Elmar 50mm Collapsible: In praise of Leica's classic lens
The 50mm Elmar lens dates back to 1926 when it replaced the original Anastigmat and Elmax lenses of 1925 on the LEICA 1 (Model A). The Elmar 50/f3.5 was collapsible and was fixed to the body. The lens was locked at infinity by a large spring on the body nicknamed the “Hockey stick”. This fixed lens was produced from 1926 to 1930 and took slip-on filters and a slip-on lens hood with a unique rectangular mask built into the front edge.
Carl Merkin has produced an interesting history of Leica's classic standard fifty, the Elmar, from the original f/3.5 designs through to the late f/2.8 which was introduced in 1994 as part of the jubilee celebrations to mark forty years of M photography. Find it here on the Leica Camera Blog
I own two versions of the Elmar, both f/2.8. The first is a silver 1965 lens which came with the M2-with-provenance that I acquired earlier in the year. The second, which came from the extensive collection of second-hand Leica lenses available at Red Dot Cameras in London, is the later model manufactured in 1996.
Although rather overshadowed in popular lore by the Summicrons and Summiluxes, this Elmar is a thoroughly competent and sharp lens which has the advantage of being ultra compact. Retracted, it protrudes barely 2cm from the lens mount and converts any M into an almost pocketable camera. I am not brave enough to collapse it on a digital M for fear of hitting the sensor, although I have been told that it is possible with care. Attempt this at your own risk; personally I prefer to leave it extended on the M or Monochrom.
But on a film camera, such as the M4-P used in the cover photo above, the Elmar makes a delightful combination. My colleague Bill Palmer is a great fan of this lens and some months ago we had a discussion about the somewhat fiddly nature of pulling out the lens and twisting to lock. He advised me to persevere and now it comes as second nature. In comparison with the more popular and faster f/2 and f/1.4 lenses (or even the f/2.8 Elmarit), the f/2.8 Elmar is a relative bargain and can be picked up, in good condition, for upwards of £500. It makes an ideal starter lens for an M system, particularly if you are a nifty fifty type of person. It's just the job for street photography.
For a full rundown on the late Elmar-M, have a look at the industrious and fulsome Mr. Rockwell's page.
The cover photograph was taken on my M4-P with the late-model f/2.8 Elmar. This combination turns the M into a pocketable camera, even more so than when using the modern and current f/2.8 Elmarit. All you need is a wrist strap and you are ready for some serious street work.
If you enjoyed reading this article you will like William Fagan's excellent advice on collecting vintage Leicas