If you are asking “which 35mm lens should I get for my Leica camera?” this guide will give you a starting point for your decision making at least if you see the world the way I do. This guide also applies to people considering adapting lenses to Sony, Fuji, and other mirrorless cameras.
Deciding which lenses to buy for your Leica rangefinder or mirrorless camera can be a daunting task 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 information together from the different reviews and YouTube channels is a time-consuming mess. I was there. I did it.
Below is a set of questions that will help you understand the scope of the market and help guide your purchasing decisions.
- 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: 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 4: are you OK using 3rd party lenses or do you want Leica only?
- Decision 5: Do you need “fast glass?” For our purposes, let’s call “fast” anything faster than f2. If that is your goal, you are on the wrong website. Briefly, my opinion is that a small size lens is more important than speed especially when shooting with a rangefinder.
The following is the list of the most commonly recommended 35 mm lenses, grouped according to the decision matrix and why I did or didn’t decide to test them. NOTE: placement of these lenses in different categories is a starting point for discussion. 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.
Table of Contents
If you are looking for vintage style lenses.
Category 1: 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 of these lenses 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 either 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 lenses if I can and 2) I find shopping for old lenses tiresome and I am often disappointed when I receive one that either doesn’t work properly or is more beat up than the seller described. Your mileage may vary especially if you want to use screw mount lenses and/or enjoy the sport of shopping for really old stuff.
I think everyone who is into the manual focus game would benefit from owning at least one classic vintage lens. As a general rule, however, I reserve these lenses for special occasions because they can be difficult to use, the images can be soft wide open, glow, flare easily, have fiddly little focusing rings, click-less apertures, and/or long focus throws.
- Canon LTM Lenses: canon made a bunch of LTM lenses. I decided to test the 35mm f/2 because when I buy old stuff I (generally) try to get the most modern version to help mitigate the effects of aging disease.
- Canon (Serenar) 35mm f/3.5 (1950)
- Canon (Serenar) 35mm f/3.2 (1951)
- Canon 35mm f2.8 (1951)
- Canon 35mm f/1.8 (1956)
- Canon 35mm f/1.5 (1959)
- Canon 35mm f/2.0 (1962): Review coming soon.
- Leica Summaron 35mm f/2.8. I did not test vintage Leica’s this time. Since these are specialty and rarely used lenses for me, I can’t justify paying the Leica premium for these types of lenses.
- Leica Elmar 35mm f/3.5. See previous comments about testing vintage Leica glass.
- Nikon 35mm LTM lenses. These all seem to have fallen into the collectors’ category. They are all hard to find and more expensive than I want to spend on a vintage lens so they were not tested.
- 35mm f/1.8 Nikkor
- 35mm f/2.5 Nikkor
- 35mm f/3.5 Nikkor
- Jupiter 12 35 2.6. Review coming soon.
Category 2: Modern Vintage: You would think that “modern vintage” is an oxymoron but it isn’t. Voigtlander has a “Classic” line of lenses that are “modern vintage.” There are two lenses that fall into this category. Review coming soon.
- Voigtlander Nokton 35mm 1.4 MC
- Voigtlander Nokton 35mm 1.4 SC. Not tested because I opted for the MC version.
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, slight flaring, and they should be expected to be useable wide open
- Voigtlander 35mm f/2 Ultron. I didn’t test this lens because it was replaced by the V2 which is currently available.
- Voigtlander 35mm f/1.7 Ultron. I didn’t test because it is larger than seems necessary for a 35mm lens and I have no use for the added stop vs. f/2.
- Voigtlander 35mm f/2 Ultron V2: This lens looks sweet. I didnt test it because my roundup was done before it was released. Had I not already owned a solid modern lens, this would be high on my list.
- Konica M-hexagon 35mm f/2: I probably should have considered this lens but because of my experience with the 50mm and the expense of the lens, I took a pass. #oncebittentwiceshy
- Leica 35mm Summicron Pre-ASPH: Not tested but I should have. I already owned the ASPH model prior to starting this website so it is the one I tested.
- 7artisans 35mm f/2:
- Handevision Iberit 35mm f/2.4. Did not review. Seems unnecessarily large for my needs and I am just not excited about it.
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 do so, 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.
- Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2. Did not test because it was unnecessarily large for my needs.
- Zeiss 35mm Biogon f/2.8: Review coming soon.
- Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f/2.5
- Leica 35mm Summicron ASPH
- Leica Summarit 35mm f/2.4: Review coming soon.
- Voigtlander 35mm Nokton f/1.2 ASPH: I don’t see a huge value in super fast rangefinder lenses. If I am going to be shooting at f/1.2 I will be using something with autofocus. It is also larger than I like for a rangefinder camera.
If you are looking for fast, collectible, rare, etc. lenses
You are on the wrong website For my purposes (and maybe yours) I was looking for lenses that are small, ultra-portable, and less expensive than $1500. Lenses in this category include but are certainly not limited to:
- Anything with the word Summilux on it.
- Anything with the word Noctilux or nocton on it.