The Japanese Summilux – Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM

By May 28, 2013Blog, User Report

An Introduction

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM first caught my attention quite by accident, whilst researching my purchase of the Leica 50mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE I stumbled upon references to a lens some referred to as the Japanese Summilux. Intruigued by this reference and fueled by my natural curiosity I took the plunge and picked up a perfect copy of the Type II version along with original Sl39.3C UV filter and Hood.

I’m fortunate to have some pretty amazing glass and I always seem to have a perpetual que of lenses waiting to get quality camera time. Because of this and despite me being happy with my initial testing of the lens the Canon 50mm f/1.4 never really spent a prolonged period on any of my cameras.

Surprisingly there is not a huge amount of information around about this lens, certainly less than I anticipated. Therefore, having received several email requests for my opinion about it I decided that it fit’s the profile of my User Reports, by that I mean it’s not really mainstream or fashionable……..it is however very capable on the Leica M9, Monochrom and film M’s and offers the user another cheap fast 50mm option.

If you’ve read my User Reports on the 50mm Jupiter 3 or Voigtlander 15mm Super Wide Heliar you will already know that I don’t go for overly technical write ups. I prefer, if I can to let the lens do the talking, sure I will cover the basics but really I’m just trying to produce a reference point, something to assist those interested in this particular glass, hopefully one that will be of benefit.

I will continue to update this report over time.

The Lens

canon-logo-evolution-03

There are two variants of the Canon 50mm f/1.4:-

Type I was introduced in November 1957 and continued production until March 1958 when it was discontinued.  It retailed for ¥25,000, the equivalent of around US$600 today.  Serial Numbers for the Type I range from 10000 – 29390.

Type II was released in August 1959 and continued production until June 1972 when it was eventually  discontinued. Serial Number for the Type II range from 29681 – 120705. The lens was offered for sale at ¥18500.

Important NoteI have the Type II version of this lens and that is the subject of this user report.

I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Peter Kitchingman of www.canonrangefinder.com for assisting me with historical information along with the lens schematics.

Identification 

Type-I1

Type-II

NOTE: My lens, Serial No: 35923 which would make it an earlier Type II. For completeness I have incorporated certain information pertaining to the Type I version.

Lens Technical Details

Lens-Specification

 Canon 50mm f/1.4 Type I Schematic

Type-I-Schematic

 Canon 50mm f/1.4 Type II Schematic

Canon 50mm f/1.4

Update:

The original post pertained to an optical difference between the Type I and Type II optics. This information was received from a reputable Canon aficionado who in turn had received the information directly from Canon and was therefore considered to be accurate and included here in good faith. Further to investigations by Brian Sweeney, another excellent and reputable source I can now confirm the two lenses are indeed optically identical. This is based on an internal comparison of the two types and is definitive. I’ve been in receipt of this information for some time but have only recently found the time to update here, I apologise for the delay.

 Elements/Groups

Comprising of six elements in 4 groups the lens is of Planar type design.

Aperture Range

The lens has firm click stops between aperture settings.

Focusing

Without the hood fitted the lens just encroaches in to the 50mm framelines when focused at 1m. The 1m minimum is a slight negative and if I’m totally honest it can be a bit of a nuicance if like me you’ve been spoilt with .7m lenses. It’s also worth mentioning that the lens has an infinity lock which I’m not a fan of.

Lens Mount

This lens comes in LTM/M39 mount, in short that means you will require an LTM/M39 – M Mount adaptor in order to shoot it on the M9 or any other M mount Leica.

Adaptors are available for between $20-70 on ebay. From experience I would choose very carefully as some of the cheaper offerings are not machined accurately and subsequently the fit to the M9 will be less than satisfactory. You can get a sound version – Here.

Filters

48mm Filters are readily available, I managed to pick up a set of Canon filters including UV 1x, Skylight 1x and ND 4x in the original cases complete with paperwork for just under US$50.00

Weight

At 246g the lens construction is excellent and robust, add in the LTM adaptor, a filter and the Hood and it’s up to 303g.

Just for reference and to put that weight in to perspective here are some comparisons (inclusive of hood and filter)

  • Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.1 – 463g
  • Zeiss C Sonnar ZM 50/1.5 – 273g
  • Leica Summilux 50/1.4 Asph FLE – 352g

Leica M Monochrom

It seems fitting to start with some images taken on the Monochrom because this is where this lens really shines in my opinion, sure I’ve had pleasant results from the Leica M9 and film M’s but like many others at the moment I’m really seeing the benefit of vintage/character glass on this camera. For me,  the Monochrom brings about a certain mindset and with it  a moodiness which I feel is reflected in the images I’ve taken, it’s equally fair to say they rather reflect my current mood.

Sound of Silence – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 160 1/2000 Sec L1001745-EditBridge of Hope – Revisited – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 160 1/3000 Sec L1001807-EditOff the Rails – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 160 1/500 Sec L1001781-Edit-2The base ISO of the Monochrom is ISO 320 – The first three images here are all Pulled to ISO 160 which equals reduced Dynamic Range, workable but not recommended.

Corrugated – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/1500 SecL1002204-EditSilver Tongues for the Young – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/250 Sec L1002174-EditBlack Wheel – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 640 1/2000 Sec L1002193-EditRooted – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/4000 Sec L1001897-EditRestricted – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/1000 Sec L1002202-EditMount Drury – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/4000 Sec L1001879-Edit-EditSummers End – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/3000 Sec L1001919-EditResisting H2O – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/3000 Sec L1001636-EditRebel – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/500 Sec 4x ND Filter L1002262-EditThe Urban Jungle – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/180 Sec 4x ND Filter L1002289-Edit

Leica M9

 Alicia Sim No 1 – Leica M9 – ISO 640 1/125 Sec  L1004110This is an image I took several months ago as part of my learning process of photographing models, I took a series of images on the Canon 50/1.4 and gave them a very stylised processing look. I was really pleased with the lens performance, you can see the full post HERE.  

Alicia Sim No 2 – Leica M9 – ISO 640 1/180 Sec L1004111-EditAlicia Sim No 1 Crop – Leica M9 – ISO 640 1/125 Sec L1004110-EditThese images from the same shoot along with several others featured on Steve Huff’s site, you can see the full post HERE.

Alicia Sim No 3 – Leica M9 – ISO 500 1/1500 Sec L1004162-Edit1Alicia Sim No 4 – Leica M9 – ISO 500 1/500 Sec L10041711Alicia Sim No 5 – Leica M9 – ISO 500 1/1500 Sec  L10041631I’ve found the lens is wonderful for portraits when shot wide open or at f/2 as the lens has just the right balance of detail and softness.

Autumn Fruits – Leica M9 – ISO 160 1/180 Sec L1004657Fall leaves, fall…... – Leica M9 – ISO 160 1/2000 Sec L1004624Trapped – Leica M9 – ISO 160 1/350 Sec L1004547No way home – Leica M9 – ISO 640 1/500 Sec L1004522-EditYours Truly – Leica m9 – ISO 160 1/3000 Sec Fairies Abode – Leica M9 – ISO 160 1/500 Sec L1004811A Kiss for a Rose – Leica M9 – ISO 160 1/125 Sec L1004815-EditThe Enchantress in Lavender – Leica M9 – ISO 160 1/750 Sec L1004781

Canon 50/1.4 @ f/4

f4

Canon 50/1.4 @ f/2.8

f2.8

Canon 50/1.4 @ f/2

f2

Leica Film M’s

  The Navigator – Leica M6 – Fuji ASTIA 100F Film-1Summertime – Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F Film-2The Perks Of Being A Wallflower – Leica M3 – Fuji Provia 50 Film-4A Long Day – Leica M3 – Fuji Provia 50 Film-5Golden Moment – Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F Golden MomentAllium Haze – Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F Allium HazeMemories of Summer – Leica M6 – Fuji ASTIA 100F Film-8First Light – Leica M3 – Fuji Provia 50 First Light

  • External Metering via Gossen Pilot
  • Scanning done on the Canoscan 9000f with the exception of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and A Log Day which were scanned on the REFLECTA PRO 7200. You can read why I left the Canoscan 9000f HERE and the direction I’ve taken with scanning HERE
  • Film Developed by www.filmsoup.co.nz

Sharpness

To give an indication of sharpness I’ve shown several 100% crops from shots taken wide open at f/1.4, after all if the lens is not sufficiently sharp at f/1.4 you may as well buy the f/1.8 version……..in my opinion this is very much the case with the Canon 50/1.2 for instance, it’s way too soft for my taste wide open and it makes the Canon 50mm f/1.4 even more appealing.
 
Off the Rails – 100% Crop – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 160 at f/1.4 L1001781-Edit-2-2Silver Tongues for the Young – 100% Crop – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 at f/1.4 through a perspex screen!! L1002174-Edit1Alicia Sim No 1 – 100% Crop – Leica M9 – ISO 640 at f/1.4L1004110-Edit1

Vignetting

Vignetting is a fact of life when it comes to lenses, the Canon 50mm/1.4 is no exception, there is obviously mild vignetting at the wider apertures but it’s not excessive. I choose to code the camera as 50 f/1.4 Asph 11891/11892 in an effort to reduce the vignetting. Incidentally this is the same code recommended for the Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1.5/50 ZM

I often add a degree of vignetting to my images in post processing so for me it’s not an issue, regardless of this it is not excessive and can be corrected in part with coding and beyond that in PP should you so desire.

Focus Shift

I’ve experienced no Focus Shift on this lens.

Bokeh

It’s difficult to articulate the rendering characteristics of any lens, mainly because a lens will exhibit different qualities dependant on subject matter and light, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 is capable of delivering rich smooth boken, it can at times render more robustly but it is never overly harsh in my opinion and it’s certainly to my taste.

The subject of  bokeh is very much subjective, good bokeh, bad bokeh it’s really down to individual taste which is why I’ve tried to give a good selection of bokeh samples here so readers can form their own views. For many, bokeh is what will come to mind first when a lens is described as having character, certainly it is a considerable factor although other characteristics are also influential.

Flare

As with any vintage glass I would always recommend the use of a lens hood at all times. That said I don’t always follow my own advice and that’s certainly been the case here. All of the images in this post were shot without the hood. The lens is not prone to flare in my experience indeed it’s quite robust in this regard. There is a hint of flare in the “Fall leaves, fall” image in the Leica M9 section. In the two film images below I’ve deliberately attempted to use flare as a creative tool.  

Solar Flare – Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F Flare Example Flare-1Flare Example – Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F Flare-2

Contrast

It’s accepted that the lenses of yesteryear fall short in the contrast stakes when compared to their modern day counterparts. Whilst the Canon 50mm f/1.4 isn’t as contrasty as say the Zeiss ZM 50/1.5 it most certainly has more contrast than the likes of the Leica Summicron 50/2 Type II. Whatever your view is on this it can all be remedied simply in post processing if you feel the need.

Conclusion

Would I recommend this lens? Absolutely, If you own the Leica M Monchrom and your interested in shooting vintage glass this lens really is a no-brainer, it performs exceptionally well, has bucket loads of character and costs just a fraction of the price of many alternatives. On the M9 and film M’s, if you want a 50mm lens that won’t break the bank and if your not a “pixel peeper” I’d say the Canon 50mm f/1.4 is a great alternative to the Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.1 or older versions of the Leica Summicron 50/2 and you’ll still have plenty of change in your pocket. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I have the new Voigtlander Nokton M Asph 50/1.5 as it will be interesting to see how these measure up.

Where to Buy

As I’ve stated previously my buying options are somewhat limited by my geographical location, although it does not seem to prevent me acquiring gear……..I purchased my lens from ebay, there seems to be a constant and steady stream of Canon 50mm f/1.4’s on there. Obviously buying on ebay does require one to exercise some caution but I have been fortunate to date. One thing I have noted when dealing with Japanese sellers is that the condition and quality of the goods I’ve received has always exceeded that of the description. My Canon 50mm f/1.4 being a prime example of that. There is no substitute for testing equipment in person, hopefully I will get a chance to do a little of that in the camera stores of Tokyo in the next couple of months!!

Further Reading 

Special thanks to Peter Kitchingman of www.canonrangefinder.com. Your assistance was appreciated. Peter’s book The ‘Canon M39 Rangefinder Lenses 1939-71’ can be purchased from – HERE

There’s a couple of great features on Steve Huff’s site from Ashwin Rao featuring some thoughts and images from the M Monochrom & Canon 50mm f/1.4 amongst others. You can find those HERE and HERE

The Canon Camera Museum is a useful resource when researching Canon cameras and lenses.

Elsewhere on the internet information is fragmented across the various fora, this was in part the motivation for this post.

Thanks for reading.

Jason.

41 Comments

  • Bruce Esplin says:

    Jason – that’s a really good review – I much prefer your style to the overly technical – under whelming real life performance of all too many reviews. And what a sweet series of images – very inspiring

    • janrzm says:

      Thanks Bruce

      I think technical reviews have their place and I do read them occasionally but I much prefer to look at the images from a specific camera/lens combination, personal preference. I guess that’s why I’m such a big fan of Steve Huff, just real, hands on and honest. Cheers, Jason.

  • John Lockwood says:

    Well done as usual. You are a wordsmith. Love the MM B&W. You state pulling ISO causes the DR to suffer. Have you played with colored filters as a way of reducing ISO on the MM?

    • janrzm says:

      Hey John, thank you.

      I haven’t yet, I have numerous coloured filters for the 35/50 Lux so maybe I will take a look at that in more detail at some stage.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • Umberto says:

    Thank you Jason, I really enjoyed your review. A real life review plenty of beatiful images (Summertime!) and even the quick technical snapshots are never banal. Ciao. Umberto

    • janrzm says:

      Thanks Umberto, I know you were interested in this lens so I’m pleased you enjoyed it.

      Ciao, Jason.

  • ramon sormin says:

    Nice lens and nice share also Jason.
    Love your review especially with film, vintage glass makes vintage look 🙂

    • janrzm says:

      Hi Ramon and welcome to my site.

      Thanks for your words of kindness, they are really appreciated.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • Hi Jason,
    Very well done. Thank you!

  • […] on the Leica M Monochrom, M9 and Film M's. I've done a User Report for anyone that's interested – The Japanese Summilux – Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM There are many images and info in the report and here are a couple of samples from this very […]

  • […] the most reliable. You may find this page, rather long with rather too many examples, interesting. The Japanese Summilux – Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM __________________ ChrisL […]

  • John says:

    Fantastic pictures.
    Would this canon lens give similar results on an M8 as compared to M9?
    If yes, it would be a candidate for my low cost gear equipment (read my story on http://www.l-camera-forum.com/leica-forum/leica-m8-forum/283658-m240-back-essential-m8.html)

    Keep up the good work with this fantastic equipment!

    John

    • janrzm says:

      Thanks John,

      I see absolutely no reason why the results would not be excellent, especially B&W’s!!

      I’ve just read your forum post and I admire your ability to apply common sense to something that get’s out of hand for many of us, your’s truly included….:-)

      Please let me know if you go for this lens and also let me see the results!!

      Cheers, Jason.

  • John says:

    Thanks Jason for your comment.
    My M8 is coming back on saturday from Solms as it could not read SD cards anymore. It seems to be a software issue. At the moment I’m equipped with a 40mm Summicron, and soon I will do some hunting here in Germany for this LTM lens.
    Thanks for sharing this info!

    John

    • janrzm says:

      Hi John,

      Your welcome John, I’m pleased you’ve found the info of use. Good luck with the M8 repair and your search for this lens. As I say, please let me know how you get on.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • pelixiano says:

    Hi Jason, beautiful picture, especially the monochrome and the astia photos
    i have the 1st version of this lens and it’s beautiful wide open, and sharp stopped down
    i’m curious about how do you meter high contrast scene like the one you’re facing the sunlight, if you may share

    cheers
    pelixiano

    • janrzm says:

      Hi Pelixiano,

      Thank you I appreciate that. Your lucky to have the Type I lens and it’s good to hear a little of it’s performance.

      For the shots in to the sun, I took an ambient reading with the Gossen Pilot from the intended position of my shot, if the reading was exactly f/4 for instance I would shoot at that, if it was just over I shot at the next full stop so f/5.6. Being cautious as I had not shot any Astia or Provia before and I knew I did not want to overexpose this film, I could probably have underexposed some of the shots by half a stop more. Live and learn. I took these whilst on vacation so I didn’t record any exposure details or technical info.

      For all the other film shots I exposed exactly as the reading from my Pilot, which I’ve always trusted. Incidentally I have just taken delivery of a Voigtlander VCII Meter so it will be interesting to see how this compares.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • Marco says:

    Hi Jason, very good job with this review. I have just acquired the Canon a month ago and I tried to put together a few tests as well. One thing I noticed is that on an M-E I borrowed at camera store (as I don’t have any digital Leica) it has generally lower image quality than film. Furthermore, even with a high quality adapter sometimes it brings up wrong framelines. I tested with both Voigtlander and Fotodiox adapters, but it seems M-E is pickier than M9 regarding that. Anyway, I can’t be more satisfied with this lens. It’s a total no-brainer on any film M. Cheers, Marco

    • janrzm says:

      Hi Marco

      Thanks very much.

      I think of the shot’s I collected for this post the M9 ones were the most underwhelming, not the cameras fault. I’d certainly say the lens shines on the MM and Film, the later giving an almost vintage look which I love.

      Regarding the framelines on the M-E, that’s interesting and quite frustrating, I’ve had problems with cheap adaptors before but both the VC and Fotodiox ones have always been perfect.

      I agree, the quality from this lens vs the price makes it an absolute no brainer for sure. Enjoy the lens!!

      Cheers, Jason.

  • […] Canon 50mm 1.4 ltm review and lots of samples with MM, M9 & film: The Japanese Summilux: Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM […]

  • […] is, none of the above does matter if you don’t like the look. Jason from aperturepriority.co.nz published his own review while I was writing mine. He’s a better photographer than me, so I […]

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  • daniel stern says:

    Jason:
    First off- wonderful/thorough review of the Canon 50mm f/1.4 type II. I am a newer Leica M film user, primarily one camera/one lens for last year M6 w Summicron 35 ASPH, until I stumbled upon a M5 and really surprised how much I love it based on all the Leica M snobs not liking it. I am wanting to try to try a 50mm lens and started thinking it would be a Summicron 50mm, but being the co$t being still not sure if the FOV of a 50mm is right for me, I am starting to look at Leica glass alternatives. Like the new Voightlander 50mm 1.5. I was thinking of a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 until I just looked at the Canon Japanese Summilux as you call it which has me leaning towards the Canon based on your piece/images. Question: do you happen to know the character of the Canon versus the Nikon 1.4? Last- Do I need a M adapter for the Canon? I live in the NYC metro area and many decent alternatives to buy one versus EBay which I am a little skeptical of. Much thanks and look forward to your response… Daniel

    • janrzm says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks I’m pleased you found it useful.

      Apologies for the delayed reply I was actually traveling to NY city at the time and I’m writing this reply in Time Square believe it or not!!

      Funnily enough I too was won over by the M5 but I’ve hardly used it as it’s been away at DAG for nearly 12 months….

      The 50 Cron Rigid Type II is excellent as is the VC 50/1.5 but both will cost a little more than the Canon 50/1.4 so that makes it a great option for you. I initially intended to sell it once I’d used it but to the truth is I just don’t want to.

      I have not compared it directly to the NIKKOR 50/1.4 but to be honest thats due to how disappointed I was with the NIKKOR lens wide open, quite soft. I’ve read similar things elsewhere but others will no doubt disagree.

      My advice, go with the Canon, even better if you can try before you buy.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • Dominic says:

    You have me drooling over this lens Jason! Any suggestions on where to get a good copy? I’m always weary about purchasing an old lens like this off ebay.

    Thanks,
    Dominic

    • janrzm says:

      Hi Dominic

      Thanks, the lens is definitely worth buying.

      I think ebay is going to be your best bet, there are always plenty on there usually from Japan. My experiences buying used lenses from Japanese sellers on ebay have always exceeded my expectations because they seem to be very conservative when describing the condition of the lens. Buy from someone with 100% feedback and you should be fine.

      Let me know how you get on, good luck.

      Cheers

      Jason

      • Dominic says:

        Hi Jason,

        Thanks for the info. I happened to luck out on the Canon and found one locally in mint condition through a dealer. My only question is the adapter. Should I purchase the fotodiox adapter or splurge on the Voigtlander one. Currently there is a massive price difference, $90 CAD over $15 CAD.

        Thanks,
        Dominic

  • Matt says:

    “Interestingly, whilst the optical design is the same, the schematics highlight what would appear to be differences in construction between the Type I and II.”

    Something is not correct here. The first schematic shows an 8 element in 4 groups lens, it is not a Planar design either but a Sonnar type. It looks more like Canon 50mm f/1.5 copy of the original Zeiss Sonnar with addition of one rear element. The description on the schematic stating that this is 6 element / 4 group lens is simply wrong.

    • janrzm says:

      Whilst I appreciate you taking the time to comment here, I don’t appreciate your lack of courtesy or the tone of your comment.

      The schematic information on this post was kindly provided by Peter Kitchingman, a recognised authority on Canon lenses, looking on the web it also corresponds with other attempts to document the lens, for example – http://taunusreiter.de/Cameras/Canon_Standards.html

      In any event you’re comments relate to the Type I design and not the Type II which the report was based on and clearly stated.

  • Mark Burnham says:

    Jason,

    Great write-up and fantastic photos! I bought a Type 1 Canon last year and have really been enjoying it. Wide open can be magic. I just got an M3 and am curious to see how it compares to a Leica Summilux which I can rent very reasonably here in NYC. After seeing your photos, I might have to try a Monochrom also.

    I have a few photos using this lens here: http://www.ipernity.com/tag/sound/keyword/30776

    Thanks again – you have a really nice blog.

    Mark

    • janrzm says:

      Thanks Mark,

      Love your images taken with the Type 1 on the Canon P, more solid evidence of how good these Canon’s are in either version,

      You will be very happy with the M3, it was an excellent choice.

      The MM is capable of delivering special results although it isn’t for everyone, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and see the results if you get to give it a go.

      All the best, Jason.

  • Chris says:

    A superb little article, I really enjoyed it, thank you for taking the time to write it up.

    At the end I actually said to myself “I wonder if there any available right now…”. “uh what am I thinking!?” already have a Canon 50mm (tho a stop faster) and even a Summicron that don’t get enough use!

  • Steve says:

    Jason – Thank you so much for the detailed write up, information and samples you’ve shared here. Your post was the main inspiration that pushed me into the, almost obsessive, hunt for one of these lenses.

  • Charlie says:

    The mystery continues as to the real differences between v1 and v2. I never see any in actual photos. The schematics show one number of elements ant the caption says another. It should be very easy to tell for anyone who has had the lenses apart. If you ever find out, please post at RFF.

    Personally, I don’t think the formulas are different.

  • Charlie says:

    OK, here is Brian, at Leicaplace who has had both versions apart:
    “I’ve had both the Type 1 and Type 2: the only difference is in the focus mount. The Canon 50/1.4 is a 6 element in 4 group classic 1-2-2-1 Double Gauss. Your diagram (type 1 shown above) is a 1-3-3-1 8 element in 4 group Double Gauss- looks very close to the 5cm F1.5 Simlar which is a 1-3-2-1. I need to look up yours in Neblette’s “Photographic Lenses”.”

    Type 1 and 2 are identical optically. No need to hunt the latter.

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