Leica Summicron-M 90mm (pre-ASPH)

This will be a shortish review of the Leica M 90mm Summicron, the pre-ASPH version, sometimes referred to as version III or the E55, model number 11136.

orchids

90mm is a classic portrait length, though it can be challenging to frame on a rangefinder (small frame lines) and focus at large aperture (rangefinder accuracy). It’s still a useful focal length to have around.

This is big and heavy for an M lens. Focus throw is long and heavy, much like the 75mm Summilux. This makes it easy to precisely adjust focus, but slow. I prefer a lighter focus feel and with this lens I find it useful to pre-focus to speed the process up. There might be some minimal focus shift with the lens, but I often shoot it wide open or stopped down to f/5.6, where it has been mostly fine.

Neutron the cat in a peach box.

Much has been said about the 90mm APO-Summicron, how sharp it is, how it gets soft at short range, etc. This is not that lens. Wide open, it is lower contrast and softer. Stopped down, the contrast gets better and it sharpens up. Again, this is not unlike the 75mm Summilux. It’s not quite as much of a character lens as the 75mm,1 but it is not ‘modern’ and overly sterile.

That being said, it’s ‘sharp enough’. Pictures wide open are really pleasant, even on 40+ MP cameras. It is certainly not as sharp as my sharpest lenses, but it’s good enough. At times I’m tempted to get an APO-Summicron (used, if the price was right). Then I’m reminded I don’t shoot 90mm much and the pictures this lens makes are very nice.

Todd the monster listening to headphones.

Shot on T-Max 400.

It does flare if you get a lot of light coming in near the axis of the lens; low angle shots into the sun with the sun reflecting off a hardwood floor. This is a challenging situation for sure, but it is something to be aware of since flare is not reflected in the RF viewfinder.

It works very well on my M10 Monochrom, film Ms, and the Sony A7rII as well. While I’ve had issues with other M lenses on the Sony,2 90mm has always been fine in my experience, and this lens is no exception.

This is a bit cliché, but this lens has a real ‘classic’ look to it. And as fast, quasi-modern Leica lenses go, it’s also very affordable. It doesn’t have all of the caché that the 75 Summilux has, and it’s a bit less versatile (a stop slower, longer minimum focus distance), but in many respects, it is similar in signature and in my opinion, is a good value.

Obviously, if you want a sharper or lighter lens, there are other options, like the 90 APO-Summicron, the 90 Macro-Elmar M, or the Zeiss Tele-Tessar 85/4. Hopefully Voigtlander releases a high performing 90mm lens; they’ve really been on a roll in the past few years.

Here is a link to photos from the lens that I’ve posted to flickr.

Gravel piles with birds on them.

Shot on a Sony A7rII.

Box of tea from China with cat smelling it.

  1. I seem to recall wilder, swirly bokeh with the 75mm Summilux wide open. ↩︎

  2. You often read, “Any M lens longer than 35mm works fine,” which is just not true in my experience. Some newer designs wider than 35mm are good from what I’ve seen (Leica WATE, 28mm Summilux, etc.), and from personal experience, I can say the 50 Summilux ASPH (not good at all in the corners) and the Zeiss 50mm C Sonnar (some squirrely astigmatism or something in the corners) are less than ideal. If you have specific M lenses that work great on the Sony, great, but for the ‘best’ Sony manual focus experience, just get some FE mount Voigtlander and Zeiss lenses; it really is much better. ↩︎