dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

Don Cardwell on...
The legend of Lux-Do


The 35 M Summilux is like Christy Turlington. Besides being "pretty enough for all normal purposes,"     

[to steal from "Our Town":

 Emily: "Mother, am I pretty?"
 Mrs.Webb: "You're pretty enough for all normal purposes, now finish your breakfast."]

she offers a satisfying alternative to whatever definition of beauty  one may be harboring at the moment. Comparisons are pointless, indeed, any attempt at serious comparison constitute grounds to disqualify the judge. Yes, some women are taller, others shorter. So what ?  She is Art, and immune to further comparison.  And so, onwards.

* * * * *

Next, on lenses in general. It's easy to make good lenses in some focal lengths, harder in others. A 90 mm, for instance, having a long focal length, relative to its image circle, can use any old formula and get smashing results. A Tessar or Cooke will give you a superb F/4.5 lens, a Planar or Sonnar a brilliant F/2 lens. If you've ever wondered what a plasmat can do, hang a 105 EL Nikkor on a bellows or tubeset: fantastic. I'd love to see an F/8 Apo Artar on an SLR, for the Artar is a truly legendary, smashing, wonderful lens.

You get to choose a formula with disregard to it's field, and so gain entry to the trove of magnificent graphic arts designs, and no-compromise enlarging lenses like the 105 APO EL Nikkor, whose peformance relative to the next-best-enlarging-lens-ever-made is as a Porsche to a Focus.

On the other hand, a 35mm lens is pretty hard to make. Slow ones are easier. Fast ones are harder. A Biogon v.1 from the '30s is still a pretty good lens, and was easily the first 'good' 35. The Biogon v.2 of the '50s [Opton] is much better.  Both are 2.8 lenses, however, and in their day were the flagbearers for optical performance. Nikon added their remarkable 2.5 in the '50s, Leitz the lovely 3.5 and 2.8 Summarons, and then came all the others. Probably the best all around 35 mm afloat today is the 2.8 Distagon for the Contax SLR, Leitz having discontinued their Elmarit, another cherish-able lens.

But F/2 was a tough nut.  Look to the Summicron v.1, then the Mandler Summicron, for the first fast lenses to equal the 2.8 lenses. Beware ! I do mean EQUAL, but do not mean IDENTICAL.  Is my Opton Biogon identical in performance to the Mandler Summicron? Not hardly. Equal?  Well, sure, why not? In this testosterone-soaked elegy, it would be choosing between a night on the town with Leslie Caron or Audrey Hepburn. The question becomes, "Where's the champagne ?"

We accept that a F/1.4 lens is tougher to make than an F/2.

Probably easier with a longer than a shorter lens.  There are several brilliant choices, for instance, in an 85 /1.4 lens: Contax Planar, Leica R Summilux, Nikon, Minolta... they are all expensive, have fantastic 'build quality', and deliver wonderful, EQUAL, images.  And all must be used wide open to show off their unique image properties: a fine F/2 lens is as-good-or-better at any aperture smaller than F/2.8. And I'll suggest there is less difference between F/1.4 and F/2 performance at 85mm than at 50mm, and less at 50mm than 35mm.

Put another way [please, Don, more '50s babe analogies, this is getting boring], there is less image difference between an 80 Summilux and 90 Summicron than 35 Summilux and 35 Summicron.

OK, if the 35 Summilux is Turlington, what is the Summicron ?

Geez, Dante. It's almost a Ginger / Mary Ann thing.

The Summicron is Mary Ann, if I have to spell it out.  Clearly a better choice for almost every reason. 

Before your date with Mary-Ann, you ask the Captain "can she bake an apple pie?"

Before the date with Ginger, you ask if there's poison ivy on the island.

MTF has nothing to do with it.

At F/1.4, Summilux gives you an image where you won't get an image from the Summicron. You're comparing something to nothing. With the Summilux, and, in our Gilligan-alogy, the performance difference is equal to the price difference, but merely being able to pay the price does not assure you will be able to extract that potential from the Summilux. Like Ginger, the Summilux is willing to just take your money. 

The Summilux asks photographers the old rocking question, "Come on, baby, can you do more than dance?"

Slightly more objective reflections

AXIOM: The fastest way to improve 35mm performance is to switch from Tri X to TMX.

The 'Way of the Summilux' is darkness, mist and uncontrolled light. No tripods, and usually, slow shutter speeds. What you sense in the shadows, that which lies beyond description.

"Lux-Do" is half seen, half felt. It is Romance, not Cognition.

Summilux is Deborah Kerr on the beach.

If you put the camera away when it gets dark, forget it. If you don't take out your camera till it gets dark, you are on the Way.

* * * * *

Seemingly unrelated, but bearing directly on Lux-Do, is the fact that photgraphs made in a minor key must print on fiber. Using a soft developer, then a hard developer, on prints from negatives given moderate, standard development makes it possible. Otherwise, you give away too much.

Diafine is the default developer, useful for the inevitable mixed-scenes roll. If you didn't mix scenes [meaning lighting conditions] D-23 with a 'B' bath is the ticket.

* * * * *

If I had to pick one lens and one camera to work with, it would be the best M camera I could afford and the new 35 Summilux.  If I had your Hexar, it would be just dandy: for that matter, having auto expoure would be a nice thing.

How much different is the new 1.4 ?  It doesn't change "Lux-Do".  It just lets you bring a little more out of the murk, it helps you grip a wisp that would before have been lost.

If you're in the mood to consider this Anglican as a fellow Catholic, then I'll offer this:  you'd do a portrait of Mary with sweet sunlight, rich blue sky and a Summicron. Maybe some fill flash.

But the portrait of Mary Magdalene is Lux-Do.

The Way of the Summilux is Shadow.