#479. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4. A match made in heaven?

By pascaljappy | Opinion

May 16

During our recent Paris workshop, Joakim was kind enough to lend me his Leica Summilux 50. Since he is much younger than me, I prudently decided not to run away with it, but still managed to get a few shots with the intention of writing a brief review.

Work, mice, men, plans … the review got delayed and forgotten, until I stumbled upon the photographs by accident this evening.

Early morning Eiffel Tower in Paris. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

So, what’s it like? Does the best from Sony and the (almost) best in Leica’s range prove a copacetic couple or does the dreaded sensor stack incompatibility mess up the whole caboodle? Can the tiny Summi outweigh the mighty Oti? Onwards, to find out!

Bronze statue on Pont de Bir-Hakeim. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

The charge of the superlight brigade, 1. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

To be really honest, the answer to all of these would have to be a yes and no. At a purely objective level, the Summilux does some things remarkably well and falls short on others (with the Sony). However, subjectively, the love factor positively skyrockets through the roof. And this, for 3 reasons.

Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4

The charge of the superlight brigade, 2 – Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4

The Elegance of the Summilux

One of them can be summed up in a word: elegance. This is intangible, cannot be proven in a lab, or replicated and is entirely subjective.

As the Festival de Cannes opens its doors once again, the long dresses and shiny tux might make you more inclined to forgive my use of this soft trait to justify my elation for a lens that costs a small fortune and is here used on a camera that’s not optimised for it (this may sound old-fashioned, but don’t you think bodies should be optimised for great lenses, rather than the opposite?)

The Paris metro on Pont de Bir-Hakeim. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

Sinking. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

If not, too bad. But there is something in the combination of strong enough micro-contrast, subtle colours and restraint that really creates a distinct look that is as remote from a Sony FE 55/1.8, for example, that anything else I know of. Apparent sharpness? Who cares? Micro-information, subtle shading, delicacy? In spades.

The Paris metro heads from Pont de Bir-Hakeim into old buildings. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

Aiming straight. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

One area where the mighty Sony A7rII often disappoints is colour. It often takes a lot of effort to correct casts and, even when absolute fidelity isn’t the goal, the simple fact of arriving at a result that’s visually pleasing can take a little work, if the shooting conditions weren’t optimal. Even recent and prestigious Sony lenses can throw an ugly yellow cast on natural greens, every now and then. With the Summilux, none of this was to be seen in my very brief ownership and colours were both very natural and very pleasing (no measures were made to justify calling them accurate).

Colorful flowers on Pont de Bir-Hakeim, in Paris. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

French flag with a touch of ecstasy. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

Files are super malleable

File brittleness is another – relative – shortcoming of Sony’s flagship camera. If your style is literal and you take great care of exposing and focusing perfectly, this will rarely be an issue. But if, like me, you like to go a little wild in post-processing, you’ll soon realise the limits of digital manipulations are met fairly rapidly.

Maybe we’ve just been spoilt and expect too much of RAW. The switch from JPEG to RAW, all those years ago, opened up such a treasure realm of post-processing goodness that it’s possible we (or, at least, I) are hoping to get away with too much and have let our previsualisation roam too far from true digital potential. Maybe Sony’s RAW is just insufficiently rich.

Whatever the case, some lenses bring out this restricted PP envelope more than others. And the Summilux definitely belongs to the camp of others, in that respect.



It’s easy to push quite hard without the file loosing integrity. No ugly posterisation, no ugly shifts in highlights or shadows. It’s quite likely that high-end MF offerings from Phase or Hassy would best that but the few sample shots made on that glorious morning with that glorious lens really left very little to be desired.

Pont de Bir-Hakeim. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

Fixin’ the bridge. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

The first Leica Monochrom got a bad rap for producing dull, low contrast files out of camera. With this Summilux 50 on, this was also a slight tendency with my Sony A7rII, as you can see above and in other shots on this page. But this also meant that very minimal PP was required to obtain a pleasing photograph. Just a slight push in saturation and possibly contrast and that was it. Compared to the torment of trying to correct weird shifts, that’s a blessing.

Barges on the Seine river. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

Joakim, looking for his lens. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.

Superb in B&W

Perhaps a corollary to the above, B&W performance is equally stunning. In fact, in this colour photograph, the B&W potential is immediately obvious.


And it doesn’t disappoint. DSC09855-2In fact, the Summilux’s ability to combine contrast with subtlety and tonal smoothness is possibly even more visible in monochrome photographs, as below (possibly because the A7rII strongest point isn’t colour rendition).

Barges on the Seine river. Sony A7rII and Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4.There’s always been something special about the Leica look and I now realise that a large dollop of it can be attributed to the lens. Seems logical, but sensors are different enough that I expected more of a difference in aesthetics.

DSC09850DSC09833 DSC09826-2 DSC09826-3The photo below can be clicked for a 3000px enlargement.
DSC09839-PanoSweet, right ?
In my book, a lens that produces great B&W can be forgiven many, many ills. Speaking about which …

Any weak spots ?

A few, which can be ignored or become a deal-breaker, depending on your style. My main (only?) gripe is that bokeh, wide open, isn’t always very pleasing. As if the photograph was smeared rather than blurred. See 100% enlargement below.

Bokeh in the corner of a Sony A7rII frame with the Sumilux-M 50Bearing in mind this is a tiny fraction of a 7 foot image, it’s nothing major. Plus, the problem most likely lies with the lens-camera incompatibility, not the lens itself. Still, bokeh quality being one of the arguments in favor of the similarly priced Otus 55, anyone considering the ‘Lux as an alternative should be aware of this.

Oh, and you can easily find a trace of chromatic aberration in the bokeh, wide ope, if these things matter to you.


50mm isn’t my goto focal length. I couldn’t justify to myself spending over 3 grand on a lens that would contribute 4% of my photographs (unless, maybe it somehow dramatically increase that average, go figure ? 😉 ). In these conditions, my C-Sonnar 50/1.5 remains my beloved 50. Not as elegant or well-behaved, it has a personality that really suits me and costs 70% less.


But for those who consider 50 their staple diet, want to travel light and elegant and don’t rely heavily on bokeh, I can’t think of a better contender. Possibly OTUS 55 included. (For argument’s sake, Philippe will disagree. I hope 😉 )

But small is beautiful. Light is sexy. Build is at least on a par with the Otus, probably a tad better. Focusing distance isn’t as good but a helical mount can help alleviate the problem. The Otus will be better technically and in out of focus areas, with the Sony. The Leica will send shivers of tactile pleasure through your spine. To each wealthy tog his own über-poison.

Leica Summlux-M 50 and Sony A7rII


Interested in lens reviews? Why not try for yourself 🙂

  • philberphoto says:

    Aha, Pascal in love with the Summilux 50. The charmer gets charmed… Comparing the ‘Lux with Ceasar (Zeiss ZM 50 f:1,5) is appropriate, because both of them are lovely charmers, and neither is especially neutral. Of course the much more recent (and more expensive) Leica performs at a higher level, but still… Yes, it is superlatively elegant. If my memory serves, more so than the mighty B² (Otus 55). The issue, though, considering its high price, is that all shots from the ‘Lux are elegant. Not one that is grotty, grungy, grubby, dirty, ugly. I am not surprised that Pascal, ever the elegant intellectual, didn’t notice them missing. Or miss them at all, for that matter. Hmmm….

  • Sean says:

    Hi Pascal,

    This is a very interesting post because you have raised a valid point in terms of that question raised: Should ” … bodies should be optimised for great lenses … “? Given it would be prudent to invest in glass, and renew the modern camera, it’s a logical conclusion to see a camera being optimised to glass – so that the glass can open its lungs and sing at full potential. But isn’t glass being continually refined and improved at the same time? Most likely, but quietly and without grandstanding like a camera which is then trumpeted to one an all. In reality it’s probably a fine balance between what’s has been available, what’s in development, and what’s newly made available. But sometimes good matches between glass and bodies are happy accidents, I’m sure – although this may be a subjective conclusion.

    I have no problem in accepting that the A7RII makes a terrific B&W camera. It’s really good. I’ve been completely surprised as to how well the Voigtlander 50mm F2.5 and 28mm F3.5 perform on the A7RII, as do the old manual Canon FD SSC ASPH lenses, when working in B&W. As you quite validly state above “… a lens that produces great B&W can be forgiven …”.

    Thank you for this post because you have articulated how it both confirms and affirms what I have felt exists in my own work. I only wish I could pair the Summilux-M 50mm F1.4 with the Zeiss ZM 35mm F1.4 for my A7RII. It’s most likely be a pretty good pair.

    Lastly, an excellent, well articulated post once again.


    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Sean. 2-3 years ago, my attitude towards this was really to prioritize great lenses and buy whatever camera could use them well. That was the main draw of the initial A7r for me. These days, with digital aberration management (in-camera and on computer), things are not so clear cut. It’s probably a good idea to keep older lenses if they provide a certain charm or look (hence my C-Sonnar infatuation) and use modern lenses tailored for your current camera where technical perfection is required. We need to keep it all relative to our goals though. Not all of us print 40″ wide (certainly not me, at any rate) and a lens that will provide a superb look on 16″ prints will aways trump the current lab-star, whatever the pixel count in my camera. All the best, Pascal

  • paulperton says:

    Aaah Pascal, we sing the same song for once.

    Having been there while you were sneakily attempting to give Joachim back an old take away coffee cup, pretending it was his 50 ‘lux, I’d have to say that you definitely got the better of the conditions as the fruit of Leica’s factory co-joined with Sony’s über DSLR. The photographs you’ve chosen to post show the combination at its apogee.

    No wonder you didn’t want to give it back.

    Enough fancy words and faux accusations 😉 – these are fine photographs, made better by an extraordinary lens.

  • Soso says:

    I just recently noticed the “elegance” of the Summilux in Paul’s Venice post. It creates remarkable airy images.

    However, I guess what you mean by “elegance” are lower contrast and less saturated colors combined with great sharpness. Especially compared to Zeiss, which is more about high contrast and punshy colors. Also Sony lenses and Fuji. Our eyes are blinded by modern media and displays, foremost Samsung’s OLED smartphones and super-saturated TVs.

    The good thing about the A7 (and any mirrorless cameras in general) is that you can adapt like any lens from 100 years of photography. Especially you guys should invest some time into old lenses. There’re a lot of them rendering in a similar (or different) way. There’s a reason why some folks brought Pentax, Fuji, Minolta, Zeiss, Contax … decades ago and thought (and still think) they’re incredible lenses.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Soso, we love old lenses 😉 We’ve owned old Voigtlanders, old Zeiss, old Leica-M and Leica-R, Mamiya, Olympus, Minolta, Contax Yashica … In the end, though, I really try to keep my lens count to a minimum and sell everything that doesn’t get used on a regular basis. It’s a shame to hog stuff that others could benefit from. So a very nice lens such as this Summilux has a strong appeal. It’s got it’s own look and very few compromises (apart from the price …)

  • PaulB says:


    I’m posting this to let you know that you are EVIL.

    Evil in that I was here fat, dumb, and happy in my decision that my existing kit was adequate, and I could wait until the Photokina announcements were made before deciding which new camera and lenses were worthy of consideration.

    But, Oh! NO! You had to post this wonderful series of images made using the Leica Summilux and the Sony A7RII. And now I have a bad case of lust for both. 😉

    While the above is meant in jest, your images have reminded me how much I liked using high resolution, lower contrast lenses, on a good medium contrast sheet of 4×5 transparency film. Like a Linhof labled Schneider 150mm lens on a Linhof Super Technika with Kodak EPP film. This combination gave images with a smoothness of tone and clarity that “newer and better” lens and film combinations could not duplicate. Though I think your images come close. Close enough that I may not wait for Photokina.

    Concerning your 100% section of the building beyond the bridge and the “smearing” you noted. I don’t think the image is smeared in the sense that this is an artifact of the lens. When I looked at this image on my large monitor my first impression was a slight bit of motion, until I looked at some of the details that are closer to the camera, and there is no motion. So I think you really have a double image, which would be the result of internal reflections within the sensor cover glass; since it is so much thicker than the glass used by Canikon or Leica. I have seen similar things using M-lenses and others on my Sony A7II. Plus, this has been documented by Lloyd Chambers (www.digilloyd.com) in his review of the A7II. Another possibility is, your adapter is not holding this lens in the proper position or alignment for infinity focus, and this is contributing to the effect; 80% of adapters I have owned have had problems with lens position or alignment, regardless of the brand or price of the adapter.

    Which leads to your comments about tuning sensors to lenses rather than the reverse. I think this would be a grand idea. In fact the only company that has tried to tune sensors to existing lenses was Leica. Though, with the flat nature of sensor manufacturing, until we get a readily available curved sensor, it is probably easier for most makers to tune lenses to sensors; even Leica needed to adjust their lens designs to work better with digital sensors. Of course, this would mean that all of the camera manufactures would have to agree to a basic sensor/cover glass configuration and it would have to remain stable for the life of the lenses that would be mounted to use it. Or a specialty manufacturer could make a mirrorless camera with a very thin cover glass (such as the Leica SL) and then put custom optics in a dedicated adapter (a la Metabones Speed Booster) for the intended lens or lens series.

    Have Fun!

    PS. Now, I have done it to myself! I’m thinking about the possibilities and the current options. You are so EVIL! 😉

  • pascaljappy says:

    Aaah Paul, those words are music to my ears. Not the part about being evil; as I usually do my best not to let the world see that part of me 😉 But the comparison to the Linhof & 150mm. This combo was, with the Mamiya 7 & 65mm, the love of my life just before digital. And the easy going, effortless look of those 4×5 slides (in my case) was lost for many of the following years. It’s a sign that digital has matured tremendously that we can now not only get better detail but images that looks just as relaxed and natural. The “bokeh issue” is defintely not a weakness of the lens but, as you suggest, one of compatibility with the Sony. It’s a real shame that so many manufacturers insist on imposing their own norms and standards. Kudos to the 4/3 community for being more mature and in service to their community. Now, if they would just make larger sensors, in 4/3 format, I’d sign in immediately and never leave.


  • Ilya says:

    Sold my Leica 50/1.4
    Mitakon 50/0,95 better.

  • Udo says:

    Buying a second-hand Summulux 50 asph., I found your article today. Thanks, very interesting for me!

    I also agree in you remarks to the C-Sonnar, my absolute favorite lens for portraits up to now. Let‘s see if this will change when I have more experience with the Summilux…

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