My revisionist history of the Leica Summicron 50mm lense for normal people goes something like this…. In the beginning, there were screw mount lenses whose coatings wiped off with a kleenex. Then there were lenses that were sold with goggles that are apparently pretty good. Time marched on and 50mm Summicrons got better, ergonomics got better, image quliaty got better…and better…and better….then Barney terrorized kids, Milk tortured us with “Got Milk?,” Monica Seles was stabbed, River Phoenix overdosed, and, perhaps as a result of all of that, Leica went ahead lost their mind, removed the focusing tab, added a retractable condom wrapper for a lens hood, and now normal people have no idea what a Summicron looks or feels like because they are too expensive for normal people to concern themselves with.
The version 4 of the Summicron 50mm lens was manufactured immediately before 1993 got to Leica and they released version 5 in 1994. For those of you who want the decoder ring for my revisionist Summicron history please see this link.
On garden gnomes and parked cars:
The Summicron 50mm v4 is on fleek (1). If you don’t know what on fleek is, good. Neither did I until about 2 minutes ago. I found it when I was looking for words meaning “on point.” This lens is both on fleek and on point which makes it the kind of lens that causes Leica fanboys to salivate and purchase a red soft shutter release button.
The #12538 hood that fits this lens is, conversely, less than on fleek if style and/or size matters to you. When I first got the lens, I looked at the unsightly plastic halo and thought “this pug ugly, spring loaded, plastic bonnet is giving me hives thinking about putting it on my snazzy little retro Summicron lens.” This hood is the photographic equivalent of wearing a face shield and two face masks while walking the dog to protect you from Covid. It is overkill and silly looking. My instinct was to put the hood in a drawer and get something svelte and metallic to screw into the end of the lens but I stuck with it because I couldn’t responsibly review this lens without at least trying it once. Right?
The answer to that question is “Yes dumbass. Now stop being so quick to judge and thin slice everything in your life so there is nothing left.” I was decidedly wrong. Although the hood is, in fact, pug ugly, it is also beefy and functional. If you have one you are dissuaded from throwing it in your underwear drawer. An argument, however, could be made to sell it on eBay given that they are selling for $158.00 which is remarkable for a piece of plastic, a spring, and a tiny piece of metal. If you see me out with this lens, it will be adorned with a #12538. I succumbed and I kind of sort of like it in the way people think pugs are cute.
This brings us to the word antergy. This is an internet word meaning the opposite synergy. If synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts and 1+1=4, antergy is the opposite. For example, with #12538 hood mounted on the Summicron 50mm V4, 1+1 =1.74. Somehow this hood, although it is functionally robust, it just too ungainly for a 50mm lens, and when it is on the lens, it makes the whole contraption feel a little cheap, bulbous, and longer/larger than I would like.
To give you an idea of what this antergenic contraption feels like in hand, it seems that this combination is perfectly designed to do double duty as a personal safety tool used to fend off an attacking Chihuahua, Dachshund, Shi Tzu or Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (2) If I was being attacked by a crazed Chihuahua, I would feel absolutely confident stuffing this over-engineered lens hood and lens combination directly in the mouth of the attacking dog, prop open the canines, and protect myself and my camera with no fear that the hood would fall off or break. This hood us unequivocally strongly than a Chihuahua mouth. As functional as it may be, the fact of the matter is that I am not looking for a Chihuahua protection device in my camera lens.
Before I leave this long winded discussion of a spring loaded piece of plastic, if you are leaving the hood on permanently or semi-permanently, good. If, however, you plan on pulling it on and off, for example to change filters, things get a little tricky. It might just be my hood but the springs are either getting old or they were crummy to begin with but trying to get on and off all the time to change filters is a pain point.
Does it have soul?
Yes. Full stop. Call me a fanboy if you want but the simple answer is yes. Period. End of story.
Although I am able to muster a definitive “yes” and maybe even a “Yes!!!” or an annoying “Yaaaassss!!!!” as an answer to this question, I find myself in the same bind I was in with the 50mm V5 Summicron lens questioning whether anything I say other than “yes” would be valuable and/or add to the collective discussion regarding this lens. Moreover, I feel the main value of what I have to offer is how this lens stacks up with its competitors but for that, you need to check out the Leica Lenses for Normal People: The Recommended List.
For now, the the best I can do is offer the following….this lens, in my opinion, is one of the lenses that the Leica fanboys go wild for. This is one of the Leica lenses that does whatever it is that Leica lenses do to make people utter the phrase “The Leica Look.” It isn’t criminally sharp. It is perfectly sharp. The out of focus area is creamier than seal milk (3) and the colors are just so slightly muted that they are neither muddy, low contrast vintage, nor modern skittles and rainbows. There is also a “heaviness” (like heavy cream or heavy when someone says “Oh that’s heavy!” after they hear The Dark Side of the Moon for the first time and not heavy like a bag of used cat litter).
For better or worse, that is the best I can do with this lens. Unfortunately, I do not own other words other than those I have already offered. With that, I also know full well that unless you already know what I am talking about you will have no idea what I am talking about. It is what it is.
This lens defies easy characterization as a vintage or modern lens. Performing well at all apertures, impressive sharpness, and good contrast, it is decidedly modern. Every once in a while, however, it has that heaviness I mentioned before that gives it a touch of something vintage-ish. It is almost as if it is a modern lens that has one foot steeped in the past. I guess it is kind of sort of like a hipster kid in 2021 shooting film rather than putting a film emulation on their image and adding film borders in photoshop. .
So did I keep it?
As you can imagine, this is a tough one. With a drawer full of 50mm lenses, displacing one of my go-to lenses is a lot to ask but this one is a classic despite the ungainly lens hood. To see how things shook out, see how this one compares to the other options, and see if I kept it or put it back on The Rangefinder Forum classifieds, please join my Leica Lenses for Normal People: The Recommended list. There is a 100% money-back guarantee and it costs way less than a Leica branded lens hood…or Leica lens cap…or even a broken Leica strap.
- NOTE: NSFW https://youtu.be/dfBdBpr7KCo
2. I am not sure if CKCS actually attack people. In most cases they are also too obese to move so attacking you is probably not their main concern. Most of them are generally just trying to breathe and get through the day.
3. Seal milk is apparently particularly creamy. I have never tried it. As a vet student living on the reservation, on occasion, we were known to use horse and goat milk replacement powders when normal supermarket milk was unavailable. I recommend you ingest neither. Those options are exceedingly creamy compared to cow milk or cow milk replacement powde. I encouarge you, if you find yourself stranded in the desert with access to various herd animal milk replacement powders but no cow milk drink black coffee.
Sample Images (film images have black borders)