Leica D Summilux 25mm f1.4 – Review

Leica D summilux 25 1.4
This is a remarkably squat, unexpectedly heavy lens. If it were a member of a rugby team, there is no doubt that it would be a front-row prop. But this is no thick-necked thug capable of doing only a single job. Defying its build, it shows more of the finesse of a ballet dancer.

At 75 mm in length, it's over 22 mm shorter than the Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50 kit lens supplied with the Leica Digilux 3 and Panasonic L1 cameras, but weighs 20 g more – tipping the scales at 510 g. Attached to the camera, it has a slightly front-heavy heft to it; but the compact nature of the whole unit makes this reassuringly solid in the hand.

The aperture ring, which is one of the real joys of using this lens when paired with the Digilux 3 or L1, differs in its placement from that found on the kit lens. On the latter, it's at the base of the lens, whereas – at the risk of taking the analogy too far – on the Summilux 25 it's in line with the cauliflower ears as opposed to the chubby calves. At first blush, the focus ring seems silky smooth: but when manual focus is engaged it is somewhat more creaky, like it has just aged about four decades with the touch of a button. Overall build quality seems solid, if not rugged.

As a lens designed for the four-thirds system, it will work with any other four-thirds camera, such as the Olympus E3, albeit aperture will need to be set by the usual method of using a dial on the camera body. Given the 2x crop factor of four-thirds cameras, the Leica D Summilux 25mm f1.4 is really the equivalent of a 50 mm normal lens on a full-frame 35 mm camera.

The main reason to buy a lens like this is for low-light work or where the photographer wants to create a shallow depth-of-field. In essence, then, it is performance wide open at 1.4 that really matters. And this is where the lens delivers big time! One of the supposed advantages of the four-thirds system is that the lenses can be smaller – but while the bulk of the Summilux would seem to suggest otherwise, it definitely supports another of the supposed promises of the four-thirds system: that the lenses, designed from the ground-up specifically for digital, offer great performance.

Wide open, this lens has great sharpness from corner to corner. Contrast is excellent. There is virtually no distortion visible and chromatic aberration has not been a problem at all in my use to date. Because depth-of-field is greater on a four-thirds lens at a given aperture and focal length than the equivalent on a full-frame camera, one really needs a fast lens like this to be able to throw backgrounds out of focus and really separate subjects from their backgrounds. The Summilux does not disappoint in this regard and the bokeh produced by the lens is exceedingly smooth. It's possible the lens may even sharpen up a smidgeon when used stopped down – and when you want a large depth-of-field or slow shutter speed, it will produce excellent results – but this is a lens that is so good at 1.4, it's almost a crime to use it at anything else. Many lenses can shine at f8 but there are few that can really produce the goods completely wide open.

To be honest, there's really nothing else quite like this lens available in the four-thirds mount. Considering it's a fast Leica lens (note: the lens is manufactured by Panasonic in collaboration with Leica) with decent build and excellent output, at its price in the USA of $799, it's well worth a try (I wish I hadn't said that: even to the rugbyheads amongst us, that must seem like such a pathetic pun!).

At f1.4, even distracting backgrounds such as these bright blue doors can be rendered innocuous.