The NEW Leica 28 Summaron f/5.6 Lens Review
By Steve Huff
Well guys, here we are at the close of yet another year. It seems 2016 came and went in a flash and a blur and quite honestly without a ton of amazing releases in the digital camera world. I remember 2015 being big, and every year before it. This year though, we had less of the “wow” big gun releases. Sometimes that can be a good thing because us camera and gear geeks need a break from our wallet every now and again. Now do not get me wrong…I am not saying there were no fantastic camera releases this year, there were…but it just seemed more bland than previous years. I am still using my two Leica’s (MD and SL) and my Sony (A7RII) and my Olympus (PEN-F). Yep, I own four cameras today and I use them all from time to time depending on my situation or mood.
Lovely rendering from this lens with the MD 262 – Both “wide open” at f/5.6
click them for larger and better versions!
I have been enjoying the Leica M again this year, quite a bit. I have been working with the Leica MD 262, you know..the one without an LCD or any kind of menu system, no way to even format an SD card inside of it. It’s pure simplicity, basic as an M6 or M7 and an absolute JOY to shoot. Many think it is insane to buy or use a camera without any way to check your shots, but I have found it liberating and even many months after my review I still use this M, and I love it. In fact, I have not bonded with an M so tightly, ever. Not the M9, not the M 240. Somehow, when I take this camera out I truly feel as if I am shooting with my old M7 from back in the day. Lift up, look through the eyepiece/RF, focus, and shoot. No muss, no fuss. It only shoots RAW, so each shot has to be processed but I enjoy this process, much like I used to love developing my film in my Laundry room.
The little 28 Summaron (left) next to the Leica 28 Summilux f/1.4
The MD 262 is a unique camera, and there is nothing like it out there from any manufacturer. That’s one thing I love about Leica. They do things no other camera maker would ever dream of or dare to make. Could you imagine Sony or Olympus or even Fuji releasing a camera like the MD 262 or the Monochrom? Nope. So Leica fills that small niche, that tiny void with cameras that appeal to some shooters who enjoy this type of experience, and I applaud them for this. Now, that is not to say when and if the next M comes out I will not run to it like a cat in heat, but I will always enjoy the MD262 for those days when I feel nostalgic or when I want to destress with no hassles with my shooting.
I pretty much kept this lens at f/5.6 during my entire time with it. The rendering is nice, as is the B&W conversions..
Click the images for larger and better view
About three weeks ago Leica sent me the little 28 Summaron f/5.6 lens they have brought back from its old vintage days to the present day. The lens still has the SAME optical formula, so it’s a classic through and through. They did improve on the build a bit, and it’s as gorgeous as ever. This lens is tiny, and I mean really tiny small. The construction is 100% Leica. That means the build here is 2nd to none. Solid, and built to last you a lifetime or two. One of those lenses you can hand down to your kids and them to their kids. So as far as build goes, no worries here and no plastic. The lens hood is made of brass, painted black and it’s a cool little hood that gives the camera and lens a nice old school look. Walk down the street with this lens on an MD 262 and everyone will assume you are shooting some old school film camera. I have had a few ask me “You still shoot film”? When I show them the camera up close, they still assume it’s film. When I explain to them it is digital they look confused as to why anyone would want this. Again, some will just never understand 😉
You will not get faded color here and when reviewing the files I was surprised that this uses the same vintage optical formula. To me these files look like a cross between vintage and modern. A nice mix…
This little lens though, it’s jewel like and many may be asking right about now…”why would I want a 28mm with a slow ass f/5.6 aperture”?
Well, that’s what I said when Leica announced it. I mean…in the days of fast prime lenses that shoot as fast as f/0.95, who wants a lens whose fastest aperture is f/5.6? Well, just as there are those who love fast bokeh overload fast prime lenses there are some who prefer lenses like this. Small size, beautiful construction and a slower aperture. This makes using the lens easier because are f/5.6 and 28mm it will be hard to shoot an out of focus image. Wide angle and f/5.6 is simply giving us a ton of depth of field and while you will not see bokeh and out of focus glowing balls with this guy, you will get one thing that many also love…character.
This is in fact a vintage lens and with Leica keeping the same formula as the original and according to Leica it will perform like the original. In my opinion, this is a good thing as many old Leica lenses are so treasured for their character and rendering. While some here will say “I can just use my phone for these kind of shots”…well, yes maybe you can. But what I always like to stress is the USER EXPERIENCE. There is no other camera or phone or any digital imaging solution that will mimic the use of a Leica M and this little lens. Also, there is never a substitute for a camera like the M and to be honest, my iPhone 6s does not take images nearly as nice as my M using this lens.
This little guy can produce some very pleasing images..
Many say this lens is made for street photography, and I agree 100%. Problem is, for me, here in Phoenix AZ there really is nowhere to shoot street. We do not have a city life like those in NYC or Los Angeles or any big city. Our downtown here is growing better every year but even today the streets are usually barren. It could be the 115 degree days or it could be the fact that there is no real city life to be found. There is some here and there but again, when I visit other large cities it is a street shooters paradise. I highly doubt anyone would ever find a street photo workshop held here in Phx AZ, lol.
With that said, this lens would be perfect for street shooters as you can set the lens (zone focusing) and shoot away and not worry about out of focus shots. This is a lens that could capture real life, in a very real life way and the B&W conversions, as mentioned earlier are and can be beautiful.
Optical design similar to the original Summaron 28mm f/5.6 lens
- Most compact M-Lens, with an overall length of about 3/4” (less than 2cm) is unobtrusive and ideal for street photography
- Provides unmistakable imaging signature which otherwise cannot be reproduced by digital means
- Through its combination of large depth of field, natural contrast, excellent rendition of details, and visible vignetting, the Summaron-M gives images a unique character, reminiscent of analog photography
- Combination of a clearly laid out depth of field scale and long focus throw allows precise and easy zone focusing
- Depth of field scale is colored in red
- Assembled by hand from top quality materials and finished in Silver Chrome
- Made in Germany and delivery scope includes metal lens hood and cap.
- The design and manufacturing process of the metal lens hood has been recreated to match the original Summaron lens . It is first machined from solid brass and then given its ultimate form by a turning and bending process.
So street shooters, this lens could be one that provides you with just what you have been looking for. Tiny size, set and forget and gorgeous rendering with a mix of old and new school. That’s how I see it anyway.
I always have said that I have shot with almost all vintage Leica lenses, but truth be told, I have never shot with the original Leica 28 Summaron. I have seen one, held one and knew a couple of friends who owned one but I have never shot with one. I was just never ever attracted to, nor could understand why anyone would want a slow aperture lens such as this when we have other options like the 28 Elmarit or Summicron or the crazy high end Summilux. I mean, an f/5.6? Grrr, I just never understood it.
But much like the Leica MD262, after using it for a while (3 weeks now) I understand it much better and understand why some would want to buy and own this lens. It grew on me every time I took it out. From the size, the cool looks, the fact that it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside with nostalgia and of course the images. While the output may not have that “WOW” factor when it comes to 3D pop and shallow DOF (that is sort of tiring on me) I have come to appreciate what a fine lens can do with apertures that do not go to f/1.4. Shoot at f/5.6 or f/8 and you get images that take you back to the reality of the scene. Yep, reality.
All of the images here in this review all take me back, and the scenes are just as I remembered them. Shoot these with a Noctilux or even the 28 Summilux, and we are seeing an altered version of reality. So I have come to love this lens. If I could afford this guy, I would tell Leica to let me keep it and to charge my credit card. In fact, and this is crazy…but I enjoyed shooting this lens on the MD 262 more than I did the 28 Summilux.
I had no issues with CA here, no issues with OOF images, no issues with color or any of that. Just easy and joy of use. That is how it should be. The weight was also amazing as the M and lens is solid and brick like but never a pain on your shoulder like some cameras with bug huge fast lenses. All around, it was a wonderful experience.
The way this lens renders is not going to be for those who love to pixel peep the edges and corners though as the edges will be a tad soft here and that is where the old school-ness comes in. I found it to be a good lens for daylight use in any situation. When the lights get dim, forget it though. Even at ISO 6400 I could not get enough light gathered to get a shot with a fast enough shutter speed to make a clear image. So remember, this lens is for daylight use only IMO. But in daylight it is perfect and can be used for anything. I kept my ISO’s between 200-1600 for most shots, and turned it up to 3200 and 6400 on occasion, but even then the color remains nice.
What else can I say?
This lens when used on a Leica M is beautiful but different. It will not be for everyone, but for those who are drawn to it .. you will really be surprised. If you have shot the old version, think of this as a brand new factory fresh reproduction with some modern improvements in the build. It’s a lens one can plant on an M and leave it there and only switch out when you want to go to low light. Then you have all kinds of lenses to choose from for your M.
This lens will be scoffed at by some, and rightly so. I mean, $2400 for a slow 28mm f/5.6 prime lens with a vintage style of rendering? Lol yea. But Leica is Leica and they produce some of the most unique products in digital imaging today. Love ’em or hate ’em, they are still around and still producing beautiful gear for the photographer who wants to be different, unique and those with the passion for this craft.
The lens will give you some soft corners, a little bit of an old school charm and a little bit of “DAMN, this thing is TINY” at times but overall I found it to be a lens full of happiness and joy 🙂
I’d recommend this for Leica M shooters who love to shoot street, or who enjoy small tiny lenses, or those who shoot mostly in daylight and maybe those who want to get away from the uber sharp modern lenses that are so perfect today. This lens will not deliver that all glaring digital perfection look that modern lenses give you. Instead you will shoot it, and be rewarded with imperfection and uniqueness but that is what gives it the charm that it has.
WHERE TO BUY?
This lens can be purchased from the recommended Leica dealers below:
Ken Hansen – Email him at [email protected] – Ken is a legendary Leica dealer and has had my business for 8 years now.
PopFlash.com – Tony Rose is known by most Leica shooters, if not all. Great guy who is another top Leica dealer.
FULL SIZE SAMPLE FROM THE 28 SUMMARON:
CLICK THE IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE OUT OF CAMERA FROM RAW
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