Trouble with Leica Flagship Summicron?

Starting about three months ago, more and more people that own Leica's latest flagship lens, the APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH are noticing veiling and other flare. It ranges from mild (but noticeable) veiling flare to rather startling multi-ringed flare (at its worst). There is speculation that interior blackening/flocking (baffling) of the lens - or possibly multiple silver rings/beveled element edges (visible inside the lens from the front) are causing unwanted reflections. Some are even suggesting "not to shoot into the sun" or "stick to shooting at f/2" and even the use of third-party hoods. This is quite a disheartening turn of events if true, considering this lens is Leica's "spare no expense" tour de force, especially considering the $7,195 USD cost.

We have reached out to our contacts at Leica but haven't heard back yet (as several people are away on vacation). Hopefully they can comment, offer an explanation or arrive at a solution (which will be fixed under warranty) if it does turn out to be a larger issue.

Ironically, Erwin Puts had this to say;

...The SCR, while in itself a high contrast lens, has a certain propensity to flare. The ASCR50 on the other hand is not only flare-free, but does suppress the internal reflections and the veiling glare on small areas totally. This behavior is not only the result of the mechanical mount and its internal baffling structures, but mainly to the reduction of residual aberrations..."

But we have seen quite a few examples of this flaring, from multiple sources (and thus multiple copies of the lens). Not just random photos, but in testing and comparing it with other lenses. It does not appear to be a one-off bad lens... But whether or not it's an actual design flaw remains to be seen. While you could chalk this up to being "the nature of the beast" it's definitely not something we'd expect from a lens of this caliber. If you have a lens which has exhibited this issue, especially if you'd like to share your examples (which we will post here) - we'd like to hear from you either directly or in the comments below!

Stay tuned as we update you here on the matter...

Update (7/25/13): We're in contact with folks at Leica, discussing the situation. Separately, there's a debate on whether other lenses also exhibit this condition when the conditions are right and that the APO-Summicron-M is especially "susceptible" because it's so good (meaning contrast is generally such that any variation is more noticeable). The reason - light reflecting between a convex lens element(s) and the sensor. It would be interesting to test this theory with both digital and film bodies.

Update (7/26/13): Our contact at Leica has gotten back to us again, and they're currently investigating the issue - expect a response next week.

Update (8/21/13): We finally got a response from Leica, and they were able to reproduce the issue on a customer's lens sent in for service - the cause(s) found. The customer was sent back a new lens. Corrective actions are underway and production is exercising additional caution - additionally, Customer Care has also been instructed to consider similar complaints with priority. The assumption is that this is an isolated event and only a few lenses are affected by the issue - and not indicative of a broader design problem. We're hoping to get additional details... But sounds like case closed!

Update (9/4/13): We have some further details about the exact nature issue from Leica after speaking about it more with them... The problem is due to the anti-reflective coating not being within tolerances. We asked if there were a means to determine, perhaps by serial number range - if a lens is affected by this. Unfortunately, there isn't. The reason being that the elements are coated in batches, and aren't necessarily assembled together or at the same time with the lenses as a whole. So if you own one, you're advised to perform your own tests, and as mentioned - contact Leica Customer Care if you have any concerns.

Update (9/13/13): At the 2013 Digital Show in Melbourne, Kristian Dowling got a brief explanation from Leica Camera AG CEO, Alfred Schopf:

Kristian: Can you tell me about the current situation regarding flare issues found by owners of the Apo-Summicron 50/2 lens?

Alfred: Well after some problem solving we found 4 minor issues, and manufacturing was stopped for 3 weeks and will recommence next week. For current owners experiencing any issues, they should send their lens to Germany for a complete refurbish.

Update (11/05/13): Besides the initially defective batch of anti-reflective coatings, it is clear that Leica is performing additional blackening/baffling internal to the lens - at least those sent in for this issue. The "silver rings" that were visible inside, from the front of the lens - are being returned black. This may have been part of the production issue (e.g. someone forgot to blacken these rings). If you see these silver rings, it may just be an indication that the lens has a potential for this issue.

If you're thinking about sending your lens in, be advised that it might take an extended amount of time for a turnaround. A recent email reply from Leica service makes this unfortunately clear:

Thank you for your email. I apologize for the delayed reply. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this issue has caused you. It is correct that we identified the problem and have found a solution. However, the replacements still have to be produced and there are some delays in the delivery of a necessary component. So we have no confirmed date at this time. Naturally, you can send your lens in for repair but we have to ask for your understanding that the turnaround time could be somewhat extensive at the moment. The advantage is that your lens will be registered for exchange. We will replace your lens, retaining the same serial number.

Update (11/25/13): We are getting some unconfirmed rumblings from dealers that obtaining a new APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH at this time may take until well into (mid) 2014! Repairs are taking precedence over new builds right now. If you have one, considering waiting on sending it in. If you're in the market for one, get on a list (or several) now.

Update (02/02/14): We have received word that Leica is about ready to restart production of the APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH. While the optical formula remains unchanged, the interior of the lens has been reworked to reduce reflections. Distribution should follow and the timeframe is looking like 2-3 months at this time.

Update (03/011/14): The newly refined lenses are shipping once again!



There are some worrying trends. On a different subject, the recent letters in Amateur Photographer about Leica's response to a customer whose M8 screen had failed after 1900 actuations shows the problem Leica have with so many electronic components that they have to buy in. They had to replace lots of screens with the coffee stain issue and ran out of screens - their supplier was no longer making the screens. However the thing we always expect from Leica is top quality lens design and production, if the top lens has such characteristics I start to worry about the overall design and production of the whole product line. Am I being paranoiac?

Any news on the 50mm apo summicron´s elegid defects?

We've been in constant contact with Leica and they are looking into the matter. Trying to determine if it's a single (or a couple) of lenses - or something more wide-ranging. A lot of folks there are in and out on vacation, and it will take a little time to test... But will get back to us as soon as they have something. We'll update this story as soon as we hear back.

See our last update; looks like an isolated incident that is being corrected both in-house and on lenses sent in for service.