Leica Summarit 50mm f/1.5 Review (+ Sample Photos) + YouTube video
Leica Summarit 50mm f/1.5 review including comparing the lens to alternative 50mm Leica mount lenses and some of my Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Flickr photos
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PART 1: Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Lens
My latest purchase! A 1954 Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 lens. This is the later version of the lens with the Leica M bayonet mount. The earlier version released in 1949 had the Leica screw mount (LTM). Both these lenses were based on the design of the 1936 Leica Xenon design.
Why did I buy another Leica M mount 50mm lens?
I wanted an older Leica lens with that signature ‘vintage’ look. This in plain English means a lens that is low contrast, prone to flare and produces soft focus images when shot wide open. Why would anyone want those characteristics from a lens!? Surely all the manufacturers are trying to make the sharpest lens ever with the greatest micro-contrast and most flare resistant lens coating? This is true, but I already have lenses that can do all those things, sharp, contrasty and without flare. Example lenses include the Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4 (“Lux”), Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 (“Cron”), Zeiss ZM Planar 50mm F2 T and Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5 C. (All to varying degrees).
As you may have seen I shoot mostly female portraiture and a soft focus lens can be perfect for this if used correctly. I like to use flare in a creative way in my photos so a lens prone to flare is something I look forward to. The Leica M8 and Leica M9 colours in camera tend to be over saturated for my taste. Zeiss lenses especially are known to produce rich colours but I often like de-saturated tones if I am shooting colour portraits. Low contrast images means you retain maximum shadow and highlight detail so perfect for black and white photography.
50mm lenses – The right tool for the job
If you know that in your camera bag you have a high contrast Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5 lens and a low contrast Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 lens then you can select your most suitable tool for the task. When a day is overcast with very little direction light I would select the ZM Sonnar to boost the contrast from the even light. If however, I was shooting in potentially unflattering low direct sunlight, then I would chose the Leica Summarit to minimise blown highlights and retain both highlight and shadow details.
Why not correct the photos during post processing?
If I am shooting colour 35mm Kodak Portra 160 film with my Leica M2 film camera and get a lab to scan the negatives and also run me a set of prints then I want to get the desired look of my images in camera. If I am doing black and white photography and shooting with Kodak T-Max 100 film then I can adjust my B&W film developing method accordingly to increase or reduce contrast yet further depending on the conditions in which I took my photos.
Leica M8/ Leica M9 files
If I took the photos with my digital Leica M8 or Leica M9 cameras then I can edit the images in Lightroom to obtain the desired look but even then I can only work with the details captured in the DNG (RAW) or JPEG files. If I have blown the highlights with a high contrast lens then I can only save so much detail in post processing. For example a bright sky becomes completely white in the final image. If however I used a low contrast lens such as the old Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 then the cloud detail is retained in the sky and I can then boost the contrast without losing detail if desired during post.
PART 2: Leica Summarit 50mm f/1.5 Flickr Images + Follow up review
Here is a follow up review and some Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Flickr images. I have used the 1954 vintage Summarit for everything from Leica fashion beauty, portraiture, engagement shoots, landscapes, flowers and as a walk around lens.
Below is a photo of my vintage silver Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 on my vintage 1958 Leica M2 35mm film camera (Photo taken with a Leica Summicron 90mm f2 on my Leica M9).
Leica Summarit 50mm f/1.5 Flickr (My Photos)
Bokeh! Leica Summarit 50mm 1.5 on Leica M240
Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Portrait – Leica M240
What lens to get? Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 vs Summilux, Summicron, Sonnar, Planar 50mm lenses
I have 10+ 50mm lenses including Leica Summilux ASPH, Leica Summicron v5, Zeiss ZM Sonar and Zeiss ZM Planar. Despite owning all these ‘pedigree’ lenses I am finding myself chosing the vintage Leica Summarit first. Why? The Summarit has an amazing glow shot wide open at f1.5. It is sharp enough for female portraiture and I like the flare for my style of photography. The bokeh is like no other lens I own and together these traits give a photo a very unique and vintage look straight from the camera that I love.
Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 Reviews – Why Negativity?
The Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 lens is prone to flare (as mentioned) due to the old lens coating applied when manufactured in the 1950s. The coating was soft so on many copies of this lens it is damaged. I was very lucky to buy my lens with the original Leica UV filter meaning the lens optics are in near mint condition. The lens is also known to suffer from focus shift and to be optimised at f2.8 rather than at f1.5. I have not noticed any problems shooting at f1.5 so I guess I got lucky here also. Lastly, older lenses can be prone to fogging but again my lens optics are clear so I have not experienced this problem.
One of my favourite lenses on my Nikon D800 is the 1970s manual focus Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AI-s. This lens also has an amazing glow shot wide open at f1.2 yet is easily sharp enough for portraiture.
I am very happy to have discovered this amazing old lens and I loved the vintage Leica look so much that I then bought a 1951 Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5.
Zeiss lens vs Leica lens – Sonnar vs Summarit
What are better? Vintage zeiss lens vs Leica lens and more specifically the Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 vs Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f1.5 (non-ZM).
Leica Summarit vs Summilux 50mm f1.4
If you know your vintage Leica lenses you’ll know that there is the Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 and also the Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 Pre-ASPH from this period. The older Summilux lenses show some similarities to the Summarit such as lower contrast and more flare compared with modern lenses. The Summarit is usually much cheaper so offers better value.
Current Leica production lens equivalent
I use the current Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH which is the modern alternative and a very different look. Modern rendering, excellent sharpness and micro-contrast wide open. No soft dreamy look or crazy bokeh.
Canon 50mm f1.4 vs Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5
Have you considered the vintage Canon 50mm f1.4 vs Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 as a vintage fast 50mm lens option? Aka. the Japanese Summilux the Canon 50mm f1.4 lens is Leica screw mount or LTM/L39 so needs to be used via a L39-LM adapter on Leica M cameras. Excellent lens.
Voigtlander 50mm f1.2 vs Leica 50mm f1.5
If you want to avoid the issues related with trying to find a clean copy of a vintage lens you could buy a modern fast 50mm lens that has a soft glow when shot wide open. Meet the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.2 lens for Leica M. Softer and more dreamy wide open but sharp and good contrast by f2 onwards.
YouTube: Leica Summarit 50mm f/1.5
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15 thoughts on “Leica Summarit 50mm f/1.5 Review (+ Sample Photos)”
Reading this article inspired me to buy my own Leica Summarit last year. It made me believe that this often frowned up on lens could be good. Thanks for that, Mathew! By the way, I am a follower of yours on Flickr and really enjoy your stuff!
Stopped down, I think that any shooter will appreciate the sharpness and separation with creamy bokeh that the 5cm 1.5 Summarit offers. But no, the flare and softness at full aperture are not typically what an available light shooter is looking for. I find that shooting in contrastier light with a contrasty, high accutance film/developer can really lend some help at 1.5 though. The crescent shaped out of focus points of light and slight swirlios really give this lens character that, for me, compensates for its shortcomings. I also enjoy the size and weight of this lens. It feels a bit heavy for my IIIc but fits great on my M6 TTL and finder blockage is minimal even with the original hood mounted. Despite the aperture ring rotating opposite my other Leica mount lenses, the positive feeling click stops are quite nice for the age of this lens. Admittedly, however, I switch to a modern 50/1.5 when I want that sharper, more glassy look at full aperture. Anyway, here are some of my results with the Leitz 50mm 1.5 Summarit. I hope that others become interested in giving this fun lens a second chance!
Hi Johnny, thanks! I agree with your findings and although I normally strive for ‘perfect’ images in terms of sharpness and contrast I have been testing a Petzval 85 Art lens on my old Nikon D800 and like the Summarit it is the imperfections that make the photos so special. Perhaps it is time to dig out the Summarit again 🙂
Sorry your link didn’t work but thanks for the long message all the same. Thanks Matt
Thanks, Matthew, for this post. Long story short – snagged a ’59 Summaron 35 2.8 at an estate sale for my Sony A7R2. Adapter fits the lens and camera perfectly – just not at the same time due to the goggles and grip blocking any closure. So, I’m contemplating taking the goggles off or trading/trading up to a ’54 of ’56 Summarit 50 1.5. This post (and Johnny’s post) is most helpful. Among other lens (with strong preference for my Sony Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 and Zeiss Batis 85 1.8), I am presently enjoying a Nikon 50 1.4D and a Minolta Rokkor-X MD 50 1.4. The vintage bug has hit me but it seems like the Summarit could be used professionally based on your various posts. I welcome any thoughts on the choice and mainly wanted to say “thanks!” as this gives me confidence regarding the Summarit. Also following you on Flickr and have to confess preferring the Summarit to the Petzval but this is subjective, of course. One other comment: I’m writing a novel and was looking for a face… I spent 3 hours one winter afternoon searching and searching, then came up with a lovely smiling girl standing in an alley wearing a hat… B&W pic. This was Jan/Feb 2015. It’s how I first saw your work… for what it’s worth! (portrait website now under development so pardon anything after the first three tabs…efgimage.com)
Hi Scott, sorry for the delayed reply. I missed the notification. I’m trying to specifically see what questions you included in your post and I can confirm the Summarit can produce some of the best soft and dream bokeh images with a Leica if not shooting into bright light (flares easily). The Noctilux obviously does this type of look but at the same time is very different (and expensive). My M240 has needed recalibrating for a long time so I have not been shooting with fast lenses but I will dig out the lens and try to post some more recent work with it soon.
The Petzval 85 Art lens is good.. in that it makes a Nikon D800 image look interested! 😛 This is a true statement as much as long in cheek. I think it is maybe similar to the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AI-S lens that I used a huge amount when I shot Nikon. I will post a full Petzval 85 lens review as soon as I get chance.
Good luck with your novel! Matt
Your response made my day, Matt! All the best, thanks for sharing so much, and continued great success!
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Ah we think alike! (ish) I have a cheap LTM 50s video to come to try to cover all my 50s not yet covered!
Awesome! Looking forward to it!
I finally left DLSR and went for an M9 and now am waiting on my Summarit f1.5, based mostly on your flower photos which are quite unique. Really looking forward to using it. SO a big thanks for your hard work in producing these pieces
Thanks Phil and congrats on your M9! I still miss the M9 colours. (See my YouTube for more lens reviews/ references).
Thanks Matt,. The lens arrived and am really pleased with the soft bokeh at the lower f stops. I’ll get out on the street and see how it goes in the early evening ref flare.
Thanks Philip, i’m happy to hear that you like the bokeh. I have a new video coming hopefully tonight that includes this vs. Zeiss. You might be interested.
Hi, I bought one, you just sold one, these prices going up pretty fast.
Looked interesting, and some reasenable offers.
I really like what you did with these lens. It can be prettty modern, if you shoot something modern.
like your first picture. I don’t zap to 1950.
But if you want you can still get some Hitchcock sort of vibe out of It.
It’s different with the summar I have. That’s a time machine. Especially on film.
It can be very intimate. If one makes the right use of it.
I use a Bessa R2, have Leica III but It’s much comfortable using the Bessa. 🙂
This one has pretty nice bokeh, haven’t tested it against some chaotic background with highlights.
But a mess of color, well It’s a blanket full of squares on a sofa, being a real mess and a lot of stuff in it.
The lens made It pretty smooth, for sush on old lens. Lot’s of them blur It pretty nervous, so It draws attention.
I have a set of R rom lenses, bought the 80mm, the 80mm was quit expensive.
I found then …
But It looked better then the 85L 1.2 and the nicest u could find was 1500.
For portrait I had been using the Contax G 45mm on film, and a Summicron R on a 5D mkII.
Seemed I wasn’t really into bokeh pics, and just prefered the 50mm focal lenght for portraiture.
I got the VM 50mm 1.5 Nokton, with the bessamatic/ultramatic type of focus ring.
It works very well on Sony, It’s sharp wide open, keeping it more vintage.
But can get very sharp more closed down, good for landscape or stylized fashion.
The Nokton is also better with artificial light, lcd, led, and daylight and I got some artefacts
more modern lenses wouldn’t have.
Same with the 80mm lux R, but I prefer that one more for still life, product photo.
Or the Makro Planar 100mm but those are very heavy. And the R lenses have the price of a car now.
I don’t take them out anymore.
I go landscaping a lot. So have the G90 adapted to the Sony. 45 and 28 also focus.
Think the 45 is is also on the sharp site and It doesn’t have the best bokeh, on film It’s very nice.
I bought this one, for when the Nokton gets to sharp, this one could be more pleasing.
Think there is a little corner smearing in the Sony’s. If you want corner to corner sharpness with this lens.
U need an M or modded filter stack. V lenses do very well on Sony.
Also saw your sonnar vid, but I would prefer the new one I think.
Or something Jena, Jupiter, etc … even cheaper, and they won’t be going up in prices that fast.
Only a lot of them good sellers are in Ukraine.
Also have 4 50’s in DKL mount 2 schneiders and the Septon and another voigtlander.
The Jena 75 1.5 but that’s a heavy one. Also getting pricey.
Glad I still have one, pretty cheap, glass is perfect, but some visable signs of use. Not much.
Just a lot chiller to use. My R glass is mint. Don’t wan’t more lenses that are like jewelry.
I shoot MF Pentax 645 film and digital heavy. And bought the Fuji four a smaller set up.
The Fuji lenses are ok,but don’t really wow me. Pentax is heavy but the largest prints I make are 150cm h x 100 w.
40/50 mp and you see the details from 5 cm away If you really want to.
Leica gave me the M9 when It was new, didn’t really like the ergonomics.
Did like the S. See them sometimes cheaper than a 645D.
I really liked that, just not the 3/2 and the price at that moment.
Thanks and sorry I missed this one. Great to hear about all your gear! I still have my original Summarit 50 1.5. I did get it cleaned last year for less hazy look. I use R lenses too, see my big R lenses blog post. I don’t have the 80 though! Yes Noktons can be nice for sure. Happy shooting!