The 75mm Summicron-M is one Leica’s flagship lenses, a best among bests for anyone keeping score. Though the Noctilux and Summilux lenses generate more gushing excitement in the press, the reputation of Summicron lenses is that they generally deliver more even performance. This Summicron’s performance is even indeed, and also essentially perfect when focused properly.
The design of the 75mm Summicron-M is directly related to that of the current-generation 50mm Summilux-M. After working on the latter for a long time, it is said that Peter Karbe, chief optical engineer at Leica, recalled a pair of older designs by Dr. Mandler. These designs, also 50mm and 75mm lenses, shared near identical front groups and varied only the rear groups to achieve different focal lengths. Thus the 75mm Summicron-M is fundamentally a normal lens with lowered counter-balancing magnification in the rear groups, and the 50mm Summilux-M is an unlabeled APO lens.
My attraction to the 75mm Summicron-M goes back many years, to its launch essentially, and is a key reason why I recently picked up an M9 camera. I do not yet own this lens though it is on my (very) short list. In support of this review, Roger at LensRentals.Com kindly allowed me to spend a long weekend with a copy of the lens in very good condition.
The 75mm Summicron-M is just the right size for a portrait lens on the M9 and is impressively well made. In terms of build quality the professional Japanese lenses are barely serviceable in comparison, even the all-metal Zeiss ZF’s (and ZM’s) lack the pure smoothness of the modern Leica lens. There are five different mechanical movements implemented in this lens, all perfectly damped and without any hint of play.
The aperture ring on this lens is among the best I have used. Its tactile feedback is not as vigorous as that of the Zeiss ZM lenses but it is better than some other Leica M lenses. Sadly (or happily) you can use this lens for long stretches of time without ever stopping it down, so you may not often get to enjoy this good tactile feedback.
Manual focus is a low point for the lens, in a sense. The operation is enjoyable – the ribbed focus ring is easy and comfortable to grip, the operation is fluid and very well damped, and the lens does not interfere visually with focus and framing – but the difficulty inherent in the operation is quite substantial. Covering this error is the main reason to stop down the aperture on this lens, in my opinion.
The 75mm Summicron-M implements floating elements and its closest focus distance is 0.7 meters. This grants it the highest maximum magnification of any M lens, to the exception of the dual-range lenses that come with special goggles. In use I found the near limit to be close enough as to not limit my use, which is all one can ask of a lens.
In terms of drawing the 75mm APO Summicron-M ASPH is most closely comparable to the 2/100mm Makro-Planar ZF, though there are some differences. That is to say that this lens draws essentially the same way over the entire frame and at all apertures, provided you can focus it accurately enough at all apertures. Aberrations are also minimal, producing uniformly excellent images.
Starting at the maximum aperture of f/2 and until the diffraction limit, the 75mm Summicron-M renders fine detail with good contrast over the entire frame. Contrast is not as high as we’ve seen before however, requiring some software sharpening to bring fully up to par. Contrast improves only slightly with stopping down.
Resistance to flare and veiling glare is relatively low compared to Zeiss T* lenses. A noticeable veil covers images taken under mild-to-strong back-lighting conditions and its effect on contrast is difficult to reverse in software. This behavior appears common across many Leica lenses and I speculate that it is part of their signature; that it is there on purpose and is as much a reason to enjoy the lens as one enjoys a Zeiss T* lens for its purity of signal.
Chromatic aberrations are not a major problem with this lens. Longitudinal chromatic aberration is visible on high-contrast subjects at the maximum aperture, but the impact is less than with comparable lenses. Stopping down to f/4 is sufficient to eliminate this chromatic aberration. Although I did not get an opportunity to verify this, I suspect that purple fringing is not a major issue either.
The 75mm Summicron-M renders bokeh with excellent neutrality. Environments do not vanish, or twirl, or do anything else that’s unnatural with this lens – they are a part of the photograph that is simply not in focus. The same neutrality extends to the transition between focus and defocus, which is particularly pleasing.
The 75mm APO Summicron-M ASPH is almost a perfect lens. Although I believe I own a better optical device already, I would trade it in an instant to gain the handling improvements that this lens represents. This is a delightful object – not only in its results but also in its operation.
Would I recommend this lens to other photographers? Yes! Get a viewfinder magnifier too.
Considering the expense, it's a reasonable first (and maybe second) step to rent it from LensRentals.Com.