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50mm 1:2 shootout - Minolta vs Leica - almost an upset!

Jefenator

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Last winter I got a very old 50mm Leitz (Leica) Summicron-R (1:2 SLR) lens. In my experience, Leica lenses have a certain “search over” quality – trying to find another lens that is better-built or optically superior would probably be a waste of time.

But, like many legacy lens nuts, I can’t resist a great bargain. I kept hearing about the Minolta MD 50mm 1:2 lenses and how they were really sharp from wide open. Could this be true? Is this lens – available by the dozen on eBay for $25 – potentially a Summicron killer?

rokkor-leitz-2.jpg
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At first, it appeared that the answer was: yes! Do my eyes deceive me or is the Rokkor actually kicking the Leica’s ass?

peeping-50-stop-sign.jpg
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This wasn’t just a fluke or a focus mistake, either – I repeated this result several times!

On the other hand, I also did manage to produce a convincing tie with my newly-devised self-portrait test.

peeping-w-o-portrait.jpg
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Nonetheless, at this point I’m thinking: what am I keeping the old Leitz around for? I could sell just this one lens for $350 and recoup what I paid for most of my old Rokkors, combined. (I even thought of selling my other Leitz acquisitions while I’m at it - that could recoup a lot of other things!)
 

Jefenator

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Why hang on to the Summicron? I'll tell you why...

Well, for starters, there’s the construction and handling. The Leitz is a heavy little sucker but it feels so darn good to shoot with. The focus action is dampened perfectly with absolutely zero play and the action is extra fine. (270º spread vs 180º for the same minimum focus distance.) The Minolta has a teeny bit of play – it’s not hard to focus, but it’s definitely not as pleasant. Ditto the aperture ring. (This particular Rokkor feels rougher and flimsier than most other Minolta lenses I’ve handled.)

Still, for $325, I could overlook all that. Unfortunately, I discovered something in the optics. Check this out:

peeping-curvature.jpg
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peeping-minolta-landscape.jpg
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Ack!! What’s going on in the corner with the Rokkor?

When I re-focus on the corner, that part looks much better but the rest of the frame is way out of focus.

peeping-corner-minolta.jpg
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Do the same with the Leitz and the rest of the frame is actually not too bad.

peeping-corner-leitz.jpg
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The Leitz has a fair amount of field curvature, but it’s convex - the kind that actually comes in very handy for landscapes. I also enjoy a nice flat field but I do not think that the Rokkor field is flat – I think it might be concave. Even at f/11 I find it’s a real bear to try and get a sharp foreground and background, in ways I’ve never experienced with any other lens.

I would have loved to have been able to brag about retiring the Summicron with a $25 lens. Alas, it was not to be. The Rokkor does work great for many things, particularly shallow focus candid shots. The wide-open performance is undeniably impressive, and it is comparatively light. It may still earn its keep on some occasions when I want my mirrorless camera to feel like a mirrorless camera (as opposed to a brick with a camera strap).

rokkor-leitz-1.jpg
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mingus2112

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I'd like to see how that Leitz goes up against a 50mm MD Rokkor F1.4 shot at F2.

I agree! And not in the "I think it will win" kind of way. (although, who knows, maybe it will) I'm just a Rokkor guy who loves to see comparisons between Rokkors and other, similar, lenses. It boosts my ego and curbs my GAS! ;) (Assuming, of course, the Rokkor comes off doing fairly well!)
 

Jefenator

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I don't think it's decentering on the Rokkor, as I have noticed the same behavior pretty much equally in all 4 corners.

Funny you [jai] should mention stopping a f/1.4 lens down to f/2. I have long felt that the best f/2 lens is a stopped down 1.4 and in fact, my old MC Rokkor-PG 50mm 1:1.4 is my current favorite for that. The detail is sharper with less haze and the bokeh is nicer! (I'll try and post some comparisons later if I have time.)

I know the Leitz R-series has a 50/1.4 that I'd love to try, but for the price those are going for, I might as well just get the Sony/Zeiss FE 55/1.8. Also, I'm guessing it would be really stinking heavy...

I have had a bit of a fascination with 1:2 lenses, though, because they are cheaper and smaller and I know it should be theoretically possible to make one that is super clean, wide open. (Perhaps without quite going to the lengths Leica has gone to with their latest APO-Summicron-M which apparently approaches metaphysical perfection but is $8000.)

It seems to me like the Leitz was designed and built to be as good as they could possibly make such a lens in the early 1960s, while the Rokkor was more the "kit" lens of its time. The issues I am experiencing with the corners were likely of little to no concern for most people who bought this lens new in the late 1970s. It probably did absolutely great for family snapshots. Folks wanting to make big enlargements of landscapes would probably invest in the more deluxe faster 50mm (as I am doing now) or use a larger film format.
 

GabrielPhoto

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I agree! And not in the "I think it will win" kind of way. (although, who knows, maybe it will) I'm just a Rokkor guy who loves to see comparisons between Rokkors and other, similar, lenses. It boosts my ego and curbs my GAS! ;) (Assuming, of course, the Rokkor comes off doing fairly well!)
You are not alone :D
I like to look for comparisons to my Canon FD lenses now that I have this new love affair with FD glass :D
 

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