Leica lenses don’t just offer some of the best and most characterful image rendering, they also have some of the best names. Who wouldn’t want a camera with a ‘Summilux’ lens, a ’Super-Vario-Elmar’, or – best of all – a ‘Noctilux’?
All these names might look a little random, but there is a system and, once you know it, you’ll be able to recognize Leica lenses in an instant.
It’s actually very simple. Each name indicates a lens with a specific maximum aperture (or very close to that). So let’s look at each of Leica’s lens names in turn.
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Leica lens names and what they mean
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• Noctilux (f/0.95-1.25): These are lenses with a maximum aperture wider than f/1.4. Leica does make Noctilux lenses with apertures from f/0.95 to f/1.25, so this is an aperture range rather than a specific aperture.
• Summilux (f/1.4): Summilux lenses are f/1.4 primes. These are mostly for the Leica M mount system, though there is a Summilux 50mm f/1.4 for the Leica SL range. Summilux lenses are somewhat larger than the next category…
• Summicron (f/2): Summicron lenses have a maximum aperture of f/2. In the Leica M range, these are smaller and lighter than Summilux lenses but still pretty fast. Most of the Leica SL prime lenses are Summicrons.
• Summarit (f/2.4): This is an in-between f/2.4 lens that’s not quite a Summicron, but still faster than an Elmarit (the next category), and there are several in the Leica M range.
• Elmarit (f/2.8): Elmarit lenses have a maximum aperture of f/2.8. There is only one Elmarit in the Leica M lens range, but there are two Elmarit zooms, or Vario-Elmarits, in the SL lens range. (They are variable aperture lenses, but they are f/2.8 at the wide angle end of the zoom range.
• Super-Elmar (f/3.4-3.8): The next aperture step is the Elmar lens, but in between there is a category of Super-Elmars (Elmar lenses but faster) in the f/3.4-3.8 range. There is also a Super-Vario-Elmar 16-35mm lens in the Leica SL range, with a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at the widest zoom setting.
• Elmar (f/4): Elmar lenses have a maximum aperture of f/4. There are a couple of Elmar M series primes, including a macro lens, and the interesting 16-18-21mm Tri-Elmar-M, which is not so much a zoom lens as a lens with three focal length settings, all with an f/4 maximum aperture.
• Summaron (f/5.6): The LEICA SUMMARON-M 28 mm f/5.6 is a one-off, a classic, super-compact (hence the small maximum aperture) Leica M lens re-engineered and re-issued for a modern audience.
So what’s a ‘Vario’?
This one is easy. In Leica language, a ‘Vario’ lens is a zoom. The lens name will have ‘Vario’ followed by whatever name is relevant from the list above, based on the lens’s maximum aperture (always at its shortest focal length).
So an f/2.8-f/4 zoom will be a ‘Vario-Elmarit’, and a f/3.5-5.6 zoom would be a ‘Super-Vario-Elmar’ ('Super' before 'Vario', not 'Elmar' in this instance). If Leica ever made an f/2-2.8 standard zoom (we can only dream), it would be a 'Vario-Summicron'.
Leica camera ranges explained
If the descriptions of ‘Leica M’ and ‘Leica SL’ camera ranges above have left you confused, here’s a quick guide:
• Leica M: This is the classic Leica rangefinder series, with compact, manual focus lenses based on classic designs but continually developed for modern digital cameras and audiences.
• Leica SL: These are modern mirrorless cameras that share the same L-mount now used by Panasonic and Sigma for their own full-frame cameras. These lenses are larger, with autofocus built in and more sophisticated aperture and exposure control.
• Leica TL: This is Leica’s ‘consumer’ mirrorless camera range, based around APS-C sensors and lenses, but compatible with the L-mount used by the full frame SL range. We don’t hear so much about the TL system these days, but it’s still around.
• Leica S: This is Leica’s medium format SLR camera system, which is rarely seen and fiendishly expensive, but does have a surprisingly extensive lens range of its own. At a price.
Right now, we’d say that the Leica M and Leica SL ranges are the most significant for regular consumers and professionals.