Choosing a Leica Macro Lens for the Leica SL

An analysis of macro lens options for the Leica SL and why I chose the Leica APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5.

Why I Bought a Macro Lens

I recently bought a macro photography lens for product photography because I noticed that with my Leica 24-90mm lens on my Leica SL, I could not get as tight of a framing on products. I was leaving a lot of white space around the product and it required me to take an additional cropping step in post on every single photo, which was getting quite cumbersome.

For instance, see the comparison below where the left photo was taken at the 90mm focal length on my 24-90mm lens and the right photo was taken at the 96mm full frame equivalent focal length on my 120mm macro lens. It is much easier to see product details in the photo on the right because of the greater magnification.

The purpose of this blog post is to list options for Leica macro lenses, evaluate pros and cons, and walk you through my thought process in choosing the Leica APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5 for use on my Leica SL full frame camera.

Sources

Before I dive into the analysis, I would like to thank some individuals for sharing their thoughts and opinions on the subject of Leica macro photography. First, I would like to credit Josh Lehrer and David Farkas from Red Dot Forum and Leica Store Miami for sharing their thoughts on Leica macro options in their Leica SL System with Live Q&A YouTube stream, which is how I started thinking about this in the first place. Second, I would like to thank Alex Ramos from the Leica Store SF who answered many of my questions, and when my questions reached the limits of his knowledge, he connected me with Ray Olson, a Leica Camera Product Specialist of the U.S. West region who answered my technical questions. I am especially thankful for their help because the pandemic has taken away the luxury of being able to stroll into a physical Leica store and fire away at 2 hours of questions. I have had to make a decision without ever having seen the product in person.

Leica Macro Lenses

When it comes to Leica macro lenses for the Leica SL/SL2 full frame systems, these are the main options:

Leica APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5 ($7,695 New, $3,000 - $4,000 Used)

Pros Cons
Medium Format (overkill though) Less portable
Has autofocus Heavier
Weather sealed More expensive
Optically sharpest May have autofocus motor problems
Newest optical design, ~12 years old

Leica APO-Macro-Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8 ($1,500 - $2,000 Used)

Pros Cons
Full Frame Old design from 1987 (33 years old)
APO No autofocus
Sharp Not as sharp as the 120mm S

Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 ($600 - $1200 Used)

Pros Cons
Full Frame Old design from 1987 (33 years old)
Lighter No autofocus
Sharp Not as sharp as the 120mm S nor the 100mm R

Leica APO-Macro-Elmarit-TL 60mm f/2.8 ($3,295 New, $2,000 Used)

Pros Cons
Newer design, optically sharp APS-C format, not full frame
Lighter, smaller
Has autofocus

Analysis

I ended up choosing the Leica 120mm S lens mainly because I was fortunate to find a copy (without autofocus motor updated) for $3,000 on Fred Miranda, which is a very good price. The week before, I had ordered the Leica 100mm R for $1945 from the Leica Store Miami but was not entirely satisfied with the lens, so I figured it made sense to return that lens and pay $1,000 more for the S lens. I did end up having to spend an additional $1,000 on the Leica S-Adapter L in order to use the 120mm S on my Leica SL. I felt that this was worth it in order to shoot with the best Leica macro optical design with professional features like weather sealing and autofocus. This is my dream lens.

The 60mm TL was not an option for me because I knew that I would want a full frame lens. The 60mm R was out of the picture because it is optically inferior to the 100mm R. The 100mm R is optically sharp too, but I figured I would get the 120mm S lens with the added benefit that one day I might upgrade to the Leica S medium format system, as used Leica S2, S 006, and S007 bodies have plummeted over the past 8 years from $19,000 to $2,000 - $6,000. Plus, I expect the older Leica S bodies will continue to depreciate in the next 6 - 12 months as the Leica S3 arrives in greater quantities and Leica shooters trade in their used S bodies.

Sample Photos

I have been shooting with my Leica S 120mm for 2 weeks now and here are some macro images I have taken. I still have a lot to improve on and all feedback is welcome in the Disqus comments below.

Rosa Peace. Leica 120mm S @ f/2.5
Leonitis Leonurus, or Lion's Tail. Leica 120mm S @ f/7.1
Gaillardia, or blanket flowers. Leica 120mm S @ f/2.5
Coleus Barbatus. Leica 120mm S @ f/2.5

Conclusion

I would love to hear your thoughts and questions in the Disqus comments below.

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