So, this happens when you can’t find a better offer for a film camera alone…
When I bought my Leica R5, it came with this little box in a bundle (or was it the other way around? Read this article to find out more about the camera).
The Summicron-R 90mm f/2 is considered favourite for the R system by many. It’s a Mandler design after all, known for extraordinary contrasty images, although quite soft and dreamy. I’m curious to see if that holds true.
After taking it out of the box, I was somewhat surprised. It’s a rather chubby little lens (only 62,5mm long, but 70mm wide), very heavy (560g), and built like a tank. I know, I say that a lot, but no other lens in my entire collection (except for my 85L maybe) feels as dense as this one.
Another quick snapshot I took after unpacking the lens. Say hi to my new king of lenscoatings!
The lens in detail
As you might have gathered, I’m a big admirer of Walter Mandler, ever since I bought the Elmarit-R 135mm f/2.8.
My copy of the Summicron-R 90mm f/2 has the serial number 3128744, which tells me (looking it up in this database) that the lens was manufactured in 1981.
The lens has a metal hood built in, which I find genius and really well constructed. The hood is made of 2 parts, so it’s very compact when collapsed. The lens will also extend when focussing to the minimum focus distance, without the front element rotating.
Above you see first the collapsed lens, then the hood pulled out and lastly the lens focused to its minimum focus distance (which is only 70cm).
The focus ring isn’t too loose but not too stiff either. Sporting a very long focus throw (about 270°), it’s a pleasure to focus this lens. The same can be said for the aperture ring. You get great feedback when working the aperture and won’t change it by accident.
The aperture consists of 8 rounded blades
As I said above, the lens is built like a tank. It feels great in your hand and because it’s so short, the center of the mass won’t result in a front-heavy setup with my comparably small Leica R5.
The lens is in perfect condition, I would rate it as “mint”.
The front element is huge and the multicoatings are simply beautiful
All reflections coming from one umbrella as you can see when the hood is extended
The lens really is quite compact, much like some of my fast 50mm lenses.
Here’s a very quick and unscientific snapshot to see how the lens renders.
One of my light stands indoors, against the window. As you can see, wide open the lens isn’t very impressive sharpness-wise, rendering a very dreamy softness with strong aberrations, but the contrast is quite impressive already. Once you stop it down to f/2.8, however, it delivers a punchy sharpness and contrast.
Above: Shot at f/2, iso 200, 1/200s
Above: f/2.8, iso 200, 1/200s
On my balcony there are two once-upon-a-time pretty bamboo torches for cozy summer nights. They made a great subject to see how the background (the hedge along the garden, the river and forest further away) in large distances is being rendered by a lens.
First up wide open. I’m already in love with this how this lens renders bokeh.
Stopped down to f/2.8 the bokeh is still very smooth and creamy, but the image gains overall in sharpness.
More Sample Images
A few days ago, I went on a short stroll (30 minutes) around the neighborhood and brought the 50mm and the 90mm Summicron along with me. I wanted to take some typical test images to examine the lens’ behaviour. Whereas I had felt okay with processing the files from the 50mm using the Velvia 100F preset, I couldn’t do this to the files from the 90mm. They all looked incredibly weird that way, with way too much contrast and saturation.
Instead, I applied other presets, like Fuji Pro 400H, Provia 100F, Kodak Portra 160 or 400, depending on how I liked the saturation, contrast and colours that resulted.
Images were captured handheld, focus achieved using the optical finder only. I did not remove chromatic aberrations, of which the lens certainly does produce some. To the right, I show some (near) 100% crops to better see sharpness, aberrations, glow, etc.
I really liked this lonely chair at the “cliff” (there’s a drop maybe 30m down through the forest into the river, with no fence to keep you from falling). The bokeh rendition is gorgeous, even with the subject nearly 5m away and the background rather close.
The lens is not nearly as sharp wide open as the 50mm or the 135mm, but it’s still plenty sharp and the Bokeh is on par with my beloved 85mm f/1.2L II USM as far as I can tell for now.
More on the Bokeh for close subjects and very close background.
The foreground bokeh is rather strange, but I didn’t focus on that, so this is the only image where there was something with a complex shape in front of the subject (the red branch below the green one in focus exhibits a strange pattern).
Some images I captured in the shade, during a short period with clouds covering the sun
They left a trail of.. whatever that is.. Also notice the strong bokeh fringing (green outlines) in the background behind the berries in focus.
The lens exhibits a beautiful glow around the focal plane
This image shows two things. Firstly, shooting against the sun does not influence the contrast at all. Secondly, this lens really has to handle a lot of green fringing wide open.
Another example for that beautiful glow you get.
This image was shot up against the sun, yet it has no effect on the result. The contrast still is amazing.
Here’s one I shot into the sun, to look at flaring patterns. (I forgot to reduce the iso, so the shutter capped at 1/8000s and the image was overexposed, but thanks to RAW files I could pull it back 2 stops to make the ghost visible.) Considering the huge front element, I’d say this lens handles shooting against the sun better than most other lenses I have tested so far.
I promise to deliver “good” sample images sometime in the future, but you’ll have to be patient. (Probably won’t make it before September)
Today I brought my camera with me when I went out to buy some film (5 rolls of Portra 400) for my USA road trip starting this weekend. I had the 90mm and 50mm Summicrons with me, but used the 90mm more. All shots wide open (I guess it’s obvious that I like my lenses wide open..)
This is the legendary Zytglogge (freely translated, it means “Time Bell”) in Bern, where hundreds of tourists gather every full hour to witness.. I’ve got no idea what, have never seen it myself.
As you can see, the 90mm lens is plenty sharp wide open, if the cicrumstances allow. However, the vignetting is also pretty impressive if you ask me. (ps: I’ve got no idea what this figure/guy is doing up there.. I’m more impressed with the fine detail or that structure he’s standing in.)
This is the famous “Käfigturm” (“Cage Tower”)
There’s a few things to see here. First off, the old town in Bern is full of electric tram wires that mess with your images. Then, you can see that the details is still pretty awesome, although the focal plane is several meters in front of the tower itself (upper left in the crop). Lastly, the 90mm handles chromatic aberrations astonishingly well here. A few metal parts in the image are glowing a bright purple, but that’s about it.
I had to reduce contrast in this image. The 90mm Summicron really is a punchy beast.
In this image, the fine detail in the umbrella (a chain of small and large hearts along the rim) is barely visible because of the extreme contrast of the scene
I spotted these ladies with their accessory (the Swiss are world leaders when it comes to skin cancer, most of them don’t even use sunscreen, let alone an umbrella..) and quickly grabbed a single frame at the beep of my focus confirmation. Interestingly, this time the chip seems to be spot on (pun intended).
The last image I took today, unfortunately without the massive bumblebee that was sitting on this petal right until before I had my focus right (you can make out his slimmer cousin in the background, but the bumblebee was gone).
Here you can see that the lens is much softer than the 50mm. Also, the bokeh balls take on the shapes of cats eyes the closer you get to the image borders.
Update – September 2016
Finally, here are some portraits shot with the Summicron-R 90mm f/2
Some more samples from 2017
Took me quite a while to realise that the focus confirmation was 2 clicks off, so I had front-focus a lot of the time I used this lens. Now it’s pretty accurate at portrait distances.