LHSA Special Editions and the new 50mm Apo-Summicron in retro style
2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the LHSA, and to commemorate this milestone, a new LHSA Special Edition model has been created. I have been working with Stefan Daniel and the team at Leica Camera AG for almost two years on this project. Originally, a Special Edition set consisting of a camera and lens was envisioned, but the introduction of the new Leica M10 last January changed that plan. Hopefully we will have something in the way of a Special Edition camera next year. We decided to continue on with the lens part of the project, and here is the result of the latest collaboration of the LHSA and Leica.
I had worked with Stefan Daniel on the past three previous Special Editions for the LHSA. The first of these was the Black Paint M6. Leica had abandoned the black paint cameras almost thirty years before with the last model produced in this finish being the M4. The black paint M cameras are highly prized by aficionados, especially those cameras that have seen a lot of use with the subsequent “brassing” taking place. These cameras take on a unique patina, and their appearance tells the story of a well-used work-horse in the hands of a serious photographer.
The M6 Black Paint camera was the result of many discussions between me, Tom Abrahamsson and Leica Germany to bring back their black paint M cameras. It took quite a bit of effort to overcome the reluctance of Leica to do such a camera. Indeed, their first reaction was, “why would you want something like that, surely our black chrome finish is superior to black paint!” Part of the problem was that the original painting process was not exactly environmentally friendly, and had been discontinued almost thirty years earlier.
The other part of the problem was that when the M6 was introduced in 1984, Leica had gone to a cast-zinc top plate for the M cameras. Black paint necessitated a brass top plate, but the original dies had all been scrapped years ago and the cost to produce new tooling was prohibitive. At this point, new technology came to the rescue. It was now possible to do a brass top plate with CNC machining, without the need to use the original die stamping process. The black paint finish had also become a lost art for Leica, so they had to relearn how to do it.
Many sample top plates were sent to me to evaluate the progress being made on the painting process. Eventually all obstacles were overcome and the camera was produced. With over 1,000 units produced, the concept of the black paint camera was so successful that the LHSA Black Paint camera became the basis for numerous other special edition cameras. Brass top plates and black paint again became a standard finish for the Leica M camera.
2003 marked the 35th anniversary of the Society, and a new concept for another special edition would be have to be arrived at. I felt it was very important that we do not just a special engraving or body covering. I wanted to do something that was highly desirable to Leica collectors and users. The Hammertone finish was chosen for the new LHSA MP Leica limited edition. Hammertone was one of the rarest of all the M cameras, with only ten special Leica MD cameras in this finish having been made for a special order in 1964.
Like the original Hammertone, the advance lever, shutter speed dial and rewind knob are finished in satin chrome. Along with the camera, a retrostyled 35/2 Summicron ASPH lens resembling the original eight element Summicron in chrome finish on brass was specified and a Hammertone Leicavit completed the set. One thousand units of this special edition were made.
The third LHSA special edition of this series followed in 2005 with the LHSA MP3. The iconic original MP camera was chosen as the inspiration and guiding concept for the new special edition.
Being one of the “Grail” cameras for Leica collectors, only 402 original MP cameras were ever made in black paint and silver chrome finishes. Sales of the original MP were limited to “bona fide working press photographers” according to a letter dated August 21, 1957 from Leitz New York to their franchised dealers.
The concept and execution of this new LHSA special edition taxed the creative talents and ability of the production staff at Leica Germany. Everything about this camera was unique, and the signature mechanical elements of the original MP had to be re-engineered from scratch for the new special edition. The raised frames around the viewfinder windows on the top plate, the external frame counter last seen on the M2 and the signature “dog ear” strap lugs all posed particular challenges to Leica. There was also the simplified viewfinder with only three frame lines. With a nod to modern Leica users, we went with framelines for 35, 50 and 90 instead of the original MP’s 50, 90 and 135 bright line frames. Of course, the camera must include a Leicavit Rapid Winder to be true to the original MP, engraved in the same style as the original MP.
Then, there was the choice of lens for this special edition. At the time, the Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH was a new lens that Leica had recently introduced. A retro version of it to resemble the original 50/1.4 Summilux was envisioned, but Leica was reluctant to go ahead with this lens for the MP3 as it would interfere with normal production which was already on back order. Leica finally relented and agreed to make the lens in retro form in both silver chrome and black paint on brass, just like the original 50/1.4 Summilux. This lens has become one of the most popular lens choices for other special editions, most recently with the Jim Marshall camera set and the 500-unit limited edition black chrome version.
For the 50th anniversary of the LHSA, something special and unique was called for. We needed to base the new edition on an iconic lens that had long been associated with the Leica M. What lens would fit the bill better than the classic 50/2 “Rigid” Summicron?
The 50 Summicron was first introduced as a collapsible lens with the first M, the M3 of 1954. The rigid version with a revised optical formula came in 1956, and has set the standard for Leica lenses ever since. In 2013, the new APO Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH was introduced as the new pinnacle of Leica’s optical prowess, and the possibility of using this phenomenal lens as the basis for the new special edition was discussed.
Fortunately, the construction of the new 50 APO could provide the foundation for a retro-styled body to be used. The “wide-knurled focus ring” Rigid Summicron provided the inspiration and design brief for the new special edition lens. Of course, the lens would be made in both Black Paint and Silver Chrome on brass just like the original. Unlike the regular version of the 50 APO, the special edition model has a separate detachable lens hood, also made of solid brass, as is the special Leica engraved lens cap.
With this new LHSA Special Edition lens, you can have the look and feel of the classic Leica Summicron lens with the cutting edge performance the 50 APO is known for.