You Can’t Use Old Lenses On Digital Cameras! Or Can You? An Extensive Test With The Leica M8 Just Might Change Your Thinking Page 2

Fast 50mm lenses are great on the M8 as "short teles," and I have already praised the 135mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit-M. I use the 75mm f/2 and 90mm f/2 Summicrons less on the M8 than on film: less, arguably, than "special effect" lenses such as the 50mm f/1.2 Canon and the 90mm f/2.2 Thambar.

Spiral staircase. You can see what I mean about flare with the 50mm f/1.2 Canon at f/22. The building (which is in Poitiers) dates from about 1545.

With the D70, I greatly prefer fast lenses, simply because they are so much easier to focus. The 35mm f/2 ZF Distagon is a winner (47mm equivalent), and the 135mm f/2.3 and 200mm f/3 Vivitar Series Ones become the equivalents of a 180mm f/2.3 (1/3 stop slower than f/2) and 300mm f/3 (1/6 stop slower than f/2.8), both at bargain prices. The 50mm f/2 Zeiss Makro-Planar becomes a 75mm equivalent, and is gorgeous: that's what I used for the picture of the 23 lenses.

Will I ever give up film? I think it very unlikely indeed. But increasingly, I use digital alongside film, at least in color (there's no contest in black and white), especially with those lenses where I can get "double mileage" by using them on both film and digital. And now I'm on the lookout for more old Leica-fit lenses...

Notes On M8 With "Non-Digital" Lenses
1. Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 Super-Wide-Heliar (20mm equivalent). A sensation when it was released, the incredibly compact Super-Wide-Heliar was superb on the M8, too. I no longer have a 20mm finder (they should be available from Kiev USA) but 21mm is close enough, and I often use this lens without looking through the finder, aiming by dead reckoning, with the ISO equivalent set to 2500 (the maximum available on the M8). This is an amazing low-light reportage combination.

2. Kobalux 21mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent). Very fast for such a wide angle, but (by rangefinder standards) bulky. Excellent image quality. No bright-line frame in the M8 but a 28mm accessory finder works perfectly. Adorama (who supplied mine) might do well to reintroduce these.

3. Voigtländer 21mm f/4 Color-Skopar (28mm equivalent). Much more compact than the Kobalux, similar quality, a stop slower.

4. Voigtländer 28mm f/1.9 Ultron. I had expected this to be my standard fast lens, but it is bulky and was let down by an increasingly jerky focusing mount. I bought this lens new when it came out and am disappointed that it already needs a CLA.

5. Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, last pre-aspheric version (47mm equivalent). My standard lens on 35mm, it suffers from bad coma but with the reduced image area this problem is ameliorated, too. A handy fast lens, and not too long, but
not outstanding.

6. Voigtländer 35mm f/1.7 Ultron (47mm equivalent). Better image quality than the elderly Summilux but ergonomically inferior (no focusing spur). This, rather than the extra half stop, is why I prefer the Summilux.

7. Voigtländer 35mm f/2.5 Color-Skopar (47mm equivalent). Good image quality, tiny, compact, with a focusing spur, and inexpensive. Given that I have no great objection to increasing the ISO equivalent when needed, I'd probably choose this over the old Summilux or even Ultron if I were buying only for digital, but for dual use, the Summilux gets the nod.

8. Leica 35mm f/2.8 Summaron "spectacles" model (47mm equivalent). This reduces the 50mm frame on an M3 finder to match the 35mm focal length (not needed on an M8). It also reduces the effective base length (and therefore the accuracy) of the rangefinder and is handicapped by a poisonous and hard-to-disable infinity lock. This example also needed repair, because the rangefinder was off both vertically and for distance on all the M-series Leicas on which I tried it. Optically adequate, but about my least favorite of the lenses tested--thanks anyway, Senggye.

9. Leica 50mm f/1 Noctilux (67mm equivalent). Clear proof that sharpness isn't everything, especially when speed is everything. I love this lens (thanks again, Senggye) and would buy one if I could afford it. Depth of field at full aperture is of course wafer-thin.

10. Canon 50mm f/1.2 (67mm equivalent). The big drawback to this lens is flare, which flattens contrast and desaturates color. But both are remediable in Adobe's Photoshop, and its "signature" is like nothing else I have ever used (which is why I keep it). Even though it's surprisingly sharp, it's so distinctive that I wouldn't want it as my only 50mm. The infinity lock is easily disabled.

11. Voigtländer 50mm f/1.5 Nokton (67mm equivalent). Much less flare than the Canon, and sharper at wide apertures (f/1.5 to f/2.8) and small ones (f/11 and below). A much more usable general-purpose fast lens.

12. Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron ASPH, current model, bar-coded (67mm equivalent). The best image quality of the lot--as good at full aperture, with the lens recognition software activated, as most other lenses at their best. With the lens software turned off, there was little to chose between this and the older Summicron (below).

13. Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron Dual-Range (67mm equivalent). Superb. The "spectacles" allow focus down to about 19" (50cm). If you can find one, a bargain alternative to the 90mm f/4 Macro-Elmar for close-ups. If I owned this, it might be my standard 50mm lens, but I borrowed it from Senggye.

14. Voigtländer 50mm f/2 Heliar Classic. Although the Heliar design is "stretched" at f/2, it's surprisingly good even at full aperture. Collapsible, but as it does not collapse very far there is no danger of damaging the camera if you do collapse it.

15. Voigtländer 50mm f/2.5 Color-Skopar (67mm equivalent). Tiny, beautifully built, and a delight to use. If you can live with the speed (turn up the ISO), a delight.

16. Leica 50mm f/3.5 Elmar (67mm equivalent). Probably the oldest lens I tried, dating from 1936. One of only three uncoated lenses tested. Perfectly usable, but never outstandingly sharp and mainly of historical interest: I wouldn't dare try to use it without taping the barrel so I couldn't collapse it, as this brings a very real danger of doing expensive damage to the M8. Infinity-locked again, but the least troublesome of the three in this respect.

17. Leica 65mm f/3.5 Elmar (87mm equivalent). The shortest focal length that will focus to infinity on a Visoflex reflex housing. This is one of the cheaper routes into a top-quality 10-megapixel SLR, though metering is slow and inconvenient (you have to raise the mirror and meter at the shooting aperture). Even so, I find it incredibly useful: most of my illustrations of equipment nowadays are shot using this combination. Otherwise I normally use the Nikon D70 and 90mm f/2.5 Vivitar Series One Macro.

18. Leica 75mm f/2 Summicron (100mm equivalent). Probably the ultimate fast, general-purpose long lens for the M8. Even my non-bar-coded version delivered stunning quality. Fairly specialized, though.

19. Leica 90mm f/2 Summicron, last pre-aspheric version (120mm equivalent). Arguably more use on the M8 than on film, because it provides a significantly long, fast lens for reportage, but you really do have to focus very carefully.

20. Leica 90mm f/2 Summicron, first version (120mm equivalent). Frankly soft at full aperture, almost a poor man's Thambar (see below), this lens comes into its own for portraiture and still life in Visoflex mount, but can also be used in a rangefinder coupled mount. As with the Thambar, I found I got the best results by cutting exposure 2/3 stop as against the meter. Senggye again.

21. Leica 90mm f/2.2 Thambar (120mm equivalent). Justly a legend for portraiture and still life, the (uncoated) Thambar was introduced in 1935; this one dates from the sixth batch, in maybe '38-'39. It is one of very few purpose-built soft-focus lenses for 35mm. Arguably even better suited to the M8 than to film cameras, for three reasons. First, white balance as mentioned earlier for the 50mm f/3.5. Second, exposure in color with soft-focus lenses is always tricky, and digital cameras allow an immediate check that you have got it right. Third, the "airbrushed" quality of a digital image seems better suited to soft focus than grainy old film. It was however the only lens to give me the "pink blacks" problem that others have mentioned with the M8, though only with one or two subjects (Senggye again).

22. Voigtländer 90mm f/3.5 APO-Lanthar (120mm equivalent). Very light and compact and delivering far better quality than the first-series Summicron. Too slow if you shoot much low light; great in daylight.

23. Leica 135mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit-M (180mm equivalent). Another "magic" discovery for the M8. You have to focus very, very carefully indeed, and depth of field at full aperture at the shortest focusing distance (5 ft/1.6m) is roughly zero, but the greater the distance (and the smaller the aperture), the easier it is to use. The quality of the out-of-focus image (the bokeh) is particularly smooth and charming. This is one of the cheapest reasonably modern Leica lenses you can buy, but the M8 may start pushing its price upward. The M8 doesn't have a 135mm frame but this doesn't matter because the 135mm f/2.8 has magnifying "spectacles" built-in to use the 90mm frames and to increase the effective rangefinder base length for more accurate focusing.

24. Leica 200mm f/4.5 Telyt (267mm equivalent). Despite the very deep (5cm/2") tubular lens shade, contrast with this prewar, uncoated lens is low, but resolution is surprisingly good. Like the 65mm f/3.5 Elmar, the Telyt is designed for the Visoflex reflex housing, and was introduced with the original Leica reflex housing (PLOOT) in 1933. The manual diaphragm and the dark focusing screen on the Viso slow you down, though: long-focus lenses on Visos are better suited to considered use on a tripod than to sports or action. Even so, I'm considering buying some postwar Viso teles: 200mm f/4, 280mm f/4.8, 400mm f/5.6 (267mm, 373mm, 533mm equivalents).