Picking a 35mm Lens for your Leica M Camera

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.

The Lenses

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.

35 Summicron ASPH – $2995


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.

Leica 35 Summarit – $1695


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!

Leica 35 Summilux ASPH – $4,995.00


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.

Zeiss 3 Biogon C 2.8 – $817.00


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.

Voigtlander 35 1.4 Nokton Classic MC – $559.00

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!

Steve

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59 thoughts on “Picking a 35mm Lens for your Leica M Camera

  1. You said a new version for the 35mm Lux is coming out. Thats in 2010. Im new to Leica lenses. Just wanted to check, the ones on sale right now are the new ones you wrote about??

  2. Hello Stefe,

    Exuse for my bath Englisch for a Dutch person,

    I read your site verry often, i cant pay a leica, but i look for a 35 mm for my nikon d7000.

    I need this only for schooting inside the hause my cats, is it posssible for you to compare nikon voigtländer en leica 35mm 1:1.4 —-1:18 or more. I use a SB 910 speedlight

    I do only schoot in jpg and don´t use any fotoprogram.

    I like your site verry much en enyou it!

  3. Following up on one of those 8-12 questions per month…. Let us say that I have around 17k to spend, should I buy the M9 + Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 or Leica M8.2 (used) + Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 + 35mm f/1.4? Is it worthy to use the Noctilux f/0.95 on the M8.2?

    Thank you,

    Damian

  4. Old thread but I have a heck of problem. Just bought a NEW 35mm Summicron ASPH, actually traded up to it, and mine isn’t sharp at all. Both my 50 cron and my 35 Summarit AND the old 90mm Elmar-C I picked up today also… ALL these lenses are razor sharp on my M9. Except for the $3000 35 Cron. HELP!

    What is going on here? I can take the lens back tomorrow, that’s not an issue, but this is my DREAM lens.

  5. Hy Steve,
    it might be horrible for most Leica users, but I am still using an old 2/8 35 mm MC Rokkor, with a Novoflex
    adapter. And it works well.
    Regards
    Rainer (Ray)

  6. Great David! Ken always takes care of us leica nuts and every time i say I am not buying anything else he tempts me with a deal on something he gets in and I can not resist! Good to hear you are happy with your m9!

  7. After recommendations from this site, my Leica dealer (Ken Hanson), reviews and testing I chose to go with a 35MM Summicron ASPH. I did not get the 6 Bit b/c the deal Ken gave me on a slightly used one was too good to pass up. Since it isn’t the lens I use most often for my work I simply wanted an excellent quality lens that exhibited the Leica ‘aura’ and boy does this lens deliver. I must give a sincere thank you to Ken Hanson. I know his name has been mentioned on this website on many occasions but I have to say he truly is the best. I just got my brand new 50MM Summilux ASPH 6 Bit this afternoon. I hear this is an impossible lens to get and have been told there aren’t too many on the way….but Ken got it for me! Great guy, good heart and an excellent person to do business with. I got the name from Steve and this excellent website. After 4 months I am finally complete, M9; 90 Cron ASPH, 35 Cron ASPH and 50 Lux ASPH… all got from Ken. Steve thanks for providing everyone who reads your site with honest real world nuts and bolts kind of reviews. Truly appreciated, not only by me but I’m sure for all who read.

  8. thanks for the comments guys! I’m actually on a plane right now that has wifi. Pretty cool. The iPad and free wifi during a plane ride is awesome. Makes the time fly!

  9. @cidereye

    ANY f stop. 5.6 or 8 are in focus for other focal lengths too as it is a pretty small aperture. It is a confluence of the focus range of a 35 lens 0.7-2 metres usually (50mm you are focusing at 3metres on average). I know that on my Nikons at f2 all is in focus inside that “box”. With a 35mm lens on 135 inside that box – your f stop become irrelevant for deciding if something will be in or out of focus.

  10. Great review, really enjoyed reading it.

    I own a M8 with a 35 summarit, great lens although if I had the pockets I would go for the 35 summilux (new ver.).

  11. @ Richard Ford

    Agree, the whole reason for zone focusing surely? Like a great car with an engine full of torque, stick it in the right gear and just press the pedal. f/5.6 and/or above – point & shoot, result… Hopefully! 🙂

    I was re-reading Michael Freeman’s awesome (I’d go as far and say the best modern book on photography technique – bold claim yes, read it and find out why) “The Photographers Eye” last night and he was explaining the time behind the thought & decision making process of a still object and then comparing thus to a moving object as in a street scene and that split second timing that the shot has to be to even stand a shot of making it. It’s no wonder that people still revere to the master that was HC-B, he sure had it whatever *it* is!

  12. There is another classical street shooting reason for the 35 on 135. It has to do with zone focusing.

    A special property with a 35mm lens on a 135 frame, at any aperture setting, everything within a 6 foot box the comes out in front of the camera will be in focus. Imagine a box and the camera/lens sits in the middle of the bottom line/edge. So 6 feet out and 3 feet either left or right is all i focus at all f stops. So long as you set your focus point to 2m/6ft on the lens barrel.

    This means that for the style of get close photography that makes for the best street work, a 35 mm lens on 135 is one easy way to do it. Set the lens to 2 metres – choose the f stop to match the light and just shoot and it is easily to visual or mentally superimpose that 6 ft x 6 ft box in front of you and get you and subject in. Click.

    Not sure about f1.4. But I shoot a 35/2 on Nikon and this is the only focus I ever do. 😉

    Cheers,
    RF.

  13. Superb article, Steve. I think you’re right on regarding how useful the 35mm focal length is. I don’t have an M9 (yet), but my M8 finds the 28 ‘cron on it most of the time.

    With the crop factor, the old argument for a 28mm — “24mm is a bit too wide and 35mm is a bit too tight” becomes “32mm is too wide and 47mm is too tight” — 37mm is just right, and as close to 35mm as we M8 shooters can get.

    I also use the 35mm ‘lux ASPH, but feel “boxed in” with it on the M8 — for the last couple of years I shot with mostly 28-40mm primes on FF, so even the 35mm ‘lux on M8 is a bit out of my comfort zone. Perhaps that sounds lame, but there’s a limit to what I can frame in my mind before putting the camera to my face, so the zoom range I have “with my feet” only extends so far right now.

  14. Excellent article, Steve, and spot on. Personally, my bias is towards the 35 lux. It has a gorgeous rendering, a mix of old and new, and the focus shift, despite being a reported inherent design flaw, is something I don’t notice, but I suspect that my ability to focus critically is the limitation moreso than the lens. I did have the summicron 35 asph for nearly 3 years, and “traded up” to the ‘lux for the look, and have no desire to change up over year later. We’ll see if that changes with the new ‘Lux, but I suspect not… Maybe there’ll be room for another lens in my bag by then…hahaha…

    Seriously though, wonderful, clean, clear, and concise article. I would like to see the same article for 50’s..given that there are even more options in the 50 mm focal length….

    Finally, one lens, that was left out, that deserves mention, is the 35 lux pre-asph, which many count as a magical lens for its specialty, that softer focus, old school look….lovely. Helen Hill works magic with this lens!

    Regardless, great stuff…

  15. @Steve Huff – Brandon is driving already? Wow, time flies. Visiting your website is like visiting your family album! It’s very personal, and I appreciate you sharing that with all of us.

  16. Great article Steve. I use the VC Nokton Classic 35/1.4 MC on my M9 and I love it. I couldn’t afford Leica lens after spending the $$$ on the M9, so I picked up a bunch of VC lenses and one old 90 Cron. While I like the Nokton 50/1.5 the best out of the bunch, I find myself using the 35/1.4 the most. Like you said Steve, the 35 just happens to be the most versatile focal length IMO. I can do a little bit of everything with the 35. The VC 35/1.4 does create that softer but glowy look. The files that I get from it w/ the M9 are pretty easy to adjust too in Lightroom 3. Plus, the VC 35/1.4 is tiny and light!

  17. While I own and love the 35mm Summicron ASPH, particularly for black and white, I have seen wonderful images with the Zeiss 35mm 2.0. The lens has a stellar reputation.

    I use the amazing Zeiss lenses (28mm, 45mm, and 90mm) with my Contax G camera. They are sharp as hell (sometimes too sharp) and I really love the way they render color. [img]http://www.flickr.com/photos/moaan/236855582/[/img]

  18. Steve – I spent about 3 months deciding on what 35mm lens to get for my m8. I had basically decided on a 35 summicron bokeh-king. However, a 35 cron ASPH came up on ebay with summicron spelled sumiron. I think this may have affected the number of eyes that saw it, because i ended up with it for $1600 completely mint. Anyway, I absolutely love it. It is my go to lens. I have a voightlander bessa r2a enroute and I am sure I will doubly love this lens on FF.

    Thanks for the great articles, the good thing is that there is no bad leica 35mm lens, just decide your $$$, weight and aperture and pic the lens for you.

  19. I’ve used several 35mm but I like the 35mm Summarit best. No focus shift (unlike the other Leica 35mms) and lovely compromise between sharpness and smoothness. I also think its the best current production 35mm for B&W as the two ASPH lens are a bit harsh for B&W work. Outstanding bokeh as well.

    1. I went with the Summarit as well (should arrive today or Monday). I can see this lens living on my M6 and also getting considerable time on my M8.2. The main attraction is size, as I often like to go out with just one camera and a single lens.

      For travel I also go for light weight, and only need to add a good 24, 25 or 28mm to complete my travel kit. 35mm is also my default full-frame focal length, but I also enjoy a good 50, which the 35 does on the M8.

  20. Thanks Steve. Another awesome real world appraisal. My entry to the world of Leica is via the M8. what is your no 1 choice for those of us who have not dug deep for the M9 as yet – still a rarity in the UK? Keep up the posts – a source of inspiration for me each day – which is more than I can say about my soccer team!

  21. Hi Steve, I recently purchased a Summilux 35. How do you define “focus shift” and when does it occur?

  22. Hi Steve,

    35mm or not, choosing the right lens for your Leica is never easy. When I started with Leica M I really was on budget. So I bought a Leica M3 with a late Elmar-M 1:2,8/50mm. When shooting the M3 this is still the lens I use the most. After a while I was able to invest a little more and added a M4 plus a used current Summicron-M 1:2/35mm asph. Although there might be a better 35mm lens, the Summilux, I prefer the smaller ‘cron because of its size and weight.

    To conclude my statement: My advice to your readers would be to buy a used current Summicron-M 1:2/35mm asph., because it is lightweight, affordable and produces outstanding images or as you wrote above: “the Summicron gives you the best balance between size and performance”.

  23. One of the most informative and practical articles I have ever read on any subject. Thanks a few hundred to a few thousand, Steve!

  24. Steve, I also bought a new old stock black paint version of 35mm Summicron off eBay a few months ago. A beautiful little lens that seems to do everything wonderfully well. Most of my pictures now are taken with that lens or the 90mm Summicron from the 70s, which I really really like as well. The 90mm cron really makes the image “pop” in a 3D way. But you really can’t go wrong with the 35mm cron.

  25. Hey Mark, the Nokton 1.2 is OK but when I shot with it on an M8.2 I did not really care for it. I found it soft, flat and with muted color. Also, it was HUGE. Not a lens I would take out with me every day. It seems like a great lens for low light/night but not the best all around “one lens” for your M.

    Thanks

  26. Hey guys, thanks! Danny, thanks for the great pic! Patrick, the PRE-ASPH Summilux is sort of like the Voigtlander 35 1.4 but I think the Leica is a little better. I love the pre asph Lux but only shot with it once. Its soft wide open with a lot of “glow”. Nice lens.

  27. hey steve,
    where would you place the pre-ASPH sumilux? I’m looking at a 79′ sumilux at a great price.

    I’m getting an M6 soon, and in many years time, move to digital. so, I’m of the thought of getting something a bit future-proof, but I’m not after perfection, but character.

  28. Welcome back to digital and the M9, Steve. I can’t speak for others but I missed reading articles by you on the M9 and the world of digital in general. I share your love for the 35mm lens on a full frame camera but agree it is horses for courses.

    Jeremy

  29. [img]http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash1/hs457.ash1/25158_113588212006092_100000647402103_129426_3218778_n.jpg[/img]

  30. HI steeve, i bought my M 22 years or so ago, back then we had choices between the M6 and M4p as both were available new. I went on with the m4p, i remember the girl in the store giving me a box with a chrome version and then apologizing and going back in the backstore to get a black one, meanwhile i couldn’t resist and got the chrome one out, i felt in love with her at first sight, not the girl, the camere…, there was only 500 or so produced if you count specials editions out.

    I had a 35 cron 4th generation brand new with it, my one and only lens. For me it’s the perfect kit, i never felt the need for anything else, so i moved from 2 nikon f3 motors and too many lens to my simple leica kit and never looked back. ( i kept an old F without meter with a 24 and a 105 but sold it a year later, my M kit was all i needed )

    Although i’m still shooting film, i have to decide between a M8 and eventualy a 28 elmarit, or wait a year or two for a M9.

  31. I almost bought a 35 Summaron 3.5. I hear it is fantastic! Also, the Voigtlander 35 PII and it was VERY VERY good. Yes, that is a great option for little cash outlay for those who want something that compares to the Leica 35 Summarit.

  32. @ daniel

    Agree 100%! I cannot for the life of me understand why there seem to be zero reviews for this lens on the web either considering what it produces? Best value for money lens I’ve ever purchased and many Leica sages say it’s almost if not the equal of a pre ASPH Cron for results apart from the f/2.5 widest stop. Good enough for me.

  33. To Leica owners looking for bokeh at a very reasonable price, I’d suggest a 35 summaron f3.5. It’s pancake flat, works fine on the M9, and runs $200 to $300 on the used market. There’s also a 2.8 version that runs higher used — $700-plus. Oldies, but goodies…

  34. I own the 35mm Summilux. Bought it just before the price increase of 2010. Love it. Best 35mm lens I’ve ever used.. period. I have not used the Summicron yet. I have used both of the Zeiss 35mm ZM lenses and liked the 35mm C 2.8 better. I’m even considering buying the 35 C Biogon as a second 35mm lens for its spectacular flare control, as the Summilux will flare if pointed towards the sun. But no lens is perfect.

  35. Awesome article Steve! While I’m probably a good year off buying anything, it’s great to read articles like this that help me decide what do shortlist. Just a few questions:

    1) Where do you advertise your prints for sale? I’m referring to 3rd party services. While my photographs are nothing special, I’d been keen to let others view and purchase them, if they wish.

    2) Why slightly off topic for this article, I was wondering what your impressions of the Zeiss 21mm F/2 T* Distagon are, if you’ve every used it? I only ask because a reviewer in Black & White Photography mag here in the UK said it was the sharpest lens he’d ever used.

  36. loved your article.
    I own the 35/lux and you’re right there is a slight focus shift but i love this lense
    have’nt tried the 35/cron’ i guess i should. As you i feel the 50 is not wide enough at least not for me
    great pics
    Danny

  37. You said: “recommend for any and all M9 shooters is that your 35mm be coded”. I don’t understand why because you can manually set lens coding in M9 unlike M8. Lens coding helps to automate coding setting if you have many lenses but with one or two lenses I haven’t found it to be difficult at all to set coding in the manu.

  38. I really appreciate this post as right now I am on the lookout for a 35 for my new M6.

    At the same time though, I suppose this is going to make my chances in getting a 35mm pre-asph (on the cheaper side) diminish slightly…

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