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A Legend Returns: the Leica Thambar

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Following last year’s release of the Summaron-M 28 mm f/5.6, Leica have added a second lens to their new Classics Range: the Thambar-M 90 mm f/2.2. It is closely modelled on the original Thambar 9cm f/2.2 soft focus lens of 1935, which was manufactured in a relatively low volume of 2984 units, and counts as one of the most unusual lenses to have been produced for the Leica camera.

To achieve the desired soft focus effect, Leica engineer Max Berek designed a lens which, whilst being capable of recording exceedingly sharp images, also allows for controlled levels of spherical aberration to be introduced into the image. As a result, object points are depicted not as punctiform spots, but rather as patches whose intensity decreases from the centre towards the edges.

The Thambar’s ability to let highlights spread into shadows gives its photographs a uniquely ‘sunny’ appearance – which is nevertheless complemented by an intrinsic sharpness that is clearly apparent in the rendition of details. This means that, for all their airiness and ethereality, Thambar images never look as though they were an outcome of ‘flawed’ optics.

With the aid of a detachable center spot filter, the axial rays (which generate the sharpest rendition) can be excluded from the image formation process, leading to an intensified soft focus effect. Without the filter, however, a stopped-down Thambar will produce a perfectly sharp photograph.

The principal differences between the new Thambar and the vintage original are that the formerly threaded mount has been replaced by an M bayonet mount, and that the glass elements have been single coated to protect them from environmental influences. Aside from this, only the knurling, engraving fonts and descriptive terms have been carefully altered in line with more contemporary styles. The Thambar’s optical design, on the other hand, has not been changed in any way.

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