I was just asked what is my favorite Leica lens. The answer is not as straight forward as it seems. The response that is so often heard is “the one that I have with me”. But that is such a disingenuous response that it should be banned from ever being used. Just like my favorite camera is the one I have with me.
If I go through my portfolio of images taken with my Leica cameras over the years the 35mm Summicron and the 50mm Summicron both are represented pretty evenly. I have owned the 35mm Summicron the longest. It was not my first Leica lens though. That honor would go to a 50mm Dual Range Summicron that was mounted on my first M3. That was a sweet lens. I have always like the B&W images from that lens but never was comfortable with the color images that it produced. Also the combination of M3 and 50mm DR lens made for a heavy little package. And I never bonded with the viewfinder that the M3 has. It is a 0.93x magnification and it never felt correct to me. My Later M6 had a 0.72x viewfinder and it felt more natural to me. I sold this lens before I got a M6 so sadly I never got to use that combination.
I own a 50mm 1.0 Noctilux and I love the images that I get with it. In my opinion the 1.0 Noctilux is a more creative lens than the Noctilux 0.95 version. The newer lens is quite a bit sharper and the image has less vignetting and has a cooler tone than the 1.0 version. In spite of this I like the older 1.0 version. I like the warmer image and the film look that the lens gives. Its not hard to dislike the long focus throw that the lens has. It is not a close-up lens but it seems to cover a lot of barrel rotation from middle distant to long distant subjects. Since purchasing the Leica Visoflex attachment this lens has been getting a lot more use. My amount of in-focus images has gone way up with the use of the Visoflex. All in all the lens is just okay when stopped down, so I only use it wide open mostly with a neutral density filter. It’s true, you only shoot a Noctilux wide open and that is not my preference for all of my photography.
For many years the 35mm Summicron was my go to lens. I really like the colors and contrast with this lens. It is the version IV of the lens. I bought the newer ASPH version but have since gone back to the older version. I just like the look better. It is subtle but I think it has better bokeh also. Being a wide-angle I usually use it stopped down so that there is less need for focusing. I like the photos from the golden age of Leica photography (1950’s to 1960’s) and the images have deeper focus in those days. The reason that this lens is not my favorite is that over the last 10 years my work has shifted more towards isolating a subject in a scene and less towards filling the frame with subject relationships.
The 50mm Summicron is a fantastic lens with no down sides. Great color and sharpness that all other 50mm lenses have been compared to since it was introduced. It’s small size on a Leica makes it a perfect carry around kit. Like I said earlier I prefer to pick my subject out of a scene and the 50mm is the way to do this. With a 35mm sometimes things get cluttered and busy. That is not to say that using a 50mm is the only way to shoot all scenes, use whatever lens is appropriate. it’s just that I like building a scene in the 50mm window. I find it easier to find stronger compositions with a selective eye. Also I find that I am shooting more vertical compositions and with a 35mm turned vertically more unnecessary objects come into the frame be it to much sky or foreground.
Now we come to my favorite lens. That is the Leica 50mm 1.4 Summilux. I have used the Summilux on and off over the years but have never bonded with it until the last couple of years. First I like the built-in lens shade that can be tucked in when not in use. My Summicron shade has to be removed and tucked into the pocket. The fast that the lens barrel is thicker is also a bonus because I feel I have more contact with the lens when focusing. With the Summicron I feel like I am focusing with my finger tips and I feel that I’m not holding the camera as steady is I could. The Summilux also has a floating element that reduces the problem with focus shift that the M cameras sometime have a problem with so I get sharper images. The Summilux seems to balance the camera better when holding it in the hand.
So the Leica 50mm 1.4 Summilux is my favorite lens. But to be fair I do love shooting with all of my 50mm lenses. The Summicron these days tends to stay on my M6 for film shooting. I do like to change up my lenses from time to time. It is like an artist using different brushes to get different effects. Sometimes I go out with one camera and one lens. Sometimes it is multiple cameras and multiple lenses. Getting the image is what counts the most.