Meet the Lens: W.Acall 35mm f/3.5 LTM

This is a lens suffering from an identity crisis. First of all, nobody seems to know a lot about the Japanese manufacturer, which is apparently Sankyo Kohki, an aftermarket maker of Leica thread mount lenses in the 1950s, before switching over to SLR mounts in the 1960s. But if that ambiguity weren’t enough, the real problem is that the branding of the lens, W.Acall in this case, is only one of five different known brand identities applied to what is apparently virtually the same lens. In addition, there are examples marked W.Komura, W.Telesar, W.A. Astra, and Force. The speculation, and it is only that as far as I can tell, is that these may have been different “house brands” for retailers who wanted their own lines of lenses. Whatever the reason, it sure makes things confusing sixty years later.

In any case, this is all quite irrelevant to the actual purpose of the lens, which is to take photos, something it does very, very well. On the face of it, the specs are pretty unassuming: mediocre speed at a maximum aperture of f/3.5, four elements in three groups with a nice blue coating, eight aperture blades with click-stop adjustment. Nice enough, but nothing extraordinary.

EDIT (5Feb2016): I acquired a similar lens to this one (free, but with many problems) and made an interesting discovery while taking it apart. The optics are not the four element/three group arrangement I noted above (I read it somewhere, and clearly did not question it closely enough), but appear to be six elements in four groups, making it a Double Gauss design. This may help to explain the exceptional performance of these lenses. I have not yet disassembled the W.Acall that is the subject of this review, but I strongly suspect the optics are the same.

The first clue that you may be dealing with something more than just a cheap knock-off Leica lens is in the build quality, which is really excellent. Heavy solid brass all around, with a useful knurled focus ring (marked in feet only on mine, but I’ve seen photos of lenses with a dual feet and meters scale), and smooth, positive, well-damped controls (once I cleaned out several decades-worth of dirt and hardened lubricants). It’s also quite tiny, comparable in size to my Canon 35/2.8 (an early all-chrome model), making for a compact package when mounted on a small body.

But the real payoff is in the photos. Whatever magic pixie dust they sprinkled over this lens, it worked. The pedestrian specifications belie a superb set of optics. It is one of those relatively rare lenses that manages to be simultaneously both sharp and smooth, with lovely transitions into the out-of-focus areas. If I had to choose a single word, I think it would be creamy. Photos taken with it remind me a lot of those I’ve shot with my Summitar, and I consider that high praise indeed. Certainly, it has all the characteristics typical of lenses of the period – center sharpness and softer corners, especially at wider apertures, low to medium overall contrast – but these are not flaws to my eyes.

It’s a pleasant lens to use, though the ergonomics are not exactly modern. The aperture control is a little small and rotates with focus, so the scale is marked twice on the ring, and the location varies, making it a bit slower to adjust than a modern lens. But once you’ve settled on an aperture, it’s fine. I find the focusing ring falls to hand quite easily, making the whole shooting experience quite natural and instinctive.

As some of my LTM cameras lack 35mm framelines, an external viewfinder is necessary. I have the matching Canon piece that came with the 35/2.8, which is rather good really (again, once I cleaned it) and has been my go-to option for quite a while now. I did not need another viewfinder, but I bought one anyway. I don’t really care too much about matching kits, so it’s mostly coincidental that the new VF is a Komura unit. What actually prompted the purchase were two factors: first, it is a brightline finder, which is easier to see and allows for some peripheral vision while shooting, and second, it was really cheap. The glass is tinted and has a rather striking gold coating, making it fairly flare-resistant.

The two-piece hood is also a Komura-labelled piece, but made to match this design. Again, I did not acquire it to purposely match the lens. In fact, it was actually donated by a fellow RFF forum-user who read a question I posted about the dimensions of the original hood after experiencing some vignetting with a generic hood I was using when I first got the lens. Thoughtful design shows in details like the fact that the inner potion is notched to make it useful as an easy way to turn the aperture ring, and the notching feels different from the knurling on the focus ring, so there’s no mistaking which one you’re turning, meaning you can operate the lens strictly by feel. It’s a nice brass hood that of course perfectly matches the lens, as long as no one looks at the brand name.

Unintentionally acquired though it may have been, I have to say that the completed kit does look good mounted on one of my Leicas. It makes for a great street photography rig on days when I want something a little wider than my usually-preferred 50mm, or just when I want to grab a small, easy-to-handle general purpose setup on my way out the door. While not as pocketable as my absurdly small hacked Nikon L35AF 35/2.8, the W.Acall has the advantages of a wider aperture range (the hacked lens only stops down to f/11, while this one goes all the way down to f/22) and proper rangefinder coupling.

Having mentioned two other 35mm LTM lenses that I own in the course of this review (full disclosure: I have the Jupiter-12 35/2.8 as well, so the W.Acall makes four), it should be obvious that I really didn’t need this lens at all. I’d been keeping an eye on them for a while, as I had read a fair bit about them and sample photos intrigued me enough to think that it warranted further investigation. When one came up fairly cheaply, I grabbed it, and I’m glad I did. It’s still early days, but I’m really happy with the initial results I’m getting. There’s a nice consistency in the character of the photos from this lens with the Summitar 50/2 and the Canon 100/3.5, making for a handy three-lens kit option. I expect it will be getting a fair bit of use.


22 thoughts on “Meet the Lens: W.Acall 35mm f/3.5 LTM

    1. So the focusing helicoid is simply frozen? Or is it something else?

      It’s not a hard lens to take apart, but you may not need to go that far. The helicoid is exposed from the back. First thing I would try is a couple of drops (literally) of Ronsonol lighter fluid into the helicoid to see if the frozen lubricant can be loosened up. Warming the lens with a hair dryer can help too (do NOT apply the heat after applying lighter fluid – Very Bad Things can result). Warm, apply Ronsonol, try to work the focus, repeat. See if you get any movement. If it loosens up, clean the exposed threads with more Ronsonol on a Q-tip, then apply new grease (I prefer synthetic high-temp automotive bearing grease, but that’s fairly heavy – some like a lighter touch on the focus).

        1. And yes it just seems like the focus ring won’t move.. aperture work fine. Threads look good. This is m39 screw yes it’s to small for my m42 adapter

        2. OK, slow down. The helicoid is the threaded collar that moves the optical block in relation to the lens mount and presses on the rangefinder cam in the body. It is visible from the back of the lens. There is a thin brass ring immediately inside the chrome lens mount. The brass ring extends rearward when the focus is turned. Place a drop or two of Ronsonol so that it will wick down between the brass ring and the chrome mount.

          If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to either disassemble the lens or send it off for a CLA. There are several well-known camera repair techs who can do that for you – check the forums (some are linked on my main page) for recommendations and reviews.

          This is a Leica Thread Mount 39mm lens. Rather than screwing around with adapting it to M42 and thence to some other mount, just get the right adapter. Every adapter introduces potential problems. Do it right. And don’t get me started on this “freelensing” nonsense….

          I can’t help you with the other lens – I know nothing about it.

          1. Works awesome now. You saved the the day can’t wait it just messing with it I can see the color and contrast is going to be great . It will end up being a 70 mm on my gxr but which will be a great combo. Full frame is should be stunning. I did the same with the other and loosened u a bit.. can I put a drop or grease down the barrel to or need to take it apart..

            1. Been readingby our stuff helps me out slot and reminds me when I was 14 just picked up my first Yashica mat and Pentax k 1000 out of a dusty file cabinet on our high school art room. And my teacher Ms Burkhardt said go ahead have some fun figure it out I never looked back…. changed my life

            2. Glad it worked out. No oil, no grease unless you disassemble. If you take it apart, then a light coat of grease on the helicoid. Don’t be surprised if it stiffens up again after a while – Ronsonol is a solvent, and as it evaporates you may lose some of the ease of movement as the old grease rehardens. Just repeat the process, and keep working the focus – it should settle in after a while.

            3. Cool thsnknyou once again as for grease they have some lubricant at the corner is that OK or should I get something better. From the bike shop..

            4. The problem with cheap grease is that it can break down, in which case the oil can and usually will migrate into areas where you don’t want it, like the optics. A good quality synthetic grease is the way to go. A bike shop might be able to help you out – you want something synthetic, fairly viscous, and with high temperature resistance. Automotive wheel bearing grease can be good, but you need to make sure you get the high quality synthetic base grease. You’ll only need a very small amount.

            5. Cool thank you Just got a old Russian Leica copy. M39 85 mm. Looks like brass and alum.. beautiful condition . Used to belong to customers father. Was selling but wanted to go to good homes too ( i like people eho sell their parents or grandfather gear they seem to have a lot more respect..too many greedy hipsters in Brooklyn just being crazy with gear prices……) gave me a bag full of weird stuff too. Slider duplecator. Lens hoods .converters.. Let you what I find..thanks for all your hellp. Where is your work posted

            6. Happy to help. It’s always nice to get and use equipment that’s been cared for – feels like you’re continuing a tradition. I’ll send you an email.

              At the moment my work is posted here and sporadically on some of the forums I frequent (Filmwasters, primarily). I’m exploring some other options, but for the moment it’s here.

      1.  Yeah The Operators fine just the focusing ring will not move  So you mean in between the focusing ring and the barrel from the back side right Whre the threads are.. is this the mount mount or m39 screw is there a way to cheat it on a m 42 mount..  Using gxr I figure just freelensing. It might get  some  interesting results until I get a adapter ..

        Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device

        1. Also got a 135 mm telestar I believe it’s weird the lens seems to unscrew from the focusing barrel… then it show a long metal and glass like a dream MO d mount almost the barrel focus moves but very very tight.. should I use the same process you just explained well that hope will that help dampen the focus .. I guess some of these lenses for 1992 they put both on film cameras and Cinema cameras that l already had a focusing mechanism on them..

          1. Still using this lens years later. Did you ever get Instagram or FB? Terrence505050 you ever visit NYC we should go out on a photo field trip

  1. Would you please share how to get this lens apart for cleaning? I have one that could use a little tlc. Thanks

    1. Sorry, it’s been years since I had it apart – my memory of it is not at all clear. I suspect it’s similar to most in that you’ll see holes or notches for a lens spanner; use those to unscrew a retaining ring or plate, and start pulling it apart. If you’re unsure of getting it back together correctly, take a bunch of photos as you go along so you’ll know what goes where.

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