Leica APO 75mm f/2 Summicron-SL ASPH - First Impressions
I admit it has taken me a little longer than usual to write up this post. You see, there is a large part of me that has forsaken the Leica SL. Why I feel this way, I'll touch on later. But suffice to say, I didn't want my current bias to impact the integrity of this review. After all, the Leica SL is a capable camera, and the new Leica APO 75mm f/2 Summicron-SL ASPH appears to be an equally capable lens for what it is designed to do.
Of course, my feelings toward the system wasn't always like this. I mean, there was a time for well over a year when I truly embraced it. In fact, I had fallen completely head over heels for it, despite initial reservations. And why wouldn't I? At the time of its release, there was nothing else like it from Leica. From it's electronic viewfinder to its updated user interface, it made shooting adapted M-mount lenses so much more accurate. Because of that, it made you never want to use another digital rangefinder again.
With that said, how Leica enthusiasts regarded native SL lenses was a different story. As much as they took to the Leica SL, many did not feel the same way about its native lenses. Much of that had to do with the inconvenience its size presented normal recreational use. In other words, they were just too big and too heavy to bring on photowalks. For that reason, it just made more sense to adapt M-mount lenses than to be weight down by super-sized native SL lenses.
But then, the world changed again when the powers to be at Wetzlar released the Leica M10. With it, Leica made a new digital rangefinder unlike anything else before it. And because the Leica M10 was so much better, it inadvertently impacted the appeal of the Leica SL. This meant the argument to adapt M-mount lens no longer made much sense anymore. With this being the case, what reason is there to remain loyal to the Leica SL?
The knee-jerk response would be to use native SL lenses. But as we have already established, native SL lenses are not practical for recreational use. Again, they are just too big and too heavy to bring along on any leisurely photowalk - much less to lug around on holiday or any other uncontrolled shooting situation. If only Leica were to have the forethought to offer a more practical lineup of lenses for everyday practical use.
This is where the new Leica APO 75mm f/2 Summicron-SL enters into the discussion. It is a much more practical lens by size than any of its three predecessors - the Leica Vario 24-90mm f/2.8-4 Elmarit-SL ASPH, the Leica 90-280mm f/2.8-4 Elmarit-SL ASPH, and the Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL ASPH. Because of that, the 75 Summicron-SL is the first native SL lens that can fully demonstrate what I believe the Leica SL was made to do.
Where rangefinders are designed to give photographers greater control over the documentation process, the Leica SL was designed to do the opposite. It's designed to let photographers cede control for automation, in order to facilitate quick critical focus in documentation. In other words, the Leica SL was made to autofocus. Because of that, the ergonomics of the lens - especially with regards to its size - is materially relevant in how it impacts the overall auto focus experience.
With how much smaller and lighter the 75 Summicron-SL is, the user experience is different from the previous three native SL lenses. It is not taxing to carry around, nor burdensome to proper shooting fundamentals when carried around for extended periods of time. Even without image stabilization (unlike the 24-90 and 90-280), I was able to get tack focus at slower shutter speeds well below what's expected from the reciprocal rule.
To demonstrate the accuracy of its autofocus, I opted to shoot at maximum aperture. Normally at higher than normal focal lengths, I tend to stop down for increased depth of field. This way, I can pad my focusing margin of error. However, the 75 Summicron-SL felt relatively nimble in hitting focus with noticeable certainty. And when shot with dynamic tracking, I found the autofocus to be relatively accurate - albeit a hair too slow to respond in continuous shooting mode.
The rendering of the 75 Summicron-SL is characteristic of the look typical of contemporary Leica Summicrons. It comes close to what's expected of a Summilux shot wide open, but still falls short of that look. In my opinion, the 75 Summicron-SL doesn't have as much of that three-dimensional pop at maximum aperture, unless if shot at closer minimum focusing distance, and in more ambient lower light situations.
Admittedly, I didn't optimize the images in post. Obviously, the raw exports of the image files have a washed out look to them. But on closer inspection, there is no doubt that the 75 Summicron-SL retains the micro contrast typical of most contemporary Leica lenses. Because of that, I suspect that image files rendered by the 75 Summicron-SL will likely benefit from some additional optimization in post.
Also worth noting is how sharp this lens is. When tack focus is achieved, the amount of resolved detail can be very precise. That is to say, the edge of shapes of what's in tack focus will be clearly defined without any trace of feathering diminishing its perceived sharpness. Having said that, the sharpness of this lens and its ability to resolve details can only be appreciated - as of this writing - on the 24 megapixel sensor of the Leica SL.
Whether it can resolve detail at higher resolution is anyone's guess. But relying on anecdotal evidence from what is observable and how contemporary M-mount lenses like the APO 50mm f/2 Summicron-M renders on a 42 megapixel Sony sensor, it would seem likely.
The optical design of this lens is clearly optimized for accuracy. Even at maximum aperture, documentary aberrations like vignetting and color fringing appears to be kept well under control. As for corner sharpness, I did not make an active effort to test it. I never do, which is unfortunate. But from what I can see from these sample images shot mostly at maximum aperture, corner sharpness appears to be retained.
Overall, the user experience of shooting the Leica 75mm f/2 Summicron-SL has been positive. It focuses quickly and relatively accurately. However, the 75 Summicron-SL does expose the Leica SL to its biggest problem - which is its age. Despite newer upgrades in firmware, the autofocus of the Leica SL can be slow to respond when focusing demand increases. But I suppose that is to be expected. After all, its current processor is already a generation behind its competitors.
Having said that, the 75 Summicron-SL is the first lens that seems to be made for what the Leica SL is intended to do. Perhaps the Leica SL was never specifically made to render at shallow depths of field, but rather made for accuracy in documenting quickly. From that perspective, the 75mm Summicron-SL makes good sense, despite losing a stop for more portability. However, hope springs eternal. Maybe the next generation Leica SL will render significantly cleaner high ISO files.
Now wouldn't that be something!
Exposure and color balance of some photos have been tweaked slightly in Lightroom, for the sake of consistency in presentation. Only the title image have been cropped and optimized in Lightroom - albeit with great restraint.
Special thanks to Lydia for filling in.
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