An Outstanding Portrait Lens! Leica 90mm F2 SL Review

We’re streaming daily on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsStitcherPocket Casts, and Spotify! You can also listen to it right here on The Phoblographer.

There aren’t many 90mm lenses on the market, but the Leica 90mm f2 SL is surely worth looking at. Leica doesn’t make an 85mm: they opt for a 75mm and a 90mm. The Leica 90mm f2 SL is small, lightweight, fast to focus, has a metal build, and produces beautiful image quality. Then there’s the autofocus, which is also damned good in most situations. It’s all a winning combo. But then you look at the near $6,000 price tag and wonder if it’s worth it. Is it expensive? Yes. However, it’s also one of the most perfect portrait lenses I’ve used. Years ago, Zeiss tried to make a no-compromise lens lineup called the Otus lenses. The Leica 90mm f2 SL is worthy of outdoing those lenses by far.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The Leica 90mm f2 SL lens is a beautiful, well-built optic. While some of the SL lenses feel huge, this one is just right. It’s smaller than Sony’s 90mm f2.8 Macro G OSS. It’s weather-resistant and around the size of other 90mm lenses on the market. But it arguably has better image quality. Quite honestly, it’s hard to make a bad portrait with this lens. It’s one of those optics where everyone looks good with it.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Small size
  • Metal exterior
  • Build quality, it’s weather sealed!
  • Beautiful image quality
  • Fast focus and tracking with the Leica SL2s.
  • Nice bokeh that you’re going to love!
  • Sharp, but not overly sharp! Leica has this wonderful balance

Cons

Innovations

The Leica 90mm f2 SL isn’t doing anything to innovate or change the game at all. But it surely is different from other 90mm lenses on the market. In the mirrorless world, the only one of note is the Sony 90mm f2.8 OSS Macro. The Leica has a metal build and is smaller than the Sony lens. It’s also a full stop faster, though slightly heavier. To be fair, the Leica lacks optical stabilization and Macro abilities. In fact, Leica’s primes aren’t image stabilized at all, nor do they have a true macro. Overall, this lens isn’t innovative. But it’s still delivering images that are sharp but not too sharp.

Gear Used

We tested the Leica 90mm f2 SL with the Leica SL2s.

Tech Specs

Specs are taken from the LensRentals listing.

Angle of View

27.3°

Autofocus

Autofocus

Brand

Leica

Compatibility

Full Frame

Diameter

2.9″

Dimensions

Length: 4″

Filter Size

67.0mm

Focal Length

90.0-90.0

Groups/Elements

9/11

Hood Included

Yes

Image Stabilization

No

Item Type

Lens

Lens Type

Telephoto

Magnification

0.2x

Max Aperture

2.0

Maximum Reproduction Ratio

1:5

Minimum Aperture

22.0

Minimum Focusing Distance

2.0feet

Mount

L Mount

Weight

1.54 lbs.

Ergonomics

The Leica 90mm f2 SL is a pretty beautiful, minimal lens on the outside. It has a 67mm filter thread, so it’s not all that large. And by comparison, it is negligibly heavier than the Sony 90mm on the market. What’s more, it can use the same lens hood as the 28mm f2 from Leica.

The outside of this lens is characterized by a smooth, metal finish. I personally really like metal since it’s better for the environment. And then there’s the large, rubber ring. This serves as both a grip and focusing ring.

And as you can see, the lens isn’t really all that long. It’s a few inches at best. In hand, it feels right. When I say that, I’m talking about how small it is comparatively.

Build Quality

This is a Leica SL lens. So, of course, the Leica 90mm f2 SL is all weather resistant. The Leica SL2 and Leica SL2s have IP ratings as far as durability. Leica doesn’t IP rate their lenses, but we’re told the quality is on par. This is important if you’re traveling around with this lens. Nothing is worse than a sensor constantly getting dirty. This is also probably one of the reasons why you’re paying so much.

In the hand, this feels like a beautiful, small portrait lens. Sure, it’s only f2. But in reality, that hasn’t proven to be a problem at all. Most of Leica’s SL lenses are F2 primes. I surely do wish they had faster lenses, but also kept them small.

Ease of Use

The Leica 90mm f2 SL is pretty simple to use. There are no controls on it. So you’ll need to use the camera body to do almost everything. Want to manually focus? Switch the camera into manual focus mode. Otherwise, this lens is a point-and-shoot affair. Point it. Focus. And be in awe at the images. With the Leica SL2s, I used the vivid photo mode. And everything I got from the combo was awesome.

Autofocus

The Leica 90mm f2 SL made me realize some very, very fascinating things about the autofocus on the Leica SL2s. First off, the SL2s got a major firmware update earlier this year to boost autofocus performance. Leica says that their system doesn’t do animal detection. However, when I was pointing my lens at various birds, it detected and tracked them. 

I called my Leica reps up to discuss this. The Americans had never heard of it but tried it and confirmed that it happened with them too. When the Americans asked the Germans, they replied that the system doesn’t have animal detection. Despite this, it tracked Canadian Geese swimming in the East River. More importantly, it kept them sharp the entire time.

If this works well with the Leica 90mm f2 SL, then I hope that it will perform even better when/if animal autofocus detection comes.

Image Quality

Optically speaking, there isn’t much to say about the Leica 90mm f2 SL besides the fact that it’s pretty perfect. It’s got nice colors that you’re going to love. And that bokeh? Oh, man! You’ll almost feel like you’re shooting with a 135mm lens instead! It’s also sharp without being too sharp. 

Bokeh

Look at this! This is at f2! The bokeh is creamy for sure. And there isn’t any sort of weird micro-contrast game going on either. Instead, it’s just pure sharpness and pop in the image! If you love bokeh, then it’s hard to complain about the Leica 90mm f2 SL.

Color Rendition

My favorite thing about the Leica 90mm f2 SL is probably the color rendition. Combine it with specifically set white balances, and you’re going to love this lens. The lens ends up delivering colors that aren’t too muted and aren’t too vivid. But instead, it strikes an incredible balance.

You should take a look at our Sony 90mm f2.8 Macro lens review. The colors here are more muted, for sure.

Lens Character

We couldn’t find any issues with distortion, flare, etc., with this lens. And honestly, I wish it had a little bit of lens flare. But for what it’s worth, I couldn’t make that happen.

Sharpness

This photo was stopped down to f8. And across the plane, it’s very sharp. Again, there are no complaints here at all. 

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.

Unedited

Edited

Conclusions

Likes

  • Small size
  • Extra durable build quality
  • Fairly lightweight
  • Autofocus performance
  • Beautiful image quality

Dislikes

  • Price tag of nearly $6,000.

There’s a lot to love about the Leica 90mm f2 SL. First off, there’s a minimal design. There are no controls on this lens except for the focusing ring. Couple that with the build quality. It has a metal exterior yet remains pretty lightweight. It’s also a stop faster and smaller than the closest competitor from Sony. Sure, it lacks image stabilization and a Macro ability. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t perform at all. In fact, the Leica 90mm f2 SL has pretty fast autofocus and better build quality than the Sony. What’s more, I like the image quality from this lens more than the Sony option. Indeed, it’s pretty perfect in every single way.

Perfection, of course, comes with a price. And in this case, the Leica lens is almost six times the price of the Sony lens.  What you’re paying for is better build quality to match the IP-rated Leica cameras. You’re also paying for extra light, arguably better portraits, and smaller size. Is it worth the money? That’s a question I still ask myself. But there aren’t many 90mm lenses on the market. If Sigma made one, I’d expect them to cut a corner somewhere. Canon and Nikon never made anything close. The closest thing from Canon is around $1,400 and stands out in its own way. But again, it’s not really a fair comparison.

We’re awarding the Leica 90mm f2 SL lens five out of five stars. Want one? Be sure to check out Amazon.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.