Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH lens
The Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH lens will only suit owners of Leica’s M-mount rangefinder cameras.
The moderate wide-angle of the 35mm focal length is well suited to landscape and architectural photography, largely because of its relatively low inherent distortions. Its small size makes it usable for street photography as well as general snapshooting and travel.
Leica has been making 35mm manual-focus lenses for its rangefinder cameras since the late 1930s, announcing the latest one (the APO-Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH.) in February 2021. However, the Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. lens we received to review with the Leica M11 camera was an earlier update released in 2016 when the company replaced the plastic, clip-on hood with a sturdier metal one that screws on, at the same time increasing the number of blades in the iris diaphragm from eight to 11.
Angled view of the Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. lens with the supplied lens hood fitted. (Source: Leica Camera.)
Like many Leica lenses, this lens is available in two colours: black and silver. The black version is made from anodised aluminium and is 88 grams lighter and AU$300 cheaper than the silver version, which is made from chromed brass.
The optical design of both versions is simple by modern standards, comprising seven elements in five groups with a single aspherical element. The arrangement of the elements largely eliminates distortions and spherical aberrations throughout the focusing range to ensure a high degree of sharpness, contrast and clarity.
The lens is normally supplied with front and end caps plus a relatively large, screw-on metal lens hood as well as a screw-in protector ring to protect the filter thread when the hood is not in use. The rear section of the hood is cylindrical, while the front section is rectangular in shape with squared-off corners and matte black on its inner surface.
Front view of the Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. lens with the supplied lens hood fitted showing the cut-out in the top corner of the hood. (Source: Leica Camera.)
A cut-out in the top left corner of this section reduces how much the viewfinder interferes in the field of view when the optical viewfinder is utilised. However, this part of the hood remains visible in the frame so you’ll probably need to check the monitor when framing many shots.
The lens cap is made from black rubber, which is folded over at the top to form lips on the corners for attaching it and has a tab at the base – which lies flat – to make it easy to remove and re-fit. It’s nice and light but, sadly, easy to misplace.
Who’s it For?
This lens will only suit owners of Leica’s M-mount rangefinder cameras, which means its target market is small. The 35mm focal length is one of the most popular choices for these photographers, which is why Leica offers three choices for M-mount photographers: the fastest is the Summilux 35 f/1.4, while the newest and most expensive is the APO-Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH., which also boasts the closest focusing distance (30 cm).The Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. has the lowest price tag and was the first design to incorporate an aspherical element.
The moderate wide-angle of the 35mm focal length is well suited to landscape and architectural photography, largely because of its relatively low inherent distortions. Its small size makes it usable for street photography as well as general snapshooting and travel. The minimum focus of 70 cm will make it a poor choice for close-ups – unless the subjects themselves are relatively large. Nor is it suitable for photographing distant wildlife and sports action – and it’s not weather-sealed.
Build and Ergonomics
As expected from a lens at its price point, the Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. lens is made almost entirely from metal; in the case of the review lens, chrome-coated brass. As a result, it’s surprisingly heavy for its size, although very compact, particularly when the hood – which adds 25 mm to its length – isn’t fitted. This makes it an ideal partner for the M11 camera and useful for everyday walkaround shooting.
Build quality is excellent – again, as expected. The front of the lens has internal threading for 39 mm diameter filters, along with external threading for the supplied lens hood. A stopping point sets the hood in the correct alignment when it is screwed on.
The aperture ring begins 6 mm behind the front of the lens when the hood isn’t fitted. It carries settings from f/2 to f/16 marked in one-stop increments, with half-stop click stops between them. There’s no slackness so moving from one stop to the next is positive and detectable by feel. The 11-blade iris diaphragm helps to smooth out-of-focus areas in shots involving selective focus and shallow depth of field.
A millimetre or so behind the aperture ring is the focusing ring, which carries a distance scale in feet and metres and turns very smoothly through an angle of roughly 50 degrees. The manual focus design uses metal helicoids for focus adjustments and provides a minimum focusing distance of 70 cm with a maximum magnification ratio of 1:17.5.
A black plastic focus tab is attached to the ring roughly 50 mm beyond the infinity mark to facilitate manual focusing. It has an incurved profile that provides a natural fit for the user’s fingertip.
This illustration shows the black focusing tab on the Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. lens, which has been photographed without the supplied lens hood. (Source: Leica Camera.)
The focus tab makes manual focusing relatively easy and reliable, although we’d like to have seen a bit less ‘play’ in the lens movement. In theory, you should be able to span the entire range with one short movement and focus by feel. But we found it easy to knock the tab inadvertently; resulting is a slight focus shift.
Had the ring tension been a little tighter, this may not have occurred. We’re not sure whether the slackness was due to the age of the lens and how much it had been used or if it was an inherent quality of the lens design. With a tighter focusing ring, the concept is excellent since it ensures your finger will always be in the same place for the same focusing distance.
A depth of field scale is located between the focusing ring and the lens mount. It’s approximately 12 mm wide and marked with aperture settings in one-stop increments. The f/4 mark is unlabelled but the other stops are identified with labels and lines on either side of the central mark, which results in a cluttered and difficult to use display.
The mounting plate is solid chromed brass, surrounding the rear element of the lens, which extends several millimetres from its base, protruding a little into the camera body. All markings on the lens are engraved and filled with paint; not stamped as they are on many cheaper lenses.
Our Imatest tests showed the review lens to be a good performer that was capable of delivering high resolution in the centre of the frame across aperture settings from f/2 through to f/6.8, where diffraction began to take effect. Measurements taken roughly half-way between the centre and the edge of the frame showed softening at the widest apertures, which were largely addressed by f/4.
Slightly more softening was found in measurements taken three quarters of the way to the corner of the frame, which is to be expected and not necessarily undesirable as it can help direct the viewer’s attention when the subject is centrally positioned. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Lateral chromatic aberration remained consistently within the negligible range, the upper edge of which is shown by the red line in the graph of our test results below. No coloured fringing was seen in any of our test shots.
The review lens was quite flare-resistant. Backlit subjects retained their colour and contrast and we couldn’t see any veiling flare in our test shots. However, the 22-pointed sunstars produced around bright highlights were a little more diffuse than we expected for a lens of this calibre.
The review lens introduced very slight pincushion distortion, which would be un-noticeable in regular shots taken on location. It is easily correctable when DNG.RAW files are converted into editable formats as well as in JPEG files with normal lens adjustments.
Vignetting is automatically corrected in the latest M-series cameras, so we didn’t expect it to be problematic. Slight corner darkening can be seen in test shots at f/2 but it had vanished by f/5.6. In older cameras without corrections this issue can be addressed during raw file conversion.
Bokeh was much as you’d expect for a wide angle lens with limited close-focusing capabilities. Bright background highlights were often outlined – a problem that persisted when the lens is stopped down – but otherwise tonal transitions were reasonably smooth for a lens of this type.
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Picture angle: 63 degrees diagonal
Minimum aperture: f/16
Lens construction: 7 elements in 5 groups (including one aspherical element)
Lens mounts: Leica M quick-change bayonet
Diaphragm Blades:11 (rounded aperture)
Weather resistance: Not specified
Focus drive: Manual focus only
Minimum focus: 70 cm
Maximum magnification: 0.057x
Filter size: 39 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 53 x 35.7 mm (without lens hood)
Weight: 252 grams (black version); 340 grams (silver version, as reviewed)
Standard Accessories: Front and end caps, lens hood
Distributor: Leica Camera Australia, (03) 9248 4444
Based on JPEG files taken with the Leica M11 camera.
Vignetting at f/2.
ISO 64, 1/500 second at f/5.6.
Crop from the above image at 100% magnification showing no coloured fringing.
Close-up at f/2; ISO 64, 1/3200 second.
Close-up at f/2; ISO 64, 1/2000 second
Close-up taken in DNG.RAW format with white balance corrected in Adobe Camera Raw; ISO 500, 1/160 second at f/4.8.
Sunstar at f’16; ISO 200, 1/160 second
ISO 125, 1/160 second at f/8.
ISO 64, 1/640 second at f/5.6.
ISO 1250, 1/100 second at f/8.
ISO 64, 1/180 second at f/8
ISO 500, 1/100 second at f/5.6.
ISO 160, 1/180 second at f/4. JPEG original; note the slight magenta cast in the shaded wall.
ISO 160, 1/160 second at f/8. DNG.RAW file original.
ISO 64, 1/160 second at f/6.7. DNG.RAW file original.
Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Leica M11 camera.
RRP: AU$5490 (silver version) / $5190 (black version); US$3895
- Build: 9.0
- Handling: 8.6
- Image quality: 8.9
- Versatility: 8.5