Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2

 

Introduction

Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 was one of the three 35mm lenses manufactured by the company for its range of SLR cameras. I say was because the company discontinued one of the models - Elmarit-R 35mm f/2.8, in mid 1990s. The other 35mm version, Summilux-R 35mm f/1.4 is still being manufactured though. Summicron-R 35mm f/2 was first introduced in 1970 and went through three revisions. The original design had a Series 7 filter thread, while the second edition was offered in E55 as well as Series 7 variations. The third and last edition was released in 1997 and was available only with ROM contacts. The lens reviewed here is a second generation variant with 3 cams.

The optical construction of the lens is made of 6 elements in 6 groups. Build quality is similar to pretty much all other Leica lenses, meaning that the lens is superbly built. Lens barrel, aperture ring, focusing ring and even built-in lens hood are all metal. The focus ring moves very smoothly and the aperture ring is snappy with no sense of play (the aperture ring moves in half f-stop increments). I can't say that the lens is very compact or light - its slower cousin Elmarit-R 35mm f/2.8 is smaller and lighter and some other lenses (most notably ones from Olympus OM series) are even more compact, but Summicron-R 35mm f/2 is certainly not a bulky heavyweight either. The lens measures 54 x 66mm (2.1 x 2.6in) and weighs 420g (15oz), although the lens extends slightly during focusing towards closeup. Due to its all metal construction, the lens looks pretty sturdy, practically ready to withstand a major hit or even drop (not that I recommend trying it). The minimum focusing distance is 30cm (12in) and the minimum supported aperture is f/16. The lens accepts 55mm screw-in type filters.

Image

Like all Leica SLR lenses, Summicron-R 35mm f/2 was designed for traditional 35mm cameras. Hence when used on APS-C type cameras with 1.6x crop sensors its field of view is equivalent to that of a 56mm lens on a full frame camera. The lens can be easily adapted to a number of alternative mount systems, including Canon EOS cameras and Micro Four Thirds cameras. Within the scope of this review, the lens was first tested on an APS-C type Canon 400D and FF type Canon 5D and later retested on a FF Canon 5DMk2.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 6 elements in 6 groups
Angular Field 64 degrees
Minimum Focus 30cm/12in
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2-f/16, manual
Filter Size 55mm
Lens Hood Built-in metal
Weight 430g/15oz
Dimensions 54x66mm/2.1x2.6"
Lens Case N/A

 

Handling

As mentioned in the intro section, Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 is not a particularly large lens, but its weight is quite substantial for its size, thanks to the all metal construction. The lens balances well on cameras - on 5D and 5DMk2 the wight is distributed towards the base of the camera, not towards the front of the lens, while on smaller 400D the weight sits right at the base of the lens.

If you are using an AF confirmation adapter with Summicron, be aware of a couple of common limitations. Firstly, your camera's AF system would give up around f/5.6 under normal lightning conditions and at even wider apertures in dimly lit environments. As you stop down the lens, the iris of the lens closes up and the amount of light getting in is simply insuficient for the AF to work adequately. Secondly. your camera's metering system would err and therefore would require you to compensate for. This is common to pretty much all adapted lenses, not only Summicron - at wider apertures your shots will be underexposed by about half f-stop, while at smaller apertures they will be over-exposed by one to one and a half f-stops.

Unlike most wide-angles, Summicron offers a fairly long focusing thrust - about 200 degrees, with the bulk of spacing (~180 degrees of rotation) from the minimum focusing to 1m. The focusing ring actually goes a little bit beyond the minimum marking of 30cm to allow for slight close-focus correction. 30cm minimum focusing seems to be the standard for most fast wide angles, as most 35mm primes I have seen from Canon, Nikon, Carl Zeiss focus down to that distance, but Summicron, by far has the longest focusing thrust. which allows for pretty accurate focusing, partocularly at close distances.

I found focusing Summicron to be  of a mixed bag. Generally speaking, I find manual focusing wide angles to be much harder then normal or telephotos simply because they don't bring up the subject as closely. Summicron is very bright at f/2 and so focusing it at close distances is a breathe. Anything beyond ~2m and I need an AF confirmation to get me into the right zone, at which point I often use focus bracketing to compensate for any potential back or front focusing (a habit I developed to increase my keep rate). Alternatively, I set the lens to hyper-focal distance using the engraved DOF scale - my favorite setting on Summicron is f/11, which gives me a working range of 1.5m to the infinity, and then use the combo as an uber-compact.

 


Resolution

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for both types of cameras.

 

Leica Summicro-R 35mm f/2 showed pretty solid overall performance and performed more or less consistently on different cameras used in the tests. Based on the MTF50 charts below, the lens exhibits outstanding center performance throughout the aperture range and can handle low and high resolution sensors quite adequately. The main difference is at the borders, specifically at wider apertures, where the lens struggles to squeeze out the maximum resolution. f/2 seems to be the weakest point on both APS-C as well as FF cameras, but while f/2.8 brings up enough detail on APS-C sized 400D and lower resolution 5D, 5DMk2 puts much more stress on the lens and so f/2.8 does not recover as well on this camera. From f/4 quality the lens produces very good results across all camera bodies.

Canon 400D (10Mp)

Canon 5D (12Mp)

Canon 5DMk2 (21Mp)

 

Interestingly, when I look at the chart crops that compare image corners at f/2 and f/8,I can't see that much of difference in quality between images made with a 10Mp 400D and 12Mp 5D. There is a little bit of difference between f/2 and f/8 obviously, but both cameras crank out very similar results at f/2. On the other hand, the 21Mp Canon 5DMl2 clearly shows softer results at f/2, not only compared to f/8 taken with the same camera, but also to f/2 taken with the lower resolution bodies. I'd expect this kind of softness to show up in real life results, which we will examine below.

 

Canon 400D (10Mp)

Canon 5D (12Mp)

Canon 5DMk2 (21Mp)

 

The crops below demonstrate what you can expect from the lens in real life situation and under normal lightning conditions. All shots were made with a 21Mp Canon 5DMk2, using focus bracketing around infinity. As expected, center resolution is superb and I can't see any significant difference between f/2 and f/8 results. Border results however do show difference, with f/2 crops showing noticeable softness in both left and right corners of the image. The drop in detail, while unfortunate, is likely going to be tolerable to many users - applying a little bit of sharpening improves results, making the quality variance between the image center and borders less drastic.

At this point, an interesting question to ask is whether the softness seen around image corners is due to field curvature or due to the optical formula itself. Since I took a set of focus bracketed shots to test the lens for image quality, I also managed to compare results with varied focusing position. Basically, I was hoping to find two sets of images shot at f/2 with one showing best resolution in the center and the other one showing best resolution around corners. On the other hand, if the image with best resolution in the center was also the image with best resolution around corners, then field curvature did not contribute anything significant degradation in quality. After staring at two dozen or so bracketed pictures I can safely say that if Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 does have field curvature, it is so minimal that it does not affect visual image quality significantly.

 

Center

f/2, Canon 5DMk2

f/8, Canon 5DMk2

L.Corner

f/2, Canon 5DMk2

f/8, Canon 5DMk2

R.Corner

f/2, Canon 5DMk2

f/8, Canon 5DMk2


Color Reproduction

Chromatic aberration (lateral) was moderate to low with Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2. Center CA was benign on all cameras used for testing. Border CA was significantly higher, on average hitting 1px on all cameras at f/2 and then gradually dropping towards more manageable levels by f/4 and beyond. In practical terms, this means that you may find some CA at wider apertures, but not consistently so. Even with the lateral CA present, the levels are unlikely to cause major problems and therefore requiring extensive color correction. The lens also showed minor degree of axial (longitudinal) chromatic aberration at f/2, which we will discuss in the DOF section. For a visual example, check out the picture of a blooming tree in the sample gallery and note white coronas around flowers against darker background.

Canon 400D (10Mp)

Canon 5D (12Mp)

Canon 5DMk2 (21Mp)

 

Other then some color fringing around high contrast areas, Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 showed good color reproduction. Palette remained well saturated with colors staying vibrant and spunky, although one notable exception was wider apertures and close focus, which we will discuss in the next section. Images carried good amount of global contrast. Tonal reproduction was fairly good from f/4 on and I was consistently surprised at how much detail the lens managed to squeeze into its RAW files - you just need to know how to bring that detail up in post-processing, however at f/2, lower resolution seemed to intefere and compressed micro-contrast a little bit particularly around corners.

I can't say that the results I get from Summicron-R 35mm f/2 are unique and I'd rate them as A or A- if you want to nitpick on the issue of chromatic aberration. Combination of high center resolution, good tonal reproduction and color can give you very lively images. You might be able to get a nice semi-pop (is that really a word?) to your subject once in a while if you know what you're doing, but generally, I don't feel that getting a nice 3D impression is as easy as with say Summilux-R 80mm f/1.4 or some of the Zeiss lenses like Planar T* 100mm. But don't despair - even without the unique 3D-ness, your images will not look flat, that's for sure.


DOF & Bokeh

I discussed this elsewhere, but generally speaking, I don't like using wide-angles when shooting for scenery that requries good levels of separation between the foreground and background. It's not that it is impossible to get a good DOF with wide-angles, it's just too much trouble - you need to get really, really close to the subject for the optical properties to kick in and render out of focus areas into something that can be called bokeh (I'm exagerrating a little bit here, but you get the point). And so if 'get into your face' scenario is not an option for you, then you should not expect any miracles from Summicron-R 35mm f/2. But let's walk through this one step at a time.

To begin, here is the customary ruler shot, done at f/2 and 30cm. The lens does show a fairly thin DOF here. Surprised? You should not be, since the lens is so close to the subject. Transitions into OOF are fast and furious so to speak, meaning that the loss of detail is significant even with small movement away from the plane of focus. Note however, that the image is not terribly sharp to begin with, even dead in the center where it is focused. Also note color fringing around the necklace clip, which is slightly out of focus - the longitudinal chromatic aberration is minimal, but seems to be standard at f/2 in most cases.

 

ISO 400, 1/200, f/2, 35mm (Canon 5DMk2)

 

Moving on to the real-life scenario. The two shots below were also made at close to the minimum focusing distance, to demonstrate how the lens renders bokeh under normal circumstances. The scenario here is close to ideal - a static object to focus on and distant background, which should get almost completely blurred (recall that due to the optical properties, the farther away the background is, the heavier it will be blurred). And so at f/2, Summicron  renders the background into an almost-shapeless mast. There's only a hint to the building and trees, everything else lost any definition. There's a nice feel of separation here and the highlights are rendered quite uniformly and I'd even say pleasantly. But, stop down the lens to f/8 and most definition around background is back. The objects are still too coarse and you cannot distinguish small details, but you can clearly see most shapes. Highlights are still uniform, but are no longer as pleasant, more neutral I'd say.

DOF @ 0.35m

ISO 100, 1/3200, f/2, 35mm (Canon 5DMk2)

ISO 100, 1/160, f/8, 35mm (Canon 5DMk2)

 

However, once you move away from the subject or change the distance to the background, you would end up with a completely different rendering in OOF areas. The image below was taken also at f/2, but the distance to the subject in focus is about 60cm and the background objects are also located at much closer distance then what we've seen in the pictures above. The first thing to note is that resolution up close is not on par with what you can get at longer focusing distances (i.e. infinity) - it's not bad, to be precise, but not jaw dropping either. Not a critical item IMO. The background rendering is also different - there is not enough blur here to render the OOF area significantly and so you can easily distinguish all objects. OOF highlights still retain their neutral coloring and edging, and there are no visible double contouring around OOF objects. But the overall results are not particularly special, and that's what I meant when saying that it takes an effort to bring up the best in DOF with wide angles - Summicron-R 35mm not being an exception here. Bottom line is that the lens offers a very short minimum focusing distance and so if you manage to take advantage of it in your sessions, then by all means, you can get a smooth and in many cases pleasantly looking bokeh.

 

ISO 400, 1/100, f/2, 35mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 400, 1/100, f/2, 35mm (Canon 5D)

 

 

 


 

Flare

When used in challanging lightning conditions, the lens fell prone to some flare. The shots below demonstrate what can happen in the worst possible case, when the sun is positioned right outside of the picture frame and sun rays hit the front element at about 60 degrees. Wide open or stopped down, Summicron shows flare, ghosting, color shifts and reduced contrast, basically the full enchilada of artifacts that can exhist. Not particularly encouraging until you remember that the lens has a built-in lens hood. And so when you find yourself shooting in the direction of the sun or other strong light source, just pop out the lens hood and it should help you reduce flare quite significantly. Better yet, recompose and don't shoot in the direction of the sun...

 

 

ISO 100, 1/640, f/2, 35mm (Canon 5DMk2)

ISO 100, 1/50, f/8, 35mm (Canon 5DMk2)

 

 

Vignetting

Like most wide angles, Summicron-R 35mm f2 shows some light falloff, the extent of which actually highly depends on the camera used. On APS-C type cameras with smaller sensors, the light falloff is quite minimal, even at its widest aperture setting. On the other hand, the lens shows quite a noticeable vignetting on full frame bodies, where light falloff reached ~1.2EV at f/2 and then continuously drops with stopped aperture.


 

If you're shooting a light colored scenery, for example a landscape with clear blue skies, you will notice visible darkening around corners. While vignetting might not be a big issue for some users, those of you who want to get rid of it, either do that during post-processing or by setting your in-camera vignetting correction to moderate level.

 

Vignetting @ f/2 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (35mm)
Vignetting @ f/2 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (35mm)

 

Distortion

For a wide angle prime, Summicron-R 35mm f/2 showed fairly low level of distortion. At ~0.8% barrel distortion will not be visible in most real life scenarios and so should not require any correction during post-processing.

 

 


Alternatives

As mentioned earlier, currently Leica offers two 35mm lenses in its lineup - Summicron-R 35mm f/2 reviewed here and Summilux-R 35mm f/1.4. The latter lens cannot be easily adopted to Canon mount due to its protruding back hitting the mirror box. In addition to that, Leica also offers Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 (a review of the first generation Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8) as well as the ultra-wide Elmarit-R 19mm f/2.8 (the latest version of which is also not easily adaptable to Canon cameras). All lenses are obviously fully manual lenses designed to fit Leica's SLR system and sport superb build quality along with the usually sky-high prices. If you're looking for alternative lenses, you might as well expand your horizon and include lenses from Carl Zeiss in older, now discontinued, Contax/Yashica mount as well as new ZF/ZK lenses in Nikon AiS/Pentax K mounts. The C/Y mount lenses worth taking a look at include Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4, Distagon T* 35mm f/2.8, 'Hollywood' Distagon T* 28mm f/2 and Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8. The newly redesigned versions that might also be of interest include Distagon T* 35mm f/2 and Distagon T* 28/2 and Distagon T* 25mm f/2. Also, consider the now discontinued Carl Zeiss Jena MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 in M42 universal screw mount. For a side by side comparison of several 35mm lenses, including Summicron-R 35mm f/2 (E55), check out the 35mm Challenge.

 

Recommendation

Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2 E55 is a pretty solid lens with practically no glaring weaknesses. Resolution capabilities around borders at f/2 seems to be the only issue that might bother some people, but considering that majority of wide angle lenses show softness around borders at wider apertures, I don't think this should be held against the Summicron. Think about it this way - most wide angle lenses are not even as fast as Summicron show softness at even smaller aperture settings like f/2.8 or even f/4, where Summicron already delivers solid results. There is a little bit of color fringing and vignetting, both of which are not terribly surprising or alarming. And so all these issues seem to pale in compatison to once all positive characteristics of the lens are considered - build quality, good color, low distortion and so on and so forth. So all-in-all, this lens should remain on your short 'want one' lists.

 

Sample Images



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