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Leica M-Lenses

Their soul and secrets


by Erwin Puts

September 2 0 0 2
Introduction

Secrets revealed
It is well known that Leica M lenses, in spite of factual explanations, he also presents charts and
their compact design, deliver imaging performance measurement curves that have never before been
with the highest quality. But what are the reasons published in this form. Guidelines for interpreting
behind the fact that, over the many years that new these tables and curves make these graphics even
Leica M lenses have been computed, designed more practical.
and produced in an ongoing succession, additional
improvements still continue to be achieved? These Erwin Puts has been making photographs since
improvements, in the opinions of the advertising 1960 and he explored the technical aspects of
experts at Leica, leave all previous advances far photography even while he was studying business
behind. administration. The author has been working with
Leica since 1989, and in a series of more than 30
In this brochure, Dutch photojournalist Erwin Puts articles published around the world since 1992, he
explains the principles on which the secrets of discusses the history, technology and the
Leica M lenses are based and how the extensive operation of Leica cameras and lenses. The core of
knowhow and the great competence of Leica his work consists of lens test reports that are
optical designers succeed again and again in conducted with a meticulous thoroughness that is
achieving ever higher peaks in maximum recognized by his competitors. The work brings
performance in their optical systems. together optical parameters and practical
applications, clarifying the limits of performance
The author also pays special attention to the capability, with proper attention to their interplay
popular concern expressed by numerous Leica with the different types of film materials.
users, who wonder whether the „old“ lenses are
superior to current Leica M lenses in terms of For many readers, this brochure will reveal many
contrast range, contour sharpness and resolving a secret, thus clarifying the reasons for the
power. With his knowhow and the experience of performance characteristics of Leica M lenses. We
numerous test series, he juxtaposes comparable wish you much enjoyment in reading this
lenses and their performances. In addition to brochure!

Leica Camera AG

Ralph Hagenauer
Marketing Communication

Leica M Lenses [1]


Contents

[2] Leica M Lenses


Contents

Introduction 1

The Soul of Leica M-Lenses 4

Contents Core Technologies


MTF Analysis: those shapely curves
Color Rendition
12
15
19

21mm Lenses 20
21mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M 24
21mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M ASPH 25

24mm Lenses 26
24mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M ASPH 29

28mm Lenses 30
28mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M (1979) 32
28mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M (1993) 33

35mm Lenses 34
35mm f/1,4 Summilux-M 37
35mm f/1,4 Summilux-M aspherical 38
35mm f/1,4 Summilux-M ASPH 39
35mm f/2,0 Summicron-M 40
35mm f/2,0 Summicron-M ASPH 41

50mm Lenses 42
50mm f/2,8 Elmar 46
50mm f/2,8 Elmar-M 47
50mm f/2,0 Summicron-M 48
50mm f/2,0 Summicron-M (current) 49
50mm f/1,4 Summilux 50
50mm f/1,4 Summilux-M 51
50mm f/1,2 Noctilux 52
50mm f/1,0 Noctilux-M 53

Tri Elmar-m 1:4/28-35-50 mm ASPH 54


28mm f/4,0 56
35mm f/4,0 57
50mm f/4,0 58

75mm Lenses 60
85mm f/1,5 Summarex-M 62
75mm f/1,4 Summilux-M 63

90mm Lenses 64
90mm f/2,8 Tele Elmarit-M 68
90mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M 69
90mm f/2,0 Summicron-M 70
90mm f/2,0 APO Summicron-M ASPH 71

135mm Lenses 72
135mm f/4,0 Elmar-M 74
135mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M 75
135mm f/3,4 Apo Telyt-M 76

Glossary 78

Leica M Lenses [3]


The Soul of Leica

The soul of Leica M lenses


Ever since Professor Max Berek de- specifications nearly without human in- have been achieved without a good
signed his first lens for the Leica, the 50 tervention or control. measure of intuitive creativity.
mm f/3.5 Anastigmat/Elmax, in 1924, The likelihood that a design generated In order to understand this soul that is
the optical capabilities of Leica lenses in that manner is an ideal solution for present in every Leica lens, let us take a
have been intensively analyzed and dis- the intended purpose is about one in a brief look at computation techniques, de-
cussed. Some reviewers state that billion. And that is the reason why the sign procedures and optical evaluation
Leica lenses are the standard against creativity of the designer is essential, techniques. After this small “tour de
which others are to be judged. Others even decisive for creating an optical sys- force” we will be able to sense and ap-
expressed the opinion that, even though tem that has optimal performance. preciate the “Leica spirit in the glass”.
Leica lenses perform very well, they are It might seem strange that I wish to
basically as good as the products of draw attention to the importance of the Let us begin with a basic explanation.
other manufacturers. Leica lenses are creativity and the art of the lens de- If we take a simple lens, for instance
also said to have a special kind of im- signer as an important factor in optical the good old burning glass, to create an
age-recording quality that is often com- design. image of the sun on a piece of paper,
pared with three-dimensional rendition The fundamentals of modern optical the sun is rendered as a very bright spot
or with pictures that convey a three-di- design are rooted in mathematical and and the paper begins to burn because
mensional impression. This peculiar physical theories. The widespread appli- the lens causes the sun’s energy to
“optical fingerprint” is frequently dis- cation of computer-assisted design me- concentrate in one point. In early times,
cussed among Leica aficionados and thods by all manufacturers has fostered a single lens element was the only
collectors. Sometimes it is even claimed the impression that lens design nowa- means of obtaining an image. For very
that older Leica lenses have certain days is a highly automated process. small angles of view, like those of a tel-
mythical qualities that gradually disap- Leitz was one of the very first optical escope, for instance, one was satisfied
peared in newer lenses that were de- manufacturers to use computers to ac- with such an image. Louis Jacques
signed later. Then the fact is brought up celerate the extensive and laborious cal- Mandé Daguerre, who made his very
that optical design is being performed culations of ray tracing significantly. first photograph in 1839, needed a con-
more and more by computers, so that That was around 1955. Today the soft- siderably larger angle of view for his im-
the personal “fingerprint” of the de- ware programs used by the “Optisches age plate. The image created by a single
signer is no longer as evident as it once Rechenbüro” (optical design depart- lens element was quite sharp in the
was. ment) are highly refined proprietary al- center, but very blurred along the peri-
It is undoubtedly true that Leica lenses gorithms. Even so, current high per- phery. At that time, optical aberrations
had and have particular characteristics formance optical systems could not were still unknown and better solutions
and qualities that are the very reason for
the fascination and the challenge of
working with these lenses. In my opin-
ion, the question whether a photograph-
er always achieves the best results
when he or she uses a Leica lens is
quite unproductive. Every lens has a
large number of specific qualitites and it
is highly unlikely that every one of these
qualities will always be of the highest
degree.

Behind every Leica lens one can sense


a passionate determination to control
and to eliminate the geometrical aber-
rations that are present in every optical
system. It is true, of course that con-
temporary manufacturers of optical
products can no longer operate without
using sophisticated computer installa-
tions. It is a fact that modern computer
programs can produce new optical de-
signs in accordance with prescribed

[4] Leica M Lenses


The Soul of Leica

could only be found by means of experi- experimental methods was Joseph together cause unsharpness and distor-
mentation. The phenomenon of the dis- Petzval. And his portrait lens was clearly tions in the image.
persion of white light into various spec- superior to lenses that had been cob- In principle, the next step is still easy.
tral colors had been known for a long bled together experimentally. Although Now that we know, at least theoretical-
time, but now it became a problem in now it was possible to use formulas to ly, what causes the unsharpnesses in
making Daguerreotypes. The photo- trace rays quantitatively, the knowledge an image, all we need to do next is to
graphic plate was sensitive to blue light, was still lacking as to why the rays were correct these aberrations. And this is
but the human eye is more sensitive to bent in this manner and why they did precisely where the creativity of the op-
yellow light. That is why it was possible not reach the ideal or the theoretical lo- tical designer comes in.
to use a simple lens element to focus cation of the image point. Around 1850, There are imaging errors that are caus-
an image on the ground glass with yel- Ludwig von Seidel researched the basic ed by faulty design and there are manu-
low light, but the image formed by blue laws of image formation with lenses facturing errors, both of which affect
light could not be focused at the same and he was the first person to establish the end result (the image on the film)
time. It was possible to correct this lon- a theory of imaging performance. Aber- significantly. The seven Seidel aberra-
gitudinal chromatic aberration by using ration (from the Latin “ab” = from, and tions are divided into three groups: 1 -
two lens elements, each one of a differ- “errare” = to stray) literally means “to sharpness errors: spherical aberration,
ent type of glass, so that the dispersion stray from the right path”. He discover- coma, astigmatism; 2 - positioning er-
of one lens was compensated by the ed that there are seven so-called imag- rors: curvature of field and distortion; 3 -
other lens. ing errors of the third order that are in- chromatic errors: longitudinal chromatic
dependent of each other, and which
The curved surfaces of a lens also
generate a curved image (just as they
did in the old box cameras). But since
the photographic plate was flat, a com-
promise had to be found. This was still
based on knowledge obtained from
experiments. The first opticians and
lens designers disregarded theories,
even though the laws of optics had
been known for a long time. The law of
refraction, which is the foundation of
optical computation, was formulated in
the 17th century. Every ray of light com-
ing from an object that strikes the glass
lens at a certain angle, is bent in accord-
ance with a known mathematical for-
mula. When this light ray passes
through many lenses, the path of the
ray can be traced clearly and methodi-
cally. When the object is a very distant
one, such as a star in the sky, all the
rays coming from that point light source
will be parallel as they strike the lens,
and they will also converge into a point
after passing through that lens. At least
that is what we hope. As proven by
Daguerre’s lens, this is not the case. Let
us consider two rays of light, one of
which strikes the lens near its edge, the
other at its center. We can then use the
law of refraction and knowledge of the
type of glass to calculate the points
where these rays will strike the image
plane. If all the rays converge into a
point on the image plane, everything
will be in order. If they do not, we have
a problem. The first person who de-
signed a lens using this kind of math-
ematical computation instead of using

Leica M Lenses [5]


The Soul of Leica

of the third surface contributes coma the field. Here we encounter a new
and astigmatism. problem: The seven Seidel aberrations
The optical designer must now decide are not the only optical aberrations. The
how to correct these aberrations. He Seidel aberrations are classified as
might try to change the curvature of the imaging errors of the third order. Logi-
first lens in such a way as to reduce cally, there are other imaging errors of
spherical aberration. But the curvature higher orders. The most important ones
also determines the focal length, which are the errors of the fifth and seventh
should not be changed. It may also hap- order. These groups of errors are en-
pen that a change in the curvature will countered only when the apperture is
reduce spherical aberration, but that the well corrected.
amount of coma will simultaneously in- Theoretically, a very small object point
crease. The designer may also choose is also reproduced as a very small image
aberration and lateral chromatic aberra- to distribute the correction over several point. This does not hold true in prac-
tion. system parameters in order to reduce tice, because these additional aberra-
Every lens has certain characteristics, the likelihood of increasing other aberra- tions manifest themselves and spoil the
such as the type of glass, surface curv- tions. When the task of correcting one fun. A point is not reproduced as a
ature (the radii of its two surfaces). particular aberration as much as possi- point, but as a small circle with various
These characteristics are called “para- ble is assigned to a single system pa- levels of brightness. See illustration:
meters” or “degrees of freedom”. The rameter, there will be a problem in Point spread function. A soon as the di-
theory states that each individual de- manufacturing if that very parameter is ameter of these disks becomes smaller
gree of freedom can be used for the not within established tolerances. One than a certain size, the higher order ab-
correction of an aberration. Conversely, could also find that, if tolerances are too errations become noticeable. This is a
every degree of freedom is also involv- tight, the manufacturing department simplified statement, because in reality
ed in all the aberrations. This means may be unable of staying within those these aberrations are always present,
that the optical designer can assign ab- tolerances. except that they only become notice-
erration components to every individual But let us return to the correction of able when the residual errors of the
surface. aberrations. The optical designer will third order are small.
The significance of the above can be keep altering system parameters until The example of the triplet, in which
explained by means of an example. This the correction of the seven aberrations astigmatism is still present in the field,
example is very important, because it have reached a level where residual shows the effect of the higher order ab-
demonstrates how an optical designer imaging errors are very small. The de- errations. One can use a certain very
goes about his task and why creativity signer will also strive to correct each ab- well controlled residue of the Seidel ab-
still plays such a large and decisive role erration by using several degrees of errations to compensate these errors of
in that task. The seven aberrations can freedom at the same time. The “bur- the fifth and seventh order. Naturally
be corrected with a minimum of eight den” of correction will then be distrib- this is only possible to a limited extent,
independent system parameters (de- uted over several surfaces and the en- and a triplet will render an acceptable
grees of freedom). (The focal length tire system will appear more balanced. image quality only when its angle of
also has to be taken into account). A tri- The designer can select the types of view and/or aperture are small.
plet (a three-element lens) normally con- glass and the curvatures within certain This statement is very important. A
sists of two collective outside elements limits, but each combination will result particular optical system (number and
(crown glass) and one inside dispersive in a different kind of overall correction. configuration of lens elements) has a
element (flint glass). That results in six When the triplet has been configured in limited possibility for the correction of
radii and two separating distances be- such a way that it comes close to meet- aberrations. In essence this means that,
tween the three elements. At the begin- ing specifications, we may find, for in- when a new design is to be made, an
ning, the designer selects basic system stance, that astigmatism has nearly van- optical designer can only make the right
parameters, such as types of glass, ele- ished from along the edges of the choices if he or she has considerable
ment thicknesses, distances between image, but that it is still quite evident in experience and knowledge.
elements, and curvatures (radii) of the
glass surfaces. That makes six surfaces
available to the designer, and he or she An impossible task?
can now calculate the amount and kind
of aberrations that each surface contrib- In earlier times, when there were no
utes. As an example, we can establish computers, optical designers only had
(in a very simplified manner) that in the slide rules and logarithm tables at their
case of the triplet, the radius of the sec- disposal. Ray tracing was straightfor-
ond surface (of the first lens element) ward, but laborious. Normally, the paths
contributes spherical aberration and of several rays are traced from an object
chromatic aberration, and that the radius point as they travel through the optical

[6] Leica M Lenses


The Soul of Leica

system. These calculations are quite nu- colleague. At the end of the day or the of glass has a refractive index and a dis-
merous and in the case of oblique rays, week, the chief designer evaluated the persion number. The exact position of
they are also complex. Before the ad- results and planned the next phase of the iris diaphragm must also be deter-
vent of computers, ray tracing was very the lens computation. For all rays that mined. With these 36 parameters (or
laborious. An experienced mathemati- travel in a flat plane that also contains degrees of freedom), the designer has
cian required two to three months to the optical axis, the equations for trac- to correct more than 60 (!) different ab-
calculate a sufficient number of ray ing their paths are based on plane ge- errations. Every parameter can have ap-
traces through an only mildly complex ometry and are relatively easy to use. proximately 10,000 distinct values and
optical system, like a triplet, for in- Oblique rays require three-dimensional more than 6,000 different ray paths
stance. It is understandable that ap- or solid geometry. The respective equa- have to be computed for every change
proximations were used and that very tions, however, are very complex. in a parameter.
complicated calculations were simply Therefore in those days oblique rays The 36 degrees of freedom also are
omitted. The resulting optical design had to be traced by means of approxi- not fully independent. Some need to be
showed inadequate knowledge of the mation formulas or not at all. Here too, combined, and some are tightly con-
exact extent of optical aberrations. Still, only a partial knowledge of the perform- strained by other parameters. Thus the
one has to recognize that these approxi- ance of the respective optical system 36 degrees of freedom are in fact re-
mations helped the designers to deter- could be gained. duced to only 20, making the task even
mine the characteristics of many aberra- With the introduction of computers, more complicated. Given the specified
tions exactly, and their experience the limitations of optical calculations conditions and considerations, it is not
constitutes valuable background for to- were lifted, so that the (more exact) nu- surprising that hundreds, if not thou-
day’s optical designers at Leica. merical method could now be em- sands of designs can be generated that
All optical designs that are based on ployed to full advantage. Numerical are very close to the desired solution. It
analytical methods are solutions that methods can be used to achieve better has been estimated that a complete
can never be exact, and they only repre- control of important aberrations and evaluation of all possible variants of the
sent approximations of the precise solu- they can also be used to optimize an six-element Summicron design, using
tion. That is why an actual prototype of optical system. This wealth of informa- high speed computers that calculate ray
the lens had to be built, so that the prac- tion can also entail its own problems. traces at a rate of 100,000 surfaces per
tical performance of the lens could be Did anyone ever tell you that the task of second, would require 1099 years!
tested. Two potential difficulties caused an optical designer nowadays is easy? That is obviously impossible. In order
many problems for the designer: the The magnitude of the optical design- to select the best design from this virtu-
lens did not deliver the performance er’s task can be illustrated quite force- ally infinite number of possibilities, the
that was expected, or the manufactur- fully. There is a certain relationship be- designer needs to have intimate knowl-
ing department complained that the tween the number of lens parameters edge of the effects of all the aberrations
lens could not be built within the speci- (such as curvature, thickness, spacing on the quality of the image. He or she
fied tolerances. In either case the de- between elements), i.e. the degrees of also has to be able to identify those
signer had to start all over again. freedom, and the level of correction of components of image quality that pro-
It was not easy to optimize a design. the optical system. With more degrees vide the necessary characteristics of the
Success required much creativity and a of freedom, the optical designer has a lens system. Today the design process
very well developed instinct for the ef- correspondingly greater number of can keep a small staff busy for up to
fects of the aberrations. When one possibilities of correcting a system. two years in order to keep expenses
looks at some of the older designs to- When a lens designer employs more within an economically viable range.
day, one is compelled to admire the lens elements, a higher level of correc- There is no better way to illustrate the
achievements. An unbiased evaluation tion might be achieved. But that entails overriding importance of the art of opti-
with modern instruments shows that significant increases in costs, further- cal design that is needed at the start of
these famous designs lack refinements, more the system may become highly a new lens system.
but that they do have a worthy charac- vulnerable to tight production toler- It appears that that the creativity of the
ter. ances and/or to increases in weight. optical designer today is even more im-
As mentioned above, only proper ray Therefore the optical designer needs portant than it was in the past. And in-
tracing can produce accurate results. to acquire a thorough understanding of deed it is!
But that causes a new array of prob- the basic optical potential of a given de- As stated in the description of the
lems. First, the designer needs a large sign. All systems require optimization computation of the triplet, an important
number of ray tracings. In the past, after an initially promising design. When task of the lens designer is to assess
trigonometric formulas and logarithm ta- a design is not suitable for fine-tuning, the various aberrations and then to un-
bles were used. At Leitz, the chief de- the designer is only able to achieve an dertake the corresponding alterations in
signer drew a diagram of the proposed inferior product. A six-element 50 mm design specifications (radii, thicknesses,
optical system and then instructed each f/2 Summicron lens has 10 airglass sur- spacings and glass types). It is also
member of a large group of individual faces and radii, six thicknesses (one per most important that the starting design
mathematicians to perform a part of the lens element) and four distances be- type be selected judiciously, so that the
ray tracings and to hand the results to a tween elements. In addition, each type desired correction will even be possible.

Leica M Lenses [7]


The Soul of Leica

The merit function

When there are so many possibilities


for defining and correcting a particular
optical system, the designer has to be
able to sense exactly when the desired
level of correction has been reached.
Computers and optical design software
can easily produce numerical data. They
are able to trace millions of rays within a
short time. The optical designer can use
this information to gain an insight into
the kind and the order of magnitude of
the various aberration components. Af-
ter that, two questions remain to be an-
swered:

- Does the lens that has just been com-


puted meet the requirements? and the entire landscape, one will keep on Leica M lenses. The first attempt is con-
searching, never knowing whether one strained by ancillary specifications such
- Is there an even better solution? has really found the deepest valley. One as physical dimensions. Lenses should
can only obtain this structural informa- be small and handy, and they should not
This is where the art of Leica lens de- tion if one knows the peculiarities and obstruct the view through the view-
signers becomes evident. It is not only the characteristics of an optical system. finder. These characteristics are quite
at Leica that one is familiar with optics Leica lens designers call this the soul of logical from the user’s point of view, but
and aberrations, and with the funda- a lens. The merit function that one asso- they constitute a constraint for the de-
mental fact that every photographic lens ciates with a lens must be realistic and signer. Greater optical performance of-
is a compromise between ideals and re- it should elicit the very best perform- ten entails a greater physical volume, a
ality that incorporates a fine balance of ance from a lens. It should be pointed good reason for applying new solutions,
the many aberrations that have to be out, however, that every lens designer like aspherical lens surfaces in order to
compensated with one another. There interprets and defines “the best per- achieve the desired result. Excessive
is always a small residual aberration formance” differently. weight must be avoided, and this limits
component in a lens. In the end, it is the We are accustomed to imagining light the number of elements and the selec-
weighting and the method of compen- rays as individual lines. That makes tion of types of glass. The focal length
sation of the aberration balance that de- sense for the computations. But in real- and the maximum aperture already dic-
termines how the resulting imaging per- ity a flow of energy consisting of the tate the possibilities. The designer has
formance is perceived and accepted by sum of all the light rays radiated by all to find a creative starting point that can
photographers. the object points in the direction of the lead to success or that is at least prom-
Leica lens designers have a very filmplane will traverse the entire lens. ising for optimization (finding the deep-
strong ambition for developing optical The complete flow of light strikes the est valley). Here too, there is a philo-
systems with a particularly high optimi- front lens element and is transmitted sophical consideration: an optical design
zation of the various errors that will re- through the optical system. This is should have a kind of beauty that one
duce residual aberrations to their lowest called luminous flux. Knowledge and un- can recognize. There are cross-sections
possible level. If one would claim that a derstanding of this flow are extremely of lenses that look very daring, and
particular computation is not good important during the design stage of a there are others that possess an optical
enough, one should have a standard lens. Light energy should traverse the beauty. The latter are the best lens de-
with which one could compare what lens smoothly, without much deviation signs. Without a good starting premise,
one has and what one wishes to have. or resistance. That almost sounds like a no lens will deliver the performance that
The computing program is of no help in concept of Zen philosophy. is expected. Optimization will go around
this case. Imagine that you are in a heli- in circles and sometimes no progress
copter flying over a hilly landscape and can be made. When there is a starting
that you are trying to locate the deepest Steps in the design process premise with which one feels comfort-
valley. You will certainly be able to lo- able, one can proceed with the next
cate a valley that is very deep in relation When a new lens is to be developed, step, which is the correction of the
to its surroundings. But you don’t know the designer normally selects an exist- Seidel aberrations.
what is beyond the next mountain. An ing system and uses it as a start to- To correct the Seidel aberrations is ba-
optimizing program seeks to find a deep wards an improved design. The con- sically not very difficult, but we know
valley and it will certainly find a local low straints of dimensions and weight are that they are also used for influencing
point. But without overall knowledge of particularly important in the case of the higher order aberrations. Therefore

[8] Leica M Lenses


The Soul of Leica

Leica has extensive experience with


the various aberrations, with their ef-
fects on the photographic image and
with the more complex inter-relations of
these aberrations. Current Leica M lens-
es possess certain outstanding charac-
teristics that can be classified as family
characteristics. The latest Leica M
lenses feature a performance at full ap-
erture that is a quantum leap better than
the performance of their predecessors.
This does not pertain so much to the
performance in the center of the image,
but mostly to its field, i.e. in the image
zones. The overall contrast has also
been considerably and visibly height-
ened. Stray light has been very well
suppressed and this can be verified by
one should make a judicious choice of to record tiny object details on film, one examining the very fine structures in the
promising system parameters at the can tolerate fewer errors than one image. Older lenses render these tiny
very beginning, otherwise one can only would tolerate in recording coarse ob- details blurred or they don’t record them
achieve the desired result by using ject details. Very tight manufacturing tol- at all, whereas the latest lenses render
more complex procedures. Every addi- erances in the assembly stage assure them clearly and distinctly, which be-
tional lens element can be used for cor- the possibility of achieving the com- comes especially evident in large projec-
recting an aberration, but this also cre- puted optical performance in every indi- tion. The fine gradation of highlights and
ates new problems. It will quickly vidual lens. It is not an easy task to stay shadows in light and dark portions
become apparent that these problems within these tolerances, and it can only across virtually the entire image area
can become utterly overwhelming. A be done if these tolerances have been proves that the important monochro-
typical feature of Leica lenses is their worked out in close cooperation by the matic aberrations, like spherical aberra-
relatively low number of lens elements. optical and mechanical departments. tion, coma and astigmatism have been
The 90 mm f/2 Apo-Summicron-M extremely well corrected. Brilliant and
ASPH. has only five elements and it de- delicately shaded colors are rendered
livers outstanding performance. Leica-specific characteristics of accurately, which is an indication of out-
Leica M lenses standing color correction. Chromatic er-
The next step is the optimization of rors that often become noticeable as
the system: small alterations of the lens The progress that has been achieved peripheral unsharpness are well correct-
curvatures, the choice of glass types, in the performance of Leica M lenses in ed. Another characteristic is the optimal
spacings and thicknesses are imple- recent times can be explained in the fol- aperture in the new lenses, which is al-
mented to achieve the desired level of lowing manner: ready reached by stopping down only
correction of the aberrations. The last The optical design programs have one stop from full aperture. The old
step is to balance the residual aberra- been improved and they take into ac- axiom that states that an aperture of
tions in relation to one another in such a count the latest findings in aberration f/5.6 or f/8 has to be used for achieving
way as to achieve the imaging perform- theory, optimization and weighting of the best performance is no longer valid
ance that has been specified. imaging performance. Knowledge of the so universally. The clarity of the image
One of the quiet revolutions at Leica characteristics of the various types of is also improved because stray light, i.e.
has been the very close cooperation be- glass has also been expanded. The time light energy that does not contribute to
tween optical and mechanical engi- has passed when new types of glasses image formation and that is scattered in
neers. There is no benefit in designing a were introduced in quick succession. the optical system, is controlled effec-
lens that cannot be manufactured or Large suppliers of glass have catalogues tively.
that cannot be fabricated with sufficient that are quite stable. Leica lens design- These general characteristics of the
accuracy, or that is too expensive to ers would like to have a few additional latest Leica M lenses are clearly dis-
produce. The optical designer has to be exotic glasses created, but it is ques- cernible in the photographic image. The
very creative in this regard. For a lens tionable whether this will ever happen. full performance potential of Leica
that can only reproduce fine structures, The cooperation between the me- lenses can only be exploited when the
the manufacturing tolerances that are chanical and optical departments has photographer has a thorough grasp of
required are different from those that been intensified. The input of manufac- his technique. The correction level of
are needed for producing a lens that can turing engineers to the computation of a these lenses is of a very high level, and
clearly reproduce the very finest struc- high performance lens is a prerequisite it can only be fully appreciated when the
tures. That is logical: when one wishes for a good result. demands are high. A good 20 x 25 cm

Leica M Lenses [9]


The Soul of Leica

(8” x 10”) black-and-white print cannot duced as a small disk. This is normally The latest Leica M lenses are not only
show all the details that a lens is capa- called the circle of confusion. If the superior to their predecessors optically,
ble of reproducing and systemic un- cone of light is generally narrow, then they also have a different kind of image
sharpness in the small details cannot be the difference in the diameters of the rendition that must be taken into ac-
seen. But when a greater enlargement point and the circles in front of and be- count when one changes over from an
is made, for instance 30 x 40 cm (12” x hind the tip is also small. In that case older to a newer version of a lens. But
16”), the results are much more dra- the transition from sharpness to that is precisely the fascination and the
matic. Now it is essential that every link unsharpness is smooth. New Leica M beauty of Leica M lenses: one should
in the performance chain is utilized to lenses are corrected in such a way that become familiar with them and one
best advantage. In this case the lens be- they are capable of reproducing the fin- should study their “personalities”.
comes the most important link in that est structures and details of the object.
chain and the photographer can make That also means that the tips of the light
good use of its characteristics. cones have to be very small and that
they have to subtend a larger angle (see
illustration). The circle of confusion will
Unsharpness and sharpness be relatively larger (also absolutely
transition larger) than it was in the previous exam-
ple. A characteristic of current Leica M
There is only one plane of sharpness, lenses is a visually faster transition from
and that is the film plane. That means sharpness to unsharpness. This is help-
that a bundle of light rays that comes ful in composing the picture at full aper-
from an object point traverses the film ture, because pictorially important por-
plane like a cone of light. In the ideal tions of the picture will stand out
case, the tip of the cone will be located distinctly from the background. The cir-
exactly at the film plane, and the point cles of confusion will often appear
that is being reproduced will be ren- somewhat more disturbing, and this
dered as small as possible. The cross should be taken into account as the pic-
section of the cone on both sides of this ture is created.
point is larger and the point is repro-

Core technologies
Current Leica M lenses embody a current computer programs. There is If we were to identify the most impor-
thorough understanding of, and a sensi- one aspect of overriding importance, tant tools of Leica designers we would
tivity to issues of geometrical and physi- however, that cannot be codified into produce this list:
cal optics, of mechanical engineering, of rules or algorithms: the culture of study- •aspherical surfaces
optical fabrication, of glass selection, of ing the true image potential of a new •apochromatic correction
the relationship between residual aber- design and the know-how for transform- •glass selection
rations and image quality. Leica lens de- ing such a design into a real master- •thin film coatings
signs result from ingenuity, creativity piece of photographic optics. •engineering of lens mounts.
and from a solid scientific knowledge of Leica lenses are not only highly None of these areas is an exclusive
all relevant aspects of an optical sys- corrected, they are also meticulously domain of Leica. In fact, many manufac-
tem. Most important are, of course, the crafted works of optical art. They are turers around the globe use aspherics,
guiding principles of the great designers honed to deliver a fidelity of reproduc- apochromatic correction and have ac-
of the Wetzlar era, notably Max Berek, tion that reflects the combination of cess to the same glass catalogs that
and the accumulated experience and philosophy and state-of-the-art optical Leica designers use.
insights of his successors. Part of this design that is so unique to Leica de- When I discussed these topics with
knowledge has been incorporated into signers. Leica designers, I cited the example

[10] Leica M Lenses


The Soul of Leica

that aspherics technology has been in errations in the system, the addition of pensation systems can consist of a
use since the thirties and is now in an aspherical surface may not be suc- spherical lens. The most recent method
widespread use by many optical manu- cessful. for a compensation system is the use of
facturers. They responded with charac- A prototypical case would be a lens CGH’s (computer generated holo-
teristic modesty that they themselves with spherical aberration, among several grams). Leica is now using this tech-
might know a few things about asphe- other aberrations. The designer could nique.
rics that helps them to design lenses use the spherical system to correct all The required aspherical form can be
with improved imagery. Let us look at aberrations, except the spherical aberra- pressed in plastic, or it can be a hybrid
these tools, some of which are surpris- tion. Then, by adding an asphere, he or form consisting of a glass lens with a
ingly old. she can correct the spherical aberration. molded plastic form attached to it or, as
The use of aspherical surfaces on mir- used by Kodak on the disc camera, it
rors and telescopes is very old. Asphe- can be a glass lens with pressure-mold-
Aspherical surfaces. rics were already produced in the 18th ed aspherical surfaces.
century, using trial and error methods. The 50 mm f/1.2 Noctilux, introduced
Most lenses used in photographic op- Therefore they are not new tools for ab- in 1966, was the first lens produced by
tics have spherical surfaces, which erration correction. Leica that had two aspherical surfaces.
means that the curvature of the sur- Aspherics are used when systems In those days, aspherical lens surfaces
faces has the form of a sphere. The lim- using only spherical surfaces become were polished to an approximate shape
iting case is a plane or flat surface, i.e. a very complex, or when systems be- and then hand-corrected afterwards. As
sphere with an infinite radius. Spherical come too large, and for many more rea- the level of deformation is very small on
surfaces are relatively easy to make and sons. most aspherical surfaces, there is a risk
ray tracing is also simple (at least con- Using an aspherical surface gives the that the polishing at the end may re-
ceptually). An asphere (a-sphere) is de- designer an additional degree of free- store the spherical form! Only a very
fined negatively: any surface with a dom in the correction of optical sys- few workers at Leitz were able to
shape that departs from a sphere is tems, which enables the designer to manually correct the aspherical form,
called an asphere. A spherical surface build high quality optics quite com- and even they produced surfaces be-
has a radius R with the center of the pactly. The advantages from a correc- yond the required shape. This costly and
curvature somewhere on the optical tional perspective are the elimination of laborious manufacturing process was
axis. The radius will define all points spherical aberration and the correction soon abandoned. The potential of the
above and below the optical axis. For an of the spherical aberration of the pupil aspherical surface for vast improve-
aspherical surface we need more infor- (distortion). Aspherics can be used to ments of the image quality, however,
mation. We define the difference be- achieve wider apertures, wider field an- was too attractive not to pursue. Huy-
tween the reference sphere and the ac- gles, reduction of weight and volume gens described its theoretical potential
tual asphere at several heights above (one aspherical surface replaces two as early as 1678. Three hundred years
and below the optical axis and enter spherical ones). In fact, many optical later the manufacture of precision as-
these figures into an equation. The and mechanical challenges can be met pherics became reality. At first Leica
equation can be very complex, but in its with aspherics. used a new technique, jointly developed
simpler forms it defines a parabola, or The manufacture of aspherical sur- by Leica, Schott and Hoya. Leica con-
ellipsoid or hyperbola. An asphere may faces requires extreme precision. The tributed the technology of the molding
have a surface that has several zones of aspherical deformations are calculated tool. This methodology was first em-
asphericity, one paraboloid, and another to a very small fraction of the wave- ployed in the 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux-M
ellipsoid. The complexity of the surface length, but this level of precision is not aspherical (the 21 mm, 24 mm and 35
should be weighted against the cost of attainable in manufacture. The required mm f/2 lenses are all of the Summilux
manufacture and the function within the precision for high quality optics is 1/4 type). It generates high precision sur-
overall optical system. wavelength of light (that is 1/3000 of faces, but the technique is restricted to
There is a tendency to interpret the the width of a human hair!). In optical lenses with a small radius (about
use of aspherical lenses in an optical shop testing, this level of precision can 20mm). Furthermore only a few glass
system as a sure sign of superior optical be approached by using interferograms. types can be used that can withstand
performance. It is not. Some optical It is very difficult to test aspherics in this the heating, pressing and cooling with-
designers can create fabulous designs manner and in order to guarantee a pre- out adverse effects. This restricts the
by using a particular computer program, cision of 0.5 micrometer, one needs to choice of glasses and many designers
while another person employing the use CNC grinding and polishing equip- complain that the more than 100 glass
same program will get moderate ment. types now in glass manufacturers’ cata-
results. Leica, however, does use an interfer- logs of the are not sufficient.
An aspherical surface introduces some ometer to check the sphericity of The next step is the use of computer-
carefully controlled aberrations on top of lenses. They employ a compensation controlled grinding and polishing ma-
the aberrations that result from spheri- system to adapt the spherical wavefront chines that allow the designer freedom
cal surfaces. If you do not have a very from the interferometer to the asphe- to choose glass types and radius as
thorough understanding of the basic ab- ricity of the lens surface. These com- needed. In the line of Leica M lenses,

Leica M Lenses [11]


Core Technologies

the 90 mm f/2 Apo-Summicron-M ASPH those days, the field of microscopy was in particular. The change in focal length
is the first lens to have an aspherical expanding rapidly and the very high that results from the fact that the refrac-
surface produced by this promising resolution required for microscopic tive index of a glass is different for dif-
technique. lenses demanded that all aberrations be ferent colors is called dispersive power.
The Leica designer always needs more very small, that is, close to the diffrac- As an indication of the very small
possibilities for the correction of aberra- tion limit. There is always an apochro- magnitudes that are involved, we may
tions. As soon as a certain level of image matic error in the photographic image note that the distance between the red
quality has been reached and the under- and this error extends over the whole and the blue focal points corresponds to
standing of a lens system has improved, image field. Generally it has a lower 1/60 to 1/30 of the focal length. This
a higher level of aberrations has to be magnitude than other aberrations and chromatic variation of index is called dis-
dealt with. Therefore the designer needs so will not be identified separately. The persion. If one would plot the curves for
more parameters to change and influ- visible result of the apochromatic error refractive index versus wavelength for
ence. The demand for ever more exotic is a degradation of contrast and a two different glasses, for example
glass types, more lens elements never fuzziness of small image details. One Schott BK7 and SF2, the curves would
ends. Aspherics are a very effective and should look for the apochromatic error be non-linear and different. Every glass
elegant technique for the design and con- in the center of the image (on axis). On has its own and unique graph. Crown
struction of complex optical systems. axis the most disturbing aberrations glasses have relative low dispersions
The theory and technology of asphe- have been corrected quite effectively and flint glasses relatively high disper-
rics is in its infancy, however, and it is and so one is left with the more difficult sions. Overall dispersion defines the
certainly not as well understood as aberrations, like spherical aberration, general dispersion characteristic. But if
spherical technology and correction

theory. Leica designers employ as- chromatic error of the spherical aberra- we are interested in the blue part of the
pherics whenever there are clear ad- tion and apochromatic error. spectrum we need to study the disper-
vantages for improving image quality, sion of the blue part. Two glasses have
reduce volume or number of lens ele- What is this apochromatic error? If different amounts of dispersion and the
ments or when designs can be created polychromatic light enters a glass, it will shape of the dispersion curve is differ-
that would not be possible without the be refracted into a number of rays, each ent. So, in addition to the overall disper-
use of aspherics. of a different wavelength. Each ray will sion, we also need figures for partial dis-
The mere use of aspherics does not follow a slightly different path. The blue persion, ‘partial’ referring to a part of the
automatically signify a high performance color will be focused closer to the lens spectrum. If a glass produces a long
lens. Sometimes the designer can cre- than the red color. The difference in blue spectrum it is called a long glass. A
ate a lens with spherical surfaces that length between the two locations is glass with a short blue spectrum is, not
theoretically has the same performance called the longitudinal chromatic aberra- surprisingly, called a short glass. Most
as the aspherical one. It might, how- tion. Because the blue light converges crown glasses are short and most flint
ever, be impossible to build that lens to a focus closer to the lens, the result- glasses are long. Some glasses do not
with the required precision and toler- ing patch on the image plane will also conform to this general rule. We have a
ances. So when Leica designers employ be larger. This is called lateral chromatic few long crowns and short flints. These
aspherical surfaces, it is a well consid- aberration. One can see this defect as a ‘out of line’ glasses are called glass with
ered component of the complete lens series of color fringes around a spot. anomalous dispersion.
design. The magnitude of the chromatic aber-
ration depends on the Abbe-number, Most glasses on the glass chart lie
the refractive index, the focal length and along a straight or slightly curved line,
Apochromatic correction. the field angle. Note that the focal the so-called normal glass line. The out-
length is important, which explains why of-line glasses, the ones with anoma-
Ernst Abbe computed the first lenses with long focal lengths need to lous dispersion, are also referred to as
apochromatic lenses around 1895. In be corrected for chromatic aberrations glasses outside the normal line.

[12] Leica M Lenses


Core Technologies

It is quite easy, at least in principle, to Leica uses glasses for its apochro- layer of a material of lower refractive in-
match two glasses with opposite dis- matic corrections that lie outside the dex is applied to a glass surface with a
persions in order to make sure that at normal glass line. These glasses are higher refractive index. The actual math-
least two colors (red and blue) will come also known incorrectly as APO-glasses, ematical computations are very com-
to a focus at the same point on the opti- which is a misnomer. In reality they are plex. The thickness and the refractive in-
cal axis. Then we have an achromat, glasses with anomalous dispersion. The dex of a layer must be computed so
which is quite often a flint/crown pair. dispersion curves are non-linear, making that a destructive interference will re-
Other colors of the spectrum (apart it difficult to compute corrections with sult. A single layer coating can be opti-
from the blue and red) such as green these glasses. The curves will never mized for only one wavelength, usually
and purple will still be out of focus. match completely, so that some re- green, which is why the surface looks
These residual errors are called the sec- sidual aberrations will be left in the sys- purple by reflected light. This type of
ondary spectrum or secondary color. tem. The residuals left after achromatic coating has an optical thickness of 1/4
The apochromatic error is the result of correction are called the secondary of the wavelength that is targeted. It is
different partial dispersions or different spectrum, and it is no surprise that the also called quarter-wave coating. The
proportions of partial aberrations of the residuals left after apochromatic correc- coating material is often Magnesium
glass types. tion are called the tertiary spectrum. Fluoride with a refractive index of 1.38.
Theoretically it should be possible to Leica designers know the non-linearity For glass with a low refractive index a
get an apochromatic correction by using of these glasses very well. The art is to single coating often suffices. It is not ef-
three glasses with different dispersions. know what glasses to employ where in fective on glasses with higher refractive
But the non-linearity of the dispersion the design. As noted before, glasses indices. With three or more layers, a
curve and the partial match of the partial with anomalous dispersion can be found more effective broadband low reflection
dispersions will make life hard for the in the catalogs of Schott, Hoya, Corning coating can be achieved. A three-layer
designer. For the correction of the and others, which also list all the glass coating produces an anti-reflection
apochromatic error, the use of special characteristics. Using such glasses may curve with three minima that corre-
glasses outside the normal line may be not be unique to Leica. But the knowl- spond to the selected wavelengths. The
advantageous. But these glasses have edge and expertise needed to extract number of layers can become quite
properties that make them hard to em- the most out of these types of glass, in large (6 to 11 stacks of layers), and they
ploy. They are soft and very difficult to combination with the creativity and ex- may be multi-purpose, used for reduc-
polish, they may be not available in the perience that the designer draws upon tion of reflections in order to improve
required diameters, and they may also to balance the conflicting characteristics transmission and for balancing spectral
be very expensive. As a result, design- of the lens system, are part of the core transmission.
ers can attempt to achieve an apochro- technology of Leica. The result is a lens It can be shown that a four-layer coat-
matic correction with normal glasses with a very small apochromatic error ing with two different refractive indices
(the three-glass-solution). In order to that has been balanced with all the is very effective. The most frequently
use such glasses, however, one must other aberrations and that has been cor- used technique of coating a lens is ther-
take into account monochromatic er- rected over the entire image area, for mal evaporation coating. The coating
rors. Sometimes the designer also en- excellent results at full aperture or material is heated in a vacuum chamber
counters difficulties in the correction stopped down. that contains the lenses to be coated.
balance and he may run out of useful The coating vapor is then deposited on
parameters so that he would need a the glass surfaces. The correct thick-
system that is too complex. Thin-film coating. ness of the layer is monitored by a pho-
I mentioned earlier that the designer, tometer, but irregularities can occur.
when he corrects a system for two Uncoated glass reflects a small part Not all coating materials can be depos-
colors, is left with residual chromatic ab- (4%) of the incident light per surface. ited in this manner and sometimes
errations. There is no rule that states The resulting problem is not so much a much higher temperatures are required.
how large this residue should be. Nor is reduction of the transmitted light, but That is when the technique of electron
there any rule that specifies how small the increase of stray light. This stray beam coating is employed. Also in a
the apochromatic error must be in order light is scattered over the image plane, high vacuum, the glass is bombarded by
for the lens to be called a true causing a dull and flat image with lower a beam of high-energy electrons, which
apochromat. contrast. forms a layer on the heated glass.
Pragmatically, all one can say is that There are two possible solutions. On This heating and cooling must be per-
there is a long bandwidth between an is the application of thin film anti-reflec- formed very carefully as the glass is
achromat, a semi-apochromat and a true tion lens coatings, invented in 1935 by very sensitive to this treatment. The
apochromat. Therefore, any lens with Dr. Smakula of Zeiss. The other is the layer must be deposited on a smooth
very small chromatic aberrations can be careful prevention of internal light reflec- and clean surface, as any irregularity will
called an apochromat, even when the tions by interior mechanical surfaces of cause unwanted local reflections. The
correction has been accomplished by the lens mounts. cleaning process is very important.
using glasses from the normal glass The coating technique is basically a Leica requires that some lenses must
line. simple process. A very thin interference be coated within a few hours after

Leica M Lenses [13]


The Soul of Leica

cleaning to ensure that the air does not porization, cooling for many layers inevi- are deposited on the substrate to form
affect the surface. After the application tably generates errors. the coating.
of the aforementioned coating tech- Leica now uses a new technique, de-
niques, the lens surfaces are covered veloped in cooperation with Leybold: The employment of this technique is
with a layer of a microscopically small the plasma ion-assisted deposition. another example of Leica core tech-
pillar-like structure. The structure of the (IAD: ion-assisted deposition). With this nology.
surface of this layer is not amorphous, technique the heating and cooling Every aspect of the optical system, be
it consists of rows of very small pointed stages are no longer necessary and the it glass selection, cleaning of glass sur-
pillars, somewhat like rows of nails growth of the coating layer is not pillar- faces, coating, mounting, computation,
with the tips pointed upwards. The re- like but amorphous, producing a or quality control, is scrutinized to find
sulting coated surface still has a micro- smoother surface. The technique basi- the best solution to achieve the goal of
scopically small roughness. cally consists of bombarding the target, high performance optics.
The complicated and time-consum- which consists of the coating material,
ing processes of cleaning, heating, va- with argon ions, setting free atoms that

MTF diagrams:
those seductive curves!
The best and most convincing proof of ence between a bright and a dark band further reducing the contrast. A lens
performance is, of course, a picture. It can be discerned far better when the with inadequate correction of aberra-
can be in the form of a black-and-white contrast between the two bands is sig- tions has larger circles of confusion,
print, a color print, or a projected image, nificant. When we look at a light gray / which means that contrast will be even
which is still the most impressive pres- dark gray pair of bands instead of a lower, whereas a lens with excellent
entation of Leica photography. In prac- white and black pair of bands, the differ- correction of aberrations will also have
tice however, there are too many vari- ence is certainly less pronounced. excellent contrast rendition. Unfortu-
ables that have to be taken into account Residual aberrations that remain in the nately the reverse does not hold true, in
when we compare pictures. We don’t lens basically only cause unsharpness in that a good contrast rendition does not
just compare lenses, we compare the a picture. By unsharpness we mean that necessarily mean a well-corrected lens.
entire chain of performance. Therefore light rays do not converge into a Design begins with a concerted effort to
we need a standard for the imaging per- miniscule spot, but that they come to- correct the many aberrations and when
formance of an optical system. In the gether into a slightly larger spot called that has been achieved, high contrast is
past, it was thought that a simple solu- circle of confusion, which only means one of the results. The reverse is not al-
tion was to use resolving power in lines that contrast is reduced. ways true.
per millimeter for these evaluations. But Let us imagine a grid that consists of The fineness of the grid can be ad-
various problems surfaced, some of a black and white stripes of equal width. justed by changing the width of the
visual kind, others of a theoretical na- When such a grid is reproduced by a stripes. Let us consider stripes with a
ture, which made the use of such a lens, diffraction, aberrations and stray width of 1/10 of a millimeter. Therefore
standard unreliable. We are not just in- light cause part of the light from the 10 such stripes make up 1 millimeter.
terested in reproducing separated lines white stripes to reach the black stripes. This is defined as spatial frequency in
but, more important, whether these This redistribution of light results in the lines per millimeter. In the aforemen-
lines can actually be seen as clearly reduction of contrast. The narrower the tioned example, that spatial frequency
separated lines. That is why an indica- stripes, the more light from the white amounts to 10 lines/mm. Because one
tion of contrast is needed. The differ- stripes will spill into the black stripes, cannot see black without white, it was

[14] Leica M Lenses


MTF Graphs

agreed to use line pairs as a structural that the smallest vibration can spoil the The effect of aberrations is less pro-
period. Therefore the figures stated in entire picture. And a small amount of nounced in the center of the image than
MTF diagrams, such as 5 or 10 l/mm, unsharpness from inaccurate focusing in the outer parts of that image (i.e. in
must be interpreted as periods or line has a disturbingly large effect when the “field”). A standard 35 mm negative
pairs per mm. In other words, 5 lp/mm such small image details are important. has a diagonal of 43.2 mm. Therefore
means 10 stripes that are alternately the maximum distance from the center
light and dark. of an image to its outermost corners is
How to read MTF diagrams? 21.6 mm. The performance of a lens
Leica furnishes MTF diagrams for 5, varies between the center of the image
10, 20 and 40 line pairs or periods (10, The vertical axis is calibrated in per- and its field, because there are aberra-
20, 40, 80 light/dark stripes). The more cent of contrast, always based on an tions that disturb the field more than the
stripes per millimeter, the finer the de- original contrast of 100%. The subject center. That is why the horizontal axis of
tails that can be reproduced. that is being reproduced is that grid of an MTF diagram is calibrated in dis-
One often wonders why the finest light/dark stripes in ever smaller widths tances from the center of the image, i.e.
structures are limited to these 40 lp/ or periods. Every light/dark pair of lines ‘0’ represents the center of the image
mm. There have been articles in the in the original subject, even if it is very and ‘21’ (mm) its corner. Therefore ‘12’
press citing lenses that can record 200 fine, has an ideal contrast of 100%. This indicates the height of a standard hori-
or more lines per millimeter. But now it means that all the light energy comes zontal 35 mm frame, and ‘18’ its maxi-
has become clear that the number of from the light stripe, and none at all mum width. When one wishes to exam-
lines per mm is interesting only when from the dark stripe. The lens distrib- ine an MTF diagram more closely, one
stated in conjunction with the respec- utes this energy over both stripes, thus should concentrate on the region be-
tive contrast. At 200 lines per mm the reducing the absolute contrast. The tween 6 and 15 mm from the center of
contrast is so low that it is virtually im- finer the structure, the more that con- the image, because that region contains
possible to distinguish anything at all. trast is lowered. With 5 lp/mm one can the pictorially important part of an im-
The 40 periods used by Leica as a sen- still achieve a contrast of nearly 100%. age. The central portion of the image,
sible lower limit result in a dot size of At 40 lp/mm however, one would be from 0 to 6 mm from its center, is satis-
1/80 mm or 0.0125 mm. It is difficult to pleased if contrast were as high as factory in most cases.
imagine how small that dot is on a 35 50%. An MTF diagram thus provides a great
mm negative! Take a negative and a Thus the reduction of contrast is a deal of information because it shows
ruler calibrated in millimeters. Then sub- function of spatial frequency. Since the the contrast reduction for different kinds
divide the width of one millimeter into contrast in an image is an interpretation, of image details for the entire 35 mm
80 tiny individual units. That gives you or a transfer (modulation, change) of the format. The 5 lp/mm curve describes
an idea of the performance capability of original contrast, the relation between the reproduction of very coarse image
today’s lenses. Once we have estab- the original contrast and the reproduced details, the 10 lp/mm curve the repro-
lished an understanding of how narrow contrast is called the Modulation Trans- duction of clearly visible details, the 20
such a unit is, then it becomes obvious fer Function, or MTF. lp/mm the reproduction of very fine
structures and the 40 lp/mm curve the
reproduction of the finest details of the
figure 1 subject.
Low contrast values for 5 and 10
lp/mm indicate a flat image, and high
values for 20 and 40 lp/mm indicate that
fine details of the subject are repro-
duced cleanly and clearly separated.
It should be kept in mind that each dia-
gram is valid for a specific aperture.
When diagrams are available for various
apertures, one can observe the behavior
of performance as the lens is stopped
down. All the MTF diagrams shown
here display the curves for full aperture
and for optimal aperture. The direction
of the stripes is also taken into account.
They can be orientated horizontally or
vertically, and this has an effect on
imaging performance. When the two
curves (tangential = vertical and sagittal
= horizontal) are widely separated, this
often means a blurry reproduction of

Leica M Lenses [15]


MTF Graphs

figure 2 How are MTF measurements


actually obtained?

There are two methods: one method


computes MTF data, the other method
measures MTF values. Basically, there
are no differences, and Leica uses ei-
ther method, whichever is most appro-
priate: the optical design department
computes the MTF values, and the
manufacturing department uses an
MTF-measuring instrument to obtain
MTF data (see the diagrams). Both
methods are based on the same theo-
retical principles, so that their results
should not be different from one an-
other. A variance between the two val-
ues only occurs when the lens assem-
bly department can not conform to
calculated tolerance values.
Let us return to the image point as a
representation of the ideal subject point.
subject details. In such cases, a repro- in a way that can be used in practice. This point source is reproduced as a tiny
duction with good contrast is achieved We know that the objects being photo- disc in which light rays are distributed
only when the details are orientated in graphed are three-dimensional, that within a circle. Most of the rays will con-
the “good” direction. they have depth. Even a wall has a sur- verge in the center of this circle, while
MTF data therefore provide an accu- face texture that has depth. We assume some of them are scattered towards
rate and comprehensive description of that the test grids (with the light and the perimeter of that circle. Light distri-
the imaging performance of a lens. Nev- dark stripes) that are used for obtaining bution can be described in the form of a
ertheless, it has to be used with cau- MTF measurements are only two-di- point spread function or spot diagrams
tion. In practice, small differences be- mensional (i.e. they have height and by means of a 3D-diagram (with x-, y-
tween the curves are of negligible width, but no depth), so that they are and z-axes). The x- and y-axes (depth
consequence. One should examine the not representative of real photographic and width) show the shape of the disc
entire image. One should also keep in subjects. and the z-axis (height) shows the inten-
mind that, although these diagrams pro- sity of the light distribution (see the il-
vide a very good description of all the One should disregard these thoughts. lustration of a point spread function).
aberrations, they do not cover all the The transfer of the contrast of the struc- Figure 1 (point spread function) shows
considerations. Stray light, vignetting, tural periods (the grid) is a measure of an ideal image point. The width of its
color correction, distortion, performance the optical efficiency and the optical per- image point spread is small and the
in the close-up range, for instance, can- formance of a lens in general. What is peak is very high. This means that
not be evaluated by means of MTF dia- actually measured is how much light en- nearly all the light energy is concen-
grams. Because the method of creating ergy from a subject point reaches the trated in a very small circle (like a point).
these diagrams is not standardized, one corresponding image point and how the The actual height of this point reproduc-
should only compare the data provided energy distribution is shaped in the im- tion is 20 µm (twenty thousandths of a
by different manufacturers with great age point (actually the image disc). This millimeter) and the “point” is 5 µm wide
caution or better yet, not at all if it is not actually shows the effects of the aberra- at its base (five thousandths of a
known whether they were created by tions. These image points can be lo- millimeter)! That means 200 points
the same method. An important factor cated in the plane of sharpness but also within one millimeter, or 100 line pairs
is the quality of the light that is used for in front of, or behind that plane, i.e. in per mm (lp/mm)! Figure 2 shows this
obtaining the measurements. White the range of unsharpness. Although the point again, but this time as a cross-sec-
light contains a great number of wave- reproduction of the subject point will be tion. It contains the same information,
lengths. Measured values are different different, but the principle remains the shown in a different manner. Figure 3
when only three wavelengths are used, same. The aberrations determine the lo- shows a point spread function with a
compared to readings obtained with cation and the shape of the image point, different shape. Its base is now approxi-
seven wavelengths. The weighting of as well as its energy distribution. Be- mately 8 µm wide, and its height is
the wavelengths is another influential cause points in the range of smaller. This point can be described as
factor. unsharpness create the impression of having 62.5 line pairs. This is logical: the
One often wonders whether MTF data three-dimensionality, MTF data is also light energy coming from a given sub-
can really describe optical performance valid, in principle, for depth perception. ject point remains the same, but this en-

[16] Leica M Lenses


MTF Graphs

ergy can be distributed over small circle general indication of lens performance. light rays have a different weighting
with a high peak, or a large circle with a If personal photographs do not corre- than those in a lens with a longer focal
lower peak. These computer-generated spond to expectations that are based on length, in which chromatic aberrations
values and images are based on classic MTF diagrams, one should re-evaluate have a greater influence. One should
ray-tracing principles. The computed po- one’s own photographic technique. The also be aware of the fact that, while all
sition and distribution of the light rays entire chain of reproduction especially, lenses are described in terms of con-
from the subject point can be used for should be analyzed. MTF values repre- trast values for 5, 10, 20 and 40 lp/mm,
generating the point spread function sent pure lens performance, which does this data must be correlated with the re-
with mathematical methods. not take into account exposure circum- production ratio. A 28 mm lens repro-
For actual MTF measurements, an in- stances and material characteristics. duces an object much smaller than a
strument is used that is capable of The MTF is an excellent means for com- 135 mm lens, and since the lp/mm val-
analyzing the distribution of light across paring and evaluating different lenses. ues are valid for the reproduction on the
a narrow slit. This narrow slit is illumi- In practice, it is very difficult to evaluate film, they should be interpreted accord-
nated from behind and a lens images it comparison photographs that have real ingly.
on a detector. A synchronous motor expressive power. Small variations in
drives a scanner with another slit (which exposure circumstances have a signifi- Personal experience and expectations,
is much narrower than the rear-illumi- cant effect on the resulting photo- not purely MTF-based considerations,
nated slit) across the width of the illumi- graphs. are the basis for the acceptance of a
nated slit. Measurements at the edge of After all, in practice there are a great newly purchased lens. Even so, at a cer-
the slit show the transition from dark to many variables in exposure techniques tain moment in the decision process,
light. This measurement is shown in and also in personal conditions and MTF diagrams provide a very neutral
Figure 4. The distribution of light energy evaluations. An individual who only cre- and objective evaluation of the perform-
at the edge of the slit has the same ates photographs using small apertures, ance capability of a lens. MTF is neces-
shape as the cross-section of the point certainly has different evaluation criteria sary when an objective evaluation of a
spread function. There is no mathemati- than one who frequently uses full aper- lens is wanted, but it is not the only cri-
cal difference between a point and a tures. When comparing MTF diagrams, terion for purchasing a lens: methods
line, which is defined as an infinite one should also observe another funda- are only as good as the way a photogra-
number of points in a row. mental rule: it is not customary to com- pher uses them, and information is only
Using mathematical formulas once pare lenses that have different focal useful when one knows how to inter-
again, one can use the measured light lengths. First of all, the correction of ab- pret the data correctly.
distribution of the slit (which is a line errations is different. A wide-angle lens
image) to arrive at a point image. Con- has a greater angle of view, and oblique
versely, it is also possible to derive a
line image from the point spread func-
tion.
One can occasionally read or hear
claims that an MTF diagram derived
from measured values is superior to a
computed MTF diagram, but this should figure 3
not be taken very seriously. One should
also consider the fact that at Leica, the
measured version and the computed
version are nearly identical, which is
also a sign that the manufacturing de-
partment is capable of producing what
the optical designers have devised.

In conclusion

MTF diagrams are not intended to re-


place your own practical evaluation of a
lens. Nevertheless it has been proven
that an MTF evaluation comes very
close to a visual and subjective evalua-
tion of a lens. While MTF diagrams can
only be evaluated by someone with a
good fundamental knowledge of optics,
they nevertheless also represent a good

Leica M Lenses [17]


Color Rendition

Color rendition
The color rendition of a lens is obvi- For the spectral sensitivity of films, Elmarit-M 2,8/21 ASPH 0 6 5
ously a very important characteristic data from the manufactures for the sen- Emarit M 2,8/21 0 5 2
which may take precedence over other sitivity of the blue, green and red sensi- Emarit M 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH 0 5 5
characteristics. The photographer is of- tive layers were weighted so that a nor- Elmarit-M 2,8/28 current 0 5 4
ten very sensitive to changes in color malized sensitivity per layer could be Elmarit-M 2,8/28 previous 0 4 2
transmission when changing lenses, es- established. Summilux-M 1.4/35 aspherical 0 6 6
pecially when photographing the same Summilux-M 1.4/35 ASPH 0 5 5
scene. The spectral characteristics of a lens Summilux-M 1.4/35 0 4 1
Lenses with a yellowish or reddish can be evaluated in terms of its total ef- Summicron-M 2/35 ASPH 0 4 3
color cast are called warm and those fect on the several layers of an average Noctilux -M 1/50 0 8 6
with a bluish cast are called cool. color film. The effect on the blue sensi- Sumilux-M 1,4/50 0 5 2
Some glasses (for example extra tive layers is called the blue photo- Summicron-M 2/50 0 5 4
dense flints) contain a large amount of graphic response of the lens. These re- Elmar-M 2.8/50 0 6 5
lead oxide and appear to the eye as pale sponses can be calculated. Summilux-M 1.4/75 0 6 3
yellow. If such a glass is used in a lens, The CCI value is computed by multi- APO-Summicron-M 2/90 ASPH 0 6 4
the resulting color cast will be warm. plying the relative transmittance values Apo-Telyt-M 3.4/135 0 5 4
The cast can be offset by suitable coat- of a lens by the weighted spectral sensi- Elmarit-M 2.8/135 0 6 4
ing, but there are limits here. tivity values for the blue, green and red Tri-Elmar 4/28 0 5 3
The notion of color rendition and color sensitive layers. The total response is Tri-Elmar 4/35 0 5 3
fidelity is a very tricky one. The eye is obtained by summation. and will give a Tri-Elmar 4/50 0 5 3
hardly an accurate detector of color dif- number for blue, one for green, one for
ferences as the eye is easily fooled, red. To simplify, make the smallest ele- From this list you can get a very good
partly by its great adaptation powers. ment of the three number designations impression how of close to neutral most
But the existing light changes also. At equal to zero. If a lens has a Color Con- Leica lenses are.
12.00 clock on a summer day the sun in tribution Index of 0/5/4, this means that The Summicron-M 2/50 or the Apo-
a blue sky may have 10.000 degrees the average color film in standard illumi- Telyt 3.4/135 might be considered as
Kelvin and a few hours later 6.000 de- nation sees the lens as providing more reference lenses. Take pictures with onr
grees. The eye may not detect this dif- green (5) and more red layer (4) re- of these lenses and your favorite film.
ference, but the film does. Films also sponse relative to the blue (0) than that Then take pictures with other lenses un-
differ in their spectral responses. obtained with no lens in the system. der identical circumstances and on the
The imaging chain of existing light, This lens would give a yellow cast. same film, preferably slide film, so that
scene to be photographed, color rendi- the lab can not introduce additional color
tion of the lens, color response of the The ISO however has established that corrections. Then compare the pictures
film and the eye, introduces so many with the sensitivity data of emulsion carefully and try to find differences in
variables that a meaningful discussion manufacturers, the standard lens should color rendition. This will give you a good
and assessment is difficult. conform to the 0/5/4 index. idea of what shifts to expect and what
The International Standards Organiza- The tolerances are established as filters to use, if any, to correct a small
tion has introduced standard #6728, follows. cast.
which is called: “Determination of ISO The difference of 1 point may not be
color contribution index” (ISO/CCI) in Blue is 0 with +3 and -4. noticeable.
1983. To start somewhere, the ISO Green is 5 with +0 and -2
analyzed 57 typical camera lenses of Red is 4 with +1 and -2.
high quality in 1979 and used the aver-
age relative spectral transmittance val- These tolerances must be derived
ues as a base figure: the ISO standard from a trilinear graph and not by addi-
camera lens. tion. Leica lenses are aimed at the CCI
As the typical photographic daylight of 0/5/4 and can be considered as neu-
the ISO used 5.500 Kelvin, which is also tral in transmission when they are
used by the emulsion industry. This is within the tolerance band.
the situation when the sun is 40 de-
grees above the horizon in a cloudless The following is a list of representative
atmosphere. Flashlight is also desig- Leica M lenses and their CCI values.
nated 5.500 Kelvin, but the spectral dis- Values lower than -/5/4 produce a bluish
tribution may be different. cast, values above -/5/4 a reddish cast

[18] Leica M Lenses


Color Rendition

Leica M Lenses [19]


21 mm lenses

21 mm lenses
The optical system with a 90º angle of former. It fine qualities are restricted
view is a comparatively late addition to only by the presence of astigmatism
the line of Leica lenses. The design of that reduces overall contrast and the
such an extreme wide-angle lens for the crisp rendition of fine details at full and
35 mm format had to contend with medium apertures.
three serious problems. Distortion is the
obvious one. Optical vignetting is the
real villain here. For a lens with a 90º an-
gle of view, peripheral illumination is
only about 25% of axial illumination, as- contrast results in a clearer delineation
suming distortion-free imagery. To beat of fine details. Details are quite soft in
this so-called Cosine-Fourth vignetting, the field and in the corners the image.
the designer should accept distortion, The general performance of the
but this is not acceptable. An optical Elmarit-M lens is better than that of the
‘trick’ can be used, however, to in- Super-Angulon at f/3.4. This is partly
crease the level of light energy towards due to the reduction of astigmatism,
the periphery without increasing distor- which results in improved rendition of
tion. Basically one uses the properties fine details.
and relations between the entrance and At f/4.0 extremely fine details are vis-
exit pupils to accomplish this feat. A ible with good contrast in the center and
wide aperture is the third villain. Earlier within a 12 mm diameter circle around
designs had to be stopped down to f/11 the center. From there to the corners
or even smaller apertures to get accept- the image details become progressively
able or even usable image quality. softer, but fine details remain within a
These earlier designs were used on detectable range.
larger format cameras where the need Optimum performance is reached at f/
for enlargements is less pronounced 21 mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M 5.6 with extremely fine details now vis-
than it is in the ‘small negative-big en- ible over the entire image area into the
largement’ philosophy of 35 mm pho- The first fully Leitz-designed lens for outermost corners. Subject outlines, es-
tography. Zeiss gets the credit for being the demanding 90° angle was intro- pecially in the outer zones, have soft
the first in 1954 to cross this barrier duced in 1980. This lens had to have a edges, giving an overall impression of a
with its seminal rangefinder-coupled 21 long back focal length (distance from smooth, somewhat subdued image.
mm f/4 Biogon lens for the Contax cam- the rear lens surface to the film plane) Stopping down to f/11 and smaller aper-
era, that perennial and friendly chal- to make room for the M5 exposure me- tures diminishes image quality.
lenger of the rangefinder Leica. Leitz in- tering mechanism. This retrofocus de- Decentering was not measurable.
troduced its version of a 21mm lens in sign requires a totally different type of Generally speaking, this lens is a com-
1958 in the form of the 21 mm f/4 Leitz correction. Coma, distortion and trans- mendable performer and an improve-
Super-Angulon lens. verse chromatic aberrations are difficult ment over the Super-Angulon lens. In
At full aperture, this lens features to correct. In this case, a bit of distortion the field at the wider apertures, image
good performance in the center and, if had to be allowed in order to achieve a quality is a bit modest.
the clear rendition of fine details is not higher correction of the other aberra-
the prime objective, that aperture is tions.
quite usable. The 21mm f/3.4 Leitz Su- At f/2.8 the light fall-off is slightly less Close-up performance
per-Angulon followed in 1963 and it re- than that of its predecessor. Flatness of
mained in production until 1980. Quite a field is less well corrected than distor- A 21mm lens by nature shows a great
long working life. But in those days opti- tion. At full aperture, the on-axis per- deal of empty foreground, which could
cal progress could almost be measured formance (a circle with a diameter of be filled with some objects close to the
in generations. 6mm) produces an image that is slightly lens. The essence of the 21mm focal
Generally speaking the 21 mm f/3.4 cleaner than that of the Super-Angulon length is the surrounding of an interest-
Super Angulon lens is a very good per- lens. This generally somewhat higher ing object in the foreground by a large

[20] Leica M Lenses


2 1 m m l en s e s

environmental background. It is of prime The overall image quality is a quantum area becomes zero, where the ASPH
importance to know how the lens be- leap forward in relation to all previous version shows more distortion. The
haves at distances around 1 meter. 21mm lenses in the Leica stable. abrupt inward curve of the Elmarit, how-
At f/2.8 the corners are noticeably To place it in perspective: the perform- ever, increases the visibility of the dis-
darker, but vignetting is gone at f/4. ance at f/2.8 is better in all respects tortion, while the smooth curve of the
At full aperture the overall contrast is than that of the f/3.4 Super-Angulon at f/ ASPH is easier on the eye and it re-
medium. The Elmarit, however, repro- 5.6. duces the noticeable presence of distor-
duces very fine details just a shade At f/4 contrast and the clear rendition tion.
more crisply than its predecessors. of very fine details improve, with the
From f/5.6 the performance becomes corners still lagging a bit behind. Overall
uniform across the entire frame and we contrast is now at its optimum, with ex- Design considerations
have an excellent image with very fine ceptional performance over a large part
crisp details into the corners. of the image field. At f/5.6 overall con- I wish to draw attention to the very
trast drops a little, but very fine details high level of finely tuned aberration cor-
are still crisp into the far outer zones. rections in modern Leica lenses. In the
Flare suppression: From f/8 the performance drops ever first part of this brochure I mentioned
so slightly and at f/16 it is noticeably be- that any optical system can only be cor-
The Elmarit-M handles light sources low optimum. rected to a certain level and that some
quite well at full aperture. In strong Decentering is not measurable. Overall aberrations will always be present as re-
backlight the silhouettes of tree assessment: this lens produces out- sidual aberrations.
branches are dark (no leaking of light standing image quality at full aperture, A careful design will not neglect these
around the edges) and sharply outlined. which continues to improve as it is aberrations because they will generate
stopped down as far as f/8. ‘noise’ in the system. White light con-
It is by far the best 21mm lens in Leica sists of all wavelengths, but photo-
history and the only recommended graphically important wavelengths
choice for the person who needs supe- should be weighted more heavily for ul-
rior performance from a 21 mm lens timate image quality. In the preceding
starting at f/2.8. Elmarit lens, slightly lower importance
was assigned to certain wavelengths.
Nowadays a Leica designer will strive to
Close-up performance concentrate all these wavelengths into a
spot that is as small as possible. This is
Close-up performance at full aperture the case with the 21 mm f/2.8 Elmarit-
is better than that of the Elmarit-M f/2.8, M ASPH. One can only see a faint trace
producing higher overall contrast. More of color residuals of the marginal rays.
important, the high level of micro-con-
trast gives a clear rendering of very fine
image details over the entire field, in- Performance at infinity
cluding the extreme corners. Even the
performance from the center to the cor- This is an intriguing topic.
ners for the complete range of aper- The performance of extremely wide-
tures is quite impressive. angle lenses at infinity is sometimes
discussed as if it were a bit below ex-
21 mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH pectation when compared to lenses
Flare suppression: with smaller angles of view. As I always
At full aperture, contrast is high and use the same scene for a comparison, I
extremely fine details are rendered very The Elmarit-M ASPH lens improves on was able to compare the image quality
crisply from the center to an image the performance of its predecessor. The of a distant scene as recorded with a
height of 11 mm. That is the coverage suppression of halos, especially at full 28mm Elmarit-M lens (latest generation
of an image circle of 22mm. From there aperture, can be described as quite ef- and a superb representative of its kind).
to the edges, the contrast decreases a fective. The 28mm produces a high-contrast im-
little but it is still vastly superior to that age, with extremely fine details, ren-
of all its predecessors. Astigmatism and dered very crisply. The overall image
curvature of field are almost fully cor- Distortion also has a clarity and lucidity that is diffi-
rected. Subject outlines and fine details cult to quantify.
have very high edge contrast and are Look at the distortion graphs for the In direct comparison, 21mm lenses
rendered clearly, almost lucidly. In the Elmarit-M and Elmarit-M ASPH lenses. are softer, they lack the overall clarity
outer zones and in the corners this su- The curve of the Elmarit looks better as and crisp reproduction of very fine de-
perior performance decreases slightly. the distortion at the fringe of the image tails. The same amount of details as ob-

Leica M Lenses [21]


21 mm lenses

tained with 28mm lenses can be no- Is a direct comparison between lenses into account the reproduction factor and
ticed without difficulty, but image de- of different focal length acceptable? all other image-degrading components.
tails are slightly ‘fuzzier’. Not really! The reproduction factor of I also conducted a test to ascertain
Optical progress can easily be fol- the extremely fine details is higher with whether the performance level changes
lowed in the discussion that follows, a 21 mm than it is with a 28 mm lens. if one sets the focusing ring just a frac-
with the 21 mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH Even if the grain and the film would al- tion before the infinity mark, thus using
representing a very high level of low it, the 21 mm image needs a higher depth of field to secure good rendition
progress. It is the only 21 mm lens that magnification to show the same details of details. The drop in performance be-
compares favorably with the 28mm f/ at the same size and therefore it needs tween these two settings is clearly vis-
2.8 Elmarit-M. a higher degree of optical corrections at ible. So, if you need the best image
The Elmarit-M at full aperture shows a higher spatial frequency. quality at infinity, focus the lens at infin-
very fine details, but it renders them The prerequisites for such an infinity ity and forget about depth of field con-
with slight fuzzy edge contrast and ex- test are simple: extreme care must be cerns in such cases. We also noted that
tremely fine details are lost. One needs taken if one wants best quality at infin- image quality will be reduced substan-
to stop down to f/5.6 in order to render ity: rigid tripod, correct exposure, dis- tially if the objects at infinity are overex-
these extremely fine details with good tance setting at infinity, low speed film. posed, which is quite often the case
separation. The test shows clearly that perform- with small objects (like trees) against
The Elmarit ASPH produces better im- ance at infinity with the latest genera- the sky. This behavior is inherent in 35
ages at full aperture. Overall contrast is tions of 21mm lenses is at a very high mm format photography where overex-
higher, and extremely fine details are level. When comparing results between posure is one of the most serious
just discernible. The ASPH gives a no- different focal lengths one should take causes of image degradation.
ticeably crisper image at all apertures
and the level of just discernible details is
higher (more details that is). At f/4 per-
formance is as good as the predeces-
sor’s at f/5.6 to f/8.

[22] Leica M Lenses


2 1T Fm m
M m el ae sn us re es m e n t

Leica M Lenses [23]


21 mm lenses

21mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M Summary

This lens is the first


retrofocus design by
Leica for the M body.
Stopped down to medium
apertures it delivers ex-
cellent image quality over
most of the picture area. .
At full aperture the on
axis performance is very
good, but in the field is
only acceptable.

Full Aperture [2,8] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

[24] Leica M Lenses


21 mm lenses

21mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M ASPH Summary

A truly outstanding lens


and a fine example of
Leica’s drive to design
state-of-the-art lenses. At
full aperture the lens al-
ready provides a high con-
trast image with a crisp
rendition of very fine de-
tails. This performance
improves when stopping
down and extends to the
full picture area.

Full Aperture [2,8] Optimum Aperture [4,0]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [25]


24 mm lenses

24 mm lenses
statement about the wider surroundings above the threshold of visibility, but
where these people are located. Encap- with slightly lower contrast.
sulated intimacy might be the approach. Going from center to corner the con-
When taking pictures you are naturally trast of extremely fine details drops
inclined to tilt the camera downwards a somewhat. While a bit soft at the edges
bit in order to include more foreground and of lower contrast, these details are
in the image. At eye level the 84 degree still clearly visible.
angle of view often encompasses too Stopping down to f/4 the contrast in
much horizon. In this position, perspec- very fine details improves and the ex-
tive distortion of background objects at ceedingly fine details now are clearly
the sides of the picture area tends to be visible. Corners still lag a bit but center
pronounced. This perspective distortion and zonal performance (12 mm image
should be carefully separated from the circle) is at its optimum. This aperture
optical one. Optically this lens shows can be called the optimal aperture. Stop-
hardly any distortion. ping down to f/5.6 we see that the fin-
After some use I acquired the habit of est possible details become a bit more
taking pictures from a lower, but level crisp, but the outlines of shapes and de-
perspective. Here the unusually good tails start to soften faintly. Thus overall
image quality really shines. contrast is a bit lower. It is a matter of
24 mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH In use its angle of view is quite fasci- priorities which aperture is ideal. I would
nating. I used it in reportage-style pic- say that this lens is at its best at f/4.
ture-taking situations and I was able to At f/8 corners continue to improve
The gap between 21 mm and 28 mm get very interesting pictures at close where the center now drops in contrast.
focal lengths has long existed in the range. The trick in using this lens is the At f/16 the overall image contrast is
range of Leica lenses for Leica cameras selection of subject matter at about 1 lower and very fine details suffer as dif-
with coupled rangefinders. In the reflex and 2 meters (approximately 3 to 6 fraction sets in.
world the 24 or 25mm focal length has feet).
a longer history. It maybe the renewed If the subject in the foreground
confidence of many users who chose catches the eye because of its nature or Close-up performance
the Leica M as the top reportage cam- because of its composition, the whole
era that inspired the Leica designers to image will be interesting. In many in- At close range (± 70cm, approximately
compute this focal length for the M se- stances you might be tempted to go for ± 28 inches), this excellent performance
ries. One may also note that the M body the grand view. Make sure the fore- is preserved. A wide angle lens like a
favors the design of high quality short ground space is dominant and full of in- 24mm is not recommended if its close-
focal length lenses. As a historical re- teresting details. up performance is not the same as its
mark we may note that Nikon and performance at infinity. As most lenses
Canon rangefinders from the glorious At full aperture the lens exhibits a very are optimized for longer distances, we
fifties offered the 25 mm focal length, high contrast image from the center need to stop down to f/5,6 to get the
thus closing the gap between the 21 across the entire field. Only the far cor- best of performance in the close-up
and 28 mm focal lengths long ago. ners drop in contrast and produce soft range.
details. Over an image circle with a di-
I used an example of the 24 mm f/2.8 ameter of 12 mm the outlines of subject
Elmarit-M ASPH lens and compared it to shapes and details are delineated with Flare suppression
the 25 mm f/4 Voigtländer Snapshot superb edge contrast and extremely and other topics
Skopar lens. The 84º angle of view is fine details are rendered crisply and
very interesting, but also quite demand- clearly. In the rest of the field, very fine Flare suppression is perfect. Night pic-
ing creatively. Close range photography details are etched crisply in the emul- tures with Kodachrome 64 show excel-
of single persons or small groups con- sion with extremely fine details ren- lent gradation in strong highlights and
veys an intimacy of close contact. At dered visibly but with softer edges. Ex- distance point sources are rendered
the same time you can make a strong ceedingly fine details are rendered just clearly, without any trace of halo. This

[26] Leica M Lenses


24 mm lenses

suppression of halo and flare gives pic- pact to pictures taken with fairly wide by the lower aberration content of the
tures taken with the 24 mm f/2,8 angle lenses. Skopar lens. When aberrations are
Elmarit-M ASPH a very realistic, almost No Leica M user should be without abundant the light rays emanating from
tactile rendition. this lens. The M style of photography a point source of light do not converge
Of course some light fall-off is visible demands intimate close range photogra- to a point in the image but have a more
at full aperture, but it is negligible in phy and the 24 mm lens is one of the random pattern around the central core.
most picture-taking situations. best lenses to explore this area. At this These more widely spread rays energize
On the optical bench a faint trace of writing it delivers unsurpassed quality in more silver grains around the center
decentering was observed. On the the 24 mm focal length. spot and they do so randomly. The re-
other hand flatness of field and astigma- sult is a rough clumping.
tism are very well controlled. No coma Modern Leica lenses produce a
was observed. Voigländer 25mm f/4 smooth pattern of very tightly contained
Distortion is also hardly noticeable. Of Snapshot Skopar clumps of grains, which helps to pre-
course when you intentionally take pic- serve the rendition of very fine details
tures in oblique positions, perspective is For some time a number of lenses for and the smooth gradation of fine light
out of line. Used in a level position this Leica rangefinder cameras have been modulations.
lens is virtually distortion-free. available from other manufacturers. It is Leica lenses exhibit a crisp clarity of
In common with most recently de- most interesting to compare the per- the finest possible details that third
signed Leica lenses, the out-of focus formance of these lenses to the Leica party designs cannot match. On its own
blur at the wider apertures is quite designs. the Skopar lens is an excellent value
fuzzy. While the outlines of bigger sub- This lens does not couple to the range- and the Skopar at f/4 is a capable per-
jects are preserved, finer details fade finder and it has a several fixed distance former on axis. But the outer zones are
into the background blur quite rapidly. tabs on the distance scale. It shows a no match for the Leica (at f/2,8!)
fair amount of decentering. In the outer though.
zonal areas and at the edges small light The fine performance of the Skopar is
Conclusion sources produce halo-like degradation. partly the result of the modest aperture.
Distortion is very low, but light fall-off is The higher aberration content will not
The Elmarit-M is without a doubt a noticeable, but not disturbingly so. At be detectable in many picture-taking
masterpiece of optical engineering, a full aperture the overall contrast is high situations, hiding as it were behind the
landmark design within the Leica M and very fine details are rendered crisply depth of field, among other things.
range. over an image area with a diameter of The generally weaker performance in
The M version of the 24 mm focal about 6 mm. Fine details stay visible the field is another characteristic that
length is in a different performance over most of the image area and be- distinguishes these lenses from Leica
league than the 25mm f/4 Voigtländer come barely detectable in the corners. lenses.
Skopar. It gives the discerning Leica This excellent performance continues
photographer so great an imaging qual- up to f/8, but with reduced contrast on
ity potential that it becomes a challenge axis. Close-up performance is as good The riddle of the wider apertures
to exploit. While the Skopar is quite a as performance at the infinity setting
capable performer, the M version is In comparison, the 24 mm f/2.8 The increase of the maximum aperture
simply outstanding. Elmarit shows a high contrast image of f/4 to f/2.8 seems a modest one. Just
At full aperture the M version is al- with exceedingly fine details rendered as the step from f/2.8 to f/2 looks easy
ready nearly at its optimum, achieving a very crisply over an image area with a with current computational power. But
long-standing goal of Leica optical de- diameter of 12 mm. Corners are soft physics is not that simple.
signers: to provide the best quality at and slightly prone to flare. No improve- What then is the optical problem? Any
full aperture over the entire image area. ments can be detected after f/4.0. lens produces a circular image area
This lens is quite demanding on the ca- I shot comparison images on the same within which the 24x36mm format has
pabilities of film emulsions. Pictures on film (lens by lens) (my bayonet is the to fit. This circular area can be divided in
ISO 400 transparency film however first item to exchange because of us- three parts, the center or axis, the zonal
proved that this lens shows its qualities age) and noted that the Skopar lens ex- area or field and the outermost zones or
even when relatively grainy films are be- hibits some characteristics of Leica edges. The center (or the paraxial zone
ing used. The very high contrast of sub- lenses of earlier generations. Overall the or Gaussian zone) is quite easy to com-
ject outlines of the 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH images are duller and a bit muddier than pute. The zonal areas are more difficult
gives additional power to the crisp grain those made with current Leica lenses. to correct. Optical aberrations tend to
of modern high speed film emulsions. A most interesting phenomenon be- grow disproportionately as the aperture
Within the Leica lens range this lens came evident with these side-by-side- and/or the field-angle becomes larger.
has a premium position. Its angle of shots. The Skopar gives images with a Many aberrations grow at the rate of
view will give fresh views of interesting grainier pattern and with grain clumps the square root or the cubic root in rela-
objects in our world at close range and that are rougher than those in images tion to the aperture diameter, or even
its optical capabilities add a novel im- made with Leica lenses. This is caused more.

Leica M Lenses [27]


24 mm lenses

OK one might say, lets settle for a bit flicting demands. Aberrations can be resolution ultimately boils down to this
less image quality in the corners. There classified as third order, fifth order and kind of balancing. Fifth order aberrations
is a disadvantage, however: zonal aber- seventh order aberrations and so on, un- are mathematically quite challenging.
rations have a strong influence on the til the nth order. Third order aberrations The high quality of Leica lenses is based
performance in the center. Moreover, are large and suppress all other aberra- upon a thorough understanding of this
when stopping down, the effect on tions in the series. group of aberrations. As usual, balanc-
some aberrations is not reduced. The If a designer can tame these third or- ing of conflicting demands and fine-tun-
combined result of all aberrations is al- der errors, he will be unpleasantly con- ing of parameters is needed to compute
ways a reduction in contrast: a soften- fronted with the next aberration in line. a lens to this very high level of correc-
ing of small details and a low overall Balancing third order aberrations often tion.
contrast. The burden of the lens-de- requires a change in focus position. The
signer however, is not lessened if he well-known statement that you can
succeeds in reconciling all these con- compute a lens for high contrast or high

[28] Leica M Lenses


24 mm lenses

24mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M Summary


ASPH
A landmark design in the
M series, the lens deliv-
ers astounding perform-
ance at full aperture, be-
coming outstanding when
stopped down a bit. The
angle of field encourages
the style of close range
reportage photography
that made the M famous.

Full Aperture [2,8] Optimum Aperture [4,0]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [29]


28 mm lenses

28 mm lenses
The 28 mm lens for the Leica range- Summaron. A two-stop increase in aper- older Leica lenses at wider apertures
finder cameras was introduced in 1935. ture and a retrofocus design were quite exhibit a veil of dullness and an absence
The Leitz Hektor 28 mm (1935) had a demanding. The narrow diameter of the of really fine textural details. This per-
very modest full aperture of f/8. At this bayonet mount did not make life any formance has been identified some-
aperture, image quality was quite good easier for the designer. The first 28 mm times as smoothness of rendition, be-
and this lens remained in production for Elmarit showed the familiar pattern of cause the gradient from sharp to
20 years. Leitz produced three different many older designs: low to medium unsharp and from details to outlines is
28 mm designs and for versions of the overall contrast, good image quality on not very abrupt.
last design. The 28 mm lens is a strong axis, rapidly dropping in the field, soft Stopped down to medium apertures in
candidate for being the most rede- edges of the larger object contours, and bright daylight the differences between
signed lens in Leica history. a high level of image noise that reduces modern and older lenses diminish to a
The photographer who employs a 28 the clear rendition of fine details. This surprisingly small level. The higher cor-
mm lens with its 74° angle of view has optical ‘noise’ is, of course, the effect of rected lenses are able to exploit the cur-
some strong demands. A high-contrast residual aberrations that could not be rent emulsions to a fuller extent than
image with very fine details over the corrected to a high level. Images with the older ones.
whole image field, evenly illuminated
and distortion-free would be high on the
list. Pictorially the 28mm excels with im-
ages where the main object is relatively 28 mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M This clarity of very fine textural details
close to the camera and is surrounded is a hallmark of many modern Leica M
by the background. The 28 mm is a lens The current version of the Elmarit-M lenses. In addition to high overall con-
for story-telling. With an aperture of f/ has an unusual design with a plano front trast and a virtually free of flare trans-
2,8, this lens will be used quite often in lens element. Primary design objective mission of light energy, this lens at full
spaces or buildings with strong light was to achieve improved imagery in a aperture should provide the user with
sources that will be in the picture. Ex- smaller package. The M user wants su- first order recording capabilities. Stop-
cellent suppression of flare and perior optical performance and lenses ping down one stop brings already the
backlighting is a clear advantage in such small enough not to obstruct the clear optimum aperture and at f/5.6 macro
circumstances. To provide an impres- view of the viewfinder. These two de- contrast drops a little, while of course
sion of optical progress, we will com- mands (optical performance and small the corners still improve somewhat. As
pare the Hektor at f/6.3 with the Elmarit- size) are difficult to achieve together. marginal rays are cut off from reaching
M (third version of 1979) at f/2,8. The latest (1993) version of the 28 mm the emulsion (when stopping down) the
A demanding subject would be part of Elmarit-M shows many characteristics edges of fine details become somewhat
a dark alley with some illumination from of the new era of Leica M lens design. more crisp. Presumably these small dif-
street lamps. Recording this night scene Between 1980 and 1990 no new de- ferences are lost in the emulsion and in
the Hektor gives a low contrast image, signs for the M were computed. The other small image-degrading effects.
the highlights are washed out and point last of the previous generation were the Compared to its predecessor, center
sources show strong halos. The black 21 mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M, the 75 mm f/1.4 performance at full aperture is almost
parts are darkish gray as flare and un- Summilux-M and the first of the new the same. In the field and when looking
wanted stray light ‘illuminate’ the shad- generation was the 35 mm f/1.4 at very fine details, the current lens has
ows, which show very few details. Summilux-M (with two aspherical sur- clearly improved optical capabilities.
The Elmarit-M gives a high contrast faces). Modulation transfer function (MTF)
image with finely graded details in the graphs also show a more rigid correc-
highlights, flare is nonexistent, allowing The 28 mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M at full aper- tion of the nasty sagittal rays, which blur
clean black areas. The shadows have a ture gives a very high contrast image the rendition of finely graded color hues
rich tonal scale showing small details with extremely fine details crisply ren- on small object areas. Clearly, the cur-
with good clarity and clean colors. dered over much of the picture field (im- rent lens is corrected to a higher degree
age circle of 16 mm). Only the far cor- and it is at least one stop ahead of the
The first versions of the 28 mm ners and outer edges (left and right) are 1979 Elmarit. The fourth version of the
Elmarit-M (from 1962 and 1972) were noticeably softer. 28 mm focal length lens has only one
improvements of the 28 mm f/5.6 drawback: its modest aperture of f/2.8.

[30] Leica M Lenses


28 mm lenses

The 74° angle of view is very useful in performance over the whole image
cramped spaces and, spoiled as we area, excepting the extreme corners. At
Leica M users are with very high speed 5.6 we se a small drop in microcontrast
moderate wide-angle lenses, we would of the fine textures and from 8, the
occasionally wish we had a handful of overall contrast drops a bit. We have to
photons more to activate our silver put this in perspective, of course as we
halide-based emulsions. relate it to the optimum aperture. At 5.6
and smaller, the Elmarit-M 2.8/28 is a bit
behind the new Summicron 28.
Summicron-M 1:2/28mm Asph. Distortion is about the same as with
the Elmarit 28mm and vignetting is just
The optical prescription of the lens is visible with 2 stops in the corners at full
quite fascinating. It fits in the genealogy aperture, about the same as the Elmarit
of the seminal Summilux ASPH, a de- at 1:2.8. In general use, this falloff can
sign that decisively departs from the be neglected: even on slide film one has
classical Double-Gauss formula. This de- some difficulty noticing the darkening of
sign-type, now more than a 100 years the extreme corners.
old, has been stretched to the limits and For a lens with twice the speed this is Close up performance at 0.7 meters
a performance plateau has been a remarkable feat. This design indicates and full aperture shows excellent per-
reached. The new Summilux design, in- the direction of future Leica M designs: formance with high contrast rendition of
corporates the negative front and back compact and high speed and high per- very fine detail.
surfaces and the aspherical surface. It is formance. The somewhat weak per- Night pictures retain high contrast in
probably the first lens that has been de- formance of the old Summilux 1.4/ the shadow areas, and (when exposure
signed specifically around the use of 35mm could be excused with reference is right) finer gradations in the highlights
aspherics. Retrofocus designs are a sec- to its compactness, which forced the are recorded as well. At least with slide
ond approach to step out of the shad- designers in those days to find a com- film and Black and White. Bright light
ows of the Double-Gauss formula. More promise between size and performance. sources have cleanly delineated out-
lens elements can potentially improve Now the circle has been squared. lines, indicating effective elimination of
performance, as more parameters can The lens operates very smoothly, and halo effects. Coma cannot be detected
be controlled. The new Summicron-M the aperture ring clicks with just the in these situations (light points in the
1:2/28mm ASPH picks up design ele- right amount of resistance and fluidity. image field).
ments of both: the lens group in front of When taking pictures with the new Flare is very well suppressed in day-
the aperture is an enhancement of the Summicron 28, I was amazed how light shooting too, in contre-jour situa-
Summilux (front group) design and the quickly I could focus with the focusing tions and when the sun strikes the front
lens group behind the aperture fits into tab and I have to confess that I hardly lens obliquely. Of course: you can con-
the retrofocus family and is a derivative missed a shot, when focusing moving struct situations where secondary im-
of the 2.8/28 formula. We should not objects. The depth of field with a 28mm ages and veiling glare is quite visible,
press the point, however, as a lens de- lens, even at an aperture of 1:2 exceeds but even here the images retain con-
sign is a creative whole and not a mix of of course the DoF of the Summicron 50 trast and some saturation. A lens shade
ready made components. The message by a factor of 2, which brings real advan- is needed, when the light sources may
should be that the new Summicron is tages in street shooting. shine in or close to the front lens. I will
based on the best design principles cur- give this topic a separate treatment.
rently available in Solms thinking. The Leica has redesigned the front part of
location of the aspherical surface is dif- The performance the lens where the shade is attached for
ferent and probably decisive for this de- easier handling. All wide angle lenses
sign. At full aperture this lens exhibits a suffer the same problems here. It is a
high contrast with crisp definition of ex- tribute to the design team that they
ceedingly fine detail over most of the have given this topic additional atten-
The ergonomics image field, softening in the field from tion.
image height of 9mm. A faint trace of The transition from the sharpness
The new 2/28 is indeed a very com- astigmatism and field curvature can be plane to the unsharp areas is relatively
pact lens, comparable to the current detected. Stopping down to 2.8 im- smooth, but really out-of-focus areas
2.8/28 version. proves the center area (diameter 12mm) show the tendency to break up details
Measurements are (2.8 version in pa- and also brings in a higher microcontrast in coarse and fuzzypatches. There is a
rentheses): length from flange: 41mm in the outer zones. Corners however lag certain harshness in the out of focus
(41.4mm), overall diameter: 53mm a bit and stay soft with a limited defini- rendition that is typical of modern Leica
(53mm), front diameter: 49mm (48mm). tion of coarse detail. Stopped down to lenses. It is related to the level of aber-
Both lenses use filtersize E46. 4, contrast becomes very high and the ration correction.
optimum is reached with a very even

Leica M Lenses [31]


28 mm lenses

28mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M (1993) Summary

This redesign aimed at


reduction of volume and
improved full aperture
performance. At f/2.8 this
lens now has better im-
age quality than the pred-
ecessor at f/4 does. It is a
first-class performer, but
one would not expect
less given its modest ap-
erture and angle of field.

Full Aperture [2,8] Optimum Aperture [4,0]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

[32] Leica M Lenses


28 mm lenses

SUMMICRON-M 1:2/28mm ASPH Summary

The new Summicron-M


1:2/28mm Asph. marks
the top level of perform-
ance from wideangle
lenses and is one of the
best Leica M lenses.

It was introduced at
photokina 2000.

Full Aperture Optimum Aperture

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [33]


35 mm lenses

35 mm lenses
The direct comparison between the five groups with the first surface of the crisply. Extremely fine details are
first 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux-M and the first element and the last surface of the slightly soft at the edges with a visible
most recent one with one aspherical last element having a concave shape. contrast reduction in small adjacent ar-
surface (1994) shows progress on two In the future, highly corrected, high- eas of different illumination. This fine
different levels. The immediately vis- speed lenses for small format photog- performance is not sustained in the
ible progress is a very marked improve- raphy could be based on this concept. field where rendition of very fine de-
ment of image quality. The more subtle Production technology however has tails is progressively lost in aberration
and far-reaching innovation is a radical not yet advanced to a level that every noise. At f/2.8 the excellent center per-
departure from a classical Gaussian de- conceivable optical design can be formance now extends over most of
sign. The original Summicron and manufactured within required engi- the field, only the corners still lag be-
Summilux designs are variants of the neering tolerances and necessary com- hind. At f/8 the optimal aperture has
Double Gauss concept, pioneered a mercial parameters. been reached and here we encounter a
long time ago. During the design stage very high level of image quality. High
it became clear that the desired image overall contrast and high micro-contrast
quality could not be achieved with the 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux of extremely fine details over most of
use of aspherical surfaces alone. The the image field bring a performance
design goal was a much-improved cor- At full aperture, the 35 mm f/1.4 level that is difficult to exploit without
rection of the marginal zonal areas. As I Summilux produces a low contrast im- appropriate types of emulsions.
mentioned in the introduction, we age with fine details clearly visible in From f/2.8 both the Summilux and the
should approach image quality in a the center and rapidly softening in the Summicron have a very similar optical
more integral way. All light energy that field and corners. ‘fingerprint’. Indeed the performance is
streams through the optical system is Very fine details in the field are fuzzy so similar at medium apertures that
affected by a variety of aberrations. The but just discernible. At this aperture the one is inclined to assume that the
lens designer, of course, will analyze lens shows a veiling glare and strong Summilux is a Summicron design
the contribution of every single aberra- halos and double images around point opened up just one stop too far. The
tion to the overall performance in order light sources higher inherent flare level of the
to adjust and balance the corrections At f/2.0 the overall performance im- Summilux reduces the rendition of very
that are needed. Aberrations that affect proves and at one stop smaller (f/2,8) small details in the field more than the
marginal areas the most will invariably contrast now is quite high and very fine Summicron does.
also play havoc with on-axis perform- details become considerably more The performance of the Summicron-
ance. Any successful optical design is a crisp, showing quite a high edge con- M is excellent and would be called out-
very carefully balanced trade-off be- trast. In the center, extremely fine de- standing if the aspherical version did
tween the many aberrations that stub- tails emerge, but in the field very fine not exist. In the course of these re-
bornly tend to degrade image quality. details remain soft. Optimum aperture views I have to address a somewhat
It is not easy to correct an optical sys- is reached at f/8. This pattern is typical sensitive topic. Many older and recent
tem with a wide aperture and a large of older generation lenses where stop- Leica lenses are held in high esteem
field of view. The total energy flow (the ping down improves contrast and the by users all over the world. Fortunately
luminous flux) through a high-aperture rendition of fine details, the latter only the standards of performance have ad-
lens is much greater than it is through a to a fair level. However a number of ab- vanced and Leica designers are willing
lens with a smaller aperture and a errations are not affected by the reduc- and able to push these standards a few
smaller field of view. The effect of ab- tion of the aperture and continue to de- notches higher. Many Leica lenses that
errations is also many times larger and grade the image quality. have been described by users, by the
more difficult to correct. Many aberra- press and in factory brochures as ‘out-
tions increase at the rate of the square standing’, get lower marks in my re-
root or even the cube root when the 35 mm f/2 Summicron-M views. Any evaluation is relative to the
field of view is widened. state-of-the-art available at the time of
The revolutionary idea behind the The 35 mm f/2 Summicron-M is inher- that evaluation.
Summilux aspherical lens is the radical ently corrected to a higher level. At full
departure from the Double-Gauss de- aperture, contrast in the center is high
sign. The optical system consists of and very fine details are rendered

[34] Leica M Lenses


35 mm lenses

tions can be compared to dust in an air- what lower micro contrast. The
tight room. This “dust” produces a thin Summilux-M ASPH at f/2.0 is slightly
fog that reduces the clarity of the view. ahead of the Summicron according to
This “dust” cannot be removed but the MTF graphs in the outer zones. The
only redistributed in such a way that it better flare suppression of the
will no longer fog our vision. Leica de- Summicron produces a slightly tighter
signers are able, by studying the ‘soul’ overall image. I would prefer to call it a
of a design, to minimize this amount of difference in fingerprint or characteris-
“dust”. Their designs ease the light en- tic of image rendering. The
ergy through the many glass elements Summicron-M ASPH shows a pattern of
with minimal bending and disruption of extremely high quality on axis, becom-
the light rays. Small patches of light ing less so when going outwards to the
with a very high concentration of en- corners. The difference between the
ergy in the core are the result. available image quality on axis and in
After f/5,6 performance drops a dif- the field is quite gradual. The
fraction begins to affect the straight Summilux-M ASPH at its full aperture of
passage of light rays. This drop is rela- f/1.4 has the same pattern, but stopped
35 mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH tive, of course and up to f/11 image down to f/2.0 shows very even cover-
quality is of a very high order indeed. age over most of the field. That is re-
At full aperture the 35 mm Summilux When using these apertures or smaller markable after only one stop. The non-
ASPH delivers a high contrast image ones be prepared to accept an image aspherical Summicron/Summilux 35
with excellent micro-contrast and a that is slightly softer overall. To provide mm versions follow the classical much
crisp rendition of very fine details in the some comparative remarks: the 35 mm more pronounced fall-off in quality be-
center and over a large part of the field. f/1.4 Summilux ASPH reaches its opti- tween on-axis and the field or zonal ar-
Extremely fine details are clearly visible mum at f/4.0, with the f/2.8 aperture eas. Evidently the Summicron-M ASPH
but they show soft edges, which re- just behind. One will note that the at f/2.0 is better than the Summilux-M
duces this lens’ ability to record aspherical version reaches its optimum ASPH 35 mm at f/1.4. The differences
smoothly graded illumination differ- two to three aperture stops earlier than between the ASPH versions of
ences. Light fall-off is noticeable, but the predecessor does. And at f/4,0 the Summilux and Summicron are much
restricted to a very small zone. Flatness aspherical version has higher image smaller that those between the
of field is outstanding and distortion quality than the original Summilux at Summilux and Summicron predeces-
just noticeable. Centering proved to be f/8. sors.
perfect.
At f/2 the overall image quality im-
proves with slightly higher contrast for Close-up performance
the fine details over most of the image of both lenses
area. The finest details are recorded
very cleanly with crisp edges. At f/2.8 Close up performance (± 1 meter) is
there is a small improvement over the good for both ASPH lenses. At full aper-
whole image field and at f/4 the per- ture the Summilux-M ASPH 35 mm
formance peaks at a very high level. however shows curvature of field and
All the virtues of the design are now vignetting. Here I would not go into a
clearly visible. Extremely fine details detailed comparison. Both are very
from center to corner, very smooth competent in this area, with the
color hues in small object areas, crisp Summicron-M ASPH 35 mm slightly
rendition of object outlines, both large ahead.
and small, very good suppression of
flare around strong points of light (sun
reflections in water droplets) are the Flare of both lenses.
fingerprint of this lens.
In addition to these characteristics the 35mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH At f/2,0 flare and stray light are ex-
new generation of Leica lenses, of tremely well repressed in the
which this Summilux ASPH is a prime The Summicron-M ASPH 35 mm at Summicron-M ASPH 35 mm, it delivers
example, has the almost unique prop- full aperture gives quite comparable excellent separation of highlight de-
erty of image clarity that is the result of performance to the Summilux ASPH at tails, virtually flarefree images and fine
a very highly corrected optical system. f/2.0, with a very high contrast image details are clearly defined with very
Remember that in the introduction I over a large part of the picture field. good gradation and color nuances. It
discussed the effect of residual aberra- The finest details are rendered a frac- also exhibits a very crisp image of bril-
tions. These image-degrading aberra- tion softer at the edges and with some- liant clarity. The image of Summilux-M

Leica M Lenses [35]


35 mm lenses

ASPH 35 mm at this aperture is more very fine details with high contrast. Summilux-M ASPH is a lens that brings
flare prone at least in this situation. The Here however the expression that the Summicron quality into a f/1.4 design.
larger front lens element element just weakest link is responsible for the The Summicron-M ASPH and the
captures more oblique rays of light that strength of the chain is true. The tripod Summilux-M ASPH have a different fin-
can soften the image a bit. must be a heavy one. The film must be gerprint and photographic capabilities
Interestingly at f/1.4 Summilux-M extremely fine grained with excellent and therefore a different audience. If
ASPH 35 mm is better than at f/2,0, as acutance, and the slightest over-expo- you need the best performance avail-
the diaphragm blades do not reflect sure will destroy the image quality. able at f/1.4 there is no alternative. The
some of the light that pass through the Tests show that a half stop overexpo- 1,4 design is more susceptible to flare
lens at this wide opening. At f/2,0 the sure (as referenced by the optimum ex- and has less flatness of field. If f/2.0 is
diaphragm is closed a little more and posure) will degrade the image. Any na- enough for you the flavor of
now present an obstacle to the light ture photographer can tell you the Summicron-M ASPH and its price/vol-
rays and some of them are reflected additional precautions that are neces- ume are very attractive. In performance
into the lens. sary to ensure a stable platform. it and its sibling Summilux-M ASPH are
In another situation (portraits taken At smaller apertures of f/4,0 and less in the same league.
with very strong backlighting, but no in- all four 35 mm lenses perform admira- The photographer willing to exploit
ternal reflections or flare) both versions bly. Theoretically the better micro-con- the superior qualities of the ASPH
of the ASPH could take advantage of trast of the ASPH lenses should be- lenses, however must be willing to up-
the better micro contrast and produced come visible in the definition of the grade his technique also.
images with slightly better retention of fine details. But handheld shooting and The current Summilux-M ASPH from
fine details in the highlights. At this the grain limit of the films mostly used 1994 (with one aspherical surface) has
level he differences are however small. will diminish this possible advantage. been preceded by the Summilux-M
Aspherical with two aspherical surfaces
(from 1990).
Performance at infinity Conclusion: The performance of this first version
is almost identical to the second ver-
Some Leica users question the ability The Summilux-M at the wider aper- sion. The MTF graphs show small dif-
of modern wide-angle lenses to be tures is a bit overstretched in its capa- ferences that should not be studied too
critically ‘sharp’ at infinity. bilities. Stopped down it is a good per- closely. In the center the first version
‘Sharpness’ is not a measurable con- former, but that is not the reason you shows slightly higher contrast, but in
cept. We do have a visual sharpness will buy a 1,4 design. the field the second version has an ad-
impression that is based on the edge The Summicron-M was and is an ex- vantage. I doubt if these theoretical dif-
contrast of the larger object outlines cellent lens. It is a tribute to the design- ferences are perceptible.
(also referred to as acutance). A Japa- ers of that lens that it took Leica 20
nese drawing looks very sharp because years and the most modern design-
its black contour lines that define the and production technology to bring op-
shapes of larger object details stand tical quality to a higher level.
out with high contrast from the back- Summicron-M ASPH and Summilux-M
ground. If you take a picture of trees sil- ASPH are the more modern designs
houetted against the sky the sharpness and are capable of higher image quality
impression is quite high. Take another than the Summilux-M and the
picture at the same distance from a Summicron-M. The differences are vis-
building with very fine architectural de- ible, but you need to compare the im-
tails and we are led to assume that ages side by side to see it convincingly.
sharpness is less because the overall The Summicron-M ASPH is a superb
contrast is lower. Careful tests show general-purpose lens with a very even
that both ASPH lenses at infinity record and excellent performance. The

[36] Leica M Lenses


35 mm lenses

35mm f/1,4 Summilux-M Summary

At full aperture this lens


has low overall contrast
with a modest definition
of fine details and subject
outlines. Stopping down,
the improvement is com-
mendable, becoming ex-
cellent around f/8. The
overall performance char-
acteristic should be put in
the context of its age and
small volume.

Full Aperture [1,4] Optimum Aperture [8,0]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [37]


35 mm lenses

35mm f/1,4 Summilux-M (aspherical) Summary

This design is a mile-


stone in optical construc-
tion, because of its nega-
tive front and rear surface
and the two aspherical
surfaces. Its full aperture
performance is superb
with a high contrast im-
age and a clear definition
of extremely fine details.

Full Aperture [1,4] Optimum Aperture [4,0]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

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0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
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Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

[38] Leica M Lenses


35 mm lenses

35mm f/1,4 Summilux-M ASPH Summary

The redesign with one


precision pressformed
aspherical surface can be
produced more economi-
cally. Superior imaging at
full aperture, with a
slightly different finger-
print than predecessor.
At f/1.4 it is a close match
to the performance of the
Summicron 50mm at
f/2.0.

Full Aperture [1,4] Optimum Aperture [4,0]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
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Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [39]


35 mm lenses

35mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH Summary

Outstanding image qual-


ity at full aperture and
over most of the picture
area are its prominent
characteristics. This lens,
with its very low propen-
sity for flare, combined
with its crisp rendition of
extremely fine textural
details, is suitable for
both the fine-art photog-
rapher and the documen-
tary photojournalist.

Full Aperture [2,0] Optimum Aperture [4,0]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

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0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
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[%]
100

75

50

25

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[40] Leica M Lenses


35 mm lenses

35mm f/2 Summicron-M Summary

This lens type has been


the epitome of Leica pho-
tography for more than
40 years. It is the prime
choice of many users be-
cause of its small volume
and excellent perform-
ance. At full aperture the
image quality on axis is
front-rank, but it drops vis-
ibly in the field.

Full Aperture [2,0] Optimum Aperture [8,0]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
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[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [41]


50 mm lenses

50 mm lenses
The first lens used for the Ur-Leica had amount of extremely fine details is de- the Elmar shows better imagery. Overall
a focal length of 42mm. Commercial tectable in the center. At f/5,6 optimum the original Elmar at apertures of f/5,6
models (from 1925) were fitted with the performance is reached. and smaller is a good performer. Image
Anastigmat/Elmax f/3,5/50mm. This de- The Summicron f/2,0 (7 element ver- quality at the wider apertures is a bit be-
sign had 5 elements, presumably to sion) at full aperture has much better low the aura bestowed on it by benign
avoid patent conflicts with the Zeiss center performance than the Elmar at collectors and users.
company. There is much speculation f/2,8. Only in the outer zones of the field
why Barnack/Berek had chosen this par-
ticular focal length. The most popular
explanation is the alleged correspond-
ence between the angle of view of hu-
man vision and that of the 50/52 mm fo-
cal length: ± 46º. Now the human eye
has several angles of view, depending
on several criteria. They range from 6º
to 150º and there is no compelling argu-
ment that the eye favors the 46º angle.
The binocular field of vision is 130º. Let
us stay on safer ground. There is a
sound optical reason for the choice of
the 50mm focal length.
It so happens that the 50mm focal
length is a solid base for excellent per-
formance. Adopting this focal length will
ensure very good optical corrections, so
dearly needed for the success of the 50mm f/2,8 Elmar-M 50m f/2 Summicron-M (current)
original Leica.
The redesigned Elmar-M f/2.8 at full ap- The aperture of f/2.0 has been the
erture provides a medium to high con- workhorse of 35 mm snapshot/report-
50mm f/2.8 Elmar trast image with very fine details very age photography since the early thirties.
crisply rendered over most of the field. The earliest version for the M-series
The Elmar f/2,8/50mm was introduced Generally the new one is a stop or two was the 50mm f/2.0 Summicron with 7
in 1957, almost 33 years after the Elmar ahead of the predecessor. More impor- elements. This lens was the first to ben-
f/3,5/50mm. In its day, the Elmar f/2,8 tant for the overall image quality is a efit from advanced glass research and
was famous for its very good image much-improved micro contrast that adds improved computations. The design
quality in the center. It was also slightly to the very fine textural details a sparkling proved to be sensitive to production tol-
ahead of perennial competitor Zeiss clarity. At f/5,6 the Elmar-M is close to erances. Medium to high contrast in the
with the Tessar. The different position the performance of the current Summi- center with fine details clearly resolved
of the aperture (between the first and cron-M f/2.0/50mm. Close-up perform- was combined with a relatively sharp
second element) was the main advan- ance of the Elmar-M is excellent at full drop of performance in the field and
tage of the Elmar. On test the Elmar aperture. The four elements of the Elmar outer zones. The higher level of aberra-
performs acceptably, at full aperture give less latitude for aberration-correction tions in the field had its negative effects
with a low overall contrast and clearly than the six of the Summicron. The on the overall image quality. At full aper-
rendered fine details with smooth (more lesser number of elements on the other ture this lens is prone to flare in not very
accurately: soft) edges. Fine details are hand produce a very pleasing, almost severe lighting situations. Stopped
visible in the center but become fuzzy in brittle rendition of very fine details. down to f/4.0 this lens performs very
the field. Stopping down to f/4.0 mark- At f/2,8 the Elmar-M has the same fin- well with a high contrast image over
edly improves overall contrast and gerprint as the current Summicron-M at most of the field and a slightly soft ren-
brings in the corners. Very fine details full aperture (f/2.0), be it with slightly dition of edges of very fine details.
now become more crisp and a small less overall contrast. Compared to the current 50mm f/2.0

[42] Leica M Lenses


50 mm lenses

Summicron-M at the same aperture of 50mm f/2 Summicron-M


f/4.0 we note a very different finger- (previous)
print. The current Summicron-M renders
exceedingly fine details with sparkling The 1969 version of the Summicron
clarity. Subtle color shades are cleanly 50mm lens has about the same center
and smoothly differentiated in both performance as the current (1979) ver-
shadow details and highlight details. sion. In the field however, the 1969 de-
Within specular highlights minuscule de- sign has quite low edge contrast. On
tails are still visible, a proof that flare stopping down the field does not im-
and veiling glare are very well control- prove much. Extremely fine details are
led. markedly lacking over most of the field.
Center performance however is about
At f/4.0 the Summicron-M performs at equal to that of the current version, al-
its optimum. It is a characteristic of mod- beit with a bit lower overall contrast.
ern lenses that the gap between the im- This fingerprint of the Summicron ver-
age quality at full aperture and at the opti- sion of 1969 at full aperture and per-
mum aperture is moderately small. At full formance when stopping down has initi- 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M
aperture the current Summicron-M is at a ated the impression that Leica M lenses
different performance level compared to are deliberately optimized for center The current Summilux-M version was
the first Summicron seven-element lens, ‘sharpness’ with a certain neglect of the introduced in 1962, making the pred-
that performs quite commendably. With field. It has been suggested that this ecessor one of the shortest lived lenses
a high contrast image over most of the behavior has been designed specifically in the Leica history. At full aperture we
field and extremely fine details clearly for the rangefinder camera, as focusing note a high contrast image on axis with
and crisply rendered in the center this ap- and composing is done mostly in the a fairly quick drop of contrast in the
erture can be used for all but the most center part of the field. The reportage field. Fine details are clearly visible, but
exacting demands. Stopped down to style of M photography should also ben- the edges are very soft.
f/2,8 this performance extends over most efit from these characteristics. On stopping down the overall contrast
of the field and exceedingly fine details I would be a bit hesitant to support improves rapidly. Very fine details are
are now crisply rendered with good these propositions. A higher amount of rendered crisply in the center only, and
clarity. spherical aberration in the 1969 version rendition in the field is quite dull, if not
is mostly responsible for its optical fuzzy You need to stop down to f/8 to
At f/5.6 the contrast of very fine de- behavior. The designers in those days get very good image quality over the
tails begins to drop, a characteristic that could not reduce the aberration without whole field. The fingerprint of this lens
should be discernible in very critical resorting to a bigger or more expensive is identical to the one of the second
work. The full aperture performance of design. generation Summicron. Excellent center
the f/2.0 Summicron-M is difficult to performance already at full aperture,
equal, let alone to surpass. The new with a rapid drop off axis from about
90mm f/2 Apo-Summicron-M ASPH 50mm f/1.4 Summilux 6mm image height. Close-up perform-
gives an improved imagery at full aper- ance shows crisp rendering of fine de-
ture (the clarity and edge contrast of The first 50mm Summilux design tails from f/2.8. Close-ups at full aper-
outlines and finest textural details), but (1959) closely resembles the perform- ture are to be avoided if very good
one must remind oneself that with 27º, ance characteristics of the Summilux 35 imagery is required. Night pictures with
the angle of field is much less. mm. A low contrast lens at full aperture bright small light spots produce a faint
with fine details just resolved, this de- halo around these point sources. Ob-
Close-up performance of the sign closely resembles the 50mm f/1.5 lique light rays however generate a veil-
Summicron-M is on the same level as Summarit in construction and perform- ing glare and an overall softening in the
the performance at infinity setting (actu- ance. Stopping down to f/2,0 improves rendition of details.
ally infinity is that distance where the in- the center performance to a level just The 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH is to
coming light rays are parallel to the opti- above the Summicron (7-element ver- be preferred when state-of-the-art full
cal axis. For most lenses this condition sion) but not yet to the level of the sec- aperture performance is needed. Aper-
is satisfied at about 100 times the focal ond generation 50mm f/1.5 Summicron. ture for aperture the 35mm Summilux
length). ASPH shows improved image quality in
comparison to the 50mm Summilux-M.
Performance in the outer zones is a bit
low at all apertures, which are noted
easily as the center is of such excellent
quality.

Leica M Lenses [43]


50 mm lenses

Flare area at full aperture and it is still busy film plane. All Leica lenses are cali-
deviating rays when it is stopped down. brated and adjusted to a maximum con-
When I discuss flare (secondary reflec- One of the design possibilities is split- trast transfer at 20 lp/mm. The perform-
tions and flare spots) and veiling glare, I ting the single last meniscus lens ele- ance of the Noctilux f/1.2 drops quickly
refer to the way specular highlights are ment. That is the classical Summilux de- when the distance is not within a
recorded (with or without reflections in sign (seven lens elements), that we also 0.02 mm maximum tolerance. That is
the small details). When veiling glare is have in the 50mm f/1.0 Noctilux-M. the reason behind the recommendation
present, one will notice that the shadow Still, sagittal oblique spherical aberra- that the Noctilux f/1.2 should be indi-
details are gray because of unfocused tion cannot be avoided. Add this charac- vidually paired to a body.
stray light through the whole lens and teristic to the lower performance of the The laborious production of the
the way strong light sources just out- Summilux in the field and we see some aspherical surfaces (only one specially
side or in the far corners dilute the satu- of the arguments for the emergence of constructed grinding machine was avail-
ration of colors and wash out fine tex- the Noctilux f/1.2/50mm. The demand able and it had to be operated manu-
tural details. from the market to produce an even ally), the high level of out-of -tolerance
The commonly used method of shoot- wider aperture than f/1.4 seems a bit surfaces and the realization that this de-
ing straight into the sun or a light source strange nowadays. But the emulsion sign did not solve all problems of ultra-
will quite often produce secondary re- technology then was not as advanced high-speed lenses are arguments for
flections of the primary source. In these as it is now. In these days reportage the next player in high speed designs:
cases the observer should look at pres- style photography in the darkest corners the 50mm f/1 Noctilux-M.
ervation of image details in heavily over- of the human living space was quite
exposed areas. One of the best meth- popular. The ubiquitous fill-in flash we
ods to study inherent flare tendencies are used to now, was not available in
of a lens is to take pictures of trees with those days or pictorially speaking,
many branches against a bright sky. The anathema.
way the light spills over into the dark sil-
houetted branches is a good indication
of sensitivity to flare. 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux

The Noctilux design with two


Optical character aspherical surfaces (front surface of first
element and back surface of last ele-
There is much speculation in the Leica ment) aimed at reducing spherical aber-
community whether the different optical ration and enhancing image quality in
characteristics noted sometimes (high the field. Both design aims could be
image quality in the center and lower met. At full aperture this lens has me-
performance in the field versus some- dium to high contrast with fine details
what lower performance in the center visibly resolved with slightly fuzzy
but even coverage over the whole im- edges. Very fine details are just re-
age field) are deliberately designed to solved, but its micro-contrast is quite 50mm f/1 Noctilux-M
support certain types or styles of pho- low. On coarse-grained film this level of
tography. rendition of details will be lost in the At full aperture (f/1) this lens has low
I cannot support this position. Any de- noise level of the grain clumps. With to medium overall contrast with fine de-
signer needs to balance aberrations to modern fine grain B&W films these de- tails clearly visible, but with soft edges.
get the image quality that is required. tails are visible but quite fuzzy. Stopping Very fine details are just visible on axis
As soon as advances can be made, high down to f/1.4 improves overall contrast and barely visible in the field. Meridional
image quality over the whole field is the to medium/high. Fine details hardly im- and sagittal structures are equally well
prime requirement. See for example the prove in micro-contrast. At f/2.8 we recorded, a sign of a high level of aberra-
35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH or the have a high contrast image with crisply tion correction. Looking at overall con-
90mm f/2.0 Apo-Summicron ASPH. resolved very fine details in the center. trast one dimensionally the previous ver-
The field is still lagging behind. These sion of the Noctilux has a higher
areas improve after stopping down to contrast at f/1.2, but then that is a half
Noctilux design considerations f/5.6 and f/8. Compared to the stop smaller. The better correction of
Summilux f/1.4, the Noctilux f/1.2 is not aberrations in the sagittal plane gives
One of the curses of high-speed as good as the Summilux at f/1.4 and the current Noctilux a small perform-
lenses based on the double Gauss de- f/2.0. At f/2.8 both lenses are compara- ance edge.
sign is the stubborn presence of an ble and from f/4 the Noctilux is ahead by At f/1.4 the current Noctilux has the
overcorrecting oblique spherical aberra- a small margin. same high contrast as the predecessor.
tion. This aberration is particularly prob- The Noctilux f/1.2 is very sensitive to The micro-contrast of very fine details
lematic as it affects the whole image the correct distance from lens flange to are also much improved. Still in the mar-

[44] Leica M Lenses


50 mm lenses

ginal zones the previous Noctilux still The finely reproduced internal grada- photographic tasks. The severe vignet-
has an advantage. Compared to the tion of small textural details in combina- ting at full aperture might be a problem
Summilux f/1.4 at its full aperture, the tion with medium overall contrast pro- when used for evenly and brightly lit ob-
Noctilux has lower contrast but a more duces images with a special character. jects. The Noctilux then excels in situa-
even coverage. The Noctilux-M is a lens that defies a tions of very low light levels and/or vast
At f/2 the Noctilux improves again with simple characterization. At full aperture brightness differences to record the
a marked crispening of the fine details the blur circles of the light patches are feeling and ambiance of the scene. Its
on axis over an image circle of ± 14mm. quite large. It is difficult to detect small flare reduction is second to none and
Compared to the current 50mm object details with crisply rendered out- even better than that of the Summicron.
Summicron, the image quality of the lines. This lens should be employed in Its penetrating power in ‘unavailable’
latter is in a different league. Where the quite demanding low level light situa- light produces stunning images that
Summicron has the ability to record ex- tions to record larger object shapes with show finely graded details in lowly lit ar-
ceedingly fine details with clarity and finely graded internal textures. Here its eas of the scene. Daylight pictures in
smooth internal gradation over a large capabilities can be advantageously ex- the night, one would dare to remark.
part of the image area, the Noctilux is ploited. At all apertures from 1,0 to 2,0 Close-up pictures (± 1 meter pr 3’3”) at
able to record fine details with very overall contrast is lower and the record- full aperture should be considered care-
smooth internal gradation, but fuzzy ing of very fine details more fuzzy than fully, as the very shallow depth of field
edges. that provided by its companion lenses will produce a razor thin sharpness
At f/4.0 and f/5,6 the Noctilux is an (Summilux and Summicron). A special plane with very fuzzy out of focus
outstanding performer and is compara- characteristic of the Noctilux is its shape planes.
ble to the Summicron at f/2.8 and f/4. preservation in out-of-focus- areas, There is no need to worry about the
The very wide aperture however gives bringing a remarkable depth of vision. rangefinder accuracy in combination
rise to aberrations that cannot be as rig- From f/4 the Noctilux can be used with the reduced depth of field of the
orously corrected as in the Summicron without hesitation for quite demanding f/1.0 aperture even at larger distances.
design. This will be visible in the differ-
ent fingerprint of this lens. One could
say that the Summicron draws with a
very sharply pointed pen and the
Noctilux with a slanted pen to produce
broader and smoother strokes.

Leica M Lenses [45]


50 mm lenses

50mm f/2.8 Elmar Summary

At full aperture the low


to medium contrast of
this lens produces a
slightly dull image and
fine details in the field are
recorded with blurred
edges. At f/4 the image
markedly crispens and
the on-axis performance
is excellent, with the
outer zones trailing be-
hind in image quality.

Full Aperture [2,8] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

[46] Leica M Lenses


50 mm lenses

50mm f/2.8 Elmar-M Summary

This redesign has been


significantly improved. At
full aperture very fine de-
tails are recorded with
very crisp edges and
good clarity. This com-
pact (collapsible) lens is a
front-rank design for very
high requirements.

Full Aperture [2,8] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [47]


50 mm lenses

50mm f/2 Summicron-M Summary

At full aperture this lens


exhibits high contrast and
very small image details
are defined with excellent
clarity. In the field and in
the outer zones the image
quality drops a little. Stop-
ping down leads to a sig-
nificant improvement in
the center of the picture
area, with the outer zones
trailing behind.

Full Aperture [2,0] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

[48] Leica M Lenses


50 mm lenses

50mm f/2 Summicron-M (current) Summary

The classical double


Gauss design, stretched
to the limit, delivers image
quality of a very high or-
der. High contrast, very
clean and crisp definition
of tiny details, clear sub-
ject outlines at full aper-
ture are the hallmarks of
this lens that only needs
to be stopped down one
or two stops for cutting-
edge image quality.

Full Aperture [2,0] Optimum Aperture [4,0]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [49]


50 mm lenses

50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M Summary

With quite low contrast at


full aperture, this lens can
record subject outlines and
small details with good vis-
ibility. Stopping down two
stops markedly improves
the on-axis performance,
with the outer zones lag-
ging behind significantly.
Even in its day it did not
set a record performance.

Full Aperture [2,0] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

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[50] Leica M Lenses


50 mm lenses

50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M (current) Summary

This redesign shows the


image character of the
classical high-speed lens:
high contrast, excellent
center performance that
drops markedly when ap-
proaching the outer zones
of the picture area. The im-
age quality becomes out-
standing when stopped
down to f/8. This lens is
clearly challenged by more
recent designs.

Full Aperture [2,0] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

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Leica M Lenses [51]


50 mm lenses

50mm f/1.2 Noctilux-M Summary

Arguably the most fa-


mous of all high-speed
lenses, its design incorpo-
rated two aspherical sur-
faces. Wide open it re-
corded subject outlines
with good clarity and its ef-
fective flare suppression
helped the definition of
fine details. The lens im-
proves by stopping down
and the on-axis perform-
ance at f/2.8 is superb.

Full Aperture [1,2] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

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90 90

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[52] Leica M Lenses


50 mm lenses

50mm f/1.0 Noctilux-M Summary

The fingerprint of this


lens is unique. At full aper-
ture it shows superior flare
suppression, a medium
overall contrast and a clean
rendition of the finer tex-
tures in subject details in
shadows and highlights.
This is a lens for the con-
noisseur, and not a substi-
tute for the 50mm f/2
Summicron.

Full Aperture [1,0] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

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Leica M Lenses [53]


Tri-Elmar-M

TRI-ELMAR-M
behavior is only possible in a very well still quite visible. This performance ex-
corrected optical system. tends over a circular image area with a
It also means that the Tri-Elmar-M ex- diameter of 12mm (the center area). In
hibits excellent optical performance at the outer zones (the image circle from 9
its full aperture. Admittedly not as wide to 16mm from the midpoint) the con-
as its fixed focal length brothers and sis- trast drops a little and the very fine de-
ters, but we will take up this issue at tails become slightly softer. Some astig-
the end of this section. matism lowers the contrast here. The
extreme outer area and corners are soft
with fine details just visible. Stopping
How excellent is the down to f/5.6 brings somewhat more
performance? contrast and better definition of ex-
tremely fine details.
Not every person will like the conclu-
sion, but the Tri-Elmar-M is clearly supe- This performance level continues until
rior in all optical parameters to many after f/11 where diffraction softens the
Leica lenses of the 28, 35 and 50mm fo- details and lowers the contrast. Close-
cal lengths. With the exception of the up capabilities (1.2 meter) are very good
aforementioned 5 lenses (28 current with a contrast image showing crisply
This lens is very important in several and 3rd generation, 35 ASPH and imme- rendered fine details over the whole im-
ways. Its three focal length (28-35-50) diate predecessor: (the 7 element age field. At 35 mm: at full aperture the
selection brings zooming convenience Summicron) and the current 50mm contrast now is a bit lower and very fine
to the M-rangefinder line-up. It takes a Summicron) the Tri-Elmar-M will out- details are a bit softer.
while to become accustomed to its class any other Leica lens of the 28, 35
three ring handling (aperture selection- and 50 focal length of previous genera- Extremely fine details are just visible in
distance selection and focal length se- tions by a large margin. Second sur- the center, but in the outer zone barely
lection). The focal length selection ring prise: in many picture-taking situations so. The corners are on the same level
is close to the distance setting ring and its performance is equal to that of cur- as they are in the 50 mm setting. Quite
when in a hurry it is easy to mix things rent Leica lenses of 28, 35 and 50mm remarkable here is the uniform perform-
up. After some use (it took me a day) focal length. There are obvious and vis- ance over the total image field. The
your fingers ‘know’ the right locations ible differences between the Tri-Elmar- close-up performance again shows a
intuitively. The convenience of having M and its current fixed focal length high contrast image with excellent ren-
three focal lengths at swift disposal companion lenses. To appreciate the dition of details over the whole image
would be useless for the critical Leica M relative importance of these differences field. At 28mm: Leica states that the 50
user if the optical performance were I would like to draw a distinction be- position of the Tri-Elmar-M gives the
below par. tween two types of Leica M use. Note best performance, and a slightly lower
that this a distinction between styles of performance at the 28 setting. Indeed
use and not between users. The same distortion is a bit greater than it is at the
General optical performance person in one situation will demand su- 35 and 50 settings. When photograph-
perior optical performance and in an- ing flat objects like walls, some barrel
I tested the Tri-Elmar-M in comparison other situation this person will be more distortion is clearly noticeable. When
with the 28mm Elmarit-M current and concerned with capturing the fleeting picturing architectural objects with
third generation, the 35mm ASPH and moments of passion and life. Leica M depth, this effect mostly vanishes. At
last non-ASPH version and the current users are fortunate that their equipment full aperture fine details are rendered
50mm Summicron. As I always use the supports both styles eminently. with medium to high contrast in the
same test method I can easily refer to The performance of the Tri-Elmar-M at center and contrast is a little lower in
the older generations as well. First sur- 50mm: the lens gives a high contrast the outer zone. Very fine details are
prise: the Tri-Elmar-M hardly improves image with fine and very fine details clearly visible and become somewhat
on stopping down and this statement is rendered crisply. Extremely fine details softer in the outer zones. At close-up
true for all three focal lengths. This have somewhat softer edges, but are distances the image is of the same high

[54] Leica M Lenses


Tri-Elmar-M

contrast and uniformity of field as it is at ferentials in contrast and the quality at length brings many picture-taking oppor-
the other settings. Here, as with the 35 the level of extremely fine details. The tunities that would be lost if you had to
and 50 settings, stopping down in- Tri-Elmar-M shows remarkable suppres- change several lenses. And the critical
creases contrast but the correction of sion of flare and night shots taken on Leica user can use these new possibili-
aberrations is already of such a high the 28 position give very good clarity of ties in the secure knowledge that the
level that image details and textural de- highlights and shadows with good rendi- resulting pictures will show all the quali-
tails only improve a little. tion of details and only faintly visible ties for which Leica lenses are famous.
coma in the extreme outer zone. And it may even captivate the most criti-
cal users of older generations of Leica
Comparison to the For most users, who will shoot casu- lenses in the 28 to 50mm focal length
fixed focal lengths. ally or who do not demand the utmost group. Weighing only 330 grams (less
of enlargements or projection distances, than 12 ounces), it is a very convenient
These lenses excel of course with ex- the performance differences are imma- lens with excellent performance that
cellent to outstanding performance at terial and will not be of any importance. the older lenses simply cannot match.
the wide apertures of 2.0 and 2.8. At The very demanding user might note The modern and current generations are
f/4.0 they are at thier optimum and then the differences but it is a matter of per- able but hard-pressed to surpass this
they are comparable to the Tri-Elmar-M sonal preference how to rate these level of performance at f/4 and smaller.
at nearby its optimum. For all focal quality differences. The Leica user who needs outstanding
lengths we can give this conclusion, performance at apertures wider than
based on the f/4,0 performance. f/4,0 and/or big enlargements showing
The fixed focal lenses perform a little Conclusion. the smallest image details with great
better than the Tri-Elmar-M in the image clarity and contrast needs to change
quality at the level of extremely fine de- Is the Tri-Elmar-M a replacement for lenses and after many years might wear
tails and the performance in the outer three top class fixed focal length out the bayonet flange.
zones and far corners. The overall con- lenses? The answer is obviously not
trast of the fixed focal lenses too is a easy. Its full aperture of f/4.0 has its
shade better, giving the pictures slightly limitations. Especially when using low
more clarity. speed films. Its compact design consti-
Very careful comparison of the pic- tutes an attractive alternative to three
tures (low speed slide film at 30 x) popular focal lengths and in this respect
taken with the Tri-Elmar-M and its com- it performs outstandingly well. The
panions shows these performance dif- smooth and quick changing of focal

Leica M Lenses [55]


Tri-Elmar-M

28mm f/4 Tri-Elmar-M ASPH. Summary

One of the very best


lenses available for the
M, its image quality at all
three focal lengths is im-
peccable at full aperture.
The maximum aperture at
f/4 is sufficient for many
situations and the smooth
and easy change of focal
length helps capturing
elusive picture opportuni-
ties.

Full Aperture [4,0] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

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[56] Leica M Lenses


Tri-Elmar-M

35mm f/4 Tri-Elmar-M ASPH.

Full Aperture [4,0] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

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90 90

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Leica M Lenses [57]


Tri Elamr

50mm f/4 Tri-Elmar-M ASPH.

Full Aperture [4,0] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

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[58] Leica M Lenses


MTF
MTF measurement

MTF-measuring instrument to obtain MTF data

Leica M Lenses [59]


75 mm lenses

75 mm lenses
At first sight one might ask if a focal graphed at a distance of 7.5 meters!
length of 75mm has added value, as it You need to view the real object at re-
seems quite close to the 50mm and ally close distances to see what the
90mm lenses. The angles of field are lens/film combination can record. This
45 degrees, 33 degrees and 27 de- performance level is maintained from
grees, respectively. If we take a look at f/2 and f/2.8 to f/8 and the choice of ap-
history we note that Leitz offered a erture needs only to be justified on
73mm f/1.9 Hektor (from 1931 - 1946) depth-of-field arguments. Stopping
and a 85mm f/1.5 Summarex (from down to f/11 slightly lowers the overall
1943 - 1960). Both offered the widest contrast and the definition of very fine
aperture on the market at its time. details also loses a bit of its crispness.
Leitz introduced the Summilux 75 as At f/16 a marked reduction of contrast
the new incarnation of the time- occurs.
honored high-speed lens for candid
photography and non-posed portrait Flare is very well suppressed but the
photography. The maximum aperture use of the built-in shade is mandatory!
of f/1.4 posed some constraints on When taking pictures against strong
weight and volume and so the focal lightsources (for instance when record-
length of 75mm was adopted. ing fashion shows) the fine light rays
The 75mm Summilux was designed 75mm f/1.4 Summilux-M through smoke and dust hovering
in 1980 as were the 90mm f/2 around lamps are rendered with subtle
Summicron-M, the 35mm f/2 At full aperture the lens exhibits a me- gradations.
Summicron-M and the 21mm f/2.8 dium to high overall contrast, with ex- The rendition of highlight details is un-
Elmarit-M and they may be considered tremely fine details quite visibly re- commonly good: highlights hold their in-
to be the last designs of the classical corded. Very fine details are clearly ternal gradations and separation of fine
period. This series of lenses accompa- resolved with some softness at the luminance differences is also very good.
nied the introduction of the M4-P, the edges. Some astigmatism is visible in The objects (including catch lights) are
P standing for Professional, indicating the outer zones, which softens the fin- rendered very life-like and the extreme
quite clearly the role of the new M- est possible textural details. This per- sharpness gives a special tactility to
model as the dedicated tool for candid formance holds over most of the image every object. The very shallow depth of
work in preciously little available light. field, with a detectable reduction in the field at large apertures/medium dis-
From 1980 to 1993 no new designs outermost zone. The corners, although tances (at 2 meters distances we have
were developed for the M-series. Since much softer, still record very fine details ± 6cm) requires careful focusing at the
1993 the 21, 35 and 90mm have been with good visibility. Stopping down to limit of the mechanical/optical precision
completely overhauled, with new de- f/2.0 achieves the high overall contrast of the M6-rangefinder. But candid por-
signs incorporating Leica’s expertise of needed to record extremely fine details traits and full figures are clearly isolated
aspherical technology. It is a tribute to with clarity and crispness. Higher con- from the background.
the excellence of the Summilux design trast generally gives the fine details
that, when shifting production from more clarity and sharper edges. The
Canada to Germany, only a redesign of outer zones now also improve and only Historical comparison between
the lensmount (lighter by 40grams) the extreme corners lag a bit beyond the Summilux-M and the
was deemed necessary. The weight re- this performance. Summarex f/1.5/85mm.
duction is much appreciated, as the At f/2.8 the contrast is slightly higher
earlier versions were a bit on the heavy yet and now the micro contrast is at its At full aperture the Summarex has a
side after a few hours continuous use. top, allowing the clear and crisp rendi- low to very low overall contrast, with
tion of exceedingly small details. Now a fine details rendered quite soft. Outlines
tripod is most needed to record the fin- of larger subject details show fuzzy
est possible details. We are talking edges. This performance holds over the
about small details with a diameter of whole image field from center to the
about 0.3mm in the image, photo-

[60] Leica M Lenses


75 mm lenses

outer zonal regions. The extreme cor- the f/2 and f/2.8 pair of lenses (of same shots. Using a 90mm or a 50mm and
ners are very soft. focal length of course). The f/2 (f/2.8) just stepping back or forward, will give
Stopping down to f/2.0 brings a very provides higher image quality at maxi- the same magnification of course. But
marked jump in overall contrast and on mum aperture than the f/1.4 (f/2) ver- the foreground-background relation (in
axis performance now is of surprisingly sion, but stopped down one stop the depth of space) will change quite con-
high level with very fine details ren- higher aperture lens improves to a level spicuously and the visual effect is also
dered with good clarity. In the field how- generally above the quality of the altered. The perspective relation be-
ever the recording of fine details might smaller aperture version. tween the 75mm and 90mm is closely
be described as close to sharp. There are finer differences to be noted related with the 21mm and 24mm.
At f/2.8 the central performance now when comparing the full aperture per- The Summilux 75mm has its specific
extends over a large portion of the im- formance of the Summilux at f/1.4 and strengths when used in the photo-
age field. Stopping down to f/4.0 brings the Summicron at f/2. The Summilux graphic domain for which it has been
in very fine details with good visibility, stays on the same quality level from designed. If you need the maximum ap-
but without the crispness and sparkling center to corner, with only a very erture of f/1.4 and/or the pictorial ef-
clarity we are accustomed to see in cur- gradual reduction. The Summicron on fects and special style of imagery possi-
rent designs. the other hand drops quite a bit in the ble with the 75mm Summilux-M, this
Performance improves up to f/8 after zonal area starting about 7mm from the lens should be in your tool kit. Stopped
which the inevitable drop (diffraction) center, but improves in the corners. down to f/5,6 the Summilux equals the
softens the whole image that by now When taking a portrait or a human-inter- performance of the 90mm f/2 Apo-
has a very even coverage. est scene (camera horizontal) and plac- Summicron-M ASPH at this same aper-
The time span between the Summilux ing the face/person in the middle, the ture, which is some act.
and the Summarex covers more than 30 weaker zone of the Summicron coin-
years of optical progress, which is most cides with the out-of-focus zone. The
evident in the imagery with wider aper- behavior of the out-of -focus image is
tures. The inherently higher aberration then both influenced by the inherent im-
content is visible in the somewhat flat age quality in this zone and the out-of-
and dull rendition of fine details at focus-blur because of the sharpness
smaller apertures. At the wider aper- plane located at the face/person. Shoot-
tures the fine details show quite fuzzy ing the same scene with the 75mm f/
edges and overall contrast is low. Flare 1.4 Summilux will produce a different
is copiously present in adverse situa- out-of-focus impression, again because
tions. of the different definition and the larger
out-of-focus blur size. The wider aper-
ture and the shorter focal length will
Comparing the 75 mm Summilux- compensate here a bit, but still the
M to the 90mm Summicron-M fuzzy background will be quite different
(of the same generation). in character.

The Summilux-M 75 stopped down to There is a long and fruitless debate in


f/2 has a higher contrast image with a the Leica community as to which lens
clean and crisp rendition of extremely more closely represents the natural
fine details over the larger part of the viewing angle (and perspective) of the
image field (excepting the outermost eye. The 35 mm and 50mm were both
zones and the corners) than the com- appointed as candidates. Some very
panion 90mm f/2 Summicron-M at its strong arguments have been given for
full aperture (f/2). But the Summilux at the 90mm as providing the most natural
aperture f/1.4 is not as good overall as perspective. Whatever the truth (if it can
the Summicron-M at f/2. This behavior be found in this case), the 75mm per-
illustrates the general rule when com- spective is very pleasing for close-range
paring the f/1.4 and f/2 pair of lenses or portraits and medium-range candid

Leica M Lenses [61]


75 mm lenses

85mm f/1.5 Summarex M Summary

Stopped down to medium


apertures, this lens from
1943-1960 performs re-
markably well. At full aper-
ture the contrast is very low
and subject outlines are
rendered with good visibil-
ity. A significant improve-
ment can be seen when
stopping down to f/2. Now
of only historical interest, it
clearly shows the optical
advances made in the last
two decades.

Full Aperture [1,5] Optimum Aperture [8,0]

[%] [%]
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90 90

80 80

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50 50

40 40

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[62] Leica M Lenses


75 mm lenses

75mm f/1.4 Summilux M Summary

An outstanding lens for


distinctive location por-
traiture and human-inter-
est photography. At full
aperture the lens has a
medium/high overall con-
trast and renders fine de-
tails crisply and with good
clarity of subject outlines.
Stopped down to f/2
brings in very fine details
with considerably higher
contrast.

Full Aperture [1,4] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

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Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
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Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [63]


90 mm lenses

90 mm lenses
If we would add the several types of adopt this angle too. The restriction to composition and requires a careful se-
the Elmar 90, the Thambar 90, the 46º was made on optical arguments lection of which elements to include in
Elmarit 90and Tele-Elmarit 90 versions (less aberrations to correct in the field). the picture. The M-rangefinder gives the
and the Summicron 90, we count 14 dif- The human field of view is an ellipse 90mm frame within a larger environ-
ferent designs, signifying the impor- about 150º high and 210º wide. The ex- ment. Anticipating the moment that all
tance of this focal length for the range- tent of binocular overlap is about 130º, pieces fall into a meaningful pattern is
finder Leica. the field of view that seems to do the easier than it is with a SLR, where the
The first 90mm, the 9mm f/4 Elmar binocular processing is about 40º, and viewfinder isolates the photographer
was announced in 1931 and stayed in the extent of eye movement without a from the scene. The Leica M and a
production till 1964, spanning the devel- compensating head movement is about 90mm lens form a very fine partnership.
opment of the Leica from the begin- 20º. The rangefinder accuracy is much
nings till the landmark design of the M3. The 27º angle of view is a most natural higher than is needed for the exact loca-
Before 1930 the only emulsion available one for many objects, as the field of tion of the sharpness plane, even at a
for the Leica was the Perutz ‘Feinkorn- view can be viewed without head distance of 20 meters, where depth of
Spezial-Fliegerfilm’. It had an acceptable movement. The popularity of the 90mm field will cover the occasional focus er-
grain structure, but big enlargements is based on the flexibility of use. In ef- ror anyway. Still there is one and only
were not possible. The basic premise fect, one could shoot many photo- one plane of best sharpness and the
that the small Leica negative should be graphic assignments with only this focal use of the hyperfocal distance setting is
enlarged 3 times (to compete with the length. The concentration on the main not recommended.
popular rollfilm print of 6 x 9 cm), might topic is quite demanding for a good
be influenced too by the limited poten-
tial for enlargement of the emulsion.
The well-known Circle of Confusion of
0.033mm is also based on this enlarge-
ment factor of 3. This measure of 0.033 The optical performance of the
mm is hopelessly inadequate for current Elmarit-M at full aperture is outstanding.
demands, but no one wishes to change The overall contrast is high to very high.
the calculations. Anyway, after 1930, On axis, over a circular area of about
improved emulsions with anti-halo back- 12mm diameter (radius 6mm from
ing and improved sharpness became center) extremely fine details are ren-
available. Still, the amount of details that dered crisply. In the field (the outer
could be recorded and made visible af- zones) there is some softening because
ter enlargement was quite modest. The of curvature of field and some astigma-
argument for a focal length larger than tism. The lower contrast reduces the
the 50mm standard lens was the ability ability to record the finest structures of
to get larger details on film, assuming textural details and stopping down to f/4
the same picture-taking distance. The is required to bring in this level of de-
90mm focal length did not start its life tails. The overall rendition crispens vis-
as a portrait lens, but as a lens to cap- ibly, with only the outer zones lagging a
ture details too small for the emulsion bit behind. As this area will be unsharp
to record. Significantly the 105 and 135 in most cases because it is in the back-
mm focal lengths were introduced at ground, it will only be noticeable by a
about the same time. most critical observer when studying an
As noted in the 50mm review, the 46º 90mm f/2,8 Elmarit-M extended object filling the whole frame.
angle of view has no special relation to The optimum aperture is reached by
the characteristics of the eye. The most This, the current version of the 90mm stopping down to f/5.6 and now the
used camera, the 6x9cm rollfilm had a with a 2.8 aperture, was introduced in frame is covered with exceedingly fine
lens with a 53º angle of view and as this 1995 for the M-line. Its design closely details from center to corners.
camera was the natural competition for resembles the one used in the 90mm f/ At this aperture and with proper tech-
the Leica, it would seem natural to 2,8 Elmarit-R, introduced in 1983. nique (correct exposure, proper vibra-

[64] Leica M Lenses


90 mm lenses

tion control and accurate focus) the 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit-M


Elmarit-M will outperform the capabili-
ties of almost any film on the market. This lens is a Canadian design of 1974
Very critical study of the performance (the current Elmarit is a Leitz Germany
details of this lens, compared to the design) and it utilizes four separate lens
predecessors (the 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit elements, as does the current one, but
of 1959, and the 90mm f/2.8 Tele- in a different configuration. The outward
Elmarit of 1964 and the Tele-Elmarit-M appearance of the Tele-Elmarit-M has
of 1974) proves two points: the per- much in common with the Elmar-C
formance improves almost linearly over (1973) for the Leica CL. It is clearly de-
the period, with the ‘Tele’ versions pro- signed as a very compact lens and with
ducing a slightly flatter image, a bit dull a weight of only 225 grams (less than 8
perhaps. The second point is the rela- ounces) – the Elmarit-M weighs 380
tion emulsion performance and optical grams (just over 13 ounces) - it can be
performance. On the same film only the carried in a pocket. There is a Leica
current Elmarit-M can record the finest maxim that states that optical perform-
textural details, only visible when en- ance requires volume. Reduce the vol-
larging more than 30 times. The other ume below a certain threshold and per- 90mm f/2 Summicron-M
lenses do not show this level of rendi- formance starts to suffer. Relatively
tion of details when recording the identi- speaking, of course, as the design goals The first 90mm Summicron (without
cal object. The film is not the limiting of the Leica optical department are lo- the suffix -M) arrived on the scene in
factor in most cases. It is the lens. In cated at Olympic heights. 1958, and with a weight of 680 grams
the sixties however the (Tele)-Elmarit At full aperture the contrast of the and a length of 99mm from bayonet
lenses would have been better than the Tele-Elmarit-M is medium. Very fine de- flange to front rim was a physical heavy-
film emulsions that were available at tails are rendered with slightly soft weight. Its performance at full aperture
that time, with some exceptions. edges over most of the image field. At was moderate and so the ever-creative
the edges and corners the image is sales people invented the notion of a
Vignetting is hardly visible, but more quite soft, and fine details, while visible, portrait lens. The softness of the
important is its absence of flare. Flare is have fuzzy outlines. Summicron at full aperture would sup-
one of the worst image degrading fac- Stopping down brings a very marked port the romantic portraiture of women,
tors. It is most visible when strong light improvement, the edges of very fine de- and the lower contrast would help tak-
sources are present in the object area, tails improve noticeably and now cover ing reportage style pictures in high con-
but, contrary to common sense, will most of the image field. For the casual trast lightning situations.
also operate when a large area of high viewer, the performance approaches These notions are still en vogue today
luminance (as an overcast sky) is part of the value of the Elmarit-M. Still, a side and the full aperture of the Summicron
or close to the object.. The mechanical by side comparison reveals the differ- 90mm lenses is mostly described in this
construction needs to be tuned to re- ences: the Tele-Elmarit-M gives a flat- context.
duce the stray light within the lens ter, more dull image, due to a lower The 90mm f/2 Summicron-M was in-
when the light energy passes through contrast and the softness of the very troduced in 1980 in a mount that lost
the lens elements. The particular clarity fine textural details, which give a picture much weight (460 grams) and with 5
and crispness of very fine details of the its sparkle and clarity. Stopped down to lens elements (6 for the predecessor).
Elmarit-M is a tribute to its optical and f/8 the Tele-Elmarit equals the image Two lens surfaces are plane, which re-
mechanical design. quality of the Elmarit-M. duces cost, but you also loose possibili-
Close-up performance at full aperture Close-up performance is good, but for ties for additional optical correction. At
is already excellent and can be used exacting demands an aperture of f/5,6 full aperture the 90mm Summicron-M
even for critical demands. might be preferable. has medium-high overall contrast and
The natural companion lens for the When ease of travel and compactness very fine details are registered with
90mm Elmarit-M is the Tri-Elmar. With are of overriding importance, this lens is fuzzy edges over most of the image
only two lenses, the Leica M user gets a good choice. Its fine overall image area. This behavior has been described
a high performance package of great quality makes it suitable for many pic- as ‘smooth sharpness’ (an oxymoron
flexibility (covering 28 to 90mm) and at ture-taking situations. Stopped down to like ‘military intelligence’). Stopping
a very modest weight. f/4 or f/5,6 it is an excellent performer. down to f/2.8 brings a very marked im-
provement of contrast of the subject
outlines and a crispening of the edges
of very fine details. In its overall impres-
sion, it is now comparable to the 90mm
f/2.8 Elmarit-M at full aperture. The
Elmarit however is able to record ex-
ceedingly fine detail structures that are

Leica M Lenses [65]


90 mm lenses

beyond the capabilities of the that amount of aberration is not easy to overall contrast as diffraction effects be-
Summicron. At f/4 the Summicron im- control and correct. come visible.
proves markedly again and now the ren- The designer needs to accept a re- Gone are the days when one had to
dition of the very finest details is duced image quality or if possible he excuse the quality at wide open aper-
brought into the picture. Compared to has to aim for a higher level of correc- ture with the argument that image deg-
the Elmarit-M, the higher flare level of tion. Leica designers have been well radation had to be expected. The APO-
the 90 mm Summicron softens the aware of the absolute and relative per- Summicron-M ASPH is one of the very
edges a bit, but at this aperture the formance of the 90mm Summicron and few 90mm lenses to offer stunning
Summicron gives an excellent perform- its production life of almost 20 years quality already at f/2,0. Most high speed
ance over most of the image field. The shows that a better correction had to lenses loose a bit of punch when stop-
edges of the image (the zonal area cov- wait for new tools. ping down due to focus shift, caused by
ering the outermost 4 to 5 millimeters in When designing lenses for the M cam- residual zonal spherical aberration.
the horizontal direction) lag a bit behind era, the designer has a few additional Again this lens has a very good correc-
the rest of the image. But in most pic- parameters to give attention to. Weight tion of this aberration and after stopping
tures this part is automatically covered and volume are the obvious limiting fac- down, image degradation is very slight,
by the unsharpness of the out-of-focus tors. If volume and weight were not an if at all perceptible.
zone. issue, the designer could use heavy Close up performance at full aperture
At f/5.6 the Summicron-M reaches its special glass and more glass elements delivers very crisp pictures over the
optimum with outstanding performance for correctional purposes. whole image field. The very high level of
on axis and slightly lower performance With 500 grams, the APO-Summicron correction of this lens brings a rapid
in the outer zones of the field. At f/8 ASPH is a fraction heavier than its pre- drop to the unsharpness area, where
these outer zones become slightly decessor, but dimensionally the two are outlines of objects are preserved. De-
crisper and the whole picture area is almost equal. tails however are washed out. This
now covered with a high contrast image The creativity and expertise of the de- behavior in the sharpness-unsharpness
and a crisp rendition of extremely fine signer can be assessed by looking at gradient, a very rapid and abrupt change
details. the specifications in relation to the per- from the plane of focus to the unsharp-
Close-up performance is much im- formance. One quite complex aspherical ness zone, is typical of the current Leica
proved, when compared to the first ver- surface and two special glass types M lenses.
sion of the Summicron, which had to be were used to achieve the required The APO-Summicron-M ASPH is very
stopped down to f/5,6 to get decent apochromatic correction from the core flare resistant. One should have no illu-
quality. At smaller apertures the of a highly evolved optical system. sions here. It is always possible to force
Summicron 90mm is a very strong per- bright patches and secondary (ghost)
former. Its full aperture quality is accept- At full aperture (2.0) the lens exhibits a images into a lens. The APO-
able. The best test for a wide aperture high contrast image with extremely fine Summicron-M ASPH is very stable, but
lens is a picture of a night scene with details rendered with excellent clarity not immune to these effects.
lots of street lamps and neon light ad- and contrast. On axis (center) and in the When taking pictures that contain
vertising. Flare, veiling glare, halos field (outer zones) and extending to the bright light sources, the use of filters is
around bright spots, contrast in the very corners, minuscule details are re- discouraged unless one can control the
darker parts of the scene and the clear corded impeccably. The faintest trace of direction of the light reaching the lens to
separation of closely spaced highlights softness at the edges of very fine de- a high degree.
are easily spotted. The Summicron-M tails can be detected. Outlines of image Users who upgrade from the previous
performs commendably in this type of details have superb edge contrast. At Summicron-M 90 to the current one will
scenery, but its image quality is not fully f/2,8 the contrast improves a bit and the notice the excellent suppression of veil-
convincing. Choosing the Summicron whole image becomes somewhat more ing glare. The Apo version shows
and not the Elmarit would be justified by crisp, bringing exceptionally fine details blacker shadows than the previous one.
the performance at full aperture f/2. In above the threshold of visibility. From When using high speed lenses, quite of-
many cases you might consider the f/2.8 to f/5.6 we find an enhanced ca- ten a certain amount of veiling glare will
75mm f/1.4 Summilux. pacity for recording the finest possible illuminate the shadow areas, producing
details with the crystal-clear clarity and an impression of shadow penetration. In
excellent edge contrast that is the hall- fact what happens is a graying of the
90mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M mark of the New Design Principles set shadows by the stray light. No details
ASPH. forth by Mr. Kölsch. will be visible in the shadows. It just
Perfect centering, only the faintest looks as if the lens /film combination
Many people underestimate the trace of astigmatism and no curvature has a very high speed. The first pictures
growth of aberration content when the of field added by painstaking engineer- with the Apo version produce blacker
designer has to open up a lens one ing make this lens the one to use. shadows, and so the user is inclined to
more stop. The step from f/2.8 to f/2 Stopping down after 2.8 only improves think that he has underexposed or that
seems a small one. In fact some aberra- depth of field. After f/16 we notice a the lens does not give the true speed.
tions increase by a factor of nine and slight softening of edges and a drop in The truth is that the user now has a bet-

[66] Leica M Lenses


90 mm lenses

ter-corrected lens in his hands and a


new learning experience is required.
One has to adjust to the new character-
istics.

Conclusion

Both 90mm lenses, the Elmarit-M and


the Apo-Summicron-M ASPH represent
the current state-of-the-art of Leica lens
design and define the limit of image
quality at this focal length and aper-
tures. The specification of the 90mm
f/2.8 version is not a limiting case and
the Elmarit-M can employ a computa-
tion from 1983 to present superb image
quality that is difficult to surpass. The
earlier versions of the Elmarit type are
very good lenses too. The commitment
of Leica to exceed the bounds of the
feasible optical performance at any time
is clearly documented in the case of the
90mm lenses. Five recomputations for
the Elmarit between 1959 and 1983
document the relentless drive forward.
The Apo-Summicron-M ASPH, now in
its third recomputation, defines the per-
formance level for the next generation
of Summicron design. It has stunning
performance at all apertures, distances
and over the whole image field.
The choice between both lenses is an
economical one. The Elmarit-M is
cheaper and has less volume, and its
optical performance is only marginally
surpassed by the Summicron version.
The price-performance relation of the
Apo-Summicron-M ASPH is tempting
and if one wishes to enjoy breathtaking
full aperture performance, this lens
opens a new vista.

Leica M Lenses [67]


90 mm lenses

90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit M Summary

This very compact and


lightweight lens delivers
excellent imagery overall.
Wide open the contrast is
medium and the defini-
tion of very small picture
details is slightly soft.
Stop down two stops and
the image quality over the
whole picture area be-
comes of a very high or-
der.

Full Aperture [2,8] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

[68] Leica M Lenses


90 mm lenses

90mm f/2.8 Elmarit M Summary

Before the arrival of the


new 90mm f/2 Apo-
Summicron ASPH this
lens was the best me-
dium telephoto lens ever
designed for the M. At
full aperture extremely
fine textures and picture
details are rendered with
high fidelity and excellent
clarity. Stopping down im-
proves a bit on this
marvelous performance.

Full Aperture [2,8] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [69]


90 mm lenses

90mm f/2 Summicron M Summary

Stopped down to f/4 and


smaller, this classical lens
delivers a first-class per-
formance. The full aper-
ture performance that is
characterized by medium
contrast, somewhat fuzzy
outlines of finer details,
and a trace of veiling glare
do indicate that the design
is a bit overcharged.

Full Aperture [2,0] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

[70] Leica M Lenses


90 mm lenses

90mm f/2 APO Summicron-M ASPH Summary

A masterful lens, setting


a new standard of excel-
lence, this one shows in
what direction the Leica
designers are thinking. At
full aperture extremely
small details are rendered
with very good clarity over
the whole image field.
Flare is hardly detectable,
as is vignetting. A superb
lens.

Full Aperture [2,0] Optimum Aperture [4,0]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Distortion [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [71]


135 mm lenses

135 mm lenses
Barnack had the vision and the engi- tography and fine-art studies alike. It is a get the attention it deserves pictorially.
neering creativity to design his Leica very versatile focal length with a long The new 135mm f/3.4 Apo-Telyt-M
with a coupled rangefinder to accommo- tradition of classical images. It is a pity might change this undeserved Cinde-
date lenses of different focal length. that the 135 mm focal length does not rella status.
The 135 mm focal length sets the me-
chanical limit for the M-rangefinder, not
the accuracy limit. The M rangefinder is
based on the principle of vernier acuity.
This and the long base ensure that the
required accuracy at all distances is
within very tight tolerances. To explain
the mechanical limit, consider the fol-
lowing. The movement of the range-
finder roller is about 2mm, which stays
the same, irrespective of the lens cou- most of the image field and they soften
pled to the body. The 50mm lens a little in the outer zones. .
moves 2mm when focusing from 1 me- The subject outlines are sharply deline-
ter to infinity. So the relation is 1:1. The ated and give the image a high sharp-
135 mm lens has a movement of about ness impression. Stopped down to 5.6
18mm to focus from 1.5 meter to infin- the contrast improves somewhat, but
ity. This 18mm has to be converted to the outer zones still lag behind. After
the 2mm movement of the roller. That f/8,0 the contrast of the very fine object
is a reduction of 1:9. Any small error in details diminish a bit. Stopping down
the mechanical coupling will therefore further softens the edges of fine details
be ‘enlarged’ 9 times. The mechanism slightly more. This performance holds
has to be built to a very high degree of from infinity to about 3 meters.
precision to ensure that this ‘error’ stays For close-up pictures at its closest dis-
within the required overall tolerance. tance (1.5 meter) one should stop down
The frame of the 135 lens in the finder to get the optimum performance.
is small, but just big enough to allow Centering is perfect for the older ver-
framing. A tight composition however is sion I tested, and some curvature of
not feasible. One should give some field and a trace of astigmatism can be
margins around the motive. noted on the bench. This lens is at its
The 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M with spec- top at f/5.6 and by stopping down fur-
tacles tried to overcome the limit of the ther, overall contrast and edge contrast
frame, but added a cumbersome device 135mm f/4 Tele-Elmar-M of very fine details are reduced a frac-
to the Leica body. tion. The overall performance is of a
The Tele-Elmar-M has an optical lay- very high standing. This lens is also
With the Tele-Elmar-M from 1965 the out, consisting of 5 lenses in 3 groups. commendably flare-free. When using it
design reached the theoretical optimum In comparison the Apo-Telyt also has at the limit of its performance, one
attainable in these days and reigned un- five lenses, but now in four groups. The should use a tripod at least once to re-
challenged for more then 30 years. In- Tele-Elmar-M is optically unchanged ally appreciate its image quality.
deed the optical performance of the since 1965 and has been given several
Tele-Elmar-M in its various redesigned facelifts. The optical performance is,
mounts (three times) stayed the same, even from today’s high standards, out- 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M
as the computation was not changed. standing.
Even today it delivers outstanding im- At full aperture the whole image field This lens has been introduced in 1963.
age quality. Its field of view and fore- from center to the outermost corners It weighs more than 700 grams, and it is
ground-background relation can be used gives a high contrast image. Extremely a bit bulky. Its assigned task is photo-
very advantageously for reportage pho- fine details are rendered crisply over journalism in available light, that is i.e. at

[72] Leica M Lenses


135 mm lenses

low light levels. Its usefulness however agery is not yet attained. The Apo-Telyt- Conclusion.
is much broader, as it can be used in all M is a very fine example of a design
situations where accurate framing is re- that combines the special demands of We may note that Leica M users are
quired. the M series (lightweight and small vol- very well served in the medium tel-
At full aperture the lens produces an ume) with that other characteristic of ephoto lens field and now can produce
image of low to medium contrast. The the M lenses: impeccable optical per- images that are the envy of R-users,
object outlines are recorded with formance. With only five lens elements who long had the advantage in this field.
slightly soft edges with very fine details (to reduce weight) the designer has The Apo-Telyt is a truly superb lens. Its
clearly visible over the whole image computed a masterpiece, supported by optimum performance is on a level that
field. Its wide-open performance sug- the engineers of the production depart- requires users who are willing and able
gests that is a bit overstretched opti- ment. to exploit it to the fullest their technique
cally. Stopped down to f/4 image quality The Apo-Telyt at full aperture (f/3.4)
improves strikingly and approaches the produces a high contrast image with ex-
performance level of the Tele-Elmar-M. ceptionally fine details very crisply ren-
At f/5.6 and smaller apertures the dered over the whole image field from
Elmarit-M inches towards the image center to corners. Stopped down to
quality of the Tele-Elmar-M, without f/4.0 the Apo-Telyt improves visibly on
rivaling that level. the Tele-Elmar-M on its ability to render
the finest possible details with excellent
contrast and clarity. Stopping down
this level of performance holds to
the aperture f/8, and stopping down
further only very small losses in edge
contrast can be detected.
This APO-Telyt -M shifts the perform-
ance level of M-lenses to a higher pla-
teau. It represents current thinking
about optical performance as imple-
mented by Leica. At wider apertures
and closer distances the unsharpness
area sets in abruptly and the shapes of
objects rapidly lose its details. For me
personally this behavior is excellent, but
bokeh aficionados might be less happy.
The distinctive characteristic of the
Apo-Telyt is its superior clarity of ex-
ceedingly fine details that give the Apo-
Telyt images a new look. While for
some purposes the Tele-Elmar-M gives
adequate performance, the Apo-Telyt
offers a lucidity of fine color hues and al-
most lifelike rendition of very small sub-
135mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt-M ject details. In direct comparison the
rendering of the same fine details by
Lenses with a focal length larger than the Tele-Elmar-M is dull, or when going
the 50mm standard lens enlarge the to the edge soft or washed out. When
subject details, when the picture is reproducing still smaller details the Tele-
taken from the same position of course. Elmar-M produces noise where the
But enlarging the object has a nasty Apo-Telyt still records these details with
drawback. The aberrations are also en- authority.
larged. Especially lateral and longitudinal
chromatic aberrations will degrade the This level of optical performance is
image quality as fine details and outlines very sensitive to manufacturing toler-
alike are recorded with color fringes. ances. Computer diagrams show the
The designer will opt for an apochro- loss of performance when focus is
matic correction to reduce the second- shifted away from its optimum position.
ary spectrum. But optics is optics and Lavish, some would say excessive at-
behind the secondary spectrum looms tention to production tolerances is in-
the tertiary spectrum. So perfect im- deed needed here.

Leica M Lenses [73]


135 mm lenses

135mm f/4 Elmar M Summary

This 1965 design from


will outperform many cur-
rent comparable lenses. It
delivers outstanding per-
formance at all apertures
and at f/5.6 it might be
called superb. This focal
length is very useful for
the reflective type of pic-
ture-taking.

Full Aperture [4,0] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Verzeichnung [%] Y' [mm]

[74] Leica M Lenses


135 mm lenses

135mm f/2.8 Elmarit M Summary

Wide open this design


exhibits medium overall
contrast that softens fine
details a bit. Stopped
down to f/5.6 it delivers
very good image quality.
The detachable spectacle
viewfinder helps the
framing of the image.

Full Aperture [2,8] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Verzeichnung [%] Y' [mm]

Leica M Lenses [75]


135 mm lenses

135mm f/3.4 Apo Telyt M Summary

High overall contrast,


outstanding clarity of
small picture details, very
clean colors and subject
outlines with high edge
contrast are the trademark
of apochromatic correc-
tion as practiced by Leica.
At full aperture the Apo-
Telyt extends the picture
possibilities of the M body
with an image quality that
is unrivaled.

Full Aperture [3,4] Optimum Aperture [5,6]

[%] [%]
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 60

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Y' [mm] Y' [mm]

Distortion Vignetting

[%]
100

75

50

25

0
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21
Verzeichnung [%] Y' [mm]

[76] Leica M Lenses


1 3r 5o fm. mD lre. n M
P s eas x B e r e k

He was able to use this background understanding of the core elements of


and knowledge, when Ernst Leitz asked the Leica camera and the Leica philoso-
him to design a photographic lens for phy. Berek designed 23 lenses for the
“Barnack’s camera”. The lens was a Leica. The last one of which was the
f/.3,5/50mm triplet with the last three 85mm f/1.5 Summarex from 1940. He
lenses cemented into one unit. It is received a personal Grand Prix in 1937
known as the Leitz Anastigmat and later at the Paris World Fair for his accom-
the Elmax, presumably a concatenation plishments. Up to now Leica has pro-
from ErnstLeitzMaxBerek. The 5 ele- duced about 65 different lenses for the
ments helped to give this lens an out- rangefinder system. Berek alone ac-
standing performance and today an counts for more than 35% of all Leica rf-
MTF measurement would deliver very lenses and his design considerations
high marks. still can be noted in today’s designs.
In an interview in 1940 Berek noted
that the choice for the aperture of 3.5 In the 1940 interview Berek remarks
Professor Dr. Max Berek
was quite deliberate. A wider aperture, that a high quality image is less an issue
When discussing the origins of the he remarked, would have been easy if the optical performance than of the
Leica, the credit should go to Oskar from the designer’s point of view. The technical expertise of the user. This per-
Barnack, who designed the Ur-Leica and Leica camera however, was a new ception is still true today. His ideas
Ernst Leitz, who decided to start the product and should succeed in the mar- about designing lenses were published
commercial production in 1924. He ket. Therefore the quality of the Leica in a book called “Grundlagen der
made this decision on his own, as all his images was of paramount importance. praktischen Optik” (subtitle “Analyse
advisers were against the production. The aperture of 3.5 gave excellent opti- und Synthese optischer Systeme”) or
The risks were quite large indeed, be- cal performance and more importantly, “Fundamentals of practical optics (sub-
cause the microscope firm had no expe- it had an extended depth of field. So title: Analysis and Synthesis of optical
rience with photographic cameras. If we even if the Leica user misjudged the systems). It was published in 1930 and
search for the reasons for the success distance a bit, he was assured of high many reprints were made until 1986,
of the Leica, we need to look at Leica quality images. Berek rightfully as- when the last version was printed. The
lenses. The first lens for the commercial sumed that the user of this new instru- book is still very interesting for its ap-
version of the Leica was designed by ment needed to gain experience with proach and contents. The handbook by
Max Berek. So in a certain sense he is the wide aperture and the focusing. He M. von Rohr ‘Die Bilderzeugung in
responsible for the worldwide success should not be disappointed with the re- optischen Instrumenten vom
of the Leica. sults, even while experimenting and Standpunkt der geometrischen Optik’
Max Berek was born on August 16, learning. (The geometrical investigation of forma-
1886 in the small town Ratibor as son of The optical correction of the Elmax de- tion of images in optical systems), pub-
a millworker. Like so many of his con- parted from the older generations of lished in 1920 was the reference in the
temporaries in the late part of the 19th anastigmats. These were corrected for world of optics. Berek improved on the
century, when Germany experienced a the green to purple part of the spec- theory of geometrical optics with his
cultural and scientific explosion, he at- trum, because emulsions of those days book. He and Merté (from Zeiss) en-
tended the university to expand his were sensitive to this part of the spec- gaged in a small scientific battle about
knowledge. He began his study in math- trum. Again Berek assumed that the the ‘principles of geometrical optics’.
ematics and mineralogy in Berlin in user would need a lens corrected for This scientific debate had its parallel in
1907 and finished there in 1911 with a the whole spectrum, so he computed a the Zeiss and Leitz lenses for the two
famous crystallographic research. lens where the red part of the spectrum coupled rangefinder systems of the thir-
In 1912 Ernst Leitz invited him to be- was also corrected. He noticed that any ties: Contax II and Leica III.
come the first scientist employed by the lens that is well corrected for panchro-
Leica company. We should admire matic emulsions is also suitable for Berek loved to work at night when
Leitz’ uncanny ability to select top talent color film. But panchromatic film needs everything was quiet. He would retreat
for his firm. Berek stayed with Leitz till to be corrected for every wavelength in to his room with a pot of tea, his slide
his death on October 15, 1949. the visible spectrum, because any rule and, smoking cigars, would trace
Berek’s area of research focused on wavelength can produce unsharpness difficult rays to compute the corrections
microscopy, especially polarization- effects. For color film the sensitivity of he needed. He was very well versed in
microscopy. In this area he reached the eye enters into the equation and so the flute and played in many chamber
world fame and his inventions (the the lens should be best corrected for music sessions. Given the close rela-
Berek compensator and the formula to the yellow part of the spectrum (the tionship between optical and sound
compute depth of field of microscopic middle part, that is). waves, his accomplishments in both ar-
vision) are still used today. He wrote These kinds of considerations indicate eas are not surprising.
several books on the principles of micro- a very sensitive mind to the needs and
scope technology. demands of the Leica user and a firm

Leica M Lenses [77]


Glossary

Glossary of abberations
The spherical lens is the fundamental The illustration below shows that the It is obvious that such an image point
building block of optical systems. Its refracted rays do not intersect the opti- has less flare and better contrast. Theo-
two most important properties are its in- cal axis at a single image point, but at retical resolution is reduced by a small
dex of refraction and the curvature of various points along that axis. This error fraction because the image core is a lit-
its two surfaces. It is a known fact that is the basic spherical error, called tle larger. In practice this resolution can-
the direction of a light ray changes as it not be achieved anyway, because stray
passes from one medium (like air) into light diminishes contrast and the entire
another medium (like glass). The extent picture will have a flat appearance. This
of this change is governed by a number: example shows exactly where the opti-
the index of refraction. Because this in- cal designer has to apply his or hers
dex depends on the wavelength (λ) of skills in order to optimize a system and
the light ray, one can define a glass with it also shows how tight the manufactur-
a series of numbers. This variation of in- ing tolerances have to be.
dices of refraction is called dispersion.
Visible light has a spectral range of 400 Spherical aberration affects the
nm to 780 nm (nm = nanometers). The spherical aberration. It is a monochro- imaging of points that are located on or
index refraction is greater at 400 nm (for matic error, and in this case this means close to the optical axis (for all light rays
example: Schott glass BK7: 1.53026) that the rays of each wavelength that traveling parallel to that axis). If the ob-
than it is at 700 nm (1.512894). This come in at a distance from the optical ject point that is being imaged is further
change in the index of refraction is dif- axis form an image point on the axis away from the optical axis, the bundle
ferent for each type of glass and the that is located ahead of the image point of rays coming from that object be-
amount of change can be greater than formed by rays that come in near the comes skewed and asymmetrical. The
4%. A standardized number for the axis. Instead of a point, a patch of dif- second monochromatic error is the
magnitude of dispersion is provided by fused light (circle of confusion) is asymmetrical error, also called coma.
the Abbe Number. A large (small) formed on the image plane. The rays
number indicates low (large) dispersion. coming in near the optical axis come to
Glass with an Abbe Number greater a focus on a plane that is called the
than 50 is classified as flint glass and Gaussian plane. The point image has a
glass with an Abbe number lower than bright core surrounded by a halo .
50 is called crown glass. There are ex- When the lens is stopped down, the
ceptions, however. Glass manufacturers rays that come in at a distance from the
divide their catalogs into three sections: axis are blocked and the position of the
Preferred glass (in stock), Standard image point will change, as will its form.
glass (produced at regular intervals) and The core will become larger and the sur-
Special glass (produced upon demand, rounding halo will become smaller. This
provided the quantities are sufficient). change in the position of the image is
called focus shift. Because one always This aberration is also caused by the
When a spherical lens images a point focuses [R-lenses only] wide open, it differences in the refraction of light rays
source of light (object) on the plane of makes sense to select a plane of focus in relation to the different angles of inci-
focus, one would expect a point-shaped on which the contrast is best at full ap- dence of the rays that strike the curved
image. The law of refraction states that erture. High contrast occurs when the glass surface. The illustration above
the path of a light ray that strikes the halo is small, even when the bright core shows that the rays coming in from be-
glass surface at a given angle of inci- point is slightly larger than it was on the low are bent more strongly then the up-
dence is altered by an angular amount Gaussian image plane. In practice, this per rays. Spherical aberration involves a
that is a function of the angle of inci- involves displacements by very small small bright core that is surrounded by
dence. If that angle is changed, the amounts, and their order of magnitude circles of diffuse light , all of them hav-
amount of deviation (=Refraction) will is the domain of the optical designer’s ing the same center (the axis). With
also change. A curved lens surface expertise. If we imagine an image core coma, we observe the same structures
means that the angles of incidence for on the Gaussian image plane with a di- (core and rings or zones of diffuse light),
parallel incoming rays will be greater at ameter of 0.02 mm and a flare rim of but now the asymmetry causes every
the rim than they are at the center of 0.08 mm, the core on the ideal focusing ring to have a different form and to oc-
the lens, so that rays that come in near plane will be slightly larger, namely cupy a different position on the image
the edge are bent (=refracted) more 0.025 mm and the flare diameter will plane. The image point is drawn out on
strongly. be reduced to 0.04 mm. one side and takes the form of a point

[78] Leica M Lenses


Glossary

with a bright core and a triangular blur light, but a line, one lying in front of the nately this is not the case with most
zone, looking much like a comet. other and mutually perpendicular. All ob- lenses, because the reduction scale var-
ject points that have a horizontal focus, ies within the image area. When the
are located on a tangential plane, which scale increases as the distance from the
is not flat but has the shape of a pa- center of the image increases, the re-
rabola or ellipsoid. In the same pattern, sult is pincushion distortion. When the
we also have a vertical plane, which is scale is reduced towards he edges of
curved as well. At the optical axis, these the image, we get barrel-shaped distor-
surfaces coincide, but they diverge tion.
quite significantly in the outer zones,
Between both extremes, we will find a These five aberrations are called
position where the point has the least monochromatic aberrations because
unsharpness.Astigmatism is difficult to they act on a single wavelength. Be-
visualize if one doesn’t consider a fourth cause light diffraction (color dispersion)
aberration at the same time. is not the same for blue light as that for
red light, these colors are refracted dif-
Because of the spherical shape of the ferently. Blue, for instance, is bent more
lens surface, the object is also imaged sharply than red light and they converge
on a curved plane. But the film plane is on different focal points. If we place the
One can think of the bundle of rays as flat, and that creates another problem. image plane in the middle between
a cone whose point is positioned pre- This (monochromatic) imaging error is these two focal points, we will see a
cisely on the image plane. That creates called field curvature. When this aberra- green (or yellow) core with a purple
a point at that location, a point that is tion is present, sharpness gradually de- fringe (red plus blue). If we shift the im-
surrounded by zones of diffuse light. If creases towards the edges of the im- age plane, the color of the fringe will
this cone impinges on the image plane age. The image is dish-shaped because change from blue to red or vice-versa.
at an angle, as shown in the illustration of the spherical forms of the lens. That This imaging error is called longitudinal
of coma, the image will no longer have is also the case with astigmatism. If chromatic aberration and just like spheri-
the shape of a point. The oblique cone both aberrations are present, we will cal aberration, it causes the image to ap-
of light will be intersected by the curva- have two separate curved fields pear flat because it reduces contrast.
ture of the surface of the lens. If you (dishes). If astigmatism has been elimi- With this chromatic error the image
look at a circular lens from the front, you nated, there is still curvature of field to plane will be in a different place for each
will see s full circle. If you now rotate be dealt with. These three dishes are wavelength. The dispersion of the glass
the lens in a vertical direction, it will be- usually curved in the same (forward) di- will also cause a change in the size of
come an ellipse, like a cat’s eye. It is rection. The difference in the positions the color image in each wavelength. Be-
clear that rays entering the lens in the of the three dishes is on the order of cause short-wave light (blue) is re-
vertical direction, the longer one, will 2% of the focal length. An optical de- fracted more strongly, blue rays will
have different angles of inclination than signer is capable of eliminating astigma- converge at a closer focal point. The ef-
rays entering in the horizontal (the tism, but he or she can also over-correct fect is similar to that of a lens with a
shorter direction). This aberration is it in the opposite direction and thereby short focal length, which depicts objects
called astigmatism. ). The bundle of rays compensate for curvature of field. Then at a reduced scale. The focal length is
there will only be a residue of less than linked to the magnification factor, and
0.04% if the focal length (to cite a nu- that is why a variation in the refractive
merical example). index also causes a variation in magnifi-
cation. This error is called lateral chro-
All of these aberrations are sharpness matic aberration and it mostly affects
errors that diminish the sharpness of the reproduction of fine structures. A
the image. But there are other aberra- white image point is separated into its
tions that only affect the shape of the component colors and reproduced as a
image, even if the image points were stretched rainbow. A dark point with a
absolutely sharp. This, the fifth aberra- light background is reproduced with a
tion is called distortion. An optical sys- color fringe that appears in blue on the
tem always depicts an object in a spe- upper rim and in red on the lower rim.
cific size. A 50 mm lens focused at 10
meters (32’10”) reduces every object by Aberrations are often reduced when
a factor of 200. But one can expect that the lens is stopped down, because mar-
the reduced image is geometrically ac- ginal rays no longer contribute to the
in the horizontal plane focus at a differ- curate and that the ratio of reduction re- imaging errors. Lateral chromatic aberra-
ent location than do the rays in the verti- mains constant across the entire image. tion is not diminished by stopping down
cal plane. They do not form a point of This is called scale fidelity. Unfortu- the aperture and it is very difficult to

Leica M Lenses [79]


Glossary

correct. Both chromatic aberrations (lat- diminished significantly. A lens can also Diameter of the circle
eral and longitudinal) increase from the be tilted, which means that its center of least confusion
center of the image towards its edges. may well be positioned on the main
optical axis, but it may be seated at Even the most highly corrected lens
These seven imaging errors are called an angle. still has residual aberrations. A point
the Seidel aberrations, because Ludwig Centering errors influence the optical light source is depicted as a miniscule
von Seidel was the first person to exam- performance, specifically contrast and bright spot. With modern Leica lenses,
ine them on a scientific basis around the reproduction of the finest structures the order of magnitude of the diameter
1850. There are still other aberrations, on the image plane outside the center of that tiny spot is between 0.01 and
which are classified as aberrations of of the image. 0.02 mm. As stated earlier, this circle of
higher orders. The index of refraction is dispersion consists of a bright core sur-
at the bottom of all aberrations and cal- rounded by rings of dispersion of dimin-
culations are based on the sine of the ishing brightness. It is not easy to deter-
refracted angle. The sine function can mine the overall diameter of this bright
also be expressed as a geometric se- spot, because it depends upon the mini-
ries: sin p = p - p3/3! + p5/5! – p7/7! + mum brightness of the last ring that is
… to be included in that diameter. Even so,
Each term in this series is related to a Stray light is another unpleasantly dis- a standard circle of least confusion has
group of aberrations of a certain order. turbing influence. Stray light consists of been defined as having a minimum di-
The first term represents an error-free those rays that do not contribute to the ameter of 0.03 mm. Every bright spot
image, as it occurs in the center of a formation of the image, but which are on the image plane with a diameter that
picture. This very small area around the reflected by the glass surfaces and dis- is smaller than 0.03 mm is perceived by
optical axis is called the paraxial region. persed by the remaining aberrations or the viewer as a point light, when en-
It is logical to associate it with aberra- reflected inside the mechanical lens larged 3 times. Therefore an optical re-
tions of the first order. The next term mounts or by the blades of the iris dia- production can be less sharp than it
incorporates the number “3” and i phragm. This kind of light produces an should be as a result of the correction of
therefore refers to aberrations of the overall veil across the image plane, it residual aberrations in the system. This
third order (the Seidel aberrations). Be- brightens shadow areas, causes halos property can be used for reproducing
cause this series only contains uneven around highlights and diminishes con- (with good sharpness) the object plane
numbers, the next term refers to aber- trast. Therefore stray light is a combined on which the lens has been focused, as
rations of the fifth order, and so on. result of residual aberrations, mechani- well as the planes that are located di-
An optical designer can avail himself of cal construction and assembly, and the rectly behind and in front of the object
a long list of steps that he or she can properties of the glass. plane. Since most photographic objects
take to determine the imaging perform- are distributed over a distance from the
ance. The choice of the proper glass is a Lens coating is a process designed to lens, one should be able to depict a cer-
very important factor and since the reduce reflections. A simple anti-reflec- tain depth of space with sufficient
properties of glass affect the correction tion substance, for instance lithium fluo- sharpness. The diameter of the circle of
of errors to a significant extent, it pro- ride, is vaporized and deposited on the confusion determines the depth of field
vides additional room for creativity. But glass surface until it reaches a specified and the depth of focus. The depth of
certain glasses are 300 times as expen- thickness. The thickness of the coating field scale on a lens provides informa-
sive as standard glasses, possibly diffi- depends on the wavelength that is to be tion about the extent of distances within
cult to process and they may be quite corrected and it amounts to ë/4 (a quar- which objects located in that range will
heavy. Then the selection becomes very ter of the amplitude of a wave cycle). be rendered with adequate sharpness.
critical. Other possibilities, like the use This means that interference reduces The relationship between f-stops, depth
of aspherical surfaces and apochromatic reflections of this wavelength consider- of field and distances can easily be read
correction are described in the chapter ably and almost completely for the adja- on that scale. Nevertheless, one must
entitled “Core technologies”. cent wavelengths. Coatings are also remember the diameter of 0.03 mm,
The computed imaging performance used to balance the color rendition of which is the basis for these computa-
will not be achieved if all the other fac- lenses so that they all match. In prac- tions, as they are used for the depth of
tors of influence are not under control. tice, multiple layer coating systems are field scales on Leica lenses. In projec-
One of the most disturbing influences is also used for the reduction of broad tion and in enlarging, the depth of field
caused by decentering. Every lens ele- band reflections. There are very few is necessarily smaller, because all image
ment has its own optical center, which rules in this field: antireflection systems points are being enlarged. The usable
should be aligned on the main optical are part of specific optical systems and depth of field is often one or two f-stops
axis during the assembly of a multi-ele- their properties. In the final analysis, it smaller than indicated. Therefore, when
ment lens. If that is not the case, for in- does not matter what kind or methods using a working aperture of f/4, one
stance when the lens element is slightly of anti-reflection measures are taken, should use the depth of field indicated
shifted at a right angle to the optical what matters is that they should be ef- for an aperture of f/2.8.
axis, the imaging performance can be fective.

[80] Leica M Lenses


Impressum

Impressum

Editor: Erwin Puts, Utrecht NL


Technical support: Peter Karbe, Leica Camera AG
Translation: Rolf Fricke, Rochester USA
Photographs: Erwin Puts, Utrecht NL
Design and Layout: Coremdia, Hamburg

www.leica-camera.com

Leica M Lenses [81]