If there’s one lens that you are going to spend big on for the long run, it’s going to be a 50mm prime. This focal length just so happens to slot into a wide variety of shooting scenarios. That’s why it is touted as a standard focal length. The Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH slots into this category and, typical of Leica, it doesn’t just contain fine optics but also has a hefty price tag.
The lens has old-school workings with full manual focusing and quite a retro design. But as with all Leica optics, its the quality of output that counts and this is one of those rare occasions where price almost comes secondary.
The Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH is available in a few flavors, coming in either black, black chrome, or silver, with a fully anodized, aluminum lens barrel. The silver version is the most expensive, while the black chrome version doesn’t have a built-in lens hood or focusing tab and is reduced to a 43mm filter size. For the most functionality, the black or silver versions are the ones to go for.
As a fully manual lens, there is a distance and aperture scale for working out your hyper-focal distance. Plus, the inclusion of a manual aperture ring and the weird-looking but very useful focusing tab. The tab can change the focusing distance from a quite-close 70cm to infinity and the focusing ring itself is very smooth to turn.
The aperture ring can be changed in half-stop increments and ranges from f/1.4 to f/16. The aperture blades themselves are not the standard round type, but instead, have a more octagonal shape, which produces more star-like highlight balls in the middle of the aperture range. The internal optics comprise of eight elements arranged in five groups, which includes aspherical, high-refractive, and anomalous elements for controlling lens anomalies and increasing image clarity.
The front of the lens accepts 46mm screw-in filters, with the whole lens weighing in at a reasonable 335g.
The Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH In Use
When it comes to testing out a lens, real-world experience counts just as much as severe lab tests. When the lens is set to f/1.4, the center of the frame has very respectable sharpness levels, but has a tendency towards slightly soft corners. The whole frame starts to clean up nicely by f/2.8, with f/5.6-f/8 producing the most tack-sharp results. If you are capturing subjects in the center of the frame, f/1.4 won’t be disappointing and at least the edge softness looks more like an out-of-focus blur for shallow depth of field portrait work.
Images from the Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH stay tack-sharp up to f/11, while diffraction starts to take a hit on images approaching f/16. As for general lens anomalies, there is a noticeable amount of vignetting at f/1.4, which starts to clear up from f/2.8 and virtually disappears by f/4. Barrel distortion is kept well in check, with only a tiny amount perceivable, which can be easily corrected in Photoshop or similar. Bokeh rendition is also fantastic from the Leica, producing very creamy backgrounds and uniquely-shaped highlights.
In general, the overall image rendition produced has a very film-like look, with nice, velvety blacks and a pleasing saturation of color and contrast. Although the lens is manual focus, it’s amazing how helpful the small sticky-out tab is for focusing, making the process just that bit quicker and easier.
A Better Value than the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5?
If you’re going to lay down this much money on a 50mm prime, then you more or less have the pick of the bunch. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more cost-effective solutions out there. Normally, a 50mm prime costing nearly $700 would be an expensive lens, but in the case of the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5, it’s actually reasonably priced when compared to the Leica.
The Voigtlander has a slightly more narrow aperture at f/1.5, but has similar characteristics in being a fully manual lens. It also has an unusual 10-blade aperture and weighs slightly less than the Leica. In terms of overall sharpness, the Voigtlander is definitely an equal, but lenses at this level are not chosen just for sharpness levels, but for their own particular characteristics.
In this respect, the Voigtlander is a great lens, but the Leica lens also has a certain level of smoothness and rendition you can’t get elsewhere. As another alternative, there is the ZEISS Planar T* 2/50 ZM, which has a slightly more narrow aperture at f/2, but also has fantastic performance and costs far less than the Leica.
|Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH||Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5|
|Close Focusing Distance||70cm||70cm|
Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH Is Expensive, but Trustworthy
When you’re spending this much money on any type of lens, it has to check a lot of boxes or have certain characteristics you can’t find elsewhere. The Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH isn’t a new lens, but it’s clearly proven its worth since its inception. On the plus side, the center of the frame has all the resolution you could ever need, with the whole frame coming into sharp focus when the lens is slightly stopped down.
The edges do exhibit slight amounts of vignetting, but in the real world, this is not overly distracting and quickly goes away at the smaller apertures. Just like many high-end prime lenses, it’s not just about sharpness levels, as many modern lenses are good in this department. It’s also about the subtle way colors and contrast are rendered.
This means for that extra level of quality, the lens obeys the usual laws of diminishing return. In other words, for that extra edge of quality, you will always have to pay a premium. But this also means that your photos will be produced with an almost painterly and artistic look, which you can find elsewhere.
As a standard 50mm prime lens, the Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH still lives up to its reputation, as long as you can justify the asking price.