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Archive 2011 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test
  
 
denoir
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


So, what’s the point of comparing a €350 ($500) lens with a €3500 ($5000) lens? Completely pointless, right? Well, maybe but then again maybe not.

These are not any old lenses, but two 50 f/1.4’s. Fast 50mm lenses were for some 50 years or so the standard SLR kit lenses. If there is something lens producers know how to do is fast 50’s. It’s really difficult to find a bad one. As a rule a fast 50 should be small, compact, cheap and a good performer. So it’s interesting to see what one of these standard lenses can do against a lens design where all stops have been pulled.

The lenses in question are the Canon EF 50/1.4 and the Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4 ASPH.








The Canon 50/1.4 is truly an average prime. It’s not Canon’s cheapest one and not Canon’s most expensive one. It’s light, small (for an SLR lens) , cheap (€350) and generally considered to be a solid performer. In short it is exactly your typical fast 50.


The Leica 50/1.4 Summilux ASPH can be considered to be the flag ship of modern Leica lens designs. It’s big (for a rangefinder lens), heavy (almost 2x the weight of the Canon), expensive (€3500) and generally considered to be a milestone in lens design. Leica set out to make the best normal lens and few people think they failed.


Now before I get to the test part, a few words on the execution of the test. The big issue is of course the use of two very different cameras – the Canon 5DII for the Canon 50/1.4 and the Leica M9 for the 50 Lux ASPH. Although I have used RAW development profiles that in theory should match colors the same way the reality is quite different and you’ll have to take that into account.


The Canon has some focus shift and I used live view to focus (with the lens stopped down to the right aperture) so the Canon shots are definitely dead on. The M9 is a different story – there’s no live view. My rangefinder seems to be well calibrated and the 50 Lux ASPH should not suffer from noticeable focus shift, but both are possible sources of error when it comes to focusing the M9.
Alright, on to the tests. Open the images in separate tabs in your browser and flip between them.



Test A:








This is a very good test subject that shows difference in sharpness across the frame, color separation, geometric distortions, vignetting etc. It’s a painting that hangs over my work desk at home. The shots are closeups at about 0.8 meters. Neither of the lenses are macro designs so it should be a relatively weak point for both.


Test at f/1.4:
--Canon EF 50/1.4 @ f/1.4
--Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH @ f/1.4


Comment: Interesting to observe is the difference in clarity, geometrical distortions and perhaps most of all color separation. Both lenses show pretty good resolution at the widest aperture (expected from the Leica but it was a surprise to me that the Canon was as good in terms of resolving power at f/1.4).

Test at f/5.6:

--Canon EF 50/1.4 @ f/5.6
--Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH @ f/5.6

Comment: The Leica has improved marginally, mostly in corner resolution while the improvement in the Canon is dramatic. Very nice corner to corner sharpness. The Canon is no slouch at f/5.6.

Test B:






Test of medium-close distance rendering wide open.


--Canon EF 50/1.4 @ f/1.4
--Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH @ f/1.4


Comment: Here we can see the characteristically sharp sharpness-to-blur gradient of Leica glass compared to the more soft transition of the Canon. The effective DOF is significantly smaller with the Leica.


Test C:






Test of close distance rendering wide open.

--Canon EF 50/1.4 @ f/1.4
--Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH @ f/1.4


Comment: Again, we see the different sharpness-to-blur gradients. Aberrations are well controlled on the Summilux, but not all that great on the Canon.



Test D:






Complex background test.

--Canon EF 50/1.4 @ f/1.4
--Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH @ f/1.4


Comment: Some truly awful bokeh from the Canon. Unfortunately it’s a common problem with this lens when you have complex backgrounds.

Test E:






Stopped down (f/5.6) performance at infinity. Just to show that the 50/1.4 is actually a good prime, I’ve included two more lenses here – the awful Sigma 18-200 OS zoom and the Sigma 30/1.4, both on a crop camera (7D) giving an effective equivalent focal length to a 50.


--Canon EF 50/1.4 @ f/5.6
--Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH @ f/5.6
--Sigma DX 30/1.4 @ f/5.6
--Sigma 18-200 OS@ f/5.6


Comment: Not much to comment here. The 50 Lux ASPH produces excellent colors, contrast, color separation and a distortion free image. The Canon lags behind in all areas. The two Sigmas are far behind the Canon with the prime producing better colors and contrast across the frame.


A couple of 100% crops:









Comment: This was a near center crop. Both the Canon and the Leica show outstanding performance. The difference you see in per pixel sharpness is due to the different camera sensors not due to the lenses. The Sigma 18-200 performs as awfully as I expected it to. The real shocker was the performance of the Sigma 30.







Comment: This is left of center, mid frame. The Canon has dropped in resolution and the Sigmas are as awful as they were in the center. The drop in Canon resolution is interesting as we did not see it in test A (close distance). Generally it seems the Canon is better at short and medium distances than it is at infinity.







Comment: Left edge. The Leica is still going strong while the Canon is definitely weaker now than it was in the center of the image. The Sigmas are far behind the Canon with the zoom being much worse than the prime.


Conclusions:

The interesting part here is not that the Summilux is better in every situation – anything else would have been astounding. What’s interesting is in what way it is better. Leica went out of their way to produce a lens that is consistently superb at all apertures and distances. They succeeded, but there was no quick and cheap solution. For instance more than half of the cost of the lens is for a single optical element of exotic glass, produced by just one manufacturer exclusively for Leica. That glass has to cool off for over six months before it can be ground into the element.

The Canon and similar lenses control for first and second order aberrations – the Summilux controls for up to fifth and sixth order. Lenses like everything else suffer from the law of diminishing returns. Getting the last 5% of the way may be ten times as difficult as the first 95%. So naturally the Canon is much better value for money. The improvement Sigma 30->Canon 50 is at least as big as the Canon->Leica improvement and the price difference is an order of magnitude smaller.

Still, if you want the perfect 50mm prime, the Summilux comes very close. It’s an amazing piece of glass and a milestone in modern lens designs.

The Canon 50 is of course not in the same league, but it's still a competent performer. It's a relatively nice portrait lens that can be suitable if you wish to produce a more moody, softer look.




Mar 28, 2011 at 10:22 PM
bluetsunami
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


I said "WOW" at the wide open performance of the Summilux. I guess color rendition is partly due to the difference in sensor but the difference, wide open, is highly appreciable. Even stopped down the Canon looks straight bland and murky compared to the Summilux. I also didn't know the Canon 50 had that much distortion... or it just looks ridiculous against the Summilux.

I think at Infinity, from the looks of it, is where one can make such a compromise and use the Canon without a big loss in IQ but the Summilux does still provide that sharpness and color "snap" at Infinity.

Blur quality of the Summilux is definitely a thing of beauty.

A battle royal between the Sigma 50 and Canon 50L would be interesting to see too (in comparison to the Summilux).

But that aside, great comparison, denoir! Great to see "proof in the pudding" photos instead of sloping lines on a graph.



Mar 28, 2011 at 10:36 PM
AmbientMike
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


I think the difference between the sigma and canon is perhaps largely due to the aps sensor versus the ff sensor. I love this stuff!


Mar 28, 2011 at 11:09 PM
douglasf13
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Interesting test. The Summilux sure is incredible. I thought this comparison between the Summilux and Nokton 1.5 was also interesting. Much closer in performance, but in the same price league as the Canon: link


Mar 28, 2011 at 11:11 PM
denoir
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


I did a shot with the Zeiss 50 Makro Planar of Test A as well:

Zeiss 50/2 MP @ F/5.6 ( Canon, Leica)

As you can see the Zeiss and Leica are very close in quality at f/5.6, which is actually remarkable as the Zeiss is a macro lens optimized for close distances. I had actually expected it to be somewhat better than the Summilux at this distance and aperture. The drawing style is different of course with the Zeiss as expected being more contrasty. The difference in colors due to different sensors / raw development is obvious here. The Leica shot is closest to what it looks in real life - the 5DII seems to have some issues with pink, although the pinks in the M9 shot are a bit overcooked.



Mar 28, 2011 at 11:20 PM
joe88
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Luka, you just made it that much more difficult for me to find a copy of the 50Lux ASPH at a reasonable cost. Good read, thanks for sharing.



Mar 28, 2011 at 11:27 PM
Silverfox1
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Thanks Luka as usual for folks to see why the Leica`s rule the roost !

Do any folks you know have this one:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/332585-USA/Leica_11891_50mm_f_1_4_Summilux_M.html

On my monitor the little Sigma 30/f1.4 appeared to fare pretty well but the Canon IMO shows why its a $300 lens.

Even though there not the same aperture wide open i am sure plenty of folks have done a comparison between the Canon 50/f1.4 versus the CY 50/f1.7 which would equal out the monetary outlay about the same.

Edited on Mar 29, 2011 at 12:40 AM · View previous versions



Mar 28, 2011 at 11:47 PM
KyleR.
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Luka, great test!
How do you think the zeiss 50 sonnar compares to these lenses?



Mar 29, 2011 at 12:38 AM
denoir
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Thanks Kyle!

Regarding the Sonnar - not all that well I'm afraid. The Sonnar is a very special portrait lens but it never gets quite good stopped down. Lux on the left, Sonnar on the right:

Center crop:






Left edge:






The 50/1.5 Sonnar is definitely not a lens you want to get for raw optical performance. It's strong side is the special wide open drawing style (at certain distances). My reason for getting the 50 Lux ASPH was that I needed a good 50mm lens for landscape use and my Sonnar did not cut it.



Mar 29, 2011 at 12:56 AM
Daniel Heineck
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Thanks Luka for this test. Amazing what the top of the heap optically will get you.


Mar 29, 2011 at 01:15 AM
 

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sebboh
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


denoir wrote:
The 50/1.5 Sonnar is definitely not a lens you want to get for raw optical performance. It's strong side is the special wide open drawing style (at certain distances). My reason for getting the 50 Lux ASPH was that I needed a good 50mm lens for landscape use and my Sonnar did not cut it.


wonderful comparison luka, i feel like if your going to do a lot of such comparisons you should get a NEX just to do the center crop comparisons and color comparisons across lenses without the different sensor issues.

regarding the 50mm sonnar, are you sure it is calibrated correctly for infinity focus? i've seen some extremely sharp 100% crops from it at f/5.6 elsewhere that don't jive with what your getting. the shots i'm thinking of weren't at infinity though, so maybe it's just optimized for close to mid focus distances.



Mar 29, 2011 at 01:31 AM
millsart
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


I've got to agree regarding the Sonnar, mine was certainly a bit soft and dreamy wide open (and hard to focus as it was calibrated for f2.8) but by f5.6 is sharpened up quite nicely and was neck and neck with my Planar at f8

I was checking out Sean Reids site as well with some samples and his copy was really good as well stopped down.

In your test I just don't see any real fine detail at all, which I've found the M9 really can deliver on even with some of the lesser regarded lenses. Just doesn't look like focus was achieved as the image is so soft all over.



Mar 29, 2011 at 01:52 AM
wayne seltzer
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Thanks Luka!
Now that the preliminary round is over, how about a landscape comparison at f8 with the 50 MP and a f2 comparison with the Rokkor 58/1.2?



Mar 29, 2011 at 03:29 AM
shoenberg3
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Maybe the 50 dollar Takumar 50mm might have held it better against the Leica than the Canon.
Maybe..



Mar 29, 2011 at 04:57 AM
charles.K
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Luka, amazing test comparisons!!! Thanks


Mar 29, 2011 at 06:05 AM
magiclight
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


I want a M9 and a 50mm Lux!


Mar 29, 2011 at 06:41 AM
edwardkaraa
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


magiclight wrote:
I want a M9 and a 50mm Lux!


I'm going to wait until Leica introduces an EVF body or LV. There are too many issues with focus calibration as far as I understand.

For those who actually own the M8/9, what do you think about the below comments from pebbleplace.com



"Part of the rangefinder experience is reaching a zen-like state when it comes to focus precision. There is a long list of variables that go into a properly calibrated rangefinder focus system. The simple truth is - maybe 1 or 2 lens will be perfectly calibrated, a couple may be okay and several will just be plain out of whack. The problem is - there is no way of know whether the issue is the camera or the lens. The only way to resolve the problem is to pack up all the gear, send it to Leica and pray, and pray, and pray... There are third party resources such as DAG as well. The point is - the whole kit needs to be calibrated. It is pain, but a fact of life - with ANY M, not just digital M’s.


Over the years with the Leica M8, M8.2 and M9, focus is has been workable 80-90% of the time. Some lenses were sent off for calibration, but they were the exceptions. There is no micro-auto-focus adjustment. That feature is YOU. After awhile you begin to learn which lenses do better with a touch of front or back focus. With a M system, you really get to know the lenses over time. The process is more intimate since there is no auto focus nor auto aperture."



Mar 29, 2011 at 06:56 AM
Jochenb
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Nice comparison Luka!
That leica lens is a beast



Mar 29, 2011 at 07:49 AM
magiclight
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


edwardkaraa wrote:
I'm going to wait until Leica introduces an EVF body or LV. There are too many issues with focus calibration as far as I understand.

For those who actually own the M8/9, what do you think about the below comments from pebbleplace.com

"Part of the rangefinder experience is reaching a zen-like state when it comes to focus precision. There is a long list of variables that go into a properly calibrated rangefinder focus system. The simple truth is - maybe 1 or 2 lens will be perfectly calibrated, a couple may be okay and several will just be plain out of
...Show more


I read LC's review of the M9 plus lenses. I must admit LC is no rangefinder expert which was rather interesting in itself.

He found it very difficult to focus with the lenses wide open. I imagine that this would be rather frustrating with you expensive Lux.



Mar 29, 2011 at 08:19 AM
philber
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · €350 vs €3500 50mm lens test


Very interesting test, Luka!
What I find most noticeable is the difference in colour rendition. The Canon colours looked washed out by comparison. That, to my eye, is much more important than any sharpness or bokeh issue. Of course, at that stage, the camera plays a significant part in the end result as well. But the overall result shows why your Lofoten pictures looked so good coming out of the M9 + Leica 35mm.



Mar 29, 2011 at 08:24 AM
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