Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 ASPH: a Lens to Have for a Lifetime

I am glad to finally sit down and start typing ‘Leica Summicron’, the name of a legend in the history of 35mm camera lenses. This website ‘35mm lens photography’ would be incomplete without mentioning this lens. I know this sounds like an overstatement but it really isn’t. You’ll agree once you reach the bottom of the page.

The rise of a Legend

ライカ通信 No.10 2003

The most well received focal lengths among Leica lenses are the 35mm and the 50mm. While the crown of the classic 35mm lenses is held by the Summicron 35mm f/2. The Summicron series started back in the year 1958, when Leica’s M mount was a bright rising star. Within a short 2 years, Leica released another 35mm lens, the Summilux. However comparing to the precise workmanship of the Summicron, the Summilux was critiqued for its rougher finish and somewhat less perfect optical performance. (probably worth a separate article on this.)

Left: Generation IV ‘King of Bokeh’; middle: Generation V with ASPH; right:Generation VI

The classic Summicron design has 8 elements in 5 groups, initially without an aspherical lens. Mass production of aspherical lenses was next to impossible in the 50s when there was no computer-assisted lens designing and making. Since its launch the classic Summicron was continuously manufactured for the next 28 years in 3 generations. It’s a pity that the 2nd and 3rd generation was overshadowed by the 1st generation, much like how the Leica M2 and M4 have always been seen as a ‘reduced’ version of the more classic M3. This situation all changed from the 4th generation Summicron. The year was 1979, Summicron was reborn as a classic in the new world with a 7 lens design, it was soon crowned ‘ The King of Bokeh’. With the further development in technology, Leica added an aspherical lens to the Summicron from the 5th generation onwards in the year 1997, from this point onwards the lens is commonly known as the Summicron ASPH. The current generation of the Summicron ASPH was first introduced in 2016, making it the 6th generation of the Summicron family.

the Dilemma

Summicron 35mm on M6

Among all Summicron 35mm f2 lenses, product code 11879 (5th generation) is what’s most widely seen in the second-hand market today. It has been produced for the longest period of time with many variations and colours. It was relatively inexpensive and reliable. The optical design of this generation Summicron is identical to the Summicron 4th generation lenses in the black matte finish as well as in silver finish, marketed exclusively in Japan as ‘the 50th anniversary’ limited edition. The next generation, started from 2016 with product code 11673 (black) and 11674 (silver) uses the same lens structure as the 11879. The number of shutter leaves was increased to create better bokeh. The practical yet slightly less luxurious looking plastic lens hood was replaced with a metal one with screw mount.

It is a blessing and curse at the same time to be someone fond of the Leica Summicron ASPH 35mm lens. We are blessed to have so many generations of Summicron to choose from yet they all have near perfect optical performances. At the same time it is a curse because the prohibitive Leica price means most of us are not able to collect all beautiful variations of this lens and had to make the most difficult decisions to pick some over others.

the beautiful yet fragile Leica lens hood

Honestly, after a week of testing the new Summicron what bugs me the most is the square metal lens hood. You will know the quality of the finish by simply touching it, but at the same time you’ll know it is delicate. I had to constantly remind myself not to scratch or dent it. The worry at the back of my mind prevented me from enjoying photography fully.

the 6th Generation Summicron

the rear elements

The rear elements of the 6th generation Summicron stick out further than the previous generation. There is a 6 bit code embedded in the mount  which helps a camera body identify the lens and apply a series of presets according to its optical characteristics. This is especially helpful with saturation, for those choosing to shoot in JPG format. While if you wish to preserve the ‘Leica colour’ as much as possible, always shoot in DNG format.

the Summicron 35mm f/2 looks with the original Leica UV filter.

Comparing to the 5th generation Summicron lenses, the 6th generation has a somewhat thicker aperture ring and more groove in its front filter screw. Obviously, the filter screw is not visible once a filter is put on. The numbers on the lens are distinctively white and yellow. To me, the original red coloured font on earlier Summicron versions looks way better.

f/5.6 aperture leaves

The above photo shows the aperture leaves at f/5.6. The issue associated with non-circular aperture has been resolved after Leica moves its lens production back to Germany. What’s more, the more recent 6th generation Summicron has 11 aperture leaves comparing to 8 in the 5th generation. This allows the bokeh to look great even at a small aperture value such as f/5.6.

Leica vs Carl Zeiss 35mm lenses

Comparison with the Carl Zeiss Biogon

Comparing Summicron 35mm f/2.8 with Carl Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2.8 and 28mm f/2.8, there is a subtle difference in the craftsmanship. (Both are excellent to start with.) The Leica lens craftsmanship seems to be a little better when comparing the black coating and the deburring of edges in aluminum parts. Overall I would say Leica lenses are artworks while the Carl Zeiss precision tools. Both lenses are perfectly capable and absolutely enjoyable to use on either film or digital camera bodies.

Conclusion – Would you buy this lens?

Most Leica users use only one lens 95% of the times. As you know, I am a firm believer that the 35mm focal length is THE most beautiful focal length. (50mm prime lens lovers often debate with me on this.) To me the choice is limited to three models: the f/2 Summicron, the f/2.4 Summarit or the f/1.4 Summilux.

What would be your recommendation? Leave me a comment below.

Check out my other reviews of 35mm Gear

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