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Introduction

Leica Summicron-R 90mm f/2 is one of five telephoto lenses that Leica offers in its lineup of SLR range of cameras. The first version of the lens was released in late 60s but the company has revised its design a few times with the most recent one, APO Summicron-R 90mm f/2, released in 2002. The version tested in this review was an E55 model, which preceded the current APO version of this lens. The serial number of the tested lens is 3342985. The E55 variant of Summicron is quite readily available on the used markets like eBay, with good copies selling around US$450 (as of October 2007).

The optical construction of the lens consists of 5 elements in 5 groups - quite a simple design when compared to some modern alternatives like Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 which has 9 elements in 7 groups or Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF which has 9 elements in 8 groups. The build quality of the lens is superb, as expected from a Leica lens and rivals anything you can find on the market. The metal barrel is super solid as are the focusing and aperture rings. The lens looks and feels very sturdy, almost heavyweight, measuring 59 x 70cm (2.3 x 2.7in) and weighing 550g (19.4oz), Although the barrel extends a bit towards close up, adding another 20mm or so to the total length. The minimum supported aperture is f/22, the minimum focusing range is 68cm (2.25ft) and the filter size is 55mm.

Image

As most Leica R lenses, Summicron 90mm f/2 E55 is easily adaptable to a number of alternative mount systems, including Canon and Micro Four Thirds. You can in theory adapt it to Nikon system as well, but you'd need to replace the mount, since Leica's register flange is too close to Nikon's to use a regular adapter. Within the scope of this review, the lens was tested on Canon's 10Mp APS-C type 400D, 12Mp and 21Mp full frame Canon 5D and 5DMk2 cameras. Since the lens was designed for traditional 35mm cameras, if you're using it on APS-C type body with 1.6x crop factor, the EFOV of the lens will be 144mm.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 5 elements in 5 groups
Angular Field ~27 degrees
Minimum Focus 68cm/2.25ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2-f/22, manual
Filter Size 55mm
Lens Hood None
Weight 550g/19.4lb
Dimensions 59x70mm/2.3x2.7"
Lens Case None

 

Handling

Leica's lenses always feel like a solid chunk of glass and metal fused in a high-tech lab, and Summicron-R 90mm f/2 E55 is no exception here. The feel of precision when you rotate the focusing ring, resistance of the telescopic built-in hood, satisfying clicks of the aperture ring - all leave an impression of quality engineering, particularly when you compare this lens to other lenses in the class. Only Carl Zeiss and to a much lesser degree Voigtlander lenses leave you with similar feelings, but even then Leica reigns supreme in build quality. Not to say that the lens is completely without drawbacks - the metal knurled focusing ring is fairly thin and is a little bit uncomfortable to grip. The ring itself rotates for about 270 degrees when going from the infinity to the closeup, giving you sufficient amount of precision during focusing.

Despite of its 'chunkiness', Summicron-R 90mm balances quite well on mid and large cameras like Canon 5D and 1Ds series, with the center of weight positioned at the base of the camera's mount. On lighter cameras like 400D the weight is shifted slightly towards the front of the lens, tipping the combo down when the lens is extended towards the close focusing distances. With either small or large cameras, hand-holding the camera/lens combo is not challenging, since the lens is not particularly heavy.

I found Summicron-R 90mm f/2 quite easy to focus - with the lens remaining at f/2, the viewfinder of Canon 5D/5DMk2 remained bright and clear. At close focusing distances you can completely rely on your eyes for focusing the lens, but at around infinity you would benefit from an AF confirmation adapter, assuming you're using the lens on an alternative mount of course. Your mileage with the adapter might vary somewhat though, depending on the adapter quality - I've changed about half a dozen Leica-R/EOS adapters before finding one that was accurate enough during focusing. Even then, as you focus the lens, you will discover that in many situations, particularly at closer distances, the camera would give you a focusing confirmation not at a single unique focusing point, but within a small range - the front to back focusing with adapters is quite common and you would often need to practice with the lens a little bit to understand where exactly you are focusing. In my case, I discovered my most accurate adapter front-focused consistently on all Leica R lenses (but did so in a very predictable, uniform way) and so I took a habit of taking the pictures at the rear end of the focusing confirmation range, which consistently gave be best results.