Introduction

Leica Summicron-R 50mm f/2 is one of Leica's four 50mm lens designs. Two of these designs - Summicron and Summilux are available in both R and M mounts, while two other - Noctilux and Elmar are available only in M mount. Originally designed in late 60s, Summicron has seen several revisions and the review is for E55 non-ROM variant of the lens. The lens I obtained for testing was manufactured in Canada around 1980 (SN: 2973003).

The optical construction consists of 6 elements in 4 groups. While the lens is not sealed from dust and water like some of other professional lenses, the overall build quality is superb. Barrel, mount base, aperture and focus rings are all solid metal and are clearly designed with intention to withstand heavy use. Despite that, the lens is quite light and compact, measuring 6.6x4.1cm (2.59x1.61in) and weighing 290g (10.2oz). The lens has a retractable built-in hood to help reduce the amount of stray light hitting the front glass element. The minimum focusing distance is 50cm (1.64ft), the minimum aperture is f/16 and the filter size is 55mm.

On APS-C type cameras with 1.6x crop sensor ratio, the field of view of Summicron-R 50mm f/2 is going to be equivalent to that of a 80mm lens on a full-frame body. The lens is quite popular among photographers and is in abundant supply on eBay. Good copies of the lens go for anywhere from US$350 to US$500 depending on the model/year and condition. New copies of the lens with ROM contacts are priced around US$1,250 (as of May 2007).

Image

To test the lens on EOS body, I used Fotodiox Leica-R to EOS adapter without AF confirmation chip. With non-EF mount lenses you are limited to either fully manual and aperture priority modes. All but center weighted metering is also going to be disabled with non-chipped adapters.

 

Field Tests

Summicron produced very well balanced and consistent results in the field. Leica, which is known for developing lenses with probably the most accurate color rendition, did not disappoint here - colors were vivid and images were literally breathing with life. Bokeh, on the other hand, was rather uninspiring with Summicron, fact that can be attributed to Summicron's relatively small maximum aperture.

The lens was somewhat soft at its widest aperture (especially struggling around borders), but quality improves significantly once stopped down to f/2.8. Quality remained consistently high throughout the rest of the aperture - an ideal treat in any lens. On APS-C camera, Summicron showed no vignetting whatsoever throughout the entire aperture range - not especially surprising for a 50mm lens. Chromatic aberration, barrel distortion and flare were also well under control. As always, I want to remind that you might experience somewhat different results on a full-frame body, especially when it comes to vignetting.

 

 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for both types of cameras.

 

Canon APS-C: The lens produced very solid results in the lab. Performance in the center was already pretty good wide open at f/2 and only got better with stopped down aperture, peaking around f/4. Borders remain pretty sharp from f/2.8 and on, but at f/2 quality suffers and results are not that extraordinary. Interestingly enough, the overall performance of Summicron-R 50mm f/2 is almost identical to the overall performace of it's more expensive cousin, Summilux-R 50mm f/1.4 (I say almost because technically speaking, Summicron's performance around borders with wide open aperture is slightly worse then Summilux's). The peak overall performance at f/5.6 through f/8 will give you very good 19in and OK 24in prints, which by itself is very respectable. Conclusion? By all accounts, this is a very solid lens that can produce results that rival the most expensive modern prime lenses, including Canon's infamous L lenses. For a 20+ year old lens, this is an achievement!

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 50mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 50mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 50mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 50mm

 

Chromatic aberration (fringes of color caused by sharp transitions) was minimal (<0.3px) wide open and non-existent when stopped down to f/2.8 and beyond. Considering that this is a 50mm prime, this aspect does not come as a surprise, (but this is a pretty consistent trait across Leica's lenses).

 

Image borders @ 50mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8
Image borders @ 50mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: Coming soon...

 

Alternatives

Naturally I am going to assume that you're interested in alternative non-native mount 50mm lenses. The most obvious choice is Leica's Summilux-R 50mm f/1.4 (review). And while Summilux is a faster lens, since build and image quality wise both lenses go neck to neck with each other, it's questionable whether it really makes sense paying an extra US$1,000+ for that extra speed. Other possible alternatives include Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm lenses (f/1.4 (review) and f/1.7 (review) variants for Contax/Yashica mount and f/4 ZF for Nikon Ai-S mount). Other 50mm lenses in Nikon Ai-S, Olympus OM, Pentax K and M42 mounts can also be adapted to EOS bodies, so all you need is imagination and willingness to experiment in order to find that 50mm prime you would like.

 

Recommendation

Like its more expensive cousin, Summilux-R 50mm f/1.4, Summicron-R 50mm f/2 is a very solid lens with one problem - it's only available in Leica's native mounts. Ok, so it's not a problem if you're a Leica user. Everyone else should keep in mind that there are excellent 50mm lenses available in pretty much any mount. If you're willing to experiment or are looking for something that your native 50mm lens cannot deliver, the Summicron should most definitely be on your list. But then again you should also do yourself a favor and invest in a more advanced adapter with AF confirmation or at least an appropriate focusing screen.