If you don’t wish to plough through my review and experiences… bottom line? I love this diminutive lens! It is a gem. Buy it.
The Elmar-M f2.8 50mm is the third version of a collapsible, Elmar-designated 50mm lens, the original being the Elmar 50mm f3.5 produced from 1926-1961 (which was based on the Elmax 50mm f3.5 (1921-1925), itself a variation of the Dr Max Berek-designed Anastigmat of 1924). For 35 years (1926-1961) Leica produced something like 380,000 Elmar 50mm f3.5s in both screw and bayonet, a remarkable testament to its sound optical design principals.
In 1957 Leica released the Elmar 50mm f2.8 – note ‘Elmar’ not ‘Elmar-M’ as some mistakenly appropriate it. Developments in optical computation and higher index glass manufacture gave significant performance improvements over f3.5 version, as well as a stop larger aperture. Around 65,000 were made in both screw and bayonet mount, until production dribbled to a halt about 1972. Then things Elmar went quiet…
Originally the Elmar-M 50mm f2.8 was introduced in 1994 to be sold with the M6J (‘Jubilee’ – to celebrate 40 years of the Leica M): just 1640 M6Js with their Elmar-Ms were produced (40 sets for each of the 40 years, plus 40). This brand new Elmar-M was a new computation with modern glass and coatings, providing improved and excellent optical properties. With its small size and light weight it attracted not unsurprising demand from fans who appreciated its ability to be collapsed into an M body, which encouraged Leica to begin individual lens production in 1996, which they continued until 2007.
Incidentally by Leica’s lens nomenclature a f2.8 lens should be designated ‘Elmarit’. With the collapsible f2.8 50mm lenses Leica departed from this policy, naming the collapsible f2.8s ‘Elmar’ to make a historic family link back to the redoubtable 1926 Elmar 50mm f3.5. I think, a nice touch.
So, potted history out of the way, in very simple terms, we have three Elmars: the original Elmar 50mm f3.5, then the Elmar 50mm f2.8 (v.1) and then v.2 (Elmar-M 50mm f2.8), which is the lens reviewed here.
Design & Use
In a word, it is dinky. Although compact when extended for use, the Elmar-M’s distance scale is easy to read, and its apertures, although not evenly spaced, being half stops from f2.8 to f8 and full stops from f8 to f16, no trouble to adjust. With a 90 degree turn from 0.7m to infinity, the focussing ring, free of any tabs, buttons or locks, is lightening fast and the helicoid exceptionally smooth. For such a small lens, everything is to hand. My black anodized version (code 11 831), made in 1995, weighs 170g. The chrome version (code 11 823) weighs 245g. Mechanically this is one sweet lens.
Unlike v.1, the v.2’s aperture scale does not rotate when focussing. However, the lens barrel can rotate freely when the lens is collapsed. Therefore, before extending the barrel make sure the aperture index is positioned to align with the red bayonet marker. Then extend the barrel fully and turn it anti-clockwise (viewed from the top of the camera) to lock the lens in its extended position. The aperture index and the focussing index then will line up together properly. It goes without saying images will be totally out of focus if the lens is not fully extended and locked into position.
On some Elmar-Ms, with the lens extended and locked into position, the front part can be a little loose and easy to turn. This can be remedied by removing the lens from the camera and collapsing it fully. In the collapsed position you will see at the rear of the lens the locking mechanism’s three tiny bayonets. By carefully (and I do mean carefully!) inserting a jeweller’s 3mm flat-head screwdriver into the bayonet slots and twisting very slightly (again, I stress carefully… and slightly) so that the bayonets are forced outwards by no more than 0.25mm, the bayonet will lock in the extended position more firmly. If you are unsure do not attempt the above: I accept no responsibility for mishap or damage.
A warning about collapsing the lens. Leica state it is safe to collapse the lens into all Leica M bodies with the exception of the the M5 and Leica CL. I have no experience of this. Leica’s lens instruction booklet states that collapsing the lens into these bodies could damage their exposure meter photo cells, which are positioned in front of the shutter curtain. Leica recommend limiting the retraction of the lens by using 9.5mm Dymo tape stuck on the barrel.
Filter size is 39mm (Leitz designate them E39 x 0.5 thread pitch). Be careful with filter thread pitches, some cheap makes have thread pitches of 0.75. I use B+W or Heliopan filters for all of my lenses. I don’t ‘baby’ my Leica or optics, they’re out in all weather, and I would rather damage a filter than a front lens element.
Also, I do not use its dedicated hood (black, code 12 550 – silver, code 12 549). Some reviewers and users state otherwise, but I’ve never found flare a problem with the v.2. It is a simple design of four elements in three groups (the rear two cemented), using high-refractive glass, multi-coating and a modest aperture of f2.8. I do not find a hood necessary.
Its optical performance is truly wonderful: contrasty and pin sharp, producing images with a glorious depth and snap. Colour reproduction is neutral and saturated, with no lateral colour fringes. At any aperture it out-resolves my two favourite black and white films, Neopan 400 and Fomapan 200. There is no visible distortion and vignetting wide open is barely visible: what little vignetting there is disappears by f5.6. It is distortion-free.
Wide open (f2.8) extreme corners are not up a modern Summicron’s (is any lens?), but stop the Elmar-M down to its optimum aperture (according to the Leica) of f.5.6 and images are flawless. I defy anybody to tell enlargements from the Elmar-M from any other 50mm. Definition and fine detail are exemplary.
The Elmar-M 50mm f2.8 is, perhaps, one of the best kept secrets of Leica lenses. Amongst its aficionados it is rated highly. If you have a M body and have no need of a fast 50mm lens with a f2 or f1.4 aperture (say, a Summicron or a Summilux) this unsung gem of a lens will suit you admirably. Given the Elmar-M’s simple Tessar 4-element, 3-group design, it is utterly incomparable and highly recommended.
It is a stunner, with the ability to provide superlative images that are pretty much the equal of any 50mm lens, Leica or otherwise. It really is this good.