Wednesday, September 4, 2019


From left to right : Erik Feichtinger (Co-Managing Director of CW Sonderoptik GmbH), Christian Skrein (Member of the Board of Directors of CW Sonderoptik GmbH), André de Winter (Chief Mechanical Designer of the Summilux-C Project), Iain Neil (Chief Optical Designer of the Summilux-C Project), Dr. Andreas Kaufmann (Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG and Owner of CW Sonderoptik GmbH) and Gerhard Baier (Co-Managing Director of CW Sonderoptik GmbH. 
© Jon Fauer

By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Four years have elapsed since February 7, 2015, when the design and development team of the Leica Summilux-C cinematographic lenses manufactured by CW Sonderoptik GmbH (renamed Leitz Cine Wetzlar since June 15, 2018) was bestowed the Scientific and Engineering Award of the Hollywood Academy of Motion Picture, the most important and prestigious award in the world granted by cinema industry in the technological scope, during a gala dinner held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, which was honored with the presence of Cheryl Boone Isaacs (President of the Academy) and Richard Edlun (pioneer and greatest expert on special effects — including the use of solid state memory in feature films during mid seventies — in the whole history of the seventh art, as well as being an international authority regarding movie cameras and a key figure in the increasing relevance of this distinction).

© Leitz Cinema Wetzlar 
Iian Neil and André de Winter during their speeches of acceptance of the Scientific and Engineering Award of the Hollywood Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the optical and mechanical design of the Leica Summilux-C T/1.4, while the rest of attendees to the dinner gala at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angales pay attention to their words.

Both of them delivered short and discreet addresses brimming with unutterable contained emotions, a great satisfaction for well done work and the sincere gratitude to Dr. Andreas Kaufmann (economical driving force of the project, in which he believed right off the bat) and the rest of members of CW Sonderoptik GmbH development team of the compact and highly luminous Summilux-C Lenses, which were also mentioned by Iain Neil : Erik Feichtinger, Gerhard Baier, Rainel Schnabel, Ulrich Schröder, Bill McCreah and Roland Elbert, along with Otto Nemenz and Christian Skrein, whose original ideas during the preliminary conceptual period of the Summilux-C Project and the starting specifications for the creation of the f/1.4 cinematographic lenses were very important.

© Leitz Cinema Wetzlar

Iain Neil (left) and André de Winter (right) with their respective commemorative plaques as winners of the Scientific and Engineering Award of the Hollywood Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Iain Neil is currently considered the best optical designer of professional cinema lenses on earth, having been the author of more than 150 optical patents hitherto. He was Director of the Department of Systems Engineering at Ernst Leitz Canada (Midland, Ontario) during eighties, as well as Head of Optical Designing at Barr & Strout Ltd in Glasgow (Scotland), Executive Vice President, Director of Research and Optical Development and Official Technical Manager of Panavision Inc. throughout eighteen years (designing and developing the Primo spherical and anamorphic lenses, video systems, optical elements for viewfinders, optical systems for HDTV, compound zooms and many other remarkable breakthroughs in this sphere).

In addition, he is an international authority in all kind of optical technologies fulfilled during the last forty years, refractive materials and architecture of digital sensors, and a great expert in zoom lenses for movie cameras and HDTV, optical systems featuring multiple configuration, tolerances in zooms and their relationship with optical, mechanical and electronic aspects of design.

He has received twelve Scientific and Technological Awards of the Hollywood Academy for his research labor within the optical field and the creation of cinematographic lenses, 2 Emmys, the Fuji Golden Medal and has only been surpassed by Walt Disney in total number of prizes.

Moreover, he is an international optical consultant through his firm ScotOptix, with which he provides technical and entrepreneurial counselling to optical technology companies all over the world.

On his turn, André de Winter is nowadays regarded the most qualified mechanical designer of optical and cinematographic lenses in the world, with an impressive professional career that started in 1969 at Ernst Leitz Canada (Midland, Ontario) under the leadership of Walter Mandler and Gerhard Bechmann, becoming integrated in the mythical staff creator of optical systems, made up by Horst Haseneier, Erich Wagner, Henry Weimer, Ernst Pausch, Helmut Hildebrand, Ludwig Schaub and Mandler and Bechmann themselves.

He has been the author of the mechanic part of many of the Leica M and R lenses manufactured since late seventies, in addition to having made in 1987 the optomechanical design of nothing less than ten Panavision cinematographic lenses.

In 1989, he began his path at Leica Camera AG Solms (Germany) as Director of the Opto-Mechanical Design of Lenses, after which he worked in 2000 at the Leupold & Stevens firm in Oregon (United States), until in 2001, at the behest of Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, he started working at Sonderoptik GmbH Wetzlar in the mechanical design of the Leica Summilux-C cinematographic lenses.

© Leitz Cine Wetzlar 
This was a hugely significant recognition, since it meant for all practical purposes Hollywood Academy´s homage to the historical and landmark labour made by Iain Neil (optical designer of the Summilux-C lenses), André de Winter (legendary mechanical engineer of Leica, who was the begetter of the mechanical construction of every lens of the system) and all the persons who worked in the Summilux-C Project within CW Sonderoptik GmbH firm from Wetzlar, affiliated to Leica Camera AG, which has been the company making these cinematographic lenses nowadays being the world benchmark in its domain and that have inaugurated a new era in the ultraluminous lenses designed and manufactured for their use with Super 35 mm format sensor cameras like the 4K

Leica Summilux-C 29 mm f/1.4 coupled to an Arri Alexa XT movie camera.

Arri Alexa XT, XT Plus, SXT W, Sony F55,

Leica Summilux-C 100 mm f/1.4 lens coupled to a Sony F65 camera.

Sony F65 (which has already proved to attain an exceptional symbiosis in 8K at 60fps shootings with the Summilux-C lenses, being the ones having drawn more potential of its tremendously exacting CMOS 20 megapixel Super 35 mm sensor able to reach 120 frames/second in 4K and the huge latitude of this camera with its RAW archives stored in 16 bit per lineal channel without losing data in high key and low key areas whatsoever, of its superb color space whose range beats the 35 mm format cinematographic chemical emulsions and of the steady chance of being able to check light and shadows results on a monitor through the specific button dedicated to it, in addition to having obtained an amazing image quality in the low luminosity sequences), Sony PXW FS7 II 4K

Sony PXW FS7 II 4K digital cinema camera with Super 35 mm sensor coupled to a Summilux-C 100 mm T1.4. With its 14 diaphragms of exposure latitude it is able to deliver powerful grayscale rendition preserving shadow detail and without blowing out highlights, as well as making extremely fast readouts and reaching frame rates of up to 180 fps.

and others like the Red Epic (with which they have shown a great synergy, taking advantage of its 5K 30 x 15 mm and 14 megapixel sensor — able to record from 1 to 120 frames/second at full resolution — and its dynamic range up to 18 diaphragms with HDR, being able to shoot in various aspect ratios with 5.4 microns pixels and a maximum recordable area of 27.65 x 14.58 mm), leveraging the great versatility of the PL mount.

The ceremony, which was attended by the aforementioned Iain Neil, André de Winter, Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Erich Feichtinger, Christian Skrein and Gerhard Baier was very touching, eight years after the foundation of CW Sonderoptik GMbH firm in 2007, aiming at designing, manufacturing and launching into market Leica lenses for cinema, TV and commercial productions, focused on

© Leitz Cine Wetzlar

the optical design, the mechanic assembly of metallic components, the outstanding miniaturization (they are the smallest and lightest cinematographic lenses boasting widest apertures under f/2 made hitherto, with only 14.2 cm in length and a front diameter of 9.5 cm, except the 135 mm f/1.4 featuring 11.4 cm, and a weight between 1.6 and 1.8 kg, an unknown till now compactness in lenses of so high luminosity, which has brought about a tremendous difficulty to get the stunning resolving power, contrast and correction of optical aberrations achieved),

Cross section of Summilux-C 100 mm T/1.4 showing the staggering optical configuration with very exotic multiple aspherical elements (particularly one of them, manufactured with a very rare optical glass, and making up a doublet with another spherical element) in perfect symbiosis with the telecentric path of the light beam(whose rays enter the lens following a parallel route with respect to the optical axis) from the rear element of each one of the lenses of the Summilux-C series up to the sensor, generating an incredibly uniform illumination in center, borders and corners of the image, as well as reducing both chromatic aberrations and colour fringing on the corners to values very near to absolute zero. The state-of-the-art telecentric optical design of the Summilux-C cinematographic lenses created by Iain Neil (some of them feature 22 elements) has meant a turning point in the History of Optics, both because of the myriad of exceedingly complex aspects that had to be solved and the fact that telecentric designs tend to be larger and heavier than not telecentric ones featuring identical focal length and widest aperture, usually needing rather big optical components (above all the front elements), so having managed to reduce the volume of these Leica cinema lenses until reaching the very small dimensions and very light weight, keeping a maximum f/1.4 aperture is an unprecedented milestone in the History of Optics, because the cinematographic T/1.4 lenses that have to synergyze with the digital sensors of the most technologically advanced movie cameras, are bound to meet much more stringent optical and mechanical specifications than the photographic lenses sporting the same luminosity for 24 x 36 mm. 
© Leitz Cine Wetzlar

the insertion of the optical elements and groups inside the barrels, the preservation of a common front thread of 9.5 cm together with an identical length of 14.2 cm in the wide array of Leica Summilux-C System of Lenses, focusing scales located in the front area, the same size and place of focusing rings and aperture selection rings, the net ring integrated in the rear element, the arrangement of the mechanical focusing components prior to the insertion of optical elements, the hugely accurate centering of those optical elements, manually made, unit by unit, by highly experienced technicians at CW Sonderoptic GmbH, the optimization of the focusing ring for each lens, plus oodles of optomechanical challenges of the highest conceivable difficulty, which were solved with tons of suffering and many thousands of hours of strenuous efforts, often near the limit of exhaustion, which had paid off in 2010 (five years after the conceptual genesis of the project by Christian Skrein, Otto Nemenz and Dr. Andreas Kaufmann in November of 2005) with the presentation of the first Leica Summilux-C cinematographic lenses in PL mount : the 18 mm T1.4, 21 mm T1.4, 21 mm T1.4, 25 mm T1.4, 35 mm T1.4, 40 mm T1.4, 50 mm T1.4, 75 mm T1.4 and 100 mm T1.4, subsequently followed in a second stage by the Summilux-C 16 mm T1.4, 29 mm T1.4 and 65 mm T1.4 (introduced in 2012) and the Summilux-C 135 mm f/1.4 in 2013 (whose first prototype was presented in January of that year).
Outer section and LP mount of the Summilux-C 100 mm T1.4. It can be clearly seen the exceptional mechanic construction boasting huge sturdiness and amazing precision, including abundant double aspherical elements, in addition to cams and cam rollers with curves of extremely difficult machining and tolerances of 1 micron, designed and manufactured by Uwe Weller Feinwerktechnik, the only firm able to bring André de Winter´s highly sophisticated mechanical design into fruition, working with noble metals like titanium, stainless-steel and aluminum, often with tolerances up to 10 microns. Titanium has massively been used in every Leica Summilux-C T1.4 lens, and a reduction of roughly 20% in diameter and a 35% in circumference have been achieved with respect to the extraordinary Arri/Zeiss Master Primes T1.3 and Cooke S5i T1.4, beating them in both image quality and mechanical design, as well as being much smaller and lighter, resulting in a greater comfort of use and security on changing lenses. 
© Leitz Cine Wetzlar

To name only some examples, if a comparison of size and weight is made between the Leica Summilux-C 18 mm T1.4 vs Zeiss Master Prime 18 mm T1.3, Summilux-C 35 mm T1.4 vs Zeiss Master Prime 35 mm T1.3, Summilux-C 50 mm T1.4 vs Zeiss Master Prime 50 mm T1.4 and Summilux-C 100 mm T1.4 vs Zeiss Master Prime 100 mm T1.3, the following data are very meaningful:

Leica Summilux-C 18 mm T1.4:

Length: 14.2 cm. Front Diameter: 9.5 cm. Weight: 1.6 kg

Arri / Zeiss Master Prime 18 mm T1.3:

Length: 15.3 cm. Front Diameter: 11.4 cm. Weight: 2.2 kg

Leica Summilux-C 35 mm T1.4:

Length: 14.2 cm. Front diameter: 9.5 cm. Weight: 1.8 kg

Arri / Zeiss Master Prime 50 mm T1.3:

Length: 15.3 cm. Front diameter: 11.4 cm. Weight: 2.7 kg.

Summilux-C 100 mm T1.4:

Length: 14.2 cm. Front diameter: 9.5 cm. Weight: 1.6 kg

Arri / Zeiss Master Prime 100 mm T1.3:

Length: 14.2 cm. Front diameter: 11.4 cm. Weight: 2.9 kg.

Iain Neil and André de Winter posing inside the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles on February 7, 2015, after having been granted the Scientific and Engineering Award of the Hollywood Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the optical and mechanical design of the Leica Summilux-C T/1.4. © Leitz Cine Wetzlar

Therefore, the very important reduction of dimensions and weight of the Leica Summilux-C T1.4 lenses with respect to the best cinematographic lenses that existed before their introduction, simultaneously preserving stratospheric levels of resolving power and contrast, amazing creamy sharpness and color fidelity, along with commendable correction of distortion and vignetting to negligible values and the insertion of the fabulous focusing system through cams without compromising the compactness, has been the greatest optomechanical feat accomplished in the History of Cinematography Lenses hitherto, because it was thought from a scientific viewpoint that the superb ARRI / Zeiss Master Primes T1.3 designed by Uwe Weber and Jürgen Noffke were practically impossible to beat in perfection, so if the Leica Summilux-C image quality had been attained keeping similar size and weight, it would have already been something hugely praiseworthy and difficult to achieve.

Hence it is even more astonishing that the Team of Design and Development of Leica Summilux-C Cinematographic Lenses managed to achieve it with much smaller and lighter f/1.4 lenses than the ARRI/Zeiss Master Primes T1.3, since from an optical and mechanical standpoint, the adjustment of tolerances is far easier with lenses featuring larger size and heavier weight.

Nevertheless, though that historical accomplishment was fulfilled, however incredible it may seem, top priority with the creation of the Leica Summilux-C lenses was not only to beat in optical and mechanical quality all the best highly luminous cinema lenses in existence, specially the ARRI / Zeiss T1.3 and Cooke S5i T1.4, because Leica Camera AG is a small company sporting a craftsmanship philosophy on doing its products, respecting very much the rest of firms of the photographic and cinema sectors and is utterly aware of the fact that its sales can´t be massive as happens with big multinational corporations.

From scratch, the most important dream for every person within in the Summilux-C Project Team was to strive to the utmost after implementing a quantum leap in the optomechanical design of ultraluminous lenses for digital professional cameras featuring different sensor formats, with the fundamental added premise that the f/1.4 lenses created with that aim in mind would have to endure a minimum of twenty years working flawlessly, with utter preservation of their state-of-the-art optomechanic traits, and successfully adapting to any technological breakthroughs that could appear after their launch into market, regarding evolution of sensors, greater or lesser spread of specific formats, new models of cinematographic cameras, etc.

And it has been accomplished, first and foremost thanks to two decisive factors:

a) Because this was a once in a lifetime chance and the professional dream of every optical and mechanical designer, which brought about truly enormous levels of passion and thrill, to such an extent that the most competent scientific team of optomechanical design in the whole History of Cinematographic Industry was gathered inside the CW Sonderoptic GmbH Team, who worked in the Summilux-C Project since 2006.

© jmse

b) The decision making ability of Dr. Andreas Kaufmann (Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG and Owner of the CW Sonderoptic GmbH firm), who grasped the historical opportunity of transferring to the professional cinematographic world the values which have diachronically been the hallmark of Leica brand in the optomechanical scope of the photographic sector, and financed the project with wherewithal of his own from the very beginning, bringing together a formidable line-up of well-known optical and mechanical designers boasting huge experience and knowledge, who worked to exhaustion during nine years, between 2005 and 2014.


In addition to Iain Neil, André de Winter, Otto Nemenz and Christian Skrein, there were other persons whose role in the Leica Summilux-C Project was very important:

- Gerhard Baier : Executive Director and Marketing Manager of the Leica Summilux-C Project. Great architect of the settling of a CW Sonderoptik assembly facility which has enabled an independent production line focused on the manufacture of Summilux-C cinema lenses. He is also a highly experienced photographer and cameraman, having worked as a war correspondent, camera operator and editor for CNN, BBC and German TV between 1991 and 1994 during the War in Bosnia. A man featuring very deep knowledge about digital HD, Ultra High Definition TV, 2K, 4K and 6K, he was Executive Director of Band Pro Film & Digital in Munich between 2002 and 2012, as well as having been one of the pioneers of digital cinematography in Europe, with very active participation in learning seminaries, workshops and all kind of technical demonstrations.

- Rainer Schnabel : He was for many decades Director of Assembling of Optical Elements in Photographic Lenses at Leica Camera AG. His synergy with the MTF measures made by Wilfried Heidl and Theo Martin was a key factor in the creation of some of the best Leica M and R lenses during the second half of eighties, nineties and first decade of XXI Century. An encyclopedic authority on both optical and mechanical designs at the highest level and a fundamental figure in the making of tests with Iain Neil throughout the development stage of the Leica Summilux-C cinematographic lenses, of which he was Production Director.

- Ulrich Schröder : Head of Lens Assembly at Leica Camera AG, with an experience of 32 years in that field (prototypes and series products). 

He has been the Assembly Director of the Leica Summilux-C cinematographic lenses.

- Bernhard Kratzer : Production Director of the Summilux-C Project. He replaced Rainer Schnabel after the latter´s retirement after thirty-three years in Leica. He is an outstanding expert in precision mechanics and worked throughout three decades in Rodenstock, devoted to a wide range of departments (manufacturing prototypes of photographic lenses, medical lenses, laser technology, measuring equipment, assembly of anamorphic zooms, improvement of multiple-layer coatings, assembly of photographic lenses, logistics and increase of production, etc) before becoming part of CW Sonderoptic. A key figure in the meaningful increase of Summilux-C lenses production from 2012 onward.

- Bill McCreath : Engineering Director of ACM. One of the foremost experts in the world on cinematographic lenses. A man featuring tremendous knowledge and expertise, he was Director of Development and Optical Engineering at Thales Optoelectronics in Glasgow (Scotland), where he designed and manufactured a lot of components and optical systems with infrareds and high performance range of visible spectrum, after which he became Director of Research and development at Raytheon Elcan (Canada), where he took part in the creation of devices of optical data and a comprehensive assortment of personalized advanced optical systems.

Thereafter he was General and Engineering Director at GSI Lumonics in Nepean, Ontario (Canada), a leading firm in the manufacture of breakthrough optical systems and components, subsequently joining to Melles Griot Optics of Rochester (New York) as Engineering Director.

Bill McCreath is an international authority in optical systems, programs of electro-optical assembly, optical coatings, electronic shutters, optical components, optical engineering, analysis of lenses, engineering resources and development of products.

- Roland Elbert : Manufacturing Engineer at Leica Camera AG, with a professional background that after a learning stage at Ernst Leitz Wetzlar (1981-1984) began at Ernst Leitz Wetzlar (1984-1987) and Ernst Leitz Canada (1987-1989), following as an assembly technician at Leica Camera AG (1991-2004), Team Supervisor of Lens Assembly in Clean Room at Leica camera AG (2004-2007), Member of the Quality Guarantee Section at Leica Camera AG (2007-2009), Head of Special Projects at Leica Camera AG (2009-2012) and Manufacturing Engineer at Leica Camera AG since 2012 until now.

© jmse

- Uwe Weller and Siegbert Zörb, Executive Directors of Uwe Weller Feinwerktechnik GmbH, the world benchmark firm in precision CNC machines and manufacture of mechanic components with maximum accuracy and tolerances in the boundary of the impossible.  
The role of this company for the attainment of the Summilux-C Project goals has been fundamental, because only Uwe Weller Feinwerktechnik was able to make the hugely complex metallic components (some of them featuring curves of maximum difficulty) of André de Winter´s intricate mechanical design, to such an extent that its experience when it came to successfully solving great challenges of manufacturing of components with a state-of-the-art machining became one of the cornerstones of the development stage in the making of Summilux-C lenses, since one of the top priority factors from the beginning was the impeccable preservation of their optomechanical properties during decades of hard professional use in all kinds of shootings and environmental conditions.

- Seth Emmons, Marketing Director of CW Sonderoptik, whose labor to make the Summilux-C known to professional cinematographers during different worldwide events was praiseworthy.

- Jon Fauer, publisher and editor of Film and Digital Times Magazine, the leading publication on professional cinematography. He is a technology pundit and a world-class expert on movie cameras, cinema lenses coupled to them and many more things.

He is the author of twelve best-selling books on cinematography and digital imaging, published by ASC Press, Cine Pro Media, ARRI and Focal Press, as well as teaching Advanced Cinematography at Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts and giving lectures on filmaking at Dartmouth College, Southampton College, School of Visual Arts, New York University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Kodak, AFI, Cinegear, CINEC, Camerimage and others, in addition to having directed or shot a number of documentary films, fashion and beauty commercials and being a first-class camera operator who has published important works like " Arriflex 35 Book ".

It dawned on him from the very beginning that Summilux-C Lenses opened a new era in cinematography, becoming an instrumental figure in making professional cinematographers know their optomechanical virtues and exceedingly compact size and weight for their f/1.4 luminosity, visiting the Sonderoptik factory in Wetzlar in 2012 to see the different production stages and writing a lot of articles on them in both Film and Digital magazine and other media, as well as organizing events and presentations.


The creation of the Summilux-C lenses featuring premium optical glasses, presence of multiple aspherical elements and the need to eliminate colour fringing (something much more difficult to achieve with digital sensors than with chemical films), the chromatic aberrations and to fight to exhaustion to reduce the falloff to a minimum, the practical absence of air zones between the optical elements, the reduction of distortion to exceptional not observable values even in the most wideangle lenses and the main intention of substantiating those wishes into much smaller size, front diameter and weight than everything in existence before, getting a resolving power, contrast, bokeh and skin tones currently being the yardstick of the high-end cinematographic optical sector, made necessary to devise the most advanced program of optical design for cinema lenses created in the world until now, incepted by Iain Neil and meaning a turning point in the evolution of optical software, also opening a new era in this domain from a scientific viewpoint.

Lateral left diagonal view of the Leica Summilux-C 35 mm T1.4, showing the very rugged and light PL mount manufactured in titanium. The mechanical construction of these lenses manufactured by Leitz Cinema Wetzlar is simply unrivaled. © Leitz Cine Wetzlar   


The twelve Summilux-C cinematographic lenses (16 mm T/1.4, 18 mm T/1.4, 21 mm T/1.4, 25 mm T/1.4, 29 mm T/1.4, 35 mm T/1.4, 40 mm T/1.4, 50 mm T/1.4, 65 mm T/1.4, 75 mm T/1.4, 100 mm T/1.4 and 135 mm T/1.4 ) are the most perfect ever made, particularly as to resolving power, contrast and bokeh, with stratospheric creamy sharpness on the focal plane (even at full f/1.4 aperture) and gorgeous appearance in the out of focus areas, oozing a character and feel that adds depth and texture to the image, thanks to the unique iris design  and their custom coatings.

Moreover, they deliver very natural color rendition and their correction of optical aberrations is unsurpassed thanks among many factors to the abundant very exotic aspherical elements they include, resulting in unmatched flat field illumination across the entire Super 35 mm frame and a suppression of color fringing even in the extreme corners of the image surface, with no discernible breathing.

And the use of those exotic aspherical elements in each Leica Summilux-C lens creates a telecentric path of light from the rear element to the digital sensor, in such a way that telecentricity and aspheric correction not only reduce chromatic aberrations and color fringing to very insignificant levels, but also create a more even illumination across the entire image field.

Therefore, Summilux-C lenses yield unique look and feel, with a kind of image quality that can be bluntly defined as stratospheric,

Red Helium 8K digital cinematographic camera coupled to a Summilux-C 100 mm T/1.4 lens. 
© Photo Cine Rent

as proved by tests carried out with the 35.4 megapixel Red Helium 8K S35 featuring a 29.90 mm x 15.77 mm CMOS sensor delivering a resolving power being 17 times better than HD along with incredible dynamic range, and in which top priority has been to achieve unprecedented optical perfection, an aim that has utterly been accomplished.

Does it mean that image quality delivered by Leica Summilux-C lenses is overwhelmingly superior to the one yielded by Arri / Zeiss Master Primes and Cooke S5i cinematographic lenses and the best possible option in all shooting contexts ?

Definitely not.

To begin with, the concept of image quality is highly subjective and a myriad of variables come into play.

Resolving power, contrast, sharpness and bokeh, though fundamental, are not the only aspects to have in consideration.

Summilux-C 100 mm T1.4 coupled to a Phantom Flex4K digital movie camera featuring a Super 35 mm format sensor and able to yield highly detailed 4K imaging at 1,000 fps. 
© Sublab

Needless to say that the Leica Summilux-C lenses manufactured by Leitz Cine Wetzlar are the best lenses of the three from a mechanical and optical viewpoint, and they will specially have the upper hand when shooting at widest f/1.4 aperture with available light, getting an incredible uniformity of exceptional performance between center, borders and corners of the frame, and on stopping down from f/1.4 to f/8 there will only be a gain in depth of field, so it´s clear that Leica´s edge to edge sharpness beats the other two lenses hands down, differences that will be even more apparent with wideangle objectives between 18 mm and 29 mm.

And this is quite an achievement.

Suffice it to say that the superb Cooke S4/i lenses, whose image quality is very good at their widest f/2 aperture, yield their best optical performance at f/2.8 and f/4.

In terms of optomechanical perfection, resolving power and contrast, the Summilux-C lenses and the also stratospheric Arri/Zeiss Master Primes play in another league, though the amazing Cooke S5i lenses also boast remarkable perfection and boast a wonderful and very special filmic aesthetics of image second to none in this regard, being able to separate faces from background and getting unbeatable 3D quality and vitality in countenances on being used at full aperture.

On their turn, when being used at widest aperture, both Summilux-C and Arri/Zeiss Master Primes are more flat and one dimensional, with superior optical performance and a different bokeh in which faces are blended into the background. 

The focusing mechanism of the Arri/Zeiss Master Primes is exceedingly smooth and a relish to use, being clearly the best in this regard, as well as delivering an stratospheric image quality only second to the Leica Summilux-C lenses.

Whatever it may be, lens choice is a very personal one, depending among other factors on the kind of image a cinematographer wants to create.

And evidently, Leica Summilux-C, Arri/Zeiss Master Primes and Cooke S5/i cinematographic lenses are much more than capable of getting impressive image quality.

Therefore, though in terms of optomechanical perfection the Summilux-C lenses manufactured by Leitz Cine Wetzlar are the best, a further key factor for them ruling the roost of the cinema industry and significantly making possible to draw a very high percentage of that huge image quality potential, is their exceedingly little size and low weight ( much smaller and almost half the weight of the Arri/Zeiss Master Primes and Cooke S5i), making them an ideal choice for handheld work, greatly fostering the control over the camera and setting majort differences in terms of the logistics of the shoot, since they can be quickly interchanged in a busy production environment.

Leica Summilux-C 29 mm f/1.4 and Leica Summilux-C 65 mm f/1.4, two of the twelve reference-class large aperture Cine Leitz Wetzlar lenses which have meant a turning point in the optomechanical quality of objectives designed and manufactured for motion picture industry. 
© Leitz Cine Wetzlar


It is not easy to define the superlative image quality and very special look delivered by Summilux-C cinematographic lenses.

First of all, their resolving power oozes a kind of very beautiful creamy feeling but simultaneously being incredibly crystalline and clear.

It´s not a resolving power as clinical as the one yielded by the superb Arri/Zeiss Master Primes lenses, but the acutance of the images, id est, the visual perception of sharpness, is stratospheric on the focused areas, while the bokeh in the out of focus areas is sumptuous.

Leica Summilux-C Lenses designed by Iain Neil are the best ones ever made in the cinematographic scope, in the same way as the medium format Leica S lenses designed by Peter Karbe are the best ones ever made in the photographic domain.

The rendering of textures in skin tones they obtain is extraordinary, almost on a par with the Cooke S4 and S5i lenses in this regard, though with different image aesthetics. Here the subjective factor and particular taste of every cinematographer come into play.

In addition, the correction of both lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberrations in the Leica Summilux-C lenses is breathtaking, having been reduced to negligible levels (which are amazingly shared by every lens between 16 mm and 135 mm), virtually undetectable even in projections on very large screens.

As to distortion, its correction in Leica Summilux-C lenses is very praiseworthy, with values ranging between approximately 2.15 % in the 16 mm T1.4, 1.19% in the 40 mm T/1.4 and 0.20% in the 135 mm f/1.4.

Moreover, astigmatism, coma and field curvature have been reduced to almost zero.

Iain Neil, optical designer of the Summilux-C lenses, whose optomechanical performance has set a new standard in the motion picture industry. 
© Leitz Cine Wetzlar

Needless to say that the state-of-the-art telecentric optical design of the Leica Summilux-C lenses, the most complex in history, has resulted in an incredible evenness of brightness in the whole surface of the image, including extreme corners.

This exceptional light uniformity and lack of vignetting in every Summilux-C lens at all diaphragms (with the only exception of the 16 mm T1.4 and the 18 mm T1.4 in which there is a very small falloff at the widest aperture) is an outstanding optical achievement.

Regarding flare resistance, it is excellent though not stratospheric, and more than enough for vast majority of contrejour shooting contexts, etc, with very good preservation of sharpness and contrast.

There has been lot of ingenuity, tremendous optical knowledge and experience and a full-fledged visual culture developed throughout many decades before getting the wonderful quality of image delivered by Summilux-C lenses, which bear the hallmark of the genius Iain Neil, the best optical designer of cinematographic lenses of all time along with Takuo Miyagishima (technological and human driving force of Panasonic Corporation between 1954 and 2009).

© Leitz Cine Wetzlar

But there isn´t and won´t be any perfect lens. And the Leica Summilux-C objectives aren´t perfect either.

However good a lens may be, it is a compromise between a myriad of designing options, whose fulfillment difficulty grows geometrically as you reduce size and weight, which from scratch turned the Leica Summilux-C Lenses into a real quantum leap in the sphere of highly luminous professional cinematographic lenses.

Therefore, many thousands of hours throughout years were needed to create these fabulous lenses, not only aiming at the most perfect possible optical and mechanical performance, but also in search of a sublime type of image thrilling audiences and making them relish a haptic and unforgettable experience every time they watch a motion picture, documentary film or commercial shot with them.

And in this regard, challenge was huge, because particularly the Hollywood cinematographic industry has always excelled with premium lenses which shot many legendary films and delivered unique look and aesthetics of image, like the Cooke Speed Panchros f/2, the Panavision Auto-Panatar anamorphic f/2.3, the Bausch & Lomb Super Baltar f/2.3 Lenses made in Rochester (New York) for Mitchell Camera Corp. during second half of sixties, the Angenieux Type M1 50 mm f/0.95 designed in early sixties, the Kinoptik Apochromats from forties and fifties, the Zeiss Standard Speeds and others.

There are a lot of evidence suggesting that a great human being living in Lugano (Switzerland) had in mind the specific kind of image and visual aesthetics delivered by each kind of professional cinema lens manufactured by different companies between early twenties and 2010 before the completion of the Summilux-C Project.

Throughout thirty-five years in the optics industry, Iain Neil had already designed a lot of cinematographic lenses for Hollywood movie industry prior to tackling the creation of Leica Summilux-C lenses.

And when Dr. Andreas Kaufmann´s amazing entrepreneurial insight made him grasp the viability of the Summilux-C Project with the initial specifications set forth by

© jmse

Christian Skrein and

© Otto Nemenz International, Inc

Otto Nemenz (two gurus of cinematography with more than fifty years of experience within the motion picture trade and the shooting of films with state-of-the-art movie cameras and lenses) in 2005, making them possible with his financial and above all unswerving personal commitment and iron will to beget a new optomechanical standard of quality in this scope, and made contact with Iain Neil, the best designer of cinema lenses in the world understood that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

In 2007, after a meeting with Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Christian Skrein and Otto Nemenz in Salzburg (Austria), Iain Neil got down to work to bring to fruition the starting specifications of the Summilux-C prototype lenses : lightweight, small in size, f/1.4 maximum aperture, user-friendly focus and iris scales, fitted with a titanium PL mount, greater than 35 mm silent aperture coverage and easy for camera assistants to use with only one hand.

The clear target was to beat the extraordinary Arri/Zeiss Master Primes f/1.3, the reference-class cinematographic lenses until that moment, particularly in terms of resolving power, contrast, sharpness and mechanical construction.

And to attain it, introducing multiple aspheric elements in the optical formula of Leica Summilux-C lenses was a decisive factor to get unprecedented optical and mechanical performance, because they feature variable curvature radius in comparison to the constant curvature of the spherical elements, so they reduce much more optical aberrations, particularly the spherical and geometric ones, as well as enabling to use larger apertures with fewer elements, so aspherical lenses are significantly lighter and smaller than spherical ones and yield an amazing sharpness on the entire surface of the image.

To surpass the Arri / Master Primes in optomechanical performance was already quite a feat, as a matter of fact the greatest exploit in the whole history of cinematographic lenses.

But it wasn´t enough for the Scottish genius, who didn´t rest on his laurels at any moment and was infused with the humbleness, fighting spirit and good taste learned from the great Tak Miyagishima (eminent optical designer and mechanical engineer of cinema lenses, heart and soul and driving force of Panasonic between mid fifties and early XXI Century and creator of technologies that revolutionized the industry).

He did appreciate very much the huge level of confidence put on his shoulders by Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Christian Skrein and Otto Nemenz, and decided to go far beyond : the new Summilux-C lenses would not only be the best cinema lenses ever made. They would mean a change of paradigm, a quantum leap in every conceivable aspect.

Iain Neil grasped that Leica Summilux-C lenses had to also boast unique artistic qualities and feel.

He was utterly aware that each manufacturer of cinematographic lenses provides different balances among all the parameters defining optical quality, using various criteria in their design and creation, and that apart from resolving power, contrast and sharpness there are some more very important recognizable traits that audiences see on screen and set differences among brands in the lens/ camera/ post production combination that will result in the final look of the image: spherical aberration, color, flare, glare and bokeh, also fundamental for lens choice and to meet the needs of cinematographers regarding the kind of image they wish to obtain.

He is a living encyclopedia of optics and has got inside his head the specific look and image aesthetics delivered by every cinema lens manufactured by different companies from early 20th Century hitherto, and realized that the image yielded by Summilux-C lenses should have a very special look, aesthetics and character of its own in the five aforementioned sides.

He also rose to the challenge in this regard and achieved it, with a painstaking previous labor of thousands of hours before taking decisions, trying to provide the Summilux-C lenses regarding character and visual aesthetics with the best of the image look of such legendary lenses like

- The original Cooke Speed Panchros f/2, designed by W.H.Lee and a staple in Hollywood between twenties and sixties, with few and small optical elements and rendering a very good sharpness for the time, a very pleasant flare on the whole frame and very low contrast).

- The Auto-Panatar anamorphic f/2.3 lenses, designed by Walter Wallin and Takuo Miyagishima (delivering absolutely beautiful images whose softness is very tangible and pleasing even nowadays, with a streaking not distracting best ever flare, unique focus breathing and low contrast making up a dreamlike look), which were manufactured by Panavision during fifties for Ultra Panavision 70 mm productions like Ben-Hur.

- The Bausch & Lomb Super Baltar T/2.3 lenses from second half of sixties (featuring a visible spherical aberration and some focus shift on stopping down, but delivering a wonderful soft and warm classic retro look, gentle and pleasing and most times with an artistic flare) made for Mitchell Camera Corp during second half of sixties.

- The Cooke S4/i (producing a clean and at the same time soft image even in subdued light situations, with smooth transition from focus to blur, luscious and warm skin tones along with low contrast, a pleasant amount of sharpness and warm results, id est, the famous " Cooke Look " ).

- The Angenieux Type M1 50 mm T/0.95 from early sixties (with single coated optical elements and a 16 blade circular iris attaining impressive smooth focus fall-off and flattering skin tones).

- The Zeiss Supreme Primes Uncoated (featuring lower contrast and increased flare in search for a vintage look).

In spite of being far from the clinical perfection (correction of flare, distortion, veiling glare and spherical aberrations), sharpness, resolving power and contrast even at full aperture of much more modern lenses like the Zeiss/Arri Master Primes T/1.3 or Cooke S7/i T/2 (the latter launched into market in 2017), the previously mentioned classic cinematographic lenses deliver very subtle and creamy images, amazingly enhancing anything bright inside the frame, specially the skin tones, and often generate different degrees of flare for dramatic effect, as well as yielding exceptional and very beautiful smeary and painterly bokeh.

Every lens from from every brand has got its feel, look of image and purpose, depending on each cinematographer´s needs.

It is not only a matter of appreciating the perfection, but also of loving the imperfection.

And in this regard, it seems evident that on designing the Leica Summilux-C cinema lenses, the optical wizard Iain Neil became a kind of alchemist, creating a melting pot in which he mixed all kind of image features aiming at achieving the best of digital world, getting maximum feasible resolving power, contrast, sharpness and amazing correction of optical aberrations in search for perfection, but also a myriad of aspects inherent to the aforementioned " imperfect " vintage lenses of the analogue times, which forged the golden era of Hollywood productions during XX Century, with unique aesthetics of images not as superlatively "clean" as the yielded by XXI Century lenses, but achieving a kind of abstract beauty, with a different feel and interpretation of reality audiences hanker for.

It´s very difficult to define the unique image delivered by Leica Summilux-C lenses, because it seems as if a very small percentage of flare had intentionally been preserved to avoid excessively clinically perfect images in terms of resolving power, but simultaneously, the contrast, acutance and crystallinity attained on the whole surface of the frame at every diaphragm and focusing distance is stunning, so the visual feeling of sharpness on the focused areas is truly impressive, in symbiosis with incredible color rendering and a simply sensational bokeh.

It´s no wonder that when the first prototypes of Summilux-C lenses without the Leica brand badge appeared in December 2009 in Hollywood during an event held at the Band Pro facilities in Burbank (California), with Iain Neil very near them, expectation skyrocketed because of their very small size and light weight.

And when within a very few weeks later some of the preproduction lenses were checked by recognized international experts like Otto Nemenz, Matthew Duclos, Gordon Segrove, Avi Karpick, Philippe Vié, Bernd Lesscher, John Buckley and others, all of them became highly impressed by the image quality they delivered.

As the old adage says, it´s not the tools, but the cinematographer.

But it isn´t less true that Leica Summilux-C T1.4 lenses in the hands of an experienced cinematographer can work wonders.

© Leica Camera AG

The design of Leica Summilux-C lenses has undoubtedly been the greatest effort ever made to create cinematographic lenses, and they deliver exceptional image quality with a commendable balance in its visual aesthetics, since they aren´t either all sharp or all soft, capturing details with impressive crystalline clarity and acutance in edges, but simultaneously depicting more human subjects like skin tones and out of focus elements with a softness which feels accurate, as well as yielding natural and consistent colors.

During the years that were necessary to complete the optical design of the Summilux-C lenses, there were a lot of stages working to exhaustion and choosing options among hundreds of thousands of possible ways of making light rays smoothly pass through optical components, trying to balance all the specifications, since however state-of-the-art an optical software may be, at this stratospheric level the personal decisions taken by the optical designer according to his knowledge and experience are the key factor, particularly if lenses have to be extraordinary in optomechanical performance, which will inevitably bring about that the optical software yields very big and heavy objectives featuring a large front diameter, so the optical designer must leverage all of his ingenuity, expertise and resources to find paths dealing with the conundrum of attaining very compact lenses while keeping superb image quality.

And this is by far the greatest conceivable challenge for any optical designer, which was solved with cum laude marks by Iain Neil through much more than strenuous toil, tons of proficiency, love for his trade, irrepressible passion, and his lifetime professional fundamental keynote that optical design work is both scientific and artistic in nature, because it needs very deep knowledge of Physics and Mathematics, but there´s an also significant part involving intuition and craft, so it is a multi-faceted discipline that encompasses a broad range of skills as a scientist, artisan, interpreter of customers wishes, expert in acceptable production cost for subsequent launching into market, awareness that the know-how of physicists will be increasingly important to implement the change to photonic systems, etc, without forgetting a further fundamental side : to get as much feedback as possible between design and production to optimize the traits and advantages of any product combining hand-crafted quality with a dedication to precision mechanics and outstanding optics.

The Summilux-C T1.4 cinematographic lenses are really groundbreaking, boast a very special character of their own, deliver exquisite images, have ignited a new spark and were created by one man who never surrenders, fascinated with being in the leading edge at every moment and willing to bear the brunt of the huge suffering and many thousands of exceedingly hard work which were necessary to open a new era in this scope.

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