Wicked Sharpness, Beautiful Bokeh: Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 Review

While the nifty fifty gets all the attention, a 90mm prime brings that bokeh in closer. The Leica M-mount system doesn’t have any shortage of 90mm options. The Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 is brighter than the company’s Macro f4, yet less than half the price of the Summilux M 90mm f1.5 ASPH. It brings a classic Leica look to a longer prime with still excellent bokeh and a durable, yet compact build.

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So where does the Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 stand in the M mount system? I shot portraits with both the 90mm f2 and the Macro 90mm f4 to see how these two telephoto primes compare. Both lenses are a treat — but there are a few differences for M mount shooters to weigh.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 creates a superb blend of sharpness and creamy bokeh. The colors and contrast are fantastic and lens flare also adds more character. It’s expensive and requires patience, but is capable of capturing some fantastic images.

Leica Summicron M 90mm Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Metal build
  • Built-in hood
  • Bright aperture
  • Lovely colors
  • Sharp subjects melt into great bokeh
  • Flare adds lots of character

Cons

  • Softer edges when wide open
  • Like all M mount lenses, there’s no weather-sealing, stabilization, or autofocus
  • Expensive

Gear Used

I used the Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 with the Leica M10R and a Leica 55 UVa II filter. Some of the sample images were also shot with a shoot-through reflector.

Innovations

The Summicron M 90mm f2 is Leica’s first M series lens with both apochromatic color correction and aspherical lens elements. It’s designed for high-resolution performance wide open.

Leica Summicron M 90mm Tech Specs

Lensrentals lists the following tech specs for the 90mm f2:

Angle of View27 degrees
Aperturef2-16
AutofocusManual Focus Only
BrandLeica
Diameter2.5″
DimensionsLength: 3.1″
Filter Size55.0mm (nonrotating)
Filter Stylenonrotating
Focal Length90.0-90.0
Groups/Elements5/5
Hood IncludedNo
Image StabilizationNo
Item TypeLens
Lens TypeNormal Range
Max Aperture2.0
Maximum Magnification.11x
Minimum Aperture22.0
Minimum Focusing Distance3.3feet
MountLeica M
Weight1.1 lb

Ergonomics

The Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 is surprisingly small. It’s a narrow lens that doesn’t widen from the size of the M-mount, taking 55mm filters at the front. The lens takes up just a three-inch narrow slot in a camera bag. In fact, I carried three Leica M lenses — the 90mm f2, the 90mm f4, and the 135mm — in a tiny fanny pack style pouch. 

Despite the metal build, it doesn’t weigh a whole lot more than a pound. It’s still well-balanced and comfortable to carry around for long stretches on the M10R. I can feel that it’s a metal lens, but it’s not over the top. It’s about twice as heavy as the Leica Macro M 50mm f4.

Despite the narrower width, the front of the lens is taken up by mostly glass. There’s no plastic buffer around the front. Up next is a built-in metal hood that slides out from the body.

The aperture ring is a thin band, about the width of a lens filter. It’s textured everywhere except where the labeled numbers are and turns with a satisfying click.

The focus ring is wider, so it’s easier to tell the difference between the two without looking at them. The ring turns smooth. Like other M-mount lenses, the lens has the focal distance in both meters and feet and a depth of field scale. The lens is not internal focusing and the length changes slightly as you focus.

Build Quality

Leica’s lenses are one of my favorite optics to hold. The barrel is all metal, as is the built-in hood. It feels like it could take some bumps and bruises. My rental looked like it was still a brand new lens.

Leica doesn’t call any of their lenses weather-sealed. I took the lens out in 35-degree weather and didn’t have any trouble with fogging or condensation. The lens does get longer as the focus changes — if there’s any sensitive point to rain or dust, my guess is it would be here. But, I didn’t experience any issues. This lens feels very solidly built.

Focus

Focusing an f2 manual lens is a challenge, but when you get it right, the Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 knocks it out of the park. I had more success shooting the Leica M Macro 90mm f4 wide open than the Summicron wide open. But, the hit rates between the two were closer than I thought, with just a few more sharp images coming from the f4 That’s in part because the distance from the subject also affects depth of field and I was, of course, getting in closer with the macro. One of

I shot this lens with both the live view focus peaking and the rangefinder, having more luck with the first. As an M system newbie, more of my shots were soft than in focus. But, when I got that focus right, I was rewarded for my perseverance with super sharp subjects and a great soft background.

Ease of Use

The Leica M system requires patience. But, for photographers willing to slow down and shoot with a manual focus system, the result is pretty rewarding. The Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 wasn’t any harder to work with than other M system optics that I’ve tried. It’s a little easier to use than the M Macro 90mm f4 because that lens has a collapsable design that’s also used to achieve infinity focus. I found the f2 easier to get in focus wide open than the Summilux 90mm f1.5.

I’ve always been a fast, autofocus-reliant shooter. But there’s a certain joy to slowing down and focusing with the feel of such a solidly built lens in your hands. I did only get one sharp shot out of every ten. But, experienced M mount shooters should be able to up those odds even more.

Image Quality

The reward for patient focus is incredibly sharp subjects that quickly melt into the soft background. The images have gorgeous contrast, with slightly undersaturated colors. Flare can be added or controlled with slight adjustments to the lens’ position. The creates an overall classic look that Leica photographers are going to love. 

Bokeh

Edited RAW

At f2, a sharp subject quickly gives way to a soft background. Subjects really pop with this lens. Even stopped down to f4.8, the sharpness has a nice gradual falloff. The 90mm focal length allows even shots at that same narrower aperture to create bokeh balls.

Points of light are easily rendered into soft balls. There’s no hard edge to the bokeh. Wide-open, the bokeh is round except for some slight cat-eye towards the edges. But, stopping down even slightly to f2.8, the balls have more of a decagon shape. If you look close enough, you can see that the bokeh isn’t perfectly round anymore.

Sharpness

When the Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 is sharp, it’s sharp. The eyes in my portraits popped really well before fading into that bokeh. It’s sharp, without being too sharp.

The Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 sharpness doesn’t extend all the way to the edges, at least not wide open. The edges and corners are a bit soft. But, by the time you get to the maximum aperture of the Leica Macro M 90mm f4, the edges are near perfect.

Lens Character

Edited RAW

Leica lenses have a tendency to lean more towards classic character than absolute technical perfection. The Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 has an ideal blend between the two. There’s some great center sharpness, chromatic aberration is only slight, and vignetting is very minimal. Yet, the colors and contrast give the images a very classic look. 

Shooting into the light, the lens will occasionally create a large arc flare that fills almost the entire frame. If you place the light source at the edge of the frame, you get a soft burst of light with hints of purple.

Color Rendering

I really love the contrast coming from this lens. Images pop, yet the colors tend to error towards undersaturation rather than over. Skin tones are rendered beautifully. That creates a really classic look on the M-10R. Properly exposed images need no presets or filters. Overexposed images can use a little more love bringing some of that color and pop back in to get them looking as great as a proper in-camera exposure.

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

Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 v.s. Leica Macro M 90mm f4

I shot this lens right alongside the Leica Macro M 90mm f4, which makes it pretty easy to compare the two. The Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 with the brighter aperture has softer backgrounds. By the time you get to the f4 of the macro, you build in a lot of sharpness even at the edges. I felt that the images had just a bit more pop with the blend of sharpness and creamy backgrounds. The 90mm f2 had my favorite images out of the two.

The Leica Macro M 90mm f4 is a little easier to get in focus wide open. The flare was also a little easier to control — the f2 got a few arcs pointed right at the light, but the f4 dampened down flare until the light was positioned at the edge of the frame. That makes it easy for photographers to choose whether or not they want flare with slight adjustments of the position of the macro. The flare also had a less purple tint to it. The macro is also smaller and more affordable. It focuses closer, but just by about half a foot — the macro adapter is needed to get super close.

Conclusions

Likes

  • This lens is beautifully built.
  • As someone who often looses hoods and lens caps, I appreciate the built-in hood.
  • The bright f2 aperture creates some great soft backgrounds.
  • The mix of contrast and slightly undersaturated colors create a very classic look.
  • The center has the ideal amount of sharpness.
  • This lens has a lot of character.

Dislikes

  • The edges are a bit soft.
  • There’s no weather-sealing, stabilization, or autofocus — as with all M mount lenses.
  • It’s expensive.

The Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 has the ideal blend of sharpness and soft bokeh. Mixed with Leica contrast and colors, and it’s a pretty potent combination. The lens — and, really, the M series — requires some patience. But, it rewards photographers with some spectacular images in-camera.

The lens doesn’t have the edge-to-edge sharpness that I’m seeing from a lot of new high-end modern lenses. But, of course, photographers don’t invest in the M system because they want a modern, pixel-peeping look. Flare isn’t quite as easy to control as on the Macro M 90mm f4. But, this lens hits an ideal balance between character and technical perfection, bokeh and easy focusing.

I’m giving the Leica Summicron M 90mm f2 five out of five stars. Want one? Give it a try at LensRentals or buy one on Amazon.

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.