The Best “Budget” Leica Lens to get when buying new? My opinion…

E-mails. I get plenty of them every day. I try to answer them all, but sometimes I just can not get to every single one of them in a timely fashion. Sometimes I notice that I get many of the same questions into my inbox and when I start to see this I end up writing a post to help answer the questions. Now, I am not an expert in anything, and even if I was, I would not run around stating that I was 🙂 But I do run this site and I do indeed get to play with many cool “toys” that many of you would like to know more about. With the M9 kicking ass for Leica, there are so many new rangefinder shooters out there who stumble on to my site to read more about this wonderful (but expensive) camera.

Those who are new to Leica, or the M mount in general can get lost with all of the lenses available. I get questions like: “What are the pro lenses in the M line” or “What is the best Leica lens made” or even “Is a Voigtlander lens the same as a Leica”? So there are indeed many newer M9 owners reading this right now with questions in their head about “WHICH LENS TO BUY”?

In the past I have written a couple of article on buying lenses for your M9 and I broke it down lens by lens with my short mini synopsis or each lens. You can check that out right HERE.

Still, even with that article some of you were still unsure as  to what lens to buy for your Leica! I often get asked what would a great ONE lens solution be in the under $1500 price bracket if I wanted to buy a NEW Leica lens? For this question my answer would be THE 35 SUMMARIT. This lens is such a fantastic little lens, and if buying only one lens, new, with a budget of $1500-$1700 then I this is the lens I would recommend. It’s small, it’s light, it’s well made, it’s silky smooth to focus, it’s classic and modern all wrapped into one and most important, it’s the lowest price Leica 35 that you can buy new.

Sure, sure, sure…many will write and say “for $1600 you can buy a pre-asph 35 cron” and this is true but after shooting both a pre-asph cron and the Summarit on my M9 I would choose the new Summarit in a heartbeat. The Summarit line is a line of lenses created by Leica when the M8 was released. They were designed with digital in mind, and also made it possible for those who did not or could not spend $5000 on one lens to buy into a brand new Leica lens. Many thought the quality would suffer but I can tell you right now that the 35 and 75 Summarit lenses are two lenses that rank really high up for me in the world of Leica glass.

The 35 Summarit is an f2.5 lens but on an M9 will still give you sharp results with creamy out of focus backgrounds. The Bokeh is gorgeous on this lens and it can be shot wide open or stopped down with stellar performance. I do not want to turn this into another 35 Summarit lens review (you can see that right here) but just wanted to state if you have an M9, or are looking into an M9 and want a really good budget lens, but want to buy new AND you want Leica, then the 35 Summarit gets my vote 100%! I love this lens! It does have some slight distortion but only noticeable with straight lines up close. Other than that, its phenomenal!

B&H Photo sell this lens but it’s out of stock quite often. Leica Dealer Ken Hansen also sells this lens if you are looking for one 🙂 Below are some images all shot with the M9 and 35 Summarit 🙂

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28 Comments

  1. Best lens for digital – a very fast lens is seldom needed

    Note that with a modern digital camera, you need not get into the “f/stop race.” The simple reason is that the digital sensor can be used at faster ASA speeds than the fastest films. So paying big bucks for that extra f/stop is far less important than it used to be. Likewise, the slower lens is typically smaller and lighter, a real plus.

    • All depends on who you ask as many want fast glass for the large aperture and depth of field control something a slow lens does not offer. People pay $11k for the Noctilux not for the night capabilities but for the shallow DOF effect. 90% of Nocti photos are shot during the day. Same goes for the Lux. Leica lenses shine and are optimized for wide open use, and are beautiful at 0.95, 1.4 or f/2.

  2. Agree the 35 summarit-m is a great lens. The only drawback’s I can see are, hood is an optional extra and if you should choose to sell it, the secondhand price drops considerably compared to other Leica lenses. _Other_ people pointed out to me that the font is different on these lenses!! That may bother you.

    It is nice to have at least one modern lens designed for digital in your bag and I think the 35 (which I own) or 50 summarit-m’s are a good choice.

  3. Well, I don’t know too much about Leica, but I do like their lenses as a whole. I’ve only tried Summicrons, but I hear so many nice things about the other the other series of lenses, and the Zeiss as well. I’m curious what the best all around lens would be for the M6 though, not the M8 or M9. Anyone have any thoughts on this? I would think 50mm and 35mm? Which would be better? What series of lens? just curious if it’s different from the digital rangefinder.

  4. Leica lenses don’t just differ in aperture, bokeh, size and weight. What surprises me again and again is, that every Leica lens seems to “draw” in a different way, has its own character – that is really amazing! Different tools helping to express the situation and mood in an image. So – the Summarit 35, in my opinion, is the perfect starter lens, because it forces you to learn the Leica way of photography without being to extreme in ways of expression (like Summilux, Noctilux, too wide or too near). Less distraction, but it has its very own character for sure!
    The 35mm frame lines are perfect in the finder for a beginner. Again, a fantastic lens for learning.

  5. As Michael says, it’s silly to spend $7k on a digital camera and then cheap out on lenses, because the camera will depreciate sharply from the moment you open the box, but the lenses will hold their value, particularly if you buy them used. Better to buy a used M8 (or better yet, a used m6) and a top-notch lens like the 35 cron than an m9.

    Having said that, the best first lens for any leica is a used 50 summicron of any vintage. Toucan get a 50 cron DR for less than a grand, and they are arguably the best 50 leica has ever made. They are prized by Japanese collectors.

    Alternately, the Zeiss 35 2.0 and 50 2.0 are every bit as good as anything made by leica. You can buy both for the price of a summarit, and have money left over.

  6. Thanks for writing clear, simple opinions based on field use. When it comes to Leica lens, it is often the case that we need to split hairs when discussing quality. These hairs tend to cost about $1000 per F stop, but then again no one buys Leica’s to save money. So for those just getting started, it is helpful to have you as a reliable source of information.
    I have been on a Leica system now for 5 years, and have used over half a dozen lenses on M6 and M9. So far, I have not found a bad lens by Leica. Its more like I selected the wrong lens for the subject. Kind of the way great wines can go really wrong with a poorly paired dish, so can Leica lenses be poorly matched to their subject. But that is for the photographer to sort out.

  7. I tried out the 35, 50 & 75 Summarit lenses when I first got my M8, didn’t think much to the 35 or 50 as they seemsed to produce flat images, the 75 on the other hand was and still is superb, razor sharp with heaps of pop, on a budget or not the Zeiss 35mm f2.8 is an amazing lens, not the fastest glass around but compact, sharp and contrasty, The Zeiss 35mm f2 isn’t that much more expensive than the f2.8 and still cheaper than the Summarit, I had it for a while but replaced it with the f2.8 because I found it a bit too “clinically” sharp.

    The CV 35mm f1.7 is also a very nice lens and very cheap if you can find one on the used market

  8. Leica built a name for itself in the 1920’s and 30’s when photojournalism emerged and photographs realized that a small camera would liberate them from the use of a tripod and the larger 6X6 (if not even bigger) cameras that were used then. Rapidly, Leica became the maker of masterpiece optics (a real German tradition). When one considers film photography, the real challenge was the optic. The rest was a black box built around good (excellent) mechanical parts that allowed to expose films adequately. This long preamble to say that it is almost heretic to buy a Leica and equip it with a “cheaper” lens. In the digital age, when you buy a M9, the tradition continues with the lenses, not the box (a Kodak sensor).

  9. I like the 50mm Elmar-M. Sure it’s “only” f/2.8 but it’s nice and compact when it’s not extended (and yes…having to remember to extend the lens can be a pain but…you learn), gives great image quality, and if you use it outdoors for street shooting and such, f/2.8 is perfect. I got it used but pretty much in mint condition from B&H for around $900 and have been very very happy. It lived on my Bessa R2M for a long time and now switches between that and my M6 depending on the situation. I probably use it about the same amount as I use the pre-ASPH 35mm lux. Can’t beat it for a “cheap” Leica lens!

  10. How come no one ever mentions the 50 summarit-m? I think it is unbelievable for the focal length. I was initially deciding between the 35 or 50 but decided on the latter since I don’t have the budgets like u guys do ;p Happy nontheless

    • Hazli, i have the 50 Summarit, it was the first lens i bought with my M8.2. Like you i went for the 50 rather than the 35 for its focal length. It is a wonderful performer, its my walk around lens of choice for casual shooting… I think it is a well underrated lens. I would highly recommend it to anyone on a budget in a heartbeat. I recently purchased the Voigt 50 1.1, this is a heavy lens compared to the Summarit in terms of weight, i use it mostly for low light photography, also very nice. Like i said in my previous post, all Summarit lenses are fantastic and i encourage all to try anyone of them, you will be plenty surprise.

    • I think the reason why you rarely hear about the 50mm Summarit-M is that you can get a used Summicron for less. I prefer the look of the Summicron’s rendering over that of the Summarit, but others, of course, have other opinions.

  11. If somebody asked me about which lens, is best, i would say look at your last few hundred shots and check the 35mm equivelent focal length you used most.
    My M9 arrived yesterday and the battery is on charge and i cannot wait. I have a 50mm Elmar for my M2 and so went for the Elmarit 28 2.8. This gives the range which suits me and my photography. Next will be a new 90mm to replace an old f4 Elmar. I found this combo of focal lengths suited me way back with my OM1. Next would be a 21mm, then something fast.

  12. I think if budget is an issue, then Voigtlander lenses are always worth a look, a lot cheaper than Leica, and generally faster unless you shell out for a Noctilux. I think there is logic to spending a little less on gear so you’re not so precious about it, and more likely to take it places where you would not take a more expensive lens.

    We’ve probably all scrambled down rocks etc. to get a shot, I’d hesitate to do that if I had $10k of equipment round my neck.

  13. Well,

    I would prefer to buy a used MP or M6 and invest more into a summicron 35 or summilux 35.

    • New or used body, new or used lens, $1500 or $5500, the Summarit 35 is a FANTASTIC lens. I have other, more expensive lenses and some cheaper ad well, but when I go out with only one lens, it is almost always the Summarit 35.

      Actually my other current favorites are the equally low priced Summarit 75 and my ugly, rattle-trap 1963 model Russian Jupiter 3, with an expert CLA and calibration to Leica M that cost triple the price of the lens itself.

  14. The 35 Summarit is a really nice lens. I have no complaints except that I wish it were faster and I wish it produced absolutely dead perfect lines. Other than that, it’s an amazing performer with a lot of pixie dust thrown in.

    [img]http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4024/4645663345_fd20640660.jpg[/img]

  15. Obviously the best non-new deal in Leica-land is the 40mm Summicron-C. Perfect normal lens (35mm is too wide), for next to nothing 🙂

    • Absolutely agree Jorgen! Picked mine up for just over $350 and I love it. Yes it’s not quite as sharp as the modern lenses but it’s certainly sharp enough for a 40 year old lens, it paints the picture beautifully, has a wonderful glow and at f2 its mighty fast for most stituations.

      • You guys read my mind. I posted a response to this post on my own blog. The 40mm is great with the 35mm framelines and crop factor on the M8. And, it’s just, generally, great on any M-mount camera—the best lens you can get for under $500 for any 35mm system, as far as I know.

  16. All the lenses in the Summarit line are fantastic, i own them all except the 35 which you speak of here. I will have to add it someday… I ask permission to add my 2 cents here for a good budget lens, Elmarit 28 2.8 is a brilliant choice, tack sharp.

    75 Summarit is my favorite, love everything about the lens especially the focal length, fits my style of shooting, singling out a subject, great for portraits and all.

  17. When I bought my first Leica (a used black M6, my father owns a Leica M1 which I currently use but the lack of both meter and rangefinder makes it very hard to shoot fast) the Summarit-M 35mm was the first Leica lens I purchased. An excellent lens indeed. Together with the old 50mm collapsible Elmar that came with the M1 is a great combo !!!

  18. In my opinion if you are on a strict budget the best thing you can do is buy used. I know this article was best NEW lens, but I thought I would add my two cents. I have a 35 Cron ASPH that is absolutely flawless, and I got it for $1900 or so. What caused it to drop $1,100? Essentially someone broke the wrapper. I know we need to help Leica survive, but if you are on a strict budget you are unlikely to do that anyway.

  19. Nice article. Agreed that the summarit is # 1 for Leica branded lens, with 6 bit coding. The Zeiss 35 mm f/2.8 C Biogon is equally impressive and compact, plus half the price. An underappreciated lens, for sure, and if you can hand code it, it’s my current recommendation for a new, relatively cheap lens…. Another couple great lenses, on a budget: 50 mm f/2.8 collapsible Elmar, and the 135 mm f/4 tele-elmar, both which are not produced, but outstanding. Finally, there’s the 90 elmarit!

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