Leica Summicron 50mm f/2.0 Apo Lens
Sometimes comparing lenses can be like comparing apples to oranges. If we consider one of Leica lenses, Leica 50mm Summicron f/2.0 APO lens, for example, it stands apart from other 50mm lenses in the market for sharpness, lack of distortion, incredible bokeh and, yes, it does come with a hefty price tag for Leica lens quality. Leica Summicron 50mm f/2.0 APO lens has more to offer than superb optical design and robust built quality.
You may know about Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens, not the APO version which stands for apochromatic. Leica Summicron lenses have a long history and perhaps being one of the most popular lenses ever made by Leica Camera. Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens is a new generation of lens that not only one of the sharpest but also the most “perfect” for its lack of distortion. For this difference between the two version of Leica Summicron lenses, APO version costs about three times the price.
Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens is a new lens, a modern lens that delivers results without most of the imperfections we come to associate with lenses. It is often the imperfections in the lens design that yields the character of the photographs taken; sometimes we like them more than the clinical accuracy that modern lenses deliver with digital sensors.
There are lenses that have an older design that photographers love to use; one such example is Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens, a design that dates back almost 50 years. What makes this lens so popular is attributed to the rendition colors and bokeh in the images captured with it. Some photographers call it a “timeless” design and others a lens with a “unique” character.
All Things Being Equal
Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens is an expensive lens for most photographers. The aim of this article is to compare the character and the rendition of both lenses immaterial of price versus value debate. Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens is a very affordable lens with just about as high quality as a Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens. Leica Summicron is built in Germany while Zeiss which is also a German optics company manufacturers these lenses in Japan in collaboration with Cosina. For those who are not familiar with Cosina, they also produce Zeiss Otus lenses which are rated to be one of the sharpest lenses in the world.
Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens is designed with the most sophisticated technology in the world delivering the most accurate results for a lens. At an aperture of f/5.6, Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens lines for both tangential and sagittal structures are flat–meaning the lens has no image degradation whatsoever. Basically, this lens will render images more accurately than anything that was ever produced.
While the rest of the optics companies play catch up to match Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens, Zeiss is on another path, not with their Otus lenses but keeping the tradition of great lens design. Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens is a faster lens than Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens but delivers very different results with a unique rendition of colors and bokeh.
Zeiss as an optics company has a long history that dates back before the founding of Leica Camera. Most lenses that Zeiss designed in the 1960’s are making a comeback but Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens has stood the test of time to deliver results that still today’s delight photographers.
Telling a Story
The question that ultimately must be answered by anyone using either of these lenses is what kind of a story he/she wish to convey through his/her photographs. Perhaps equally as important is the idea of the subject matter which may require a rendition of a particular era’s “feel.”
In a way, the photographer must choose the lens according to his/her vision. Sometimes imperfections of a lens design or the character convey an era, a feeling. Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens is such a lens delivering a “look” that is very different than today’s high contrast, sharp lenses. For example, when a street photographer can use a lens with an older design like the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens with a flash to mimic the “grungy feel” of 80’s era of photographs. Whether he/she may prefer film or digital camera the results would be very pleasing to look at and surprise you to know that it is the lens more than the camera that delivers the results he/she is after.
Photographers often attempt to copy the style of legendary photographers by using similar lenses used to capture those photographs. I have seen photographers or “aspiring photographers” trying to photograph with older cameras and lenses to capture photographs that mimic the photographic style of legendary photographers like Vivian Maier.
Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens is an excellent tool if you are after your style of photography or are trying out different styles to come to your own. For me, Zeiss lens design conveys a different “look” and “color” which is neither good or bad but different. For example, when I compare Zeiss lenses to Leica, I find that Zeiss has a more bluish tint which works better for nighttime photography for me because I like the neons and lights to have a touch of neutrality. Leica lenses, like the Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens, play beautifully with skin tone colors.
As a photographer, I don’t merely use one lens to tell a story. Depending on my assignment or project, I select a lens that conveys the mood I am after. Lenses whether they are Leica lens or Zeiss just means the difference between the rendition and character perhaps most importantly color.
If you are to have a sincere conversation with a seasoned photographer he/she might tell you that most often perfection of a lens nearly means nothing if you have not mastered the art of framing, composition, and principles of photography. Equally, he/she might recommend that you take a photography class or attend a photography workshop to hone your skills.
Developing your own style of photography is more about paying your dues and when you have “arrived” all the lenses become just instruments through which you shape your art. Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens then becomes a very capable instrument with which you can deliver results that can’t be achieved with other lenses.
I feel that the best way to compare lenses is to begin with the obvious facts. Yes, Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens is a triumphant achievement in the field of optics that was previously believed by many to be impossible to attain. When I place it on my Leica M10 camera and photograph with it, I see the bokeh and the color, and I am amazed at the beauty of the photographs.
If I am photographing a building, I see how the lines are straight, a perfection achieved by the superb optical design of Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens. When I am taking a portrait, I see the natural rendition of skin tones and the bokeh melting into the background.
It is for all these qualities and more; I love my Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens. I use it probably more than any of my other Leica lenses, save Leica Summilux-M 75mm f/1.4. If I could afford only one lens, I would probably choose Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens first.
Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens, however, is a charmer something very familiar like the smell of your childhood home, the baked bread of your mother or the scent of a lover. I admire the photographs taken with the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens for their “timeless” beauty, for the imperfection of clinical sharpness at wide open aperture.
It is a lens design that dates back to 1930’s. Zeiss knows that this lens has something special that other lenses can’t deliver despite their advanced design. For example, Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens will have a small focus shift issue if you are photographing at a distance of say 1 meter (4 feet) but for a professional who knows how to use this lens, it is almost irreplaceable.
Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens is an APO lens which stands for “apochromatic” which basically means that it is lens is corrected for apochromatic issues. Vignetting is just two stops away from disappearing as you turn the aperture dial which allows perhaps the most natural rendition of detail and contrast in skin tones. Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens, on the other hand, is only playing catch up game if you are pixel dicing images.
Going Back in History
What is often not told when it comes to lenses is that most lenses are far from being perfect, especially older ones. In the era of Dr.Mandler, Leica lenses were hand-ground with minor differences that came from the involvement of human hand. As I see it, just like a handcrafted Japanese samurai sword, the touch of a master craftsman add to the value and the character of the masterpiece.
It is important to remember that Cartier-Bresson did not have the most “correct” of lenses to capture his legendary photographs nor did Steve McCurry who never honestly bother with the specifications of his lenses but more so in the way they rendered images.
Most professionals shoot photographs using with what they have developed a relationship with, it is often the lens with the camera body being upgraded over the years. Some photographers like Bill Cunnigham use the same lens and camera for decades without deviating from their set modus operandi.
Today, as photographers our tools are better than ever. Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens is my choice of today’s technology because it represents my style of photography. It will not be the lens of choice for everyone because each photographer has a preference for a particular focal length, speed even may choose to use a different version of the same lens. For example, I own two Leica Noctilux-M 50mm lenses; one from Dr.Mandler’s era with a maximum aperture of f/1 and one that is the latest with f/0.95 designed by Peter Karbe.
They are entirely different lenses and serve my needs on various projects.
If it comes to comparing image quality from lenses, I suggest we look into Ansel Adams photographs shot on large format film. I think they speak for themselves. The point I am trying to make here is lenses, and the choice of medium and the lens whether it is a 35mm film, medium format digital or a large format plate or a wide angle or a telephoto lens are as important as the photographer who uses them. While having a Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens will not make you a better photographer it may help you to appreciate the beauty of the images that can be achieved with this lens. It can also serve as an instrument with which you can craft your version of your story.
I have used Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens and Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens on many of my travels and project. They both have a place in my arsenal of instruments. I love using Leica lenses because of their color which from a professional point of view is a matter not measured by cents and dollars but by the appeal of the photographs.
Each lens represents a tool with which I choose to create my idea of photography as an art form. An art form that requires artistic expression even if you are photographing the most mundane subject matters or your family and children or flowers and trees. For example, last summer when I was in Berlin deliver one of my photography workshops, I saw an elderly couple seated on a bench. I thought about how I would envision them in a frame; I reached for my Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens because I wanted to a touch of nostalgia, an appearance of the film era, a rendition that captured the passage of time.
Later that summer, when I was in Paris, again, for one of my photography workshops, I took our participants to Notre Dame on the banks of Seine river. This time, I wanted to capture the architectural magnificence of this historic monument, I mounted my trusted Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens to deliver the accuracy and detail I wanted in my photographs.
In a way comparing Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens to Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens is like comparing a hand-built Shelby Cobra to a modern day Mercedes SL500. They are both sports cars but have a very different appeal for their owners. You see even the design of these two lenses differ, for example, Leica uses eight elements in five groups in its design while Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens has six elements in 4 groups. Leica lens uses eleven aperture blades, and Zeiss has ten blades, one weighs in at 300 grams, the other mere 250 grams.
They are built differently but share common elements like robust design that is meant to last more than a few lifetimes with proper care. Zeiss comes with the option to have the lens optimized at f/1.5 if you prefer to not use it at factory optimized setting of f/2.8 because Zeiss engineers understand that the person who will use this Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens will most likely shoot portraits with the aperture wide open.
I have used both lenses on different assignments, rarely have I taken both on a project because they are for all practical purposes different in their renditioning of images. I have used Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens for photographing portraits models for magazines and fashion projects, in other occasions its accuracy served me well in capturing architectural photographs.
Fifty millimeter is such a versatile focal length that it is one of my favorite focal lengths for street photography. The images that I captured with my Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens and Leica M240 camera combination just amaze me. My photographs were stunningly sharpness, and accurate from center to the corner, no smudgy edges, no vignetting, detailed rendering across the frame. I have used many lenses, but nothing genuinely can compete for the unique quality that Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens can muster in creating stunning visuals.
Then, there is my Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens. I love this lens as well because it lends a timeless quality to my photographs which I could not achieve with other lenses even with manipulations in Photoshop or Lightroom. For one, there is a dreamy bokeh that is so unique that can be called the “Zeiss Sonnar look,” and it does not compare with today’s lenses but brings its unique rendition to each image.
There are fast lenses, even faster lenses than Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens like Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 lens which have an exceptional bokeh character. If you were to look at photographs taken with Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens, you could immediately notice the subtle differences. I believe their secrets lay in Zeiss design that dates back to the days of glamour photos of Hollywood which a softer edge to portraits and a glow to highlights.
Have you heard of Hurrell? If you have not, you should look him up and see how he photographed to bring the best features of Hollywood stars. For me, those images are still unsurpassed in timeless portrait photography. When I use a Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens, I envision the principles that make photographs timeless. Obviously, Zeiss has improved on the original design with special coatings to drive down the flares and chromatic aberrations, but the spirit of the lens remains intact, it is a timeless portrait lens.
Today with the prices of medium format cameras and lenses coming down fast, many photographers are taking the leap to switch to medium format cameras. I can understand the appeal of using medium format cameras, and I use my Leica S camera (medium format) in my professional work as well. Yet, time and time again I am seeing photographs taken with medium format lenses that show the pores of the subject’s hands and face clearly reducing the appeal of the images.
Portrait photography is often more about achieving a pleasing image rather than a very accurate, detailed one. They reflect a different sentiment, one that I would use my Leica S camera with a wide aperture to render a sense of softness to skin tones.
If I didn’t use my Leica S camera, my choice of lens would be Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens with a Leica M240 camera for capturing a young person’s portrait. Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 will be the choice for on an older person or if I was attempting to add a sense of nostalgia to the photographs.
Both Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens and Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens are compact enough that I can carry it all day in my camera bag. I plan on taking these two lenses for my photography project to Cuba. I know that with its architecture and people Cuba will be an ideal place to use my Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens as it will those view my photographs to connect with the “spirit” of the country and its people.
Another important reason, I am taking my Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens for photographing landscape and architecture is my Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 lens is a very heavy lens. I like to travel light and use every lens I bring on my travels.
Cuba with its old buildings and cars is the perfect backdrop for a trip back in time; I am taking my Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens with me only weighing 250 grams. I am looking for that “Zeiss Sonnar look” in the bokeh of my photographs when I photograph its people.
When you go out to photograph with your choice of lens, do your homework, you should know what you are aiming for before you step out your door. Knowing beforehand the images you are after will require examining the location, lighting, possible angles of photographing, of course, subject matter.
It takes passion and commitment to be a good photographer and time to perfect your art which means you must have a goal in your photographs.
Ask yourself, which lens would best serve my purpose for this project?
Once you have decided on the lens, take only that lens, not a bag of lenses.
I believe that having a good camera and lenses are an essential part of photography. We use them as artists’ use paint brushes and paints. We tell stories with our photographs as authors do with their words.
Leica cameras and lenses have been through the decades of testing in wars, travels, in the hands of professionals, this is why they deliver results. For that, we must all be grateful; we don’t have to test our equipment to know they will perform under the most challenging circumstances. Some of the most legendary photographers have used them. Leica camera has improved on their designs through the passage of time.
Today, many lens companies attempt to duplicate Leica’s lens characteristics and quality. Today, we are bombarded with choices of lenses and cameras from all sides. I suggest you buy one or two good lenses and use them for a long time, become familiar with their character, limitations and know where they excel.
Remember, technology has placed a camera in the hands of every teenager and adult in the form of a smartphone. You can give everyone a smartphone with a camera, but you can’t make them an artist. Photography is an art form that requires more than just snapping images and sharing them on social platforms. Photography requires sacrifice, creativity, dedication, mastery of instruments and understanding of photography principles.
If one day you look upon an image from an amateur and say “wow, what a great photograph”, remember, everyone can have a “lucky shot, ” but only a professional can capture good photographs on a consistent basis. This is not a coincidence. Consistency is what differentiates good from bad, average from excellent, smartphone snappers from photographers. This also should be the reason why you are investing in cameras and lenses because you want to take better photographs than the average person.
It would fair to say that Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 APO lens is not for everyone. It may be an expensive lens, but you are paying for quality. You are getting one of the best lenses in the world.
My recommendation is if you can afford it, please, buy it because it will give you an instrument with which you can craft your photography. One lens that you will say it was an excellent decision to own knowing that you no longer have excuses for not taking better photographs.
If you are on a tight budget and like the look, a Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens delivers than you should definitely have this lens among your collection of lenses. It is very reasonably priced that will always fetch its value should you decide to sell it. Also, it is an excellent lens if you like the film era look in your photographs.
I have found that photographing in black and white (monochrome) is ideal for capturing street photographs in my travels. Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens is the lens you should buy if your choice of photography is black and white or referred portraits over landscapes and architecture.
All my photographs with Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens have a distinct look that can be considered a signature of this lens. It is a bargain at the price it sells. I believe Zeiss will eventually phase this lens out of production due to high production costs associated with manufacturing all-metal body and high-quality optics.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I look forward to your comments and requests to review other lenses and cameras. I also would like to thank the person who has taken my workshops in the past that has asked me to compare these two lenses.
I always invite everyone who wants to learn about photography and lenses to be open in asking questions, that is the best way to learn.
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