The 35mm f/2 LTM lens is the final vintage in a long line of 35mm LTM lenses. Starting in 1950 Canon released the Serenar 35 f/3.5 lens and iterated on this lens all the way thought 1970’s. According to canonrangefinder.org:
- 1951: Serenar 35mm f/3.5 LTM
- 1951-1968: Canon 35mm f/2.8 LTM
- 1956: Canon 35. f/1.8 LTM
- 1959: Canon 35 f/1.5
- 1962-1972: Canon 35 f/2.0. Aka “Canon Black. Aka “Japanese Summicron.
Given the number of Canon LTM Lenses to choose from, it was difficult to decide what to choose for testing. As a general rule, if there is nothing special about an older vintage, I go for the most recent for no other reason but to avoid aging disease such as separation, haze, mold, etc. In this case, my decision was helped by a comment on Cameraquest who briefly mentioned that “The 35/2 is “the last and best of Canon’s 35mm lenses” and Canonrangfinder commented that the 35/2 “is often considered by photographers the best 35mm lens of the rangefinder era, and still sought out for use today.” Given those kudos and the fact there are scattered accounts online that the previous, 35 f/1.5, version is prone to scratching (cleaning marks) I went with the f/2.
On Garden Gnomes and Parked cars
If you have read any of my other reviews, you know I love a teeny tiny lens. This fits the bill for size but that is where the usability bill ends.
The aperture ring is tight. I mean TIGHT. This is not an error or aging disease in my copy. I had the opportunity to test two different copies and they both had the same exact TIGHT aperture ring. The aperture ring clicks but it clicks TIGHT. When you go from stop to stop it almost falls into the next stop but along the way it seems afraid of getting there so it puts up a fight. This leaves you weirdly wondering how much farther you need to go to change the aperture and then all of a sudden it falls into place. Another way to think about it is that if clicky apertures are good this aperture ring took some steroids, went too far, and became the clickiest aperture ring of all time. In other words, it is the opposite of smooth.
The focus throw is relatively short (good) but there is no focusing tab (bad).
Overall, this lens has whatever the opposite of style is. Anti-style? Boorish? Unsheik? Unpolished? I dont know what the right word is. There are a dozen antonyms for style and none of them accurately describe my reaction to the lens when I hold it. It reminds me of a Pentax Takumar lens which although remarkable are also painfully style deficient. If you don’t get that reference, picture a moderately overweight tourist (but still of a substantial heft that would leave him prone to Covid-19 complications e.g. BMI>30), who rather than pedaling, drives his bike to the top of a mountain while wearing tan pants with front pleats, old-man New Balance sneakers, and low rise black socks. When the man gets on his bike, his pants ride above his socks and you see the weirdly hairless and pale skin on the front of his legs that haven’t seen the sun in 37 years. This lens reminds me of the skin on the front of our tourist’s lower leg. You just don’t want to look at it and you are certainly not compelled to touch it.
Fortunately for everyone involved, I am nothing special to look at either so I am also inclined not to pass judgement on a lens for the way it looks. I can do ugly. Your mileage may vary depending on your vanity (1).
Does it have SOUL?
Yassssss – which is an annoying meme-ish way of saying yes. In 2019, yasssss was a popular method of annoying me. That year people inexplicably longed for an affirmation other than yes and came up with yassssss which is, again, annoying. I mean the word works and everyone knew what you meant but it was annoying to hear. Yasssss describes the soul of this lens. It is soulful but annoying. Let me explain.
The flares on this lens get a #fullyes. Just a plain old soulful yes. They are magical and vintage and colorful and when prominent in the image go on to make shapes and crosses and things. They are just what the doctor ordered if the doctor prescribed you some flare. If, however, flares are not your bag you should move on. They are unavoidable if the sun is in your frame. Lens hoods be damned.
The colors from this lens also get a #fullyes. Again, just a plain old yes. The colors are sedated but saturated and give things a slightly vintage vibe. They have a little murk and funk that should warm the cockles of the heart of anyone interested in vintage lenses.
The lens also does the vintage lens routine of being a bit soft wide open, vignetting vintagely, and even throws in some peripheral smudge. Wide open it has a bit of boom chicka wow wow Leica glow but it wont make you recoil in horror if glow isn’t your preferred method of rendering highlights. Moreover, even stopping down a little brings a contrast that would be at home on any modern lens. Note the peripheral murk and overall funk on the wide open (second) image.
This lens has SOUL. If you know it, you love it. With the exception of flares, however, the SOUL is maybe more subtle than I would have hoped. This lens almost does too good of a job ditching its vintage vestiges and sometimes masquerades as a modern lens. I can see how in the 60’s and 70’s this was the belle of the ball and have to assume that between rounds on the disco floor people could look through this lens and see how someday lenses would trend toward perfection and DXO would help squeeze the soul out of photography.
And that right there is a prelude to why if you asked me if this lens has soul I would say yasssss and not yes. There is more to this story. Keep reading.
So did I keep it?
The Leica 35mm f/2 LTM is vintage excellent full stop. However, every time I used it, I was annoyingly distracted by the fact that I was going to have to make a hard decision with this lens. Remember, the goal of this project was to keep one vintage lens and one modern lens for each focal length. I guess you could say that this lens forced me to annoy myself when I used it. Stupid lens. You could also say I forced myself into making a decision which was an annoying thing to do in the first place. Stupid me.
The problem is that this lens doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It lives in the real world where the modern-vintage thieves stole what makes these old lenses special but improved on their shortcomings.
For example, the modern-vintage thieves behind the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f/1.4 seem to have adopted the wide open tricks from the Canon 35mm f/2 LTM but got rid of the ergonomic issues and yucky yuck yuck housing. It just isn’t a fair fight.
The modern-vintage thieves short circuited my brain when I was using this lens and took me from a #fullyes to an annoying yasssss because even though I totally dug it, my brain was thinking what if it had a focusing tab? What if it wasn’t such an ugly ducking? What if I didn’t have to hassle with eBay to buy one? All those “what if’s” were annoying and every time I used this lens, I annoyed myself. How annoying.
Not to be outdone by the modern-vintage thieves, the Canon 35mm f/2 has a few tricks up it’s sleeve and does put up a fight. The biggest trick it owns is that it doesn’t have the word Leica on it so it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Currently, it sells for about 50% of any modern-vintage competitor. The flares are also sublime. Importantly, it has real 1960’s street cred rather than fake tech-mix street cred from the 2000’s that the modern-vintage thieves are peddling. Dont joke, people you are photographing get into the old stuff if they know you are using genuine old stuff. You buy cred by association. Sad but true. Dont shoot the messenger.
Any decision to own this lens vs. a modern-vintage competitor is, therefore, based on everything except optics. It has everything to do with price, packaging, and street cred. You can make your own decision but to see which lens I eventually kept and which lens I sold, please check out my Leica Lenses for Normal People: Recommended List.
- Please don’t take this the wrong way but if you are treasure hunting on a Leica gear website like this one, it is at least in the realm of possibility that your vanity will exceed mine. You have been warned against bruising your vanity with this lens.
Sample Images (more soon)