What are the best Leica lenses?
Fast, lightweight and durable - Leica lenses have an exceptionally good reputation. But does it really have to be such a classy lens, and which of the many options is best suited for personal photographic explorations?
Why Leica lenses are so good
Granted, Leica lenses are some of the most expensive lenses on the market. But it is not only the pleasure of luxury and the good name that makes photographers from all over the world spare no expense and continues to account for the success of Leica lenses. After all, Leica Kamera AG not only produces expensive lenses, but also particularly good and exceptionally durable ones.
One of the quality features of Leica lenses is their high speed and the special image and processing quality. Despite their high performance, the lenses are extraordinarily lightweight and easy to handle. No wonder, after all, the Leica M is the camera for street photography par excellence. Generations of photographers rave about the particularly valuable feeling in the hand when working with Leica lenses. In addition, the Leica lens plays a decisive role in the special Leica look, which is often described and praised and gives photos with a Leica lens a very distinctive signature.
At Leica, there is no mass production or machine manufacturing. Instead, all Leica lenses are assembled by hand by people in Wetzlar as well as the other two plants in Portugal and Canada. Here, the special glass designed and manufactured specifically for the lenses is inserted in painstaking manual work. Before the finished cameras or lenses leave the factory and go on sale, they are individually inspected in a complex process to guarantee the highest quality.
A Leica lens is a lifetime purchase that pays off in the long term. For example, there are still photographers today who use Leica lenses from their grandparents over 60 years ago. Not only are the lenses so durable that they still work flawlessly as on the first day, but they are also compatible with almost all cameras since the legendary Leica M series in the mid-1950s. This long durability is well known in photography circles and ensures that Leica lenses are very stable in value. So if, contrary to expectations, a lens starts to gather dust, you can sell it again for a good price. The reverse is also true: If a new Leica lens simply doesn't fit into your photography budget, you may be able to find a new favorite at an affordable price on the used market!
Which cameras are Leica lenses compatible with?
Leica lenses have been compatible with virtually all Leica cameras since the famous Leica M series, back in the 1950s. Leica SL cameras may need an adapter in combination with M lenses. Before you buy a new lens for your camera, you should find out about special features and exceptions to compatibility.
The fast Leica lenses can also be used with cameras from other brands. They create particularly sharp, impressive images here as well. However, special adapters are often required here and compatibility can vary from lens to lens and camera to camera.
The best Leica lenses for every occasion
Anyone looking to purchase their first Leica lens is likely looking for a practical all-rounder for this investment, a lens that will make good photos possible in pretty much any situation, not too heavy or large to make street photography an uncomfortable pleasure. Here are two of Leica's most popular lenses, for always with you:
Leica APO Summicron SL 35mm f/2 ASPH.
You can't go wrong with this 35mm fixed focal length lens. It features a particularly small format, but still offers a comparatively wide angle of view. Photographers love this lens because it's also great for pictures at night or in low light conditions. Since the Summicron lens is fixed focal length, you should be sure that this is a good fit for your own way of working before buying this lens. For some photographers, the non-adjustable fixed focal length feels limiting, while others love it because of the new challenges, as well as creative freedom, it brings.
Leica Super-Vario Elmar SL 16-35mm f/3.5 - 4.5
This lens is another all-rounder that is especially good for travel. Since it doesn't use fixed focal length, but rather focal lengths between 16mm and 35mm, it's more versatile to use. If you're not an absolute fan of fixed focal length, though, that's where opinions differ. The Elmar lens is considered one of the best Leica lenses for wide-angle photography. Fans of this camera report that they successfully use it to take great pictures of street scenes as well as groups and architecture, but also landscapes and at weddings. In difficult lighting conditions, however, this lens leaves something to be desired compared to the Summicron.
It remains to mention that for portraits, especially the Leica Summilux-M 90mm f/1.5 ASPH is highly appreciated. The lens offers good image quality and one of the best fixed focal lengths for portrait work. The unique selling point that sets it apart from other lenses is primarily its exceptional bokeh, which makes the background look particularly beautiful.
Night photography with Leica lenses
For the special case of photography at night or at least in very low light conditions, Leica has a few special lenses up its sleeve. In this special case, the right lens is primarily a matter of sufficient light intensity; a good camera alone is not enough. The Leica M10-R is particularly recommended as a camera here, as it has especially good ISO values for taking photos at night.
For photos with an open aperture and high ISO or a good ISO automatic, there are three lenses in the Leica range. The most expensive and best is the Noctilux lens, which has an incomparable open aperture of 0.95 and is the absolute front-runner among Leica lenses. However, it weighs heavily not only in price, but also in the photo bag. The complex technology that makes particularly difficult photography at night possible is not only heavy, but also bulky, making for a somewhat unwieldy, albeit exceptionally fast lens.
In second place in terms of night photography is the Summilux lens series, which is still a sufficiently fast lens. Since it is an all-rounder and also quite small and light, it is one of the most popular lenses ever among Leica photographers. It is appreciated for its fast and at the same time sharp images and its beautiful bokeh. The speed, focal length and size of this lens harmonize particularly well.
And finally there is also the Summicron Lenses from Leica, especially small and relatively affordable lens for night photography from Leica. It's a fast lens with nice bokeh that can't compete with the Noctilux lens, but still make great photos at night and in dark rooms. True to the motto: small but mighty!