When compared to the options for 50mm lenses, at least the way I see the world, the 35mm lens options many normal people will be considering is an embarrassment of riches. Making decisions about which lenses to keep was painful. Part of the reason is that the 35mm Voigtlander options, unlike their 50mm counterparts, aren’t weird, LTM, or unnecessarily large.
Given the number of exceptional options, including what I call “modern-vintage” options, I couldn’t get too excited about many of the vintage 35mm options. As you know, I try to avoid LTM lenses if possible. Additionally, 35mm legacy Leica options are just are too expensive for me to be messing around with given that I only infrequently use my vintage lenses.
Another factor that helped me whittle down the field is that I dont get too excited about fast 35mm lenses. You don’t get all that much bokeh at 35mm so the weight, size, and price penalty from going from f/2.5 to f/1.8 or faster doesn’t make much sense. F2 and above is all I really need.
This is my interim report on 35mm Leica lenses for Normal People. The one lens that is not included in this report is the Zeiss Biogon C 35mm f/2.8 ZM. That review is coming in the next few months.
The one lens that I didn’t review that maybe I should have is the Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f/2. I just couldn’t get myself to purchase another close focusing rangefinder lens that I know will be another pain (albeit a small pain) to use. I am sure I will be criticized for that decision because by all accounts I have seen it is a solid lens. Nonetheless, rules are rules so I am going to let the haters hate.
The standout is the Leica 35mm Summicron ASPH. It better be because it is expensive and falls outside the LLFNP upper limit of $2000 but, as I mentioned in my review, I owned the lens before I started this project. The question you need to be asking me is “would you buy this lens again if you had to start over?”
No. The Summarit 35mm f/2.4 is as good as the Summicron for most all uses as far as I am concerned if you are looking for a modern lens with a Leica badge. I am sure you can show me some images where there is something on the periphery that looks better with the Summicron and there are some slight differences in the appearance of the image but, for normal people, the differences are not enough for me to get worked up about. Nobody other than forum dwellers cares about that nonsense. Unless you were looking at images side by side and were really looking for differences it is likely that few people other than a Leica connoisseur, bokehphiliac, or someone who is really into lenses would feel strongly about one way or another. I think you would need to go all the way to a Summilux for a dramatic difference. For our purposes, however, the Summilux is an extravagance we cannot afford so let’s pretend it doesn’t exist and live blindly in our sad little world of Summarits and Summicrons.
Another reason I would not purchase this again, which I am sure you are not going to anticipate, is that the build quality of the Summicron is not what you might expect. In the Summarit post, I mentioned that I was not in a position to take a side by side pictures with the Summicron. The reason is that it was currently getting repaired. One day, the focus ring on the Summicron pretty much stopped working. I don’t think I dropped it. I don’t think I damaged it. It is possible that an assistant dropped it. Whatever happened, it stopped working. The person doing the repair remarked that with this particular lens, you always need to keep a micro-screwdriver on hand to loosen the screws on the back of the lens to free up the focusing ring so you don’t get stuck in the field. Apparently, this is a known/common problem with this Summicron ASPH. I am keeping their name secret but let’s just say it is one of the big Leica repair outfits you will come across if you ever need to send something for repair. This is no local chump making this recommendation.
Anyway, the Summarit is as sharp as anything I could possibly want. Anything sharper would be hyperreal in my opinion. I am no fan of over-processed HDR images and I am no fan of hyperreal. It is possible the Summarit won’t have as much resale value in the future because the online pundits love to hate on the Summarit line but I am going to let the haters hate. After I use it a bunch, it is going to get beat up anyway. Good glass is not an investment for me.
I tested the f/2.4 version of the Summarit. Don’t forget it’s older sibling the Summarit 35mm f/2.5. The only differences are cosmetic including an improved lens hood on the f/2.4 version. The optics are the same as the older f/2.5 version. If you aren’t into spending hundreds of dollars on an improved lens hood, get the f/2.5 version, and save some money.
If you are looking into a Summarit – don’t rush. They went out of production in 2020 and then they pretty much disappeared online. The guys at Leica Store Miami said that when Leica takes a lens out of production, people snap them up. That is exactly what happened. You will, however, see them come up for sale on eBay from time to time from private sellers. The private sellers seem to be more reasonable than the stores trying to offload them. I waited about a month before purchasing mine.
Ok, so you know I dig the Summarit but I also dig the Zeiss 35mm Biogon f/2.8. I really dig the fact that it is half the price. If you put a gun to my head and money was no object, I would take the Summarit but this is largely because I like the lens hood and I prefer a focus tab. Secondarily, the colors from the Zeiss are just a little too much for my taste. Some days it feels like all I am trying to do is produce images that don’t look like an iPhone took them. I think you risk crossing that line with the Zeiss. As I mentioned in the Zeiss review, that is an issue that is fixed in Lightroom in 0.4 seconds so it is a secondary consideration for me.
The obvious question you should be asking me at this point is, “So you are really saying that I should spend DOUBLE so I can have a fancy lens hood and a focusing tab?” My answer to that question is, “No. What I am saying is that I already owned the Summarit so that is the one I am keeping. If I had it to do over again, I would likely make a different choice and go with the Zeiss. I like what I like and I am 100% happy with my Summarit so I am not going to sell it. Hindsight is 20/20.”
If those options are too pricey for you, don’t fret. You have nothing to worry about. Get the Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f/2.5. If there was some world where I was forced to use that lens and not the Summarit, I would be 97% as happy as I am with the Leica offerings. For the price this lens is excellent. Period. Full stop!!!! For me it is so small it is a little fiddly (it also feels a little plasticky) to use but I am keeping it for times I don’t want to carry around a $1000+ lens. As I discussed in the review, the images also aren’t as technically perfect as the Leica offerings, it isn’t as criminally sharp but my bet is that nearly everyone you show your prints to won’t know any difference and exactly 100% of everyone seeing your images on Instagram/web won’t be able to tell the difference. Sometimes less is more. I’ll wrap this up by saying that if anyone gets up in your face and feels strongly that the image quality from the Voigtlander Color-Skopar f/2.5 lens is anything but excellent, they are probably just being a snob.
The Canon 35mm f/2 LTM was only so so in my opinion. The main issue was that the ergonomics were meh and the lens was wholly uninspiring to use. It felt really junky. If I have to use something I figure that I might as well enjoy using it. Moreover, it is an LTM lens that lacked a tab and you know how I feel about LTM lenses with no tabs. This lens, however, should not be discounted as junk. The images were pretty darn good if not almost too modern. Although this lens gives some of the most interesting flares, I felt that it didn’t have enough vintage soul to make this lens worth it for me. This lens finds itself midway between vintage and modern so I couldn’t sort out a time when I would actually use it. Ultimately I sold it which I kind of regret now that the prices are going up (and up and up and up….like bitcoin).
The Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 Nokton Classic, on the other hand, is interesting. I keep coming back to this lens trying to decide if I liked it or now. On the one hand, Voigtlander nailed this whole modern-vintage concept and they should be commended. This lens will serve it’s purpose and help you skip messing around with eBay scams, aging disease, legacy lenses with inflated prices and/or fiddly ergonomics.
The main issue with the Voigtlander lens is that it gets really sharp and contrasty when you stop it down. So, if you are looking for a lower contrast, less sharp, vintage lens, it won’t make you happy.
As good as the Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 Nokton Classic lens is (for what it is), the marketing around their classic line of lenses is disastrous. Too often I see people online recommending this as a single lens for all applications and I think they either have never used it, don’t look at their images, or don’t really understand what this lens was designed to do. Unless you always want some vintage funk in your images when shot wide open this should not be your only lens. If you are anything like me, in some cases, I need/want modern and this lens is too perfectly imperfect to be used as my only 35mm lens.
I have the MC version of the Nokton Classic f/14 and I am even thinking about getting a second on with the SC (single coated) version. If you want even more vintage goodness you should consider the SC version because it is supposed to have less contrast and flare more.
Then there is the 7Artisans 35mm f/2. In my report, I said that I couldn’t hate the lens but that doesn’t mean I loved it. Although the lens blew away my expectations and it is exceptional for the price, I consider it a specialty lens or a toy lens if you want to play around with some vintage style rendering from time to time. Basically, if you need a flare-making machine its great. Otherwise, get the Voigtländer Nokton 35mm f/1.4 classic.
What that means is that in the vintage segment of 35mm, I don’t have a lens I can wholeheartedly recommend. In the future, I plan on testing some of the other (older) canon LTM lenses since those are the only vintage lenses that are reasonably priced in 2020.
What about 40mm?
How about the Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f/2? Didn’t think of that one did you? Most people don’t. 40mm isn’t that much different than 35mm in many situations. I am partial to this focal length as I frequently use my 40mm Zeiss Batis lens on commercial projects.
I firmly believe that everyone should have this lens on their list particularly if they are looking for a single, do it all, lens that straddles the vintage and modern sides of the fence.
If you are OK with not having proper frame lines and you aren’t dying for the most modern, sharpest, look from your lens, this lens cannot be beat. You even get some really nice flares from time to time. Remember, this was the only lens I used for a long time when I was coming out of my rangefinder shell. I know it well. The only downside is that it really is tiny. If you have chubby fingers, its diminutive size could be a little bit of a hassle.
The Final Recommendations
- If money is no object, the Leica Summicron 35mm can’t be beaten. I don’t, however, think it is worth the price and I would not buy it again.
- My recommendation to family and friends who don’t have an unlimited budget, who don’t require a focusing tab, and who (rightly) believe this whole discussion about lens hoods is idiotic, is that they should get the Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2.8. The Zeiss is my top recommendation given how expensive the Summarit lens is. The Zeiss is phenomenal. The Summarit 35mm f/2.4 is the lens is the upgrade choice for focus tab fanatics and it is the one I use most often. Again, if you think spending several hundred dollars on an upgraded lens hood and focus tab is stupid (no offense taken), save your money, stick with the Zeiss, and get to know the vibrance slider in lightroom.
- If you are OK with a 40mm lens, you are OK with wonky frame lines, a little vintage soul is acceptable, and you don’t want or need the sharpest tool in the shed, get the Minolta-M Rokkor 40mm f/2. I know it is technically a vintage lens but it is almost more modern than vintage. Consider it a groovy modern lens with some fancy lens flares from time to time.
- If you don’t want a 40mm lens and/or are on any sort of a budget get the Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f/2.5 and don’t look back or second guess your purchase. It is excellent. Just because it is on the bottom of the list, it should not be ignored.
- The Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 Nokton Classic MC is a solid choice wide open but remember it is contrasty and sharp which is not what many people are looking for in a vintage style lens.
- If you want a little less funk in your images but you still want a bit of vintage…here I go again..consider the Minolta-M Rokkor 40mm f/2. See caveats above regarding frame lines, etc.
- The Canon 35mm LTM f/2 is so uninspiring to use, I don’t think most people will enjoy using this lens. Unless you just absolutely need something old for street cred and you like crappy aperture rings I would consider steering away from this one. Although I haven’t used them, I would encourage you to consider one of the older versions of the lens to get some more vintage soul. More SOUL could help to overcome the lame handling characteristics of this one.
- The 7Artisans 35mm f/2 is only recommended if you 1) really don’t care about vintage style lenses but you have $150 and want to play around a bit 2) you really want a lens that goes crazy with lens flares. That’s it. If you thought I was going to say that you have no budget to spend, you should get this lens, you would be wrong. If your budget is that low, I would say that you probably shouldn’t be messing around with m-mount lenses. There are better ways to spend your money but please don’t take financial advice from a radiologist photographer running a website called Leica Lenses for Normal People.
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