the leica thambar-m 90mm f/2.2 GOING OLD HOLLYWOOD

Apr 13, 2018 

In 2016 Leica started reissuing their old legendary lenses with the first one of this series being the Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 and later followed with this new version of the Thambar, the Leica Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2 on October 17th 2017.

The original 90mm Thambar f/2.2 is one of the true Leica cult lenses, one of the legendary lenses which people tend to love or hate. I belong to the first category who loves the Thambar, but I feel it’s often misunderstood or not used in the right way.

Just as the original, the new Thambar-M 90 f/2.2 is a soft focus lens which creates dreamily romantic photos with a unique bokeh, which is created by undercorrected spherical aberrations. Shooting wide open at f/2.2 or f/2.4 increases the soft focus effect. Using the included center spot filter results in an even more intense soft focus glow.

The original lens dates from 1935 and is sought after by many Leica collectors. I am fortunate to own an original Thambar in LTM mount. Mine comes with the original center spot filter, lens cap and hood. Unfortunately mine didn’t come with the original leather pouch.

I feel that for what I do, Fine Art photography with a vintage twist and retro vibe, the Thambar is the right tool and that’s why I purchased it. I do not keep the old Thambar in a safe but use it very frequently.

So what is the difference between the old and the new Thambar?

Well not a lot and that’s the good thing. The lenses behave the same and show almost the same results. The new version has a lot of benefits over the old one. Firstly, the old Thambar is considered a collector’s item, so the availability of examples in good, clean condition are very scarce. Secondly, the new Thambar has lens coating which the original Thambar did not, which means deeper contrast and it is much easier to handle which results in sharper photos, better calibration on a rangefinder camera and there is 6-bit coding of course. (Note: Leica just released a new firmware 3.1 for the Leica SL which will recognise the new Thambar. I did this shoot prior to the release of the new firmware.)

The new Thambar comes in a luxurious presentation box, like the Noctilux. The lens comes in a shiny black paint finish, with the lens cap and hood in the same finish, the center spot filter and a gorgeous leather lens pouch.

Unfortunately, the new center spot filter and hood do not fit the old Thambar LTM lens.

Models love the Thambar.

When Bill Rosauer from the LHSA offered to provide me a loaner version of the new Thambar from Leica AG to compare it with the old version, I was very enthusiastic and I wanted to do a special photoshoot.

I wanted to show how the Thambar can be used to take photos like those in the 1920’s or 30’s but using a modern camera like the Leica Monochrom (CCD) or the Leica SL. I shoot a lot of burlesque events and portraits and I meet a lot of great artists and models who love the old Hollywood era. When I brought my Thambar in LTM mount to one of the events, all the female artist were interested in this lens and when I showed them the photos they all reacted very enthusiastically. This made my decision to do a photoshoot in the old Hollywood glamour style with three different models. I wanted keep it very simple, with a neutral background, and not too many accessories, I would use a maximum of two strobes: one main light with a deep octa softbox and one hair light with a honeycomb. I used the Thambar closed down just a little bit around f/3.4 to f/4.0 and always used it with the center spot filter. Combined with the right light this resulted in a buttery smooth skin texture, with enough detail to show the accessories of the model and the right amount of glow.

Best practices on using the Thambar for portraits.

The Thambar can be used for many of types of photography, but it truly shines as a portrait lens.

Some best practices for how to use the Thambar for portraits:

  • The lens is wonderful wide open at f/2.2, but in my opinion the best results can be achieved when you stop it down to f/3.2 to f/4.0. Don’t close it down too much because then the magic will disappear and the Thambar merely becomes a very sharp lens portrait lens.

  • Always use the center spot filter. This is how to create the buttery soft skin tones and you will make George Hurrell jealous! Using the CS filter will also save you a lot of time editing skin and blemishes in PhotoShop or Lightroom. Women will thank you for this result!
  • Use a neutral background. Th is can be in studio on an even white or dark background or outside using the sky or similar. Place your model further away from the background; you want your model to be in the center of the attention, not the background!
  • Use soft lightning. Th is can be natural diff used window light or studio lights with a big soft box like the 120mm deep Octa I used as a main light.
  • Play with the light. I used a hair light which the Th ambar throws beautifully and makes the hair of the models pop even more. Th is can also be done by placing the model right before the sun rays. Th is a technique which George Hurrell also used for his old Hollywood glamour portraits.
  • Take a lot of photos, it’s not always easy to get the focus right with the Thambar because of the small DOF.

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