Leica 21mm f/3.4 Super-Angulon M – Technical Information

Manufacturer: Schneider-Kreuznach – Leica
This lens was designed by Werner Wagner in 1963 and patented (No. 1279959)
Optics: 8 elements in 4 groups
Aperture range: f/3.4 to f/22
Number of aperture blades: 4 (square/diamond shaped diaphragm, the resulting ‘bokeh’ might be termed a ‘signature’ of this lens)
Filter: M 48 X 0.75 Thread – or Series 7 (held in place by the hood)
Overall Length: 51mm
Maximum Outer Diameter: 52.5mm
Weight: about 250g (black version, without caps)
Recommended Format Size: 24 X 36 mm
Minimum Image Field: 380mm x 570mm
Optical data (with lens focused at infinity):
Effective Focal Length: 21.6mm
Field of View: 92 degrees
Back Focal Length: 8.3mm
Principal Point Separation: 20.2mm
Shortest Image Distance: 0.4m (16″)
Lens code number: 11103
Number produced: about 6000 from 1962 to 1978 (ish)
Lens hood code number: 12501 (12501M)
Front lens cap code number: 14102 (A52.5)
External viewfinder code number: 12002
Leather case for viewfinder code number: 14617

Leica 21mm f/3.4 Super-Angulon M – In Use

I own and use both the 21mm f/3.4 Super-Angulon and 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar lenses for Leica M series cameras. Although these may appear similar in their basic specification – of focal length and maximum aperture – in reality they are chalk and cheese.  The Super-Elmar is a fabulous, state-of-the-art design and impresses in every way. I will say no more about it, other than that it is a superlative optic. The Super-Angulon is very different and today I would describe it as a ‘quirky’ lens. In its day it was representative of  the best lenses available and very expensive (only the Noctilux was more costly in the Leica M lens lineup). But its design is now over 50 years ago. Back then its 92 degree wide field of view put it into the ‘super-wide’ category of available lenses. Only around 6000 Super-Angulon lenses were made, and as a result its not an abundantly available lens now (some were heavily used and, as they have a protruding and easily damageable rear element block, many have suffered as a result). In my experience, good clean copies are still fairly easy to obtain but it may take a little time to find a reasonably priced, good copy.

For users, the Super-Angulon is extremely sharp in the centre, but its performance does drop off at both edges and corners on full-frame digital cameras. Wide-open it has acceptable performance with high central resolution providing plenty of fine detail and softer corners where slightly less detail is resolved. Optimum apertures are from f/4 to f/8 where resolution maximises, although the edges and corners are never as good as the centre, and it has marginally lower performance at smaller apertures. Its ‘performance’ on a cropped camera such as the M8 is still surprisingly good though.

Contrast is quite reasonable (‘medium’ rather than ‘low’ as there is always some slight degree of  veiling flare present), unless that is, there is damage to the exposed elements (not uncommon), in which case veiling flare can be a significant problem. Without damage it can still be somewhat flare prone, although this is not always the case. It does have a SQUARE aperture diaphragm (so its ‘bokeh’ can be odd at times) and may at times show square ‘flare patches’ if used against the light.

Care needs to be taken with exposure as, in high contrast situations, the central area can easily look ‘washed’ out due to vignetting as this lens does vignette substantially – this is a characteristic of the design. I quite like it and with digital some degree of correction is available if required. Care with exposure is essential to retain highlights, and the lenses protruding rear section means that camera metering is not effective, or if used requires substantial correction. In practice I generally tend to set a rough exposure from either a ‘guestimate’, or use the settings previously used with another lens, and then fine tune after the first exposure on the Super-Angulon; this works well enough for me. I’ve never actually seen distortion figures quoted for this lens and haven’t bothered to test it for distortion as its a non-issue in practice (it is not an absolutely ‘true symmetric’ design though).

Mechanically its pretty well constructed. Faults to look for are looseness of the optical assembly relative to the lens body (mine is a little loose but this causes no image problems). It can also suffer from ‘Schneideritis’ (a condition when internal black paint starts to break off inside the lens) – although I’d personally consider this to be more of a cosmetic rather than practical issue, and of more concern to the neurotic or to collectors than it should be to users (it can be a negotiating ‘fault’ price-wise though – mine has a little and was priced accordingly). The Super-Angulon was not designed by Leica but is a Schneider design and was manufactured/built for or licensed to Leica (I am unsure of exactly who built and assembled what).

Physically its a small, neat lens, let down by the somewhat bulky plastic hood needed to retain the non-threaded Series 7 filters used. These are easy to find and usually cheaper than the screw in E48 it can also take, except that is for the UVIR filter needed when using it on the M8 though, which can be tricky to get hold of and is often pricey when found. Ergonomics are interesting as aperture adjustment is somewhat awkward with the hood in place, but its still a very usable little lens.

[For Info. There is an Leica ‘reflex’ version of this lens too which is optically identical, and a real oddity. Designed for use only on early Leica SLR bodies which had option of locking the ‘mirror-up’, due to its protruding rear section, it has only scale focus (there is no rangefinder coupling). A potentially interesting lens to use with an adapter on M bodies featuring live-view as it has good close focus ability. This lens has its own back cap and hood (12511) and takes Series 8 filters. Less than 2000 were produced but its such an oddity that it always seems to be available in clean condition and complete at fairly low (for Leica lenses) prices.]

I use my Super-Angulon mostly on the M8, and sometimes on the M9. Getting even colour on files can be a little tricky as the steep angle of incidence of light reaching the sensor can cause predominantly red casts towards the image edges (even with Leica’s offset sensor micro-lenses which were developed to minimise this problem). Often I do use the lens with the intention of converting images to B&W. That said, I have shot some of my favourite colour images on the M8/21/3.4/SA combo and really like the results despite its digital shortcomings.

The 21mm Super-Angulon (well the f/3.4 version at any rate) is IMO an underrated lens which, whilst ‘quirky’, deserves use even if only as a B&W lens with ‘classical’ rendering. Its a characterful lens and I could go on but ….. suffice it to say that despite now having a Super-Elmar, my Super-Angulon still gets used and will do so in the future. (The Leica Forum is a very useful source of information on Leica products such as the Super-Angulon).

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