The Leica Cine lenses are out and about. The set is $262,000 for the Summilux lens set and 100,000 for the Summicron set. But the lenses can also be found invidually for around $17,500 and will fit onto a Leica M 240 via the Leica C-to-M adapter.
The Cine Lenses are made for cinema use, but as can be seen here, one can also attach them to a Leica M 240 still camera. See further down in the article.
In February 2015 the lenses won an Sci-Tech Oscar themself, and a lot of movies nominatedfor Oscars used Leica Cine lenses as well. Including the Movie of the Year, Birdman.
Leica Cine lenses was used for the Oscar-winning Movie of the Year 2015, Birdman. Notable for the long sequences of continuos filming. Diretor Alejandro González Iñarritú, Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki, Steady Cam Operator Chris Haarhoff and lead actor Michael Keaton.
Leica Summilux-C lenses are motion picture lenses with specifications never seen before, approaching the realm of the wavelength of light. They use multiple aspheric elements with some tolerances are down in single digit microns.
The main aims set forth in designing them has been light weight, small size and a fast aperture. The lenses are designed for slightly greater than full 35mm cine frame. A full cine frame is about 28- 29mm, the Leica cine lenses are 33-36mm.
The lenses also feature a patented small diameter focus scale. Every mark in every lens is individually calibrated and engraved. Further, the scales on each lens match each other in a complete set - a first in movie prime lens making, making changing of lenses much faster and simpler.
As og September 2013 the first 100 sets of lenses had been delivered and reportedly there is a one year waiting list currently, though they can be rented in many rental houses.
The 2014 Coen-brothers movie Gambit was shot with Leica Summilux-C lenses by Florian Ballhaus.
The unique thing about the Leica Cine lenses is that they are made by Leica, compact and not that expensive compared to what movie primes usually cost. Compared to Leica M lenses and Leica R lenses, they may look quite expensive, but they are actually in the mid-range of movie primes, maybe even in the lower end.
The evolution of the Leica Summilux-C lenses is an impressive process that has been covered very well by Jon Fauer, and down this article there is a link to his complimentary 110 page PDF magaine with articles about them.
The story began with with Christian Skrein’s concept of Leica lenses for motion picture production. Then with added practical experience from Otto Nemenz. Then the blessing, vision, and financing from Leica Camera AG owner Dr. Andreas Kaufmann. Finally hired legendary optical designer Iain Neil and equally esteemed mechanical designer Andre de Winter (who was hired at Ernst Leitz Canada by Dr. Mandler in March 1969 and has been at it ever since).
Today a group of the most skilled Leica Camera AG employees has been tranferred across the Leitz Park square in Wetzlar, to the Leica sister company CW Sonderoptic, to help manufacture and assemble these masterpieces. Erik Feichtinger and Gerhard Baier are Managing Directors.
Leica M240 with Leica 50mm Leica Summilux-C . With the new ARRI PL-to-M adapter from Peter Denz in Munich that turns the Leica M into a superb Director’s Finder or rather intersting still camera. The ARRI PL-to-M mount adapter provides extra support for heavy PL lenses, it is an adapter with baseplate.
As of November 20 2015 the Leica SL will start shipping with 4K video capability and adapters for Leica Cine lenses and Leica S lenses. Don't underestimate the 4K video ambitions in the Leica SL which is here seen with the 29mm Summilux-C. Photo: Saul Frank/Camera Electronics
One little known fact is that in 1970 Ernst Leitz Canada was awarded the design and manufacturing contract for the new 70mm IMAX projection system and in 1983 Ernst Leitz Canada began work with Panavision for their state of the art cinematographic lenses.
Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" from 1987 is one of the movies that was made with Panavision Primo-L Lenses from ELCAN (Ernst Leicat Canada) and was Oscar-nominated for Best Cinematography.
Steven Spielberg on the set of Empire of the Sun in 1986 where they used, amongst others, a 800mm Panavision Primo-L lens from ELCAN (Ernst Leicat Canada).
Early Leitz C-mount 25 mm Hektor-Rapid cine lens on a 16 mm Bolex H16 of 1935. Bolex also made adapters for regular Leica screw mount lenses on its cameras, like this popular 3.5/50 Elmar lens with the VALOO hood that allows convenient setting of f-stops. Photo: Rolf Fricke.
Leicina was Leitz 8mm cameras
Leitz also did 8mm Leicina with Dygon and later with Angenieux zoom ("Leicina Vario") and Schneider zoom.
A rare top of the ine LeicinaSuper 8 model had Leica M bayonet mount as well as a Cinegon 10mm M-bayonet lens and Schneider Super Zoom with M bayonet and server motor. del oo
Leica R lenses on RED and Blackmagic
Before Leica Cine lenses became reality, the Leica R lenses was the fairly economical and easy way to ge the Leica look on movies - and still is. Some of the now 20-40 year old R lenses from the Leica R line are available and will do the job with an adapter. The most sought-after would be the Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R ASPH f/2.8 that sells for around $12,000 second-hand while many other interesting R lenses are available in the $1,000 - $2,000 range.
Director Reid H. Bangert from Northpass Media in Rome with the RED Scarlet equipped with a Leica 50mm Summilux-R f/1.4 lens (and large ND-filter) used for the short documentary "A Life With Leica".Photo: Thorsten Overgaard.
The Oskar Barnack 1911 Cine Camera
Back in the early 1900's movie cameras was usually made of wood, so a metal camera was quite unusual. Back then moving pictures was to the world what internet was to the 1990's. Oskar Barnack had a very strong lifelong personal interest in moving pictures and this was basically what lead to first this movie camera and eventual to the Leica 35mm still camera. I will get into this later in my article about Oskar Barnack.
April 2015: The adaptor for the Leica M 240 and Leica M-P 240 that allow it to take PL mount lenses (Leica Cine lenses) now ships from CW Sonderoptic in Wetzlar. The adaptor is a baseplate and handgrip with an adaptor mounted and makes the Leica M 240 into a directors viewfinder, allows set photographers to use the same lenses as the film camera, and of course Leica M 240 owners to buy or rent Leica Cine lenses and use them on their Leica M 240.
My test of the Summilux-C cine lenses on the Leica M 240
I had the possibility to use the Leica 18mm Summicon-C f/2.0 and the Leica 100mm Summicron-C f/2.0 lenses with the adaptor on my Leica M 240 and Leica M 246 in Los Angeles in September 2015.
I did a variety of shoots of portraits and street in West Hollywood and (Straight out of) Compton.
The adaptor is a two-piece installment on my Leica M 240 camera. First the bottom plate is mounted and then the bayonet is screwed onto the bottom plate. The aluminium "vings" you see are for tightening the lens in the bayonet. You tirn one way it is loose, the other way it is tight.
The bottom, handgrip and bayonet is a massive set as can be seen here. The SD-card and battery is changed by removing the stainless steel plate in the bottom. A screw in the bottom is manually screwed in to tripod mount fo the camera body to keep the bottom plate safe in place.
What I recognized first in the Leica Summicron-C was the control of tones and very balanced colors that I have seen in my 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/2.8 lens that is one of the most exotic and complicated lenses Leica Camera AG ever mad (it sells for 12,000 - 16,000 on eBay these days).
The tonal control I am talking about is best seen in the details of the grill of the Porsche 911.
But what the Leica Cine lenses has that the Vario-Elmarit doesn't have is the flare and flower of bokeh when shot straight at a light source or with a strong light source just in the edge. This was exactly what I had hoped for, because I didn't want the look of a Leica S lens.
It's all very addictive and I dared to ask CW Sonderoptic if it was actually possible to buy a single lens instead of a set of 6. It is.
I decided to visit CW Sonderoptics to talk more about what i speacial about the cine lenses. I recognize that they have more glass than a Leica M lens, and this might give some of the look of a Leica R or Leice S lens. But it was clearly this wan't all there was to it.
It's an addictive set to work with. Here is the 18mm Summicron-C f/2.0 on my Leica M 240 and the Leica 100mm Summicron-C f/2.0 next to it.
Movie credits for Leica Summilux-C and Summicron-C lenses
The Leica Cine lenses has been used in Iron Man 3 (Jeff Cronenweth, ASC), X-Men (Newton Thomas Sigel), Transformers: The Age of Extinction (Amir Mokri), The Book Thief (Florian Ballhaus, ASC), Dawn of Planet of the Apes (Michael Seresin, BSC), Gambit (Florian Ballhaus) and many other movies and commercials.
The Book Thief director Brian Percival with Leica Summilux-C on a directors finder. The Book Thief was made with Arri Alexa XT Plus with Leica Summilux and Angenieux Optimo Lenses.
Harris Shavides test of Leica C-Summilux lenses
Shot in ARRIRAW 3K on an Arri Alexa. Master DP Harris Savides ASC took the Leica Summilux-C lenses into the Upper West Side of NYC for a test shoot.
Those familiar with Harris Savides' work (American Gangster, will see his trademark style come through in this piece. This film in particular shows the absolute sharpness in the focal plane that these lenses provide, combined with the soft pleasing focus falloff. Highlight tones & flare quality is notable as well.
The quality of the bokeh (out of focus highlights) in this piece is a combination of lens & the Alexa itself. Notice as the circles travel from the edge to the center as they go from an almond shape to a circular shape. After shooting on these lenses with many cameras, this feature only showed itself on the Alexa.
The Leica Summilux-C Multi-Aspherical lenses
Multiple aspherical optical design and available in 18mm, 21mm, 25mm, 35mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 100mm with additional focal lengths 16mm, 29mm, 65mm.
Made of Titanium. 1.6 - 1.8kg (3.5 - 4.0 lbs.).
Price for a set $262,000 (8 lenses).
Leica 35mm Summilux-C lenses was designed to be a groundbraking new line of leightweight PL mount primes designed to deliver ultra-high optical performance for film and digital capture.
These new T1.4 close focus primes employ a unique multi-aspheric design and high-precision cine lens mechanics to provide unmatched flat field illumination across the entire 35mm frame and suppression of color finging in the farthest corners of the frame with no discernable breathing.
All the Summilux-C lenses share a uniform length ana 95mm threaded lens front and similar location of focus and iris/aperture rings (which allow quick interchange of lenses).
A sectioned drawing by opto-mechanical designer André de Winter for one of the Leica Cine lenses. A great deal of skill goes into designing the optical elements as well as the mechanical (opto-mechanical) design. Not to mention the assembling that is done by some of the brightest heads at Leica Camera AG wo has been transfered to the other side of the Leica Campus in Wetzlar .
At Photokina, Sepotember 2016, it was announced that a handfull of the Leica M lenses has been redesigned for cine use at "Leica M 0.8 Cine" by CW Sonderoptic which is the sister-company to Leica Camera AG, with headquarter just next to Leica in Wetzlar.
CW Sonderoptic GmbH was founded in 2008 to design, manufacture and market Leica-branded cine lenses for film, television and commercial production. The “CW” stands for “Cine Wetzlar”, a reference to both the company’s mission and legacy. It is based at Leitz Park in Wetzlar, Germany, the original hometown of Ernst Leitz and Leica Camera.
Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, majority owner and chairman of the supervisory board of Leica Camera AG, started CW Sonderoptic to design and develop what became the Leica Summilux-C cine lenses. The concept behind these lenses was originally conceived by photographer and filmmaker Christian Skrein along with Hollywood rental house owner Otto Nemenz.
The dream for the set of Leica Summilux-C lenses was for them to be the most advanced cinema lenses yet created in regards to size, performance, mechanical precision, and optical tolerance. To create such a design they brought in legendary cine lens designer Iain Neil. Together they determined the specifications and features of the lenses and began production with the first sets delivering in early 2012.
After the favorable market reaction to the Summilux-C lenses, CW Sonderoptic began working on a new product line, the Leica Summicron-C cine lenses. First shown in early 2013, the Summicron-C prime lenses offered a smaller, lighter lens that maintained a high quality while being only one stop slower. These lenses began delivering to the cinematography market in late 2013.
Under the guidance of Managing Directors Gerhard Baier and Erik Feichtinger, CW Sonderoptic continues to develop and manufacture new and innovative products for cinematographers all over the world.
CW Sonderoptic also is represented in the Leica Store Los Angeles. An overview of where to rent or buy Leica Cine Primes is available here.
Jon Fauer, Iain Neil, Rolf Fricke (LHSA), Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, with Leica Summilux-C lenses at the LHSA meeting in Pittsburgh, October 2011.
Lens designer Iain Neil on lens design for Hollywood
In this September 2009 video Academy Award-winning optical designer Iain Neil discusses lens design, working with cinematographers, and the future directions of movie-making.
Ian Neil has worked as executive vice president of Research and Development and chief technical officer at Panavision Inc., manager of systems engineering at Ernst Leitz Canada Ltd. (ELCAN), and head of optical design at Barr & Stroud Ltd. (now Thales).
Iain Neil is an optical consultant based in Switzerland. With over 150 worldwide patents, Neil has published and edited more than 30 papers and books, and has received 11 Scientific and Technical Academy Awards, 2 Emmys, and the Fuji Gold Medal, for his work in optics and lens design for cinema. Among Academy Award winners, Neil has the most of any living recipient, and is second only to Walt Disney in total awards.
André de Winter
André de Winter
As this article is written, André de Winter marks his 45th anniversary with Leitz and Leica. Since 2007 he has been working on the Leica C lenses as Chief Mechanical designer at CW Sonderoptic.
He was hired by Dr. Mandler in March 1969 to work on opto-mechanical design at Ernst Leitz Canada, Ltd. (ELCAN). Back then Gerhard Bechmann was head of the design department and the first projects André de Winter was put to work on, was the Leica-M underwater-housing for the US Navy and the 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0 and he worked directly under Dr. Mandler and Gerhard Bechmann.
A 10mm Panavision drawing by André de Winter. One of the 10 Panavision lenses he did the mechanics for in the early 1980's, from Ernst Letiz Canada, Ltd.
André de Winter in Hollywood with the Oscar the cine lenses won in February 2015.
RED Dragon and Leica lenses... "I have to say they we have tested just about every combination of lenses with the RED Dragon sensor and the Leicas win. This really should be no surprise. All the Leicas cover the full sensor and have the most resolution of all lenses tested. While some lenses will necessitate dropping down to 5.5K to cover... the Leicas don't. The resolution of these lenses are completely matched with the Dragon sensor."
- Jim JannardAugust 2, 2013
A sexy t-shirt from CW Sonderoptic with the 35mm Cine lens ...
What does Summicron mean?
The word "Summicron" refers to the maximum lens aperture of this lens, here f 2.0. There are many guesses how this name came about, a popular one being that the "summi" came from "summit" (summit means the highest point of a hill or mountain; the highest attainable level of achievement) while the "cron" came from "chroma" (ie. for colour).
Not so: The name (Summi)cron was used because the lens used Crown glass for the first time, which Leitz bought from Chance Brothers in England. The first batch of lenses were named Summikron (Crown = Krone in Deutsch). The Summi(cron) is a development from the original Summar (the 50mm f2.0 lens annoy 1933)
What does Summilux mean?
Refers to the maximum lens aperture of f/1.4. "-lux" added for "light" (ie. the enhanced light gathering abilities).
What does ASPH mean?
ASPH stands for "aspheric design".
a-spherical = non-spherical.
Most lenses have a spherical design - that is, the radius
of curvature is constant. These are easy to manufacture by
grinding while "spinning" the glass. This design
however restricts the number of optical corrections that can
be made to the design to render the most realistic image possible.
ASPH lenses, however, involve usually 1 element that does
*not* have a constant radius of curvature. These elements
can be made by 1) expensive manual grinding, 2) molded plastic,
3) Leica's patented "press" process, where the element
is pressed into an aspherical ("non-spherical")
shape. This design allows the manufacturer to introduce corrections
into compact lens designs that weren't possible before. Practically,
the lens performs "better" (up to interpretation)
due to increased correction of the image, in a package not
significantly bigger than the spherical version.
ASPH is a method where the glass is pressed, and if you think about it for a little while, it means that you can make shapes that you can't possibly grind: With grinding you can make a curved shape. With pressing (ASPH) you can make the shape of circles in the water if that is what is required.
Normal speric lens (grinded)
ASPH (note the shape of the glass as result of pressing reather than grinding)
Spherical uncorrected versus Spherical corrected:
A lens design where the size of things doesn't change when focus and aperture changes. The relative size of things stay the same. Telecentric lenses tend to be larger, heavier, and more expensive than normal lenses of similar focal length and f-number.
Refers to the shifting of angle of view of a lens when changing the focus. It noticeably changes the composition of the shot.
An open standard introduced by ARRI in the 1970's.
Today used by Leica, Zeiss, Angenieux, Cooke, Fujinon, Canon PL, etc.
Leica made a 40mm Summicron-C lens in the 1970's for the Leica CL camera and the sister-camera Minolta CL.
There is not similarity to the Leica Summicron-C Cine lenses, except for the name. This make it a little difficult to search for sample photos online, of course.
- Thorsten Overgaard, July 29, 2014
Updated September 25, 2015
For help, corrections and information to
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator.
Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.