The Leica Elcan 66mm
Rare lenses come and go, and I have been through a few of them. But sometimes something really rare comes along. This is one of those lenses. The legendary Leica Elcan 66mm.
During the early 1950’s Ernst Leitz Canada (Elcan) was established at the Midland plant as a military and industrial subsidiary of Leica Canada. During the late 60’s and early 70’s Elcan was asked by the US Navy to produce a number of small format, ultra high resolution lenses for military applications.
A number of different lenses were produced by the Elcan factory, in very limited numbers. All designed by Walter Mandler, the legendary lens designer behind many of the great Leica optical formulas.
It is said that these lenses were used by Nato during the cold war. Lots of rumours abound, but the 66mm Elcan F2 really is a ‘spy lens’ in the truest sense. The lenses were not available to the public, so basically all the ones that come on to the market come from either ex-military types, or people who have ‘acquired’ them from the military.
Many of the Elcan lenses were to be found attached to the special KE-7A variant of the M4 (sadly this one was not). One of the really cool things about these cameras and lenses is that the original sets came with an instruction manual like no other. It contains detailed instructions on how to destroy the camera and lens completely in the event of capture by the enemy.
This lens is the reason why I took a trip to the Philippines last month. I was offered the chance to see this lens and when I saw it I had to have it. It was owned by a long serving US military officer and was passed on when he got older. I picked this lens up for a private client who had to have it, no matter what. The lengths I go to for a lens….
This particular model was the very earliest of the production. Number 003 to be precise! The barrel of the lens has red markings as opposed to the yellow that are seen on later versions. There are no figures for how many of these lenses were produced, but estimates run at less than 200. Of which many were destroyed during numerous conflicts. So it is pretty safe to say there are very very few of these lenses anywhere.
This lens is known as a Red Scale because of the red markings on the barrel. The serial number shows that this is the rarest of the rare, as the 183 serial numbers were only made as prototype lenses for samples and demonstrations.
The main point about this lens, aside from the unusual focal length is the ultra high resolution that this lens presented. The lens is very sharp and has excellent colour rendition. I was only able to test it very briefly, but I was extremely impressed with the quality of the lens.
It has great centre sharpness and low fall off, the bokeh is very very smooth and easily manageable. The colour is extremely well balanced, as you would expect from something that has been produced with the military in mind.
Leica M9 1/30th f/2.8
Leica M9 1/45th F/2
I would love to have been able to test the lens more, but sadly this was not to be. People what their things and this lens was no exception, I had to get it off as soon as possible. Added to that, this damned thing is so valuable that I didn’t want to take it outside in case something happened to it. It is a shame really as for the brief few shots I got with it I was impressed. There was only one real drawback for me, the minimum focal distance is 1 meter, which is a bit far for me.
The Elcan 66mm f2 comes as a pinnacle for me in terms of what I do. This is in the realms of the ultra rare, the sort of items you only see once of twice in a lifetime. I feel very lucky to have been able to find something like this. This is why I started doing JapanCameraHunter in the first place. Moments like this really make it worthwhile for me.