8 September 2020

Leitz Summicron 50mm f/2 rigid (type 2) lens

Buying the new and improved version of a Leica lens... that I already had.

By In Photography 3 min read

My newest lens acquisition wasn’t actually originally on my wishlist. I already had a 50mm Summicron lens, though that was the first generation collapsible model known as a Type 1. This lens has lived on my Leica M3 permanently for the past few years, and I have enjoyed the hell out of it. There’s just one problem: the front lens element is extremely soft and susceptible to scratches, and the first advice you get when you purchase a Type 1 is to put a UV filter on top – and keep it there forever. Can’t scratch what you can’t reach, after all.

My Leica M3 with the Summicron 50mm f/2 rigid and a Leicameter MR-4

Sadly, this advise had already come too late for my model. The front element showed a lot of cleaning marks that wouldn’t come out anymore. I loved this lens and it had given me some of the best shots, but in the back of my mind I’d been considering finding a more recent generation of this lens to replace it for a while now.

Figuring out which Summicron 50mm I might want was a bit complex. There are 7 distinct models of Summicron 50mm, with more recent types logically costing more money. Those from the last few decades were still very expensive, and basically out of my reach. I really was looking at just the models made before the ’90s. While coatings improved over time, the lens optical design of the Summicron was simplified in the ’70s for the Type 3 model, which evens their performance out. And from the ’80s on the diaphragm in the Type 4 design was switched to an 8-blade setup, as opposed to the original 10-blade. The non-DR Type 2 model, with the original 7/6 optical design and the 10-blade diaphragm, arguably had the best mix of characteristics. As a bonus, being the second-oldest model, the Type 2 was also my most affordable option. At the same time, I still wasn’t actively looking for a new lens.

But the auction gods had something else in mind. In a recent Leica auction I spotted this non-DR Type 2 at a bargain price. The glass looked pristine, though the lens barrel looked quite rough in pictures. According to the auction text it had been heavily used, but the owner had taken care to keep the glass in good condition. This combination worked out fine for me – I care about the photos, not about how my Leica looks to bystanders. I figured I’d throw in a low-ball bid to see if I could score the lens. But the pictures did not entice many other bidders, so I ended up getting this Type 2 for a great price!

The irony is that this kinda unintentional win burned up the funds I was saving to buy an 80mm Hasselblad lens, which really would have given me new options for shooting on the Hassy. Instead I acquired a new copy of a lens I already had. Still, I look forward to getting to try this on the M3!

What do you think?