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Leica 75mm Summilux

I recently obtained a 75mm Summilux. Here are my thoughts on it.

Why I bought it

I’ve been pretty happy with the 28mm and 50mm combination. When I felt like I wanted a longer lens, I picked up a copy of the 90mm Macro Elmar-M (review here). It’s been a great lens, but it’s slow; not all that useful indoors or when the light gets bad. So I started looking at 90 Summicrons.

To make a long story short, I never found a good 90mm Summicron (Apo ASPH or not) for a good price. I also started to think about it more and realized f/2 wasn’t always fast enough indoors, especially considering the longer focal length require faster shutter speeds. So I’d most likely be using my 50mm Summilux ASPH (review coming) indoors or in poor lighting. And outdoors, the 90mm Macro Elmar-M was great.

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Still, I wanted a new lens, and I was itching for something that could be used for tighter portraits. In the past, I’ve said that I was never really interested in a 75mm lens, and even I was, I’d go for the 75mm APO Summicron. Well, things change. I realized that the 75mm APO Summicron is an excellent lens, but has a very similar look to the 50mm Summilux ASPH. I wanted something with a different, maybe more vintage look. Furthermore, the close focusing ability of the 75mm APO Summicron didn’t seem that important to me since I had the 90mm Macro Elmar-M. Lastly, I was no longer restricted by size; the 90mm Macro Elmar-M was as compact as it was going to get, so I always have that when I want small.

All this led me to the 75mm Summilux, even though I’ve claimed multiple times online that it’s too big, I’d go for the 75mm Summicron first, etc. Oh well. My thinking has changed:

  • Portrait length? Check.
  • Different look from my 90mm and 50mm lenses? Check.
  • Fast and usable indoors? Check.
  • Walter Mandler’s favorite lens? Check.
  • Related to the famed 50 Noctilux?1 Check.

Also, in retrospect, 75mm feels closer to 90mm to me than it does to 50mm. That’s probably because the diagonal field of views for 50mm, 75mm, and 90mm are 47°, 32°, and 27° respectively. I hadn’t fully grokked this point until I had a 75mm lens in my hands.

And on top of all this, it’s not too expensive on the used market for Leica lenses. I lucked out and found one of recent vintage missing its built-in hood. Leica said it would only cost $175 (only, haha), which allowed me to get a German-made 75mm Summilux for a good deal less than what most lenses were selling for. And Leica lenses are getting ridiculous on the used market. I figured now was the time to buy a classic lens before it got any more expensive.

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History

I mentioned earlier that the 75mm Summilux is related to the 50 Noctilux. According to Peter Karbe, head of Leica’s optical development, (by way of David Farkas):

Apparently, after Mandler designed the Noctilux, he used the same design to build the 75 Lux. And because the 75 Lux wasn’t one of Peter’s favorite lenses, he decided that he needed to design a new 75 based on the 50 ASPH design.

The whole blog post is quite interesting and worth reading about the 50mm Summilux ASPH and other lenses. Personally, the lens diagram looks more closely related to the pre-ASPH 50 mm Summilux than to the Noctilux, but what do I know?

Erwin Puts has a bit more to say in the Leica M-Lenses document.

The size

It’s big, there’s no doubt about it. Anyone coming from an SLR will probably note two things:

  1. It’s not that big.
  2. It’s longer than some SLR 75-90mm lenses.

The second point makes sense if you think about SLR construction with a mirror box while looking at the back of a longer focal length rangefinder lens. The last half inch or so of these RF lenses have no optics; they just make up the extra distance required by the focal length that is normally occupied by the SLR mirror box.

Before I saw several of these ‘big’ lenses, like the 75mm Summilux and 90 APO Summicron, I was under the impression that the 75mm Summilux was a good deal bigger than the rest. The reality of it is is that the 75mm Summilux is functionally the same size as the 90mm Summicrons; only a hair bigger. It’s really not that much bigger than the 75mm APO Summicron—only a half an inch longer. I know this is arbitrary, but anything much larger than the 50mm Summilux ASPH is ‘large’ to me, and the 75mm APO Summicron is over that limit. I might as well take the 75mm Summilux.

Regardless, it’s a big chuck of glass. Rangefinder intrusion can be bad. With the hood extended and at minimum focus distance (0.75m), the tip of the hood touches the corner of the rangefinder patch. On the other hand, it’s intrusion isn’t too bad at distances above 1.2m. Verdict: could be better, could be worse.

Ergonomics and focusing

Ergonomically, it’s a mixed bag. The hood is nice. I had a new hood installed, so while it’s not locking, there’s a decent amount of friction, so it stays put. It’s easy and smoother to slide out then the hood on my 50mm Summilux ASPH. Focusing is ok. It’s stiffer than my other Leica lenses to focus. It also has a considerably longer throw: 180° compared to 90°. Other than that, it fits the hand well and is relatively easy to use. However, the long focus throw and stiffer action will probably mean that this will be a less used lens for me. In clutch situations, I’m going to reach for the 50mm instead. The 50mm is a good inch shorter, more than half an inch less in diameter, and a bit more than half the weight, and it’s not known for being a small 50mm lens for rangefinders.

I haven’t had too much in the way of out of focus shots. I should clarify that I’m not the type of photographer that shoots wide open just to shoot wide open. I tend to use fast lenses at a shutter speed that I think is appropriate for the situations and adjust exposure by changing the aperture. That might be wide open or it might be at f/5.6.

The pictures

Let’s face it though. This is a lens you get because of the pictures, not because of the portability. I’ve not yet used it in situations where I needed a fast short tele. I’ve used it in others though and it hasn’t disappointed. It has a nice vintage look to it wide open. It’s considerably softer here. Around f/2–2.8, it starts to sharpen up, and stopping down a bit more really sharpens up the image.

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How’s it look? Wow. It looks great. I shot a couple rolls of it over Christmas break and got a number of pictures that were fantastic. I’m a convert.

All of my 75mm Summilux pictures can be found here on flickr.

Compared to the 50mm ASPH

Unfortunately, I haven’t done this comparison yet. I do think I’ve reached the opinion that I don’t particularly like really tight portraits. The 75mm Summilux at its minimum focus distance is too tight for me 95% of the time. 50mm at 0.7m is not too tight. Chalk one up for the 50mm ASPH.

Obviously the 50mm ASPH is going to be sharper and have a more modern look. But how different are the looks in actual use? More importantly, is it worth it to keep both lenses? The focal lengths are close enough that I wonder. At some point, I’ll shoot some comparisons between the two and post them.

I’m sure I will end up keeping it though. The money’s been spent and I had the cash when I purchased it. It’s a classic lens with a great look.


  1. A lot of people love the Noctilux. I’ve never been that huge of a fan of photos from it. It’s not so much that I don’t like what the lens can do—it’s that I don’t like 99% of the silly pictures people take with it. For example, I find portraits terribly annoying when only a sliver of the face is in focus. I will say that I’ve certainly wanted f/1 though. Anyway, the story goes that the 75mm Summilux design is derived from the 50 Noctilux.