Leica Summilux-M 50mm F1.4 ASPH. (2023) Review

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Image source:leica-camera.com

For photographers who seek high-quality lenses with exceptional sharpness and clarity, Leica has long been a brand of choice. The Leica Summilux-M 50mm F1.4 ASPH. (2023) is the latest version of this classic prime lens. Known for its fast aperture and distinctive rendering, this lens aims to deliver rich, detailed images while offering a closer focusing distance than most M lenses. However, it does show more false color than one would expect from a high-end optic. In this review, we’ll explore the build quality, optical performance, and overall value of the 2023 Summilux-M 50mm F1.4 ASPH.

Image source:leica-camera.com

Design and Build Quality

Leica lenses are renowned for their impeccable build quality, and the Summilux-M 50mm F1.4 ASPH. (2023) is no exception. Constructed entirely of metal and glass, the lens feels substantial yet balanced in hand. The knurled focus ring turns smoothly and with just the right amount of resistance, making manual focusing a pleasure.

The aperture ring clicks confidently between each half-stop, and the classic Leica lens hood is built into the barrel, retracting when not in use. The lens is compact and lightweight, ideal for street and travel photography.

Despite the close-focusing capability, the barrel maintains a consistent size throughout its focusing range, meaning there is no extending or telescoping mechanism. This allows photographers to work without fear of disrupting their subject or altering the camera’s handling.

Optical Performance

The Summilux-M 50mm F1.4 ASPH. (2023) excels in providing high-quality images with a unique, painterly bokeh that separates subjects from their backgrounds beautifully. Here’s a breakdown of its performance:

Sharpness: At f/1.4, the lens provides a pleasingly soft center sharpness, while stopping down to f/2 or f/2.8 results in exceptional sharpness across the frame. It maintains consistent clarity up to f/11, making it versatile for portrait and landscape photography alike.

Distortion and Vignetting: Barrel distortion is well-controlled, and vignetting is noticeable at f/1.4 but quickly diminishes as the aperture is closed. At narrower apertures, the frame remains evenly lit and free of significant distortion.

Color Rendering: The lens renders colors with a natural warmth and vibrancy. Skin tones are flattering, and the contrast is well-balanced, providing a striking yet realistic look.

Bokeh: The lens’s nine-blade aperture produces smooth, circular bokeh, giving the background a dreamlike quality at wide apertures. Foreground elements are also gently blurred, enhancing subject separation.

Chromatic Aberration: The Achilles’ heel of the Summilux-M 50mm F1.4 ASPH. (2023) lies in chromatic aberration. When shot at f/1.4, it displays noticeable color fringing, particularly around high-contrast edges. While this aberration is mitigated by stopping down to narrower apertures, it’s disappointing for a high-end lens in this price range.

Focusing

Manual focusing is a tactile experience with this lens, and the shorter focus throw means that moving quickly from near to far distances is seamless. The close-focus distance is 0.45m, much closer than older M lenses. This makes it ideal for shooting detailed subjects at shorter distances while maintaining its excellent image quality.

When paired with a rangefinder, the Summilux-M 50mm F1.4 ASPH. provides accurate focus even at wide apertures, provided the rangefinder itself is well-calibrated.

Price and Competition

Leica lenses have always come with a premium price tag, and the Summilux-M 50mm F1.4 ASPH. (2023) is no exception. With its high cost, it caters primarily to serious enthusiasts or professionals who value its optical signature and build quality. However, it faces stiff competition from other high-end 50mm lenses.

Alternatives like the Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/2 offer sharpness and color fidelity at a fraction of the price. Other alternatives include Leica’s own APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH., which boasts a similarly compact design with less color fringing but costs significantly more.

Pros:

1. Rich Image Quality: Delivers high contrast, vibrant colors, and distinctive bokeh for a beautiful rendering.

2. Solid Build Quality: Metal construction, retractable hood, and smooth focus ring make for a premium experience.

3. Compact Design: Lightweight and compact, ideal for travel or street photography.

4. Close Focus Distance: Focuses down to 0.45m, allowing for tight shots and detailed compositions.

Cons:

1. Chromatic Aberration: Displays significant color fringing at wide apertures, which is unexpected at this price point.

2. Premium Pricing: The high cost makes it less accessible to amateur photographers.

3. Manual Focus Only: Lacks autofocus, which may deter some users.

Conclusion

The Leica Summilux-M 50mm F1.4 ASPH. (2023) is a strong lens that offers a blend of classic craftsmanship and modern optical quality. It produces stunning images with distinctive bokeh, rich colors, and sharp details, making it well-suited for portrait, travel, and street photography. Its compact design and close-focus distance are welcome improvements over previous models.

However, the noticeable chromatic aberration and premium price tag may limit its appeal to Leica enthusiasts and professionals who prioritize the distinctive rendering above all else. For those who value the unique optical character of a Summilux lens and the tactile experience of manual focusing, the 50mm F1.4 ASPH. remains a worthwhile addition to any M-system kit.

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