Category Archives: Leica Screwmount

The Rare Rigid LTM 50mm f2 Summicron, 1960-1963

In 1956, Leitz introduced a rigid version of the 50mm f2 Summicron, the revolutionary lens first offered as a collapsible version in LTM in 1953 and in M mount in 1954. The 1956 rigid version constituted a revised optical design with a harder front element and deeper rear element. A “Dual-Range” M mount rigid version was also introduced at this time. Leitz produced this “second version” rigid Summicron, both normal and dual-range, between 1956 and 1968.

Between 1960 and 1963, Leitz also produced 1160 copies of  this rigid second version in LTM, making it one of the rarer and most valuable Summicrons produced. Of course, its rarity soon encouraged the assembling of fakes; the rigid Summicron’s lens head can be unscrewed from the rigid mount, and Leitz complicated matters by supplying rigid mounts in LTM for a few years so that owners of M and LTM bodies wouldn’t have to buy two lenses but could simply swap one lens head between two different lens mounts, M or LTM.

The end result is that it’s a good possibility that the LTM Rigid Summicron you’re being offered for sale is a frankenlens and not a true factory assembled version. The situation becomes further confused in that the true focal length of the rigid Summicrons differed slightly, depending on the version – 51.6, 51.9 or 52.2 – while the LTM rigid mount required a specific 51.9 focal length lens head, and many of these self-assembled lenses contain 51.6 or 52.2 lens heads mated to LTM rigid mounts.

How can you tell you’re looking at a rare factory assembled example instead of one made up from a replacement focusing mount and a non matching lens head? Fortunately, on the factory assembled models Leitz engraved the serial number of the lens both on the lens head and on the detachable lens mount. If these serials match, you’ve got a legit factory assembled LTM Rigid Summicron; if not, you’ve got a self-assembled frankenlens with potential focal length compatibility issues, one that can’t claim to be among the 1160 produced by Leitz.

A further complication in identifying a real factory produced version is that Leitz apparently produced them in dribs and drabs instead of one sequential run of 1160 consecutive serial numbers. According to Dennis Laney’s Leica Collector’s Guide, accepted serial number ranges for a legit copy are 1,599,XXX, 1,704,XXX, 1,706,XXX, 1,762,XXX, 1,763,XXX and 1,885,XXX, “but, as always with Leitz, the fact that a lens falls outside of this range does not necessarily mean it is not original” [Laney’s words]. The litmus test is the matching serial numbers.

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I was recently contacted by Bill Moretz, the owner of a reputable brick and mortar photo establishment in business since 1988 doing repair and photo lab services and equipment rental – asking me about a rigid Summicron he had in inventory he wasn’t quite sure exactly what it was. I had him send me some pics, did a little research, and then asked him to remove the mount from the lens head to see if the serials matched. They did. His rigid thread mount Summicron is a rare factory assembled original, serial number 1,607,043. According to Bill, everything in great condition optically and mechanically.

Bill has asked that I put the word out through the blog that the lens is for sale, and I told him I’d be happy to do so in order that he might avoid the pitfalls of Ebay and the various ways dishonest buyers devise to scam honest sellers out of collectible items. He’s asking $1950 plus insured shipping charges of $30 within the States. In my opinion, that’s a great deal as I see undocumented versions with various optical issues offered from anywhere between $1700 on the low end to $2800-$3000 on the high end. It comes with the original matching Leitz hood and lens cap.

If you’re interested, contact me at leicaphilia@gmail.com.

Cartier-Bresson’s LTM Summicron Sold at Auction

hcbsummicronHCB’s LTM Summicron

WestLicht  Auctions just auctioned off Cartier-Bresson’s 35mm Summicron, shown above.

“Unique lens used by Henri Cartier-Bresson with his black paint IIIg camera: the black paint 8-element lens (with very clean optics) was transformed from the original M-mount lens (0.7m, red plastic dot) on special order by removing the bayonet ring. Also the focus-tab was modified by removing the infinity lock and an extended lever was built-in. The lens has the same index dots made with nail gloss as the famous 2/5cm black paint collapsible Summicron used by HCB. It comes with both caps and a confirmation of authenticity by Lars Netopil from April 2015.”

Final Hammer price: 38,400 euros

Ode to a Barnack Leica

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The following is prose, so it really isn’t an ode. But if it could be, it would be …an ode to a Barnack Leica.

To paraphrase something I read in the Forward to the Oxford Book of English Prose: Science moves forward, but stays in constant flux. What is established as true in fact today will be proved wrong tomorrow. (The great brains of Science disagree whether we, or anything at all, really exist……throw that one into the next photo technology dispute you encounter.) What remains constant is the condition of man.

Read any great classical work by Victor Hugo and you will see the truth of it: the same behavior, thoughts, emotions, responses and interpersonal problems that plague the characters in a Hugo story apply to us as we go through our lives even today. As I enter middle, middle age, I sense the bigger payoff, for me, as I head into the last chapters of my life, will reside in Hugo…..and paying attention to the constants of being human.

I do not know, but I suspect that this attitude is, at least in part, responsible for my recent interest in using Barnack Leicas and LTM lenses. The pull is strong; I believe it has more to do with me than the cameras. The cameras have always been there, but I have only recently evolved to the point where I appreciate what they represent. I wish this had happened sooner in my life. I’ve wasted a lot of time and effort being distracted by things that, in the final analysis, matter very little for what is true in life, let alone what’s true in my photography.

It says something that, only hours after receiving my Barnack Leica (that’s it below), I already had loaded it and had taken a number of photos.

Given the fact that optics are always advancing, its an 80 year old camera that will age with me.

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This was sent to me by Wayne Pinney of Indiana, who describes himself as a “perennial novice.” He’s written here before. I love how and what Mr. Pinney writes: spare, well-written, to the point, no artifice, and best of all, thoughtful and literate. In other words, everything I’m usually not. If most of what’s been written by me on this blog is a Sony A7, Wayne’s writing would be a simple, elegant Leica M2.

$30 Jupiters On Your $8000 Leica

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5cm 1.5 Jupiter-3

Lomo’s recent recreation of the Jupiter-3, the Jupiter 3+ Art lens, is encouraging news for fans of vintage optics. Designed (presumably) for out of the box use on Leica bodies and offered for sale at $649, it’s a reasonable alternative to stratospherically priced Leica offerings, modern Zeiss variations, and numerous Voigtlander 50mm lenses, all of which exhibit varying levels of modern clinical excellence. Some of us like the less resolute character of the vintage Sonnar designs, the Zeiss Optons, Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnars and their progeny – the Nikkor-S and H.C and the soviet made Jupiters. They’ve got what optics fans refer to as “character.” While I wish Lomo all the best and hope they sell a million of them, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you do not, however, necessarily need to spend $649 for a Jupiter-3 or Jupiter-8. You can pick up a Jupiter-8 (the 5cm f2 variation) on Ebay for next to nothing, with a vintage Jupiter-3 fetching not much more.

A few years ago, succumbing to the lure of the esoteric (and cheap), I picked up a chrome soviet made Jupiter-8 5cm LTM lens on Ebay, to use as a cheap alternative standard lens on my IIIg and M bodies. Having read the usually dismissive internet comments about the Jupiters, I wasn’t expecting much, a novelty lens at best that I’d use occasionally as whims dictated. The seller was Ukrainian, and stated that the lens had been completely dismantled, lubricated and adjusted to “Leica specs”, whatever that meant. I bought it for $30, free shipping. Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a beautiful, clean, incredibly smooth focusing lens that produced beautiful vintage images even wide open and had the tactile feel the equal of any other lens I’d ever owned. A soviet clone of the Zeiss Sonnars first produced in the 1930’s, the Jupiter-8’s appeal is its small size, sharpness, low distortion and excellent flare resistance because of the Sonnar design’s minimal glass surfaces. Plus, it’s cheap, as in, cheaper than a typical lens hood for a Leitz lens.

Of course, any honest discussion of soviet optics needs to address the real issue of the build quality, which in the Jupiters can be a hit or miss proposition, seemingly dependent on the day of the week the lens was assembled and its relationship to the given vodka ration at that time. You can tell a Jupiter’s assembly year by the serial number – the first two numerals indicating the year of assembly. I assume my particular lens felt so smooth and well put together because of the servicing it had received from the seller. But it appears to be a nicely machined, tightly assembled piece. It has a 64xxxxx serial number, meaning it was produced in 1964, and as a general rule, the 50’s and 60’s era Jupiters are more consistently manufactured and assembled than the later lenses.  In any event, even if you get a sloppily assembled one, its usually, easily enough adjusted to spec by a competent lens repairman.

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5cm f2 Jupiter-8 on an IIIf

A larger problem, one that I think has contributed the most to Leicaphiles’ negative perceptions of the Jupiters, is the “focus shift” issue.  Chances are your Jupiter-8 will be noticeably out of focus wide open when mounted on your Leica. Most people chalk it up to either the inherent focus shift of the Sonnar design at maximum apertures or the belief that it’s just the nature of a crappy Russian lens. Actually, the Jupiters, when correctly matched to your Leica, are capable of wonderful results, their focus issues mostly down to an inherent incompatibility between the soviet made LTM Jupiters and the design parameters of Leica rangefinder bodies.

Photographers in  the 1930’s had a choice of two excellent camera systems – Leica or Contax. These two cameras have different focusing systems. Both are built around 50mm lens but use different assumptions for coupling to the rangefinder system. Leica has a short-base magnifier, which connects to its thread-mount lenses. Every lens has a rangefinder cam, which transmits the focusing distance to the camera, and uses the rate of movement of the focusing helicoid of a 51.6mm lens (the actual focal length). This rate of movement is used to calculate a multiplier, which is then used in calibration of the rangefinder for every lens – a wide angle lens will have a shorter helicoid rate of movement, while a tele will have a longer rate of movement. The multiplier serves to position the rangefinder at the right focusing distance. Contax, which has a 50mm focusing helix, is standardized at a 52.3mm lens as the choice for a 50mm lens. As such, the rate of movement for a Contax standard 50mm is different from Leica’s. To have a lens work properly on either Leica or Contax body, designers use one of the focal lengths assumptions (51.6mm or 52.3mm), exact rate of movement and multiplier, and finally the distance from the back focus of the lens to the film plane. Change one of these and you have a lens that won’t focus correctly. Ergo, Contax standardized lenses, even in LTM, don’t focus exactly on Leica bodies given the differing rangefinder design parameters.

Soviet lenses, “heirs” to the Zeiss Contax way of doing things, perpetuate this incompatibility. The Russians took Zeiss’s designs and machinery as war reparations after the Second World War. They took the specifications for the Contax lenses and used them for the Leica mount lenses they were producing for their own LTM bodies – Zorkis and Feds- most notably the nominal 50mm focal length that the camera’s rangefinder expects as a standard, the Jupiter-3 a clone of the Zeiss 1.5, the Jupiter-8 that of the Zeiss 2.0. This made soviet LTM Jupiter lenses technically incompatible with Leica cameras. In the 50’s through 70’s this wasn’t an issue – soviet photographers didn’t, or couldn’t, use Leicas anyway; the LTM Jupiter lenses were built to be used on Feds and Zorkis with the focal length assumptions of a Contax. And it isn’t evidence of some half-cocked technical shortcoming on the part of the soviet camera industry; Nikon did exactly the same thing with their rangefinder system – which otherwise used the same mount as the Contax rangefinders but with a different rate of movement, so Nikon/Contax rangefinder users face the same problem as the Leica/Fed/Zorki ones – wide angles nominally compatible between the two systems given greater inherent depth of field, faster and longer lenses mis-focusing at close distances and wide open.

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The 8.5cm Jupiter-9

The difference between soviet LTM and Leica LTM is real, and while it doesn’t affect most lenses (the various Industar 50mm lenses and the 35mm/2.8 Jupiter-12 are almost totally unaffected, due to their wider depth of field), once you start getting into faster and longer lenses it does become a problem. If you understand the limitations of soviet lenses on a Leica (or Leica spec) body, or if you know how to modify a Jupiter to Leica spec, you can get some rocking good lenses really cheap for your screwmount or M mount Leica.

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If you want to use soviet Jupiters on your Leica, the solution to this incompatibility is to have  your Jupiter “shimmed” to Leica spec. Jupiter-3s and 8s can be easily shimmed, but the Jupiter-9 85/2 apparently can not. These Jupiter lenses are all Sonnar type lenses, subject to the focus shift inherent in the Sonnar design. The Jupiter-3 shim fix relies on using the focus shift to allow full focusing capability, while shimming the Jupiter-9 apparently causes further focus shift.

The second option is to ignore the Leica mount altogether and use vintage Contax mount Jupiters on your Leica M with an Amedeo adaptor that negates the need to shim the lens.  Contax mount soviet lenses are built to the same specifications as native Zeiss Contax mount optics, so the Amedeo Contax to Leica adapter will ensure correct mounting and focusing when mounted on a Leica M. Of course, you’ll need to pay two hundred dollars for the Amedeo adaptor so that you can use cheap soviet lenses on your M, but you now have a lot of cool vintage lens options for your M: the Helios 103 (a.k.a the Soviet Summicron), a correctly focusing Jupiter-9, a Jupiter-11 that can focus closer than the LTM one, a Jupiter-8m (a shorter Jupiter-8 with click stops) – not to mention the Zeiss Optons and other assorted goodies made by Zeiss in Contax mount, all that you can pick up for a fraction of the cost of a like, or often inferior, quality, vintage Leitz lens.

Or you can go really esoteric and use a Contax mount Jupiter, shimmed for a Nikon, adapted to Leica M mount via an Amedeo Nikkor-S to Leica M adaptor. I’m the lucky owner of a 1958 5cm 1.5 Jupiter-3 in Contax mount, shimmed to Nikon S spec, the Frankensteinian creation of Sonnar guru Brian Sweeney. I can use it on my SP, S2 or S3 without adaptor, or on one of my M bodies with the Amedeo Nikon to Leica adaptor. Is it a little rough around the edges mechanically? Yes. But then again, Brian gave me the damn thing, and, I must admit, it produces some really nice negatives (or files if you prefer).

So, invariably, my $1000 “minty” (!) DR Summicron stays at home mounted on my “minty” M2-R, a collector’s piece, while the M’s that jostle around in my bag mount the Jupiter 8 with a cheap LTM to M adaptor, or a Zeiss CZJ 5cm 1.5 Sonnar shimmed to Leica spec by Mr. Sweeney, or a Nikkor-S 5cm 1.4 with Amedeo adaptor, or a Jupiter-3 5cm 1.5 shimmed to Nikon spec and mounted with the Amedeo Nikon to Leica adaptor. I paid, for all of them combined, less than half of what I paid for the DR Summicron, and, being the admitted optics dilettante I am, I’ll be damned if I can tell enough of a difference to justify the huge price differential. As for the CZJ Sonnar, the daddy to the Jupiter-3, it produces a look all it’s own, one I discussed at length here, a look that, coupled with a nice grainy film, brings you back to the glory days of the iconic B&W photography of Capa and HCB and Frank.

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A Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm 1.5 Sonnar, the Daddy of the Jupiter-3

The bottom line is this: if your interest is optical performance at a price un-inflated by status considerations, a decently put together Jupiter can hold its own against much pricier lenses, judged solely on its optical quality. As for “soviet made,” well, life is full of trade-offs, and what Russian technology lacks in fit and finish it’s often made up for in inexpensive yet robust functionality. Apparently, they’re still pulling soviet WW2 tanks out of bodies of water that, after a hose out, new batteries, a jug of oil and a few gallons of fuel, can more or less be driven away. Just a couple years ago in the Ukraine, there was a war memorial some rebels actually drove off with for further use.

Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5cm 1.5 for Leica

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For a very short period during World War II, the Carl Zeiss Optical Factory at Jena built Sonnar lenses in the M39 lens mount used by their biggest competitors, Ernst Leitz Cameras in Wetzlar. During WW2 trade with Nazi Germany was either restricted or forbidden in most countries. The German government, needing foreign currency for the ongoing war effort, appointed the president of Carl Zeiss to coordinate export of German products, probably because of Zeiss’s established contacts with foreign companies.

Carl Zeiss-made Contax foreign sales, along with Leitz’s, had plummeted during the war. However, German military organizations were commissioning Leica cameras to be used by military photographers and  German journalists assigned to the Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine and the Wehrmacht. To ensure ongoing Zeiss production, the president of the Carl Zeiss Jena plant ordered that Leicas should be fitted with Carl Zeiss lenses. And so Carl Zeiss in Jena retrofitted several Contax mount lenses for the Leica Thread Mount: a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 50mm f2.0, a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 50mm f1.5, a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 85mm f2.0 and a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm f4.0. All were produced and sold, although in quantities limited by the contingencies of war, until the end of WW2.

By the end of the war, the Russians had overrun Jena and appropriated the Zeiss manufacturing plant there. The Soviets ran it under their auspices for some time, continuing to produce Zeiss optics under the Carl Zeiss Jena brand, including the M39 LTM Sonnars. The company that remained, “Carl Zeiss Jena,” was not a “fake” company bearing the name of Carl Zeiss; it was the same company in the same factories where all the pre-WWII lenses were made. The company name remained “Carl Zeiss”, and the location of the company remained marked on the lens as the wartime lenses had been.

The Soviets subsequently dismantled the factory and transplanted it to Charkov in Ukraine. They took with them to Charkov Zeiss designs, machines, stock, and workers forced to relocate to Charkov, where the Zeiss factories were reconstituted by the Russians as restitution for the German’s destruction of the Charkov FED plant during the German invasion of the Ukraine. They left, as a legacy, an unknown quantity of Carl Zeiss Jena lenses in M39 mount. These Zeiss Sonnar lenses are the progenitors of the the Jupiter-3 (50mm f1.5), Jupiter-8 (50mm f2.0), the Jupiter-11 (135mm f4.0) and the Jupiter-9 (85mm f2.0), which would be built to the same design, and often with the same machinery, as the Zeiss optics built in Jena. The Russians even adapted the Contax-mount Biogon 35mm f2.8 to their Jupiter-12 35mm f2.8 in LTM.

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The legitimacy of M39 LTM Leica Mount Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnars are often called into question by web “experts.” The problem is that much of the factory records were plundered or lost during the Soviet occupation,  offering fertile ground for all sorts of whacky “Red Scare” theories about the Russians “faking” CZJ lenses. Contrary to what is usually claimed, almost all the M39 lenses that have come onto the modern market are genuine and can be established as such with some critical examination (see below). What seems to confuse collectors is this:  many of the CZJ Sonnars are post WW2 Russian Army Of Occupation lenses, which are only different in build date from their WW2 German build counterparts. However, the internal components are the same as the 1941 to 1943 assembled lenses, and they were assembled with Zeiss machinery and know-how. All Jena factory made WW2 CZJ M39 lenses made during the war had “ears” just as their Contax counterparts did (remember, these were retrofitted Contax lenses), while the post-war Russian-made LTM lenses were produced with Jena factory optics, machines and parts, often don’t have “ears”, but are still legitimate “Carl Zeiss Jena” lenses.

Another thing which confuses collectors is that, even before the partition of Germany, there were three organizations with the name of Zeiss.  Carl Zeiss Optical, established by Carl Zeiss; after Carl Zeiss’s death sole ownership passed on to his partner Ernse Abbe, who established Carl Zeiss Stiftung which would acquire Carl Zeiss Optical as one of its core divisions. Carl Zeiss Stiftung grew and diversified,  in 1926 acquiring four camera manufacturers, merging them to form Zeiss Ikon, its photographic equipment division, based in Dresden. Zeiss Ikon bought lenses from Carl Zeiss Optical for its cameras but Carl Zeiss Optical was free to supply its lenses and other products to other camera makers too. Given all of the above, confusion and misunderstanding seem to trail vintage Zeiss optics at every turn.

Illegitimate CZJ lenses do very infrequently pop up for sale, usually by sellers in the former Eastern Bloc. These are Contax lenses hacked into Russian Jupiter lens mounts, being sold as original  Carl Zeiss Jena M39 Sonnars.  Or they’re Jupiter-3s with the front lens ring removed and replaced with a fake Carl Zeiss Jena lens ring. Those are the fakes.  But it seems to me that there is no practical incentive to try and turn an old Jupiter 3 into a CZJ. The effort and expense of machining a CZJ front ring and replacing it in a early 50’s era Jupiter 3 doesn’t match what little extra money the CZJ would bring over a Jupiter 3 sold as such. So, the bottom line is this: if you’re lucky enough to have found one along the way, your CZJ Sonnar is probably genuine, irrespective of the irrational claims of some self-appointed experts who see fakes everywhere.

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If you know what you’re looking for, it’s not difficult to spot a fake. The first step in determining whether its a fake Zeiss lens converted from a KIEV is to look on the lens’ focusing ring. Russian lenses use metric screws while Zeiss used non-metric screws. Additionally, the Zeiss ring has one short and one longer screw; converted KIEV lenses have equal length screws; the Kievs will typically have a big “M” for the focusing  scales while real CZJ’s will have a small “m”; and the “T” engraving on the front shield, which should be red, will often be white on the fakes. *

In his book Non-Leitz Leica Thread-Mount Lenses, Marc James Small states: “For the most part, [the wartime] lenses have serial numbers in the 2,6xx,xxx to 2,8xx,xxx range, are ‘T’-coated & marked, & all are inscribed ‘Carl Zeiss Jena.'” The 276 series was the last true wartime series, 279 and up were produced in the Jena plant after the Russians had completely taken over Zeiss plants and production. Thus, my copy, #2,866,450, the one shown in the photos, would have been produced in the Russian run Jena plant post-war using Zeiss optical glass, parts, labor and know-how.

I bought my copy from a guy who was selling camera equipment he had inherited from his father years earlier. It was dirty and unused for probably 30 years before he put it up for sale on Ebay, from Ohio, with some really cheesy photos and a description that clearly indicated he had no idea what it was. In talking to him afterwards, he told me his dad had brought it back with a camera from Germany during the occupation, but that’s about all he knew. The lens, bearing all the marks of being legit, cleaned up nice. I had it disassembled and the tech said it had the internal markings consistent with an original.

Older lenses like the CZJ Sonnar weren’t designed with the same tolerances as today’s computer designed and robotically manufactured optics. They don’t have the same  materials and were subject to more impurities.  They age and discolour.  They often have a single coating rather than being multicoated like modern lenses. The Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm 1.5 Sonnar is a cool lens, both as a collectible and as a user, obviously very vintage in character – not very contrasty, not super sharp wide-open but better and better as it’s stopped down. Wide open it has a beautiful soft character with a creamy rendition of out of focus areas, nothing like the clinically harsh and contrasty look of modern Zeiss optics built by Cosina. The photos below are good examples of its character.

I find it a great lens to use on my M8, a way to build some imperfection into a digital image. Or, better yet, pair it with some Double XX pushed a few stops and developed in D76: perfect.

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Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm 1.5 Sonnar. Photos by Andrew Fishkin.
* I’m definitely not an expert, so please take what I’m saying here with a healthy dose of skepticism; I’m essentially repeating common wisdom with respect to telling the real from a fake. If you have better information, and if some of mine is wrong, please feel free to set me right.

Three Tough Leicas

imageThree Leicas on display at the Ginza Leica store in Tokyo. From right to left: a Leica II that deflected a bullet and saved the photographer’s life. The middle camera is a Leica II with lenses found in the Hindenburg wreckage. To the left is an SL2 MOT with Motor and 35 mm Summicron that fell 25,000 foot (7600 m) from a Phantom II fighter jet. Battered but in one piece, and deemed repairable by Leica.