LEICA 50MM F1.4 SUMMILUX-M ASPH
Updated July 8, 2017
|Leica Product Number||11891 - Black|
|11892 - Silver|
|11628 - Silver LHSA Edition, E43 (rare and expensive!)|
|11688 - Black Chrome Edition, 500 Made|
|Production History||2006 to Current|
|Lens Composition||8 Elements / 5 Groups|
|Angular Field of View||47º Diagonal|
|Minimum Focus||.7 Meter / 27 Inches|
|Aperture||9 Blades, Non-Circular|
|F-Stop Scale||F1.4 to F16 in 1/2 Stop Increments|
|Filter Size||46mm, Non-rotating|
|Lens Cap||Leica 14231 (Replacement)|
|Lens Hood||Built-In, Slide Out|
|Weight||335 Grams (black) / 11.8 ounces|
|Lens Size||52.5mm Long; 53.5mm Diameter|
“If you could bring only one lens, which one would it be?” For Leica M shooters the question broaches hallowed ground - are you a 35mm or 50mm shooter? The question hints at how one sees the world around them. And if thinking beyond a single lens, the rest of kit is often is based around this one anchor lens. For many, many years I would have called myself a "50mm guy", but have shifted towards 35mm in the last 4-5 years. That said, without a doubt the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH is my favorite 50mm lens, and one of my top three favorite lenses.
In my SLR days I cycled through a dozen or so different 50mm lenses. None of the them wow’d me, nor did I "bond" with any of them. Along the way the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH snuck into the running. At the time I had a Canon 1Ds Mark III and a Leica M8. The Leica M8 was an impulse purchase, and frankly the camera frustrated the bejesus out of me. Buying the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH was a last ditch effort to will myself into liking the Leica M system.
From the very start with the Leica M8, the 50mm Summilux pictures wow’d me. And that "wow" continued with the Leica M9, the M9-P and the M Typ 240. Today, looking back, the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH is an easy purchase decision (for me), but in 2007 / 2008 the decision was a long shot. The Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH was among one of the most expensive lenses I had purchased, so the price / benefit ratio was a big concern.
BUILD QUALITY AND HANDLING
After writing Leica reviews for over 10+ years, detailing the build quality has become repetitive - and frankly - dull... so in a nutshell --- Leica builds some of the nicest lens made. The materials, the machining, the fit and finish are all best in class. It is worth noting that the "silver" 50mm Summilux-M ASPH is made of brass (vs aluminum for the black version), thus the silver version weighs ~50% more. Having used five Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH's over the past 9-10 years, here are some random observations and comments -
- Lens Hood: The lens hood should slide in and out smoothly. The lens hood locks in place by rotating it slightly when fully extended.
- Focus Ring: The focus action should feel smooth and even throughout the range. This is a small lens, so the focus action (resistance) is very light. The 50mm Summilux-M ASPH has a focus tab - which I like.
- Aperture Ring: The aperture ring should click from stop to stop cleanly. There should be clicks at F1.4 and F16. A couple of my 50mm Summilux-M ASPH's did not click at F1.4, the aperture ring just stopped. These lenses had probably been serviced and not reassembled to spec. The aperture ring will exhibit some minor wiggle or play - that is normal. This is true of all Leica M lenses. The play (looseness) helps buffer the aperture blades from damage. There should not be any internal rattles.
That list is reflective of some used 50mm Summilux-M ASPH's that did not seem quite up to standard (in my opinion). As for handling, the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH is a relatively small lens; though, the silver version is weighty. Aesthetically the 50mm Summilux looks a bit narrow on the Leica M body (my opinion). I also own the Leica 50mm F2 Summicron-M APO and cannot tell much difference between the weight and size of these two lens in normal use.
Initially the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH earned its place (in my kit) based on its optical performance. And, I was "nailing" focus with the Leica M8, so that was a big bonus. Nailing focus translated into sharp images, and that really swung my opinion (and enjoyment) since the Leica M8 had been a very frustrating camera. The 50mm Summilux-M was sharp wide open with minimal CA and color fringing. In some cases there was no CA. In terms of sharpness, time and time again the 50mm Summilux nailed the shot and the detail was stunning.
While sharpness is fun, often that is not enough to keep one lens over another. To hold my interest there has to be something unique in how the lens draws the scene. The Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH's bility to smooth backgrounds and manage specular highlights is very impressive. There is also a 3D quality which mimics the medium format feel. When shot at wider apertures, it is the combination of the bokeh and 3D feel that set the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH apart from my other 50mm lenses. It was this draw or character that made the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH a "keeper" lens for me.
However, it is not all rainbows and unicorns. If closely examining file quality across the entire frame, there are some gremlins lurking about -
- Nisen Bokeh: Being an aspherical lens, the bokeh can have a "busy" double image look at the (far) outer edges and corners. To exacerbate or provoke the nisen bokeh, there needs to be a busy pattern in the background (like twigs, branches, etc.) at close distances.
- Mid Zone Dip: Many Leica M lenses exhibit a "mid zone dip". This refers to a dip (e.g. - decline) in sharpness between the center and edges of the frame. I can think of only one shot in 10 years where I noticed this "dip". I was shooting at 45º angle relative to a planar subject, so the way the depth field laid across the foreground coupled with oblique angle, I noticed the foreground went from sharp to blurry and then back to sharp again as as DOF progressed further back.
- Corner Sharpness: Depending on the focus distance, the foreground corners may not be sharp, regardless of the aperture. If focusing at infinity, the foreground corners will probably look soft no matter which aperture is selected. However, if focus is pulled forward on the same shot, and depth of field is covered by stopping down (to F8 for example), then the foreground corners will improve.
For landscape use where corner and edge-to-edge sharpness are important, I use the Leica 50mm F2 Summicron-M APO. It is mostly portraits where I feel the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH really excels with its bokeh and 3D feel. The Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH's bokeh rivals, perhaps even surpasses the Zeiss 50mm F1.4 Otus (which is known for its smooth bokeh). It is worth noting that in a 2008 interview with David Farkas, Dr. Peter Karbe said the 50mm Summilux-M ASPH is an APO -
“Here is a bit of a shocker… the 50 lux ASPH is an APO lens, containing an APO correction element. But, he thought the idea of an APO 50 was a bit silly so they never put it on the lens or in any marketing materials."
In addition to be an APO lens, the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH's optical design incorporates a floating element (FLE) design -
Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH Optical Formula
Generally, an FLE design improves near field sharpness and mitigates focus shift. I wanted to mention the APO and FLE specifications because in recent years the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH has been somewhat overshadowed by the Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH and the Leica 50mm Summicron-M APO. The Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH is no slouch in the optical department and is perfectly usable for landscapes. However, if looking for weaknesses, flaws can be found --- frankly, that is true of any lens.
As evidenced by the pictures along the right edge of this page, there are many people pictures. I did not buy the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH specifically for portraiture, but over time that is just how things played out. Another trend worth noting is how many of the pictures were taken with the Leica M8, Leica M9 and Leica M9-P. Those cameras spanned 2007 through 2012. Around 2011 I had started using the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH more often. And subsequently Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE. It was slow shift from being a "50mm-shooter" to a "35mm-shooter" but the trend is definitely there.
Being a 35mm vs 50mm shooter does not make a lens good or bad, but it does color my opinion. If considering the Leica 50mm F.95 Noctilux-M ASPH, Leica 50mm F2 Summicron-M APO and Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH and only one will be purchased, the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH is the best overall decision. The 50mm Summilux is a versatile lens, an excellent optical performer and has a great draw for portraits. If the 50mm lens will be used solely for landscape and the utmost resolution, edge to edge evenness and corner sharpness are paramount, then the Leica 50mm F2 Summicron-M APO is the better choice.
In early 2016 I purchased the Leica M Monochrom Typ 246 and Leica 50mm F2 Summicron-M APO kit and sold the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH to help fund the new gear. I have come to regret selling the 50mm Summilux. I miss the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH's draw. SO it is quite likely the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH will find its way back into my camera bag sooner or later.