Leica APO Summicron 50mm ASPH Disappointment

Friday, 30 December 2022 13:58

A few days away from Christmas, I had the opportunity to order a Leica APO Summicron-M 50mm ASPH. I was visiting family in South Africa and a local shop had the lens on offer at a great price. It was part of a Leica display unit and I guess it was becoming dead stock and needed to be sold. The APO Summicron 50mm is somewhat of a halo lens, which I desperately wanted to try let alone own, so I was very excited to order it.

The lens arrived last minute on December 24. Just in time for Christmas. All good!!!

It didn’t take long after unboxing and taking a few test shots, I realised something wasn’t right. The lens wouldn’t focus to infinity, neither would the camera rangefinder align on infinity subjects. The right side of the image had a somewhat high amount of astigmatism, which rendered fine details quite harsh and would not look right from f/5.6. The left edge was fine by comparison. What struck me as most disappointing was this copy exhibited much more secondary chromatic aberration than I expected. High contrast edges would have a green aberration behind the focus plane and a magenta aberration in front of the focus plane. I’m sure this lens was not a good copy, as I’ve seen DNG files taken with this lens that showed very little chromatic aberrations in defocused areas.

Compared to my Summicron-M 50mm Version V, the APO was about a stop ahead in chromatic aberration control. The APO was very sharp centrally, but underwhelming at the edges, at least compared to my regular Summicron. Below is a central crop of an area with high contrasting edges. Perfect conditions to show chromatic aberrations.
I know the APO-Summicron 50mm wouldn’t be completely free of colour aberrations, but this sample couldn’t have been a representative copy. The top image shows the APO 50mm shot at f/2, while the image bellow is an image taken with my Summicron 50mm version V at f/2.8.

Next is another centre crop from both lenses, this time both were shot at f/2.8. The Summicron-M 50mm V has more spherical aberration with a slightly “deeper” depth of field. The APO-Summicron 50mm has a stronger and more abrupt focus transition. The APO also shows stronger contrast, but at 200% magnification on the Leica M11, the differences aren’t large. 

Images aside, the lens looks good in a sleek and compact form factor.
The aperture ring was very light to turn with quite discreet clicks. This aperture ring had a concerning amount of longitudinal play, in some areas more than in others. The twist out lens hood was very light to actuate. Simply placing the metal slip on lens cap onto the front would make the hood retract.

On the other hand, the focusing was quite stiff, but smooth. The tiny bit of stiction present would hopefully fade over a little time. The focus action was a little too stiff to make the focus tab practical for finger tip focusing. Overall, I wasn’t all too impressed by the feel of the lens. The loose and light aperture ring was particularly bothersome to me, especially in comparison to the much heavier focusing action.

The APO Summicron 50mm ASPH is yet another new lens I have returned. Like the APO Summicron 75mm, Summilux 35mm ASPH FLE,  Summilux 50mm ASPH, Elmarit 28mm ASPH and Summicron 35mm ASPH before it (all within one year). Out of seven new Leica lenses, only one wasn’t defective which would be my Summicron-M 50mm V. But it too isn’t perfect, and came with missing paint from the factory and just barely doesn’t reach infinity focus at f/2.

Leica quality control is poor. The quality assurance certificate in the box is a false security against unacceptable workmanship for such a premium luxury product promising excellence.

In contrast to Leica, my experiences with Voigtlander have been the opposite. I have had one poor sample also out of seven lenses so far.
Online forums will have you believe that Voigtlander QC lottery is not worth playing, but my experience says that the gamble is with Leica. 

Recently, the user reports out Leica Camera Forum are not painting a pretty picture of Leica's build quality.
From new M6 cameras that are scratching film, new Summilux 35mm ASPH FLE II lenses with loose aperture blades, Leica M11 freezes and permanent unresponsive units, to the new Summilux 35mm Steel Rim lenses with uneven focus feel and barrels developing play. 

Below is a sample DNG image available for download. This was shot with the APO-Summicron 50mm ASPH at f/2. Just click the image to download the DNG file. The performance was too close to my regular Summicron for it to have been a good copy. I’m certainly happier with my Summicron-M 50mm V now than before, and I’m certain I’ll be happier with a Voigtlander APO Lanthar 50mm than with the APO Summicron 50mm ASPH.