Top 10 Leica Lenses for Soft Dreamy Portraits + 5 Tips for Zero Editing
As a photographer that specialises in female B&W portraiture I enjoy lenses that help me create soft dreamy portraits requiring zero editing. (By zero editing I mean shoot in RAW and apply a MrLeica preset in Adobe Lightroom). As a Leica photographer these 10 lenses will all be suitable for Leica M mount cameras (or Leica SL/CL cameras via a Leica M-L adapter) and are not limited to the Leica brand.
Best Leica lenses for portraits
When it comes to the best Leica lenses for portraits it will depend on your taste. If you enjoy modern, sharp photos with great micro contrast this list perhaps isn’t for you as i’ve selected lenses for a softer more dreamy rendering. Some big names will not be in this line up for that reason but they are still excellent at what they do. Maybe I need to make a part 2 article covering Leica portraits lenses for maximum performance, highest resolution, strong micro contrast and overall the most corrected.
18-35 year olds
As a model photographer, most of the people I photograph are naturally pretty (that’s why I work with them) but also usually aged between roughly 18-35 years old. I appreciate this is not a true representation of society but even the models on the higher end of this young age spectrum really appreciate me using my softer lenses and can tell the difference.
How nice would it be to take 2000 and not have to airbrush a single image? I’m not great at fancy editing in Photoshop so over the last 12 years or so (and 500+ models) i’ve taught myself how to capture nice images in camera that don’t require editing. If I come back from photoshoots in Poland or elsewhere with around 300 photos per models think how much time it would take to Photoshop every images. No chance! I capture images in RAW format (DNG in Leica cameras) and apply a MrLeica preset to all 2000 photos. Next I scan through the images and correct exposure if required before exporting as JPEG files to send to the models. The key is to get the image correct in camera and I’ll cover my 5 secrets lower down in this post. First let’s look at the lenses.
Need Leica Presets?
Top 10 Leica portrait lenses (for that soft dreamy look)
In no particular order, here are my top 10 Leica portrait lenses together with sample photos and YouTube video reviews.
1. Canon 50mm f1.4 LTM lens
The vintage Canon 50mm f1.4 LTM lens is rangefinder coupled and will work with both Leica screw mount film cameras and Leica M mount cameras via a L39-M adapter.
2. Leica Summitar 5cm f2 LTM lens
Another great vintage 50mm lens is the Leica Summitar 5cm f2 LTM lens (5cm is the same as 50mm if it looks confusing). This is one of the softest lenses (at f2) in this list.
3. Nikkor S.C 5cm f1.4 LTM lens
The Nikkor S.C 5cm f1.4 LTM lens easily out performs Leica lenses from the same period. You can get this 50mm lens in both Nikon-S mount and screw mount. I use the S mount version via an Amedeo adapter which then lets me use the lens on my Leica film cameras too.
4. Jupiter-3 50mm f1.5 LTM lens
The Soviet Jupiter-3 50mm f1.5 LTM lens is a Zeiss Sonnar clone design. My copy is not correctly calibrated for my Leica M camera so I focus via the EVF. I realised I still need to make a video for this lens, sorry!
5. Leica Summarit 5cm f1.5 M lens
Not to be confused with the later Leica Summarit lenses, the vintage Leica Summarit 5cm f1.5 M lens offers a unique soft yet sharp rendering and interesting bokeh.
6. Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 M lens
The most expensive lens in this list by quite a margin, the Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 M lens is my favourite Noctilux lens for creative portraits.
7. Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.2 M lens (VM)
The first modern lens on the list, the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.2 VM lens produces pleasing portraits when shot wide open at f1.2. It is smaller and cheaper than the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.0 lens so is my recommendation however both lenses are great portrait lenses
8. TTArtisan 50mm f0.95 M lens
If you need a cheap Leica Noctilux alternative, the TTArtisan 50mm f0.95 M lens is excellent value for money. It may need calibrating out of the box so I prefer to use it with an EVF or Visoflex setup.
9. Jupiter-9 85mm f2 LTM lens
This forgotten gem is brilliant. The soviet Jupiter-9 85mm f2 LTM lens creates near filmic looking photos from boring modern digital sensors. I can’t ask for more than that. I have 2 copies, Leica screw mount and Contax RF mount (via an adapter). Both copies were not correctly calibrated to my Leica M cameras so I focus via an EVF.
10. Leica Summicron 90mm f2 Pre-ASPH M lens
The Leica Summicron 90mm f2 Pre-ASPH M lens has produced some of my most liked portraits on Flickr over the years. A big lens for M mount but so good. I prefer to use this via an EVF for critical focus the same as with the Leica Noctilux and others I mention.
Awards for best lenses?
I feel we need to give a few awards!
- Ultimate portrait lens (Best of the best) – Leica Summicron 90mm f2 Pre-ASPH M lens
- Must have best value portrait lens – Jupiter-9 85mm f2 LTM
- Best current production creative portrait lens – TTArtisan 50mm f0.95
- Best vintage 50mm lens for portraits – Nikkor S.C 50mm f1.4
Are you a Leica User?
- Canon 50mm f1.2 LTM lens – I’ve not used this lens but many like it
- Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f1.5 – great lens (would be number 11 on the list)
- Leica Thambar 90mm f2.2 – Perhaps the softest recent production lens
- Leica Summilux 75mm f1.4 M – This must be up with the best Leica portrait lenses
- Leica Summilux 80mm f1.4 R – The best Leica R portrait lenses for many
- Leica Elmarit-R 135mm f2.8 – Again, not M mount but great via an EVF for portraits
Watch on YouTube
I must point out that list is limited to lenses I have used with the Leica system (and my personal taste). There will be other great lenses I have not yet discovered so feel free to list you favourites in the comments below.
Best 10 of the 100 lenses I have reviewed so far for YouTube
Watch the 100 lens playlist below –
Editing hacks – My 5 Secrets for Zero Editing
Here are my top 5 hacks or secrets for zero/ minimal editing. In no particular order –
- Choose a vintage lens for your camera (See list above!)
- If you are stuck with a modern auto-focus lens add a mist filter
- Use the lens wide open at the maximum aperture (or close to it)
- Shoot towards the sun (if the lens will allow it – some lenses will flare too much)
- Ideally shoot some film for more flattering portraits (I use film and digital)
- Capture photos in RAW format for maximum information
- Use Adobe Lightroom or CaptureOne to batch process your images
- Apply MrLeica LR presets for a simple 1-click edit
- Ask models to prepare basic makeup for the photos
- Use paper towel to de-shine a persons skin if they don’t have powder
- Look for natural reflectors to add fill light onto your subjects face
- Carry a reflector to add catchlights to the eyes (and fill if needed)
- Aim to always carry a 90mm lens as some face shapes will thank you
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2 thoughts on “My Top 10 Leica Lenses for Soft Dreamy Portraits + 5 Secrets for Zero Editing”
Always inspiring, cheers Matt.