At A Glance: Leica Summilux-C Cine Lenses

Leica Summilux-C Cine Lenses

A 16mm has proven so popular that it’s currently backordered through the year.

In February 2015, the development team behind the Leica Summilux-C range of PL-mount lenses received the Scientific and Engineering Award® from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for technical innovation. This, after only four years of existence, during which a number of productions embraced the prime lenses on such award-winning and big-budget films as Birdman, Iron Man 3, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Gone Girl, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Considering that CW Sonderoptic GmbH, the company behind the design, was only just founded in 2008, it might be shocking to some to see how fast the response has been from major studios and broadcast companies, but for those who know that the company was founded in 2008 by Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, majority owner of Leica Camera AG, specifically to develop a new lineup of lenses for cinematic capture that would bear the Leica name, the immediate success of the top-shelf lenses starts to make a lot of sense.

In the still photography world, the Leica name is absolutely historic for its long lineage of high-quality glass and the Leica “look,” with excellent skin rendition, subtle bokeh and superb, creamy sharpness. The new line of Summilux-C lenses, as in “cine,” carries that tradition over to the world of cinema lenses, with an absolutely meticulous design that the company says is 100% handmade. Built in Wetzlar, Germany, at more than $30,000 a lens, this attention to detail shows not only in the optics, but also in the price, but these lenses are definitely marketed as a high-end rental house solution, and, in fact, CW Sonderoptic also came out with a similar, but more affordable line in the Summicron-C set of lenses, which debuted in December 2013 at less than half the cost.

So what does the Summilux-C offer that has gained it such renown in such a short time on the market, and how does the lens set differ from the Summicron-C line?

Special effort has been given to ensure that chromatic aberration is reduced even at the edges thanks to a telecentric design and multiple aspherical elements. Unlike the spherical elements found in the Summicron-C line, which can be built by machine, aspherical elements must be constructed and finished by hand. As such, the Summilux-C primes, available in a range that covers 16mm through 135mm, are designed for no focus falloff and for even illumination across the entire frame, even with the aperture wide open to an extremely bright T1.4. To achieve this, each lens in the Summilux-C line houses between 18 to 22 individual lens elements, which also results in very smooth focal transitions without any breathing.

Leica Summilux-C Cine Lenses
Eleven top-notch primes comprise the Summilux-C cine lens family from Leica and CW Sonderoptic. A new 135mm has also been released.

Aside from the optics, the construction of the bodies themselves are a feat of modern lens design, as well, with titanium PL mounts and advanced linear distance focusing scales that also incorporate expanded focus mark spacing in the range of critical focus for very precise focus racking. (The Summicron-C line has a stainless-steel PL mount.) Focus scales and barrel dimensions have been matched across the entire line, which is a first for cinema lenses. From the newly announced 16mm to the 135mm, the Summilux-C set has a uniform barrel length of 142mm (5.6 inches), as well as a consistent front diameter of 95mm for quickly swapping filters or focal lengths without needing to reset follow-focus units or camera rigs. This can save a lot of time on a busy production, and focal and aperture rings also feature homogenous placement with 300º and 180º of rotation, respectively, for matched operational performance across the set. Minimum focusing distance for the majority of the line falls between a foot and two feet, with the rear filter holder also built into each lens. All of this in lenses that weigh between 3.5 and 4 pounds each.

Consisting of nine focal lengths ranging from an 18mm to a 135mm, the Summicron-C line is no slouch when it comes to imaging quality, either. The lenses are very similar in design to the Summilux-C set, with matched bodies and a universal front diameter of 95mm, but they’re 20% lighter and also more compact. CW Sonderoptic saves cost on the Summicron-C line by employing a more conventional Helix-style focusing mechanism, as well as through the use of spherical lens elements. They also top off at an iris of T2.0, while the Summilux-C will open an extra stop to T1.4. Also, though most focal lengths are available in both lines, there are 16mm and 65mm focal lengths available only through the Summilux-C line.

Both lines of PL-mount primes can also be used with Leica M or Leica SL cameras through available adapters like the Leica M PL mount, also manufactured by CW Sonderoptic, or the ARRI PL-to-M models. Interestingly enough, the Summicron-C lenses all cover a 36mm imaging circle, while the Summilux-C models cover 33mm, big enough for Super 35mm-sized sensors, but just slightly short of full-frame sensors, which will vignette. Obviously, at this pricing, these lenses aren’t built for DSLRs, on the other hand. There are four resellers in the U.S. (Band Pro, AbelCine, Duclos Lenses and Hot Rod Cameras). A full list of worldwide resellers can be found on the CW Sonderoptic website. (Due to orders from existing Summilux-C lens owners, the newer focal lengths of 16mm and 135mm are currently backordered. A few rental houses have them on hand, however, and a range of 18mm to 100mm is covered by lenses already in the wild.)

List Price: Begins at $14,500 (Summicron-C); $142,000 (Summicron-C set of 9 lenses); Begins at $33,200 (Summilux-C); $353,100 (Summilux-C set of 10 lenses). Contact: CW Sonderoptic, cw-sonderoptic.com.

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