Having a Leica store in town is useful. Very useful to be precise, especially when the staff is as friendly, as it is in Munich's own Leica heaven. Having already borrowed a M8 and a 35cron before, for free I might add, I hoped that they would be kind enough to open their majestic used gear cabinet for me again.
I came in the store planning on borrowing some old 50mm, I really didn't care for the exact type of the lens at all. I just wanted to find out, how shooting a 50 on a Leica feels like, since I had yet to try out anything else than my 35mm Summicron V4 on my M6. Well...you could say that "the situation escalated quickly" when I found myself waltzing out of the store with a pristine 50mm Summicron V5 in my hands and quickly on my camera. They were nice enough to lend me the lens for 2-3 hours, "Just bring it back before we close" they said.
Still amazed that they would give me the current top of the line non-aspherical version of the lens, I wandered through Munich, not quite sure what to shoot and how to get the best possible impression of the lens in the limited timeframe. But enough rambling about the amazing staff and store (please let me work there?!)
I have never felt a lens that feels better built than this Summicron! It has the most satisfying aperture clicks and the focus is just so so smooth. This stands in strong contrast to my 35mm V4, which still feels robust and well put together, but resides in a different universe than the 50.
Focusing isn't a necessary chore with this lens, it makes you enjoy the process of shooting a rangefinder even more. I was almost constantly turning the focus ring around whilst sitting in the Subway or whilst walking through the city. The one criticism that comes to my mind would be the lack of a focusing tab, but that's just my personal preference. The different aperture clicks slot right into place and make the most satisfying clicking sound, I can think of.
It is heavier than my 35cron, but that doesn't make a difference whilst shooting, because the difference is negligible and it's no where near the behemoth Noctilux.
I only shot one and a half rolls of Ilford HP5+ pushed by 2 stops (400->1600) with the lens. You might argue that using an already quite grainy bw film pushed in low light conditions might not be the ideal test environment and I am inclined to agree with you, but I mostly shoot under such circumstances, which makes the test very valuable for me. Of course shooting Portra 160 would have allowed to judge the lenses sharpness even better, but would have also turned out to be impractical for my style of shooting.
Now to the performance...It is ridiculous! The edge to edge sharpness, lack of distortion and beautiful rendering of the out of focus areas (which are Bokehlicious btw) makes subjects pop out of the frame and allows for beautiful portraits and all other sorts of photography. This makes me question the plain out immense price difference between this and the Holy Grail of Smmicrons: the APO, even more, this however is a topic for another day. But you can read about the 50 Summicron's performance basically everywhere, so let's not focus on that.
This lens seems to be about perfect for portraiture, it's performance is near perfect and the built in hood is a nice added bonus for using the lens in bright sunlight (golden hour anyone?) and it's manageable size and weight make it easily fit in any bag. It is truly a great all-round 50mm.
I would not buy this lens. And that for three reasons. Firstly, I am a 35mm guy and I struggle to incorporate a 50mm in my daily style of shooting. Secondly, the Zeiss 50mm f2 ZM is as sharp and contrasty as the Leica, almost feels as good and would make me perfectly happy. Thirdly, a common trend with Leica lenses. They are very very expensive and don't get me wrong here, I appreciate the immaculate design and construction of Leica gear and especially appreciate the fact that it is all mainly produced in Germany (have to be a little patriotic here), but I would much rather invest in a previous iteration of the lens or even consider a Zeiss made one.
If you want the newest, best and most amazing feeling 50mm f2 on the market for M mount, go for it! But remember, there still is the APO and if you lust after the aforementioned aspects, it will always be in the back of your head, waiting to pull another 5 Gs out of your wallet. if you are like me, however, go for a cheaper alternative and be perfectly happy about your purchase.
I hope you enjoyed my rambling and don't get mad about the lack of facts in this review, just use google and go wild...