Post purchase, most of my Canon P life was spent behind a Canon 50/1,4 LTM lens. I’m definitely not a street shooter. I like distance; I like my space. 50mm is a good insulator. It keeps me just far enough away from goddam people. But there’s this thing about lenses and cameras that attracts geeks like me. And with my purchase of the X-Pro 1, more than just the Canon P’s brilliant 1:1 viewfinder beckoned to be filled.
This lens is nimble and small, but unlike the 35mm Summicron of the same vintage, it fits budget-conscious shooters’ bill. Naturally, I picked one up.
That was a few years ago. Today, I shoot for a living. I spend very little time squinting into a finder for fun. I don’t get much time to play. Cameras mean work and lenses mean subjects like headphones and speakers and cables and last minute assignments and amps and lots of time spent in darkened rooms behind beeping Profoto strobes.
But after months of 80-120 hour work weeks, November has come. And like a brilliant, waxed moustache, it is a refreshing break into the silliness of creation, lie ins... and bokeh. I took a walk today. I kicked stones and got mud on my boots. It’s fall. The leaves are down and the thermometer points a bit more southerly than it did just a few weeks ago.
Tokyo is raining but not cold. I can go out without gloves or snow boots. The locals are bundled up: mufflers and Uniqlo microfleece coats and mitts. Long underwear. Shivering. But it’s still 14 centigrade and I can’t decide whether or not to add an undershirt beneath my cardigan and t-shirt.
Here, any dip below 20 degrees scares away the snow birds. People begin shivering around 22 degrees (a nice summer’s day in southern Sweden). But I’m an ‘other’: foreign, moustached, waxed, and plugged into a Fiio X3 and a pair of Sleek Audio SA7’s. I duck down with my camera pointed at a puddle or stray rays of light breaking between houses. I click and the shutter rolls over.
It’s fall in my camera once again.
focal length: 35mm; ~53mm on APS-C; ~70mm on m43
mount: Leica Thread Mount (LTM) M39
filter size: 40mm
aperture blades: 9 curved
weight: 120g (lens); 133g (lens with M adapter); 154g (with adapter and hood)
ohmage & porridge: haptics
Aside from the front-mounted aperture ring, Canon’s ‘normal’ LTM lenses look like they belong on small SLRs; Olympus’ famed OM or Pen series are prime suspects. These lenses are tubular, often fluted, and small- smaller in fact than a number of current Leica lenses. Next to their SLR counterparts, they are mere children.
Canon’s heavier LTM lenses have suitably heavy, and smooth, helicoids. The 35/2’s focus and cam helicoids are light and full of wiggle room. Precise focusing - especially in live or magnified views - is troublesome. Through the rangefinder of an M9 or a Canon P, it’s no bother. Focus is a breeze. But this lens’ aperture indents click indistinctly, almost reluctant to find their niche. When they do, their nine blades make wondrous shapes, curving inward from f/4 to f/8.
Because this is an LTM lens, it will need a shim for use on a current Leica. I use Voigtlander’s excellent 35/135 M39-M shim, which I also mount to a Hawk’s Factory helicoid adapter when attached to my X-Pro 1.
Later, I will get into why I prefer this lens’ drawing when paired with the X-Pro 1. For now, I will suffice it to say that when mounted to the Hawk’s helicoid adapter, minimum focus distance drops from over 1 metre, to below 30cm. And together, the combo is smaller than the X-Pro 1 and XF 35/1,4 lens. It also focuses as closely as good floating-element 35mm lenses. Used as a 50mm equivalent on the X-Pro 1, this combination blows the doors off every non-macro nifty fifty SLR lens out there.
ohmage & porridge: ergonomics
Focus is heavy and throw short. The lens’ small size really calls for a focus tab. Aperture blades are heavy and somewhat less precise than old Leica and current Zeiss lenses are. Even after a good CLA, the 35/2 doesn’t feel good in the hand.
What is nice is its weight and size. It is a retrofocal design, but when mounted via an LTM-M shim, its focus helicoid cams never run back of the mounting bayonet. It does vignette rather heavily on a Leica M9.
porridge: TTL free-lensing
Free-lensing with small, light lenses is both a pleasure and a pain. It is a pleasure because small lenses rarely strain the wrist or fingers. It is a pain because operating the aperture rings of small lenses is difficult. This lens is awful. Its aperture ring is stiff, necessitating it to be set prior to framing and focusing. There is no way to reliably change the aperture whilst shooting.
Also, free-lensing tends to exacerbate the tendency the rear element has to flare.
porridge: build and finish quality
It’s the looseness of the 35/2 LTM that turns this fall lens into a real winter. Metal alone does not make good construction. The current cohort of young togs that have never felt a metal thing in their lives may find the Canon 35/2 LTM a chunky little gem. From a blind perspective, it is. But as metal lenses go, this lens is shyte. Tolerances are poor, focus feel is loose- even the paint quality is several steps below that of competing Nikkor and Leica lenses of the time.
It’s no wonder- Canon didn’t really come into their own until a couple of decades later.
All that said, treated well, the 35/2 should last. Its lens coatings are strong and its glass it isn’t prone to smudge or crack. Its recessed front element rarely brushes against fingers; keeping it clean is rather easy.
Japan was in a shambles after WWII. But their camera industry rode a wave of wholesale patents essentially lifted from a Germany that paid a much much higher loser’s price than Japan had ever nightmared possible. And still the 35/2 LTM feels like a quick knockoff. It probably is. The 35/2 LTM speaks volumes about knowledge necessarily going hand in hand with experience. It is a lens that makes wonderful images. It just isn’t well made. Nor is it that fun to use.
ohmage & porridge: flare and sunstars
This lens flares. The good news is that flare patterns are circular and natural wide open. Unlike a number of Leica lenses, flare colours blend in well with their environments. Stopped down, the 35/2 LTM’s inwardly curved aperture blades effect unique shapes. Often, flare centres are punctuated by sharp crosses or stars.
Flare patterns and associated muted colour casts have great creative uses. The hood does little to protect the lens from the ingress of sun from acute angles, but pointed light sources which enter from the side rarely result in serious flare.
Because there are 9 apeture blades, sunstars have 18 arms and points. I'm a fan of fewer; 6 to 8 are my favourites. They needn't be everyone's. Because the 35/2's aperture blades are less precise than most Leica lenses, star points aren't always symmetrical.
NOTE: the below images were taken on the X-Pro 1. None have received any processing.
Wide open it is about as sharp in the centre as any number of modern fast normals. Corners fall off rather fast on the M9 and darken on the X-Pro 1. On film falloff us much muter.
Prior to removing chromatic aberrations (which this lens has), skin glides from detail to detail. Every blemish is visible, but not one is advertised. Areas slightly out of focus will glow faintly; stopped down and of course, the good, the bad, and the ugly pop out. Few fast wide angle lenses are as sharp nor contrasty into the corners from f/5,6.
The 35/2 has distortion typical to speedy wide angle lenses. Used on an X-Pro 1, it is more evident than Fuji’s 35mm, though nearly of moot importance. On scanned 35mm film and full frame cameras, it needs several clicks in Lightroom. Distortion bulges out from the centre and is uniform. It is more evident at close focus distances than it is at middling to infinity distances. Fixing it takes seconds.
NOTE: the below imiages were taken at ~1 metre on the Leica M9. From left: f/2; f/4; f/8.
NOTE: the below imiages were taken at ~3,5 metres on the Leica M9. From left: f/2; f/4; f/8
Colours are ruddy, and in comparison to modern lenses, muted. Reds and browns share similar, strong, rust-coloured palettes. When used outside, the combination of rust and old-optic contrast is excellent, even endearing. Inside, this lens is bested by most any modern lens. The 35/2‘s palette warms up rainy days and softens super hard shadows. Next to Leica’s Summilux 35/1,4 ASPH, the Canon is warmer, reading summer and spring into every image it helps capture.
Note: the below images were taken on the X-Pro 1. Minor contrast and saturation tweaks have been implemented.
Textured bokeh is exceedingly rare today. It is an acquired taste. Canon’s 35/2 draws out of focus areas very like the famed Summicron 35/2 IV. Near backgrounds retain shape, trending toward tubular stripes and drawn-out, painterly lines. Far backgrounds go swirly. Highlight edges are softly outlined, but not distracting and never onion-like. Mixed background and foreground elements speckled with bright highlights or dappled colours make an image look like it is moving in concentric circles.
Near-distance nature photographers will find very specific uses for this look. City photographers will find that their subjects jump into shape, highlighted by the unique bokeh and corner fall off. People photographers will probably enjoy the combination of soft, mobile background rendering, which halos around their subject.
There are smoother bokehs out there. There are blurrier bokehs out there. But there are few that are this addictive, and this worth coming back to. Of course, that look changes rather distinctly between APS-C and full frame or 35mm film.
Note: the below images were taken on the X-Pro 1. None have received any processing.
ohmage & porridge: use on the X-Pro 1 and M9
It’s the latter through which this lens really shines. The X-Pro’s colours, and effective crop turn this lens into a very beautiful, very compact 53mm f/2,8. Distortion through an APS-C sensor is negligible. Colours are beautiful. But most of all, this lens’ beautiful bokeh further stands out. The combination of all these elements makes for the most addictive draw I’ve seen in a ‘normal’ lens on an APS-C system, bar none.
Mounted to an X-Pro 1, the Canon is warmer and sharper at wide apertures than the Summilux 50/1,4 Pre- ASPH (my favourite Summilux 50) is on an M9. The Summilux also shares a unique bokeh, but when stopped down to an equivalent f stop of f/2,8, that character largely disappears. Its flare patterns and colours are also much less congruous than the Canon’s are. Of course, the X-Pro 1 / Canon 35/2 LTM is much smaller and lighter than is the M9 / Summilux 50 combination.
The biggest downside to the X-Pro 1 combination is the X-Pro 1, which is light years behind even the cheapest of SLRs and rangefinders for using with manual lenses. I have never used a camera so ridiculously behind the curve. It isn’t just its low-resolution EVF that makes accurate focusing difficult. It is its on again, off again responsiveness to 10x and 3x magnification buttons. Its shutter and EVF lag trail every interchangeable lens camera I’ve used from 1950 on.
So while this lens is a people lens, it needs to be mated to a reliable system. Currently, the X-Pro 1 isn’t that camera- at least for manual focusing helicoid lenses. In fact, unless you have all the time in the world, and your subject’s harbour a world of patience, the X-Pro 1 has only two redeeming quality for use with this lens: smart looks, and colour rendition.
NOTE: the below comparison images were taken at ~1 metre from subject. Left: X-Pro 1 / Canon 35/2; right: Leica M9 / Canon 35/2. Neither has received any processing.
NOTE: the below images were taken on the Leica M9. None have received any processing.
On film I loved this lens. I actually prefer it on digital. Because the Canon P is a well-made beast of a camera, I had expectations that the 35/2 LTM would be a craftsman’s jewel. It isn’t. I want to blame erstwhile reviewers, who obviously, had seen too much plastic in their day and to whom anything metal meant good.
The Canon 35/2 LTM is loose and imprecise; against compact mechanical benchmark lenses such as a Leica’s Elmarit 28/2,8 ASPH, or Nikon’s 28/2,8 Ai/S, the Canon falls flat. Where it redeems itself, however, few lenses dare to tread.
Warm, sanguine colours, a sharp and contrasty image centre, and a bokeh unique and addictive, make this a lens to shoot wide open all day long. When stopped down to f/5,6, contrast and sharpness spread rather evenly across the frame. Again, few 35mm lenses get sharper at f/8. APS-C camera owners are in for a great treat- as long as their cameras are responsive.
At the prices this lens goes for on the bay and Yahoo! Auctions, there may not be a more effectively addictive normal lens for APS-C shooters. And for 135 film and full frame shooters who value the 35mm focal length, this lens is worthy of serious consideration.
The year rushes forward. Soon we’ll be tearing chocolate and Legos from advent calendars and passing out in drunken stupors on the steps of our favourite train stations. It’s time to bring out the colder-drawing Leicas and Nikons. But always, deep down, we will long for summer, and that warmth. Thank you Canon.
Below are a few more images, all from Hong Kong.