One of the Best: Leica APO Summicron 35mm F2 ASPH Review

The Leica APO Summicron 35mm f2 is as close to perfect as you can get.

The word innovator is thrown around a little too easily these days. Sure, lots of companies are creating lenses we haven’t seen before. In the pursuit of perfection, though, many modern lenses produce sterile images. But Leica has a habit of creating modern lenses while retaining qualities that make their images stand out. The new Leica APO Summicron-M 35mm f2 ASPH is the latest prime to come out of Germany. We’ve had our hands on it for a few weeks now, and we have been putting it through a battery of real-world tests. Find out how it performs and if it’s worth the lofty price tag in our full review.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The Leica APO Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH is a jewel in Leica’s crown. This lens produces images that have special qualities to them. The lens is built like a tank, finely tuned, and easy to use. It’s pricey, but it’s a must-have for Leica M mount camera owners.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Magical image quality
  • Razor-sharp optics
  • Small in size and built tank-like
  • Easy to read zone focusing scale
  • Fantastic manual focusing ring
  • Can focus under 1 foot

Cons

  • No weather sealing
  • It has a price that will make you want to sit down when you hear it

Gear Used

We use the Leica APO Summicron-M f2 ASPH with the Leica M10-R and the Visoflex EVF.

What’s Innovative

Leica APO Summicron 35mm

Usually, lenses designed for Rangefinder cameras can only focus down to 0.7m (2.29ft). This is no fault of the lenses themselves. It is just to do with how Rangefinder cameras work. However, in the digital age, we have LCDs and EVFs that can help us focus Rangefinder cameras closer than ever before. The Leica APO Summicron f2 ASPH, with the help of LCDs and EVFs, can achieve focus at 0.3m, which is just 0.98ft.

Tech Specs

All technical specification were provided by Leica:

  • 35mm focal length
  • Leica M mount
  • At the 0.7m focusing range, there’s the equivalent of a speed bump. It tells you if you’re going into the close focusing range or not.
  • 10 elements in 5 groups
  • Close focusing range of 0.3 meters
  • 4 aspherical elements
  • 11 aperture blades
  • E39 filter thread
  • Screw-on Lens hood
  • 40.9mm (1.6 inches) long without the lens hood
  • 320 grams in weight
  • Retails for $8,195

Leica APO Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH – Ergonomics

Leica APO Summicron 35mm

The Leica APO Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH is tiny. This makes the lens a joy to use from an ergonomics standpoint. It’s just 1.6-inches long, and while it has a little heft to it, it feels great when attached to the camera.

Leica APO Summicron 35mm

As you can see from the first image and this one, there are just a few controls you need to worry about. At the end closest to the front element, you’ll find the aperture ring. Step back from there, and you’ll find the manual focus ring. Towards the rear element, you’ll see the beautifully engraved zone focusing scale.

Leica APO Summicron 35mm

Around the front, you’ll see the tiny front element. The Leica APO Summicron APO-Summicron-M 35 f2 ASPH has a filter thread size of just 39mm. Underneath the lens, you can also see the handy focusing lever that allows quick, one-handed focusing. Overall, the Leica APO-Summicron-M 35 f2 ASPH is a wonderfully designed lens. It’s minimal by design, and you’ll only find what needs to be there. The lens hood is fantastic as well. It works wonderfully and keeps the size of the lens nice and small when attached.

“The manual focus offers a fair amount of resistance, but wow, it’s smooth when you turn it. It’s an experience all by itself.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Leica APO Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH – Build Quality

I’ll just come right out and say it; the build quality of this lens is exquisite. This should really come as no surprise, though, as Leica spares no expense when it comes to lens construction. The Leica APO Summicron M 35mm f2 ASPH is no exception to this rule. The lens, as you would expect, is entirely metal. It feels absolutely wonderful in hand. The aperture dial spins freely, though not so free that it’s easy to change settings with a bump. The manual focus offers a fair amount of resistance, but wow, it’s smooth when you turn it. It’s an experience all by itself.

The Leica APO Summicron M 35mm f2 ASPH is not rated as being weather sealed. This is perhaps the only downside when it comes to its build quality. Still, having said this, Leica lenses are built within such tight tolerances that they often survive being outside in the elements. In other Leica lens reviews, we’ve said that these lenses have been known to last after being used in hellish conditions. I did not test the lens in any inclement weather, and I’m not saying you should, but you probably could if you wanted to. Weather-sealing aside, this Leica lens is excellent when it comes to build quality.

“Put the time in with this lens and learn how to get the most out of it. You’ll be rewarded like no other lens has ever rewarded you before.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Leica APO Summicron 35mm F2 ASPH – Ease of Use

Leica APO Summicron 35mm
Unedited, straight out of camera.

If you’re coming from a camera and lens combo that will allow you to run and gun, this will take some time to get used to. Still, overall, this Leica lens is easy to use once you journey around the learning curve. Once attached to your camera, familiarize yourself with the zone focusing chart and learn how to read it. If you’ve never used a Rangefinder before, research how they work. It’s as simple and lining up the two images you see in the viewfinder and then capturing the moment.

If you prefer using an LCD or Visoflex, utilize focus peaking and magnification to make things easier on yourself. This lens will slow you down and will make your shot-taking more deliberate. This is not a hindrance, though. In fact, you’ll learn to see and capture the world differently this way. It’s crazy good fun. Put the time in with this lens and learn how to get the most out of it. You’ll be rewarded like no other lens has ever rewarded you before.

Leica APO Summicron 35mm F2 ASPH – Focusing

Leica APO Summicron 35mm
Unedited, straight out of camera.

The Leica APO Summicron M 35mm f2 ASPH is a manual focus only lens. If you’re not used to manually focusing lenses you will find that it may take some getting used to. However, this lens does its best to make it as easy as possible. You can use this lens in one of two ways. You can use zone focusing or you can adjust focus for each shot.

Zone focusing will allow you to set the aperture and focusing distance and forget it. You just have to keep in mind how far you are from your subject. This is great for street and documentary photography. Focusing the lens between each shot will force you to change your shooting style as you will have to be more deliberate. Fortunately, focusing for each shot is a joy, thanks to just how great the manual focus ring feels.

0.3m Close Focusing

Leica APO Summicron 35mm
Unedited, straight out of camera.

Let’s talk about the trick up this lens’s sleeve. You can focus super close on subjects when you use the LCD or the optional Visoflex EVF for Leica M mount cameras. Manual close focusing is tricky at the best of times. Wide-open at f2, it can be incredibly challenging. Especially from less than a foot away. A great feature is that there is feedback from the lens when you enter close focusing mode. Focus towards the 0.7m meter end of things, and you’ll reach a stop. You have to give the focusing ring a firm twist to enter close focusing mode. You don’t need to take the camera down from your eye to know when you’ve entered this mode. It’s a great touch.

I used both the LCD and the Visoflex when using this lens. On bright days, the LCD made it hard to see what I was doing when trying to focus up close. However, the Visoflex EVF eliminated this problem and suddenly, focusing on objects less than one foot away became incredibly easy. The results are stunning. The flower image above is a straight-out-of-camera image shot at f2. Close focusing is a killer feature.

“This lens adds just enough magical pixie dust to make images special and unique.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Leica APO Summicron 35mm F2 ASPH – Image Quality

Leica APO Summicron 35mm
Edited

So, what do you get from a lens that costs $8,195? Almost absolute perfection. The image quality is so good that every picture you create will bring a tear to your eye. I have used many 35mm lenses in my days, but none have rendered images quite like the Leica APO Summicron M 35mm f2 ASPH. I went to edit my images and hardly had to touch them. They’re that good. Sharp, contrasty, colors to die for; you get the idea. Bokeh, oh the bokeh. Sure, it’s not the most important metric in the world, but well, just look at the images below and the extra images, and you’ll see for yourself. Let’s break image quality down a bit more.

Bokeh

Leica APO Summicron 35mm
Unedited, straight out of camera.

For a 35mm lens, the bokeh is off the charts good. It’s smooth, it’s creamy, and it’s dreamy. Bokeh balls are nice and round, and there’s hardly any if any at all evidence of cats-eye bokeh in the corners. Some of you will say, ‘well, there’s some onion bokeh going on.’ Get over it. It all adds to the charm and character of this beautiful lens. I’m sick of technically perfect, lifeless, clinical images. Thankfully, the Leica APO Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH knows how to deliver. Put the close focusing to work and then just stare at the gorgeous renderings.

Color Rendition

Leica APO Summicron 35mm
Unedited, straight out of camera.

Color renderings are quite special from this Leica lens. Right out of the camera, all colors look just about perfect. In fact, I have never had an easier time after importing my images into processing software. The image above is not a great image by any means but look at the colors. Look how the lens renders and handles the gradation of reds, yellows, oranges, and blues. The differences in deep blacks to black to greys. It’s astonishing. The colors are accurate and life-like. Skin tones render beautifully too. The Leica APO Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH is a hands-down winner when it comes to color rendering.

Lens Character

Leica APO Summicron 35mm
Unedited, straight out of camera.

This lens has character for days. Is there vignetting? Yes, there’s a little when you shoot wide open. It’s not so much that you’ll be frustrated, though. How about chromatic aberrations? Hardly any, actually. Even in extreme contrast situations the lens handles itself very well. Distortion? The tiniest amount is there toward the bottom of the lens, at least on this copy. However, it’s hardly even noticeable. Is the lens technically perfect. No, but it’s close. Still, I am just fine with that. The little imperfections actually add up to a lot of character. It’s hard to put your finger on it. The quality of the character isn’t quantifiable, you just know it when you see it.

Sharpness

Leica APO Summicron 35mm
Unedited, straight out of camera.

This lens is sharp. Razor-sharp. From edge to edge and corner to corner. The APO line is Leica’s crème de la crème and it shows. Wide-open at f2, it’s incredibly sharp, and it doesn’t stop being sharp until you stop down enough for diffraction to set in. I’ll carry on from the section above. When combined with the small imperfections, the sharpness creates the unquantifiable look of this lens. This lens adds just enough magical pixie dust to make images special and unique.

Leica APO Summicron 35mm F2 ASPH – Extra Image Samples

From day one, the Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. You’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a whole section in our Extra Image Samples area to show off edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Edited

Unedited

“If you’re the proud owner of a Leica M mount camera, I simply cannot recommend this lens enough. It’s an absolute jewel.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Leica APO Summicron 35mm F2 ASPH – Conclusions

Likes

  • Jaw-dropping image quality
  • It feels wonderful in the hand
  • Close focusing

Dislikes

  • It’s expensive at $8,195
  • No weather sealing
  • I have to send it back

If someone asked me about a dream camera and lens combo, the M10-R and this lens combo would probably be it. I admit I have a soft spot for 35mm prime lenses. I use them whenever I get the chance, and I always enjoy shooting with them regardless. The Leica APO Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH takes shooting with a 35mm lens to another level. You feel connected to it thanks to it being manual focus only. The images have fantastic qualities to them. Using the lens is a joy, thanks to how it feels in hand. The images it renders are so good straight from the camera that you don’t even have to edit them. The only downside is the lack of weather sealing. However, we know how tough Leica lenses are.

So who is this lens for? It’s for photojournalists, documentarians, product photographers, landscape photographers, environmental portrait photographers, food photographers, and more. The 35mm focal length is incredibly versatile. If you’re the proud owner of a Leica M mount camera, I simply cannot recommend this lens enough. It’s an absolute jewel. If you can afford it and have the Visoflex to get the most out of it, grab this lens with both hands and never look back.

The Leica APO Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH receives five out of five stars and our editor’s choice award. It’s easily the best 35mm lens I have ever laid my hands on. If you’re a Leica owner and can afford it (it’s $8,195), you’d be crazy not to snap one up. It may never leave your camera. Head on over to Adorama to get yours.

Brett Day

Brett Day is the Gear Editor at The Phoblographer and has been a photographer for as long as he can remember. Brett has his own photography business that focuses on corporate events and portraiture. In his spare time, Brett loves to practice landscape and wildlife photography. When he's not behind a camera, he's enjoying life with his wife and two kids, or he's playing video games, drinking coffee, and eating Cheetos.