Is the Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL worth it? Featuring the 50 Lux-M, 50 Lux-R, and M10
This time, I remembered to stop down. Unfortunately, I forgot to do a minimum focusing distance comparison. Being a one person show - with the exception of my besty Anna - forgetfulness does become an issue, especially when juggling three lenses between two Leica SL camera bodies. To make matters worse, I didn't have a smooth surface to lay down the camera, whenever I had to swap lenses. Because of that, I had to switch lenses with two swaying camera bodies in mid air slung around my neck, with one hand unmounting a lens while the other removing the rear cap of another.
And in the midst of all this contortion, dust was flying through the gaping lens mount opening of the camera and onto the sensor.
I suppose I could have gotten a third Leica SL for this comparison. But I think a rocket blower would have been a better and more economical solution... in addition to a micro fiber cloth, since I accidentally smudged the rear element of the 50mm Summilux-M with my thumb.
Yes, it wasn't exactly the most ideal location to start off a photoshoot - climbing up a steep hilly path. But I wanted some seclusion away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, without having to visit bridge and tunnel country. I figured I had three lenses to juggle between two camera bodies, and the last thing I needed was a crowd bumping into me while I was contorting between lenses.
I guess I didn't think this through.
Still, it was important that I found some level of seclusion, given I was comparing the 50mm focal length. On my initial test of the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL ASPH, I was constantly photobombed by passersby in the background. Compositionally, I found it very distracting. So for this comparison between the 50 Summilux-SL and the 50 Summilux-M ASPH and Summilux-R, I was determined not to make the same mistake.
The point of this comparison is to answer the question on most Leica SL photographers. Is a lens as large and as heavy as the Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL worth lugging around for the sake of autofocus, if the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH or the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-R already exists?
For most, the sheer girth of the 50 Lux-SL is a deal breaker. No amount of autofocus is worth carrying around such a behemoth of a lens. It's big and it's heavy. But what if one is to evaluate the SL on the basis of comparative performance? Is the 50 Lux-SL better than the 50 Lux-M ASPH and the 50 Lux-R?
Personally, I am of the opinion that the three lenses render more or less the same. Yes, there are differences, but only if you're looking for them. The 50 Lux-SL is noticeably sharper at full DNG resolution than the other two lenses. The 50 Lux-SL also appears to render color with greater tonal range than the adapted 50 Lux-M ASPH and 50 Lux-R. But overall, I don't see enough of a difference to lug around something so big and heavy, just for the sake of autofocus - especially if you're stopped down.
As far as the autofocus is concerned, I didn't experience any significant issues with it. With that said, my standards aren't up to my Canon autofocus expectations. The autofocus of the 50 Lux-SL isn't snappy, like a good DSLR - especially in low contrast situations. For some this might be a deal breaker. But for me, I'm a Leica M shooter. So being able to autofocus wide open at f/1.4 is already pretty good.
Still, the EVF and the focus magnification on the Leica SL is good enough to overcome the need for autofocus. From my perspective, visual confirmation of focus on magnification is more reassuring than relying on autofocus. From that perspective, I don't really see a huge advantage in having autofocus, when shooting wide open at f/1.4. The only time autofocus is absolutely necessary is when you need continuous focusing wide open for the sake of tracking - which I've had great success with the 50 Lux-SL.
At this point, I gave up juggling three lenses between two Leica SL body. It was then I decided to mount the 50mm Summilux-M back onto the Leica M10. This made life much easier - plus I got Anna to carry one of the cameras with her, which literally was a load off my shoulders.
However, the hindsight excuse that I would like to go with in making this switch, is it allows us to see how the Leica M10 and the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M compares with the Leica SL and the 50mm Summilux-SL. As for the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-R... well, that's just a bonus, I guess?
So what would the purpose be in doing this comparison between the Leica SL with the 50mm Summilux-SL and the Leica M10 with the 50mm Summilux-M?
Well, it's the very question I've been asking myself all along. Is the Leica SL really worth it? Since the release of the M10, I have been soul searching, wondering if I should continue to use my Leica SL. A big part of that reason why I haven't forsaken the SL is because I haven't been able to make a fair comparison between the Leica SL and the Leica M10, given that I've only been able to do apples to oranges comparisons between the two systems.
From past reviews, I've already determined that M-mount lenses do not render optimally on the Leica SL, when compared to M-mounted lenses on the Leica M10. And earlier on this review, we have determined that SL-mounted lenses do render optimally on the Leica SL, when compared to M-mounted lenses on the Leica SL. However, both these comparisons are really apples to oranges comparisons, since they're comparing a native lens against and adapted lens.
What we haven't seen so far is how SL-mounted lenses on the Leica SL compare to M-mounted lenses on the Leica M10. That is because Leica didn't have an SL-mounted lens that can be compared apples to apples to an M-mounted lens. That is until now. With the release of the Leica 50mm Summilux-SL, we can finally make that apples to apples comparison.
In my opinion, the Leica SL with the 50mm Summilux-SL seems to render slightly better than the Leica M10 with the 50mm Summilux-M. The images from the Leica SL appear to edge out the M10 in sharpness and color rendering. So if you make a living on incremental optimization in quality, then the Leica SL with native SL lenses is the clear winner.
But let's be honest. On a blind comparison, I wouldn't be able to tell which is which. However, I will be able to tell you which camera and lens pairing is heavier, even if blindfolded. I can pretend to be practical, so from the perspective of rendering, I don't believe that that Leica SL is worth it, unless if autofocus is something you absolutely need. Having said that, any DSLR (or mirrorless system) would have better autofocus than the Leica SL.
So is the Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux worth it? And while we're at it, is the entire Leica SL system worth it?
For most, I think you should skip the 50 Summilux-SL. It's much too big, and the autofocus seems to only work under optimal conditions. As for the Leica SL, I believe that it is still a wonderful system, despite not optimizing M-mounted lenses in rendering. Admittedly, the autofocus of the Leica SL may not be as snappy as a Canon 5D Mark IV. But, a Leica SL can use M-mounted lenses, while zoom out to 280mm on the Various 90-280mm Elmarit, with continuous autofocus tracking. For many, that's a pretty good deal. And because of that, I'm keeping my Leica SL.
Having conducted all these comparisons between the Leica SL and the Leica M10, I'm comfortable with the marginal reduction in quality rendered on the Leica SL when paired with M-mounted lenses. I don't really need autofocus all the time - especially with prime lenses. And I do like the focus magnification experience provided by an EVF.
As for the 50mm Summilux - to tell you the truth - I like it more than my 50mm Summilux-M. Admittedly, it isn't practical. But then again, nothing about this blog is practical at all.
And thanks again to John for reminding me once more that the R-mount lens I used for this comparison was the e60 version.
All images have not been optimized in Lightroom. Images have not been cropped unless otherwise stated.