6 Months with the Leica APO Summicron-M 50mm

I’m a 50mm guy. For whatever reason, be it scientific or psychological, I just prefer shooting a 50mm over any other focal length. In my six or seven years of shooting Leica M bodies, I’ve owned pretty much all the modern Leica 50mm’s, a few of the classics and a few non-Leica brands.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/16, ISO 320

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/16, ISO 320 (Click image to enlarge)

Until recently I thought that the Leica Summilux-M 50mm was without a doubt the best 50mm lens on the market. I’ve shot with it for four years and loved every minute of it. I’ve got to know the lens inside out and would have been happy shooting with it for the rest of my life.

However, when Leica announced the APO Summicron back in 2012 to much fanfare and exaltation, I decided to look into it. There were crazy claims flying about – some called it the best Leica lens ever made, some said it was even the best lens of all time, but it turned out I was going to have to wait a long time to find out how true these claims were.

Leitz Park, Wetzlar. 02.09.2015 Leica MM 246; APO Summicron-M 50mm 1/125sec; f/2; iso400

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 400 (Click image to enlarge)

I put an order in for one with my local dealer and after waiting around six months, I started noticing articles on the internet pop up mentioning flare issues and that Leica were binning 9 out of 10 that they produced due to production complications. I really didn’t fancy forking out a fortune just to be a guinea pig, so I cancelled my order with my dealer and went back to being happy (more than happy) with my Summilux.

A few years went by and I just happened to be in the Leica Mayfair boutique in February and there were two APO’s in stock. I asked the shop manager if the flare and production issues had been sorted and he confirmed they had. The lens had actually dropped slightly in price as well and I decided to buy it there and then.

So now I’ve had the lens for a little over six months, shoot almost exclusively with it and thought it was about time I wrote up my findings.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 25000 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 25,000 (Click image to enlarge)

I know the claims out there. I’ve heard it called “technically perfect” and “the best render of any lens ever”, but rather than be sensational about it, I’m just going to simply state that it is the best lens I’ve ever used. Not just the best 50mm lens. Not even just the best full frame lens (I shoot S lenses too), but the best lens I’ve used period.

Ok, so that is a big claim, especially when it doesn’t render nearly as good as a APO-Summicron-S 120mm, but for a blend of reasons, it is the best lens I have ever used.

Here’s why…

  1. I shoot black and white and primarily on a Monochrome Typ 246. The APO is perfectly matched to this sensor. It has resolving capabilities superior to any other Leica M lens and suits the high resolution, Bayer filter-free Monochrom sensor perfectly.
  2. It has much more contrast than any other Leica M lens and therefor tricks the eye into thinking the image is sharper.
  3. It “is” optically sharper than any other Leica M lens due to the aspherical design and modern apochromatic correction. When I say “optically sharper”, I mean it’s “way” sharper.
  4. Leica have been accused recently of producing lenses that render too clinically. The APO renders classically on the Monochrome sensor and the grain at high ISO’s is so film-like it’s actually welcome. On the M240 colour sensor, the colour rendering is so correct that very little processing is required and of course it shows very little to no chromatic aberration.
  5. The unique sharpness of this lens wide open produces a level of subject separation that I’ve never experienced on any other lens in any other format. You will have heard people talking about Leica’s 3D image quality, the APO is like 4D!
  6. The thing I loved about the 50mm Summilux was it’s creamy bokeh. The APO is not quite as creamy, but it’s every bit as charming and you don’t need the extra stop that the Summilux has to achieve it. At f/2, the APO renders a lovely, clean, swirl free bokeh.
  7. The build quality is worth mentioning too as Leica have raised the bar with this lens. It feels solid and exact. Leica’s build quality on any lens has never been in question, but the APO just feels better. The built in hood is genius!
  8. It’s highly useable. This might seem a strange thing to say about a lens, but when you are shooting moving subjects such as people in the street, short focus ring travel is essential. The APO’s focus ring travel is small and precise. The lens is also short and light. At under 50mm in length and weighing in at only 300g, it is noticeably smaller and lighter than the Summilux.
    (Qualification: The most unusable lens I have ever shot with is the Noctilux.)

So for the reasons above, I’ve fallen in love with this lens and it’s never off my mount.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320 (Click image to enlarge)

The last thing to talk about is price. This is an expensive lens. At the time of writing it is £5200 / $8000 / €7150. A lot of money.

However, if you’re in the market for this lens, you’ve probably looked at or owned a 50mm Noctilux, which is dearer and trust me, nowhere near as useable, as sharp or as portable as the APO. You may also have looked at the 50mm Summilux which at the time of writing is about half the price of the APO. Is the APO twice as good as the Summilux? No, it’s not, but consider the compactness of the lens, it’s awesome sharpness and it’s ability to separate subjects like no other lens in existence and the spend becomes more convincing.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320 (Click image to enlarge)

Image quality is subjective and open to differing opinions, but to reinforce my experience with the APO I’ve included a few unprocessed comparison shots between the APO  and the Summilux below…

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 2500 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 2500 (Click image to enlarge)

Summilux-M 50mm, f/1.4, ISO 2500 (Click image to enlarge)

Summilux-M 50mm, f/1.4, ISO 2500 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25000 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25,000 (Click image to enlarge)

Summilux-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25000

Summilux-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25,000 (Click image to enlarge)

If you decide the APO Summicron-M is your next 50mm lens, let me know if you’re as delighted with it as I am.

Advertisements

A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (8)

The top shots from the last two weeks from The Leica Meet Flickr

Alex Wohlbold

Alex Wohlbold

Alvaro Lucena

Alvaro Lucena

Andrey Nesmiyan

Andrey Nesmiyan

Andrey Nesmiyan

Andrey Nesmiyan

Fredrik Lübbe

Fredrik Lübbe

Fredrik Lübbe

Fredrik Lübbe

Gary Ong

Gary Ong

Gavin Mills

Gavin Mills

Hun Shiun

Hun Shiun

Iwan Setiabudi

Iwan Setiabudi

Joe Nattapol Suphawong

Joe Nattapol Suphawong

John Kuan

John Kuan

Mike J Pratt

Mike J Pratt

Nathanael Rony Sidharta

Nathanael Rony Sidharta

Nicolas Ulmer

Nicolas Ulmer

Oddy Kasim

Oddy Kasim

Paul Borg Olivier

Paul Borg Olivier

Pedro Matos

Pedro Matos

Rainer Vollmer

Rainer Vollmer

Sung S Lee

Sung S Lee

Takeshi Imai

Takeshi Imai

Teuku Adiftrian

Teuku Adiftrian

Tianliang Hau

Tianliang Hau

Tristan Blonz

Tristan Blonz

Yonathan Budi

Yonathan Budi

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.

A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (8)

Antonio Sánchez-Barriga

Antonio Sánchez-Barriga

Benny Asrul

Benny Asrul

Bill McCarroll

Bill McCarroll

Chai De Landrón-Smith

Chai De Landrón-Smith

Danny Ardiono Hadiatmodjo

Danny Ardiono Hadiatmodjo

Dian Savitri

Dian Savitri

Dirk Holvoet

Dirk Holvoet

Dwidjo Hanggara

Dwidjo Hanggara

Eileen McCarney Muldoon

Eileen McCarney Muldoon

Fredrik Lübbe

Fredrik Lübbe

Gavin Mills

Gavin Mills

Irfan A. Tachrir

Irfan A. Tachrir

Jakop Iskandar

Jakop Iskandar

Jason Howe

Jason Howe

John Pickles

John Pickles

Kent Deitemeyer

Kent Deitemeyer

Kresna Priawan

Kresna Priawan

Marc Ho

Marc Ho

Mas Nyoman Aik

Mas Nyoman Aik

Mike Schneider

Mike Schneider

Nathan Santoso

Nathan Santoso

Nathanael Rony Sidharta

Nathanael Rony Sidharta

Nick Grewal

Nick Grewal

Olaf Willoughby

Olaf Willoughby

Paul Borg Olivier

Paul Borg Olivier

Pedro Matos

Pedro Matos

Roger Yip

Roger Yip

Stefan Biber

Stefan Biber

Stephen Cosh

Stephen Cosh

Sung S Lee

Sung S Lee

William Jusuf

William Jusuf

Yonathan Budi

Yonathan Budi

Yongkie Lie

Yongkie Lie

The top shots from the last two weeks from The Leica Meet Flickr group curated by Gavin Mills.

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact us via this blog.

Film is Dead…Long Live Film!

Why would any sane person move from digital photography back to film?  We’ve all heard it, “film is dead, nobody shoots analog anymore…the whole world has moved to digital!”

I was listening to a very popular photography podcast this past weekend in which the host jokingly said that there are probably only a thousand or so film shooters left on the planet.  It was a joke but it hit a nerve because I’m a committed film photographer and I know there are many, many thousands of us who love to shoot with film.  Granted, film will never be the dominant medium it once was but its going to be around for a long time. I’m glad to be part of the (Leica) film community.

Allow me to lay out some of the very personal reasons I moved to film from digital.  The reasons laid out here are mine of course.  They may or may not be right or relevant for you.  Let me also say that I have nothing against shooting with a digital camera. There is no intent to flame anyone not shooting with film.  I also shoot with digital cameras, I have a Nikon DSLR, a Fuji X100s and my iPhone.  I use them all occasionally.  Here are a few reasons why I now shoot predominantly with a film camera.

I am afraid of technology.  Just kidding, not totally afraid.  I actually embrace good technology but I was leery of having such a large monetary investment in a digital Leica.  I recently sold my Leica M9-P to buy a new Leica MP.  My M9-P was a wonderful camera, I loved the images it produced.  I did a lot of soulful thinking before selling it.  I was primarily afraid of its long term viability.  I had nagging doubts about how long the electronics and sensor would last?  Unfounded? Perhaps.  But the feeling was real for me.  Also, when would I feel the inevitable pull to upgrade to the next generation camera?

Like many photographers I have a problem with gear acquisition syndrome (GAS).  I put a brake on the GAS by selling my M9-P and buying a new Leica MP, a completely mechanical camera built like a tank to last a lifetime.  The MP stands for “mechanical perfection.”  Could I break it?  Maybe I could, but in normal, everyday use, its much less likely to fail than a digital camera.  Its probably the last film camera Leica will ever make.  It’s the result of over 50 years of experience.  I’m committed to it as my “go to” camera for as long as I continue to photograph.

On a related point, I’m going to get to know my MP more than any other camera I will ever own.  It’s going to be with me for a long time and by using it every day, I’m going to come to understand this camera in a deeper way than I might ever know a digital camera that I have for a few years before upgrading to the next generation technology.  My theory is that such familiarity with my tools should help make me a better photographer and at the very least not hold me back.

I’m not in a hurry.  There are enough stresses in life, I don’t need to add any to my photography, my escape from the daily routine.  I don’t feel a need to mass produce images nor do I feel a pressing need to post to social media or my blog every day.

Film slows me down.  Many film shooters say this but my experience confirms it. Film helps me focus, excuse the pun!  With film I’m now working on the non-technical qualities of photography. Those qualities are best exercised by slowing down the process of taking photographs and thinking about the composition of the image to be captured in the frame. I like the slower pace, it requires that I think less about the technical aspects of photography and more about the essence of what it is I’m trying to capture in my images.

During my transition to film, I’ve felt the pull to slow down. I really do think more about the images I’m taking. For me using film equates to more deliberate and purposeful photography. Now I think more about the image I’m most likely to capture in camera as I take a shot. More than once I’ve pulled the camera to my eye to take a shot only to change my mind when I questioned the reason for capturing a particular scene through the viewfinder. With digital I most likely would have taken the shot anyway since it’s no big deal to just press the shutter. It would be easy to press the shutter on my film camera too but I find that I take more time to frame and consider the composition using film; I’m more patient with the old medium.   I believe that its the physical nature of film itself.  Light is making a chemical/physical change on the film.  It’s not an image represented by ones and zeroes on a memory card that can hold thousands of photographs .  The physicality of film and the work to make it come to life make it more real and valuable for me.

I have to consider the limitations on the roll of film in the camera. Twenty four or thirty six frames at set iso. There is a real restriction on what’s available so making sure every frame is used to its full potential is important.  That makes me think more about what I’m shooting.

A downside for many, film takes more time, no doubt about it.  I primarily shoot black and white film and so can process my own negatives.  I usually wait till I have a few rolls of exposed film to process.  It usually takes me an hour to develop my negatives.  I hang them to dry overnight and then scan them to my computer when I get home after work.  Scanning a 36 exposure roll will usually take less than an hour including keywording and importing to Lightroom.  My workflow for film isn’t nearly as quick as it is for my digital process.  But honestly, and I say this in all sincerity, I love everything about processing film. The physicality of it all.  The anticipation of seeing a processed negative for the first time and the satisfaction of seeing a successful image as its scanned into my computer.

I love the look of film.  Film has an amazing dynamic range and is much more forgiving exposure wise.  It’s very hard to blow highlights with film. Film has rich tonal gradation that you can’t match with pixels.  Digital images can look clinical, not so with film.  The textures provided by the grain in a film image can’t be replicated even with capable film emulation software.

I’m pursuing the mystery of film.  Did I get the image I wanted on that frame of film? Was it exposed correctly, framed and composed in the strongest way? The truth won’t be fully known till I can process the negatives which may be as early as that night or it may be a few weeks from now. There’s no immediate tendency or incentive to repeat the shot using film because there are only 35 or so opportunities on the roll in the camera. Moreover the settings should already be the best I could think of to get the image unless I realize right away that I screwed up. If I know I really made a mistake it’ll only be because the exposure or focus weren’t what I should have used. But that’s all in my head, not feedback through exif data fed through the camera.

So, this film workflow takes much, much longer than I’d spend shooting and off-loading digital images from a card. But for me that’s okay. Being more purposeful and deliberate as I shoot generally equates to more keepers and shots that resonate. I have thousands of digital images with tenuous emotional connections on my hard drive. I keep almost all of them but they are just there in my library. It’s my hope, and so far it has proven true, that my film images will result in more keepers.  Over time my goal is to have an increasingly higher number of film images to add to my portfolio.

I’m an unapologetic film shooter, a Leica film shooter at that. I am not going to look back with any regret. I made my move and I’m confident I’m going to have fun with it over the long term. Photography for me is all about the personal enjoyment and satisfaction. Film has accentuated the fun of shooting. I made a conscious decision considering and knowing the busier workflows I’d be adopting. My approach certainly isn’t for everyone and I don’t necessarily recommend it, but it feels right for me.

I’m encouraged and inspired to shoot film. I love the results. I relish learning to use my camera and relating to the idiosyncrasies of the Leica MP, to the lens, the settings and film I’m using. The variables in my photography and workflows are certainly still present but there are fewer of them and they seem manageable.

The technicalities of my equipment and the medium of film when learned free me to explore my creative side which is where I need the most help and inspiration. The challenge is to understand, interpret and anticipate the results I want in the image I envision. That’s the new and exciting personal challenge, learning the nuanced relationships between my skills, gear, creativity and the medium to get the images I’m looking for.

I can’t wait to see where I can go with it.

A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (7)

The top shots from the last two weeks from The Leica Meet Flickr group curated by Gavin Mills.

Marc Hartog

Marc Hartog

Yongki Lie

Yongki Lie

Wook Bang

Wook Bang

Teuku Adifitrian

Teuku Adifitrian

Sung S Lee

Sung S Lee

Stephen Cosh

Stephen Cosh

Stephen Cosh

Stephen Cosh

Rossie Zen

Rossie Zen

Rossie Zen

Rossie Zen

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

Ramon Anastacio

Ramon Anastacio

Ramon Anastacio

Ramon Anastacio

Paul Higgin

Paul Higgin

Olaf Willoughby

Olaf Willoughby

Matt Broughton

Matt Broughton

Makka Kesuma

Makka Kesuma

Lluis Ripol

Lluis Ripol

Leo De Bock

Leo De Bock

Laurent Hette

Laurent Hette

Kresna Priawan

Kresna Priawan

JB Rasor

JB Rasor

Irfan A. Tachrir

Irfan A. Tachrir

Hernan Farias

Hernan Farias

Guillaume Gilbert

Guillaume Gilbert

Fredrik Lübb

Fredrik Lübb

Fatima Salcedo

Fatima Salcedo

Fatima Salcedo

Fatima Salcedo

Elie Vega

Elie Vega

Eileen McCarney Muldoon

Eileen McCarney Muldoon

Dian Savitri

Dian Savitri

Darko Hristov

Darko Hristov

Danny Ardiono Hadiatmodjo

Danny Ardiono Hadiatmodjo

Chai De Landrón-Smith

Chai De Landrón-Smith

Chai De Landrón-Smith

Chai De Landrón-Smith

Cemal Sagnak

Cemal Sagnak

Bond James

Bond James

Benny Asrul

Benny Asrul

Benny Asrul

Benny Asrul

Axel Wohlbold

Axel Wohlbold

Air Kesarin

Air Kesarin

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.

A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (6)

The top shots from the last two weeks from The Leica Meet Flickr group.

Zoran Kulusic-Neral

Zoran Kulusic-Neral

Yonathan Budi

Yonathan Budi

Wook Bang

Wook Bang

Win Soegondo

Win Soegondo

Tobias Gaulke

Tobias Gaulke

Teuku Adifitrian

Teuku Adifitrian

Sung S Lee

Sung S Lee

Roger Yip

Roger Yip

Rod Higginson

Rod Higginson

Pablo Sanz

Pablo Sanz

Olaf Willoughby

Olaf Willoughby

Nicoblue

Nicoblue

Khaled Al Abdul-Mughni

Khaled Al Abdul-Mughni

Johannes Huwe

Johannes Huwe

Jed Best

Jed Best

JB Rasor

JB Rasor

Haoming Wang

Haoming Wang

Grzegorz Kobiela

Grzegorz Kobiela

Gianluca Federighi

Gianluca Federighi

Gavin Mills

Gavin Mills

Fredrik Lubbe

Fredrik Lubbe

Dirk Holvoet

Dirk Holvoet

Derlin Zhang

Derlin Zhang

Christine de Loë

Christine de Loë

Bill McCarroll

Bill McCarroll

Benya Acame

Benya Acame

Axel Wohlbold

Axel Wohlbold

Antonio Sanchez-Barriga

Antonio Sanchez-Barriga

Alvaro Lucena

Alvaro Lucena

Adam Miller

Adam Miller

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.

A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (5)

This weeks top shots from The Leica Meet Flickr group.

Alvaro Lucena

Alvaro Lucena

Antonio Sánchez-Barriga

Antonio Sánchez-Barriga

Axel Wohlbold

Axel Wohlbold

Benya Acame

Benya Acame

bluesphere

bluesphere

Dian Savitri

Dian Savitri

Dirk Holvoet

Dirk Holvoet

Eileen McCarney Muldoon

Eileen McCarney Muldoon

Fabio Lugaro

Fabio Lugaro

Gavin Mills

Gavin Mills

James Hughes

James Hughes

Lillo Cabrera

Lillo Cabrera

Marc Hartog

Marc Hartog

Michael Walker-Toye

Michael Walker-Toye

Olaf Willoughby

Olaf Willoughby

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

Rod Higginson

Rod Higginson

Sorin Vidis

Sorin Vidis

Stephen Cosh

Stephen Cosh

Teuku Adifitrian

Teuku Adifitrian

Win Soegondo

Win Soegondo

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.

A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (4)

This weeks top shots from The Leica Meet Flickr group.

Andrea Bianco

Andrea Bianco

Urtaur

Urtaur

Tobi Gaulke

Tobi Gaulke

Sung Soo Lee

Sung Soo Lee

Steve Lee

Steve Lee

Stephen Cosh

Stephen Cosh

Spyro Zarifopolous

Spyro Zarifopolous

Paul Borg Olivier

Paul Borg Olivier

Michael Walker-Toye

Michael Walker-Toye

Gavin Mills

Gavin Mills

Mark Hall

Mark Hall

Makka Kesuma

Makka Kesuma

Johannes Huwe

Johannes Huwe

Haoming Wang

Haoming Wang

Gavin Mills

Gavin Mills

DonStevie

DonStevie

Dirk Vogel

Dirk Vogel

Benya Acame

Benya Acame

Axel Wohlbold

Axel Wohlbold

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.

A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (3)

This weeks top shots from The Leica Meet Flickr group.

@paul@

@paul@

Antonio Sanchez-Barriga

Antonio Sanchez-Barriga

Bill McCarroll

Bill McCarroll

Camelot98

Camelot98

Christine de Loë

Christine de Loë

Daniel Suharya

Daniel Suharya

Gireesh G V

Gireesh G V

Haoming Wang

Haoming Wang

Johannes Huwe

Johannes Huwe

Olaf Willoughby

Olaf Willoughby

Rod Higginson

Rod Higginson

Sorin Vidis

Sorin Vidis

Sung Soo Lee

Sung Soo Lee

Sung Soo Lee

Sung Soo Lee

Thomas Skov

Thomas Skov

Tobi Gaulke

Tobi Gaulke

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.

A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (2)

This weeks top shots from The Leica Meet Flickr group.

Alex B Muir

Alex B Muir

Camelot98

Camelot98

Frédéric Lanoizelé

Frédéric Lanoizelé

Haoming Wang

Haoming Wang

Johannes Huwe

Johannes Huwe

jonathanliewys

jonathanliewys

Julien Ducenne

Julien Ducenne

Keith Goldstein

Keith Goldstein

Lane 4 Imaging

Lane 4 Imaging

Lillo Cabrera

Lillo Cabrera

Mark Heaver

Mark Heaver

Rick Bronks

Rick Bronks

Stephen Starkman

Stephen Starkman

Sung Soo Lee

Sung Soo Lee

Tobias Gaulke

Tobias Gaulke

Win Soegondo

Win Soegondo

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.