An Unusual 35mm f/3.5 Elmar

Feb 15, 2019  By Dick Gilcreast

Did you ever wonder how Eisenstaedt got that famous available light shot of the girl in the box at the La Scala Opera House with such a nice flat field when using his wide angle lens wide open? Or Stackpole’s wide angle shot of the Mayor of Paoli reading a newspaper on Main Street, perfectly sharp
from the newspaper four feet away to the clock face on top of the town hall tower way across the street? Both pictures were made in the 1930’s using Leitz wide angle 35mm f/3.5 Elmar lenses. And both pictures reveal both deep depth and a very flat field. The first shot was made wide open with focus only about four or five feet away, with the distant tiers of balcony
boxes somewhat beyond the depth of field, but showing no curvature. And the second showed sharp and deep depth at a small aperture all the way from four feet at the bottom of the frame to infinity at the top edge.

The focus lever of this 35mm Elmar is located at the 12 o’clock position when mounted on a Leica. The lens has the standardized “0” mark,
but is not rangefinder coupled. And, being a close-focus version, almost the entire circle of the lens flange is used for the distance scale down to 19 inches.

Most of us old timers have tried 35mm Elmars at one point or another and found them almost always to have a more or less curved field, especially wide open. This is also true of the 35mm f/3.5 Summarons. Well, some early 35 Elmars did have flat fields, and some of those selected 35 Elmars were
used by professionals well into the 1950’s -such as by the two photographers above, as well as in W. Eugene Smith’s famous Spanish Village and Nurse Midwife photo essays, for instance. After that there were no really flat field 35’s until the first Summicron came out in 1958 – along with that unbeliev- ably wide f/2 aperture!

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