Leica APO Summicron-SL Initial Thoughts….
There’s a lot I still love about Leica and so I follow news of their various camera and lens releases. Finally there seems to be real movement with regard to SL lenses, with a slew of new Leica APO Summicron-SL lenses either available now, or due to arrive in the second half of 2018.
Until now, the only lenses available for the Leica SL have been the 24-90mm f2.8-4 Vario Elmarit, 90-280mm f2.8-4 APO Vario Elmarit and the 50mm f1.4 Summilux. Anyone looking to keep weight and bulk down would have been flat out of luck, because these are all very large optics. With the announcement of the Leica APO Summicron-SL optics, one would have expected two additional ‘features’ to come online for the SL family: greater compactness and lower cost.
On the subject of compactness, the Leica APO Summicron-SLs are clearly not bantamweights. However, comparison with their faster siblings is a bit difficult. There is only one faster Summilux sibling available now: the 50mm. We also don’t have final specs on the Leica website for the new 50mm f2 APO Summicron-SL, but the screen grab above (from Leica Camera) suggests that all four APO Summicrons share the same dimensions. They’re also likely to have broadly similar weights.
50mm, 124mm x 88mm, 1065g
75 – 102mm x 73mm, 720g
90 – 102mmx73mm, 700g
This means that these f2 lenses have comparable weight to f1.4 lenses of similar focal length from other manufacturers. In fact this is true of the 24-90mm too. It is a stop slower than f2.8 24-70mm lenses from Canon, Nikon, Sigma etc but of equal or greater weight.
Perhaps it isn’t a huge surprise that Leica is aiming for optical excellence at the expense of weight and compactness. This may be a very deliberate strategy with regard to the SL’s market niche, but I am still a little surprised that there isn’t a bigger gap between the enormous 50mm f1.4 Summilux and assumed specs of the new summicron. 350g is a lot, but it is a lot less when the comparison lens starts out at 1065g!
This means that anyone wishing to take a good line up of SL primes with them on their travels will have the Summicrons as their lightest weight option. The weight of their camera bag will be comparable to that of a Nikon D850/Canon 5D IV with all f1.4 pro primes. That’s quite a bag and of course the Canon/Nikon users have the option of selecting f1.8 or f2 lenses, which are considerably smaller and lighter than their f1.4 Siblings. On top of this, if the SL users wants to shoot anything wider than 35mm, they will have no choice but to take the large and heavy 24-90mm Vario Elmarit-SL, because the widest prime yet announced for the SL system is the new APO Summicron-SL 35mm and even that may not arrive until late 2018.
I understand why Leica is pitching the SL in the direction of optical brilliance (although in previous Leica SL articles I have expressed my opinion on the limitations of doing so with a 24MP body). I have no doubt the new APO designated SL lenses will be amazing in every aspect of their optical performance, but those who’ve bought into the SL system are not being given any lightweight options at all.
Now we come on to price. In the UK, at a typical retailer, the Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux SL ASPH is £3,670. The APO-Summicron SL 75mm f2 ASPH is £3,750 and the APO-Summicron SL 75mm f2 ASPH £4,100. These are eye watering prices and even if we assume the Leica 50mm f2 APO Smmicron SL is a cheaper (say, £3,000), that is an absolutely astonishing price for admission into the land of Leica prime lenses. Based on the prices discussed thus far, it would be fair to assume that a future 35mm f1.4 Summilux-SL will be well north of £4,000, as would a 75/85/90mm f1.4 lens. Such lenses would also be very large and heavy, yet at present they’re still being paired up with a 24MP sensor. These lenses may make a lot more sense when the SL contains a 48MP sensor, but for now they seem like substantial overkill. The wait for a future 48MP SL may also be a long one, because the pixel count of the SL is invariably going to be determined by what Leica puts in the larger Leica S.
These Leica APO Summicrons SL lenses ensure that SL users still can’t really escape from Fujifilm GFX/DSR f1.4 Pro lens territory when it comes to kit bulk and weight. With Summilux SL lenses the SL users is in a weight category of their own, with price to match. In fact, you could buy a GFX outfit and a pro DSLR outfit (with D850/5DIV) for roughly the same price as a SL kit with same focal lengths. While some might criticise me for even suggesting that two systems are an alternative to one, it should be pointed out that such a duo would have vastly larger performance envelope than the Leica SL does. Additionally, it seems Leica’s own marketing segregation is designed to have ‘the average Leica user’ operate two systems in tandem (SL and M or TL), by denying SL users any compact and light lens options.
The Leica SL of course has qualities and features of it’s own, namely the clean and simple interface and menu, compatibility with M lenses etc. That I can understand is very important to some of it’s users and fans, I just wish Leica was giving these same people the option of toting smaller, lighter and less expensive lenses around. Unless I’m mistaken, there isn’t a single lens available for less than £3,000.
It is probably fair to assume that Leica won’t be producing a 35mm/50mm f2.8 lens just to keep weight under control would, so we can perhaps fairly assume that the APO Summicrons really are the lowest priced and most compact and light options that the SL system will see. Anyone hoping that their investment into the SL system would see more affordable lens offerings in the future is likely to be sorely disappointed. They could also be in for a very long wait. I will also point out the other elephant in the room: f2 does not replace f1.4. Anyone wanting very shallow depth of field for portraits may find that even the APO Summicron-SL 90mm f2 doesn’t deliver the soft and gooey backgrounds than a 85mm f1.4 lens can, but that’s another topic altogether.
I’ll be interested to see what Leica delivers with regard to wide angles, because I can see Leica being in a fairly tight corner here. The 24-90mm is already a f2.8 lens, so will we see a 24mm f2.8 Elmarit-SL (I doubt it), or will Leica be forced to go for a 28mm Summicron-SL, or 24mm Summilux-SL. Something tells me the wide angle offerings are likely to be two things: exotic and fabulously expensive. Some people thought that the SL system was going to be more affordable than the M. After all, no complex rangefinder mechanisms are required and the lenses didn’t need to be quite as compact. It turns out the very opposite was true and this perhaps tells us something about what has made Leica successful in a very difficult market: first and foremost, they’re a luxury brand. If you see the evolution of their products in this light, rather than as exceptional and practical cameras and lenses for demanding users, it makes a lot more sense. This is perhaps why, as a photographer first and foremost, I am regarding developments with increasing bamboozlement!
I’d love to hear reader opinions on this, because I realise that my opinion is not the only one! Are you a SL user who is thrilled by what Leica is offering with the new APO Summicron SL lenses? Were you hoping for something different? Which lenses would you like to see next?
P.S. I would dearly love to see how these new Summicrons perform compared to Canikon/Sigma f1.4 primes. It should already be possible to compare apples to apples in the form of the large and excellent Sigma 50mm f1.4 and the (even larger) 50mm Summilux-SL ASPH.