PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux

3Jun/116

Leica 28mm Summicron-M ASPH Review

The 28mm Summicron ASPH is both a landmark optical design and one of Leica’s most appreciated lenses out in the field. It is to date the best combination of quality, speed and size for the versatile 28mm focal length – the perfect documentary lens. What’s more, not only is this Summicron nearly the perfect lens technically, it is also a very pretty object to behold.

The layout of the Summicron is an original design attributed to Michael Heiden. At its launch on the millennial it rendered clearly obsolete the older spherical 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M. The Summicron delivered better results than the older lens at all apertures, even when comparing wider apertures, while matching the gross size and weight of the slower lens. The new 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH appears to be a simplified version of the Summicron.

When I first decided to move to the M system I knew that the 28mm Summicron had to take the top spot on my shortlist for lenses. While I waited to take the plunge I consciously evolved my shooting style from a 50mm-centric style to a 35mm-centric style, with the goal of “graduating” to an even wider focal length. With the Summicron I made my second attempt at graduation.

Operation

The 28mm Summicron is extremely compact for its specifications, being roughly the same size and weight as the 24mm Elmarit that it replaced in my bag. Like its sister lens it is beautifully made, it feels solid as a rock, and the anodized finish is very pleasant but slippery. It is not the most compact of lenses for the Leica M mount however, and the included hood is substantial but I think very attractive.  Paired with the M9 you get a solid but agile tool for photojournalism.

The aperture ring of this Summicron is neither the best nor the worst that I have used. It is both fluid and has satisfying positive detents, but it isn't as secure against accidental movement as the Zeiss version. It is much more than serviceable, suffice to say, and I do put considerable mileage on it as I use the lens under all sorts of lighting conditions.

Focus is rapid and decisive with the 28mm Summicron on the M9 rangefinder camera. Even at wide open aperture it is difficult to miss focus with this lens, provided the rangefinder is calibrated.  The Leica focusing tab is not as convenient for me as the Zeiss focus rings but I am slowly getting more comfortable with it in use.

The Summicron is a unit-focus lens, it does not implement floating elements. The near focus limit of 0.7m is implemented as a hard stop, similar to other Leica lenses. This limit is almost an annoyance but not exactly, and the fact is that I am putting up with it on this lens.

Drawing

The drawings of the 28mm Summicron are virtually flawless at all apertures. Working with this lens is a great way to become addicted to the full resolving power of the M9 camera (in comparison my D700 looks quite dull now) such as I am now. The lens has exactly one flaw and it’s rather minor.

At full aperture the Summicron resolves very fine detail with good contrast on axis, and fine detail with average contrast in the outer zones. At this aperture light fall-off is substantial and only partially corrected by the progressive digital gain applied in the M9 camera’s firmware; the is significant enough to be part of the visual signature of the lens at this aperture. In practice the images at f/2 are always usable, and very often more-than-usable.

With the first stop down to f/2.8 contrast improves everywhere, with the center now reaching excellent levels and the outer zones reaching good levels on fine details. Light fall-off is tremendously improved and typically not a problem after processing starting with this aperture. Another stop to f/4 and the outer zones continue to improve, now clearly resolving very fine detail with good contrast.

Between the medium-small apertures of f/5.6 and f/8 the lens reaches its peak resolving power for the entire frame. Contrast is higher at f/5.6, perhaps too high (!) at the center, while f/8 softens contrast slightly and brings the outer zones to their peak resolution. This being said, unless your processing flow applies absolutely no software sharpening, the difference between the apertures of f/4 through f/8 are so small as to be irrelevant.

The Summicron is much more resistant to veiling glare than the other Leica lenses I have tested. I have only seen it produce internal reflection flares a few times, it is certainly not susceptible to them.

Conclusion

The 28mm Summicron is the best lens I have ever used, and I have used a large number of first-class optics in the last few years. Up until now I had been very disappointed with the Leica lenses I tried, but I am completely thrilled (even giddy!) about owning a copy of this lens. The Summicron is basically perfect, one of the rare lenses that performs exactly as advertised.

Would I recommend this lens to other photographers? Yes. Absolutely.

Samples

 


Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Good review again, Oliver! THX for sharing.

    I do have one question though: did you ever consider/reviewed the Biogon 28 ZM?

    I have the G-Biogon and it is a fantastic lens although 28 mm is not my favorite focal length. Or do you need the extra speed?

    • Very early on when all I knew of the ZMs was their MTF charts, I got really turned off by the chart of the 28mm ZM. Because my experience using lenses roughly matches what the charts say, I don’t feel like revisiting that opinion even now that I actually could. It looks like a really old design that’s never been re-tuned.

      With that said, speed is also a real issue. The M9 is by no means a low-light champ, and an f/2 lens that is usable at f/2 under 100% of conditions (not 60% or 80%) goes a long way towards fixing this. The 24mm Elmarit I used to own was definitely a bit slow and it got in the way of using it even when its other usability issues didn’t.

      Olivier

      • I was very surprised that you said that “It looks like a really old design that’s never been re-tuned.”.

        As I have the G-Biogon 28 and used it a lot and liked its excellent imagery very much I compared the MTF charts for the G-Biogon and the ZM Biogon 28 mm’s.

        I saw a lot of familiarity including an optical design that was different (The ZM Biogon being larger and heavier, having more elements) but only because 1 element in the G-Biogon was split into 2 smaller ones in the ZM Biogon.

        The MTF charts surprised me even more: They were very identical and where there are differences it looks like the G-Biogon is the better lens!

        Anyway: the ZM Biogon received praise and now I know this is also for the G-Biogon that I will continue to use with much joy.

        I also looked at the price for the 28 Cron in The Netherlands: Euro 3200,=. Pffffff, Leica quality is very expensive. As it always was I guess….

        Congrats with this lens! It is wonderful. Hope you enjoy it much….

        • For what it’s worth I bought a minty used copy of the Summicron and paid about 30% less than retail. The used market is far healthier than the retail market in my opinion, for example it has more inventory (this is ridiculous right now).

  2. Without doubt this is the best lens I have ever used. The sharpness on my M9 is incredible – better than the latest 50mm f1.4. Just got an M7 body too, but haven’t tried it with that yet. I also have an NEX-7 body on order which I’m told by some reviewers will give even better results!! But then I suspect the top-secret upcoming rumoured Leica M10 may well have the same sensor as the NEX-7 ( wouldn’t be a surprise after all the Leica X1 has a Sony sensor)

    • Hi Colin,

      I don’t want to put a damper on your enthusiasm there, but the NEX-7 is known to perform relatively poorly with M-mount wide angles. Reports are that the NEX-5N does better. For some reason the micolens array isn’t progressively offset on the NEX-7, leading to muddy corners with lenses like the 28cron. Sad.

      Also there is zero percent chance that Leica would use an APS-C sensor in an M series camera of the level of an eventual M10. That camera is for sure getting a 24x36mm sensor. It could be a Sony sensor, sure, just not this one. As you say, the X1 showed how a lower-end Leica product could use an APS-C sensor from Sony, maybe there’s an “X10″ coming with that sensor. Who knows.

      Sincerely,

      Olivier


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