The 24mm Elmarit-M ASPH is an elegant lens emblematic of the M system. It bridges the vast chasm between journalism and architecture, in a form factor that defies all conventional wisdom borne by a DSLR world. How can so small a thing be so sharp, everywhere?
The M camera’s defining attribute, in my opinion, is its support for short back focal distances compared to its large imager. This one property enables lens designers working on the M system to employ a wider array of optical devices for wide-angle lenses. These devices combine attractive properties that, over a long period of time and by no feat of Leica engineers’, have become exclusive staples of the M system. This Elmarit-M is a poster child for these designs, and therefore a poster child for the M system as a whole.
Long ago I identified the 24mm Elmarit ASPH as one of the top three M lenses that I would move to own if the opportunity presented itself. Eventually I caught a used copy of this lens and bought a 35mm Biogon ZM and Zeiss Ikon camera to use as my introduction to rangefinder photography. Even though film was a pain in my neck every day that I shot with it, I learned enough to confirm that the M system was in my bloodstream already.
Unfortunately I did not bond with the 24mm Elmarit-M the same way and it sat unused for most of the time that I owned it – it has just been sold. I am publishing this incomplete review now, such as it is, to inform you of what I learned from the Elmarit.
The Elmarit feels like a small smooth solid rock, it feels as though it were a single piece of material. The anodized finish is silky to the touch, almost dangerously slippery; the movement of the focus ring is velvety smooth and without any kind of rattle, play or friction. On the M9 the pair feels solid and well balanced, and simply looks terrific.
The rectangular hood of the Elmarit adds a touch of distinction to the outfit, and the slip-on cap is the most practical and genuinely useful accessory to ever come with a lens in my opinion. I wish all rangefinder lenses came with rectangular hoods and caps. This said, the hood is a bit unnecessarily large for the lens, it could be thinner around the back particularly.
The aperture ring is a weaker point in the execution of this lens. It is well-made but doesn’t feel as firm and secure as those of the Zeiss ZM lenses, it feels almost loose / un-tightened. The detents are clear but shallow, I worry about accidentally changing aperture as I focus the lens. The focusing tab of the Elmarit helps however, as your fingers are positioned away and thus less likely to rub on the aperture ring whilst focusing.
Focus is easy and quick with this Elmarit on the Leica M9. The focusing tab is not my favorite mechanism however, and even after spending quite some time with the lens I still prefer the fluted focus rings of Zeiss ZM lenses. In particular, focus down to the near limit can be awkward with the focusing tab and I think requires a different grip on the camera than infinity.
As revealed in my M9 review, my biggest issue with focusing this 24mm lens is the hard stop at 0.7m. What was an annoyance at first eventually caused me to leave this lens in the bag permanently – I carried it everywhere but never used it. Instead I extended my use of 35mm lenses to cover applications where I would normally use a 24mm lens, such that the near-limit of the camera and lenses wasn’t a limitation.
This section is incomplete, because I have collected insufficient data to write it properly.
When testing a lens I customarily shoot several hundred frames under the same conditions that I regularly take photographs – because I take regular photographs with the lens. However in the 18 months since I acquired this lens I haven’t shot enough images to write even a basic performance evaluation. To put this in perspective, in just 10 days last year I shot over a thousand frames with the Nikkor 24mm-G, it is one of my favorite lenses.
All I can say in passing that the 24mm Elmarit is extremely sharp, all over, and most of the time. Its performance seems to depend on aperture only so far as stopping down reduces field curvature and improves the odds of the image periphery being in focus. It does interesting things in contra-light, not quite resisting glare but instead blooming/glowing attractively.
I have no reason to hold reservations against this lens for any use where the 0.7m near limit isn’t an issue.
A used copy of the 24mm Elmarit-M ASPH is one of the best values to be found in Leica lenses. Landscape, architecture and street photographers will find much to delight them in this lens. I did not find it suitable for close-up, action reportage work.
Would I recommend this lens to other photographers? Yes. However, consider that I bought one, carried it, but hardly shot anything with it until I sold it.
These samples are not representative of what the proper users of this lens will achieve.