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Sharpness Comparison
© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Images   Analysis   Technik   Recommendations

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LEICA SUMMICRON 35mm f/2 8-element (1958-1969)


8-element (1958-1969). This sample: 1965. review coming.

LEICA SUMMICRON 35mm f/2 6-element (1969-1979)


6-element (1969-1979). This sample: 1970. review coming.

LEICA SUMMICRON-M 35mm f/2 7-element (1979-1996)



7-element (1979-1996). This sample: 1990. review coming.

LEICA SUMMICRON-M 35mm f/2 ASPH (1996-)


Aspherical (1996-today). This sample: 2001. full review.


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January 2011     LEICA Reviews    LEICA Lenses    All Reviews


Introduction         top

Intro   Images   Analysis   Technik   Recommendations

Let's shoot a sample representative of every 35mm LEICA SUMMICRON ever made under controlled conditions, and see what differences there really are. Let's no longer have to depend of folklore gathered at different times across the decades as to which is best; let's see for ourselves.

LEICA has made four different optical designs of 35mm SUMMICRON. There have been cosmetic variations of each lens design across the years to keep people rebuying the same lens, but only four different optical designs.

The 6-element 1969-1979 version had the diameter of some of its elements altered slightly to fit a different mount when it was offshored to Canada in 1971, but the optical design remains the same with the same performance.

Each lens sample performing here is MADE IN GERMANY. Many of the first three versions were offshored to Canada, but none were used in this test. They probably have the same performance, but those who chose the LEICA graciously leave offshored samples on the shelf (or unbid at eBay) for micro 4/3 or Voigtländer shooters. This is our charity.

The first two lenses were made in the Holy City of Wetzlar, while the last two come from Solms.

On most computer monitors at 100 DPI, these are small crops from what would be gallery-sized 52 x 35" (135 x 90cm) prints. At smaller print sizes, these differences will be much less obvious.

The synthetic reference vegetation, appearing as bare trees, was at the 200 meter position (660 feet). These images will subtend the same visual angle as the actual subject if you view these from about 1 meter on a 100 DPI monitor.

You may click any image to get to that lens' own detailed review. As of mid-January 2011, only the LEICA SUMMICRON-M 35mm f/2 ASPH has a full review. The other reviews are coming, and I will then circle back and re-write the LEICA SUMMICRON-M 35mm f/2 ASPH Review to include use on the LEICA M9.


Center Sharpness   corner

f/2, center              center: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6         corner: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6    f/8     top

SUMMICRON f/2 8-element SUMMICRON f/2 6-element


f/2.8, center           center: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6         corner: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6    f/8     top

SUMMICRON f/2 8-element SUMMICRON f/2 6-element


f/4, center              center: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6         corner: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6    f/8     top

SUMMICRON f/2 8-element SUMMICRON f/2 6-element


f/5.6, center           center: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6         corner: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6    f/8     top

SUMMICRON f/2 8-element SUMMICRON f/2 6-element


Corner Sharpness

f/2, corner              center: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6         corner: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6    f/8     top

SUMMICRON f/2 8-element SUMMICRON f/2 6-element


f/2.8, corner           center: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6         corner: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6    f/8     top

SUMMICRON f/2 8-element SUMMICRON f/2 6-element


f/4, corner              center: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6         corner: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6    f/8     top

SUMMICRON f/2 8-element SUMMICRON f/2 6-element


f/5.6, corner           center: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6         corner: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6    f/8     top

SUMMICRON f/2 8-element SUMMICRON f/2 6-element


f/8, corner              center: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6         corner: f/2    f/2.8    f/4    f/5.6    f/8     top

SUMMICRON f/2 8-element SUMMICRON f/2 6-element


Analysis         top

Intro   Images   Analysis   Technik   Recommendations


Look for yourself; this is why I share the samples above.


If anyone cares for how I see the results, here's how I see it:



They are pretty much the same in the center, except that the LEICA SUMMICRON 35mm f/2 (1958-1969, 8-element) has slightly lower contrast at f/2.

If you look really close, the original 1958-1969, 8-element LEICA SUMMICRON 35mm f/2 is the sharpest at moderate apertures. How about that!

While digital makes these things easy to see, on film, these differences are much more subtle. On film, the LEICA SUMMICRON 35mm f/2 (1958-1969, 8-element) looks spectacular shot even wide-open.

These lenses are so good that diffraction starts to take hold even at moderate apertures, so each one has its peak performance at a different large aperture. Depending on the aperture you choose, one or another might be slightly sharper under test range conditions. You'll never see any of this in actual pictures, and on film under test range conditions, they all look spectacular at every aperture.



These are the very top left pixels of a LEICA M9 full-frame camera.

The newest LEICA SUMMICRON-M 35mm f/2 ASPH is superior to all others.

Of the three spherical lenses, the LEICA SUMMICRON 35mm f/2 8-element (1958-1969) is the best at large apertures where it matters most, but not by much. At smaller apertures where the differences are less significant, the LEICA SUMMICRON-M 35mm f/2 7-element (1979-1996) is slightly better than the other three spherical lenses.


Technik         top

Intro   Images   Analysis   Technik   Recommendations

These images were shot with a LEICA M9 (mit firmware 1.138 ) on a tripod as actual (JPG) images, at the M9's default image settings. White Balance was fixed at 6,000K.

460 x 460 pixel samples were cropped from the full images in Photoshop CS5. No additional sharpening was added. Slight exposure variations were equalized with curves adjustment layers.

All of these lenses have light falloff in the corners. The corner images were therefore made with extra exposure compensation, and all were equalized to retain the same brightness in the corner to keep these comparisons valid.


Recommendations         top

Intro   Images   Analysis   Technik   Recommendations

This is the beauty of LEICA: all of these lenses offers spectacular sharpness. The reasons to select one or the other depend more on personal preference for other factors, like weight, color rendition, or if you need an infinity lock, or the extra viewfinder optics of the earliest lens for the LEICA M3.

Decades of a complete lack of valid comparison data has created all sorts of folklore about these lenses, but now that someone has been able to get all of them together for a shootout under controlled conditions, most of the previously imagined differences go away. When people shoot different lenses under different conditions, they usually interpret the differences as coming from the lenses, instead of from their varying test conditions.

They each shipped with different hoods in their day, however all of them share the same hood mount. Every one of the six different hoods offered over the decades works on every one of these lenses. The only catch is that the older lenses lack the notches to keep the newest rectangular hoods from rotating, but they still fit and work great.

The six hoods are the simple conical one from the 1950s, the reverse-conical vented 12 585 from the 1960s and 1970s, the series-VII-holding 12 504, the plastic 12 524 rectangular hood (1980s and 1990s) and today's 12 526 plastic rectangular hood. They all work on all these lenses.

All of these lenses are readily available at OC Camera and at eBay.


The ASPH (1996-today)

If you want to split hairs, you aren't probably a very good photographer, but the ASPH is the sharpest, especially when considering the corners.

The ASPH also has the most distortion, is the heaviest, and has an inferior 8-bladed diaphragm.

If you're worried about sharpness on digital, this new ASPH is the very best overall, but on film, the differences are largely invisible since these subtleties get lost in the grain.


The SUMMICRON-M (7-element, 1979-1996)

This is the lightest lens of these four. It's a swell lens, but sells used for the same price as used ASPH.

Its bokeh is the same as the rest, as I'll show shortly as soon as I can crunch the data (I've already returned all of these lenses back in December 2010).

This version picked up a false aura when a magazine article in 1997 (back when this was LEICA's newest SUMMICRON) claimed it had great bokeh, but that article was talking about bokeh at f/8, which is meaningless. Even at f/2, there isn't much out-of-focus with a 35mm lens, and as I've seen, this lens' bokeh is pretty crummy at f/2, as it is with all these four lenses.


The SUMMICRON (6-element, 1969-1979)

This is LEICA's least-loved SUMMICRON, however even in these looking-too-close tests, the 6-element lens from 1969-1979 works great.

If you're on a budget, these work 99% as well as the other SUMMICRONs, but people on a budget don't shoot the LEICA, which is why these are in so little demand.

The advantages of this lens is that it's lighter than all but the SUMMICRON-M (1979-1996), and has higher contrast at f/2 in the center than the previous 8-element version. It's a tiny, high-performance lens.


The SUMMICRON (8-element, 1958-1979)

This original SUMMICRON works great. In fact, it's the sharpest in the corners wide-open, except for the ASPH, and the sharpest in the center. At most apertures, it's actually the sharpest lens here! It has slightly less contrast on digital at f/2, but on film it looks spectacular at every aperture.

The other lenses have similar color rendition, however the B&W-optimized coatings of this version give it a very slightly more cyan cast than the others.

This first SUMMICRON comes both with or without viewfinder optimization optics as shown above.

Both versions work perfectly on every LEICA M today.

The only incompatibility is that the cheap (gelded) version, missing the two extra optical tubes, can't optimize the finder of the LEICA M3 by itself, so with it you'll need to use a shoe-mounted 35mm finder with the LEICA M3. Otherwise, both versions work great on every other LEICA M, meaning most emphatically the version with the extra optics (called "eyes" by laymen) works flawlessly on the M2, M4, M4-P, M5, M6, M6 TTL, M7, M8 and M9.

The version without the finder optimization optics originally sold for less money. It was a simpler lens introduced for simpler people who settled for the LEICA M2 instead of the LEICA M3.

Since so many laymen don't realize that the finder-optimized version works splendidly on every brand-new LEICA, including the M9, they pay over twice as much for the gelded version lacking the finder optimization optics.

Don't pay over $2,000 for the gelded 8-element SUMMICRON; pay $1,000 for the far more useful version with the finder optimization optics.

I actually prefer these additional optics, as they optimize the finder image to a better size (the 50mm frame), so I can compose more clearly.


Acknowledgement         top

Many thanks to my local LEICA dealer, OC Camera, for having all these in-stock to loan me for this comparison.


Help me help you         top

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