LEICA 50mm f/1.4 ASPH
LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH, silver (46mm filters, 16.2 oz./460g; also comes in lightweight black,11.8 oz./335g; $3,700 new for either version ). Vergrößern. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link to them at Adorama, at B&H Photo-Video or locally in Southern California at OC Camera. They are never in stock; you have to order yours and wait. If you're in a hurry, you can always find them at this link to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay). It helps me when you get anything through these links, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.
LEICA SUMMILUX 50mm f/1.4 (1961-2004)
LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 (1979-today)
The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH is a remarkable lens, being the world's only aspherical 50/1.4 with floating elements.
This LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH comes in lightweight black anodized aluminum, or solid chromed brass as shown here. This solid-brass silver version is very dense and heavy; even heavier than the larger black 90mm f/2.8 ELMARIT-M.
LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. Vergrößern.
Leica calls this the LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH.
The -M means it's for LEICA's M-Kameras.
ASPH means it has an aspherical element for higher optical performance.
LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH diagram. Vergrößern.
8 elements in 5 groups.
One aspheric surface.
One floating group.
Multi-coated in green and dark blue/magenta.
The rear elements rotate as focused, while the front elements and diaphragm do not.
LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH at f/5.6. Vergrößern.
9 blades, curved inward at moderate apertures, and round only at f/16.
It stops down to f/16 with half-stop clicks.
0.68 meters (27" or 2.25 feet), actual measured.
0.7 meters (2.5 feet), marked.
Common 46 x 0.75 mm (E46).
53.47 mm (2.105") maximum diameter by 52.60mm (2.071") extension from flange, actual measured, hood retracted and focused at infinity.
16.240 oz. (460.4g), measured, silver.
LEICA specifies 11.8 oz. (335g) for the lightweight black version
Case and Caps top
LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH mit Case and Caps. Vergrößern.
LEICA includes a custom-padded genuine leather case with every lens. It has no straps and serves no purpose other than for protecting the SUMMILUX-M ASPH when it's thrown in the LEICAMAN's luggage.
The front cap is a snap-in plastic 46mm cap (14 231).
The rear cap is the standard 14 269 M rear cap.
Hood Extended, LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. Vergrößern.
The built-in hood slides in and out. It locks with a slight turn.
The hood is short and simple, and works well.
It's not perfect: it grabs a little while pulling-out, it has a bit of mechanical play as it pulls-out, and the rotating lock has no click-stop to keep it from undoing.
It has a large enough diameter to slide over any filter, including rotating polarizers and grads, and even the excellent larger-diameter 46mm filters for the Contax G system.
Part Numbers top
Silver lens: 11 892.
Black lens: 11 891.
Front 46mm cap: 14 231 (included).
Rear cap: 14 269 (included).
Bottom, LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. Vergrößern.
MADE IN GERMANY.
Price, USA top
October 2009: $3,600 new.
The LEICA SUMMILUX-M ASPH 50/1.4 is LEICA's best 50mm f/1.4 yet. This lens has the best bokeh of any LEICA lens.
Bokeh, the character of out of focus backgrounds, not simply how far out of focus they are, is extraordinary. Out of the dozens and dozens of different LEICA lenses I've evaluated, including the ballyhooed LEICA SUMMICRON-M 35mm f/2 (1979-1996), this 50mm f/1.4 ASPH has by far the best bokeh of any LEICA lens.
Here are crops from extremely enlarged prints of about 35 x 52" (90 x 135cm), or the equivalent of looking at LEICA M9 images, shot as DNG and converted in Apple Aperture 3, at 100% on-screen.
In these examples, a vertically polarized phase lattice was set up at 3 meters (10 feet) on which the SUMMICRON-M ASPH was focused, while synthetic reference vegetation seen out of focus in the background was at 15 meters (50 feet).
The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH has no visible distortion.
This invisible distortion can be corrected for more critical use by plugging these figures into Photoshop's lens distortion filter. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.
© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.
LEICA's claimed distortion.
LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. Vergrößern.
The black lens is as expected, while this silver lens is a ton of solid brass. The silver version feels like a small cannonball.
This lens is much longer than you'd expect for a 50mm lens. It's almost as long as the 90mm f/2.8 ELMARIT-M. This solid-brass (silver) version is heavy, heavier than the black 90mm f/2.8 ELMARIT-M! The black version of this 50 1.4 is much lighter.
Ergonomics are good, but not perfect. The LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 is better.
Focus is stiffer than other LEICA lenses because there are not one, but two helicoids. The second set of helicoids is for the floating element group.
Instead of sliding smoothly, the focus has a very small amount of stiction which much be broken loose each time the focus ring is turned.
Focus is too fast for my taste; it requires concentration to set focus precisely. It is ideal for fast shooting, but sadly, the stiction greatly degrades the ability to focus well with one-finger.
Focus is both by black plastic finger tab, or by ridged metal ring.
With the focus tab dropped to the bottom, the focus is at 1.2m (4 feet).
Because of the fast focus gearing, the condensed depth-of-field scale is of little use. Oddly, at f/16, it shows a total hyperfocal range of 9.5 feet, not the usual 8 feet. I prefer an original (1959-1968) LEICA SUMMILUX 50mm f/1.4 for focus and use of the depth-of-field scale.
The aperture ring feels like the aperture ring of the silver LEICA SUMMICRON-M 90mm f/2: it's so heavy and smooth that it feels almost as if it has inertia as it flicks around, and the click stops are lighter than expected.
The engraving on the aperture ring is lighter than expected, so it can be more difficult to read in the dark. No worries, with LEICA lenses, apertures are easy to set by feel in the dark by counting clicks.
The LEICA 50mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX-M ASPH has visible falloff at f/1.4, even with a lens profile active. It's gone by f/2.8.
I've greatly emphasized it below by shooting a gray field and presenting it against another gray field.
There is plenty of finder blockage. This is a fat, long lens with a simple tubular hood.
Finder blockage with this lens usually isn't an issue, but when you're composing with something important in that corner, it can be a deal-breaker.
The 43mm filter 1961-1991 LEICA SUMMILUX 50mm f/1.4 has much less blockage.
The LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 (1979-today) has little to no blockage, hood or no hood.
Finder blockage: M9 0.72x, focus at infinity, hood extended.
Finder blockage: M9 0.72x, focus at infinity, hood retracted.
Finder blockage: M9 0.72x, focus at 0.68 meters, hood extended.
Finder blockage: M9 0.72x, focus at 0.68 meters, hood retracted.
Blinding reflection, LEICA M9. Vergrößern.
Flare and ghosts aren't a problem, and this photo was made with a LEICA 13 004 UVA filter over the lens!
The clear UVA (Portuguese for "grape") filter removed the grapes and vines that were along the side of this road in Santa Barbara county, California. UVA filters, completely unrelated to UV (ultra-violet) filters, were developed by LEITZ in the 1960s after Portuguese vintners near LEITZ' factory in Vila Nova de Famalicão (near Porto) asked the LEITZ scientists if they could develop a filter which would allow them to see past their vines to the ground below to aid in disease and pest prevention.
Focus accuracy is a personal issue between your sample of body and your sample of lens. No two samples match if you start looking too hard; this is a limitation of the mechanical technology.
This said, this particular sample focuses a little behind my intended subject at most distances — oops!
Focus doesn't feel as good as other LEICA lenses because there are two helicoids operating at once to move the lens and the floating group.
The worst part is a bit of stiction, which means that a little more force is required to get it moving than is required to keep it moving. This makes precise adjustment a bit of a pain, along with the fact that focus is geared for speed rather than precision.
The 4-year old lens seen here was also a little sticky, so the weight of the lens made it a bit stiffer. If you lifted the lens a bit, it loosened up. There is no excuse for this; I have LEICA lenses more than 50 years old that focus better.
This SUMMILUX-M ASPH is made as well as anything.
This sample is solid brass; even the hood! The only plastic is the red plastic index ball and the black plastic focus tab.
As this is among LEICA's less-expensive lenses (well under $4,000 brand-new), one of the ways LEICA keeps the cost so low is by making the focus tab out of plastic, instead of metal as it used to be. Worse, the silver version uses a black tab; there is no silver tab for the silver lens as LEICA used to do on better lenses like the original and immortal LEICA SUMMICRON 35mm f/2 (8-element, 1958-1974). Likewise, LEICA removed the infinity lock from this lens.
In spite of my petty whining, this is the best-made 50mm f/1.4 made today by a very large margin. All markings are engraved and filled with paint.
Rear, LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. Vergrößern.
Proof-of-Performance: LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. Full-resolution © JPG from DNG.
Specifically, the 50/1.4 ASPH is sharp in the center at every aperture, but softer and blurrier on the sides wide-open. This is measured of course by LEICA standards; most people will never see any actual softness in real photography, but to those of us who do this all day for a living, the sample I borrowed was much softer on the left side at f/1.4 at the test range.
This is a four-year-old loaner from LEICA. It was decentered (softer on one side than the other), and God only knows what abuse it may have suffered after years of being loaned to people who usually treat it with less care than a rental car. If I get to borrow another sample it might be better, or might not.
The SUMMILUX has always been a lens optimized for use with 35mm film in the very lowest light; not a lens optimized for ultimate sharpness. Maybe I borrowed a bad copy, but then again, you could get one, too. If sharpness is your ultimate concern, get the LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2.
LEICA's claimed MTF at f/1.4; 5, 10, 20 und 40 cyc/mm.
LEICA's claimed MTF at f/2.8; 5, 10, 20 und 40 cyc/mm.
LEICA's claimed MTF at f/5.6; 5, 10, 20 und 40 cyc/mm.
The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH has nearly no spherochromatism.
Spherochromatism, mistakenly called "color bokeh" by laymen, is when out-of-focus highlights take on colored fringes, usually green and magenta.
In this 50mm SUMMILUX-M ASPH, slightly out-of-focus background highlights may take on slight green fringes, and slightly out-of-focus foreground highlights may take on slight magenta fringes.
You'll probably never see this unless you do something stupid, like shoot an overexposed, slightly out-of-focus, back-lit black railing or bare tree, in which case, you might see a tiny bit of purple or green. If this bothers you, get it in focus next time.
Spherochromatism, LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH at f/1.4.
Spherochromatism, closer crop. Vergrößern.
18-point sunstars, about f/11. Vergrößern.
The SUMMILUX-M ASPH's 9-bladed diaphragm begets uniform 18-pointed sunstars on brilliant points of light.
This 50/1.4 ASPH has superior bokeh and low distortion, but it's not that sharp when stacked up against the SUMMICRON in the lab, but certainly sharp enough.
* Actual measured.
For the sorts of things shot by most LEICA photographers, like street scenes and environmental portraiture, the superior bokeh of this ASPH outweigh my whining about sharpness or blocked finders.
I hope another sample will perform better, but until I see one, I can't suggest you go out of your way waiting for this f/1.4 lens, especially for digital, where the difference between f/1.4 and f/2 is largely mitigated through higher ISOs.
For use in low-light, the 35mm SUMMILUX-M ASPH is what I shoot. I want the larger depth-of-field and greater resistance to camera shake offered by a 35mm as opposed to a 50mm f/1.4.
I'm looking forward to trying another sample of this ASPH, as I suspect it's got to be sharper than the sample I tried. Then again, I've used plenty of even more abused 50-year old LEICA lenses, and they work perfectly, so I don't know that 4 years in a loan pool would have affected this sample at all.
This ASPH f/1.4 lens has extraordinary bokeh. If you demand smooth out-of-focus backgrounds, this is the best lens I've ever seen from LEICA, ever. If you demand the absolutely sharpest possible lens, the SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 is superior.
The Carl Zeiss C Sonnar 1,5/50 ZM T* has bokeh almost as nice as this ASPH, for a fraction of the size and weight, and is usually in stock.
This is the LEICAMAN's 50mm lens. The LEICAMAN, like LEICA, isn't about photography; he's about the experience. This is the lens to have if you expect the best. If you're a photographer like me, I prefer the SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2, which is sharper, smaller, lighter, doesn't block the viewfinder, and is easy to buy. This SUMMILUX-M ASPH excels only at élan, bokeh and sunstars.
How to find one top
I've been looking to buy one of these 50 ASPHs since 2008, and have never found one in stock.
They are extremely hard to find because they are extremely difficult for LEICA to make.
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