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

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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You may also like… What Gear I Use for Portraits!
  • See full details of my portrait photography lighting kit (2018) – HERE
  • See full details of my portrait photography equipment kit (2018) – HERE

 

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