Lovers of the iconic and legendary "fast 50" will no doubt be delighted that the Micro 4/3 system continues to bear fruit in providing options, with the new Leica 25mm DG Summilux ASPH lens for Micro 4/3 just announced.
When I was a kid, the "fast 50" prime lens was the premium standard in every line. I tried 'em all during my "lens fanatic" days. Everyone had a good one—Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Miranda, Konica, and so on—and my favorite, the Pentax. About the only one that wasn't so good was the old 1961(?) Summilux-M, which was...decent, I guess (no hate towards users), but disappointing compared to the famous Summicrons that made Leica's fame. And also compared to Leica's highly characterful but aberration-laden earlier faster 50s like the wacky but delightful Summarit ƒ/1.5 that Johnny Deadman used to such great effect. So, in the later days of Leitz* and the early days of Leica, most M shooters ignored the 50mm Summilux in favor of the one-stop-slower 'Cron (or, in far fewer cases, the over-the-top Noctilux). Leica later made up for this with the 55mm-filter thread Summilux-R, which I very much liked and which, if I remember correctly, was the optical expert Harold Merklinger's favorite lens at the time.
Before the current 50mm Summilux-M ASPH (which I have written about extensively elsewhere) was introduced, Leica had actually been investigating the feasibility of a new no-holds-barred Summicron, but concluded that it would have to sell for so much that the cost wouldn't support the now modest ƒ/2 specification. So it decided to create an ƒ/1.4 version instead; this was the first great fast 50 for the M system—astonishingly well perfected. If a trifle clinical—gone was the "pleasing roundness" of image that Leica used to defend as being more satisfying to the eye than on the test bench.
It's amazing to consider how few cameramakers have provided a digital-specific "fast 50" equivalent. It wasn't until the 35mms for APS-C gained fashionability relatively recently—the Sony SAM and then the Nikon DX. Of course these are not premium lenses. Not that that really matters much these days, with lens manufacture essentially a solved problem.
Leica/Panasonic brought out a lovely 25mm ƒ/1.4 for the 4/3rds system (discontinued), a lens that is both characterful and excellent. It was also expensive and huge, and in these days when zooms have taken over like the rats in Hamlin, it found limited, if approving, favor.
Thank god that hasn't stopped Panasonic from creating this, the Micro 4/3 equivalent of that beautiful throwback. This Chinese website shows pictures of the lens and sample images; note especially pictures 5–8, which show the "right size" of the new lens compared to its 4/3 system counterpart. Perfect.
And the block diagram and MTF charts for this new lens reveal that it's definitely a premium lens. It's far from a classic Planar design, but nine elements with two aspheric elements and one "ultra" high refractive index element indicate an effort that was not cost-constrained to any significant degree. This will be an expensive lens when it gets here, but that will be okay with those who love fine lenses. (If that MTF chart fails to impress at first glance, note that the topmost line set is for 20 lp/mm, not 10 or 5 as on most MTF charts.)
That Chinese photographer knows how to put a fast prime through its paces to reveal its character. The bokeh—important, of course, for a lens of this specification—has all of the classic character (coherent but characterful, not fuzzy-smooth) that the best fast 50s provide. I would have no concerns about purchase on that score, except that I would want to look at the bokeh in the corners.
This new lens will doubtless not find vast popularity—primes are now the province of purists—but on the occasions you do see one in the future, you will have found a photographer who is in the know when it comes to fine optics.
Bravo, is my comment.
Here's the press release.
*The founding family of Leitz sold Leica in 1986. The underwhelming 50mm Summilux-M hunkered in the lineup unloved all the way until the early 2000s, outsold by the Summicron 10 to 1 by some reports.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by andy: "It should not escape the casual reader of this fine blog that now we, the superannuated former users of prime lens on rangefinders and oddball SLR bodies (think OM, Pentax) have a wealth of choices in the Micro 4/3 system in the classic lengths: 14/2.5 (28mm), 17/2.8 (35-ish mm), 20/1.7 (40mm), and the new 25/1.4 (50mm). Oly is soon to announce a 12/2 (24mm). I have the first three of these, and they are tiny, sharp, and eminently useable. And did I mention they were small? Best of all, they are not crazy-priced.
"If what you want—and it's a niche—is a fast, small kit for street and travel photography, and can't afford, or don't want to be a Leica-weenie, it's the best system around right now, IMHO."
Featured Comment by Steve G, Mendocino: "I'll be sticking to my 20mm ƒ/1.7, thanks. Love that little guy, which I use on an EP-1 with a Voigtlander 40mm viewfinder. I did purchase the Leica/Panasonic 45mm, and found it to be unimpressive—especially for the price—and wound up trading it back."
Featured Comment by Robin Dreyer: "As a user of the Nikon 35 DX I can say that there's nothing in the pictures to suggest that it's not a premium lens. I know it's really not, but it doesn't give you much reason to care. And when I take off my heavy work lens and put on the 35 and just take some pictures, it's like taking off my boots and putting on flip-flops."