Friday, July 9, 2021



Text and Photos : José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Born in 1951, since his teenage years in Budapest, Zoltán Fejér was exceedingly attracted by classic analogue photographic devices, particularly the 24 x 36 mm format Leica rangefinder cameras and lenses.

His love for this photographic scope was such that he began to increasingly buy cameras, lenses and books, boosting his knowledge little by little until in mid sixties he learnt the basic principles of photography and in 1969 he joined Kelly Zsigmond with whom he learned a great deal about the secrets of photography and how to best use old classic Leica RF cameras, along with the mastery of light.

From mid seventies he decided to become a historian of photography and went on buying his first Leica rangefinder, a Leica M3.

Back view of Z.F Leica M3 rangefinder. This is probably the best 24 x 36 mm format Leica RF camera ever made, mainly thanks to its extraordinary and exceptionally bright glass rangefinder coupled to a 0.92x magnification masterpiece viewfinder — with a baselength of 69.25 mm and an effective baselength of 63 mm — which gets a crystal clear vision and turns this camera (optimized for use with 50 mm, 75 mm and 90 mm lenses) into the best combination ever between a 35 mm camera and a 50 mm lens. The M3´s exceedingly large viewfinder (visible in the image on top left area of the camera back area, on the right of the strap lug) is the most accurate and contrasty of any Leica VF ever made and enables the very comfortable and exact use of even 90 mm and 135 mm lenses, projecting big, bright and complete framelines.

Subsequently, he turned into an indefatigable great connoisseur of 24 x 36 mm format cameras, lenses and accessories, delving into even the most minute details and deeply studying the various properties and image aesthetics of an assortment of black and white chemical films, experiencing with different developers inside his home darkroom, as well as acquiring a remarkable knowledge on optics and the traits and image aesthetics delivered by a slew of 35 mm Leitz lenses.

Between 1985 and 1993 he was the editor of the Képzőművészeti Kiadó magazine, focused on high quality black and white photography.

Since early nineties starts the international projection of Zoltán Fejer, consolidating a brilliant career as a photojournalist working for the Városi Fotó Vállalat (Budapest Photography Co. Agency)

and becoming a well-known photo art collector and photo artist member of the Photo Artist Association, participating in exhibitions all over Europe, and from around mid nineties he is recognized as a world-class expert both in the field of large cameras, lenses and accessories and in the 35 mm cameras and lenses domain, becoming a phototechnical columnist of Fotóművészet, one of the best photography magazines in the world, and publishing articles on a number of cameras and lenses, also including in-depth researches on the Hungarian Bilux exposure meter, patented in 1938 and of which the Hungarian Optical Works made thousands in 1941.

On the other hand, Zoltán Fejer has been since 2001 a member of the Westlicht Schauplatz für Fotografie panel of experts along with James E. Cornwall, Paul-Henry van Hasbroeck, Jim McKeown, Lars Netopil, Ottmar Michaely, Dr Bahman Bawendi, Peter Göllner, Larry Gubas, Mayumi Kobayashi, Uli Koch, Dr, Milos Mladek, Dr. Wolfgang Netolitzky, Bernd K. Otto, Dieter Scheiba and others, in addition to having published his work

Hungarian Cameras, a milestone book published by both Hogyf Editio Budapest and Lindemanns Verlag Stuttgart in 2001 with text in German and English, and the fruit of 20 years of very hard work and research by the author who proved that since immediately after the end of the Second World War, Hungary was able to develop its own photographic industry with a number of very interesting and high quality cameras and lenses made through sheer ingenuity and knowledge, it features a 21 x 29 cm size, 180 pages, 254 pictures in black and white and 22 in color.

Some of his large format pictures of architecture appear in the book Building the State: Architecture, politics and state formation in post-war Central Europe written by Virág Molnár in 2013 and published in United States and Canada by Routledge.

He is a member of the European Photo Historical Society and in 2011 he was bestowed the Hungarian Photographers Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

But 24 x 36 mm format Leica rangefinder cameras (along with LF cameeras) have always been his favourite ones, because of their amazing optical and mechanical precision turning them into real masterpieces of craftsmanship, so he has preserved and used his beloved Leica M3 for forty-six years since he bought it in 1975.

Top view of Zoltan Fejer´s Leica M3.

Aside from featuring the best and biggest finder ever made for a Leica, the M3 offers the possibility of using 35 mm lenses by means of special goggles put in front of the RF and VF windows, as happens here with Z.F´s Leica M3 attached to an almost symmetrical 6 elements in four groups and ten blades diaphragm Leitz Summaron-M 35 mm f/2.8 with IROOA shade.

The Leitz Summaron.M 35 mm f/2.8 is a very good lens, particularly for black and white photography and features an excellent optical correction with near zero distortion.

The special goggles adapt the 50 mm base viewfinder to the field of view of the Leitz Summaron 35 mm f/2.8, so the 0.92x magnification factor becomes a 0.64x.

Also important is the minimalist but highly efficient camera top panel with only the necessary dials and knobs: speed shutter dial, advance lever with shutter button and frame counter.

Aerial front view of Zoltan Fejer´s Leica M3 with special goggles for the Leitz Summaron-M 35 mm f/2.8 made in Wetzlar (Germany) with its IROOA shade.

The appearance of this historical camera with which Leica started its M series is certainly glittering, since it was made with the best materials available and almost 100% handcraftedly manufactured with painstaking attention to every detail.

On the other hand, this mirrorless with rangefinder camera features an unmatched hitherto horizontal focal plane mechanical shutter, a masterpiece created by the genius Ludwig Leitz, made of rubberized silk and with a shutter lag time of only 16 ms, far superior in this regard to the best digital current professional cameras both in the reflex and mirrorless field.

This way, unlike reflex cameras in which the subject is hidden to the photographer during the shutter firing sequence, not being possible to see what he is photographing at the instant of exposure, with the Leica M3 and other rangefinders you can see what is happening throughout the whole exposure and know exactly what you have captured on film.

To name only a few examples, superb digital professional full frame reflex cameras like the Nikon D800 and the Nikon D4 feature a shutter lag time of 209 ms, whereas the Nikon D4s sports a shutter lag time of 204 ms.

Upward view of Zoltan Fejer´s Leica M3 showing the first-class precision in the mechanizing and finish of every component, specially glaring in its rounded contours and the baseplate.

Aerial top view of the black crackle finish goggles, the Leitz Summaron 35 mm f/2.8 lens and the IROOA Sonnenblende.

Zoltan Fejer holding a Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH lens cutaway in vertical position at Westlicht Schauplatz für Fotografie. This 8 elements in 5 grups lens became a turning point in the history of standard f/1.4 lenses since the very moment of its launching into market in 2004, after being designed by Peter Karbe, who created a new benchmark that beat the non aspherical 7 elements in 5 groups Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 designed by Walter Mandler in 1961 that had been the yardstick among 50 mm f/1.4 lenses for 43 years and which on its turned had improved the optical and mechanical performance of the 7 elements in 3 groups Carl Zeiss Sonnar 5 cm f/1.5 designed by Ludwig Bertele in 1932.

The 9 blade diaphragm Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH features an aspherical surface in the fourth element and a floating group made up by the last two elements next to the film or digital sensor. It results in an exceptional image quality at every eperture — even at the maximum one — and distance, including the nearest focusing ones without any decrease in contrast, also boasting a mechanical construction of the highest level and a very light weight for its f/1.4 aperture of 335 g, along with a very small diameter of 53,47 mm.

Regarding fall-off, it is visible at f/1.4 (with corners being a full stop darker than the center), moderate at f/2 and disappears at f/2.8.

Its reduction of chromatic aberration to almost zero levels is really commendable, in the same way as its correction of distortion, whose levels are negligible (only an exceedingly small pìncushion one in the corners, virtually imperceptible).

On the other hand, the centering of the optical cell in this lens is impressively accurate and a key factor to attain its stunning performance, because the tolerances narrow as the aperture increases.

Zoltan Fejer´s Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH attached to its Leica M3 rangefinder camera.

It is a lens designed and manufactured to last many decades of hard use under both extreme weather conditions or normal ones, and its top-drawer mechanical construction enables flawless expansion and contraction under such environments and continuous professional use, thanks to the perfect alignment of the optical cell and an extensive know-how in the choice of metals and alloys to use in each component of the lens mount, without forgetting a very difficult to achieve uppermost balance in the correction of the spherical aberration and distortion.

And the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH is above all a stellar performer in low light photographic contexts, being able to capture excellent sharpness across the image surface, along with full shadow detail and absence of coma even in areas with neon lights at night.

To put it in a nutshell, this lens is one of the most significant feats in the history of photographic lenses, since Peter Karbe had to tackle the most difficult task for an optical designer: the creation of a very small and light f/1.4 lens rendering superb performance, so he had to make a more than strenuous effort for years to implement manual adjustments far beyond the optimization programs to avoid a large size and weight through sheer tremendous knowledge, experience and ingenuity.

Therefore, it is much more difficult to design and manufacture a very small and light lens like the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH featuring a diameter of 53.47 mm, a length of 52.5 mm from bayonet flange and a weight of 335 g delivering superb optical and mechanical performance than to design a lens in whose manufacturing parameters there wasn´t any limit to size, weight and length, as happens with the Zeiss Otus Distagon T* 55 mm f/1.4, which is the world benchmark on tripod with its stratospheric definition, contrast and bokeh inherent to a medium format very long Distagon design applied to 35 mm format, but the exceedingly small and very low weight of the Leica Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH gives it the upper hand in photographic contexts where the photographer has to shoot handheld, both in results and comfort, because in real picture taking environments without a tripod, it is much more difficult to draw the immense potential of the Zeiss Otus Distagon T* 55 mm f/1.4 (weight of 1030 g, diameter of 77 mm and considerably larger dimensions of 9.25 x 14. 38 mm), and the same would happen if the handheld comparison were made with the formidable 7 elements in 6 groups AI and AI-s Noct-Nikkor 58 mm f/1,2 ASPH produced between 1977 and 1997 featuring a diameter of 74 mm, a weight of 465 g and a splendid manually ground aspherical surface located in the outer side of the front element.

Diagonal left view of the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH lens cutaway held by Z.F. We can see the intricate mechanical design with 8 elements in 5 groups and an optical cell in which every space has been filled to the utmost to get a remarkable level of miniaturization, with a praiseworthy reduction in both size and weight and simultaneously getting an extraordinary opticasl and mechanical performance, something which is by far the most exacting task for a lens designer.

This is a 100% metallic lens, with the exception of the high quality plastic focusing knob.

We can also see the brass focusing helicoid which makes possible an admirable smoothness of the focusing mount, and surrounding it the black wedge cam whose mission is to couple the lens with the rangefinder of a Leica M camera.

This is a pinnacle of optical and mechanical engineering.

Back area of the Summilux-M 50 mm f1.4 ASPH lens cutaway held by Zoltan Fejer, who shows the brass focusing helicoid which makes possible an admirable smoothness of the focusing mount, and side-by-side to it the black ring wedge cam aimed at coupling the lens with the rangefinder of a Leica M camera.

On the other hand, the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH includes a number of exotic and very expensive optical glasses sporting unique refractive properties that in synergy with the aspherical surface, a handmade excellent assembly of the metallic components, the floating element (which apart from increasing optical performance at closer ranges eliminates the focus shift) and an extraordinary mechanical build bring about a first-rate image quality and turn it into a stellar all-around performer. 

Zoltan Fejer holding a 5 elements in 4 groups and 20 blades diaphragm Ernst Leitz Telyt 20 cm f/4,5 lens cutaway in M39 screw mount cutaway, with SFTOO finder, extension tube and UVA filter. Introduced in 1935, it was produced between 1935 and 1960, featuring a weight of 550 g and a minimum focusing distance of 3 meters.

The SFTOO finder is a very small telescope RF/VF and is inserted in the camera shoe or PLOOT and can be also used on the extension tube TZFOO with Telyt 20 cm f/4.5 without Visoflex.

It was an extensively used lens with SFTOO finder by the great Austrian photographer Lothar Rübelt (one of the pioneers of sports photography), particularly during the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin (Germany) with amazing images of the diving contest, Jesse Owens in the 100 m competition and others, throughout the Winter Olympic Games in St.Moritz (Switzerland) in 1948, and during the Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki (Finland) 1952 where he got great pictures of Emil Zatopek — gold medal in the 5,000 m, 10,000 m and marathon — in addition to covering a lot of football matches with it, displaying an incredible gift to get wonderful sports pictures with this not very luminous lens.

Zoltan Fejer examining the air-spaced doublet located very near the rear of the Telyt 200 f/4.5 lens cutaway.

Lateral vertical view of the Telyt 200 mm f/4.5 lens cutaway with its SFTOO finder, extension tube and UVA filter. It can be seen the great thickness of the lens front cemented doublet making up the first group, the large air space separating it from the crown meniscus lens and aperture diaphragm and the air-spaced doublet next to the rear of the lens setting up the last group.

Zoltan Fejer admiring the beauty of the Telyt 200 mm f/4.5 with its SFTOO finder, extension tube and UVA filter,

forming a really gorgeous cutaway outfit in perfect cosmetic condition, as a homage to a golden period embodied by the genius Oskar Barnack and the lens designer Max Berek, who began the legendary photographic path of the Leica brand at the Leitz factory in Wetzlar (Germany).

Zoltan Fejer looking over a 7 elements in five groups and 16 blade diaphragm Leitz Summarit 5 cm f/1.5 in screw mount lens cutaway.

Manufactured between 1949 and 1960, it features the same optical formula as the uncoated Xenon 50 mm f/1.5 ( made between 1936 and 1950 ), but with the addition of an anti-reflection single coat.

This Xenon 5 cm f/1.5 design had been created in 1934 by the great British designer W.H.Lee from Taylor & Hobson, and its optical scheme was subsequently adopted by Schneider in 1936 — which gave it the name Xenon — and Leitz Wetzlar — for which Schneider made the lens —.

The Summarit 5 cm f/1.5 following a classic highly luminous Gauss design, was mostly manufactured at the Leitz factory in Wetzlar (Germany), while the last batch was made at the Leitz Midland Factory in Ontario (Canada).

It isn´t an all-around performer at all, because the contrast is very low, particularly at the widest f/1.5 aperture and up to f/4, as well as featuring a lot of flare.

But is a very robust lens, mechanical construction is excellent with a super smooth focusing, and above all, it can deliver wonderful fifties style vintage pictures in color and specially in black and white, a kind of unique dreamy and romantic image highly useful in spectacular and different portraits, with a really nice look.

Another view of the Summarit 50 mm f/1.5 in thread mount lens cutaway grabbed by Z.F. This is a very beautiful chromed brass objective that boasts a highly dictinct character and vintage look.

Obviously, it lags very far behind the resolution and contrast of any pre-aspherical Sumillux 50 mm f/1.4 and the most modern Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH, or any pre-aspherical Summicron 50 f/2.

But if in good condition (id est, lacking noticeable fog between elements and without cleaning marks in the front elements) it is a specialized stunningly good lens in portraiture where the aim is to get that special glow and old character inherent to some screwmount Leica lenses from thirties, forties and fifties, with softness in edges and creamy tonal range at the widest apertures,, above all in black and white images where the spherical aberration is visually more appealing — , something that is not easy to define with words but truly makes a difference in terms of image aesthetics (including an exceedingly and unique exceedingly beautiful swirling and melting bokeh) compared to the quite scientific and perfection biased designing philosophy of cream of the crop primes regarding definition and contrast like the Leica aspherical 50 mm lens, the pre-aspherical Leica Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 and the pre-aspherical Summicrons 50 mm f/2.

On the other hand, it was one of William Eggleston´s preferred lenses.

Zoltan Fejer watching a Leitz Summarex 8.5 cm f/1.5 lens cutaway featuring 7 elements in 5 groups and a 17-blade diaphragm, designed by Max Berek in 1936 and produced between 1943 and 1960, most of them in chrome since 1948. It is one of the most beutiful Leica lenses ever made.

Zoltan Fejer in 1975 posing with his just acquired Leica M3 camera inside a photographic studio in Budapest (Hungary).

Whatever it may be, this Hungarian Leica master has kept throughout forty-six years his passion for Leica rangefinder cameras and lenses, particularly his gorgeous Leica M3 serial number from 1955 serial number 786223 that he bought in 1975.

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