Leica M 50mm Lenses Compared (x11) +Leica Lens Guide!

Best 50mm Leica Lens Review - 11 50mm Lenses Compared - Photo of Girl with Leica Noctilux B&W

Leica M 50mm Lenses Compared (x11) + Leica Lens Guide! (Best 50mm Leica Lens)

Are you looking to buy the best 50mm Leica M mount lens but not sure what to get? Do you find all the Leica lens names like Summilux and Summicron confusing? I was in the same position when I bought my Leica M9! In this 2 part article I try to help from my own purchasing process.  See Parts 1&2 below.

(1) Here I compare 11 different 50mm lenses I use on my Leica M cameras; facts, pros & cons, sample images to help you decide what is right for you.  Test includes:

  1. Zeiss 50mm Planar 50mm f/2 ZM (No link)
  2. Zeiss 50mm C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM + (vs Leica)
  3. Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (Lux 50)
  4. Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2 v5 (Cron 50)
  5. Leica 50mm Summarit f/1.5 (1950s)
  6. Leica 50mm Summarit-M f/2.5
  7. Leica 50mm f/2.8 Elmar (Collapsible)
  8. Leica Summicron 50mm f/2 DR (Dual Range)
  9. Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH
  10. Leica Noctilux f/1.0 50mm v2 (1981)
  11. Russian Jupiter 3 50f1.5 (Zeiss Sonnar Clone)

(2) In part 2 I provide a Leica Lens Guide to help you understand the Leica Lens Terminology.  I then compare similar Leica lenses to again help with the decision when you are stuck between 2 lenses to buy.  I provide example comparisons and a Best Leica Lens for you section.

Leica M 50mm Lenses Compared

PART 1: LEICA M 50MM LENSES COMPARED (x11)

Leica M 50mm Lenses Compared

As a Leica photographer I have now collected quite a few 50mm Leica M mount lenses. I am always interested how one lens performs against another and until I can decide my favourites I am not selling any. I thought it might be useful to do a quick comparison of 8 50mm lenses, 7 of which I own and 1 I was able to use for a day to try (Leica Noctilux 50mm f0.95). I explain my thoughts, pros and cons of each lens based on my own experience and taste and using the lens copies I own. My findings may differ from your own or from comprehensive technical reviews that have been performed for each. I have included a sample photo from each lens to give you a real example. There are specific reviews for each lens too under the Leica tab at the top of the site homepage.

Camera Porn!

50mm Lenses – Pros and Cons of Each:

1. Zeiss 50mm Planar 50mm f/2 ZM:

Pros – Very sharp and contrasty. Focuses at 0.9m
Cons – Too sharp for some subjects! No built in hood.
Thoughts – Apparent clinical sharpness/ high contrast and unflattered for anything other than baby like skin
• Example Photo using a Digital Leica M9

Leica M9 - B&W Film Look

2. Zeiss 50mm C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM:

Pros – Sharp in the centre and contrasty at f1.4. Nice rendering of OOF areas/ bokeh
Cons – Closest focus 1m. No built in hood.
Thoughts – Good apparent sharpness (high contrast) shot wide open with nice rendering. Fine for most portraits.
• Example Photo, Digital Leica M9

Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50/1.5 Portrait

3. Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (Lux 50):

Pros – Edge to edge clinical sharpness at f1.4. Focus at 0.7m. Built in hood.
Cons – Bigger than the Cron and ZM lenses. Modern look.
Thoughts – Sharpest 50 but lower contrast vs Zeiss. Best 50mm up close.
• Example Photo, Digital Leica M9

Leica Engagement Photography

  • Example Photo 2, Leica M3 film camera

Leica M3 Film Portrait

4. Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2 v5 (Cron 50):

Pros – 39mm filter thread and built in hood. Focus at 0.7m. It does nothing badly
Cons – It has no one character to lift it above other 50s.
Thoughts – Great all rounder. It does nothing particularly well (vs. other 50s that each have a strong point) yet does nothing badly either. My least used 50 (excluding Jupiter 3 – has some focus shift to account for so not used much)
• Example Photo, Digital Leica M9

Leica Summicron 50

5. Leica 50mm Summarit f/1.5 (1950s):

Pros – Vintage look from the camera giving photos with that Leica glow. Cheap
Cons – Closest focus 1m. Soft, low contrast and prone to flare
Thoughts – Creates beautiful glowing portraits if used to its ‘strengths’ (Cons).
• Example Photo, Digital Leica M9

Street Portrait

6. Leica 50mm Summarit-M f/2.5:

Pros – Smaller than Cron & Zeiss lenses, Sharp modern look, 0.8 focus
Cons – No built in hood, slower than Cron, Lux and Zeiss lenses
Thoughts – Small and sharp. Great lens to use on Leica film cameras
• Example Photo, Digital Leica M240

Leica Shoot Out

• Example Photo 2, Leica M3 film camera

Leica M3 Film Camera

7. Leica 50mm f/2.8 Elmar (Collapsible)

Pros – My smallest M lens  (when mounted) + can use SOMKY-M
Pros 2 – *Works with SOOKY-M (SOMKY) close focus goggles
Cons – Flares easily, softer wide open, no hood, 1m close-focus*
Thoughts – Small and sharp stopped down, good for digital Leica
• Example Photo, Digital Leica M8

Leica Elmar 50mm

• Example Photo 2, Digital Leica M240

Leica SOOKY-M adapter

8. Leica Summicron 50mm f/2 DR (Dual Range)

Pros – Sharp lens wide open, can use with SOOKY-M
Pros 2 – *Works with SOOKY-M close focus goggles
Cons – Heavy, can flare, no hood, 1m close-focus*
Thoughts – If nail focus it gives great results up close at f2
• Example Photo, Leica M3 film camera

Summer Love

• Example Photo 2, Leica M3 film camera

Leica M3 Selfie

Example Photo 3, Leica M6 film camera

Leica Summicron 50mm DR

9. Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH:

Pros – Edge to edge clinical sharpness at f0.95. Good subject background separation
Cons – Closest focus 1m. Very expensive. Heavy. 60mm filter thread. Modern look
Thoughts – very similar to Lux ASPH 50 in all respects but cannot focus at 0.7m.
• Example Photo, Digital Leica M9

Leica Noctilux f0.95

10. Leica Noctilux f/1.0 50mm v2 (1981):

Pros – Unique look images created – can resemble medium format/ large format film
Cons – Closest focus 1m. Expensive. Heavy. 60mm filter thread, Soft, Low contrast
Thoughts – Softer and lower contrast than all lenses list except Summarit 50f1.5. Nicest bokeh and rendering IMO.
• Example Photo, Digital Leica M9

Leica vs Mamiya RZ!

• Example Photo, Digital Leica M240

Leica Noctilux 50mm f1 Portrait

• Example Photo 3, Leica M4P film camera

Kodak Vision3 200T

11. Russian Jupiter 3 50f1.5 (Zeiss Sonnar Clone):

Pros – Cheapest and great value for money. Contrasty giving apparent sharpness
Cons – Closest focus 1m, soft focus and prone to some flare
Thoughts – Similar to Leica Summarit in all respects but more contrasty
• Example Photo, Digital Leica M9

M9 + Jupiter 3

Conclusion

What is the best Leica 50mm lens?

It depends on personal taste and the task but for me –

Summilux ASPH: close up portraits wide open (most used any lens/50mm)
Noctilux 50 f1.0: to create ‘better’ than reality photos & less digital look
Summarit f1.5: for a more vintage look – use flare for effect
Summarit f2.5: for a small sharp lens (especially on film Leica cameras)
Summicron DR: for super closeup headshots (with close up adapter)
ZM Sonnar: for sharp environmental portraits (*sold it and regret it)
ZM Zeiss: for the sharpest possible image (*I later sold this lens)

One camera one lens – which 50mm would I use?

• Noctilux 50 f1 – It unique look wide open yet sharp when stopped down

52mm Lens

I didn’t include the 52mm Industar 26m f2.8 lens here as it is not strictly 50mm! (link below)

Findings

I hope you found it useful even if you do not agree with some of my findings. (I know the Leica Cron 50 is a very popular lens).

 

PART 2 – A GUIDE TO LEICA LENSES!

A: LEICA LENSES TERMINOLOGY

All Leica lenses are commonly broken down into different named groups depending on the widest/ fastest aperture of the lens.  This is true whether a Leica 50mm lens, 35mm lens or other focal length.  Here are some of the more common Leica lenses, new and old.

*Please note this is not a complete list and is just a guide

  • Noctilux = f0.95-f1.25 lenses (“Nocti”) – 50mm / 75mm
  • Summilux = f1.4 lenses (“Lux”) – 50mm / 35mm / 21mm
  • Summicron = f2 lenses (“Cron”) – 28mm /35mm /40mm /50mm /90mm
  • Summarit = f2.4-f2.5 lenses (Ignoring the vintage 50mm f1.5 Summarit!)
  • Elmarit = f2.8 lenses (28mm / 50mm / 90mm)
  • Elmar = f4 lenses (Commonly 90mm / 135mm Ignoring the 50mm f2.8!)
  • Summaron = f5.6 lenses (Ignoring the vintage 35mm f3.5 Summaron!)

 

B: WHAT IS THE BEST LEICA LENS? (FOR YOU)

When looking to buy a new Leica lens (brand new or used) there are a few factors that you might consider –

Leica Lens Wish List
  1. Chose your lens focal lens? – ie. 50mm
  2. Do you need a small lens? (perhaps for travel)
  3. Do you need a fast lens? (ie. wide aperture of f1.4-f2)(low light or portraits)
  4. What is your budget? (used lenses are cheaper than new!)
Examples Scenarios When Buying a Leica Lens

Once you have answers question 1-4 on the Leica lens wish list above you may have one of the following decisions to make.  You may be stuck in deciding between 2 Leica lenses but you are not sure which lens to buy.  Assuming you are comparing the same focal length lenses, ie. 2x 50mm lenses, here are 3 simple examples that might help you decide.  (There are many possible combinations so I selected just 3 examples that might be realistic).

B1. Summilux vs Summicron (f1.4 vs f2)

1.1 – 4 Reasons to Buy a Summilux rather than a Summicron
  1. Aperture f1.4 vs f2 gives 1 stop more light for low light photography
  2. An f stop of f1.4 gives better bokeh than f2
  3. A Summilux lens will give better background separation than a Summicron
  4. For portraits the Summilux lens will give more pleasing photos (soft focus skin and nice transition from sharp in focus to soft out of focus areas)
1.2 – 3 Reasons to Buy a Summilux rather than a Summicron
  1. Summicron f2 lenses are smaller than a Summilux f1.4 lens as they contain less glass elements
  2. Summicron lenses are therefore also lighter than a Summilux lens
  3. Perhaps the deal breaker for many photographers – the Summicron costs less than a Summilux (Great if you don’t need the extra 1 stop of light)(f1.4 vs f2)

 

B2. Summicron vs Summarit (f2 vs f2.4-2.5)

2.1 – 4 Reasons to Buy a Summicron rather than a Summarit
    1. Aperture f2 vs f2.4-2.5 gives slightly more light for low light photography (marginal gains)
    2. An f stop of f2 gives slightly better bokeh than f2.4-f2.5 (slight)
    3. A Summicron lens  will give better background separation than a Summarit (there is not a huge difference)(I use both lenses)
    4. For portraits the Summicron will give more pleasing photos than a Summarit (but there is not a huge difference)(I use both lenses)
2.2 – 3 Reasons to Buy a Summait rather than a Summicron
  1. Summarit f2.4-f2.5 lenses are smaller than a Summicron f2
  2. Summarit lenses are therefore also lighter than a Summicron lens
  3. Perhaps the deal breaker for many photographers – the Summarit costs less than a Summicron and is often seen as the budget Leica lens lineup.

 

B3. Summicron vs Elmarit (f2 vs f2.8)

3.1 – 4 Reasons to Buy a Summicron rather than a Elmarit
    1. Aperture f2 vs f2.8 gives 1 stop more light for low light photography
    2. An f stop of f2 gives better bokeh than f2.8
    3. A Summicron will give better background separation than an Elmarit
    4. For portraits the Summicron lens will give more pleasing pictures. (Most 50mm portrait lenses are f1.4-f2).  For longer lenses such as a 90mm or 135mm an f2.8 or f4 lens can still produce nice portraits as the longer focal length accentuates the background separation, compression and bokeh.
3.2 – 3 Reasons to Buy a Elmarit rather than a Summicron
  1. Elmarit f2.8 lenses are smaller than a Summicron f2 lens
  2. Elmarit lenses are therefore also lighter than a Summicron lens
  3. Perhaps the deal breaker for many photographers – the Elmarit costs less than a Summicron

 

Summary

There is no fixed rule that says you can’t use a f2.8-f4 lens for portraits (I use any lens for portraits).  It is just a over simplified guide.  Ideally for portraits I would use my 50mm f1.4 Summilux lens not my 50mm f2.8 lens but I will use my 90mm f4 lens and 135mm f4 lens for portraits.

If you are new to Leica I hope this was of some use to you.  If you are a Leica nut please excuse this simple guide.  I tried to find a happy medium to provide some value to the majority of readers.

Happy Shooting.. with whatever lens you chose! Matt

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Author: matthewosbornephotography

Coventry, UK studio based Model and Wedding Photographer offering both Medium Format Film and Digital Images. 1-2-1 Photography and Lighting Tuition also available.

12 thoughts on “Leica M 50mm Lenses Compared (x11) +Leica Lens Guide!”

  1. Matthew, I posted a response to this in your Flickr photostream so apologies if you have already considered the question, but which 50mm would you say looks best when used with your M8? I currently have a modern 35mm Summarit and an old 90mm Tele-elmarit but want something in between (and not too expensive if possible) for good environmental portraits of my kids, with 3d pop.

  2. Matthew

    I have already posed this question through your Flickr feed, so apologies if you have considered it already, but I am curious to know which 50mm lens gives the “best” results on your M8. I currently use a 35mm Summarit f2.5 and 90mm Tele-elmarit f2.8 but want something in between (and hopefully not too costly) for environmental portraits of my kids with shallow DOF (the 35mm just does not cut it in this regard and the 90mm means I have to stand a long way off!).

    Thanks

    Robert

    1. HI Robert, I think I replied to you on Flickr but you may have missed it. It of course depends on your budget but I will assume you will not want to pay for a Noctilux so I would recommend the Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5 as you want the classic Zeiss 3D pop look and it is 2.5x cheaper than the Leica Summiilux ASPH 50mm f1.4. The only advance of the Lux is it will focus at 0.7m as stated. Hope that helps.

      As always it comes down to personal choice but the Sonnar is a nice lens with character.

      Matt

      1. Matt

        Thanks for replying to my various messages (had a few WordPress login issues today!). I was leaning towards the Sonnar already so am pleased with that recommendation, thanks. That should keep me going until I can justify an M9/240 and Lux!

        Regards
        Robert

  3. Nice roundup. Conspicuously missing is the 50mm Summarit-M f/2.5 (the article obviously predates the current 2.4) which is a very good lens. I imagine that’s because you haven’t had the opportunity to use it.

    Would have to disagree with your assertion that the Noctilux .95 is “edge to edge” sharp at .95, it’s actually pretty soft in the corners, but I think that is to be expected.

    Worthy of note, both Zeiss lenses are much more resistant to veiling flare than any of the Leica lenses. They also have much less curvature of field than the Noctilux, Summilux and Summicron.

  4. Hello, Little question to you : Did you use the Voigtlander nocton 50 1.5? If yes, what’s your point of view on this lens and the comparison with the lux? I have one and hesitate to invest in a lux… Thx for answering.
    Bruno

    1. Hi Bruno, I have not tried the Nokton 50/1.5. If I get chance I will review it for you. From using lots of Voigtlander lenses I would expect the Lux to be better but Voigtlander sometimes get close.. their 35/1.2 ASPH is good. Cheers Matt

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