Leica is an expensive brand, which begs the question, are Leica lenses really better when you can get cheaper? The answer is pretty surprising, here’s the inconvenient truth.
Before getting into the article, just a note that just because someone is a Leica fanatic doesn’t mean they are bling. So I will tell you the pros and cons of Leica lenses without rose colored glasses.
Sharpness: Are Leica lenses really better?
When people ask this question the real question is…are Leica M lenses sharper than the competition, say Sony, Fuji or other. For the most part this was an easy answer a few years ago.
Ask “Are Leica lenses really better in terms of sharpness” a few years ago and you would have many photographers agree. They used to be above the competition when it came to sharpness. Now? With the advancements in software and technology, some lenses from Sony and Fuji are quite frankly quite as sharp.
Until there are scientific comparisons all one can say is, it’s sometimes hard to know what was shot with a Leica with some offerings from the competition. While that might sound like a death sentence to Leica, one thing to note is that Leicas lenses are GENERALLY better than all other manufacturers.
Why? Because of consistency. Pick up any Leica lens and you know you are getting sharp and killer quality. This is not so much the same with the other brands that have different lenses for different price points. So really only some of the lenses from the competition can compete on price alone.
5 reasons why Leica lenses are really better
While the answer to “Are Leica lenses really better” might seem like a not, there’s more to lenses then sharpness. Leica lenses are expensive and taking “sharpness” as its one and only quality doesn’t do it justice. So here’s a few other reasons to consider.
1. They are artisanal
If there is one difference between Leica lenses and pretty much all the lens manufacturers out there…it is that Leica lenses are hand crafted. That is single handedly the main reason why they are so expensive. Other manufacturers have large factories and there is only one place in the world where Leica lenses are made, in Wetzlar, Germany by opticians. Look for yourself at the manufacuring process:
Even if they wanted to create thousands of lenses per day, this artisanal way of doing things makes it impossible. It also allows for ultimate quality as the longer the conveyor belt, the more problems. While this ramps up the price, it also creates a bond to the object itself. You appreciate it more because you know someone made it. That is why you don’t treat the handmade bag you got the same as a mass produced Wallmart bag.
Moe Jaber said it best, even if he was talking about watches:
“In a world dominated by soulless, mass-produced and disposable goods, objects that are made by artisanal hands retain a soul and warmth that connects us with our humanity, past and present”
– Moe Jaber
2- They are a joy to use
But even if you don’t care that they are hand made, one thing is for sure: They are a joy to use. With other lenses you never touch them unless you put them on manual focus. With Leica lenses on the other hand there is a visceral connection with your lens because you touch and hold it until you get what you want in focus.
And once you use a Leica lens with focusing tabs, you start internalizing distances and you know right about how far you need to twist the lens to have something in focus. There is nothing out there quite like it and it is absolutely not the same with half pressing the shutter button. The more hands on approach is more fun.
3- The most compact lenses in the world
Leica lenses are manual lenses. So they have nothing else BUT the optics, so they are small, really small. They are the most compact full frame lenses in the world, even the ones with fast apertures. Have you seen the Sony lenses and how big they are? None of this for Leica M lenses. That is why when they are mounted on other alternative bodies the Leica lenses look small.
4. They last forever
If someone asks you “Are Leica lenses better?” This is one of the best reasons you can give. A Leica lens will likely outlive you. I have friends who still shoot their Summicrons from 50 years ago and they are still going strong. Electronics will fail, motors will fail but Leica lenses that are pure optics? They might need some oiling once or twice but they will outlive you. You can give them to your children that will give it to theirs.
They are also built like tanks. It’s all metal and not plastic and can really survive where most motorized lenses would give up the ghost.
5. They hold their value
That friend of mine who’s got his lenses from the 70s? If he sold them he would STILL get thousands of dollars. Don’t get me wrong, Leicas are not a good investment in the traditional sense (So they are NOT worth more money the more time passes) but if you have anything Leica you will get some good money for it at any point in time.
For anything else, you will mostly get a few dollars unless it is a cult lens. You may acquire a similar Non Leica lens for cheap but the value of that lens is like a cliff while Leica lenses keep their value nicely.
There you have it, are Leica lenses really better? If you are looking at the sharpness only, then some lenses from rival manufacturers are just as good. That image on top was from a Canon. But a lens is not only the sharpness. Factor in compactness, the shooting experience and the fact that they last forever and you’ve be hard pressed not to think that Leica lenses are really better!