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Not Quite A Leica Lens (Taylor-Hobson Summarit 50mm f1.5)

Posted by Jesse Seberras on

What do you get when an optician, an engineer and a business man meet at a bar? The birth of one of the oldest and greatest lens manufacturers in the world. Way back in 1886 Taylor, Taylor & Hobson first opened up shop and began creating some of the worlds best optics. They designed some great optical formulas and created beautiful cinema lenses that helped make Hollywood what it is today. So much so that in 2013 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said they "helped define the look of motion pictures over the last century" and gave them a fancy award for it.

Taylor, Taylor & Hobson licensed many optical formulas out to other camera companies over the years including Schneider, Voigtlander and Leica. Back in the 20's and 30's Leica was emerging as the newly minted leader in the 35mm film camera market but their lens selection wasn't the greatest just yet. A fast 50mm lens was needed and so in 1936 they bought the licence for a Taylor, Taylor & Hobson lens design and released the Leica Xenon 50mm f1.5 (FUN FACT: if you find an early example of this lens it will have 'Taylor-Hobson Patent' printed on the front ring). The Xenon was made in fairly low production numbers right up until 1949 when it was slightly modified and rereleased as the Summarit 50mm f1.5. A very compact and very fast lens that many people loved and many people hated. But love it or hate it one thing is clear in my mind: it's not a Leica.

 Taylor-Hobson 50mm Summarit f/1.5

Hear me out. I'm not saying that I love or hate this lens. It is just that this lens does not perform like any other Leica lens I've used so far. Where Leica lenses are known for being sharp this lens is known for being soft. Very soft. Softer than soft! I was originally drawn into using it for it's unique 15 blade circular aperture construction. This design supposedly created beautiful bokeh over the other fast 50mm lenses of the time. However, I find that if the subject isn't in focus then it doesn't really matter how pleasing your background looks. The colour rendering is also not the greatest either. In typical Leica form the lens wants to be shot in black & white (which I guess is the one thing that is 'Leica' about this lens).

All in all it is not a terrible lens. For its time it was an engineering feat to get that much lens speed out of such a small package. And in the right situations this can be an amazing portrait lens. But just don't say it's a Leica. It's not. It's a Taylor, Taylor & Hobson.


Photos taken on an M3 w/ Ilfor XP2 Super 400

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