PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux

17Jan/125

Leica 75mm Summarit-M Review

The 75mm Summarit-M has garnered an unusual volume of praise compared to the other Summarit-M lenses, with many gushing reviewers equating its performance to that of the powerful 75mm Summicron ASPH. Although the truth of this lens is not likely to line up with such expectations, its chief virtue is still clear: this lens makes some very popular 2-lens and 3-lens outfits much more affordable. It is also clear that M photographers have adopted the lens as the new standard short-telephoto.

The design of this Summarit recalls that of its Summicron ASPH sister, and also the 50mm Summicron. The front (half) elements of each of these lenses are genetically linked to the classic Double-Gauss design, and therefore to each other. The similitudes are limited to the gross arrangement of front elements however, as the Summarit comes with lesser correction for aberrations than either the 50mm or 75mm Summicrons.

After testing the 90mm Summarit-M I was ready to swear off the line, but still felt a keen need for an M lens longer than 50mm. When a good deal on a pre-owned 75mm Summarit-M presented itself I decided to give it a try. I have been shooting with the Summarit for three months now, but I think I have barely begun to know this lens.

Operation

The 75mm Summarit-M is a “goldilocks” for a lens, it is just the right size and weight for its focal length. It is well-made, the same as the 90mm Summarit-M, which is to say it is better-made than just about any other lens except for its more expensive Leica sisters.

The most important difference compared to the Summicron-M is the rubberized focus ring, a trait which I disliked from the start and now despise. The rubber ring is worse in all ways, including basic function.  It slips when applying high torque so you cannot mount the lens by gripping it in the center of the barrel. I would pay (a small amount of) money to upgrade the outer barrel to an all-metal build just to get rid of this flaw.

The aperture ring is very well made, but I occasionally struggle to get to the smallest apertures because the numbered portion has no texture at all. It’s funny that this issue – common to all M aperture rings – showed up for first time on this lens. Maybe it’s the shape and tightness of the detents that make it more difficult to use a single finger to set the aperture on this specific lens; or maybe it’s because I actually used the smallest apertures on this lens, whilst normally I don't stop down further than f/5.6.

Manual focus is difficult with M telephoto lenses, even with a viewfinder magnifier installed on the camera. I can focus this lens on my camera very reliably if I have some time to concentrate and the subject is immobile. How much time do I need to focus the lens? The proof is in the pudding, I suppose: an infinitesimal fraction of my images made at full aperture are actually in focus, I throw away almost all of them. To get a normal (which is to say “high”) success rate I need the aperture to be narrowed to f/4 or smaller.

The 75mm Summarit-M does not focus with floating elements. The closest focus distance of 0.9m is rarely an issue with this lens, but in a few rare occasions I would have preferred the Summicron’s shorter 0.7m.

Drawing

My first impression was that the 75mm Summarit-M’s drawing is not too similar to that of the Summicron-M ASPH. That’s because contrast for all spatial frequencies is lowest in the Summarit, and (therefore?) its rendering of 3-dimensional subjects is more “flat” than the Summicron’s. Over time, with extra work on my part, my opinion changed: although it’s true that the Summarit’s drawing is not as perfect as the Summicron’s can be, the differences are not that significant.

At full aperture the 75mm Summarit draws very fine detail with good contrast over most of the frame, with only a slight softening in the image corners. Global image contrast is not very high – definitely not “Zeiss high” – but still quite decent for the aperture. There is a lot of image quality to be enjoyed here but critical focus is really, well, critical!

Stopping down the first few clicks, from f/2.8 to f/5.6, global image contrast steadily improves and the drawing of very fine structures firms up, particularly in the outer zones. There is no doubt that this Summarit can take full advantage of the M9’s sensor in this range of aperture, and the added margin for focusing really helps the photographer too. I settled on f/4 as my default starting aperture with this lens.

At the smaller aperture of f/8 there is a clear reduction in global contrast, whilst micro-contrast looks about the same. Any further reduction in the aperture size affects micro-contrast and ultimately resolution, as usual.

Chromatic aberrations are not an issue for this lens if you are using it for portraiture, under all but the most extreme conditions. In my images I don’t see any longitudinal chromatic aberration, for example, even though I know the lens produces it on a technically measurable scale. (It’s interesting that the lens handles back-lit foliage miserably but everything else, especially real use, with aplomb.  My conclusion is that one must use a Summicron to shoot foliage, obviously.)

Lastly, the Summarit performs a bit better when shooting against the light than the Summicron in my opinion. Both produce similar veiling flare but the Summarit produces less of it. There is just no comparison to the 90mm Summarit-M that was previously tested, the 75mm lenses are in a different league entirely.

Conclusion

The 75mm Summarit is a great, dependable lens. It doesn't offer much bells or whistles but it can consistently make clean, crisp images if you apply yourself; the rangefinder mechanism is realistically what sets the limit for image quality with this lens.  Despite my disappointment with the lens' haptics I think it's worth the price I paid for it.

Would I recommend this lens to other photographers? Yes.

Samples


Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Another great review!
    I have the Summicron, which I am quite fond of but I do get odd flare issues at times.

  2. Thanks for the review, just bought the 75mm summarit used (mint condition) last week. The performance is superb as you have mentioned in this review.

  3. Hello,

    You store: “There is just no comparison to the 90mm Summarit-M that was previously tested, the 75mm lenses are in a different league entirely.”

    Which is better 75 or 90?

    Thanks

  4. My post should have said… “You wrote…”, not “You store…”


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