Leica Lenses and those funky names

Leica Lenses and their names. ELMAR – ELMARIT – SUMMARIT – SUMMICRON – SUMMILUX – NOCTILUX – What do they mean?

I see many Leica newbies to this site and I get asked quite often what those funky names mean. You know the ones. Those odd sounding names Leica gives to its lenses? Summarit? Elmar? Summilux? Summicron? What the hell kind of names are those? Canon lenses are just “Canon EF 24L”. Nikon is just “Nikon 35F2” or whatever. But Leica is different. For newcomers to Leica these names can sound sort of weird and many are left wondering what is what. With the M9 being such a huge success I am seeing quite a few new Leica shooters out there and many have no idea what these lens names mean.

In the Leica world, these names do indeed have meaning and that meaning is mainly SPEED. Once you know how fast of a lens you are looking for, you can easily figure out if you are an Elmarit guy/gal or a Summilux guy/gal! Me, I like them all but I lean more to the Summilux lenses as I am a fast glass kind of guy:) One thing is for sure, they are all fantastic as Leica does not seem to know how to make a bad lens.

On to the meanings and the MAGIC ratings! 1 M = NO MAGIC. 5 M = MOST MAGIC!

Elmar – F3.8-F4 – These lenses are the slowest of the bunch. Having apertures usually starting at F3.8 or F4 these lenses are known for their amazing sharpness and clarity, even wide open. The 24 Elmar for example is a somewhat new lens and has a 3.8 maximum Aperture (review in Feb 10). The other lenses in this group are the 18 Super Elmar, the Wide Angle Tri-Elmar  and the 90 Elmar F4. If outdoor daylight shooting is your claim to fame, the Elmar line will thrill you. Magic Scale “MMM 1/2”

Elmarit – F2.8 – This is the 2.8 line of lenses so they are a little faster than the ones in the Elmar line. The 21, 24 and 28 Elmarit are all lenses I have owned at one time or another and they are all superb. The prices seem to take a jump over the Elmars in most cases except for the 28 Elmarit ASPH which is a semi affordable $1795! Well, affordable for Leica. The shining star in this group is the 24 Elmarit and the discontinued 90 Elmarit. Both are  beautiful lenses! Magic Scale “MMMM”

Summarit – F2.5 –  The newest line of lenses for Leica M mount, these are actually the most affordable (Leica) lenses you can buy. The 35, 50, 75 and 90 Summarits are all coming in at a 2.5 Aperture and while they are a bit faster than the Elmarits, they are less expensive. Mainly due to the focal lengths. Usually, wider lenses are more expensive and the Summarit line start out at 35. Also, the 35 and 75 Summarit are FANTASTIC lenses. I owned the 75 and it was one of the best performing lenses I have owned. At $1595 its a virtual steal in Leica glass. Magic Scale “MMM 1/2”

Summicron – F2 – This is where many say the magic starts. These F2 lenses are pretty much masterpieces. The 28, 35, 50, 75 and 90 Summicrons are all lenses that are drool worthy. I wish I could buy the whole set. It is all you would ever need. Imagine the whole set of “crons” and an M9. Forget about it! The only problem here is that the prices are now starting to get really high. The full Summicron set will set you back about $15,000! But they would last you a lifetime. Magic Scale “MMMM”

Summilux – F1.4 – Ahhhh, the lineup that has some of the hottest selling lenses for Leica. The 21, 24, 35, and 50 Summilux are all lenses that have that special something about them. I also can not forget the discontinued 75 Summilux which I am told is breathtaking. These are lenses you want if you like shooting in low light and still want sharp images. You can shoot any of the Summilux lenses wide open at 1.4 and still get super sharp results. The 50 1.4 is the hot one in this group as it is the best 50mm lens IN THE FREAKING WORLD! Well, next to the new $10,000 Noctilux. If you could only have one lens with an M9 it should be either a 35 Summicron/Summilux ASPH or the 50 Summilux ASPH. Magic Scale “MMMMM”

Noctilux – F0.95-F1 – For those nocturnal tendencies within us all Leica gives us the NOCTILUX. The legendary lens that will bring light to your photo when you have no light available. Open it up to F1 and get ready for some fun. The new 0.95 version is scary sharp wide open and had that 3D look in spades. Still, the old F1 version has a little more of that classical magic. These are unique lenses and in some cases they can render in a painterly way. Magic scale “MMMMM”

So there you have it! The current lineup of Leica lenses and their names explained. Most of you know this stuff already but this was written for the ones who are new to Leica and was scratching their head and the names when looking at the lenses. One thing to remember is that all of these lenses are great but the magic ones that stick out are the 24 Elmarit, 28 Summicron, 35 Cron/Lux APSH, and 50 Lux ASPH. I also love the Noctilux but it is not a lens for everybody.

I thanks you for reading and hope this was enjoyable and informative!

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17 thoughts on “Leica Lenses and those funky names

  1. What about “Dicomar?” Almost every Panasonic digital camera – including the beat-up FS6 in my pocket boasts a Leica Dicomar lens. The best I could understand from reading the fine print in some product literature a few years ago was that the Dicomar name referred to lenses built to Leica specifications or tolerances by 3rd party licensees of the trademark. Any further information on that? I just mention it because when I type in “Leica lens” when searching for used gear, most of the posts are for used Panasonic digital cameras and camcorders – arguably, Dicomar is the most popular Leica lens series out there.

  2. thanks steve I have wondered about how the names work not that it is important to me as I don’t have a leica yet but good for future reference. what I would like to know is whats the best adapter to use my L canon lenses on my NEX7 I have read some reviews and a lot are quite poor build they say?. Thanks to your great site I bought the NEX7 and lost 4+KG walk around canon 5 ll how liberating is that -life changing- keep up the site its addictive I can’t get by without 2 visits a day….

  3. btw: this is the meaning of the names, but not the roots. i heard, that elmar is the name (a tpical german one) of one of the developers of the firs elmar or in general leica lenses…

  4. I never understood why those Leica names are a problem. It’s easy!

    @Sandro: Yes. The Zeiss names also mean something. Im most cases they describe the optical lens design.

  5. There is NO EQUAL to the Noctilux 0.95. Of course the downsides are the CA and strong vignetting wide-open, but you know what, I kinda enjoy the vignetting (not so much the CA)!!! The next Noctilux will be APO and viola! you have a $15K lens!!!

  6. Wow – this is just what I was lookin for to understand the various Leica lenses available. Thanks Steve.

  7. These basic rules apply to today’s lenses, but not necessarily to some older ‘classic’ designs. My Summarit is a 1950s-vintage 50mm f1.5 lens.

  8. OMG thank you for this — been looking all over for an explanation of the names. I figured that it was a progression of some sort but didn’t pay close enough attention to figure it out. Am loving your site. I don’t have a Leica camera (well a D-Lux 3) yet but it is a goal ^.^

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