The 75mm focal length is an odd choice to many photographers since it’s sectioned just between 50 and 85mm. But, the Leica APO Summicron-M 75mm, first released in 2005, comes to give Leica M shooters more reach than their beloved 50mm. And it also provides a more intimate experience, but not so much to distance yourself like a 85 or 90mm.
Yet, the APO Summicron is currently the fastest 75mm Leica offers outside the higher-end Noctilux. And it’s survived to date without being discontinued like its peers, the Summilux and Summarit 75mm’s.
But it seems it’s made it this long for a good reason.
And, in fact, the APO-Summicron reigns as the most technically superior lens of its focal length, optically speaking. And it set a new performance benchmark for the Leica rangefinder system.
Still, has Leica gone too far, making the lens clinical and lifeless in their search for optical perfection? And considering it’s not an immediate popular choice, is this lens merely underrated or overhyped?
Let’s find out.
What are the designations that Leica uses?
- Summicron: Leica Summicron designates its high-end lineup of lenses featuring a maximum aperture of f/2. These lenses also obtain their best manufacturing ability and have uncompromised quality. You’ll find this designation across many of their camera formats, including M, S, T, and PL.
- Leica M: Leica M lenses are those designed for Leica’s rangefinder cameras, which dates back to 1954 with the release of the M3. These are classic rangefinder-inspired lenses. As such, they’re compact, manual focusing only, and use a bayonet-style lens mount.
- ASPH: This designates a Leica lens that has an Aspherical lens element. This optical element uses a high refractive index to correct aberrations like coma. Doing so improves the image quality. And while more expensive to manufacture, it offers superior performance than a traditional spherical element.
- APO: This designation describes a lens that features an Apochromatic design. This design combines several aspherical lens elements to dramatically remove chromatic aberrations across all three color channels, red, green, and blue. Theoretically, it creates a sharper lens that produces more true-to-life images free of color fringing. And it’s a specialty design used in Leica’s top-of-the-line lenses.
What mounts does this lens support?
The APO-Summicron-M supports Leica’s M-Mount of rangefinder cameras, be they film or digital. However, you can use this lens on Leica’s S, SL, T, or TL cameras by purchasing an M-Adapter L.
Build Quality, Construction, and Design
Some general specifications first, this lens opens to f/2 and closes to f/16. And it uses a 49mm (E49) filter thread and weighs 430g. It also offers a working distance or Minimum Focusing Distance (MFOD) of 0.7m (2.3 ft) with a reproduction ratio of 1:7. And the Angle of View is also 27º if you’re curious.
Internally, it features 7 elements in 5 groups. And it offers a 9-blade diaphragm. It also employs an Apochromatic (APO) design, which uses both flourite and partial dispersion elements to remove chromatic aberrations and reduce fringing.
Leica also included several design cues from the Summilux-M 50mm. Namely, it receives the same double Gauss construction, giving it the ASPH designation. And it too houses a rear floating lens element (FLE), which helps maintain image quality and sharpness across the focusing range.
Externally, the APO-Summicron is characterized by its ergonomics and compact size, given its focal length. Of course, at 430g (15.2 oz), it’s on the heavier side for a rangefinder lens and even outdoes its largely similar counterpart from Pentax. But compared to other mid-range telephoto lenses, it’s easily light enough for comfortable handheld shooting for those longer outings. And it’s relatively short, too, measuring just 66.8mm (2.63 in). Together the setup is well-balanced, solid, and easy to maneuver when paired with the Leica M11.
However, like many Leica M lenses, the APO-Summicron isn’t technically weather-sealed, at least not traditionally. But, as with all Leica products, they’re built tough and can easily withstand some adverse weather, like light rain. That said, I still wouldn’t suggest risking it in a sudden downpour.
Now, onto the topic of handling. It’s excellent. The aperture ring is closest to the lens hood and offers nice clicky engagement for tactile feedback. While the focusing ring, located in the middle of the lens, has a textured grip for added comfort and more resistance. Leica’s also added a built-in lens hood that you can conveniently engage by sliding out and twisting to lock into place.
Overall, as a package, the APO-Summicron is well built-in and easily par for the course for a Leica M-mount lens. There’s little room for complaints here. And, despite its age, it remains exceptionally well built, premium, and immediately gives an impression of quality,
Image quality on the APO-Summicron is excellent. And Leica surely excelled with the optical design of this lens, making it a perfect match on the M11’s 60MP sensor.
Even wide open, the lens is outstandingly sharp, especially in the center of the frame, thanks to the FLE design. Yet, it offers better edge-to-edge detail than the Summilux-M 50mm lens from which it takes its design inspiration. And better micro-contrast, too, letting your subject pop even more.
In fact, this lens actually gives you some forgiving room to miss focus slightly. And there’s also no real need to stop down. But if you do, you’ll be handsomely rewarded with more sharpness, which peaks around f/5.6. Plus, you’ll also see minimal chromatic aberrations in the focus plane, ghosting, virtually no distortion, and little, if any, flare.
Unfortunately, though, its sharpness creates results that can feel overdone and characterless. And I will confirm what many have said: the APO-Summicron is indeed clinical, to a certain extent. And the images are as close as I’ve ever seen to technically perfect, natural, and accurate. For some, that’s great news since it leaves you plenty of room for post-processing. And from use, I found that perfect for car photography, landscapes, and cityscapes.
That said, I can see this becoming an issue for street, lifestyle, weddings, and photojournalism. And the added sharpness can really add unwanted retouching time to your workflow since it will highlight every image flaw. So if you’re not a fan of retouching, I would suggest taking a hard look at the RAW images from this lens beforehand.
Still, I’d take all this information with a grain of salt because this level of image quality is a must for high-end mediums like commercial photography and architecture.
Now, as far as the bokeh and rendering, it’s very smooth. And I’d say it’s close to the Summilux-M 50mm, which we also tested alongside this lens. It too renders that unique cinematic and hard-to-describe aesthetic Leica’s known for. Yet, unlike the Summilux, the APO-Summicron doesn’t suffer from the heavy vignette when used wide open. And instead, it shows a moderate vignette for this focal length and is fairly transparent by f/2.8.
Overall, I’d say there’s little to fault here. The image quality the APO-Summicron produces is arguably best in class on the Leica M-Mount. It produces modern-looking images with excellent contrast, punch, and gorgeous colors. And its F/2 aperture is entirely usable without any compromises. So if you’re after neutral razor-sharp photos that are technically perfect, you’ll get that and plenty more from this lens. And the image quality as a whole is a non-issue and it’s simply brilliant.
As a rangefinder lens, the APO-Summicron offers only manual focus. And unlike some of its M-Mount peers, namely the Summicron-M 28mm, it doesn’t include a focusing ring with a finger grip. Still, the focus collar is large, ribbed, and maneuvers smoothly into position. It’s also well dampened, although maybe to the point it’d feel stiff to some photographers.
Otherwise, the lens also has a depth of field scale, with measurements in both feet and meters. With it, you can know how much will be in focus at a given distance, which is perfect for zone focusing without the rangefinder.
Overall, the focus throw is excellent. You have 90º of full rotation to use, and it’s easy to work with throughout. So if you enjoy manual focusing or zone focusing, you won’t have any problems.
The only potential downside is the APO-Summicron doesn’t have a rounded diaphragm like most contemporary lenses. So when you shoot backgrounds with specular highlights at f/4 or higher, you’ll see the octagonal shape of the aperture blades. And this is usually distracting if there are a lot of highlights in the bokeh.
Also despite being smaller than many mirrorless and DSLR lenses of this focal length, Leica purists may find this lens heavy and bulky. So if you’re in that camp, then consider the Summarit-M variant instead.
There are few current options available for this focal length on Leica’s M-mount. But, given those options and the current price point of this lens, I’d argue the APO-Summicron is undoubtedly a top choice. Of course, it’s still a Leica, and it’s still expensive. But, it offers immense value considering its optical performance.
In the end, though, the APO-Summicron-M 75mm becomes an icon and a masterpiece. It offers near-perfect images with class-leading central sharpness, minimal distortions, superb color, and a build ready to last a lifetime. And it unquestionably takes advantage of the full potential of the Leica M11’s 60MP sensor.
Granted, it isn’t a must lens for every photographer, especially those shooting portraits who despise retouching. And true, its technically perfect image quality will come at a slight heft and size compared to what some Leica M purists prefer. Not to mention, some photographers will turn their noses at its departure from the charm and character of Leica’s M-Mount cameras.
Still, if you want the best 75mm lens around, this is it. And you’ll find it difficult to find a sharper lens at this focal length wide open with this level of image quality.
Below are a few examples to see what to expect from this lens. Also, click here if you want to download these RAW files. Or click here if you want to see a larger gallery than what is displayed on our site.