PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux


Weekend edition: Leica Lens Commentary

Finally we have charts for the 4 new lenses that Leica launched at Photokina.  Odds are that none of us are going to buy any of them, but it’s still fun to see what the state-of-the-art is.  One of them makes the ranks for my “camera bag dream-team”.

So without further ado, here’s a bit of industry-watching above my pay grade.

First up is the 21mm Summilux-M ASPH (chart PDF).  It’s a strong performer wide-open but stopped down it develops a pretty pronounced case of astigmatism…


…it turns out to be “just okay” in my opinion.  I don’t get warm fuzzy feelings at all for this one.  Moving on.

In comparison the 24mm Summilux-M ASPH (chart PDF) is a better-balanced lens with no major issue.  I think I'm tainted by the general impression of usefulness from this lens, because it isn't strictly better than the 21mm.


Staring at the charts I now think the 24mm is a “zoomed in” 21mm, because if you stretched the center of the 21mm’s chart (and applied some contrast penalty for that) you would get the 24mm’s chart. In support of that idea, also note that much of their optical layout is shared.

I think this lens is a better product than the 21mm because it’s more generally useful as a 32mm f/1.4 on the M8’s APS-H sensor.  Performance could be better though, ultimately the 28mm Summicron-M ASPH (chart PDF) impresses more and is close enough that they’re competing for the same pictures.  Here are charts for the Summicron-M ASPH, clearly my favorite in this case…


Next up, the new 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH (chart PDF) is a bigger surprise to me now.  I expected it to be a lens for a two purposes: (1) shooting into the night and (2) broadcasting high social ranking.  I expected little other redeeming value for the price.


It turns out to be the strongest of all the 50mm lenses (outside of the f/1.4 – f/2 range), beating even the 50mm Summilux-M ASPH at smaller apertures.  Around f/1.4 – f/2, the Summilux-M ASPH is still king by a narrow margin however.  I still don’t think it’s worth $11K, but those who can afford it aren’t completely vain if they get one because it’s actually very good.

Finally, we have the lens I was well-prepared to hate: the 24mm Elmar-M ASPH (chart PDF).  In my first commentary I said it needed stratospheric performance to justify its existence…  and that it does have, it turns out.


You could easily presume these charts describe a short telephoto.  You’ve never seen performance like this out of a wide-angle lens before.  It was an odd decision for Leica to launch such a slow lens, but in the end it’s no less of a symbol than the f/1.4 pair up above.

Here are charts for the 90mm Summicron-M & -R ASPH (chart PDF) for comparison, which is probably the most desirable short-telephoto lens on the market…


...and then these charts are for the Distagon 21mm T* (PDF), the most desirable wide-angle lens on the market…


I conclude that the new Elmar-M may be a bit slow at f/3.8 wide-open, but it does win the honor of being king of all the wide-angle lenses.   It ends the uncontested reign of the Distagon 21 T* in one sense, because the Distagon’s reign requires precision starting today.  You could say it’s the best 21mm or the best f/2.8 wide-angle, but it’s no longer the best wide-angle period.

If you know you’ll have enough light to shoot at f/4, the Elmar-M is a really great value.  It’s relatively cheaper than the other Leica M lenses, very compact and very light.  Compared to the Distagon 21mm T*, it’s similar in price and some 70% smaller and lighter.


..and so now there’s one in my dream camera bag fantasy.  ;^)

Have a good weekend.

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