Leica makes a number of different types of lenses, from autofocus optics for its TL2 and SL mirrorless cameras, to large optics for its S medium format system. But when most photographers talk about Leica glass, they're referring to the compact, purely mechanical, manual focus lenses for its M rangefinder system.
Rangefinders and Frame Lines
Modern mirrorless systems owe a lot to rangefinders. Some of the design concepts are identical—eliminating the mirror mechanism allows for a smaller design than a comparable SLR in both cases—but rangefinders offer an optical viewfinder for focusing and framing. An optical and mechanical mechanism is used to project a double image at the center of the viewfinder, and when both parts of that double image are lined up, your shot is in focus.
Frame lines are projected in the viewfinder to show the field of view of the attached lens—they change depending on which lens is attached. The field of view of the viewfinder itself is fixed, so with longer lenses you can see action outside the frame.
Modern digital Leica M cameras have viewfinders that show 28mm frame lines at the widest. If you want to shoot with a wider lens, like the 16-18-21mm Wide-Angle Tri-Elmar, you'll need to either use an external optical viewfinder, switch the camera to Live View mode and use the rear LCD for framing, or add an external electronic viewfinder to your M10.
Film shooters are limited to external viewfinders, but you can buy film rangefinders with different viewfinder magnifications. Leica's standard bodies, like the M-A, have 0.72x magnification viewfinders with the same sets of frame lines as their digital cousins. But if you buy a custom M7 or MP via the à la carte program, you can also opt for a wide-angle 0.58x viewfinder or a higher magnification 0.85x finder.
Older film cameras that are no longer in production, including the Voigtlander Bessa series and the Konica Hexar RF, also have varying viewfinder magnification ratings. The Bessa R4, for example, has the widest viewfinder available in a rangefinder, with frame lines for 21mm lenses in the viewfinder.
You're not limited to using M lenses on a rangefinder camera. Many mirrorless camera owners look to them as they pair much better than adapted SLR lenses and offer mechanical manual focus capability that delivers true tactile response when focusing manually, which is lacking from many native mirrorless lenses that use electronic focus systems. The full-frame Sony a7 II series has been popular as a digital platform for photographers who have a library of Leica M lenses, but are put off by the high cost of a digital rangefinder.
Leica cameras and lenses are expensive—there's no getting around that. But Leica isn't the only game in town when it comes to M-mount lenses. More affordable options are available from Zeiss and Voigtlander, and in some cases they're actually better performers than the pricey Leica alternatives. You can see the best M lenses we've reviewed here.
Bottom Line: The Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH. is as close to a perfect lens as I've ever used, but it costs more than the latest digital M.
Bottom Line: The Carl Zeiss C Biogon T* 2,8/35 ZM is a compact lens for rangefinder cameras with a moderate wide-angle field of view. It's extremely sharp from edge to edge, and worthy of our Editors' Ch…
Bottom Line: The Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2/50 ZM is a great standard angle lens for rangefinder cameras; a little bit of barrel distortion is its only real flaw.
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Bottom Line: The Leica Summarit-M 75mm f/2.4 ASPH. doesn't come in the most common focal length, but it's deadly sharp and quite compact, earning Editors' Choice honors.
Bottom Line: The Leica APO-Summicron-M 90mm f/2 ASPH. is a nearly flawless telephoto lens for Leica rangefinder cameras. It's sharp from edge to edge and has a wide f/2 maximum aperture.
Bottom Line: The Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH. is a sharp, fast, wide-angle optic for Leica rangefinder cameras; it's expensive, but an excellent performer.
Bottom Line: The Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM is an incredibly sharp optic with a wide aperture, and an easy pick as Editors' Choice.
Bottom Line: The Leica Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 lens captures images with a vintage look, setting your photos apart from a crowded modern landscape.
Bottom Line: If you see in ultra-wide angles the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH. is a solid lens for your rangefinder camera, but it needs to be stopped down for optimal performance.
Bottom Line: The Voigtlander Ultron 21mm F1.8 is a wide-angle lens that captures a lot of light, but you'll have to stop down for edge-to-edge crispness.
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