Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. review

Leica's Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. is an insanely sharp lens, but its top-notch performance comes at a price.
Photo of Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH.

The Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. ($3,995 list) is a lens against which others are judged. It’s got a fast f/1.4 aperture for available-light shooting, and is extremely sharp from edge to edge even when pushed to the maximum aperture. The lens is compatible with M-mount rangefinder cameras from Leica, Voigtlander, and others. It can also be mounted on Sony NEX, Fujifilm X, and Micro Four Thirds compact interchangeable lens cameras via an adapter. 

Rangefinder lenses are typically smaller than those designed for SLRs. This 50mm f/1.4 measures 2.1 by 2.1 inches (HD), but it’s a bit heavy at 11.8 ounces. The barrel is entirely made of metal—the only plastic is the red dot that shows you where to align the lens when mounting it. The lens takes 46mm filters and has a built-in telescoping hood. Like all M-mount lenses it is manual focus only; its minimum focus distance is 0.7 meter. Like other modern Leica lenses, there is a finger-hold attached to the focus ring for more comfortable use.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the lens when paired with the Leica M Monochrom. At every tested aperture, results were better than the 1,800 lines per picture height required for a sharp photo. The lens hit 2,170 lines at f/1.4 using a center-weighted testing method, and was even more impressively over 1,800 lines at the edges of our test chart. Stopping down to f/2 boosted the score to 2,301 lines and it crossed the 3,000-line mark at f/4, where it hit 3,238 lines. By the time we got to f/8, the resolution was 3,680 lines. Distortion, which often shows up in 50mm f/1.4 designs, is absolutely negligible in this lens. Even our Editors’ Choice Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G  shows 1.6 percent barrel distortion.

The Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. delivers amazing sharpness at every aperture. Its out-of-focus rendering is lovely and it the shallow depth of field you get at wider apertures separates your subject from the background. Yes, it’s expensive—but that’s true of any new gear with the Leica name on it. If you’re willing to pay, the performance that the Summilux delivers will not disappoint.

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Verdict
Leica's Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. is an insanely sharp lens, but its top-notch performance comes at a price.
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