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Leica Summilux-M 50mm ASPH

Here’s another short and sweet review. The Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH. Not much needs to be said about this lens. Often touted as one of the best 50mm lenses ever, I’d have to say it’s my favorite 50mm lens out of the ones that I’ve used.

Last Kodachrome

Praise

Much like the Leica 28mm Summicron, the 50mm ASPH is an incredibly dependable and consistent lens. I owned the current 50mm Summicron (not the APO ASPH) before the Summilux ASPH. That lens was nice, but only f/2 and sometimes had the tendency to have a photo ruining flare. I’m not talking about a little ghosting or a little non-image forming flare that bleeds out from hot light sources, but a complete whiteout.

When I went hunting for a new 50mm lens, two things motivated me. The first was dealing with flare, and the second was a desire for a lens that opened up to f/1.4. I had a Nikkor-SC 50/1.4 from the 50’s at the time, and still do. Beautiful lens, very soft wide open but much sharper stopped down, horrible ergonomics, but cheap ($200) and more of a ‘character’ lens. The Summilux ASPH was pretty much the opposite: sharp wide open, flare resistant, incredibly consistent across apertures, nice ergonomics, and certainly not cheap.

The Summilux ASPH has just enough ‘character’ to not be super clinical, yet it doesn’t really have enough to overtake the image (see Noctilux, 75mm Summilux, Nikkor-SC 50/1.4, Summitar, etc.). I find that it pairs very well with the 28mm Summicron. Just a good solid performer in any situation.

Shooting alongside the 75mm Summilux

I’m sad to say I sold the 75mm Summilux. A brilliant lens; I loved the results from it. Unfortunately for me, there was just too much overlap with the 50mm ASPH. Almost any instance where I’d want f/1.4 (as in low light or shallow depth of field), the 50mm was the better tool. It’s a shorter focal length, so hand holding it at slow shutter speeds is easier, and for portraits, f/1.4 on the 50mm gives me a bit more in focus than the 75mm did, helping to avoid blurry nose syndrome. It is true that the 75mm Summilux gives a bit more reach, but 50mm and 75mm are spaced a little close for my liking.

To add insult to injury, the 50mm Summilux ASPH handles so much better. The focus isn’t as excruciatingly tight and long, and the lens is a good deal smaller, making the camera as a whole easier to handle, particularly while not taking pictures.

I will say that I did like the images the 75mm Summilux produced. It’s a wonderful lens, and is probably one that I would consider repurchasing if my current financial situation changes significantly. In other words, it was an awesome complimentary lens for me, but not a foundational lens.

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Complaints

I have few, to repeat myself. Big complaints commonly heard with this lens are the “large” size and the “stiff” focusing. I can’t say I feel that either is true. It’s a bit larger than than it’s predecessors, but I don’t find it annoyingly so, or even worth really commenting on. With regards to the “stiff” focusing, some say there is a ‘rough’ part in the focusing movement when the floating element engages.1 While the lens isn’t as smooth as the 28mm Summicron, it’s still a pleasure to use and focuses just fine in my mind. Much preferable to most of my other lenses in fact.

There are several other, less repeated complaints. First, the built-in hood. I never understood these complaints. Again, I like the convenience of it, though it can be a little fiddly while extending it.

You can also find some mention of odd shaped highlights in out of focus backgrounds due to the choice in aperture blades. This doesn’t happen while wide open, but it does occur in several Leica designs; again, it’s not much of a concern to me.

Lastly, it’s not quite as good wide open and in the corners as it is stopped down and in the center. Umm, okay. It’s a fantastic lens, not an object of perfection. I’ve not had an issue with noticeably soft corners or wide open shots, either on film or on a rented Monochrom.

mike

Further Reading

Here’s a few other items to look at:

  • My flickr page of all my 50mm Summilux shots. Mostly film, but there is a batch of M Monochrom photos in there.
  • Technical Data sheet
  • Erwin Puts’ Leica Compendium – I have the 2nd edition. I think you can download the 1st edition for free somewhere.

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  1. I don’t know if this is an accurate analysis, I’m just repeating what I’ve read.