Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH – Too Perfect to Own

Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH - Too Perfect to Own

Lens Review

Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH – Too Perfect to Own

Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-m3-black-anodized-0.7m-focusing-hood-e46-filter-thread-fle-floating-elements-coating-modern
Leica M3 with Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH with hood extended
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Leica M3 with Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH

Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH

Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH probably has the best bokeh, and sometimes I mistake it with Noctilux 50mm f0.95. Having the same tone and contrast, some say the Noctilux 50mm f0.95 is just the enlarged version of it. I would say it is too perfect to own, meaning it can be too clinical, but it also has all the best features in one.

Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 V2, the second version in the lux series, is probably one of the best 50mm with an aperture at f/1.4. However, I had a crush on this Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH in 2011 and bought it in 2020. I sold it after a year because that copy had some front-focusing issues. So far, I have tried 3 different versions, and I know the third version, “Pre-asph” E46, is also very nice, but I heard about the optics separation issue due to the glue used by Leica. I try to avoid that. Before I made this post, I repurchased this lens a week ago. I spent weeks looking at the images from my last copy and photos posted online and decided to get it (again)!

Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-e60-e46-filter-thread-fle-floating-elements-size-comparison-compare-noctilux-50mm-50-f0.95-0.95-fast
Size comparison - Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH (Left) and Noctilux 50/0.95 (Right)

50mm Summilux versions Differences

  • Version 1, Filter size 43mm, Vented clip on hood, MFD 1 metre
  • Version 2, Filter size 43mm, Vented clip on hood, MFD 1 metre
  • Version 3 (aka Pre-a / Pre-asph), Filter size 46mm, Internal hood (built-in), MFD 0.7 metre
  • Version 4 (aka ASPH), Filter size 46mm, Internal hood (built-in), MFD 0.7 metre

Built Quality and Compactness (Pros and Cons)

I must say the lens is beautifully constructed and solid. I like how Leica use deep yellow/orange paint in the focus scale. It has a build-in internal hood. You can contract and extend it quickly and turn it to lock it. The hood design is fantastic, but I would like to have it like Summicron 50mm f2 APO. Where the invention is an integrated hood (screw-out) like how you unscrew the cap of a bottle of water. 

Cosmetically, I think Voigtlander has a better paint job than Leica. Comparing Voigtlander 50mm f2 APO Lanthar, the paint is so durable that it would not easily make any paint off. Leica modern lenses, in general, are pretty easy to have paint loss. 46mm filter thread makes it easier to find a colour filter or even a softer one if you want to use it to create a different look. 

Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-m3-black-anodized-0.7m-focusing-hood-e46-filter-thread-fle-floating-elements-coating-rangefinder-m-mount
E46 Filter size (46mm)
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Aperture ring and yellow scale markings
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Focusing tab

Another minor complaint would be the aperture blade, its shape at f/2.0 is not round, so images taken at f2 would have bokeh like a ninja star. It also has 6 bits coded which means your Leica M digital camera can recognise the lens on your camera body.

Similar to Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE has its focusing tab, Summilux 50 asph also has a nice focusing tab to add precision when you focus. Like Summilux 35/1.4 FLE, it also has a floating element (FLE) to correct any focus shifts.

Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-FLE-floating-rangefinder-digital-sensor-m10-hong-kong-bokeh-moment
Shot at f/1.4 with Leica M10, Hong Kong
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Shot with Leica M9-P, Hong Kong

Closer Focus; 0.3 Metres Makes the Difference

Leica Summilux 50mm version 2 is excellent. It could be more perfect if it could focus at 0.7m! The ability to focus down to 0.7m is a competitive advantage for this lens, making it ideal as an all-rounder lens for travelling, portraits and daily documentary work. However, being able to focus at 0.7 metres means your portrait image will lose perspective, but the good side is at 0.7m. Your bokeh is kind of like Noctilux 50mm 0.95 ASPH!.

Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-film-colour-negative-agfa-vista-200-portrait-sister-sharpness-bokeh-FLE
Agfa Vista 200, Hong Kong
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Shot at f/1.4 with Leica M10, Hong Kong

Creamy Bokeh with 3D Rendition Like Noctilux

At f/1.4, this lens renders creamy bokeh and clinical. No distortion and outstanding sharpness but not razor sharp at wide open. Lack of character, I would say, because it can deliver a technically lovely image. My friends always send me photos and ask me which lens was used to capture them, but the Summilux 50mm ASPH was probably the one I couldn’t guess right. Bokeh is a little bit too smooth and perfect. Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.2 VM is an alternative and renders comparable performance with this lens if you want a more friendly option.

Having floating elements means you need to be super precise when focusing. It is very noticeable if you run over the focus point. It has one aspherical surface creating super sharpness when stopping from f2.8 to f8. 

At f/8.0, it is super sharp and creates a great atmosphere and clear image, especially for street and landscape photography.

Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-FLE-floating-rangefinder-digital-sensor-m10-hong-kong-bar
Shot at f/1.4 with Leica M10, Hong Kong

50mm Summilux or Summicron Myth

Personally, I think Summicron offers better sharpness and compactness than Summilux. Bokeh is more pleasant with Summicron than Lux. Summicron is suitable for those who want to create images that have more details and include more textures, including the subject and background. I would describe the bokeh of summicron as using a smaller paint brush to portray what you see. Summilux, in contrast, uses a palette knife putting layers of paint on the background to give you a creamy experience. If we are talking about mood and character, one extra stop allows more light for you to do some street photography at night or in other low-light situations. I always use Noctilux or Summicron rather than my Summilux because I am okay with accepting heavyweight with my Noctilux to render great separations in my subject with a thin depth of field.

If you can afford a Noctilux and don’t mind its bulkiness, go for it, and you will love it!

Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-film-bnw-negative-kodak-tri-x-tx400-d76-details
Kodak Tri-X 400, Kodak D-76, Hong Kong
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Rollei Superpan 200, Kodak D-76, Hong Kong
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Ilford HP5+ developed with Ilford DDX, Hong Kong

Digital Performance

Overall, It is an outstanding performer on digital M cameras. It was used on Leica M9-P, M10 and M10-P and worked well with digital sensors.

Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-FLE-floating-rangefinder-digital-sensor-m10-hong-kong-scene
Shot at f/1.4 with Leica M10, Hong Kong
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Shot at f/1.4 with Leica M10, Hong Kong
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Shot at f/1.4 with Leica M10, Hong Kong
Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-FLE-floating-rangefinder-digital-sensor-m10-hong-kong-wide-open
Shot at f/1.4 with Leica M10, Hong Kong
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Photo with Leica M9-P, Hong Kong
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Shot at f/1.4 with Leica M10, Hong Kong

Film Performance

This lens can produce really crisp and sharp film images. I would not say this lens is not the best for film lovers because it is too sharp to give that natural film look (the subject will be too sharp, and the grain structure will be harsh). However, if you like good definition and sharpness, Summilux 50 asph is your great company. 

Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-film-colour-negative-motion-picture-kodak-vision-3-500T-ECN-2-ECN2-tokyo
Kodak Vision 3 500T in ECN-2, Tokyo
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Fujifilm Superia Premium 400, Tokyo
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Fujifilm Superia Premium 400, Tokyo
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Rollei Superpan 200 with Kodak D-76, Hong Kong
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Rollei Superpan 200, Kodak D-76, Hong Kong

Conclusions

Although this lens has everything in one, bokeh, compactness, sharpness, contrast and good looking. The cold hard truth is I just never create a bond with it. Mainly because when I pick the lens I want to use, I will choose V2 over this ASPH.

Everything seems too good on this Summilux ASPH lens. I think it is suitable for people who want to upgrade to Noctilux later or those who want to just keep one daily lens. If you like film and digital images to have particular contrast and sharpness, I think you will love this lens!

One final tip I would recommend everyone to test is the lens focusing. Make sure the lens rangefinder coupling focuses accurately on your camera body before you walk away from the store. I had a bad experience with my first copy and now own my third one. If you can get the focus right, this lens is truly stellar!

Leica-summilux-50mm-f1.4-asph-review-lens-50-1.4-v4-aspherical-m3-black-anodized-0.7m-focusing-hood-e46-filter-thread-fle-floating-elements-rangefinder-camera
Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH FLE
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Kodak Ektar 100, Tokyo

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