A Full Range of Focal Lengths for Leica Screw-Mount Cameras

Sep 26, 2019  By Dick Gilcreast

For anyone interested in using the older Leica screw-mount cameras, it is possible to put together a full-range system of coated SM lenses from
21mm to 400mm that can be quite competitive with those from Leica SLR and M camera systems. Here is a set I have used over the years, found capable of excellent image quality during their years of use — and I wish I had all of them back today! Of course there were plenty of alternative lenses that did well, some of them listed, but the featured set is the SM primaries I used and liked best during their time.

Started first freelancing in 1954-55 while still in college; 1956-57 in the Navy while attached to the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team. After that was some school teaching while getting back into freelancing for magazines, school and camp catalogs, and some regional commercial and architectural photography. Winding down since the 1990’s, it’s been mainly local publicity, regional scenic photo card sales, family, grandkids, and my column in Viewfinder. The included pictures show some of the subjects this set of SM lenses was used for. All of these photos were made with screw-mount lenses, and most with SM cameras, even though the M cameras had became my primaries by the 1960’s, along with a reflex or two. As time went on, some of the SM lenses were traded for mere modern equivalents, but a few can be found on the favorite SM cameras I still use today. Not included in the above list are any of the very early uncoated lenses, some of which can also be good performers.


21mm f/4 Super-Angulon

Super-Angulon 21mm f/4

First available in 1958, the widest option for the Leica was the 21mm f/4 Super-Angulon. I got mine in 1960. It was produced in SM mount as well as adapted to M mount, from which the adapter can be removed, so either version can be used on SM cameras. A valuable asset is the closest focus of 40cm — 16 inches — much closer than the rangefinder can track, which makes the lens useful for realistic rendering for such things as architect’s models or model railroad layouts, besides the usual full size buildings and interiors and landscapes. At closest focus range this lens outperformed the later f/3.4 Super-Angulon-M at the edges and corners.


28mm f/5.6 Summaron

Before the 21 Super Angulon appeared in 1958, the 28 had always been the widest focal length available from Leitz. I bought this lens in 1957 during Navy days for its extra-wide flat field. Originally produced only in SM mount, it has just recently been revived in M mount. This shot of a Texas thunderhead was made at an altitude of 46,000 feet — nearly nine miles high — to stay above the tops of the weather during across-country flight that day in the back seat of a Navy two-place F9F-8T Cougar. From original on Kodachrome.

Alternative 28mm also used: 28mm f/3.5 Nikkor in Leica SM mount used in the 1970’s.


35mm f/2 Summicron

The first high-speed 35mm lens from Leica was the f/2 Summicron of 1958 — initially available in SM mount, but also in M mount with adapter which can be removed. Illustrated is my early black anodized M version of 1959 with removed adapter, used for many years on both SM and M cameras. Focus on the M camera version goes down to 70cm — 28 inches

— so be aware of the one-meter focus limit while used on an SM camera rangefinder. The ultra-rare original SM version had its focus limit at the usual one meter. The specialty of this lens is available light, as seen here during the finale of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta at Harvard.

Alternative 35’s that were also used:

  • 35mm f/1.8 Canon, bought and used from 1957 until the f/2 Summicron.
  • 35mm f/3.5 Summaron — only option before 1957. Curvature of field can be variable, so test before buying.


50mm f/1.4 Nikkor

The first high-speed 50 with sharp and contrasty wide open image quality was the 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor, used and publicized by David Douglas Duncan in Korea in 1950. Available in Leica SM mount, mine was bought new in 1955 and used during Navy days. Focus goes closer than 1 meter, but there is a small detent in the focus action at that point as a reminder not to go beyond it.

The photo of the diamond roll of F9F-8 Cougars was made in 1956 with my lllf and 50 Nikkor, seen from the back seat of a Lockheed TV-2 chase plane. The later F11 F-1 Tiger aircraft the team started flying in 1957 were mainly photographed using my newly bought M3 and rigid M mount 50mm Summicron, but with the SM cameras and lenses providing good backup. An available light shot made inside one of the British Navy cruiser HMS Kenya’s forward turrets — showing the Nikkor’s closeup image quality wide open at f/1.4 — while the Royal Marine gun captain explains the breech mechanism.

Alternative SM 50mm lenses that were also used:

  • 50mm f/3.5 red scale Elmar — Sharp and compact to carry, and using common filters, but not fast in low light.
    • 50mm f/2 Summicron collapsible, a good choice for both speed and compact carrying. Image quality is apt to be variable, however, so test before buying.
    • 50mm f/2 Summitar — consistently good image quality
    • 50mm f/1.2 Canon Used in the 1970s. RF synch can be slightly variable, so test before buying.


85mm f/2 Nikkor

The 85mm f/2 Nikkor in Leica SM mount was used by the author in three variants, all of good image quality and, most important, consistent RF synch, which was not the case with two other makes of higher speed short teles I tried at the time. Bought my first all-brass Nikkor in 1956, while in the Navy, when Leica’s only options at the time were the 90mm f/4 Elmar or the 85mm f/1.5 Summarex.

Seen here an 85mm shot made during the filming of “The Wings of Eagles” in Pensacola during 1956, starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, and Dan Daily. Seen here are Miss O’Hara, Daily, and a group of actors walking back from the Stutz Bearcat for a second take after a mass rush from the water to the car. She had to do all this while soaking wet, and with only one high-heeled shoe.

85mm f/2 Nikkor
85mm f/2 Nikkor

During a wildlife demonstration for a group of kids in a school gymnasium. Here the 85 was useful for reaching over the group to get a closeup — and the reaction.

Alternative short fast telephoto:

  • Tried the 85mm f/1.5 Summarex briefly after 1959. Worked well, but very heavy.
  • 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit in SM mount — from 1960 lens head used on Visoflex with OTZFO focus mount ( 16464) for macro work in the field.


135mm f/4.5 Hektor

135mm f/4.5 Hektor — Several of various vintages used by the author since 1957 with consistent results. Here seen used for sports and wildlife with SM camera rangefinder. But also use- ful with Visoflex 11 for macro work, as in the photo using the lens head with Visoflex and Bellows 11.
Alternative 135: 125mm f/2.5 Hektor used briefly in 1957 on a modified Novoflex reflex housing with 45 degree prism finder, mainly for the larger viewing image.


200mm f/4 Telyt

200mm f/4 Telyt-V — used after 1960 on SM mount Visa II with OUBIO (16466) adapter, as seen in photo, which made the rig an excellent handheld SLR. Particularly excellent when using the FOCORAPID mount for sports action, but also with wildlife. The rule was to eliminate any time lost stopping down, so focus and shoot at f/4 or f/5.6 all the time.


400mm f/6.8 Telyt

400mm f/6.8 Telyt-V — Used after 1970. Lens in Visoflex mount (not R mount) can bemounted directly onto Viso II with no extra adapter. Excellent for handheld use with shoulder stock, providing a very steady handhold combined with quick focus. Again, little or no stopping down used or needed, as in the two photos shown.

400mm f/6.8 Telyt

Alternative 400: 400mm f/5 Telyt lens head adapted to FOCORAPID mount from about 1965. Worked well, but very front-heavy. Quickly went to the f/6.8 when it came out.

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