Monday, May 6, 2013

Leica Summilux-M 50mm ASPH lens
hands on review

"Summilux", like "Summicron", ranks up there as one of the most respected camera lenses in the world. Both names were introduced by Leitz in the 1950's to represent fast aperture f/1.4 (Summilux) and f/2 (Summicron) lenses.  I have been using the latest version of the Summilux 50mm for over a year now, having acquired it after trading in my 50mm Summicron.

The 50mm f/1.4 Leitz Summilux-M ASPH shown on a Leica M 240.
The Summilux is most coveted for its high resolution and beautiful bokeh at wide open apertures. It is relatively light weight at 11.8oz (335g), and compact at 2.1" (52.5mm) long with a 2.1" (53.5mm) diameter. This version has a collapsible lens hood, takes 46mm screw in filters, and has an aperture range of f/1.4-16. It can focus down to 2.3' (.7m) giving it a reproduction range of 1:11.3.  It costs around $3995.


I performed some of my standard resolution tests with this lens to check its over all  resolution and corner sharpness, although I realize that this is not a lens typically used in situations where this is relevant. Nonetheless, I find it good to know everything I can about the optical performance of a lens so I know when I can use it and when I might need to compensate for its failings.

Below is a series of image tests I took with apertures of f/1.4 down to f/5.6.  I went beyond that, but after f/5.6 the results became negligible so I am not including them here.  (In many situations, the correct aperture info was not recorded in the exif data of the image with my M 240. What I have listed here is the actual aperture.)

At f/1.4 and somewhat at f/2 the lens did show corner softness and vignetting beyond what the camera was able to compensate. After that the vignetting diminished and the corners began to improve, until at f/5.6 they were totally sharp. I should add that the corner softness was limited to a small area of the corners. Typically, I find a much larger area of softness when this problem occurs in my lens tests. You can download the high resolution files of the images to judge the results for yourself.

Summilux 50mm at f/1.4.  Click here to download hi res version.
Summilux 50mm at f/2.  Click here to download hi res version.
Summilux 50mm at f/2.8.  Click here to download hi res version.
Summilux 50mm at f/4.  Click here to download hi res version.
Summilux 50mm at f/5.6.  Click here to download hi res version.
The photo below illustrates the beautiful bokeh for which this lens is famous.  Bokeh describes the degree of softly pleasing forms in the out of focus areas.

Of course where this lens shines is in dimmly lit situations where the high speed f/1/4 aperture comes into play. This portrait was entirely lit by the candles on the birthday cake. The lens was use at f/1.4. Here, too, a pleasing bokeh if evident in the out of focus candles.
Because of the live view feature and the EVF view finder on the new M 240 I was able to mount a close up filter on the lens to obtain this semi-macro shot of the cake candles.

Click here to download a hi res version. 
This photo was taken in my studio in a severely back lit situation. Illumination was from the background window with very little fill used on the front of the model.  This is a very difficult situation for any lens, and shows the good contrast provided by the Summilux.
The reason I acquired a Summilux lens is because of its ability in low light so I ran some available light tests that demonstrate its abilities.

Photo was taken at dusk using an 8 second exposure and aperture of f/8. (Disregard the exif data. It was not working properly.) Click here to download a hi res version.
Times Square shot at .5 second to blur the traffic lights. Aperture of f/11. Click here to download hi res version.
Lunch break shot at f/1.4 and ISO 1600.  It shows the pleasing bokeh in out of focus areas. Click here to download a hi res version.
I was on the Brooklyn Bridge for this night time photo of lower Manhattan. 50mm was not wide enough to capture the entire scene so I took two side by side exposures and combined them into a panorama later in Photoshop. Taken hand held at 1/45 second at f/1.4, and ISO 2000. Click here to download a hi res version.

The 50mm Summilux is a legend, respected for its sharpness, contrast in low light, and beautiful rendering of bokeh. I did find the small areas of corner softness at open apertures, but I doubt this will mean much to most people, including me, because of the way they use this lens. It is a lens for pushing the limits of candid low light situations -- hand held, high ISO, low contrast -- all those things that lend themselves to difficult shooting circumstances.

I have two Summilux lenses, this one and a 35mm Summilux reviewed here. I added them to my system to deal with those tough, low light situations I often encounter in travel photography at night and inside dimly lit places. Combined with the extended ISO limits of the new Leica M 240 they are even more useful for hand held photography. With a lens like the Summilux, pushing the limits is what it's all about.

1 comment :

  1. I have one as well and it gives my images a nearly 3-D look!