This 50 Is Both Tank and Treasure: Leica SL 50mm F2 Summicron Review

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Leica lenses are known for a durable, all-metal build. But, of course, metal weighs more than plastic. The Leica SL 50mm f2 Summicron is designed to be a lighter, more compact alternative to the Leica SL 50mm f1.4 Summilux. Of course, the term lighter is relative; I wouldn’t call a metal lens a lightweight. Yet it’s still lighter than the Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm f1.4 and Leica’s f1.4, and feels almost perfectly balanced with the Panasonic S5 body.

While the design isn’t as heavy, the lens still produces some of the same beautiful color and sharpness. I spent two weeks shooting portraits, lifestyle, and landscape photos with the Leica 50mm f2 to see what this lens can capture.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The Leica SL 50mm f2 Summicron is a well-built, metal-body lens that’s both simple and beautiful to use. The images are spectacular, and they achieve a happy medium between eliminating distortion and eliminating character. But, it’s pricey and, like we noted with the f1.4 Summilux, the autofocus isn’t perfect.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Beautiful metal build
  • Excellent mix of quality and character
  • Nice contrast
  • Lovely bokeh
  • Simple design
  • About 25% lighter than the Leica 50mm f1.2 SL

Cons

  • Expensive
  • L system autofocus still lags behind
  • Slight corner softness

Gear Used

I used the Leica 50mm f2 SL with the Panasonic S5. I kept it simple and didn’t use a hood. And I paired it with a WANDRD wrist strap.

Innovations

The 50mm f2 is really meant as a lighter alternative to Leica’s 50mm f1.4 Summilux. What’s unique with the way Leica handles these lighter f2 lenses is that they still focus on eliminating aberrations and other distortions. This is not the low-quality version of the f1.4, just a low bokeh version. Otherwise, the innovation here is what’s innovative about Leica’s other lenses — durable all-metal design.

Tech Specs

Leica lists these tech specs for the 50mm Summicron:

  • Field angle (diagonal, horizontal, vertical): 47.2°/40°/27.3°
  • Number of lenses/groups: 12/10
  • Number of asph. surfaces / lenses: 4/3
  • Entrance pupil position: 63.2 mm at ∞
  • Working range: ∞ to 0.35 m
  • Smallest object field: 120 x 180 mm
  • Largest reproduction ratio 1:5
  • Aperture Setting/function: Electronically controlled aperture, set using turn/push wheel on camera, including half and third values
  • Aperture setting range: 2 – 22
  • Lowest value: 22
  • Bayonet/sensor format: L-Mount, full-frame 35 mm format
  • Filter mount: E67
  • Length to bayonet mount: 102 mm
  • Largest diameter: 73 mm
  • Weight: 740 g (27.87 oz.)

Ergonomics

The Leica 50mm f2 SL has a design that I’ve come to expect from the German company. The all-metal design makes the lens feel like it’s been around since well before the Leica SL. Yet, at the same time, the metal build makes this lens feel like a tank.

Leica says the 50mm f2 SL is designed to be smaller and lighter than the brighter nifty fifty. Now, no one buys an all-metal Leica because it’s tiny and light. But, comparatively speaking, the 50mm f2 SL isn’t quite as much of a beast as the 50mm f1.2 SL. It’s about 25 percent lighter, weighing about 1.7 pounds, and 18 percent shorter at a touch over four inches. It’s also lighter than the Panasonic 50mm f1.4 Lumix S Pro. There are lighter and smaller nifty fifties out there, but the Leica SL 50mm f2 is more of a happy medium between a plastic lens and a beastly bright metal one. It balances well mounted on the front of the Panasonic S5, feeling only slightly front-heavy.

The lens has just a single control — a large manual focus ring. I didn’t mind the simplified controls, since the S5 has a focus mode switch that’s as simple to use as one on a lens. But, that’s not the case with every L mount camera body. The ring turns smoothly. It’s a slower, stiffer turn that allows for more precise manual focusing adjustments.

The front of the lens has a smaller 67mm filter size. Brighter lenses tend to have larger front optics and less of an edge at the front. Except for a small bump out from the mount, the lens is the same diameter the whole way through.

Build Quality

There’s really nothing like an all-metal lens. The Leica 50mm f2 SL is built like a tank. It feels every bit the luxury lens that it is. The focus ring turns smoothly and slowly.

The lens is also weather-sealed. I splashed the lens with a few handfuls of water. The lens and camera kept on shooting and I didn’t find any moisture in the mount. The lens also kept sand out when I shot at the beach. (The camera and lens did get some dust inside from outdoor lens swaps.)

Autofocus

The Leica 50mm f2 SL uses dual drive autofocus motors. The motors are quiet enough not to draw attention to the photographer. The autofocus is generally fast, but not quite as robust as Canon’s or Sony’s. The lens is fast enough for portraits and freezing subjects at a walk but slows down when working at close range.

The autofocus had a near-perfect hit rate with moving subjects several feet away. Closer to the lens’ 1.15-foot limit, the opposite was true and most of the shots were soft. The 1.15 autofocus limit is true for stationary subjects, but with moving subjects, you’ll want them to be at least three feet from the lens. This is expected, especially when working with subjects that are heading straight towards the camera.

For portraits, I had a few soft shots of a squirmy toddler. Photographing a teenager, that miss rate dropped dramatically. Occasionally, you’ll get a shot that’s not quite on the eyes, but it’s not bad.

I did have some trouble locking focus when shooting backlit, particularly with darker subjects like the chocolate-brown fur on my dog. However, when I swapped out the Leica 50mm f2 for the S5’s kit lens and shot the same exact scene, the autofocus still had trouble. That lead me to believe that it’s the S5’s autofocus that has a lower hit rate with backlighting.

Ease of Use

Don’t let the label fool you — the Leica SL 50mm f2 is as simple as mount and shoot. While the price point may put it out of a beginner’s reach, the controls will not. There’s just the single focus ring. That means there are no extra controls to learn.

Sometimes, a lack of controls makes it slower for advanced photographers, but I didn’t find that to be the case here. There’s an S to C to MF control right on the S5 body, so an M to AF switch would have been redundant. That may not be the case with the Leica SL2, however. The lens also doesn’t have a depth of field scale, but with the focus peaking on the camera body, I didn’t miss it.

Image Quality

While it’s not the brightest nifty fifty for L mount shooters, the Leica 50mm f2 SL still delivers beautiful bokeh, solid contrast, and minimal distortion. The lens offers an ideal balance of the things modern photographers are looking for without eliminating the potential for a bit of character. The lens mixes minimal distortion and good sharpness with the potential for some flare.

Bokeh

At f2, subjects still pop from the background. When focused on the eyes, the falloff isn’t as quick as an f1.2. It’s easier to get both the eyes and eyelashes in focus, but the nose doesn’t blur as quickly. However, the background still has great separation from the subject. Is it going to be as great as an f1.2? No, but I don’t think anyone is going to look at these photos and whisper, “tsk tsk, should have used the f1.2.

Bokeh balls are soft, with no hard edges. Most of the bokeh this lens captured was also smooth throughout, but you may occasionally find a bit of soap bubble bokeh from particularly harsh light sources. Bokeh is circular at the center, but takes on a cat-eye shape towards the edges. If you have a lot of bokeh, the mix of circles and cats eyes will give the background a swirly look.

Sharpness

This lens is tack sharp at the center, even shooting wide open. The very corners are slightly soft but sharpen quickly at f4. You won’t notice that corner softness in most shots — and it will, in fact, draw the eye to the center. It’s likely part of that swirly bokeh as well. But, if you want to take a shot with the subject in the corner, you may want to set the aperture to f4 or more.

Lens Character

The Leica 50mm f2 SL eliminates the annoying distortion while leaving just enough for some character. I couldn’t spot my two least favorite character flaws — barrel distortion and chromatic aberration. Lines still appeared straight. And, even viewing high contrast backlit subjects, I couldn’t pick up much aberration.

The flare coming from this 50mm builds character. Shooting at golden hour, the lens captures some beautiful soft sun. When positioned just right, the lens will grab some nice streaks of light. The 50mm can also grab some circular lens flare as well, but even shooting without a hood, I could eliminate the flare by adjusting my angle just slightly.

The Leica 50mm f2 SL has this ideal mix of modern image quality and long-standing character. Flaws like aberration and barrel distortion are well controlled. Yet, you can still get some soft, streaky light and spots of flare.

Color Rendering

The colors captured on the Leica 50mm f2 SL are beautiful. Colors were largely accurate, with a few colors that seemed to capture slightly dark. I got a lot of great contrast shooting mid-day, and softer, lighter colors working backlit at golden hour.

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 that show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Edited

Unedited

Conclusions

Likes

  • The metal design is both beautiful and durable.
  • Distortion is well-controlled, yet there’s still some character from flare and bokeh.
  • The contrast and bokeh still look great.
  • The design is easy to use.
  • It’s lighter than Leica’s and Panasonic’s 50mm f1.4.

Dislikes

  • It’s $5,095.
  • The autofocus is just okay.
  • There’s some minor corner softness.

The Leica SL 50mm f2 Summicron is a well-balanced lens. It doesn’t make the camera body too front-heavy, and it balances image quality with character-building bokeh and flare. The metal design withstood both water and sand. Even as an f2, it delivers some beautiful bokeh with great background separation.

But, the autofocus is just okay. This is in part the L mount system. We noted in our S5 review that the body doesn’t focus as well with Leica lenses as it does with Panasonic glass. It will capture a lot of sharp shots, but it’s not quite as fast as Canon or Sony systems.

The other downside is the price. A $5,095 price point is expected on a Leica, but the f1.4 is $5,995. $900 on any other lens system would be a big price difference. But, it’s only a 15 percent price drop to lose a stop of light and roughly half a pound.

Overall, the Leica SL 50mm f2 Summicron delivers excellent images inside a beautiful lens. I’m giving this lens four out of five stars.

Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photographer and tech writer based in Michigan. She shoots weddings and portraits at Hillary K Photography. A mother of three, she enjoys hiking, camping, crafting, and reading.