The 28mm focal length is a unique but indispensable lens for journalism and street photography. And the Summicron-M 28mm, released in 2016, presents photographers with even more power than the original ASPH I model released nine years prior.
On paper, Leica aims to bring more consistent performance throughout the aperture range, as its predecessor lacked edge-to-edge sharpness when used wide open. And they’ve also refined the design. But, otherwise, it retains many of the key strengths beloved in its predecessor.
So the question is, are these incremental updates enough to justify the new price? And how does this lens stack up to the other wide-angle alternatives available (most of which are more affordable) to the M-mount? Let’s find out.
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What are the designations that Leica uses?
- Summicron: Leica Summicron lenses are their premium lineup of high-end lenses with a maximum aperture of f/2. Leica uses this designation across the M, S, T, and PL ranges. These lenses offer their best manufacturing ability and uncompromised quality. But they’re generally quite expensive as a result.
- Leica M: Leica M lenses are those designed for their rangefinder cameras using the longstanding M-mount, dating back to 1954 with the release of the Leica M3. These lenses inherit the classic rangefinder design. As such, they’re compact, manual focusing only, and use a bayonet-style mount that captures the 35mm full-frame image circle.
- ASPH: describes a lens that contains at least one Aspherical lens element. This lens element corrects various aberrations like coma by using a high refractive index, which, in turn, improves the image quality. And while more expensive, they perform noticeably better than traditional lenses with spherical elements.
What mounts does this lens support?
The Summicron-M 28mm supports Leica’s M-Mount, which is their lineup of rangefinder cameras. However, using the M-Adapter L, you can use this lens with an SL and T/TL camera.
Build Quality, Construction, and Design
Some general specifications, this lens opens to f/2 and closes at f/16. It uses a 46mm (E46) filter thread and weighs 257g without the lens hood and cover. And it offers a working distance or Minimum Focusing Distance (MFOD) of 0.7m (2.3 ft) with a reproduction ratio of 1:22. The Angle of View is also 74º if you’re curious.
Internally, the Summicron-M 28mm features nine elements in six groups, which is pretty sophisticated for a lens of this size. And it reintroduces an aspherical lens element to reduce distortion and spherical aberration.
Yet, it also surprisingly has a ten-blade circular diaphragm, creating beautiful and uniquely smooth bokeh. However, it’s important to highlight that this lens doesn’t offer official weather sealing. Instead, like most Leica products, it’s technically weather and dust-resistant. Still, the company hasn’t mentioned anything in this regard as far as I’ve found, so proceed with caution.
That said, this lens is small, at only 54mm (2.1 in) with the hood. The hood, by the way, is a square screw-in design, not the traditional round petal design used by most Japanese camera companies. It’s also now metal, unlike the plastic design used by the previous generation of this lens, which many thought fell off too easily. And that’s a key way to differentiate this newer generation lens from the older.
Overall, the general package here is quite light and only marginally larger and heavier than the Elmarit-M 28mm. Both the lens and the hood feature a high-end aluminum construction, which feels premium and sturdy in hand. Leica also added a bottom-mounted focusing collar and an aperture ring with hard click-stops to create a tactile and satisfying experience. So given its compact size and brilliant manual control, it’s the perfect mate to the Leica M11 and the other M series cameras it supports.
As a fast and compact wide-angle lens, you’d assume the image quality would have compromises.
But, it’s the opposite.
The image quality and overall performance, even wide-open at f/2, are impressive. The Summicron-M 28mm renders extraordinary edge-to-edge detail. And it capitalizes perfectly on the Leica M11’s high-end 60MP sensor.
Stopping down only further improves general sharpness and image clarity. And the improvement in resolving power and peripheral sharpness is a marked difference from its predecessor. And it is also a key strength amongst the competition of other lenses at this focal length.
Yet, despite its sharpness, the results never feel overdone. And you have plenty of room for post-processing.
In tough lighting situations like shooting backlit, the Summicron-M 28mm also hardly flares or suffers from distracting ghosting. And I didn’t notice any chromatic aberrations when reviewing images 1:1. Plus, barrel distortion is entirely a non-issue.
Of course though, at f/1.4, the Summilux-M variant provides a slight edge when shooting in low light. Still, having an aperture of f/2 here offers an advantage over the standard f/2.8 settings available on most Japanese lenses. And it’s indeed enough to let you reduce the ISO enough to avoid noise in most conditions.
As far as the bokeh, it’s more hazy than creamy. And it’s also more muted and subtle than Leica’s faster Summilux lenses. But it’s still pleasing, nonetheless. And it renders that unique cinematic and hard-to-describe aesthetic Leica’s known for. So it’s unlikely you won’t be satisfied, regardless of your more specific preferences.
Overall, there’s little to fault here. The image quality the Summicron-M 28mm produces is excellent. And it outperforms most compact lenses of this general focal length. The lens is also quite versatile when shooting in tough lighting or low-lit scenes. And its f/2 aperture is also entirely usable without any compromises.
As a rangefinder lens, the Summicron-M 28mm offers only manual focus. But, Leica’s included a focusing ring with a finger grip, which is incredibly smooth and easy to position. The focus throw is also quite short and very accurate. Plus, this lens also has a depth of field scale, with measurements in both feet and meters, so you can know how much will be in focus at a given distance. So by using zone focusing, you can achieve precise focus quite quickly. And the wider focal length here gives you some room for error.
Overall, if you’re familiar with zone focusing or enjoy manual focusing, you won’t have any issues. And focusing on this lens is easy.
The only potential downside is the included metal lens hood is quite large. And it’s somewhat controversial amongst photographers. Regardless, though, it does help eliminate light from hitting the front element at strange angles, which causes flare and reduces contrast. So, when shooting backlit, using it is still a must.
At its current price, the Summicron-M 28mm isn’t necessarily the most economical choice for this focal length. That would go to the Elmarit-M 28mm or the Zeiss alternatives. Still, in use, it does offer a largely similar size and weight to the Elmarit variant. Yet, you also get broadly similar images to the higher-end Summilux variant. The only exception is their low light performance. So the result is a lens that strikes an interesting balance for its worth and offers excellent value.
In the end, though, the Summicron-M 28mm evolves the M lineup gracefully with a refined design and better edge-to-edge sharpness. And it stands as the best wide-angle lens for M-mount rangefinder cameras, outpacing all of its rivals in raw detail. Yet, it stays true to the ethos of this focal length by remaining small, sharp, and ergonomic. As a result, it continues to be a favorite choice amongst photojournalists and documentary photographers, given its versatility. So if you love a wide-angle or enjoy tackling low-light scenes, this is a lens to consider.
Below are a few examples of what you can expect from this lens. Also, click here if you wish to download the RAW files for this lens. Or click here if you want to see a more extensive image gallery than what is displayed below on our site.