50mm bokeh shootout on Leica M9

This isn’t a definitive 50mm test in the least, rather, an opportunity to give a quick ‘bokeh’ impression of a number of 50mm lenses available for the Leica M mount, shot at 1 and 1.5m distances common to all of the lenses. Some will focus closer, but in order to keep the results consistent, 1 and 1.5m were chosen.

Lenses in the shootout, in the order they appear below:

Leica Summilux-M 50mm f1.4 ASPH. (modern)
Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f2 ZM (modern)
Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.5 Aspherical LTM (note that the link is the second version of this lens, but I tested the first version, with the ‘same’ optics, though apparently different, not as effective coatings) (modern)
Canon 50mm f1.4 LTM (late 50s, early 60s)
Zeiss-Opton Sonnar T 50mm f1.5 (Contax rangefinder lens in Amedeo Contax-Leica adapter) (post WWII)
Nikkor-SC 5cm f1.4 LTM (1950s)
Ernst Leitz Summarit 5cm f1.5 LTM (1950s)
Voigtlander Nokton classic 40mm f1.4 (multicoated version – while not 50mm, added for kicks) (modern)

The set-up: Camera was on a tripod and lenses were rangefinder focused on a specific target to the best of my ability. There is some shot to shot variation because it was slightly windy. Since this is primarily for bokeh quality analysis, trying to nail perfect focus, or compensating for focus shift (common in a number of the lenses) was not a priority (though I did attempt to adjust for focus shift with the Zeiss-Opton). DNG files were converted in Lightroom 4.4, set to the same WB for all scenes, as were exposures. Only the 1.5m scene had some exposure compensation and curve tweaks applied in post to compensate for a somewhat darker metering by the camera. No additional shadow recover, clarity, saturation,lens profiles, chromatic aberration correction, etc. was applied. Standard Lightroom sharpening was applied.

Up first are two backlit scenes shot at 1m and 1.5m. The third scene was in open shade at about 1m.

Low rez files are shown below for wide open performance of each lens.
Full 18MP Jpegs can be downloaded from the links at the bottom of the page. The two backlit scenes include images shot from wide open until f/5.6 while the third scene includes from wide open until f/2.8.

1m distance, backlit:

1.5m distance, backlit:

1m distance, open shade:

Basic observations:

The Leica Summilux-M 50mm f1.4 ASPH. is the smoothest rendering of the bunch and at f/2 has larger blur disks than the Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f2 ZM. This has always been my finding – that fast lenses shot stopped down to the equivalent wide open aperture for other lenses, render larger blur disks.
While these are all 50mm lenses (ignoring the Voigtlander 40mm), their actual focal lengths vary slightly, with the Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f2 ZM being the widest of the bunch, which probably is a slight disadvantage when it comes to blurring out background details.
While the Summilux is the most expensive of the bunch, it probably has one of the most annoying aperture shapes as it stops down through ~f/2-5.6, which could be nicknamed ninja star or saw blade. This can impact the shape of specular highlights, already starting at f/2. It’s another factor that reinforces my belief that Leica lenses really are made for shooting either wide open, or well stopped down. It certainly does have a nice, smooth quality wide open.
The Voigtlander is actually fairly close in look to the Summilux in these examples. It was shot uncoded (as were all the vintage lenses), which perhaps accounts for the greater wide open vignetting.
The 50s-60s vintage lenses – the Canon, Nikkor, Leitz Summarit and Zeiss-Opton all have much more energetic and ‘less perfect’ bokeh, yet I find them all quite interesting for their individual character.

High-rez downloads:

1m distance, backlit 127MB
1.5m distance, backlit 165MB
1m distance, open shade 60MB

Since bokeh analysis is extremely subjective, I’ll just leave it at this and close with “you can never have too many 50mm lenses.”

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3 Responses to “50mm bokeh shootout on Leica M9”

  1. fiatlux Says:

    Nice comparison, which is not going to cure my Summilux lust!

    I have the Planar which is close to perfection in most aspects, but nothing can beat that creamy Lux bokeh. I’d be inclined to test the new Nokton, but it does not seem to bee too sharp wide-open. I guess only the Summilux can offer great sharpness and smooth bokeh… oh well 😉

  2. Ron Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! Regarding the new Nokton: it’s the same optical formula as the previous version tested by me, but apparently has different (better) coatings. Side by side tests I’ve seen indicate the new version has better contrast and flare resistance, but the same sharpness and bokeh characteristics. It’s actually sharper centrally than the 50 Lux ASPH at nearer distances, but I think the Lux has better across-frame performance and is really difficult to beat wide open at farther distances. IMO, the Lux ASPH is still the lens to get if you can only have one 50mm for the M system, though I haven’t yet tried the 50 Cron AA. At least on an M9, the Lux ASPH offers an extra stop to help keep the ISO down.

  3. Pengkui Luo Says:

    I would test them on the same f/2 aperture. It is unfair to test different lenses on different apertures.

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