Leica 40mm f2 Summicron-C Review
Most all Leica 40mm f2 Summicron-C lens reviews cover the same talking points, things like: most affordable Leica lens, body compatibility issues, awkward focal length, and undesirable bokeh. While these topics are all important things to understand about this lens, they tend to be at the forefront of every conversation, and I don’t think they should be because I disagree with all of them.
The 40mm f2 Summicron-C is not the most affordable Leica lens
I have seen no proof of compatibility issues on other Leica bodies
40mm is a great focal length and dominated compacts of the 80’s & 90’s
“Undesirable Bokeh” is an opinion and it should not be propagated
Number three and number four above are my opinions and not factual, but hopefully you can agree at the end of this piece. The reason I would want you to agree is for you to see that the Leica 40mm Summicron-C is a great lens and you should buy one now while it is still in average to low demand. In the end you will be getting a great Leica lens for less than the cost that is typical for similar lenses.
40mm Summicron-C, The Most Affordable Leica Lens? No.
The Leica 40mm f2 Summicron-C is often called the “most affordable Leica lens”, “most affordable modern Leica lens”, or “most affordable Leica M glass”. Website reviews and youtube videos state these phrases or versions of them, all of which are pretty much false.
“The Most Affordable Leica Lens”
There’s not much to say here except that this is simply not true. I guess “The most affordable Leica lens” only means a lens made by Leica? Here is a short list of Leica-made standard or wide lenses that you can regularly find for less than the price of the Leica 40mm f2 Summicron-C.
Leica Elmar 50mm f3.5 LTM
Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 M-mount
Leica Summitar 50mm f2 LTM
Leica Elmar 35mm f3.5 LTM
Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5 LTM
“The Most Affordable Modern Leica Lens”
When I hear the term modern lens I think of something like the Zeiss Batis line lenses for digital cameras with autofocus and a built-in LCD. If autofocus is not the indication of a modern lens I don’t know what is. Perhaps lenses coating is the factor that people determine whether a lens is modern or not.
A coated Elmar lens from the 1950’s is definitely modern compared to the uncoated pre-war versions; and the 40mm Summicron-C is surely modern compared to that. But comparing the 1970’s lens coating on the 40mm Summicron-C to a 2010 Summilux-M, the Summicron-C is not modern.
The point here in my opinion is that calling the Leica 40mm f2 Summicron-C modern is subjective. In fact I would call it vintage as it is over 25 years old. So again I would refer you to my list of more affordable Leica lenses above.
“The Most Affordable Leica M-mount Lens”
It’s close but not quite the cheapest Leica M-mount lens out there. Here’s are a few Leica-made M-mount lenses that are more affordable than the Leica 40mm f2 Summicron-C.
Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 M-mount
Leica Elmar-C 90mm f4 M-mount
Leica Elmarit 90mm f2.8 M-mount
Also you can adapt any Leica screw mount lens to an M-mount body with a nearly unnoticeable adapter, all but a few work perfectly on any body. And if you want to get a used non-leica made lens for Leica M-mount, then you have even more options with many around just $300 - like those made by Voigtländer.
“The Most Affordable Fast Leica Lens for M-mount”
My friend pointed this out to me during my writing, that some people say it’s the most affordable fast Leica lens for Leica M mount. Now it’s quite specific with 4 descriptors but - yes on many days it is probably the most affordable fast Leica-made M-mount lens! But what is fast anyway?
Leica 40mm f2 Summicron-C Compatibility Issues
The Leica 40mm f2 Summicron-C was designed for and released along with the Leica CL, Leitz-Minolta CL, as well as rebranded with “Minolta M-Rokkor” for release with the Minolta CLE. It is said over and over (because Leica said it first) that these lenses have focusing compatibility issues when used on any other Leica camera that is not one of the three listed above. You can read the specifics elsewhere, but I don’t believe this, as this lens has been around for over 40 years and I have yet to see any proof of this. So don’t let this anecdote stop you from buying the lens if you want it.
Leica 40mm f2 Summicron-C Strange Focal Length
When talking about the Leica Summicron-C for its focal length, there are two things about it that seem to bother many people. I’m not sure which one is the real issue but I have heard complaints about both. These the things are the 40mm focal length itself, and lack of Leica M-mount cameras that support 40mm frame-lines.
Problems with 40mm Lenses
Many photographers I have talked to don’t like the 40mm focal length, they feel it’s neither wide (like 35mm) nor standard (like 50mm). And they are right, it’s just the length that it’s hard to categorize it, and something about that is unsettling I guess.
But it’s this middle-child curse that is the exact reason why I like this focal length. In fact 40mm has been my favorite focal length for at least 3 years - since back when I got my first 40mm Voigtländer for use on my Bessa R3A (A Leica M-mount camera made by Cosina with built-in 40mm frame lines).
I see a 40mm lens as an asset, in a way - as a 35mm and 50mm. When composing a picture with a 40mm lens I have found that a “lean back” gives about what 35mm lens would, and a big step forward gives the framing of about what a 50mm would. This varies from something like a close up portrait to an infinite landscape, but hopefully you can see the point, which is not to be afraid of the 40, it has chameleon-like abilities!
The Popularity of 40mm Lenses
40mm lenses seem to be very uncommon among interchangeable rangefinder systems - but that’s about it. Most SLR systems have a 40 or 45mm pancake lens, like Contax, Pentax, Minolta, and Olympus for example. And the compact non-interchangeable rangefinder and point and shoot cameras of the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s were filled with them.
A few classics still very well respected today that come to mind are:
Canon Canonet QL17 - 40mm f1.7
Olympus Trip - 40mm f2.8
Contax T & Contax T2- 38mm f2.8
Fuji Klasse - 38mm f2.6
Fuji Klasse S - 38mm f2.8
Ricoh 500 Series - 40mm f2.8
Leica CM - 40mm f2.4
And many more like those from Konica, Yashica, and Vivitar. All these 38 and 40mm fixed lens camera have two big things in common, portability and ease-of-use. Made for anybody to be able to take anywhere. So why the 38 and 40mm lenses?
Obviously it was a well thought out decision of the part of the camera companies, I believe they all determined that if you had one lens this would be the focal length to have; that 40mm is the best all-around focal length. So don’t forget that while today 40mm lenses don’t get a lot of praise, exactly the opposite was true for a few decades, not too long ago.
Leica M Cameras’s with 40mm Frame-lines
So unlike an SLR where the viewfinder looks through the lens to show you what it can see, a rangefinder does not look through the lens but through the body, showing a view wider than the lenses you are suppose to use, and projecting a bright frame showing you what area will be captured by the attached lens.
When mounting a Leica M lens, the lens automatically shows the correct frame-lines in the viewfinder for the focal length of that lens. These adjustable frame-lines started with the Leica M3 in 1954 with three automatically selected frame-lines for 50mm, 90mm, and 135mm lenses (that’s where the 3 in M3 comes from).
So again unlike an SLR, the frame-lines you can see are only ones built into the camera. The problem is that Leica only made 2 or 3 cameras with frame-lines showing exactly what you will get with 40mm (if I’m not mistaken). These Leica’s with 40mm frame-lines are the same as mentioned earlier, the ones that the 40mm lens was made for - makes sense!
Solutions for Using a 40mm Lens on Leica-M Film Camera
The first problem is a lack of 40mm frame-lines on Leica bodies. The second problem and maybe even worse, is that the Summicron-C is designed to bring up the 50mm frame-lines when mounted on a Leica! What a shame because if it were to bring up the 35mm frame-lines, that’s so close to 40mm that you could just use that. So what to do?
Hamish Gill at 35mm.com has a nice review of this lens, and on this topic he sums it up pretty well. There are about 4 solutions to this problem, and I’ll add two bonus ones as well, which are my personal favorites.
Manually toggle the frame-line preview lever
Under the viewfinder you can tilt the lever to toggle the other frame-lines of the camera. You can usually switch between 35 and 50 and more easily estimate what 40mm would look like. A very decent solution.
Jam the frame-line preview lever
Using some paper you can jam the preview lever into the 35mm position, but that’s still not 40. Inelegant!
Don’t twist the lens on all the way
By not twisting the lens on all the way you can avoid activating the 50mm frame-lines and activate the 35mm. This presents all sorts of problems though, including your lens falling off. Not recommended!
Sanding off some metal on the back of the lens
If you can somehow cut the metal on the back of the lens to emulate the correct shape of the rear of a 35mm M-mount lens you can get the camera to trigger the 35mm lines while fully mounted. Not recommended!
BONUS - Use a 40mm external optical viewfinder
No frame-lines no problem. Aside from the Voigtländer Bessa R4, no other rangefinder has a viewfinder showing frame-lines for 21mm or wider, and external finder must be used. So why not just use one for 40mm? The Voigtländer 40mm plastic viewfinder is one of the most beautiful viewfinders I have ever looked through, and with no light loss it’s much brighter than any Leica rangefinder viewfinder.
BONUS - Use the 50mm lines, compose slightly differently
Here’s a tip to to shoot a 40mm lens of 50mm frame-lines that’s my solution of choice. Just use the 50mm lines that naturally appear in the Leica when mounting this lens. Instead of using the 50mm line to perfectly compose your desired image, compose your images where the edges of your subject or subjects lie directly on the 50mm lines. This way you can use the lines to compose the important bits and know that there is a nice frame of extra image that will be added safely padding your subject. If I was using a 50mm lens I would leave a border in most cases anyway, inside the frame-lines. So with the 40mm lens, use the 50mm frame-lines as the inside of your border. See below.
Bad or Ugly Bokeh of the Leica Summicron-C
Bad or ugly bokeh is a claim that follows this lens throughout the forums, articles, and video reviews. If someone who never read any talk about the Summicron-C having bad bokeh used this lens, I really don’t think they would have any thoughts about bokeh quality when looking at their pictures.
Some people call it “ugly” and that “__x__ lens has way better bokeh” with no further explanation. I think they are influenced by what they previously read from someone else and regurgitating that information themselves in an endless libel loop.
Usually I’m concerned with the parts of the frame that are in focus, and sometimes the amount of bokeh (based on the aperture and focus distance), but the quality of the bokeh has never independently entered my mind when viewing my pictures. I think all of this talk should be widely ignored and not scare you away from buying the lens.
What a wonderful luxury we have though to debate the quality of bokeh between Summicrons. If you shy away from the bokeh of the Summicron-C, I would like to see what you think of my 500mm catadioptric lens!
I’ve only shot about 5 or 6 rolls with this lens so more reviews in insights are forthcoming. If your looking for a Leica 40mm Summicron-C for sale, please consider Kamerastore.com, they are a friend and the place I trust to buy all my gear from.
With that here are the rest of the images. A few towards the end are from Budapest, Hungary.
Interested in more film articles with pictures shot in Serbia? Just click the tag! [Serbia]