The Leica 50 Summilux SL f/1.4 ASPH Auto Focus Lens Review
By Steve Huff
MY VIDEO REVIEW OF THE LEICA 50 LUX SL IS BELOW!
Yes, that is the question most who talk down mirrorless ask but the answer is not so cut and dry.
The Leica 50 f/1.4 Summilux ASPH for the Leica SL system – A beautiful lens in every way, though it is large!
Most who ask that question know very well that mirrorless is smaller, and if you want small all you have to do is buy a small tiny lens to use on the camera, from almost any brand of lens. Canon? Sure. Nikon? Sure? Leica M? Sure. Canon RF Vintage? Sure. Nikon Vintage RF? Sure. And the list goes on. For almost all mirrorless cameras, there are a countless number of TINY lenses of all focal lengths one can use from almost any manufacturer. From small 10mm lenses to small 90mm lenses and longer lenses as well as zooms.
So we are never ever stuck with LARGE lenses if we want small size when using our mirrorless cameras.
The Leica SL and 50 1.4 SL Summilux at f/1.4 – Click it for larger. Part full sun, part shade. Pretty much straight from RAW
Size of Lenses vs Quality
If you want quality that is the best you can obtain for the 35mm format, no matter the system, DSLR or Mirrorless, you will have a large lens. It is what it is. When a company makes a lens, such as this lens I am writing about today, and they do so with only one goal in mind, IQ..then it has to be large. This is full frame, and this lens is touted by some as the best Leica has ever made.
The SL and 50 1.4 Summilux ASPH, around 11:30 PM outside of the Lost Leaf in Phoenix AZ
ISO 1000, f/1.4
When I see someone say that a Canon 6D with a Canon 50 1.4 is so much smaller than a Leica SL with this Leica 50 Summilux, I have to chuckle as the cheap $349 Canon 50 1.4 can not even get close to the performance of a lens like this Leica. It’s not even in the same ballpark. If you want to be fair in a size comparison like that at least use a somewhat equivalent lens on the SL. Throw a Zeiss Sonnar on the Leica and compare the size again ; ) Even the Zeiss Sonnar 50 1.5 beats the Canon for IQ (see it here on the SL). In fact, Canon does not make a 50mm that can compete with this lens, but Zeiss does, and I almost bought that lens when I reviewed it long ago even though it was HUGE, manual focus and came in at around $4k.
MADE IN GERMANY
Yep, the Zeiss 55mm Otus is the one lens that can compete with this Leica 50 Summilux SL. Yet the Zeiss is larger, only manual focus, and comes in at $4k. Take this Leica, which has the same brilliant IQ as that Zeiss (with its own unique character itself) and add AF and with a slightly smaller size, and add about $1200 and you have the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH SL. At $5300 or so, this lens is big, and expensive but for those who want “the best” in IQ from their SL, and want and need AF, this is one hell of a lens though it does have a drawback or two, but distortion as some have mentioned with this lens is not one of them as I have not been able to find any distortion in my sample photos, nor have I found any CA. All of these images here on this page are all from RAW. I applied no corrections of any kind. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t exists, just that in my real world photos, I see none of it, and if the raw files are corrected in camera, then I really do not care. I care only about the final output. And the output of this lens is phenomenal.
f/1.4, quick shot. Click it for larger to see the 3D separation and smooth as silk bokeh. Reminds me of the 50 APO but with an f/1.4 aperture.
While the Leica SL body is on the larger size for a mirrorless 35mm camera, in reality it is not that much larger than a Sony A9. A bit taller, better made/built, a heftier feel, and if you enjoy simplicity of control, this is your camera. It’s almost zen like when in use, after you get used to it. Most cameras these days are no where near as refined as the control system of the SL. Not just me saying that, it’s the truth. Those who own and love this camera know what I speak of here.
50 1.4 at 1.4, 1/50th second, click for larger and mic better version.
At the end of the day, it is the lenses that make these cameras large but ONLY WHEN you go to UBER high quality lenses. Same goes for Sony and their G master line. Same goes for Canon and their L glass and the same goes for Nikon with their pro level lenses. The lenses, if you want QUALITY, uncompromising quality, with AF and a fast f/1.4 aperture, will be large. Period. Again, it is what it is. No other manufacturer can escape this fact.
This lens delivers rich, solid, gorgeous color and immense 3D separation.
So mirrorless systems can be small if you want to use smaller lenses, or they can be large if you want the best quality you can achieve with the camera. With a DSLR you only have the choice of the brand of lens that matches your brand of camera. Not as versatile and not as creative when you want to go vintage and create images with a retro look or unique style of draw or character. Mirrorless, with cameras like the Sony A series and this Leica SL at least for me, well they are the more artistic option and for those who like choice in lenses. I can shoot the old Canon Dream Lens on either body, but with a DSLR, I can not. DSLR’s to me are for the pros who use them for sports, action or even weddings (though mirrorless today is fantastic for weddings). Stuff like that. Strictly business. Mirrorless options today from Fuji, Sony, Leica and Olympus and Panasonic are all fun, unique and have amazing versatility in how you can use them. They are also fast, responsive and can finally compete in all areas with their DSLR counterparts.
Late night, through a window to get the reflection and the inside of the bar. f/1.4
My last word about mirrorless and size.
We have many choices today in the mirrorless world. If you crave the smallest of size with high quality, go for micro 4/3 with Olympus or Panasonic. The hard facts are that 90% of people truly do not need more than these systems offer. If you want more choice, and a larger sensor, go Fuji for APS-C. If you want the most sensor for your buck, and the most DOF options, and the all out best quality IQ go full frame with Sony or Leica. See, we have choice and we can go tiny, normal or larger or these days even to medium format with Fuji or Hasselblad. All depends on what we need or want or what makes us motivated to use the damn thing ; )
The real secret is, and I have said this for years, buy the camera that MOTIVATES YOU to go out and shoot. No matter if it is a 1″ sensor camera. Because if you end up with a system you are not head over heels for, you will not want to use it, and if you do not use it, you are not creating images. Go with your heart, gut and what drives your passion for this craft.
CRAZY low light here, ISO 6400, 50 1.4
Now on to the Lens and what a lens it is…
So here I am today writing about a lens that is difficult to review for me as I take much more than IQ into consideration when doing these real world reviews that I have done for nearly 10 years now.
I do take size, AF speed, ease of manual focus, AF accuracy, cost and all of that good stuff to heart. Also, I do not always enjoy the lenses with the sharpest IQ, but I enjoy lenses that offer a unique IQ. I am not into sterile lenses (at all), nor do my lenses all have to be sharp corner to corner. I feel many of us are too worried or too focused on perfection in our gear, even when some of the most memorable photos in history were made with cheap lenses that were far from perfect. For me and my tastes, a fast 50mm lens it is about character, 3D pop and separation, sharpness of the subject and overall vibe. My fave 50’s have been the Leica 50 APO (see review here), the Zeiss 55 Otus (review here) and the Sony 50 1.4 beast (review here). There are other 50’s I adore like the Voigtlander 50 f/3.5 (in my top 3 for price, IQ and bang for the buck) and the Leica 50 Summilux M so this lens has some competition for me. In order for it to make me want to own it, it has to be special like the lenses I just mentioned. Even before it arrived I kind of knew it would be as Leica is not going to release a flagship lens for their SL with the legendary Summilux name attached and have it suck. Let’s be honest. To anyone who thinks this lens should get a negative review, be honest, you dislike Leica and what they stand for.
50 1.4 at 1.4, B&W conversion with Alien Skin Exposure
TRUTH: With this new Leica 50 Lux for the SL coming in at over $5k, and being quite large I was put off by it when I opened it, and a little throughout my shooting time with it (for one reason I will go over in a few). I kept asking myself why Leica could not have made it smaller. They have produced one of the finest 50’s ever with the little tiny Summilux APSH M for the Leica M, and that 50 APO? Holy wowzers..small and amazing IQ. Yes, this one is better, this one has AF and this may be the finest quality lens Leica has ever made but damn, it’s large for what it is, a 50mm f/1.4. I then remembered shooting with the Zeiss Otus which is slightly larger, and has only manual focus. I got addicted to the IQ of that lens as it did have its own character and look. It was the finest 50 I have shot with next to the Leica 50 APO, which is another 50mm masterpiece. But at nearly $8k that 50 APO is out of reach for 98% of us. So there are now three lenses out there that to me, have some of that 50 APO flavor in them. This one, the Zeiss Otus and even that $520 Voigtlander 50 Heliar (though that is an f/3.5 lens, so not a fast prime). If a magical genie popped up and said “STEVE, YOU CAN OWN ONE 50mm LENS and ONLY ONE, and I WILL GIVE IT TO YOU FOR FREE, WHICH ONE WOULD YOU LIKE”? Well, that would be easy. The Leica 50 APO f/2 Summicron.
As I said before, this lens can be used wide open for all and every shot you take. It is a no compromise lens and at 1.4 is as sharp as the Leica 50 APO is at f/2. Wide open is where the magic lies in all Leica glass. Click image for larger!
The reasons are simple. I love manual focus lenses on the SL and Sony A7 and A9 system. Easy to focus. I love the tiny size of the 50 APO. It’s TINY! The quality is the best I have ever seen of any 50mm lens ever produced. The lens hood is genius and slides out for quick use. It’s amazing.
What about this lens? Why not choose the faster 50 1.4 that has a similar rendering, and actually performs even better? Well, I can only use this lens on the SL. If the SL was my ONLY camera, I would 100% take this lens as my only 50 but I also use my Sony, and the 50 APO can be used on almost any mirrorless system (and my Sony).
But the cost has to be remembered. I said I would take the APO if I was given one by a magical genie. Seeing that this will never happen, I could save almost $3k by buying this lens. When you take into account the cost, and if one is only shooting the SL system, this lens will make more sense than the APO 50 as it is AF and performs to an even higher level with f/1.4 being avaiable. I mean, either way you can’t lose..well, you will lose some cash from your bank account of course.
More B&W with this lens.
So with this lens already in the company of the finest 50mm lenses ever made, as well as the fabulous Sony Zeiss 50 1.4, I knew I was holding a very special lens in my hands. Not many 50’s can get close to this quality let alone meet it. That led me to thinking again. When I was shooting this lens around town, at home, at the Lost Leaf, or anywhere I started to realize that if one wants auto focus, and this flavor of lens (50 APO flavor) then this is it for your Leica SL. Nothing else will deliver that look of the Otus and APO with auto focus. I also started to realize that while large, when you are using it, that all goes away. As I shot scenes, I was not thinking “man this lens is big”..instead I was thinking “wow, this lens feels great in the hand”. Even using it for manual focus on the SL was a breeze, and 50% of the images here were shot with Manual Focus. I will get into the Auto Focus speed in a bit but will say manually focusing this lens on the SL, while not as satisfying as using a 50 APO manually, was quite nice. Easy, smooth and easy to nail. Click the shot below to see an example of MF on the SL with this lens.
Those red lights at the Lost Leaf are intense – click for larger.
THE BUILD & FEATURES
- This benchmark standard 50mm lens provides a natural field of view with incredible performance across the image and outstanding sharpness. As an L-mount optic it is also compatible with T-series APS-C cameras where it provides a 75mm equivalent focal length.
- Super-fast f/1.4 maximum aperture is ideal for working in difficult lighting conditions and provides excellent control over focus position for selective focus applications.
- Two aspherical elements and four anomalous partial dispersion glass elements reduce chromatic and spherical aberrations throughout the zoom range and increase image sharpness and clarity.
- A multi-layer coating helps prevent and minimize flare and ghosting.
- Weather-sealed design protects against dust and moisture to benefit working in trying shooting conditions.
- Internal focusing design prevents the front filter ring from rotating during operation to better enable working with circular polarizers, graduated ND filter, or other types of filters dependent on a specific orientation.
The Lens build is fabulous, enough said. Just as one would expect here, no skimping on this Made in Germany Leica lens. Solid, sturdy, a nice rubber focus ring, and a feeling that this lens would last you a lifetime. Typical Leica build and feel here. After a day or two I got used to the size, and as I carried the SL with this lens on day 2 and 3 I did not care about the size. I was 100% fine with it. Without the hood, it’s not horrible once you are used to it. In use it is fantastic and gives you a solid feel and hold to shoot. It’s not front heavy on the SL, but feels well balanced which surprised me. But I also recently have gotten used to that 24-90 and also, became addicted to its IQ. In fact, over the past two years I mostly shot small M lenses on the SL. These days, it has been the 24-90 and now this lens that has been wowing me. These lenses are just top tier, both this and the 24-90 but there is one area where the 24-90 beats this one. Auto Focus SPEED.
50 1.4 at 1.4
Yep the Auto Focus speed of this lens is slower than I had hoped for. To me, the main negative about this lens is not the size, nope, not at all. Because again, if you want this quality, with AF for your SL, this is the only game in town. But that AF, while improved with the latest firmware for the SL, is still more on the more slower side than fast. It’s probably just a a little tiny bit slower or the same as the Sony 50 1.4 Zeiss when used on the A7rII. Not horrible, never made me miss a shot, but it can hunt a little in lower light or low contrast situations. I was hoping it would just aim and snap into place FAST. But there is a slight delay while it looks for and locks in focus. If you have good light, it’s not an issue. If you have dim lighting, eh, it’s slower. When I shot in the Lost Leaf, I always tell you guys that is a TOUGH lighting situation. They use one RED light source, and its VERY dark in the bar, as in, almost “turn out the lights and go to bed” kind of dark. (I am thinking of a meet up there one night with 2-4 of us shooting, let me know if any of you would be in. Great music, beer and atmosphere). It never failed to lock and and give me accurate AF, at f/1.4, in near dark conditions. When I think of the large elements here, and that Leica went for all out IQ over speed (which all high level 50 1.4’s normal try to do), there is nothing abnormal about the speed here. It’s not build for speed, it’s build for IQ. Remember that. Even so, some have shown it out resolves the Leica 50 APO even when this is wide open at f/1.4, and yes, the AF here is faster than the manual focus 50 APO that is $2400 more, and slower at f/2! So there ya go. I will say it again, I know of no fast 50 lens of this caliber that focuses fast as an f/2.8 zoom. None. So this focuses about as fast as the others at this kind of level.
Yea, it’s dark in here...AF no issue locking on.
So it’s a challenge. In this scenario, the lens would auto focus if I used the AF assist light, but since that is annoying to people you are taking photos of, I turned it off and used manual focus instead. That’s the beauty of the SL, and as you all have heard me say 100 times, that EVF of this camera makes manual focus an absolute breeze.
So for me the AF is a tad slower than I would have hoped but the positive thing I can say about it is that it never ever missed AF as in when it locked, it locked right on target.
IS THIS THE PERFECT 50MM?
Well, to me no lens is ever perfect. If there was a perfect lens, we would never need any other lens besides that one that was perfect. Is this lens good? Yes indeed. Are there other 50’s that are good? Yes indeed. Again, I go by character, rendering, and overall feel of the images a lens produces. Someone asked me about the Sony A9 and 50 1.4 Zeiss. That combo would come in at around $6000 and provide one hell of a setup. This combo, of the Leica SL and Leica 50 SL would come in at $11300. Almost double. Do you get double the IQ? Well, no, not really. Each system has their own style, and IQ. I will say the Leica color beats the Sony but the Sony sensor is better in low light and that A9 is a speed demon with normal f/2.8 zooms, namely the G Master series. The Sony 50 1.4 to me, is their masterpiece 50mm. This 50 Summilux SL is one of Leica two masterpiece 50mm lenses. This and the 50 APO, which as I said above, both have a similar flavor, expect this one is f1/4. vs f/2 and has AF vs MF and is 4X-5X the size of the APO ; ) But the Leica combo will give you better color and richer files in normal light than an A9 and 50 1.4.
I already stated my fave 50’s of all time above, and I was speaking of true full frame 50mm lenses. There are other lenses that can give you a 50mm FOV that are also fantastic. Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji…they all make their own masterpiece 50mm equivalent. But for me, full frame offers the richest IQ with the best performance across the board (low light to good light) and while ALL serious cameras today can provide results plenty good enough for most of us, there are a few out there who want that extra 5-10%. For those people, this is your lens. BTW, it is weather sealed as well!
While many will scoff at a lens of this price, and size, most do not realize that yes, these lenses that are this price and size are better in all ways vs these cheaper $500 50mm lenses. In build, and in IQ. But if good enough is good enough for you, then this lens is not for you. Believe me when I say that this lens is at the top of the 50mm heap but also believe me when I say it is large, could have faster AF performance and is at the top of the expense heap as well.
Detail and Bokeh
This lens, even wide open is sharp and does deliver amazingly smooth bokeh. When I say sharp, I mean the subject you focus on is sharp, yet just like its 50 APO M lens cousin, it never comes off as analytical or harsh like some 50mm lenses can. It is buttery smooth yet sharp as can be. Click the images below for a larger view and to see the full 100% crop. I call it “buttery sharp”.
Wide Open at f/1.4, click them to see larger. 1st one is full sun, 2nd at night. The 3rd was full sun and part shade but 100% crop is also embedded there. ALL f/1.4. This lens can be used without compromise at f/1.4, wide open.
So the lens delivers in all areas from color, to sharpness where it counts, to bokeh that is silky smooth and painterly. The 3D separation is also quite special with this lens, and beats the M version easily here.
So did I enjoy this lens? Well, what do you think?
YES indeed. From low light to bright light, this lens delivered the goods and while it is expensive and large and doesn’t have the fastest IQ in the west, the IQ, just like the best 50’s I have reviewed in the past, can become addicting. Once you get used to the size and feel, you forget about the size, and focus on the feel and using the lens. It becomes you paintbrush of sorts and paint it does. Some days when I review certain special gear that just has some special mojo about it I wish I were rich. Ahh would be nice… or would it?
I then realize I am rich, not in financial terms but in life terms. How lucky am I to even be able to get a hold of lens like this to test? To use, to write about and share my thoughts? How lucky am I to be able to wake up and do what I love each and every day? Even if it hasn’t or will never make me rich financially, for me, life happiness never comes from money, but from the riches one gains from loving life, loving family and having great friends. Being able to test this lens, well I feel blessed. Does that mean I do not want one? Ummm. No. I do. But maybe one day I will be able to afford one. I have bought many crazy lenses in the past from the 50 M Summilux to the 50 M APO, to the 50 M Noctilux. So I may own this lens one day, but even if I do not, I am happy just to have been able to test it for a while.
Do I recommend it? Well, I will put it this way.
Do you want an f/1.4 lens? Do you shoot with a Leica SL? Do you want Auto Focus? Do you want one of the best 50mm lenses ever created for 35mm? Do you have $5300 you can spare? Do you want a weather sealed design?If you answered yes to all of those, then this lens is a no brainer. Really. Truth be told, I am surprised Leica did not go nuts as they did with that little 50 APO and price this at $7k. I see a price increase in the future in typical Leica fashion.
I will give you all a hot tip. If you do not mind slower aperture lenses and want a taste of the 50 APO and 50 Lux look, give this $529 manual focus f/3.5 lens a try. It’s beautiful and while not a low light lens, for daylight use it is gorgeous. It’s no Summilux but it is damn good for the money, and above. See shots with it HERE.
You can purchase this lens from the links below which are all highly recommended Leica dealers that will treat you right. All should have this lens in stock.
Ken Hansen (email: [email protected])
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