Sonnar Summer (The rise and fall of the sun king) Pt. 4

Part 4.- There is nothing new under the Sun.

Standard  Sonnar lenses had to adapt in order to survive in the 35mm arena. In the late 1960’s Zeiss reformulated the lens into a configuration of five elements in four groups with a slower speed of f/2,8 this was the Sonnar 40mm f/2,8 for Rollei 35 cameras. Despite such changes, the design principles of the original Sonnar are kept. A similar Sonnar construction was used in the 1981 autofocus point and shot camera Nikon “Pikaichi” L35AF 35 mm f/2.8; the 2003 Rollei Sonnar 40mm f/2,8 in Leica thread mount; and with an additional rear element in the 2004 Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1.5/50 ZM in Leica M mount. It is worth noticing that with the Pikaichi Nikon was able to create a wide-angle lens (35mm) from the Sonnar design which is unfit by nature for wide-angle lenses.

Lens design for the Nikon “Pikaichi” L35AF 35 mm f/2.8

Based on the original Sonnar 50mm f/2 configuration (six elements in three groups, with a single positive lens in the first group, a cemented triplet in the second group and a cemented doublet of negative and positive elements in the rear group), the new Sonnar lens was integrated with the third element substituted by an extremely low-refractive-index material, that is, air. The three-element cemented lens was an excellent invention to reduce the interface with air, which contributed to the realization of a lens system with increased transmittance and minimized ghost in those days when the antireflective coating on the lens surface was not available. However, in the age of advanced coating technique, the need for a cemented lens was obviated. Then, the second lens was removed and the four group five element system configuration was developed.

Sonnar design C Sonnar T* 1.5/50 ZM

Since then, the Sonnar name (though not actually meaning a Sonnar design) has been used to designate the prime lens of some 35mm compact cameras such as in the Contax T series, being normally found in the five element in four group configuration, with max aperture of f/2,8.

The renaissance of the rangefinder system in the early 2000, brought two new “real” Sonnar standard lenses compatible with the Leica M mount, the Rollei Sonnar 40mm f/2,8 released in 2003 which followed the same lens configuration of the Sonnar design used in Rollei’s 35 cameras from the 60’s-70’s; and the Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar ZM announced at Photokina on September 2004. The Rollei follows specifically the reformulated design from the late 1960’s; on the other hand the Zeiss C Sonnar design consist of six elements in four groups, with a positive single element in the first group, an air-spaced glass instead of a cemented triplet in the second group, a negative single element in the third and a cemented triplet similar to the original Sonnar 50mm f/1,5 in the rear group.

From mid 2000’s the mirrorless interchangeable-lens system has been gaining terrain in the photographic arena. The mirrorless system cameras allow using the old Sonnars with Leica Thread Mount and Contax mount through the use of an adaptor. By having no flipping mirror the SRL technical barrier has been surpassed and new standard lenses of Sonnar designs may appear once again for this format.

It finally seemed that this was going to happen when on December 2011 Sony partnered with Zeiss to launch the Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm f/1.8 ZA for the Sony Nex system.

Unfortunately this lens is not a Sonnar design, it only bears the Sonnar name which is more a marketing strategy, Sonnar here means that it is a high-grade, light-sensitive lens. This lens features a construction of 7 groups in 8 elements (2 aspheric surfaces, 1 ED) and has a focal length equivalent to 36mm on the 35mm format.

With the new optical advances and the race to obtain the utmost sharpness from an objective it is very difficult that standard lenses with the Sonnar design will be developed and released to the market.

Standard Sonnars are native to 35mm rangefinder photography and you may only fully exploit its attributes with a rangefinder camera; that symbiosis is particularly seductive, it is the combination used by the early photojournalists, it is classic, a high mark of optical engineering, an unique expression of character, that is the photographic approach that I have embraced, that is the raison d’être of the Sonnar Summer.



Sonnar Summer (The rise and fall of the sun king) Pt. 3

Chapter II.- The Sun goes down only to rise again.

Part 3.- Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone                                                                                          (The struggle of the 35mm standard length and the positioning of the fast telephoto)

Technical and cost factors marked the decadence of standard focal length Sonnar lenses.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s with the advent of the SRL revolution the popularity of the rangefinder cameras declined and companies such as Leica and Zeiss Ikon favored to adventure in the new system in detriment of their rangefinders. Other companies that had used the Sonnar design in the lenses for their rangefinder cameras such as Canon and Nikon were now taking the lead of the SLR market and by the end of the decade had completely abandoned the rangefinder system.

At the end of the Rangefinder era, the standard focal range Sonnar’s struggled to make the transition into the new SRL system. The 50mm Sonnars had a short back-focus length which provided an advantage in the Rangefinder cameras but made them incompatible with most SLR cameras due to the space required by their moving mirror, consequently the standard focal range in 35mm photography was now dominated by lenses following the Planar optical design, while only telephoto Sonnars made the transition into the SLR system.

The advancement in the coating techniques allowed to arrange glass elements isolated without getting objectionable reflections and stray light, without needing to combine elements into a group; moreover the fabrication of cemented triplets was more expensive than the fabrication of isolated elements.

In 1961 Zeiss Ikon ceased the production of the Contax IIa/IIIa cameras and with them the reign of the once revolutionary Sonnar came to an end.

And everything under the sun is in tune, But the sun is eclipsed by the moon

The Sonnar design is still today the basis for compact high-performance medium telephoto lenses with speeds up to f/2,8. A key point of characteristics of the Sonnar lens is its power arrangement which is of a telephoto type. The construction of the lens does not allow a large angle of view, but a fast lens of a relatively small size is viable.

The Gauss design lens realizes a higher performance than the Sonnar desing lens. But, it is inevitable that an employment of the Gauss design leads to a larger lens size. The Sonnar lens offers short barrel lengths and less saggital coma flare than Gaussian lenses, plus very elaborate correction of lens errors and very even corner – to corner illumination. The difference between designs is evidence that “A basic lens character is determined by a lens type”. The Sonnar lens has a characteristic that aberration fluctuation at a close range is large. Namely, the closer the lens is focused to the closest focus distance, the softer the subject image becomes and flare is increasing. It can be said that the characteristic of this seemingly shortcoming is well suited for portraiture or photography of a fixed still subject and the lens delivers an exquisite imaging characteristics.

Sonnar Summer (The rise and fall of the sun king) Pt. 2

Part 2.- Here comes the sun

(and I say It’s all right)

In 1926 Ernemann Company, Carl Zeiss and other companies merged into Zeiss-Ikon, and it is not a wild guess to assume that Ludwig Bertele had more resources for the research and development of new objectives.

One year before Ernst Leitz of Wetzlar had successfully released the Leica I establishing the 24 mm × 36 mm negative format on perforated 35 mm movie film as a viable photographic system. To compete in the upcoming camera format, Zeiss-Ikon started to develop the Contax camera system, and Ludwig Bertele was charged with the responsibility of designing the lenses.

The focal length of 50mm was designated as the “standard” for the 35mm format. Technically the focal length of 50mm is a very good compromise between high speed, small dimensions and excellent optical correction. Thus, the Leica featured a fast standard 50mm f/3.5 lens as its primary lens.

Elmar 3.5cm f/3,5

The first approach to the lens was the Elmax, a design based on the Cooke triplet consisting of five elements in three groups with the third group being three cemented elements and with the aperture stop in the first air space. However the Elmax was quickly dropped in favor of the Elmar design which featured four elements in three groups with a cemented doublet in the third group. Apparently the complex three element last component was difficult and expensive to produce and the Elmar design provided a better commitment. By 1930 Leica was already offering their second standard lens the faster Hektor 50mm f/2,5

Hektor 50mm f/2,5

This was the contender that good ol’ Ludwig faced at the time. Not surprisingly, the path that he chose was to design a faster standard lens to beat the Elmar and Hektor in the new camera system. A faster lens meant an important commercial advantage, allowing available light photography at a time of slow film speeds (the fastest film available at the time had a nominal speed equivalent to ISO 50). Bertele proceeded to further develop the second Ernostar design. Starting from his successful six elements in four groups’ configuration, he managed to connect the negative element of the third group with the positive element of the fourth group, thus reducing the number of optical groups to three which effectively decreased objectionable reflections and stray light. Optically, in the second group, the second and fourth elements are high-refractive-index lenses, while the third element is a low-refractive-index lens. This cemented lens offers both the effects of the convex lens of the second element and the concave lens of the fourth element. Consequently the new lens consisted of six elements in three groups, with a single positive lens in the first group, the above stated cemented triplet, and a cemented doublet of negative and positive elements in the rear group.

Sonnar 50mm f/2,0

The lens design succeeded in beating the Elmar by allowing the manufacture of a 50mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/2,0 being at the time the first really suitable high-speed standard lens for 35mm photography.

This new lens design was named ‘Sonnar’, which etymologically derives from the German ‘Sonne’ meaning ‘Sun’.

In 1931 Zeiss Ikon announced the Sonnar f/2,0 to be paired with their new Contax system. But that was not enough for Ludwig Bertele and just within a year he afforded to enhance the aperture of that lens about virtually one f/stop to f/1,5 by replacing the third group with a cemented triplet consisting of two negative lenses and one positive lens in between. Thus in 1932 the super-fast Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lenses were announced between high praises from the specialists.

Sonnar50mm f/1,5

Many state that the Contax Sonnar 50mm f/2,0 and Sonnar 50mm f/1,5 were superior to the later introduced Leica equivalent lenses Summar 50 f/2,0mm (1933) and Xenon 50mm f/1,5 (1935). It took almost 30 years to dethrone the Sonnar, as it was only until 1961 with the release of Leica’s second generation Summilux 50mm f/1,4 with an outstanding double-Gauss design that an improved image quality could be attained.

The Sonnar had important features inherent in its innovative design. This was an important achievement in the years prior to lens coating technology:

  • The reduced number of air-to-glass surfaces provided advantages for contrast, resistance to lens flare and stray light in the optical system. The lens configuration featured less ghost and provided high-contrast images even in the backlit condition due to the reduced interface with air.
  • The lens configuration was suited for high-speed apertures, it was the first lens design with consistent image quality over the whole picture area even wide open. A small number of optical groups meant less light dispersion and good contrast at edges at every aperture.
  • Its design provided superior compensation for spherical aberration over the entire image. In addition, it properly reduced coma for broader angles of view even when configured with relatively lower refractive index elements and despite the larger diameter of f/2. Most lens aberrations grow disproportionately when the aperture is doubled, the strong cemented interface on the rear component of the Sonnar 50mm f/1,5 allowed correction on the higher-order spherical aberration which was needed in a lens of the high aperture.
  • A typical characteristic of the Sonnar-type lens is high-contrast images with less coma flares even at full-open aperture. By stopping down the lens flare gets disappeared and sharpness is enhanced, further stopping down the lens delivers a sharper and higher contrast image.



The Sonnar design proved to be capable of excellent results and usable for a wide range of applications, since its release in 1931 they were made in focal lengths from 40mm to 300mm. signature 50mm. Companies such as Canon and Nikon created their own Sonnars in the M39 lens mount and in their own mount. Nikon Sonnar’s 50mm, 85mm, 105mm and 135mm helped greatly to build the reputation of the company; they became worldwide renowned after the Korean war thanks to the photos of war correspondents such as David Douglas Duncan for Life Magazine. After being amazed from the quality of the images produced by the 8.5 cm f/2, Duncan visited Nikon’s Ohi Plant to check the performance of Nikkor lenses, and purchased on the spot the 5cm f/1,5 and 13,5 cm lenses.

Nikkor 8.5 cm f/2 Sonnar

Sonnar Summer. (The rise and fall of the sun king) Pt. 1


“Glass is King” is a phrase commonly used to express that the lens is the most important element of the photographic equipment.

The camera body is indeed very important, especially in the modern era of the ever changing/ continuously improving/ new sensors/ and daily devaluating digital bodies. But once you come to terms with your photographic style, it will hopefully take you back to the basis: the joy of manual controlled bodies (the “think camera” said Leica of its 1967’s M4), turning the speed dial, setting the desired aperture, focus the object, and manually advancing the film lever to the next shot, breathing the smell of the next film roll to be loaded.

Whatever the system you chose (35mm, medium format, large format, SLR, rangefinder), a quest will begging to find the lens that suits your style best,the focal length that matches your eye. Glass is king, and for me the king of the 35mm rangefinder is the Sun King, the 50mm f/1,5 Sonnar design lens.

Welcome the Sonnar Summer.

Chapter I.- The conquer of the 35mm standard focal length.

Part 1.- Let there be light.

Ludwig Jakob Bertele (1900-1985) was a genius optic-lens designer with immense hunger for light.

From 1919 to 1923 while working for Ernemann Co. of Dresden, he developed the first fast lens of the world for photographic cameras, the Ernostar 10 cm f/2,0 lens for the Ermanox Camera, a small camera holding 41/2 x 6cm plates. At the time f/4.5 was considered a fast lens by ordinary standards, consequently a 2.5x times faster f/2,0 lens constituted a huge innovation. This achievement marked the naissance of available light photography.

Previously in 1916 Charles Clayton Minor had developed a variation of the Cooke Triplet with an additional positive element in the front airspace. Said design was manufactured for the 18x24mm cine format around 1920 by the Gundlach-Manhattan Optical Company in Rochester, New York, under the name Ultrastigmat f/1,9 (40mm 50mm 75mm). This lens was one-seventh of a stop faster than the Ernostar but that is a relative aperture consideration provided that the Ernostar covered a ± 20° of field at f/2,0 with excellent definition, almost twice the field than the Ultrastigmat.

The Ernostar was a variation from the Cooke Triplet which followed a principle similar to the Minor objective; it featured six elements in four groups, the two front positive groups consisting of cemented doublets, plus a negative element and a final positive element behind the stop. The interface in the front component was dispersive while that in the second component was collective, and the rear airspace was quite wide.

By 1924 Bertele had improved his design and increased the maximum aperture to f/1,8. This Ernostar 85mm f/1,8 kept the six elements in four groups configuration, and consisted of a front positive element; a cemented triplet containing a high-index element between a positive and a negative element, so that the first interface was dispersive while the second was collective; then another negative element; while behind the stop was a final positive element. The new f/1,8 Ernostar gave better definition than the previous f/2,0 Ernostar, and covered a wider angular field (± 24°) so that an 85mm lens could now be used to cover a 41/2x6cm plate.

Sources of the series.

Happiness is a warm M6 (a tribute)

(I need a fix cause I’m going down)

It has been 2 years since I acquired my Leica M6. At the time I needed a fix for my M2 who had suffered the dreadful viewfinder blackout, I thought that I was going down in my long rangefinder  journey but it just happened that this lonely M6 was waiting for me at a (strangely) unnoticed auction at the bay.

A few words about the M6 in general.

The M6 is the 5th generation of the Leica M camera system. It was produced from 1984 to 1998, the longest production of any M body with more than 100,000 units made. It is also the generation with more “special editions” to the date, some of them are a true gem indeed.

The M6 “Classic” (to differentiate from the later TTL version) came in 3 viewfinder options: standard 0.72x, wide-angle 0.58x and accurate focus 0.85x. These numbers mean the magnification factor of the viewfinder in relation to the 100% (aka 1:1 or 1.0x) real life image that our eyes perceive. Each viewfinder magnification have its specific set of frame lines, the 0.85 has 35-135; 50-75 and 90 as a stand alone unlike the 0.72 which has the 28-90.

The M6 is the third Leica M body with TTL ambient light metering after the M5 and the CL, but the first one to incorporate these feature in the classic M3 body construction.

The particular M6 0.85

The M6 0.85 “Classic” is a relatively rare camera, only 3,130 units were made all black chrome. I acquired one made on November 17, 1997 from a batch of 2,000 units from serial number 2423001 to 2425000.

My precious


Viewfinder: 0.85 image magnification size.

Framelines: 0.85× (35-135, 50-75, 90)

Shutter speeds: Bulb, 1 sec., 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, (ghost 1/50 stop for flash synch), 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000

Film speed: 6–6400 ISO

Power supply: 2 silver oxide button cells (type SR44) or 1 lithium battery (1/3 N) (Which I have never found in my local battery supply store). Power supply is for exposure meter operation only, this means that even if you ran out of batteries you can keep on shooting guessing the exposure using the Sunny 16 rule.

Why the 0.85 magnification? A finder’s keeper’s tale (Sources CQ and KR)

The entire idea of Rangefinders is accurate focus. The longer the Range Finder Base and the larger the Image Magnification size, the longer the Effective Base Length.


The longer the EBL, the greater the Rangefinder and focus accuracy.

The M3 is the most accurate Leica M, being the M6 0.85 practically as accurate

Camera RangeFinder Base Image Magnification Effective Base Length Focus Accuracy
Leica M3 68.5 .91 62.33 100%
Leica M6 69.53 .85 59.1 95%

The 0.85 magnification viewfinder therefore provides easier focusing with long lenses and more accurate focusing with fast lenses. Focusing is equal accurate with wide angle lenses, you just need the proper external viewfinder for framing.

In addition, the viewfinder is really bright and clear (a joy to use while framing and focusing) and the rangefinder focusing patch is contrasty enough in most conditions. However the patch is prone to flare or fade in poor light conditions and facing directly to the light source. Apparently more modifications were made in the M6 to accommodate the meter, with the results of more flare under some lighting conditions than its previous M counterparts. (CQ). The rangefinder spot of the M6 flares because light leaks into it from the frameline illumination window. (KR)

For this reason I sent my M6 to DAG to install flare-free optics that will improve the flare up to the levels of MP viewfinder which has anti-reflection coating. I believe that Don knows what exactly Leica sacrificed in the M6, M4-2 viewfinder (due to budget and metering reasons) that the prior M3, M2, M4 viewfinders did had, and such improvement reincorporate.

That is the story behind the scenes of my Leica M6 .85 with improved view finder optics. I intend to keep this camera for as long as there is film in this world.

Pirates, Drugs and Temples

Pirate Bokeh

A detail of the Xmast Tree from Gabriela’s

Leica M6 – C Biogon 35mm at f2,8 – 1/4 sec – Ilford HP5+ 400 – D76, 1:1

Friday Service

A nearby temple. People rarely comes by although several foreign missioners visit it every year…

It reminds me of Roque Dalton’s poem:

Victoria Divina
Esto de los Testigos de Jehová
está super jodido
porque después vendrán
los jueces de Jehová
los fiscales de Jehová
los cuilios de Jehová
los Guardias Nacionales de Jehová
y nos tomarán entre todos
la declaración extrajudicial de Jehová
Para no hablar todavía
del CONDECA de Jehová
y luego los marines de Jehová
y los bombardeos estratégicos de Jehová
más conocidos con el nombre de

Leica M6 – Summicron 50mm f2,0 – Arista Plus 100

Pharmacy and Loneliness

A fair view of the new Medicine Law.

Leica M6 – Zeiss C Biogon 35mm f 2,8 – Acros 100

Leaked Light

When you are inexperienced in the arts of self developing (or you are not paying attention to what you are doing), you may ruin a film.

This is the result of such a problem, for some reason I got distracted (maybe I was too tired to be developing film) and I barely open the tank top lid.

Moral: Develop film requires your full attention, do not attempt it if you are too tired or are not in the mood of it. Remember you need patience and discipline to do it right.

The film was my last Neopan 400 pushed to 1600. Shot on a Leica M6 – Nokton 50mm f1,5

Notice the white traces, the heavy grain and the lack of definition

Faux lenses

Morning – Breakfast

White traces

Sign Promenade

Bus Stop 

My name is Jean