The Leica APO 35 Summicron f/2 ASPH SL Lens Review.
by Steve Huff
Leica’s Summicron lenses for their L mount line of lenses have been praised to no end over the last year or so by reviewers and users alike. With beautiful build quality, stunning image quality and color along with a smaller size than most native Leica L mount lenses the 35 Summicron APO f/2 is a true beauty in the lineup. In fact the Summicron line across the board (28, 35, 50, 75, 90) are a perfect match to an SL body when it comes to size, fit and finish and feel. They feel just as wonderful as the camera body itself.
My video review and overview (with video footage and photos) of the Leica 35 APO Summicron SL
Over the last 20 years I have shot with more 35mm lenses than I care to remember. Those that stick out in my memory are few. The Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM (review), the Sony 35 1.4 Zeiss (review) and even the Voigtlander 35 1.7 Ultron (review). There are more that are fantastic but when I sat down one day to think about the 35mm lenses I have shot in my life, these were the first to pop in my head for some reason.
Two from the Leica SL2-S with the 35 Summicron and some slight color grading. Click them for larger.
The Leica M mount 35 Summicron (review) has also been a long standing classic that delivered on the goods just as the Leica 35 Summilux 1.4 M has (review). There is no shortage of AMAZING lenses in the 35mm focal length that will work on a Leica SL or SL2 style body so the question is, WHY THIS 35 SUMMICRON L mount that comes in at over $5,000 for an SL body? Why do we need so many lenses in the same old focal length?
This is what I wanted to know. With all of my fond memories of past 35mm lenses and the memories captured with these lenses would I enjoy this newest lens using this focal length as much or more than those of the past?
All images here were shot with the Leica SL2-S and 35 Summicron L mount. You can click them for larger and better versions. These are right out of camera from RAW.
The Leica SL2-S is my #1
The Leica SL2-S is as of this writing, one of my top two digital cameras of all time and my all out favorite 35mm full frame camera of all time. I mean, there is no camera over the last 20 years that I enjoyed more or like more than the SL2-S in the 35mm format. Not any other Leica or any other brand. For me, the SL2-S is not about the name brand, rather, it’s about the camera itself and just how capable and stunning it is in real world use.
It ticks all of the boxes for me and I still adore it today as much as I did when I bought it when it was released at the end of 2020. It’s larger than a competing Sony, sure. It’s more expensive than a competing Canon, yep. It’s bulkier than a Nikon Z for sure. Even with all of this I strongly prefer the Leica SL2-S camera above any other 35mm camera system today.
For me and my likes it’s no contest even though the Leica does not do continuous AF like the Sony or even Canon (It’s slower) nor does it have gimmick features that do everything for you (which I see as a plus). As with all things I end up truly falling for long term, it speaks to my heart with its design, build, function and color output. Yes this camera is well regarded for its video specs but it’s also a dream for photo shooters. It takes me back to the simplicity with photography without feeling like a computer in a camera shell.
A Muggy and Lazy Day for this guy who is resting on a hot summer afternoon. Leica 35 Summicron SL at f/2.
This is not a review of the SL2-S (already did that here) but I just want to say that I chose this camera for my personal choice due to it’s build, design, controls, comfort, EVF, simplified and sleek menu system, weather sealing, IBIS (that actually works well), and above all else, the image quality and color. OH, and it’s a dream with M mount lenses. I have owned this SL2-S for seven months and have no desire for anything “new”. It has been a G.A.S. ender for me in the 35mm format.
The grip is one of the best there is and when you shoot with an SL2-S and then move on to a Canon, Sony or other make of camera they all of the sudden start to feel toy like in the hand. That is not a slight on the other brands, it’s fact. Side by side the SL2-S makes most cameras *FEEL* more like toys or again, computers in a camera box!
I also enjoyed the Panasonic S1 but at the end of the day I prefer the build, feel, size and color/file quality of the SL2-S above the Panasonic. Even the wonderful Panasonic S5 which is less pricey and a very capable camera couldn’t sway me from my SL2-S. It doesn’t have the build quality, EVF experience, nor simplicity of controls or menus that the Leica has, and yes, the color science is different as well.
Between all of the Sony’s, Canon’s, Fuji’s, Olympus’s, and all other Leica cameras the SL2-S is the winner for me and my personal likes.
The Leica inspires, it brings pride of ownership and confidence. To this day it gets me motivated to go out and take some photos. It’s also rock solid and dependable. I have owned the original SL for years, never one issue (review). I have owned the SL2-S since launch, never an issue. Not one glitch, hiccup or problem. I can not say that for the M series of which I had several issues with the rangefinder going out of alignment and thus, making them impossible to focus. This makes the SL series with it’s huge and glorious EVF like shooting an M on steroids (when using M glass).IME, it’s Leica’s most dependable camera.
As for M lenses, this camera is gorgeous when shooting Leica M glass, and gives an even better experience than an M camera IMO (for my tastes). With an M lens, the body is not large, doesn’t feel large and provides stunning results. Never fail focus means no images with misfocus! The EVF is large, clear and bright and a joy to work with.
I adore my Leica SL2-S for what I use it for which is family photos, memories, vacation, small events and occasionally a video or two. I could just use my phone (and do) but when I look back at my memories in life from 20 years ago, I appreciate the quality of those memories (that were mostly shot with an M camera, film or digital). I was not a huge fan of the SL2 due to it’s lackluster low light and different color science which IMO is different from the SL2-S and other Leica bodies.
Today I have a few M mount lenses as well as a few Sigma L mount lenses that I use with the camera but I wanted to see what would happen when I stepped up to a Lens that has been raved about over and over by friends of mine as well as reviewers. That lens is the 35 Summicron SL.
The Leica 35 Summicron SL f/2 APO is a gorgeous lens but as is life it is not perfect (no lens is and perfect is overrated anyway). Coming in at over $5k this lens is pricey but as I have said before, sometimes you do indeed get what you pay for in life. Will this lens deliver on that? You guys know me, I am all about beauty, character and color over “perfection”.
The build of this lens is exceptional. Doesn’t get better. It’s all metal construction with the exotic glass it uses makes it feel like a frozen can of coke (minus the cold) in the hand. It’s solid and feels like a million bucks on the SL2-S. It’s large for a 35 f/2 (no question about it) but it’s much smaller than other Leica SL lenses like the 24-70 2.8, the 50 1.4, or the bazooka like 90-280. In fact, the Summicron line in the L mount lineup are all the same size wether you go with the 28, 35, 50, 75 or 90. They are the smallest of the L mount Leica lenses and balance very well on the camera body. They are also all weather sealed.
Shooting with the 35 Summicron SL on the SL2-S was a treat though the auto focus was a bit slower than the fantastic 24-70 f/2.8/ . With that said, it never failed me in any photo that I shot which I was very happy with. All photos I shot over my week with the lens were all 100% in focus.
This is a highly corrected APO lens and therefore should be pretty free of distortions, fringing, and the usual issues we see with lower quality glass. In fact I was reading on some forums about this lens a while back and some stated it didn’t need any corrections at all! Most cameras and lenses today apply built in corrections to your JPEGS and even RAW files. This fixes any issues with the lens and corrects it via software so your photos look amazing out of camera. Almost all lenses do this today with all camera systems. Hearing that the 35 APO wouldn’t even need these corrections…well, that’s pretty amazing if true.
Click for larger. Shot at f/2 on the SL2-S
I shot this lens with and without its profile and without the lens profile corrections the output is still gorgeous though it will have some very slight vignetting without the corrections applied. I saw no “visible to the eye” distortions at all with the lens, using corrections or not. I am not a guy who believes or enjoys reading reviews with measurements as my measurement is what I see with my eyes in the final product, or what I feel in my heart when I review images taken with a specific camera or lens. There are no scientific review that will ever be able to tell me if I will enjoy a lens as those measurements could never talk about character or the soul of an image.
To me, the proof is in the images of how a lens or camera will perform. Real world use. In the real world, this lens was already impressing me greatly, as I expected it would.
Bringing the SL2-S to 47MP?!?!?
As I shot with this lens more and more I was seeing that beautiful smooth medium format kind of quality that reminded me of when I first shot with the little Leica 50 Summicron APO M lens a few years ago. You can see my review of that lens HERE, shot on the OG SL. I am seeing similar IQ qualities in this $3k less expensive 35 Summicron APO. So much so that I tried something interesting.
I exported my RAW files from the 24MP SL2-S as 47MP files which is the megapixel count of the Leica SL2. The SL2 is similar to the SL2-S but it has more resolution (but much worse low light performance as well as slower AF). I wanted to see what would happen if I used this lens with the lower megapixel SL2-S but output the files as 47MP files directly from Adobe Camera RAW.
Click the next two images to see them larger and with a full 100% crop embedded. The crop is a 100% crop from a 47MP upsized SL2-S output. While I do not have an SL2 here to compare, this will not bring a true 47MP but it holds detail when upsized. The output is still sharp and smooth and offers great detail when using this method. In fact, I saw such an improvement I now output all of my SL2-S files at 47MP and resize accordingly for my needs. This lens can handle the upsizing very well.
The color and image quality are fantastic as well but this SL2-S has a stunning sensor that provides unreal dynamic range and color and with a lens like the 35 f/2 Summicron we do really get a medium format “vibe” from it. These two are made for each other and you can tell when you use the combo. The bokeh is smooth and pleasant as can be and the colors…gorgeous.
The lens fits the hand like a glove (I have small to medium sized hands) and the manual focus dial is big, smooth and has a big wide band of rubber that makes it easy to turn and achieve focus. When you look through the EVF you can tell that this lens is one of the greats as you can see that special quality even when framing the shot.
This lens really has no true cons besides being slower to auto focus than something like the newer 24-70 2.8. When I say “slower” I do not mean this lens is slow to focus, it’s just not as fast as a competing Sony or canon. But it is almost there, not far behind when taking standard (non action or sports) photos. It’s almost instant though for static subjects and the 35 Summicron did hunt at times when the light got low, even in single shot center focus shooting. It’s not a perfect lens as such a lens does not exist. Beauty is in the eye of beholder and we all like different things when it comes to color, image quality and even design.
What I can tell you is that this lens is all about image quality and color performance and in this area it is gorgeous. Better than my old faves I mentioned earlier up in this review? Well, no not really, just different. The SL2-S with this lens provides a unique kind of IQ and to these eyes it is gorgeous but so is the IQ when using the Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM or Leica 35 1.4 Summilux.
This lens differs from those though because this is an autofocus lens and built to an even higher standard than the M lenses (weather sealed).
This lens is all about build, design and image quality and that is what matters when you buy a lens as you want it to feel good and last. You want it to look nice and you want it to produce the quality you expect from it. This lens delivers in all of these areas.
Cost of Quality.
This lens comes in at $5,195.00 and if we go by todays (August 2021) pricing for exotic cameras and lenses, it is priced accordingly for its quality regardless of what name is on the lens. Today we have cameras from Sony that look like an A7 that sell for $6500 (I tried one for two weeks, wasn’t for me). We have lenses from Nikon that sell for $8000. Today we pay for quality, and this lens from Leica would be a steal at $3500 but at its price of just under $5200 it’s priced very right for what we get. Can we get a 35mm lens for less that provides beautiful IQ on the SL2 bodies? Sure, but they will still not render just like the Summicron, nor will they have weather sealing or the build quality of this lens. Nor will all be recognized by the camera so corrections will not be applied.
When buying a lens, we have to decide what we want or need for our cash and the options are limitless. If you compare this lens to the newer version of the Leica 35 Summicron (the APO) in price we can start to see the value that this lens offers. That little M 35 APO is $8200!
Who is it for?
This lens is for anyone who has an SL, SL2 or SL2-S that wants an autofocus 35mm lens of the best quality. While you can buy a Sigma 35 1.4 ART lens in L mount, and it will offer beautiful IQ with your Leica body it will be a little bit larger (though a bit lighter than the Leica) and as good as that lens is, it will still not deliver the look of the Leica Summicron 35 APO. It’s not really in the same league as the Leica 35 APO Summicron. A good lens? Yes. A legendary lens? Well, no. The Leica is indeed at the top of the heap when it comes to 35mm lenses.
The bottom line is that this Leica lens is for those who want a Leica lens for their Leica body. For those who want the best quality that they can get with a bit of that medium format look and smoothness. For those who want top quality color, good autofocus and the best build quality around. It’s for those who love quality and for those who believe in the “Buy once and be done” Philosophy.
Over the years I have spent (wasted) so much money on trying to “save” money by going cheap on glass and/or cameras. Rather than spend $5k I would spend $1k and many times I would regret not just going with the original item I wanted. I would buy and sell chasing something that didn’t exist unless I spent more.
Today I realize that if you want something special, nothing else can replace it for less. Over the years if I would have just bought what I wanted rather than trying to save I would have actually saved so much money. I lost by trying to go cheap so many times. When I look at a lens like this with that thought, it makes me realize that it is well worth the cost. It’s a lens you buy once, and keep. Forever.
Much like previous Leica legends, this is a lens that should (and I believe will) go down in history as one of the stellar Leica lenses that will stand the test of time. We often hear of past Leica lenses that delivered magic or special qualities and well, this is one of them right here and now. It’s built right. It’s weather sealed. It’s in the smallest line up of lenses in the SL stable of glass. It’s autofocus. It comes with a metal lens hood. It’s bokeh and color are top notch. It offers a medium format style in the way it draws your image. It has a fast f/2 aperture. It fits so well in an SL body and is a dream in the hand when you are using it. What is there NOT to like?
I have nothing at all negative to say about this lens, not even the price. It’s a lens you will not regret if you enjoy this focal length. In fact, I place it among the best I have used in the 35mm range and one day I will purchase this lens for my SL2-S.
The color is phenomenal, the rendering is smooth yet detailed and it has that Leica feel all over it. I can easily recommend this lens to anyone wanting a top quality lifetime 35mm lens for their SL. I have a feeling I would say the same about the 28, 50, 75 and 90mm Summicron’s as well. I will be trying out either the 28 or 5o next ; )
WHERE TO BUY?