for my frame #12 - the last frame I had. I simply estimated that 45 seconds instead should bring me in the right range (taking the average of 30 seconds from my meter and 60 seconds with applied reciprocity factor). I released the shutter with my cable release and held the leaf shutter open in bulb mode for roughly 45 seconds (I counted in my head). The result was again very pleasing - showing all detail but avoiding underexposure:
I might actually use this slide film more often for dim/dark light photography after this first experience with it in low light. I really love the bluish cast in the water and the sky which digital would not have brought out in the same way.