If you are looking for the best Leica M lens for your rangefinder, there are a LOT to choose from. In this guide, we run through the full range, explain the benefits of each, and show you the best prices available today.
Leica M cameras are an acquired taste, and an expensive one. The design and focusing system is difficult to grasp for modern digital camera users but has been used successfully for decades by Leica fans.
What's more, it shows no signs of slowing up. The brand new Leica M11 is a stunning 61-megapixel full frame camera and follows on from the excellent Leica M10-R and black and white only M10 Monochrom.
The combined viewfinder and rangefinder of Leica M series cameras have made them the darlings of many discerning photographers, for over 60 years. Their compact, minimalist designs and almost silent operation make these cameras ideal for street photography, candid portraiture and much more besides. The ethos of compact simplicity extends to Leica’s M-mount lenses, which are typically small and lightweight, yet go extra-large in terms of optical performance.
Leica M-mount lenses are designed to deliver outstanding resolution, contrast, color rendition, structure and tonal depth. The current range is divided into four categories. Primes are split into ‘fast and compact’, ‘high speed’ and ‘classic’ sections, whereas the ‘zoom’ category is currently a class of one, the TRI-ELMAR-M 16-18-21mm.
Leica lenses go by a variety of names. It can be confusing for the uninitiated, but the underlying simplicity is that the names refer to aperture ratings. In ascending order of speed, the Summaron has an aperture of f/5.6, whereas it’s f/4 for the Elmar, around f/3.4 to f/3.8 for the Super-Elmar and f/2.8 for the Elmarit.
Ramping things up into super-fast territory, there’s the f/2 Summicron, f/1.4 Summilux and ultra-fast f/0.95 to f/1.25 Noctilux range.
As a photographic brand, Leica is somewhat legendary for the exacting standards of its German high-tech design and precision engineering. That’s still generally the case but, to get around import tariffs in the USA, be aware that some M-mount lenses are now also made in Portugal and are available at reduced prices in the States. Let’s take a look at all of the lenses in the current M-mount line-up.
Best Leica M lenses in 2022
16-18mm zoom(opens in new tab)
Think ultra-wide zooms and you’re probably thinking of big, hefty lenses. Typical of Leica M-mount optics, however, this one is refreshingly small and lightweight. Especially useful for landscape photography, it also features an adapter which serves as a 67mm filter attachment thread. Minimal distortion and field curvature make it a great choice for architectural photography as well.
18mm prime(opens in new tab)
The combination of an 18mm focal length and f/3.8 aperture rating enables an ultra-wide viewing angle without piling on the pounds, in either weight or cost (at least in Leica terms). The 100-degree viewing angle enables spectacular perspective effects, while the inclusion of an optical element with two independent aspherical surfaces helps to ensure excellent image quality even when shooting wide-open. Distortion is entirely negligible.
21mm primes(opens in new tab)
Compactness meets relative affordability in this Super-Elmar ultra-wide-angle prime. It’s a wonderfully small, lightweight lens for when you’re trekking across challenging terrain and will reward you with epic landscape images, thanks to its superb sharpness and contrast, along with minimal distortion and vignetting. A metal screw-in hood helps to fend off flare.(opens in new tab)
More than twice the weight and price of the Super-Elmar 21mm lens, this Summilux has a super-fast f/1.4 aperture and a more complex optical path. With minimal distortion or vignetting, especially for such a wide-angle lens, it’s eminently suitable for landscape and architectural photography. The rectangular lens hood is highly effective as well as enabling the use of Series VIII filters.
24mm primes(opens in new tab)
Designed to deliver superb image quality from a very small and lightweight build, this 24mm lens has a sufficiently fast aperture rating for daytime photography and delivers sumptuously sharp, high-contrast images even when shooting wide-open, with Leica’s typically excellent color rendition. It’s an ideal travel lens and the best 24mm buy, unless you feel the need for the Summilux’s faster f/1.4 aperture.
A potent tool for professional photojournalists, this wide-angle Summilux f/1.4 lens is also ideal for those who enjoy shooting in available light, even when there’s not much of it to be had. At 500g, it’s quite a hefty lens by Leica M standards, but features 10 optical elements that include five anomalous partial dispersion elements. Vignetting and distortion are minimal and the rectangular hood accepts Series VII filters.
28mm primes(opens in new tab)
Modelled on a screw-mount lens that Leitz manufactured from 1955 to 1963, this modern-day lens from the ‘Classic’ stable has the same look and feel, along with exactly the same optical properties. It’s amazingly small and lightweight, tipping the scales at just 165g, and the modest f/5.6 aperture rating makes it ideal for using the hyperfocal distance and shooting on the fly.(opens in new tab)
Apart from the dinky little Summaron 28mm, this is the most compact lens in the current Leica M-mount portfolio. The downsized delight features an aspherical element for compactness, but there are no compromises in terms of performance. It’s ideal for reportage and street photography and comes complete with a rectangular metal hood.
If the Elmarit f/2.8 simply isn’t fast enough for your liking, you can step up to this Summicron f/2 lens, which is naturally a whole f/stop faster. It’s not much bigger or heavier, retaining an impressively compact build, although it’s nearly twice as expensive to buy. Again, it has a rectangular metal screw-on lens hood and a protector ring to safeguard the attachment thread when the hood isn’t in use.(opens in new tab)
Leica bills this lens as a new milestone in the world of high-speed wide-angle optics. As well as enabling usefully quick shutter speeds under dull or indoor lighting conditions, it can deliver a tight depth of field for isolating fairly close-up subjects against fussy backdrops. Image quality is spectacular, even when shooting wide-open, right down to the minimum focus distance of 0.7m.
35mm primes(opens in new tab)
Weighing in at just 255g, this lens nevertheless packs in seven optical elements including an aspherical element. The 35mm focal length is a classic choice in street photography, for which handling is up to Leica’s typically impeccable standards. Image quality is razor-sharp, even when shooting wide-open, with beautifully smooth bokeh that remains very good when stopping down a little, thanks to the well-rounded 11-blade diaphragm.
The APO version of the Summicron 35mm picks up the baton from the regular edition and goes one better in terms of image quality. Optical performance is absolutely incredible in all respects and you can get in really close to subjects, thanks to the 0.3m minimum focus distance, which is much shorter than with other M-mount lenses. It’s still nicely compact and lightweight, but the price tag is hefty.(opens in new tab)
Although undercutting the Summicron 35mm f/2 lens for price, this one has a faster f/1.4 aperture rating that makes it arguably more versatile in low-light photography and anytime you want a really tight depth of field. It can’t focus as close as the f/2 lens but, even so, the floating elements behind the diaphragm blades ensure image quality remains outstanding at short focus distances.
50mm primes(opens in new tab)
The smallest new Summarit lens, this 50mm f/2.4 is just 33mm in length and weighs next to nothing at 105g. Optical highlights include great sharpness, contrast and color rendition, along with remarkably low field curvature and negligible color fringing or distortion. All in all, there’s no real need to go larger or pricier, unless you want a 50mm lens with a faster aperture.(opens in new tab)
As a Summicron 50mm, this lens has the same f/2 aperture rating as its APO sibling, but in a slightly smaller and lighter build. It’s also much lighter on the wallet, at only about half the cost. Contrast and corner-to-corner sharpness is fabulous, even wide-open at f/2, while distortion is negligible. It’s arguably the best buy in the 50mm line-up.(opens in new tab)
How much sharpness do you really need? If the answer is ‘all you can get’ for making the most of the latest high-resolution Leica M cameras, this lens is the top choice for a standard prime. With APO (Apochromatic) credentials, it also keeps chromatic aberrations to an absolute minimum. The quality of the construction and the images that it delivers are absolutely stellar, but it’s very pricey to buy.
As in the 35mm camp, the big money is on the APO Summicron lens whereas this faster Summilux has an f/1.4 aperture that makes it more ideal for low-light photography and gaining a tighter depth of field, helping to isolate the main subject within a scene. Again, it gives an entirely natural viewing perspective and delivers sharp, high-contrast images even at its widest aperture setting.(opens in new tab)
Remarkably, this lens from the ‘Classic’ range only measures 61x52mm and has a 49mm filter thread, despite boasting a super-fast f/1.2 aperture rating. A remake of the original, legendary Noctilux 50mm f/1.2 lens from 1966-1975, which was the world’s first to feature an aspherical element, the new edition brings everything bang up to date for the digital age.(opens in new tab)
This is a bit of a heavyweight for a Leica M-mount lens, weighing in at 700g, but with good reason. It has a mighty aperture rating of f/0.95, making it one of the fastest lenses in the world. Indeed, it’s the fastest lens on the planet that features an aspherical element. Not only does it produce an incredibly tight depth of field, but Leica says that light from a single candle can be sufficient for handheld photography.
75mm primes(opens in new tab)
A highly versatile short telephoto lens, this Summicron 75mm works well for shooting nature and landscapes as well as for portraiture. The f/2 aperture rating enables a tight depth of field although, in this respect, it naturally can’t compete with the Noctilux 75mm. Even so, image quality is fabulous in all respects, it’s less than half the weight of the Noctilux and only about a third of the price.(opens in new tab)
Sure to become a legend in its own lifetime, this lens continues the famous Noctilux tradition of astoundingly fast lenses. As such, the 75mm focal length combines with an f/1.25 aperture rating to deliver an incredibly tight depth of field. The lens works supremely well for portraiture under natural light, even for handheld shooting indoors, or outside at dusk.
A truly versatile optic, the Macro-Elmar works really well for general shooting when you’re out and about and need a telephoto focal length to get you closer to the action. Unusually for a ‘macro’ lens, it has a fairly lengthy minimum focus distance that only enables a 0.15x maximum magnification factor. However, couple it with the Leica Macro-Adapter-M and you can halve the shooting distance, boosting macro magnification to 0.5x or 1:2.(opens in new tab)
With its f/2.4 aperture rating, this Summarit lens is 1.5 f/stops faster than the 90mm Macro-Elmar but is still fairly small and light, especially for a 90mm telephoto optic. As such, any obstruction of the viewfinder is kept to an absolute minimum. Handling is everything you’d expect from a Leica M-mount lens, and the same goes for image quality.(opens in new tab)
Great photography isn’t necessarily about sharp images. Named after the Greek work ‘thambo’, meaning ‘blurred’, the original Thambar lens from 1935 set out to enable a dreamy, soft-focus effect. The new M-mount lens in the ‘Classic’ line-up retains the same look and feel, and a virtually identical optical design, but is updated for the digital age.(opens in new tab)
Arguably the best compromise between quality and purchase price among Leica’s M-mount 90mm primes, this lens boasts APO performance and an aspherical design, complete with a fast f/2 aperture. Its suitability extends from photojournalism to theatre and portrait photography, with excellent sharpness and contrast when shooting wide-open, along with a tight depth of field and beautiful bokeh.(opens in new tab)
An amazing portraiture lens, the 90mm f/1.5 combines scintillating sharpness, contrast and color rendition even when shooting wide-open, along with a really tight depth of field and a sumptuous softness for defocused areas. Indeed, the minimum depth of field and the overall aesthetic of image rendering are a very close match to those of the similarly priced NOCTILUX-M 75 f/1.25 ASPH. You’ll need deep pockets, however, as it’s one of the very most expensive M-mount lenses on the market.
135mm prime(opens in new tab)
Topping the M-mount range in terms of telephoto reach, this lens really covers the distance. It’s brilliant for compressing perspective and for anytime you can’t get as physically close as you might like to the subject you’re shooting. It also works really well for tight head-and-shoulders portraits, enabling you to shoot from a comfortable distance. As you’d expect, image quality is exemplary in all respects.
How we test lenses
We test as many lenses as possible, using a mix of both real world sample images and lab tests. Even where we have not tested lenses scientifically, we have used them for real-world shooting in one context our another. Our lab tests are carried out scientifically in controlled conditions using the Imatest testing suite, which consists of custom charts and analysis software that measures resolution in line widths/picture height, a measurement widely used in lens and camera testing. We find the combination of lab and real-word testing works best, as each reveals different qualities and characteristics.
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