The Leica 50 Summarit Lens Review – M8 and M9 tested!

The Leica 50 Summarit Lens Real World Use Review

By Steve Huff


So here I am, nearing the end of January 2011. I cant believe that next month will be the two year mark since I posted my 1st article over at the old site. While a lot has happened in those two years, the time has seriously flown by. My son is growing up and when I look back at the old reviews it makes me sad, but also happy to know that here I am, still at my desk every morning writing these reviews! It also makes me smile when I see so many new sites that have popped up providing “real world” reviews now. When I started my site with these “real world” reviews and write ups I was laughed at by many, scolded by a few online website pros, and was told repeatedly how dumb my site was (again, by a select few). Little did I know that two years later (UPDATE: Now 5 Years later)! I would still be doing this AND I had no idea I would inspire so many others to create “real world” blogs. I say this because I have had emails from some of these new blogs thanking me for inspiring them!

I’m happy that is the case because many of us were getting tired of the same old tech reviews with the same old tired looking 90s web site designs and the same old stiff talk. I know I was!

Let’s Get It Started!

Let’s get this party started with a slew of B&W images! All were shot with the Leica M9 and the 50 Summarit at 2.5 – converted to B&W with Alien Skin Exposure 3 – I always love how it just seems easy to capture emotion with a Leica M camera.

So here I am…getting ready  to write yet another review for a lens I have surprisingly not written about yet. Oddly enough,  it is my favorite focal length, 50mm. The lens I will be writing about today is the Leica 50 Summarit f/2.5 and just like the other two Summarits I have tried and owned, the 35 and 75, this 50 is a fantastic lens and the cheapest “NEW” Leica lens you can buy at $1,395. I want to thank Ken Hansen for letting me use this lens to shoot with for the past few weeks. Ken has been an awesome friend and Leica dealer and he has these lenses on hand and usually ALWAYs in stock. (E-mail him at khpny19@aol.com) So THANKS KEN!

Getting To The Point

This lens is a typical Leica lens. Small, gorgeous, and of very high optical quality. Leica makes some killer 50’s and in all honesty they do not make a bad lens. In the Leica world of 50mm lenses we have the classic and one of my all time favorites, the 50 Summicron (see my review here). I LOVE the 50 Cron! Period! If I had one lens to buy for my M9 and wanted the best all around lens for speed, size, weight, cost and performance it would be the 50 Summicron. Sure there is a more exotic lens like the 50 Summilux ASPH but it is much larger, heavier and costs much more. You can read about the 50 Lux HERE. Now, for those who can afford it and want the best of the best in the 50mm department then the Leica 50 Noctilux f/0.95 is the one to get. It’s a masterpiece. Beautiful. Heavy. LARGE. BUT DAMN, its GORGEOUS and unlike any other lens made today for 35mm. I have written a review for the 50 Noctilux as well (can see it here). Leica also makes a 50 Elmar 2.8 that collapses into the body. I have not yet reviewed it but I have used it and loved it.

The two photos below were shot with a Leica M8 and 50 Summarit at 2.5

So here I am with the smallest, lightest and cheapest Leica 50 yet and I have to say that Leica has yet another winner on their hands. The rendering of the 50 Summarit is a mix of modern and classic. It is modern because it is super sharp and contrasty, even wide open. It is classic in the way it renders the out of focus areas (Bokeh) and its a tad soft in the corners when wide open, even on the M8. It does retains that contrasty look and feel. To me, the 50 Summicron leans more to the classic side and the 50 Summilux more to the modern side. This little guy is in between the two and what a good mix it is.

After using it on the M8 and M9 I noticed that this guy performs wonderful on BOTH cameras though as mentioned, just a little bit soft at the edges but it sharpens up as it gets to the center of the frame. Of course on the M8 you will need the IR/UV filter and the lens becomes more like a 67mm due to the 1.3 crop sensor but it is still a wonderful lens. On the M9 we see more of a creamy file with more shallow depth of field (because we see the full frame which uses all of the lens). I am supplying sample photos from both camera bodies for this review because I know there are many M8 shooters still around. Besides, the Summarit line was introduced shortly after the M8 so of course they will be superb on that camera as well! Also, the M8 still rocks 🙂

Leica M9 and 50 Summarit

Leica M8 and the 50 Summarit

The Build and Feel


To me and also many others I know, the build of a quality lens is important. If you are going to spend big money on a lens, it better feel like you spent good money on it! Leica is known for not only their optical qualities but also their build. This summarit lens is not as substantial as the 50 Summicron or the 50 Summilux but it does feel better made than the Zeiss 50 Planar. It’s looks like a Leica and feels like a Leica. The aperture ring is solid and the lens come supplied with a soft pouch instead of a leather case. Also, this lens does not come with a lens hood. If you want a hood you have to buy it separate and the hood alone will run you $139 or so. So seeing that this is the least expensive Leica lens at $1395 the build and feel is just fine. One cool plus about the summarit is that it is small but it does pack a punch! Overall, the build could be better but I have seen worse. NOt up there with the big money Leicas but it is better than the Zeiss ZM lenses in build.

The next three images were all with the Leica M8 and 50 Summarit wide open at 2.5

Is It Sharp?

I already mentioned that this lens is sharp, contrasty and has a mix of modern and classic renderings all mixed into one. Below you can download TWO full size shots so you can see an out of camera image. One from the M8 and one from the M9. Notice the corners are a tad soft but IMO, nothing to fret about. To me, this just adds some of that classic look to your photos.

This is from the M8 with the 50 at 2.5 – click the image to view the full out of camera file from RAW.

one more from the M8 – click the image to see a resized file with a 100% crop inside. This lens is plenty sharp where it matters!

OK, here is a test between the M8 and M9 to see how the lens performs on each camera

First up, the Leica M9 with the 50 at 2.5 – click image for full size file – You can see some vignetting here.

Now the M9 at F4

and at f5.6 – again, click image for full size

Now the lens at 2.5 on the Leica M8

Even on the M8 there is some slight vignetting in the corners but overall the lens performs well in real world photos. I never take images of brick walls but many of you like to see a little but of testing when it comes to lenses.

M8 vs M9? Summarit VS ?

So after seeing full size files from each camera, the Leica M8 and the Leica M9…which camera does this lens perform the best on? Well, you are looking at the images here so what do you think? Me, I think the 50 looks its best on the M9 as I see more of the “M9 look” which I love. To me, the M8 puts out a slightly “harder” file which is also fantastic. Basically, no matter which camera you own this lens will perform well for you and on the M9 I would be content with this being my only lens. BUT there are other 50’s to choose from that are actually LESS expensive than this one that do their job very well. Lenses like the Ziess 50 Planar which is a great little lens. Very contrasty, great Bokeh and the color just POPS with a warmth and glow. I reviewed that lens a while ago and it can be seen here. There is also the Zeiss 50 Sonnar that comes in at about $1100. This lens will give you a VERY classic look when wide open  at it’s 1.5 aperture and it get sharp as any lens by f5.6. You can see my old review of that lens HERE. SO many 50’s out there and I have not even talked about the used market yet.

These days, if you are lucky, you can find a used Leica 50 Summicron for under $1000. If its the latest model with the slide out hood expect to pay about $1200-$1400 used. Me, I would take the Summicron over the Summarit BUT then again, with the Summarit you are getting a new lens, with warranty. To be honest, the 50 Summarit is a GREAT lens. A little slower than the Summicron at 2.5 but probably more snappy than the cron as well. Still…the 50 cron is a legend though many complain about its Bokeh. To me, the cron = classic Leica.

BUT, if you want a NEW smallish lens with great color, contrast and a somewhat classic feel then the Summarit should be on your short list. Especially if you want a Leica lens to go with your Leica M. Let’s face it. Nothing looks as sweet as something like an M8 or M9 with a nice piece of Leica glass on it 🙂 I can say that in comparison, the Zeiss lenses seem like they are not built as well, especially the Planar but IQ wise the Ziess are just as good as the Summarit but much warmer in the color rendition.

Next two shots: Leica M8 and 50 Summarit at 2.5

Bottom Line Conclusion

I won’t drag this review out any longer because all that needed to be said has been said AND shown. What else can I say about this little guy? It’s small, it’s Leicas least expensive lens (when bought new) and it’s a classic focal length that I love. When buying something like a Leica M9 it is sometimes hard to find extra money for lenses let along just one lens. The Summarit line makes it a little bit easier for us to own a real Leica lens without spending $3000+ for it. It’s a great performer if not a little soft in the edges and corners but stop it down and it will clean up nicely. The lens performs well on the M8 and the M9 and makes for a rather small and compact kit. I liked this lens. If I were buying NEW and I had a budget of under $1500 I would either buy this lens of try to find a deal on a 50 Summicron or even a Zeiss 50 Sonnar. I know I will get asked about this lens vs the voigtlanders like the 50 1.1 but IMO, this little Summarit will give you more snap, more contrast and better color than the Voigtlander 1.1. It’s not as fast and even more expensive but it’s got the Leica name and the Leica performance behind it.

I give Leica credit for releasing this line of lenses for those of us that can not afford the big guns. Is it still overpriced? Sure, it’s Leica! But if we want the best, we have to pay for it. Leica has always been Leica and for those who love them we seem to be willing to pay just about anything to own one.

This lens was sent to me by Ken Hansen who sells the entire Summarit line. He also usually has the crons and summilux lenses on hand as well as used lenses. You can email him for availability at his email, khpny19@aol.com. Great guy who has been a Leica dealer for MANY years.

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31 Comments

  1. Hi, amazing photos ! Perfect angle and shot, for me it is the first time to use leica m8 and I was wondering what lens do you prefer for capturing both landscape and street photographs ?

    Again amazing photos !

    Can’t wait to see Ur other posts 🙂

  2. Question:

    The brick wall shots, why are they almost exactly the same on both the M8 (crop sensor) and M9? Shouldn’t the M9 (ff) contain more information? I try to count the bricks on both shots and they look the same?

    Could you explain this to me? Have you cropped the images to contain the same “scene”?

      • Ok. Have you made any shots where the tripod wasn’t moved?

        Reason for my asking us that I am upgrading from M8 to ME or MM and would like to see the difference with the same lens. Both IQ and resolution. I’m keeping the M8 as a secondary body; would you choose MM or ME+ new corn 35?

        Still… It’s a bit OT.

        Thanks Steve!

    • Excellent sharpness and contrast already fully open. Vintage look. Literally zero distortion. Talking about the latest version Elmar, that is. Never tried the Summarit. But if you can get your hands on a mint used Elmar for around $ 600-700, it’s worth every cent. And yes, it can be collapsed into the M8 or M9 without damaging anything, just hold your breath and do it slowly the first few times.

  3. Gosh, I want that Leica. I’m entering the contest and hope for the best.
    By the way, I’m not aware of this “real world” term you used. What does it mean? I’m pretty curious about it.

  4. I just rediscovered this lens after this article. It’s a super lens and I am especially pleased with the combination of Sony Nex-5 and Leica Summarit. Perfect size and amazing quality

    [img]http://www.flickr.com/photos/estherpigen/5395399042/[/img]

  5. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for sharing the review. I was wondering if you have ever used Flash on your M9?I know that its a hush-hush topic as many Leica purist would not like to use them, but i shoot wedding casually and there are many times when the room lighting is not favourable and i need greater depth of field (small aperture).

    I hope you can include some flash review in the near future.

    Regards,

    Tommy

  6. Some people only want to buy new. Nothing wrong with that. Who wants someone else’s castoffs? Leica’s problem is that the type of person who only wants a new lens–and only a Leica, never a Zeiss–is probably the type of person who only wants a new camera. Which means that they have already shelled out $5000 for an MP or $7000 for an M9. At that point, you might as well get the 50 Summicron.

    The Summarit line is intriguing. Nothing wrong with some great-quality 2.5 lenses. However, if you’re already a used camera buyer, with an M3 or M6, you are probably OK with a used lens, or a Zeiss lens, or heck a used Zeiss lens. In that case, the Summarit doesn’t look like a good option.

  7. Thanks for this long awaited review of the 50mm Summarit. This is the lens I have. This is the lens that my budget allowed. I always wondered if I should have bought the Cron for just a little more or bought a used Cron. I don’t regret it now after reading this review. Should I splurge on the Lux? Never stops, huh?

  8. Nice review of a nice lens. The first shot with the pug is fantastic. What a character.
    There are so many great 50mm lenses out there making the Summarit 50 a tough sell. If USD 1400 was my 50mm lens budget, I’d opt for a used Summicron or Summilux (non asph). I think better cases can be made for the Summarit 75 and 90, where there are fewer excellent options to choose from.

  9. great review as usual steve.
    But i think there’s a little mistake on two pics, you wrote summitar instead of summarit…. just to test if we really read ….

  10. I felt like something’s been missing from my life. lol! Now I know what it was. Thanks for the new lens review, Steve. Even if this one isn’t on my list, it’s great to see some shots with it and get a dose of your sunny enthusiasm. I’m inclined now to have a lot more respect for the Zeiss M lenses than I might have initially had. Just shot a 35 Biogon on my M9. Shots were amazing. Just amazing. I don’t have a 50mm right now and that’s a real bummer for me because that’s my focal length. Like so many here, I’m a 50 guy. I have the new 35 ‘Lux, a 35 Summarit, and a 40 Nokton. AND I’m looking at this used but lovely silver 35 Biogon for my M7. Something’s got to give because I want to start shooting a 50 again.

    And oh yeah. GO STEELERS!!!

    • The Zeiss ZM lenses are very good (most of them). The 35 Biogon and Biogon -C are great. The 50’s and 85 are also wonderful. If you like the Zeiss 35, I bet you would love the 50 Planar.

      • I can warmly recommend the Zeiss 50 Planar and Zeiss 50 Sonnar over the Elmarit. They are cheaper but as well or maybe better built. The Planar is a perfect lens, color, contrast, 3D rendering, you have all the Zeiss qualities in a modern (sharp!) lens. The Sonnar (Steve’s excellent revue got me into buying one) is… magic. From 1.5 to 2 it is a mix of classic and modern rendering. From 2 onward it is as sharp as the Planar…
        I agree with Steve, if you like the 35 Biogon you will love the Planar and the Sonnar/

        • I KNOW (the head) that the Planar is outrageously good. I can see that. But that Sonnar has my heart. I’m learning more and more that I’m a character old timey lens-look guy as opposed to perfection. But that’s not saying the Planar produces a boring too-perfect image. I think the shots from the Planar look like paintings in the OOF areas. Very artistic lens. But the Sonnar just produces shots that look as old as the optical formula. It’s going to be a tough call there. Have you had much trouble with the well documented focus shift issues on the Sonnar? Is yours optimized for 1.5 or 2.8?

          • Well, I had no problem with the focus shift on that lens. I think mine is optimised for 2.8, but really I can’t tell since I never missed a shot because of a focus issue. Much has been written about this so-called problem… But in real life photography it is not an issue. Focusing at 1.5 on a M9 can sometime be tricky (subjects tend to move, damn the subjects), but it is true for all lenses.

  11. Steve, great review once again. Glad you like the Summarit 50, i am not too surprised, i figured you would… You put it very well for those of us that can’t afford the big guns. Even if i could afford the big guns, i would rather put that money into something else and keep all my Summarits, to me they are absolutely wonderful pieces of glass for a lot less money. I have owned all my Summarits ever since i bought my M8.2 years back and always wondered why no one else have ever written much about them, besides Erwin Puts ( http://www.imx.nl/photo/leica/lenses/lenses/page83.html ) It’s still a Leica no matter how we cut it. 🙂

    Waiting for the 90mm review. Great shots as well Steve, love the B&W’s…

    Cheers!

  12. Great review. I am curious about the 90mm that is coming up soon. That is on my wish list. Interesting your thoughts about the 50mm Summicron. I once owned one and I love the size but I didn’t like the bokeh. It felt a bit harsh. I moved to the Lux which is big and heavy but I like the smoothness. Lenses are so much about personal preferences/ style. So seeing your images is always helpful. Thanks for this review. Dirk

    • I agree, it’s really all personal preference. I agree the 50 Cron bokeh can be harsh at times and honestly, this summarit has smoother bokeh 🙂 It just renders a bit differently so go with what you like! Thanks for reading!

      • 50 mm are the best, really like to take pictures with this focal. You must think diferent than with zoom, legs are your zoom, but as soon you get it, there is no return. When I am thinking about this, the last 6 months I was shoting only with 35 mm DX (50 mm equale FF).
        Please, can you post the second picture for download in full res? Or better in raw? Would like to try it to develope and see, how is the flexibility of Leica raw. Thank you and my best wishes!

        Miroslav

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