You’ve decided to try a Leica rangefinder but choosing which Leica lens to buy is both intimidating and confusing. So here is a list of the best lenses that Leica makes and reasons to help you choose which one you should purchase. The lenses are in no particular order. I’m not reviewing non Leica lenses because that would be an entirely different review process. I will say I have used some of the other brands and I always go back to the red dot.
1. Leica 35mm 2.0 Summicron-M ASPH
I have been told by various sources over the years that the 35mm Summicron is the best selling lens that Leica makes. I have owned various versions over the years and it has never failed to impress me with its optical performance. It is so small that combined with a Leica M camera the kit can fit in most men’s jacket pockets. The lens is very sharp wide open and only gets sharper until about f5.6 where it achieves top performance. Low vignetting and excellent color fidelity. Being a wide-angle it is more forgiving for beginning rangefinder users when it comes to focusing. An all around excellent choice.
2. Leica 50mm 2.0 Summicron-M ASPH
Since it’s introduction the 50mm 2.0 Summicron is the standard lens that all others are compared against. Small and fast but exceptionally sharp wide open and obtains it’s highest optical performance at f5.6. This was the first lens that I used when I started with a Leica M4 when I was in the photography program that I attended. The school required everyone to buy a Nikon camera but had Leica’s available to be checked out from the equipment cage. I used the camera so much they stopped having me sign for it and just gave it to me whenever I asked for the kit. I just love this lens.
3. Leica 35mm 1.4 Summilux-M ASPH
In the 1960’s this was the go to lens for a photojournalist. Even if the photographer shot with a SLR most had Leica with this lens around their neck or in the bag to be grabbed when needed. This lens has always great but it really became much better when the current version was redesigned with the addition of a floating element. The close focusing ability was much improved. This lens is a bit heavier than the 2.0 Summicron but that is not that big of a deal because it is still so much smaller that anything that is designed for today’s DSLR cameras. Use it wide open and get that famous Leica “Look”.
4. Leica 50mm 1.4 Summilux-M ASPH
My personal favorite Leica Lens. I could go on all day on how much I love this lens. Sharp. Excellent color. Bokeh. Contrast. It is a little larger and heavier than the 2.0 Summicron but that is a small price to pay when reviewing the results from this lens. Leica says shoot this lens wide open because that is the way it was designed to be used. It is that good. Stopped down one stop and it is hard to tell the difference between this lens and the Summicron. This is my desert island lens.
5. Leica 28mm 2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH
When most people think Leica the 35mm and 50mm lenses are what most people think of first. But this is a very good lens. Great for shooting groups of people when street shooting. Stop down to f8, focus to 8 feet and point and shoot. Everything is in focus. True point and shoot. Leica makes both a f2.0 and a f1.4 lens for 28mm and they are good but the are larger and heavier. Just get the f2.8 version. This lens seems to be popular with people coming to Leica from Smartphones because of the 28mm focal length that they have grown accustomed to using. A 28mm f2.8 and a 75mm f2.0 make a great 2 lens combo if you like the 28mm focal length.
6. Leica 21mm 3.4 Super-Elmar-M
This lens is just so sharp to the edges that it surprises most users when they zoom in in Lightroom. Great lens for museums and large church interiors. The 1.4 version of this lens is impressive to look at but I’m not overwhelmed with the image quality. It is slower than the standard lenses so bump your ISO a little. This lens handles flare very well for a wide-angle so it can handle that beautiful light streaming through stained glass windows. Not the first choice for a Leica lens but when you need it, you NEED it. An optical viewfinder or Visoflex is need to use this lens.
7. Leica 50mm 0.95 Noctilux-M
A lens like no other. Just shoot wide open with this lens once and you will be hooked. The bokeh is just unreal. Depth of field is very narrow at any distance so be prepared to take more images than normal. I think the Leica Visoflex should come with this lens. It will dramatically increase the amount of keepers you will get because of the focus assist. It is heavy, not my ideal carry all day lens. It is expensive. But you get images that are so unique that they really stand out from your other work. Great portrait lens. Their should be all kinds of lens aberrations with this lens but Leica has done an incredible job with this lens. Stopping down with this lens and most are hard pressed to see the difference between this lens and the Summicron. It is an engineering marvel.
8. Leica 75mm 2.0 Summicron-M ASPH
Most Leica users think that 50mm is the longest focal length that they will use on a Leica M but if you are into portraits the 75mm Summicron is just an incredible lens. It is one of the newer designs and the image is more modern than the 75mm 1.4 most associate with this focal length. The first time I shot with this lens when I reviewed the images I just said one word, Wow. Sharp, Sharp, Sharp. The color rendition is very close to the 50mm APO. 75mm has just enough compression to make portraits look more natural but is still easy enough to focus unlike the 90mm Summicron which is hard to get in focus. Balance on the body is quite natural and the lens is not much larger than a 50mm.
9. Leica 50mm 2.0 Summicron-M APO
When you get to a certain point in lens design in is hard to get just that little bit more of image quality. The 50mm 2.0 Summicron APO is that lens. Leica built this lens just to prove that it could be done. Zoom in on these images in Lightroom and be prepared to be amazed. If you have proper technique the difference between this lens and any other is easy to see. The detail this lens brings out is amazing. Details that are just visible in other lenses are well defined with the APO lens. This lens is twice the price of the outstanding 50mm Summilux and you have to be really dedicated to justifying the price difference but this list is the 10 best Leica Lenses so it has to be on the list.
10. Leica 24mm 3.8 Elmar-M
This is a criminally underrated lens. It is also a very useful focal length. On my Nikon system I have 5 lenses that are 24mm or have 24mm in the zoom range. Some people think that the speed of the lens indicates the quality of the image. There is no correlation to speed and quality. This lens is sharp edge to edge. Nice contrast and micro contrast that is well balanced. When sharpened the images hold up very well. Reasonable price for a Leica lens. Small and lightweight. Another lens that needs either an optical viewfinder or Visoflex to be used.