Leica Summilux-SL 50 f/1.4 ASPH (11180)

A comprehensive review of the Leica 50mm SL 50 lens. This review has full size sample images and a detailed write up.

Note: To view any of the images full size, just click on the image

Lets start with the specs

Specifications

Field angle :(diagonal, horizontal, vertical) 47.9°/40.5°/27.7°

Number of lenses/groups: 11/9

Number of aspherical lenses: 2

Entrance pupil position: 76.8 mm

Working range: 0.6 m to infinity

Smallest object field: 241 × 362 mm

Largest reproduction ratio: 1:10

Aperture Setting/function Electronically controlled aperture, set using turn/push wheel on camera, including half values

Aperture setting range: F/1.4-22

Lowest value: F22

Bayonet/sensor format Leica L bayonet, full-frame 35 mm format

Filter mount: E82 or 82mm

Length to bayonet mount 124 mm

Largest diameter 88 mm

Weight: 1.065 g  Bag Weight: includes 82mm B+W UV filter, caps & Hood.

 

In the Box

Box, lens, hood, caps, canvas case – folded, & manuals

  

Ergonimics

Lets start with the size of this lens. Its big, really big, and heavy. Think Zeiss Otus big and heavy… If you are like me, and you wonder how does Leica cram so much magic into the comparatively tiny manual focus 50mm Summilux M asph, well its all about the autofocus and performance.

If you look around at the other manufacturers, their auto focus 50mm F/1.4 lenses are big too. The Sony is big, the OTUS is bigger, and no AF. Other offerings like the Canon and the Nikon are not in the same league, so lets compare apples to apples. So we have a big lens that fills the palm of your hand. On the SL you are going to know that you are carrying it. I know, I lugged this behemoth thru Vietnam recently. You are probably thinking that I am nuts to do this, especially when I own the tiny APO Summicron M lens. Why did I do this, well I wanted autofocus… So did the SL 50mm Summilux deliver?

Summilux SL50, Noctilux M 50mm & The M APO 50mm

Auto Focus Performance

Leica lenses are about wide open performance, and the SL50 offers plenty of this. My trip to Vietnam was shot on SL firmware 2.1, and I did experience the odd AF miss, and some sluggish performance in low light. I am happy to report that these issues have basically disappeared with firmware 3.1 The auto focus is now quite fast, reliable with very little hunting. Much less than the equivalent Sony lens on my A7R2. I routinely used this lens in continuous AF and dynamic tracking to get my shots. You have to remember we are talking auto focus at F/1.4. I have used the Canon F/1.2 AF lens on a Canon body, and its slow, with nowhere near the image quality of the Summilux.

This lens sort of developed a bad rap when it was first introduced. It was obvious, that Leica had rushed to get it out alongside the Leica SL body. This lens was trashed by one other reviewer for having slow auto focus performance, and it became internet gospel. I can tell you, that Leica has fixed all the problems via firmware updates. This lens is; comparatively, as fast as any other manufacturers. So lets put that rumour to bed, the auto focus is great!

  

Lens Performance

I cut my teeth in photography using a 50mm lens. I started with an old Yashica 50mm F/1.4 and Tri-ex. It is today, still one of my favorite focal lengths. I currently own a bunch of Leica 50’s, ranging from a Summarit, Summilux’s, APO 50mm, and a couple of Noctilux’s. I am unabashedly a 50mm fan! So when the SL 50mm Summilux lens was announced, I knew that I had to have one.

So how does it perform? Well, its the best 50mm that I have ever used period. As you can tell from the photo’s, its insanely sharp. Detail is crisp, with the fine micro contrast that Leica is famous for. This is a statement lens. Leica wanted to hit it out of the ballpark, and they did. It is the best 50mm lens ever produced by Leica. The rendition is exquisite. The plane of focus is flat, and sharp all the way out to the corners. Just have a look at the onions in the image below, sharp wide open right into the corner!

Now before you start getting wound up, let me qualify the above statements. I put the Noctilux’s into a separate camp. Yes they have way more CA, and F/1 or F/0.95 and that sexy look. I know I own them both. I also know that the M 50mm Summilux is way smaller, but I am talking pure lens performance, and man this lens has it in spades…

  

Vignetting

As a photographer, I do not have access to testing equipment. As for vignetting there is very little. Just enought to give the image a very nice look, but you will have to look for it. If you want that 50mm M summilux look, you are going to have to add vignetting in post.

   

The Hood

Its a giant thing, I don’t use it. You may choose to, but it adds a lot of bulk. I tend to like Heliopan short metal hoods, as I can screw them into a polarizer and then turn the hood to adjust the polarizer.

Flare

One thing that I will say for the Leica SL series of lenses, they all seem to flare in pretty much the same way. Flare is well controlled in day to day use, and the lens handles back lighting well. The samples below represent a deliberate attempt to show the worst case scenario for flare.

Flare at F/1.4Flare at F/8.0

Bokeh

Bokeh is a very personal thing. Some like busy bokeh, and some don’t. The bokeh on the Leica SL 50mm Summilux is exceptionally clean. Leica does not call this an APO lens, but it might as well be. There is very little chromatic aberration in the bokeh, almost none period. In the focus plane there is no chromatic aberrations at all. As with all fast 50mm’s, there is a little cat eye effect in the corners, on the highlights, in the bokeh. This is easily seen in image number two below. I suggest taking a detailed look at the images, to ensure that this bokeh style is what you want.

The bokeh is different from the M Summilux 50mm, it is cleaner and I find it more pleasing. The separation of subject and the background is more pronounced. The image has a definitive separation between the subject and the background, this yields a pronounced 3d effect. The subject seems to jump off the image. Overall the lack of vignetting also contributes to a perception of smoother bokeh. I find the lens bokeh extremely pleasing to the eye.

The image samples below show the bokeh at various distances.

   

Conclusion

What Leica have achieved with the SL 50mm Summilux lens is a new paradigm. No other manufacturer offers this level of performance with auto focus. The nearest lens in terms of quality and rendering is the Leica M Summicron APO, which is manual focus. The Zeiss Otus is reported to be very good, as I have not tested one, I cannot really comment. Internet forum members seem to think that the Leica SL 50mm is better, but until I actually test one, I cannot conclusively say. I have tested the Sony Zeiss 50mm F1.4, which as a very good lens, but it is not in the same league as the Leica.

Lets face it, at this price point this lens has to be stellar, and I am happy to say that it is! It is better than any other 50mm that Leica makes. The APO M Summicron is very close, but it is also a stop slower. The Leica M Summilux is a completely different lens, with different rendering and without the performance of the SL 50mm lens. The SL 50mm is just that good.

As for value for money, well until the recently announced SL 50mm APO Summicron ships, at 50mm, this is the only auto focus game in town for the Leica SL. Yes, you can shoot the M mount lenses, and I do, especially, when I need something small and light. But for getting “the shot” I’ll reach for this lens every time.

As for the weight, well after a while, it felt the same as the 24-90mm zoom on the SL. The auto focus allowed me to get the shot, and do it wide open at F/1.4, so yes this lens delivers. Operationally, shooting this lens is much faster than the equivalent M lens, auto focus does that for you. I would set AF to AFc (continuous) and tracking to dynamic. With this combination, I could place the AF point on the subject and recompose in record time. This functionality allowed me to dynamically frame the subject and maintain AF lock. This feature alone, combined with the outstanding wide open performance of the lens, make it a winner! The lens is highly recommended.

Thank you for reading

Andrew Gough

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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