SOOZI THE 90MM SUMMICRON

SOOZI in her long skirt, looking very grown up on an M2


Leitz five-letter telegraphic ordering codes, also known as Leitz Catalogue Chinese, are fascinating  Most people's favourite is probably the close-up attachment NOOKY, though it doesn't do to think to hard or too long about SOOKY. But recently even I was confused. The object of my admiration (and confusion) is plump, bright-eyed, rounded and gorgeous, but is she SOOZI or SEOOF? Or even SECOM? I suspect that SEPOF, as reported in one source, is a typo. Put her in a ZOOEP mini-skirt, though, and she becomes an OESBO. She's a 90mm f/2 Summicron from about 1960, the third version (no less) of a lens reputedly designed by Walter Mandler in about 1954 but not introduced until 1957. 


SOOZI in her ZOOEP mini-skirt, on an M9 with a Visoflex. You can see how the focusing ring (behind the aperture ring) is a bit skinny.


SOOZI seems to have been the original model, with a removable, reversible hood, in screw mount: SOOZI-M was the bayonet version, though it's also a good name for a 1970s pop musician. SEOOF appears to have been the version we have here, a screw-mount lens with the built-in, two-stage collapsible lens hood. In bayonet she'd have been SEOOF-M or, as a 5-letter replacement for the 7-character SOOZI-M, SECOM. Then again, SOOZI SEYOOF sounds like a Lebanese folk singer and SOOZI SEPOF like a Russian spy.  For the terminally unromantic she's 11 133 (lens head only, for bellows), 11 123 (standard rangefinder-coupled M- mount) and 11 124 as OESBO. Regardless of the fact that I'm not being strictly accurate, I shall always think of her as SOOZI. 

An early test in short mount. The text on the spines of the books is readable into the corners, though at full aperture (as here) the smaller print is a little soft.


Anyway, I've already written about the five Leicas that a young friend wants to shift, and here's something else she inherited. I'd borrowed this lens from her father, years ago, but I didn't know he still had it. Six-glass SOOZI (now she sounds like something out of Blazing Saddles) is much bigger than the 5-glass recomputation introduced in 1980, and she's slightly softer at full aperture, at least at the edges: if you want the famous "Leica Glow", especially for portraiture, she's up there with the best of them. People talk about "the Mandler look" (after Walter Mandler, her designer) and while I suspect this owes more to wishful thinking than to actual perception, if anything could persuade me, SOOZI could. All the pictures here are on digital (M9) but she's even better on film. You can shoot test test targets with her if you like, but really, she is a lens for taking pictures. Wot I done.


The space ship was well lived in. The first shot I took for this piece. Well, why shouldn't space ships get cluttered too? Long (rangefinder) mount.


And, I have to say that although the results were very good indeed, even at full aperture, I didn't actually enjoy shooting with SOOZI very much. She's very bulky; her focusing mount is quite slow, turning through 130 degrees or more to get down to 1 metre; the collapsible "drinking cup" hood collapses a little too willingly; and when she's wearing her ZOOEP her focusing ring is inconveniently skinny as well as being inconveniently close to her (rather wider) aperture control ring. Although special-order versions with a preset diaphragm were available in both short mount (11 126) and as a lens head alone (11 132), they're rare, and shooting on a reflex with neither auto diaphragm nor even a preset is a bit too much like hard work. 


Frances at her desk. Just a quick snap, with the short mount and a Visoflex. You can see the staggeringly shallow depth of field and the legendary bokeh.


Then again, I may have been spoiled by long acquaintance with her younger and rather smaller sister (SOOZI's, not Frances's; her sister is older and taller), the much less romantically named 11 136, who has lived with me for more than a third of a century. Unexpectedly, although the original 11 136 (black anodized light alloy) is more than half a pound (about 250 g) lighter than SOOZI's 660g, the 11 137 chromed all-brass version of the same lens, introduced in 1993, is even heavier than SOOZI despite being much more compact and having no tripod socket. Also, the lens head on a 11 136/11 137 is fixed, so you can't put it on a Visoflex. Here, the older lens has an unexpected advantage. In the short mount, she can easily be adapted via a simple extension tube to any SLR, for a truly impressive portrait lens on (say) a Nikon. 


SOOZI and 11 136

Now, SOOZI has lots of sisters. About four and a half thousand were made, with just under 4000 in bayonet mount and just over 500 in screw mount. Many of the bayonet-mount version were traded in when the smaller, lighter 11 136 came out, and as a result are quite easy to find; but finding one with flawless glass, without what are euphemistically called "cleaning marks" (otherwise known as "very fine scratches") and without dust on the inside, is not always easy. Likewise, later black models are often well worn, with bright metal showing through the black: go to Ken Rockwell's site for examples. This SOOZI has extraordinarily clean glass and the only marks on her chrome are from where the huge lens cap pushes onto the collapsible two-stage lens shade (hood). Her mini-skirt ZOOEP is in just as good condition but doesn't have front and back caps. 

The lens head alone, with both short and long mounts.



The lens head and mounts from the other side. The worn black paint on the rim of the back of the lens head is the worst cosmetic damage on the lens.


The screw mount. Only about 450 SOOZIs (all right, SEOOFs) exist in screw mount. The last were made in 1962, 12 with fixed lens heads and 6 (like this one) with removable heads. Figures from Dennis Laney's Pocket Leica Guide.


A ratty bayonet-mount SOOZI is not very valuable, especially a black one: as little as 400-500€. On the other hand, a really immaculate one like this is probably worth close to 700€ even in bayonet mount, and by my reckoning, the screw mount adds at least another 100€. With ZOOEP as well (typically 200-250€ on its own) the pair should be pushing 1000 euros. Then add in an OEUPO or 16474 extension ring, to allow focusing down to 61cm/24 inches on the Visoflex, and it has to be an easy 1000€. It's worth buying as a set, too, because otherwise it may take you a lot of time and effort to track down the separate bits. For very rough pound and dollar equivalents, add on 10% ($1100) for dollars and subtract 10% for pounds (£900), but remember, the trick is always finding a buyer in a given market. 


One of life's mysteries. The lens head is somewhat casually hand-engraved 87, which has then been crossed out, and 88 substituted. I suspect that this refers to the actual focal length, which is not always the same as the nominal focal length: on a 11 136 the exact focal length (to 1/10mm) is engraved in very small numbers just after the feet/metre scale, so this may well mean 88.7 and then 88.8mm. The tester presumably thought it better to correct the mistake than to strip and reassemble the lens. My 11 126 is engraved 00 (=90.0) but my 135/2.8 (11 829) is engraved 55 (=135.5). Such precision is necessary for the exact coupling of the rangefinder, especially with long, fast lenses. You can also see the missing black paint on the bottom of the barrel, caused by putting down the lens head without a mount.


Guru Rinpoche prayer flags. People who are habituated to long-range zooms tend to forget how much difference there is between (for example) 50mm and 90mm. My own view, and I freely admit that it is a personal prejudice, is that I get used to certain focal lengths and therefore find it easier to stand in precisely the right place in order to get the framing, perspective and depth of field that I want.



Circular saw and barbecue grill. One of my standard criteria for equipment is whether it makes you want to go out and take pictures. SOOZI did. This is in my back yard.


As so often with Leica lenses, it's hard to say whether SOOZI is better suited to a user or a collector. In this state, in screw mount, with the ZOOEP in chrome, I'd say she's more of a collectible. If you want one to use, look for a ratty black one. 

Jeremy Clarkson and Friends. Increasingly I find myself applying more or less humorous caption to my pictures, as in The Secret Life Of Chairs. The title here is of course a reference to the jeans habitually worn by the famous/notorious television presenter.

As with the five Leicas, SOOZI is for sale: contact her owner via tombscurtisaditi@gmail.com


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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2017