LEICA 90MM F2 SUMMICRON-M APO LENS
Updated February 19, 2017
|Leica Product Number||11884 Black|
|Production History||1998 to present|
|Lens Composition||5 Elements / 5 Groups, 1 Aspherical Element|
|Angular Field of View||27º|
|Actual Field of View||90.9mm|
|Minimum Focus||1 Meter / 39 Inches|
|Aperture||11 Blades (non circular)|
|F-Stop Scale||F2 to F16 in 1/2 Stop Increments|
|Filter Size||55mm (E55), Non-rotating|
|Lens Cap||Leica #14289 E55 Plastic Lens Cap|
|Lens Hood||Built-In, Slides Out|
|Weight||480 Grams / 16.1 Ounces (without lens caps)|
|Lens Size||64mm Wide x 77.7mm Long (when mounted)|
Using a fast aperture telephoto lens on a Leica M rangefinder is a challenging endeavor, but times are changing. With the Leica M Type 240, photographers have the benefits of an external Electronic View Finder (EVF) and live view via the M 240’s 3” rear LCD display. While a 90mm F2 lens is not extraordinary, a 90mm F2 weighing just a pound, measuring 3 inches long, covering a full-frame sensor and incorporating APO optics is rather extraordinary. After all, who wants to use a large heavy lens on a compact mirrorless camera body? And giving up aperture speed for the sake of a small lens size is never fun. Thus, the 90mm F2 Summicron-M APO's niche - a high performance, fast apertured mid-range telephoto lens in a compact package.
One only needs to handle the Leica 90mm APO for a couple moments to appreciate the design, manufacturing precision, materials quality and attention to detail:
- Construction: Other than the plastic lens caps and plastic red dot, the 90mm APO is all metal and glass. There is no wiggle, wobble or play in the lens body. Fit, finish and gaps are superb. Metal work is smooth with no CnC ridges or milling marks. The knurled edges are crisp, well machined, but not sharp to the touch. The satin black anodized finish is flawless, though somewhat delicate (edges can brass easily).
- Focus Ring: Given that the focus ring is moving a larger mass compared to lenses like the 35mm f1.4 Summilux-M ASPH or 50mm Summilux-M ASPH, the focus weight is a bit heavier, but still a light action. Resistance is smooth and even throughout the range. From the minimum focus distance to infinity is about 135º of rotation. When trying to “nail” focus at F2, this amount of focus ring travel is helpful for finessing smaller adjustments. The focus action is immediate and direct - there is no lag or sponginess when rotating the focus ring.
- Aperture Ring: The aperture ring clicks cleanly from stop to stop in half-stop increments. There is no rattle or play when the lens is shaken. The aperture ring will rotate about a 1/4 stop past F2 and F16 detents. This is normal and most Leica M lenses exhibit the same. There is always a bit play in the aperture ring because there cannot be a rigid connection between the aperture ring and the delicate aperture blades.
- Lens Hood: The lens hood simply slides in and out. It does not twist and lock into position like the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH. Internally there is felt lining to provide some resistance and the keep the lens hood in place. On older lenses the lens hood may pull out a bit unevenly as the felt wears.
- Markings: The distance scale, aperture values, etc., are all engraved and hand painted. Should the lettering fade, flake away or get discolored, it is very easy to refresh with lacquer paint sticks (available at your local brick & mortar hobby store)
What amazes me most is how Leica is able to pack great performance into such a tiny lens. Finding a good, or even a great telephoto lens is not difficult these days. Add to that, most modern top end portrait lenses have an aspherical element as well. What sets Leica apart is being able to package that performance into a compact, lightweight lens that covers a full-frame sensor. A 90mm (or 75mm) tends to be a lesser used lens, so most people want a small lens that is easy to carry with them “just in case” they happen to need it. The 90mm F2 Summicron-M APO is not a small lens by M standards, but it is quite small compared to something like a Zeiss Milvus 100mm.
In the black finish the 90mm F2 Summicron-M APO weighs 480 grams. I use the 90mm APO on a Leica M-P (240) with a Thumbs-Up and the lens feel lighter than the 1 pound specification suggests. Without the Thumbs Up, the kit feels nose-heavy. I have used Thumbs Up's for years, so a Leica M without a Thumbs-Up feels "wrong". Another option is to add one of Leica's grips, though, they make the M set-up larger, more bulky. I also like using a 1/2 case with the M bodies because it thickens the camera body and seems more "grippy".
The slide-out lens hoods are among my favorite features of the Leica M lenses. The built-in lens hoods are space savers, one less thing to keep track of, and always there when needed. While the built-in hoods are convenient, their effectiveness against stray light can be marginal, especially if the light source is just outside of the frame. For example, when taking night shots and a street light is to the right of left of the frame (outside of the frame), there is a risk of flare and/or veiling. This is pretty typical of all Leica M lenses.
The biggest “gotchya!” with the Leica 90mm F2 Summicron-M APO is nailing focus on a consistent basis; especially at wider apertures like F2 and F2.8. This is true of any long lens on a rangefinder camera when using rangefinder focus. Times are changing though, the Leica M Type 240 has Live View and EVF capabilities, and using one of the Sony A7's is an even better option (compared to Leica's current EVF solution for the Leica M-240).
Assuming we are using the Leica 90mm APO on the M via the rangefinder, the first "must have" is a Leica 1.25x magnifier (what I use) or a Leica 1.4x magnifier. Next, if the subject is 10-15 feet or closer, I set focus to the minimum focus distance and then focus. When the patch first appears sharp WITHOUT going past it, I stop. With distant subjects I do the opposite - I start at infinity, work my way backwards and when the patch appears sharp - I stop. Rocking focus back and forth has proven to be a hit or miss technique (for me).
If recomposing after focusing and placing the subject right or left of center, a tiny bit of front of focus is needed to offset for focus error introduced by recomposing. The amount of front focus is guess work, but this "guess" becomes easier to estimate with practice. To add a little more wiggle room (to the "guess"), I tend to stop down one extra stop (increasing the depth of field).
It has taken me many years to accept and be comfortable with the concept of zone focusing (using the hyper focal distance scale on the lens body). The markings are Leica's suggested recommendations for balancing near and far focus at a given aperture. The turning point for me was seeing how hyper focal distance focused images printed. To Leica's credit, the result is a generally appealing placement of the focus plane. Frankly, Leica's scale has proven to be better than my focus efforts if trying to get the whole scene within the depth of field. With a 90mm focal length, this technique is for F5.6 and smaller. Zone focusing at F2 borders on futility.
If the optical viewfinder looks blurry, you may need a Leica diopter correction lens. Unfortunately, as we age our eyes have less and less ability to correct and diopter adjustments become increasingly necessary.
When comparing high performing lenses, the differences are often minute and saying this or that lens is better borders on nit-picking. The following bullets are really just going by the numbers, and frankly, in most cases stating the obvious:
- Sharpness and Contrast: The 90mm APO is both sharp and contrasty. Of my M lenses, the 90mm APO is probably the sharpest, wide open “portrait” lens I have used - beating lenses like the Zeiss 85mm F2 Sonnar ZM, Canon 100mm F2 Serenar LTM and Leica 75mm F1.4 Summilux-M. The 90mm APO’s wide open sharpness is comparable with the Zeiss 100mm F2 Makro-Planar and sharper than the Canon 135mm F2 L.
Unlike the Leica 75mm F2 Summicron-M APO, the 90mm APO does not have a floating lens element (FLE). That said, the 90mm APO still performs exceptionally well at distances in the 5 to 6 foot range at F2. At stopped down apertures, landscape images at F4-F8 are ridiculously sharp and require the default sharpening Capture One to be reduced. Overall, the 90mm APO’s sharpness and resolution are superb.
The 90mm APO has a reputation for being soft at near distances. I attribute those softness claims to the limits of rangefinder focusing. "Nailing" focus at F2 is very do-able today with the Leica M240's live view. My 90mm APO is wickedly sharp at near distances (near distances = 6 feet in my opinion) and can go toe to toe with my Zeiss 100mm F2 Makro-Planar.
- Bokeh: Netting a highly abstracted background requires effort. If the subject is within a couple meters, then it is fairly easy to blur the background. If the focus point is 3-4-5 meters, then the background will look softened, but still mostly recognizable. Generally speaking, I usually wish the 90mm APO’s bokeh had more oomph to it. More abstraction. More wow.
The Leica 75mm F2 Summicron-M APO is capable of more extreme bokeh due to its .7M minimum focus distance vs the 90mm’s 1M minimum focus distance. However, the net bokeh between the two is quite comparable because what the 75mm APO achieves via a shorter minimum focus distance, the 90mm APO achieve via its added 15mm in reach.
However, 75mm and 90mm focal lengths inherently have a lot of depth of compared to a 135mm or 200mm focal lengths. Thus it is 90mm that is bokeh-challenged, not necessarily the 90mm APO (in terms of a design deficiency or something along those lines).
Like most Leica aspherical lenses, the 90mm APO's bokeh can have a double image or “nervous” look if the background is relatively close and consists of a busy patterns such as long weeds, brush, twigs, small leaves, tall grass, etc.
- Aberrations, Distortion and Flare: In all regards, the 90mm APO is extremely well corrected. Thus far chromatic aberrations have been non-existent, nor have I seen any distortion. Again, I would probably rate the 90mm APO as one my top performing lenses in this regard. The 90mm APO will veil if shot into the sun, which may be desirable if trying to get soft glow / rim light if shooting a backlit portrait. Leica M lenses have short lens hoods, so they may show veiling more often than a comparable SLR lens with a deeper, wider lens hood.
- 3D Effect: The 90mm APO has a mild 3D feel from time to time. The 3D look is definitely the exception rather than the rule. The strongest or boldest 3D effect I have seen from the 90mm APO are the candids on the previous page. The 75mm Summicron-M APO may have an edge in this department. Again, going back to the “oomph” wish, I wish the 90mm APO produced a bolder, 3D type of look.
If scoring a Leica 90mm APO on its technical merits, it deserves a perfect '10'. Sharpness, resolution, clarity, contrast, chromatic aberrations - it gets superb marks in all those areas. In the more subjective areas, such as bokeh and 3D feel, sometimes I feel the Leica 90mm APO comes up a bit short. And if comparing, I would give the Zeiss 100mm F2 Makro-Planar the "win" in this area.
Of the Leica M-mount "portrait" lenses I have owned, I like the 90mm APO best. Its only shortcoming is the double-image bokeh (nisen bokeh), which is often found in Leica's ASPH lens designs. If bokeh were the primary criteria, then the Canon 100mm F2 Serenar LTM might be my top pick for a rangefinder lens. However, framing a 100mm lens with 90mm framelines can be troublesome, especially if the scene requires careful (exact) framing. Also, the Canon 100mm Serenar is a 1959 lens, so it is not as contrasty as a modern lens. So while the 100mm Serenar delivers the bokeh, its images are more subdued.
As I look at the images used in this review, the 90mm APO has done well over the years. The Leica 90mm F2 Summicron-M APO has been a steady, dependable and consistent veteran player. Judging the Leica 90mm APO in 2016 is more complicated than when this review was first published in 2011. The field has changed and today the Sony A7 camera line opens new opportunities for the Leica 90mm APO, but at the same time the Sony A7 widens the field of competition to include countless SLR lens plus new lenses like the Zeiss Batis line. If considering the Leica 90mm APO for a Leica M, the decision is much easier because the 90mm APO is a fantastic choice for the Leica M cameras. If the lens is for a Sony A7rII, then the criterium change dramatically - such as whether or not auto focus is a requirement.
I'll side step the Sony discussion and just say - I do use the Leica 90mm F2 Summicron-M APO on a Sony A7II and the two work very well together; however, I enjoy picture taking experience more with the Leica M-P (Typ 240). Yet there are things I can do with the A7II that the M-P cannot match, for example the Sony's EVF is infinitely better and Sony's Steady Shot definitely helps to boost the keeper-rate. If solely a Sony A7-shooter, I would probably not buy the Leica 90mm APO, especially with the Zeiss 85mm F1.8 Batis now available. But I am a M-shooter, using the Sony A7II to back up / compliment the Leica M, so the 90mm APO is a very practical choice.