All modern lenses perform well, especially short-tele primes like this one but the sizes over the last couple of years have become enormous. Admittedly, this is due to the makers’ pre-occupation with ultra-high speed lenses but independents like Sigma and Zeiss aren’t holding back. It seems that size is no longer a barrier, but that’s strangely at odds with the trend in smaller mirrorless cameras.
Even Leica, the maker of the original compact primes for the M-series, succumbed to that mindset with the first lenses for the Leica SL. Both the Summilux-SL 50mm F1.4 ASPH and the Vario-Elmarit 24-90mm F2.8-3.5 ASPH are optically outstanding. If you need lenses like that, especially when working, then it is fully justifiable, but no-one could call lenses like that compact.
Fortunately, the team responsible at Leica realize that photographers need choice and the new 90mm and 75mm Summicrons are the result. While not M-size exactly, the 90mm reviewed here is but a shadow of the 50mm or 24-90mm. Even though the lens is quite long for a 90mm (it’s 102mm or just over 4-ins) on the Leica SL body, there’s no front-heavy feeling and it balances and handles very well indeed. Critics might argue that it’s due to the mass of the SL – it is not lightweight in any sense of the word. Still, the combination feels solid, reliable and capable of satisfying the most die-hard professional user.
Even though it looks and feels much more modern than the M-series lenses, it’s very well made, like you’d expect. Everything fits tightly; the nicely flocked metal and plastic hood, the focus ring, and there’s absolutely no slack when attached to the body. Auto-focus is very fast and practically silent like the best Canon L-series, though it’s not going to track fast-moving subjects, on the present SL at least.
But how well does this lens perform optically? Can it match lenses like the outstanding 85mm F1.4 Otus? In a word, yes. It easily matches that in clarity wide open where it’s easiest to see. It is a stop slower for a start, so it’s not as challenging to correct but there’s no visible fringing, and images are very sharp. Not many pros use lenses like that, but you can if you need to. Stopped down, it’s a little sharper and a little more detailed but it is subtle. What’s more important is that it produces some of the most authentic and attractive imagery I have ever seen. It is highly addictive and it’s no less as engaging when used to capture video.
If you don’t like using a lens hood, there’s no need to worry too much as the lens is well-controlled concerning flare. Perhaps that’s just as well, as the hood really adds to the overall length. Whether you use it or not, there’s some slight vignetting but it’s hardly unexpected and lot less intrusive than you see with other faster, more exotic glass. As an APO design it’s not cheap, of course, even as a Summicron, but could you imagine the size or price of a theoretical Summilux-SL 90 F1.4 APO? It might be the one you’re drawn to but the smaller Summicron is surely the more practical and more useful day-to-day? And, anyway it’s hard to imagine how it could be better optically. You just don’t see image quality like this everyday.
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