One question that I get asked quite often (about 8-12 times per day on some days) is “If you could buy only one lens for the M9, what would it be?” Well, I wanted to write a post about this so I can just send the link to all of those who ask because the answer is not as easy as saying “Oh, the 50 Summilux”. Nope, the single best lens depends on YOU and what you want to shoot! I do have a few “favorite” lenses in the focal length that I think is the best to start with. So let me discuss them here and share some photos with them as well.
First, if you are shelling out the $7,000 and buying an M9 then congratulations! It’s a camera that will serve you well and while it is a VERY expensive camera it is also a special one in many ways. Sure, its just a sensor inside of an M body loaded with electronics but when you add a Leica lens to the camera it makes for one of the best digital tools I have ever used.
So let’s say that you have committed on shelling out $7k for the camera. Now you have to choose a lens. After months of using various lenses on the M9 and film M cameras I have concluded that if you can only get ONE lens and one lens only, my opinion is that it should be a 35mm. That would be MY choice. Sure, the M9 and a 50 would also make for a great one lens kit but a 35mm lets you get more in the frame. You can capture more of the story. A 50 will get you closer and make for a good short portrait lens but the 35 on an M just has something classical about it, and it seems to work well in 90% of all situations.
On any M the 35mm frame lines seem like the most natural to compose with. While going over all of my shots in the last 8 months my overall faves have been with a 35mm. Summarit, Summicron, Summilux, or even a Voigtlander or Zeiss, the 35mm focal length always seems to bring me the best results. Maybe that is how I view the world? Ha ha.
So which 35 to choose?
This is the question so many of you ask me. WHAT LENS TO BUY? This is a question that I can not answer for you as it depends on your budget, your needs, and your desires! Do you want a low cost lens? Do you want the best of the best? Do you want ONLY Leica?
The one thing I would recommend for any and all M9 shooters is that your 35mm be coded. Either a coded lens or a self coded lens. On the M9, 35mm and wider lenses need to be coded or else you can get all kinds of issues like red edges and vignetting. But it’s not really that bad with a 35, not like it is with a 21 or 24. So if you do find a cheap 35 that is not coded it may be worth buying it and self coding it with one of those self coding kits like this one.
So below I will list my recommended 35mm lenses for your Leica M9 or Leica M film camera and I will break them down by speed, price and character! Hope you find it useful and an enjoyable read.
My #1 choice when money is no object – No compromises
The Leica 35 Summicron F2 – ASPH or Pre-ASPH – (My review here)
The Leica Summicron is a legend in the world of 35mm photography. It has gone through many versions and I know of people who own ALL of them. It seems one of the classical favorites is the 35 Summicron Pre-ASPH version 4, or more commonly known as “The Bokeh King”. This is the version just before the latest and greatest ASPH version and can be found used for about $1100-$1200. If you are patient you can find them from time to time.
The Summicrons all have a semi fast F2 maximum aperture. What does this mean? It means that you can open up the lens to F2 to get more light and to get more shallow depth of field, meaning a blurred background while your subject is in focus. At F2 this lens is VERY sharp and with excellent color and contrast. The lens is made VERY well and if bought new they come with a detachable hood and lens cap.
The new ASPH version is basically perfection in a 35mm. No real distortion, bitingly sharp but smooth at the same time, neutral color signature so it does not exaggerate any colors, nor is it warm or cool. It’s just right. For B&W it is a hell of a lens. This is one of my favorite Leica lenses of all time, but I also love the Summilux and Summarit so it’s been tough to settle on one final M lens in this focal length.
I now own a very special black paint version (not the one in the above image) which I found pretty much as new old stock. I bought it as used but it looked brand new and untouched in the box. Beautiful. The black paint lenses are made from brass much like the Leica MP so when it wears down you start to see the brass glowing underneath the paint. These are harder to find as they only made 2000 of these back in 2000.
But today the cost of a new 35 Summicron ASPH in black or silver is $2995. Pricey for such a small lens but if you want to have a lifetime lens this is a great choice. With a 35 summicron ASPH you need not worry about performance but you just have to make sure that F2 is fast enough for your tastes. I find the Summicron gives you the best balance between size and performance.
On a budget but still want a Leica?
The Leica 35 Summarit 2.5 – (My review here)
The Leica 35 Summarit 2.5 is even smaller and more compact than the Summicron but it is also a little bit slower with F2.5 being the maximum aperture. I had this lens here for a few months and fell in love with its combination of size, rendering and price. It’s still not a cheap lens at $1600 but for Leica, this is a great starter lens that does not give you “starter” results.
The 35 Summarit is a hell of a lens and gives you the feeling that you are using a quality lens. At F2.5 it is sharp and gives you a little bit of a classic look when wide open. This is not an Aspherical lens so it’s not as perfect as the Summicron ASPH but it is a lens that will give you great sharpness and detail. The only downsides to this lens is the slight barrel distortion which is only visible when shooting straight lines. Never bothered me though as I never saw it in any of my real world shots.
I created a few shots with this lens that generated a coupe of thousand dollars in print sales and even when printed at 20X30 with my M9 files, this lens delivered the goods.
Have a need for speed and deep pockets?
The Leica 35 Summilux 1.4 ASPH – (My review here)
If you desire speed, creamy out of focus backgrounds and a somewhat magical classical rendering then look no further than the 35 Summilux ASPH. Yes, there is a new version on the way and I expect it will be released very soon but today you can still buy the current model. The only issues with this version is the slight focus shift that is inherent EVERY 35 Lux ASPH. This is also why Leica redesigned this lens with a floating element in the yet to be released version.
The current ASPH, even with its slight focus shift is magic. It has a way of rendering images at 1.4 in a way that is sharp but dreamy at the same time. This is a great lens for low light due to its fast aperture. When I owned the M8 this was my favorite lens and stayed on my camera 90% of the time. On the m9 I switched to the Summicron as I decided I wanted something more compact and also something that would give me better results with a wide range of subjects.
To me, the Summilux borders on a specialty lens. If you love shooting wide open at 1.4 then buy this lens. It’s magic at that aperture. I found from F2 on that the Summicron is a better performer. This is a speed freaks lens. A night shooters lens and for those who want that “Leica look”.
Keep in mind the new version IS on the way. How do I know? I’ve seen the lens and I have seen images from it. No, I do not have one as Leica doesn’t include me in their top secret tests but I do have contacts and I do know that this lens is in fact real and it has been for MONTHS. From what I have seen, the new yet to be released version is BEAUTIFUL. No focus shift, and it renders much like the 50 Summilux ASPH, which happens to be considered by most Leica shooters as the worlds best 50mm lens.
So if you want a 35 Lux and want a more classical rendering and want to spend as little as possible, you can try to find a used current model. They usually go for $3000-$3400, depending on condition. The new version will most likely come in at $5,000. Too rich for my blood but for those that can afford it and have to have a Lux I doubt anyone would be unhappy with it. Now, when will Leica release the lens? We shall wait and see!
Non Leica 35’s – “Best Bang For The Buck”
We all can’t afford Leica lenses and many of us, after spending $7000 on an M9 do not have a few grand left to buy a Leica lens. Still, when you own a Leica camera I know the desire to own at least ONE Leica lens. But if you need to save for a Leica you could buy one of these to use while you save. Hell, even if you do not want to shell out the thousands required for Leica glass you can still get fabulous results while saving some money. Here are my favorite NON LEICA 35mm lenses for an M camera.
ZEISS 35 Biogon C 2.8 – (My review here)
This lens is fabulous on the M9. I like it better than the F2 Biogon due to its size, and even better performance. It’s slower at F2.8 so you lose that stop over the F2 Biogon but this is one sweet lens that will give you warm Zeiss color as well as the Zeiss 35 Pop. It’s small and compact and if you do not need a faster lens I can easily recommend this. It’s not built to the standards of Leica but the Zeiss ZM line is still better built than most SLR lenses. They feel nice in the hand, have aperture rings that click solidly into place and they are awesome performers.
Voigtlander 35 1.4 Nokton Classic MC – (my review here)
This lens is for those who want speed but are on a budget. You will not get Summilux performance here but you will get a VERY classic rendering with soft corners, shallow depth of field and even some barrel distortion thrown in. What I liked about this lens was its imperfections. It’s character. Many will say this is a crap lens but for me, I feel the qualities it portrays are nice at times. Just do not expect super sharp and perfect here. It reminds me of some of the 1940’s lenses and sometimes, this is a good thing.
For $559 you can get a fast 35mm for your Leica, if you can find them in stock. There are two versions the MC (milt coated) or SC (single coated). The SC will give you even MORE of an old school look with lower contrast and muted color.
The above lenses are my favorite 35’s for Leica M mount. There are others by Zeiss, Voigtlander and even more to choose from by Leica with classic lenses on the used market. BUT, the lenses above are the ones I really enjoyed and found to perform wonderfully on the Leica M9. Thanks for reading!