The Must-Have Lens for your Leica SL

You might have heard that Leica has a new lens called the Leica APO-Summicron-SL 1: 2/50 ASPH. For a few weeks now, I have had the opportunity to use a pre-release version of the lens on my SL. I’ll cut right to the chase and tell you that I’m very happy with the results.

Before I dive into the details, let me be very clear: I don’t shoot anything but landscapes, mostly long exposures. About two-thirds of my photos are shot with my camera on a tripod. I am painfully slow, and I treat my digital cameras as if I am using a film camera. Where most people use techniques like multiple exposures and are more adventures, my style is very staid.

Attempting to capture a few dozen photos in 24 hours is adventurous for me. Even getting two to five images on a given day is a great personal achievement. In other words, don’t look to me to give you feedback on the lens from the perspective of a travel photographer, a portrait photographer, or a casual photographer. So, don’t think of this as a review. I am simply sharing my experience.

As you probably know, I am a sucker for 50mm lenses. I have seven of them: Leica SL Summilux, Leica M Summicron APO, Leica M Summicron (vintage), Leica f1 Noctilux, the Canon 0.95 lens, Konica Hexar f1.2, and Canon f/1.4 lens. Only one of them — the SL Summilux — is an auto focus lens. It is also my least favorite lens.

I usually walk out of the house with the M Summicron APO attached to my SL. It is what I use to shoot most of my landscapes. I keep it wide open, and I use ND filters to control the light hitting the sensors. Sometimes, I will use a combination of a 10-stop ND filter from Wine Country Camera, in tandem with a 6-stop or a 3-stop filter, to create a special look that comes from shooting with aperture at f2. The M Summicron f2/50 APO lens is of exceptional quality, and even at f2, it is tack sharp. It renders the scenes beautifully and has that Leica look.

So for me, the new SL Summicron f2/50mm APO lens had to be at least competitive with, if not better than, my current set-up. After ten days, I can say that the pre-release prototype does hold its own. Sure, it is nowhere close to beating its M counterpart, but it is a worthy progeny. I am not a pixel peeper, and I don’t know the technical jargon like most professional reviewers. But what I can see is the similarities in the DNG files coming from the two lenses.

I tend to expose to the right as much as I can without blowing the highlights. The idea is to make bright images in the camera that have a certain monochromatic feeling to them without even using Photoshop. The manual APO lens makes it relatively easy. I was quite surprised by the results I got from the SL version of the lens. The negatives are less saturated than the results I got from the manual lens.

I made photos on multiple focal lengths: f2, f5.6, f8, f11, f16, and f22. I didn’t find fault with the photos from any of them. There is hardly an aberration, and the images were sharp. That said, the manual M-APO version has more dimensionality, more traditional Leica warmth, and a bit more sharpness while still bringing an analog feeling to the images. The SL feels just a bit more clinical. It is a little less warm and a tad less analog. Its sharpness doesn’t feel quite as elegant as that of the manual lens, but it outperforms the SL Summilux lens by a mile. And it is so much lighter. If you are an SL-owner, this is a must-have lens in your kit — at least, it’s a must-have lens for me. I’ll be getting one for Christmas along with my 24-90 SL lens.

By the way, I have shared some photos over on my photoblog. Have a look.

PS: If you are looking for a more in-depth and technical review of the lens from a photographer, who is more well-rounded in his approach to photography, I highly recommend Jonathan Slack’s piece.

A letter from Om

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