REVIEW - LEICA 50mm F2 SUMMICRON-M

First Impressions of the Leica 50mm Summicron-M on the Leica M8

 
 

OVERVIEW

50mm lenses are like blue jeans - there are many brands, many styles and many prices. And regardless of all the choices there are, ultimately everyone has their favorite pair. Sorting through all the 50mm choices and picking a lens that fits “just right” could take a life-time. The Leica 50mm F2 Summicron-M is Levi’s 501 of camera lenses. Leica has had 50mm F2 lenses since the 1930’s, and today’s 50mm Summicron has roots dating back to the early 1950’s. Aggregating production volumes cited in several Leica books, there have been around 500,000 Leica / Leitz 50mm F2 lenses produced. With the Leica 50mm F2 Summicron-M, Leica balances performance, build quality, ergonomics and price.


BUILD QUALITY

Today’s Leica 50mm F2 Summicron-M was first available in 1979 and the optical formula has remained unchanged since. The 50mm Summicron-M employs a classic Double-Gauss design with 6 elements in 4 optical groups (more info regarding the Double-Gauss design at Wikipedia). There are no aspherical elements in the Leica 50mm Summicron-M, nor a floating element or group (floating element designs provide better near-field performance). The current barrel designed was introduced in 1994, adding a built-in lens hood, but excluding a focus tab.

Aesthetically the chrome finish has a lovely luster, but the chrome version weighs several ounces more than the standard black version (335 grams vs 240 grams). The Leica chrome finish lenses are made of brass, which is a heavier base material compared to the alloys used in the standard black chrome finishes. The chrome finish reflects light in a lovely way and has oozes a classic camera look. Unfortunately, Leica discontinued the chrome version sometime around 2010.

The chrome finish Leica 50mm Summicron-M balances fairly well on the Leica M8. The Zeiss 50mm F2 Planar ZM feels a bit better since it is lighter, but to be blunt, the Zeiss ZM also feels cheaper. In everyday use the weight difference is negligible. The only time it the weight difference is noticeable is when directly comparing the two lenses side-by-side. With black chrome version weighing essentially the same as the Zeiss 50mm F2 ZM, there is no difference in weight / balance if comparing black versions.

The Leica 50mm Summicron’s focus ring on the sliver version was fairly stiff (so was the 35mm F2 Summicron ASPH) compared to the Zeiss 50mm ZM. This could have been a simple case of sample variation. I think my chrome 50mm Summicron-M had been used very little (it was purchased used) and the grease had stiffened. I borrowed a black 50mm Summicron-M (same version) and its focus ring was very easy to turn.

The Leica 50mm Summicron’s aperture ring steps in 1/2 stop increments; the Zeiss 50mm F2 Planar ZM steps in 1/3 stop increments. In principle I prefer the 1/3 stop increments, but other people prefer 1/2 stop increments because it is easier to count-off the aperture clicks when looking through the viewfinder and not looking at the lens.


The Leica 50mm Summicron has a built-in hood which slide outs about a 1/2 inch. The Zeiss 50mm ZM uses an optional metal hood which attaches to the lens’ bayonet. The Zeiss hood has a larger diameter and is very visible in the viewfinder. I prefer Leica’s built-in hoods. They may not be as effective as screw-in hoods because the built-in hoods are smaller, but they are convenient.  And, it is pretty hard to lose it if it is built-in!

The Leica 50mm Summicron feels solid on the Leica M8 and exhibits no rotational play as the lens is focused. Overall fit and finish on the Leica 50mm Summicron-M is better than the Zeiss ZM, but the Leica 50mm Summicron-M costs 2.5X more than the Zeiss 50mm F2 Planar ZM.

 

LEICA 50mm Summicron-M As A Walk-Around Lens