Window Shop Serendipity and the 50mm Summilux ASPH

A few months ago I was asked to direct and produce a series of short cooking shows for Channel Five in the UK called “Meals in Moments”. On the same day, I was walking past a camera shop and saw a secondhand lens for sale. It just happened to be the 50mm Summilux  ASPH. I have the 35mm Summicron v4 and 90mm Elmarit 2.8 but have been longing for a faster piece of glass to add to my collection. In certain situations, I have pushed film more than I wished, adding unwanted grain to some of my photos as a result.

So here is this legendary Leica lens staring at me through the window. I have read many articles about it and due to the launch of the Leica M9, it is getting quite rare to find. Surely it would be too expensive. Well, I had to look twice at the price tag. It was 1/2 the going price! I thought something had to be wrong and the lens must be in a bad state. Thankfully, I had my M6 with me so I could shoot a few test shots. I popped in to the store to check it out. The first thing that struck me was the Summilux’s weight. I am used to my 35mm ‘cron which is a lot lighter but for added stop you need extra glass. The ‘lux was in perfect condition…super clean, only a couple of cosmetic marks.

The second thing that struck me was that the shape of end glass was concave instead of convex. What’s that all about? Anyway…I clicked it into M-mount and started to take some shots of the darker interiors of the shop. I had aperture and speed. Amazing! The aperture ring clicked beautifully. The only fault I felt was the focusing ring could have been faster and smoother. The store allowed me to put down a deposit so I could check the results and if I was happy would purchase the ‘lux. They were great and I did.

Production of “Meals in Moments” went in to full swing and my Summilux purchase presented me with a great opportunity. I was getting to make a series which invites some of the UK’s celebrities along to cook one of their favorite dishes. Some of these celebrities included world traveller Charlie Boorman, forever Olympian Iwan Thomas and comedian Rowland Rivron. Whenever we were on downtime I took photos.

I think the results speak for themselves. After I forced myself to use this lens throughout the summer, I found that the Summilux is a fantastic all-rounder. All the images at 2.8-8 have real “pop” but it’s with portraiture that it really shines. The pictures are more intimate because as a photographer you have to get a bit closer to your subject to fill the 50mm frame, and then there is the “magic” that happens at f1.4. This piece of glass starts going into Noctilux territory!

After a couple of months of using the fabled Summilux 50mm Asph’ what did I think? I am not sure it will replace the 35mm ‘cron as my Leica lens of choice, as you can’t beat the V4’s weight, bokeh, its response and “story-telling abilities” but the ‘lux may replace my 90mm Elmarit as my portrait lens. I also spoke to Leica UK about the possibility of loosening the focus ring, as I like to shoot “fast and loose”. I was told this wasn’t a problem and at a very reasonable price the engineers at Leica would be able to help me out.

I found myself a beauty and it’s one I’d not be without.

-Robert Callway

This is a guest post by Robert Callway who has his own production company Nilsfilm which produces corporate promos and documentaries. Also a cameraman and, occasional, photographer, Robert has shot a number of prime-time C4/BBC documentaries including C4’s “30 Minutes with…”, BBC’s “The Nine Lives Of Alice Martineau” (BAFTA winner) and Living’s “Paranormal Egypt.” He prefers his images to tell the story and never leaves home without his Leica M6. For more pictures and information, visit his website Nilsfilm.