When entering the world of Leica M cameras most people select the body, be it a M or MM monochrom , and usually a 50mm or 35mm lens to go with it. Cost usually dictates purchasing one lens at a time. But most Leica photographers that I have know have owned 3-4 lenses and not all of them Leica brand. Even though I have used a Leica lens at all of the focal lengths available I do not wish to carry a lens at each focal while walking around searching for images.
For many years the classic Leica M system was a 35mm and a 90mm kit. Most often the 35mm was the 1.4 summilux and the 90mm was a slower 2.8 lens. This is a great combination more most photographers as it gives you both a moderate wide-angle and a moderate telephoto. This combination is both lightweight and portable. I actually followed a different path and started with a 35mm 2.0 and a 50mm 2.0. I am much more of a wide angle person and I have always favorited portability over speed when it comes to lens selection. A few years ago I went through my library of work photos of over 300,00 digital images shot with Nikon cameras and over 85% were taken in the 35-50 range. These are documentary images so they also show how I have shot with Leica M style cameras.
Shooting styles have changed over the years. For a long time in photojournalism style of photography it was "f8 and be there" . Acceptable focus was the most important aspect of capturing an image. Since digital has taken over from film the practice of pixel peeping has taken over. In my opinion we have lots of sharp images with no emotion.
With that being said it is time to update what should be in a Leica M shooters bag. 35mm or 28mm. The 35mm focal length has a lot going for it. It is a small lens that gives little wide angle distortion. When the lens is pointed below or above the horizon the curvature that the lens produces is noticeable but doesn't dominate the image. At 28mm it is even more noticeable and at 24mm it is hard to ignore. A 24mm lens is great to have and is one of my favorite focal lengths but in my opinion is not a top choice when assembling a portable Leica M kit. The choice of 35mm vs 28mm can be difficult to make if you don't have years of experience. Yes 35mm is the classic focal length but the question is which fits your shooting style. Size and weight is similar for each focal length. The choice of maximum aperture is a little easier. Optically Leica lenses handle very well and are sharp out to the widest opening. Because wide angle have so much depth of field by design and narrow depth of field is in vogue I suggest the 35mm 1.4 summilux as the choice for a wide angle kit lens.
For a telephoto lens the choice is either a 75mm or a 90mm lens. For speed we get to choose between 2.0 and 2.4 apertures. The Leica M series is a camera that few would consider as an action or sports camera so telephotos are used mainly for portraits and scenery. Before investing in a telephoto for these cameras I recommend trying one at a dealer. With rangefinders the image size doesn't change in the viewfinder when you change lenses and composing and focusing with the rangefinder is challenging. As often the lens itself with attached hood can obstruct a significant part of the viewfinder and this can be frustrating for some users. I have always felt that the 90mm focal length is just to much of a hassel with a Leica M. I prefer the 75mm focal length. Great focal length for portraits. The 90mm compress the features of the face just a little to much for me for street portraits, the 75mm gives more of a 3D look to the face. As far as the aperture goes I prefer the slower lens. And by slower we are only talking about 1/2 of a stop. The new Leica 2.4 lenses are excellent, sharp and a vivid color saturation. So my choice for a telephoto Leica M lens is a 75mm 2.4 lens.
Remeber earlier when I said my beginning kit was a 35mm 2.0 and a 50mm 2.0. My next lens was the 50mm Noctilux. Yep, I own two 50mm lenses. it is a shame that so few people have actually used this lens. It produces images like no other lens. The look that this lens produces when shot wide open is so incredible that when you first see images with it you will not give it up. I am not much of a bokeh person but the images are mesmerizing. It's not about being able to shoot in low light levels as it is about creating a unique and compelling image. Yes the lens is heavy and difficult to focus, but that is a small price to pay for a look that no other lens by any manufacture can create. And remember that when you stop this lens down a couple of stops it is very sharp. My next choice for a Leica kit is the Leica Noctilux.
No I'm not done yet. So I have chosen a wide angle, a normal and telephoto lens. Next up is a focal length that really doesn't get used much but when you need it you really need it. Wide is nice, but sometimes you need really wide. That is when the 21mm focal length comes into play. For travel photography there is no better lens to take your images above the level of snapshots. The one place this focal length shines is in interiors, and the bigger the better. When photographing cathedrals in Europe this is the lens to have. Remember to shoot straight up, often this is the killer image. Leica sells two 21mm lenses. One has a maximum aperture of 1.4 and the other is 3.4. The 1.4 summilux is beautiful but for me is just tooooooo heavy. The 21mm 3.4 is just so sharp and has very true colors. Although the bag might be getting a little heavy, I recommend the Leica 21mm 3.4 wide angle lens.
Even though I have recommended a kit that contains a body and 4 lenses, this outfit will still weigh less than a pro level DSLR and 2.8 zoom lens. There will be no limitations with this kit and believe me you will really enjoy photographing with this set up and it will give you many years of happiness.