Thursday, October 07, 2010

First Impressions of the Leica APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5

1/500th @f/2.5, ISO 320, handheld

I received my first demo Leica APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5 this week and couldn't wait to take a few test shots to see what this lens is really capable of on the Leica S2. Unfortunately, I've been so busy getting caught up after Photokina (still working on more updates, which I will be posting soon) that the most I could manage were a few snaps around the parking lot at the store.

The lens itself isn't that large or heavy. It is slightly longer than the 70mm Summarit-S and roughly equal in size and weight to the 35mm Summarit-S. Very manageable. Like all S lenses, the manual focus ring is well-damped and silky smooth. The S2 uses a clutchless system to override AF – just turn the focusing ring at any time and the camera switches temporarily to MF. For extreme macro work, some might prefer using MF, although I used AF for all of these test shots.

Compared to other medium format macro lenses, the Leica offers a much faster aperture of f/2.5 versus the standard f/4. A quick glance at the MTF charts also shows that the Leica lens resolves small details at much higher contrast than the well-regarded Hasselblad HC 120 Macro. The S lens resolves 40 lp/mm at 75% contrast and 20 lp/mm at 90%, wide-open! By comparison, the Hasselblad lens resolves 40 lp/mm at only 50% contrast at f/4, more than an f-stop slower. It doesn't even reach the Leica's f/2.5 performance by f/8. And in spite of being a stop and a half faster and weather-sealed, the S lens is both smaller and lighter than the HC equivalent.

Wide-open, this lens is just gorgeous. Crisp detail with extremely high contrast for in-focus areas with a smooth buttery fall-off for OOF areas. Just luscious, really. Great color and tone as well. I can immediately see the family resemblance to the 100mm APO-Macro-Elmarit-R, from which the 120mm S lens is based off of.

At closer to infinity (lovely picture of a neighboring business), the lens performs extremely well, due to the floating element design. In my discussions with Stephan Shulz, product manager for the S System, he explained that the 120mm isn't merely a superb macro lens. In his mind, the 120mm is an amazing all-around lens that happens to do macro extraordinarily well. He even went so far to say, due to its limited depth of field and smooth bokeh, it is the S equivalent of the Noctilux. At close focus and maximum aperture, the 120mm has less than 1mm DOF, less than the Noct!

1/180th @ f/8, ISO 160, tripod

100% crop (click to see full size)

Somehow, I was able to convince my beautiful wife Juliana to pose for me to see how the 120mm stacks up as a portrait lens. As you can see, the lens is ideal for portraiture. The focal length is just right for both working distance and perspective, resulting in a very flattering, pleasing result. Both the waist-up shot and the head and shoulders picture were taken at f/2.5, using a quick focus-and-recompose.

1/350th @ f/2.5, ISO 160, handheld

100% crop - extremely fine detail of shirt

1/500th @ f/2.5, ISO 160, handheld

100% crop

My plant subjects were not quite as cooperative as my wife. As I was attempting to capture them, the wind was really whipping up, making focus and sharpness a challenge. I shot the red flowers hand-held, then went back inside to get a tripod to shoot the fern.

1/250th @ f/4, ISO 320, tripod

100% crop

1/750th @ f/2.5, ISO 160, tripod

Almost everything I shot was wide-open, but I did figure I'd try to show the difference in look between open aperture and f/8 to give an idea of how much DOF can be attained at close-focus distance. The Dodge emblem wasn't blowing in the breeze, so we'll just have to imagine it is a pretty flower.

1/250th @ f/2.5, ISO 160, tripod

1/25th @ f/8, ISO 160, tripod

Lastly, I shot this picture of a nail for a certain individual who did the same using a Hasselblad 110mm f/2 FE on the S2 not too long ago. This illustrates a few things for me. One, I was able to use AF to nail focus (little pun there) on a very specific point. Two, I was able to hand-hold this at an average shutter speed. Three, the nail is sharp with no CA. And, four, it shows the insanely shallow DOF with the silky smooth bokeh, both front and rear.

1/350th @ f/2.8, ISO 160, handheld

100% crop

I'm sure I'll be taking the 120mm out on a proper date in the near future. And when I do, you can be sure of some more updates.

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At 8:49 AM, Blogger Live the Life You want to Live said...

Thank you David, I have been looking forward to reading your blog. As usual, great write up and so please to see what the 120mm lens is capable of, it is a must have lens for my future S set up.

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Jack MacD said...

You nailed this review, thanks.

At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was surprised at your comments on the Pentax 645D.What I have seen in images, is the typical look of the Kodak Sensor. The same one used in the"S2".Having a camera with the K-Sensor, the sharpness simply stunning, the colors occasionally much like Kodachrome.I guess when one is "treated" special by the other company, bias may occur..The Japanese Photo magazine found the colors and sharpness of the Nikon-D3 and the Canon-1D better than the S2. Photos to prove it as well.I guess it's your honest opinion but..iF YOU WISH TO DELETE THIS AFTER READING,PLEASE DO! It's my opinion,not a prelude to a quarrel.


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