Leica Elmar 50mm f/3.5 With Black & Bhite Films Review

Leica 5cm 3.5 Elmar with black & white film

The Birth of Standard lens

The Ur-Leica of 1914 is the prototype for the first line of cameras that used film in the 24 x 36mm format. It is known that Barnack built at least three UR Leicas and experimented with lenses, the retractable Mikro-Summar 42mm f/4.5.

The technical definition of a standard lens is one whose focal length roughly matches the diagonal or the film. For a standard 24 x 36mm format camera this gives a focal length of around 43mm. In reality, the actual focal length designed by Ernst Arbeit seems to be closer to 43mm.

Max Berek calculated the Elmax 50mm f/3.5 lens for the Ur-Leica, with “Elmax” being an abbreviation of “Ernst Leitz and MAX (Berek)”. In the production Leica I, the 42mm lens was replaced by the optically superior Elmax 50mm f/3.5.

Since then, 50mm has become the standard lens, although some companies do sell lenses which are closer to 43mm focal length.(Pentax 43mm f/1.9, Contax 45mm f/2)

Safe and Comfortable

I love the tiny collapsible 50mm Elmar f:3.5. I’m too shy to use a big lens for street photography. When there is so much light, I set the aperture at f5.6 – f8, Elmar 50mm makes me feel safe and comfortable. All I need is an ISO 400 film and I am ready for some serious streetwork.


This was one of the best Tessar-type lenses of the day, made of 4 elements in 4 groups, with some loss in the outer zones when used wide open. I find it is sharper than the Summar and Summitar by stopping down, even just a stop or two. But not only does Elmar f:3.5 take much sharper pictures. Contrast it is much better, too.  

All uncoated lenses have lower contrast and flares which were best for me on BW.

f22 Red Scale.

I’ve got several 3.5 Elmars smallest aperture is f/18. Only one is the last series with f:22, and the red scale.

On Digital Ms

The lens can be used on digital Ms with an L39-M adapter. But Collapsible Lenses Cause Sensor Dust. I use 3.5 Elmars all the time and have noticed more dust using them. I find the Leica M9 sensor seems to like collecting dust a little more than my DLSRs which have built-in automatic sensor cleaning . 

It would be possible that collapsing or uncollapsing the lens pumps air along with dust into the mount. I provided you do not collapse it when it is mounted on the digital M camera.

I’m not willing to clean my sensor more often knowing that I get non-collapsible lenses on Digital Ms. There’s another way, instead of worrying about digital sensor collecting dust, shift your energy to shooting film.

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