Deciding which 50mm Leica m-mount or LTM/M39 lens to buy for your Leica rangefinder or mirrorless camera can be daunting if you don’t have a starting point for your research. There are decades worth of used lenses and several manufacturers to choose from. Searching through the message boards and piecing things together from the different reviews and YouTube channels is a time-consuming mess. I was there. I did it.
The good news is that if you know how to organize your search, the options are manageable. This guide is intended to be a starting point. If you can answer the following questions, you will be on your way to narrowing your choices.
- Decision 1: Are you looking for a vintage or modern look from the lens?
- Decision 2: Do you want to fiddle with screw mount adapters or are you looking for Leica m-mount lenses?
- Decision 3: Are you OK fiddling with collapsible lenses?
- Decision 4: If you are looking for a vintage lens, are you looking for more of a “character lens” (think more like an Instagram filter) or something a little more modern but still has a lot of vintage soul including flares, glow, imperfections, etc.?
- Decision 5: If you are looking for a modern lens, are you searching for perfection and a flawless image or are you looking for something with a little more Soul?
- Decision 6: are you OK using 3rd party lenses or do you want Leica only?
- Decision 7: Do you need “fast glass?” In this case, let’s call “fast” anything faster than f2. If that is your goal, you are on the wrong website. Please see this discussion regarding what I am looking for in a lens. In short, I am looking for small (generally F2 or slower) lenses that cost less than $2000 per lens.
If you can answer those questions, you will be able to use the following guide to start your research. NOTE: placement of these lenses in different categories is a starting point for discussion. These are very general guidelines and are not intended to be hard and fast rules. This is also not an all-inclusive list. I am open to suggestions that would make this list more useful for others. Please contact me with suggestions for additional lens options I may have overlooked. I am more than happy to amend this list.
Table of Contents
If you are looking for vintage style lenses.
Category 1 – Character Lenses: Think Instagram filter like colors, low contrast, and overwhelming flares. These are all LTM/M39 mount lenses. Soviet lenses generally fall into this category. There are loads of Soviet options out there and, at least in my experience, the story with them is generally the same. There is significant copy to copy variation, and it can be tough to find a copy that isn’t too beat up. Focusing will likely be fine if you are planning on using them on a mirrorless camera but they might not focus properly on a rangefinder. Don’t let the low price tag fool you. There are some great bargains out there and they are fun to use. I wouldn’t bring them on a client shoot because they can be unpredictable and are often unusable wide open but my opinion is that everyone should own one or at least use one at some point to see what all the fuss is about. For this website, I only reviewed two as these are readily available and are often recommended. There are many others.
Category 2 – Classic Vintage: These lenses were the best of best back in the day. Time and technology have improved and our expectations regarding lens performance have changed over the years so the performance can’t be compared with their modern counterparts. Nonetheless, these lenses are valued precisely because they are not perfect. Although it can be tough (or expensive) to find one in good shape, when you do, the results are stunning, interesting, or awful, depending on your taste.
I have not used all of them. The main reason is that 1) I try to avoid LTM and collapsible lenses if I can and 2) I find shopping for old lenses tiresome. Your mileage may vary especially if you want to use screw mount lenses and/or enjoy the sport of shopping for really old stuff.
These are the types of lenses that I generally only use on special occasions. They can be difficult to use because they can be soft wide open, glow, flare easily, have fiddly little focusing rings, click-less apertures, and/or long focus throws. For my purposes, I found what I wanted after testing the Canon 50mm F1.5 LTM and the Leica Summarit-m 50mm F1.5 which are both relatively inexpensive and readily available. You could explore these older lenses for a lifetime. I will be testing more of them in the future.
- Leica Elmar 50mm 2.8 collapsible
- Leitz Summar 50mm F2 collapsible (1933-1940)
- Leica Summitar 50mm F2 collapsible (1939-1955)
- Leica Summicron 50mm F2 Collapsible (1953-1960)
- Leica Elmar 50mm 3.5 LTM (1925-1961)
- Leica Elmar 50mm 3.5 M-Mount (1954-1961)
- Canon 50mm F1.4 LTM “Japanese Summilux”
- Nikon 50mm 1.4 LTM
- Leica Summarit 50mm 1.5 LTM
- Leica Summarit-M 50mm 1.5 (same as prior in an M mount)
- Voigtlander Heliar 50mm 3.5 LTM collapsible
If you are looking for modern lenses
Category 1 – Pure modern: This group of lenses seeks perfection but you should expect some of the vintage, rangefinder character (e.g. SOUL), slight flaring, and they should be expected to be useable wide open.
- LTM lenses (I didn’t review these because I tend to stay away from LTM lenses if I can).
- Voigtlander Color Skopar 50mm f2.5
- Voigtlander Heliar 50mm 3.5 collapsible
- M-mount lenses
Category 2 – Ultramodern. This group of lenses can do the MTF chart dance if needed. I don’t take pictures of brick walls but if you decide to, I bet they would look nice and you would say that they don’t vignette or have distortion or whatever it is that people are looking for when they photograph brick walls. I look to these lenses for my commercial shoots where colors need to be spot on and vibrant, sharp means sharp, shooting wide open is essential, and reality needs to be documented as real.
- Leica Summarit M 2.4 or 2.5
- Zeiss ZM Planar 50mm F2
- Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm 1.5 (didn’t review because it is larger and faster than I need)
If you are looking for fast, collectible, rare, etc. lenses
There are a large number of lenses that fall outside the scope of this website. For my purposes (and maybe yours) I was looking for lenses that are small, ultra-portable, and less expensive than $2000. Lenses in this category include but are certainly not limited to:
- Anything with the word Summilux on it.
- Anything with the word Noctilux on it
- Pretty much anything with the letters ASPH on it.
- Voigtlander Nokton 50mm 1.5
- Voigtlander Nokton 50mm 1.1
- Voigtlander Nokton 50mm 1.2
If your experience is anything like mine you might find that you need (want) one Soviet lens, one vintage lens, and either a modern or ultramodern option. To see which lenses I kept after hundreds of hours of research and thousands of dollars spent on lenses, I encourage you to check out my Leica Lenses for Normal people: The Recommended Lists.