I decided to buy the original 90mm Thambar-M f/2.2 lens a few years back to see how to replicate the original indented "Old Hollywood" look. I tried on and off for a year, and then decided the Thambar was more suited for film than for modern digital. I remained firm in this decision until I saw what Milan Swolfs had created with both the old 1920's Thambar, and the new 2017's remake of the original Thambar. Here is his story and pictures. Enjoy!
– Thorsten von Overgaard
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In 2016, Leica started reissuing their old legendary lenses with the first one of this series being the Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 and later followed with this new version of the Thambar, the Leica Thambar-M 90mm f2.2 on October 17th 2017.
The original 90mm Thambar f2.2 is one of the true Leica cult lenses, one of the legendary lenses which people tend either to love or to hate. I belong to the first category of those who love the Thambar, but I feel it’s often misunderstood or not used in the right way.
Just as the original, the new Thambar-M 90 f/2.2 is a soft focus lens which creates dreamily romantic photos with a unique bokeh which is created by under-corrected spherical aberrations. Shooting wide open at f/2.2 or f/2.4 increases the soft focus effect. Using the included center spot filter results in an even more intense soft focus glow.
The original lens dates from 1935 and is sought after by many Leica collectors.
I am fortunate to own an original Thambar in LTM mount. Mine comes with the original center spot filter, lens cap and hood. Unfortunately, mine didn’t come with the original leather pouch.
I feel that for what I do, Fine Art photography with a vintage twist and retro vibe, the Thambar is the right too and that’s why I purchased it. I do not keep the old Thambar in a safe but rather I use it very frequently.
Package of 34 presets for film grains, matte look, sagturated colors and b&w.
What’s the difference between the old and the new Thambar?
Well, not a lot and that’s the good thing. The lenses behave the same and show almost the same results. The new version has a lot of benefits over the old one. Firstly the old Thambar is considered a collector’s item, so the availability of examples in good, clean condition are very scarce.
Secondly, the new Thambar has lens coating which the original Thambar did not, which means deeper contrast and it is much easier to handle (which results in sharper photos), better calibration on a rangefinder camera, and there is 6 bit coding of course. (Note: Leica just released a new firmware 3.1 for the Leica SL which will recognize the new Thambar. I did this shoot prior to the release of the new firmware.)
The new Thambar comes in a luxurious presentation box, like the Noctilux. The lens comes in a shiny black paint finish, with the lens cap and hood in the same finish, the center spot filter (product number 12456) and a gorgeous leather lens pouch.
Unfortunately, the new center spot filter and hood do not fit the old Thambar LTM lens.
When Bill Rosauer from LHSA offered to provide me a loaner version of the new Thambar from Leica Camera AG to compare it with the old version, I was very enthusiastic and I wanted to do a very special photoshoot.
I wanted to show how the Thambar can be used to take photos like those in the 1920’s or 30’s, but using a modern camera like the Leica M Monochrom (CCD) or the Leica SL Typ 601.
I shoot a lot of burlesque events and portraits and I meet a lot of great artists and models who love the old Hollywood era. When I brought my Thambar in LTM mount to one of the events, all the female artists were interested in this lens, and when I showed them the photos they all reacted very enthusiastically. This made my decision to do a photoshoot in the old Hollywood glamour style with three different models.
I wanted keep it very simple, with a neutral background and not too many accessories. I would use a maximum of two strobes: one main light with a deep octa softbox and one hair light with a honeycomb.
I used the Thambar closed down just a little bit around f/3.4 to f/4.0 and always used it with the center spot filter. Combined with the right light this resulted in a buttery smooth skin texture, with enough detail to show the accessories of the model and the right amount of glow.
The Thambar can be used for many of types of photography, but it truly shines as a portrait lens. Some best practices for how to use the Thambar for portraits:
The lens is wonderful wide open at f/2.2, but in my opinion the best results can be achieved when you stop it down to f/3.2 to f/4.0. Don’t close it down too much because then the magic will disappear and the Thambar merely becomes a very sharp portrait lens.
Always use the center spot filter. This is how to create the buttery soft skin tones and you will make George Hurrell jealous! Using the CS filter will also save you a lot of time editing skin and blemishes in PhotoShop or Lightroom. Women will thank you for this result!
Use a neutral background. This can be in studio on an even white or dark background or outside using the sky or similar. Place your model further away from the background; you want your model to be in the center of the attention, not the background!
Use soft lightning. This can be natural diffused window light or studio lights with a big soft box like the 120mm deep Octa, which I used as a main light.
Play with the light: I used a hair light which the Thambar throws beautifully and makes the hair of the models pop even more. This can also be done by placing the model right in the sun rays. This a technique which George Hurrell also used for his old Hollywood glamour portraits.
Take a lot of photos, it’s not always easy to get the focus right with the Thambar because of the small DOF.
For most of these shots I used the Leica Monochrom CCD (without Liveview) but I agree that using the new Monochrom M246 or the Leica SL will be easier when you use Liveview on a tripod for focusing. I always had my Leica SL as backup for the photoshoots but I never needed to use it because the Leica Monochrom did a wonderful job with the kind of result I wanted to achieve.
LTM = Leica Thread-Mount, the original screw mount, also known as M39 that Leica used until they introduced the Leica M bayonet mount. The old LTM lenses can still be fitted to any current Leica model with an adapter.
Thambar = Leitz Thambar 90mm f.2.2. At most about 3,000 were made, probably in eight batches, starting with 226xxx (actually built in 1934) and going through 283xxx, 311xxx, 375xxx, 416xxx, 472xxx, 511xxx, and 540xxx (about 1939/1940). Today they are staggeringly rare and extremely expensive: you would be lucky to get away with much less than $1,500 for the lens without accessories (center spot, shade, cap), and you could easily pay twice that for a good, complete example with clean glass.
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Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish-American multiple award-winning photographer, known for his writings about photography and Leica cameras. He travels to more than 25 countries a year, photographing and teaching workshops to photographers. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via email.
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