The Leica 28 Elmarit Lens Review – The Small and Sharp wonder for your M

The Leica 28 Elmarit Lens Review – The SMall and Sharp wonder for your M

When I decided to buy another M8 after taking a year and a half off from it (yes, I missed it dearly) I took a week to decide which lenses to start with. I had a set budget (correction…my Mastercard had a budget) and wanted to get a 28mm and a fast 50. I have read about and have seen many many images taken with an M8 and 28 Summicron, which is Leica’s F2 28. The only issue is, the Summicron is now $4000! One prime lens, $4000! My M8 itself was that much so I did not see myself shelling out $4k for a lens.

I remembered that Leica introduced this 28 Elmarit shortly after the M8’s intro and designed it with the M8 in mind so I seriously started looking into this lens. I scoured the net, photo blogs, forums, review sites and what did I find? NOT MUCH! I saw one glowing review that seemed a bit TOO glowing as this guy was putting down the 28 Summicron, all the while praising this “cheaper” Elmarit though he never used the Cron. Summicron 28 ASPH = $4000. Elmarit 28 ASPH = $1795. How could this little “cheaper” lens perform better than a more expensive LEGENDARY lens?

My curiosity got to me. After all, if I ordered it I could always return it if it did not perform up to my expectations. That is why I love buying from B&H. They have a GREAT return policy that allows for easy returns if an item does not do it for you. So there I was..I placed the M8 in my cart, then I changed my mind! I instead put in a 28 Summicron and a 50 Zeiss Planar. I wanted a fast 50 and I know first hand from previous ownership that the 50 Summilux ASPH is the best 50 in the world, but it is $3500, Zeiss is $900. I decided to splurge on the 28mm Cron instead.

BUT….

Just as I was about to place the order I decided to sleep on it. So I did, for another week. Finally I decided to stick with what I knew was a remarkable, legendary lens – The 50 Summilux ASPH and that meant I had to go cheap on the 28. I ended up finding a deal on the 50 Summilux ASPH at another great Leica dealer so that was even better. After all of the drama and changing my mind I placed the order and patiently waited, and waited, and waited for the Fed Ex guy who was to arrive just 14 hours after I placed the order! Yes, I am an impatient man.

I could not wait for DAYS?!?! I had to have this camera and lens kit NOW!! When it did arrive I took out the 28 Elmarit and my first thought was “THIS cost me $1795?!?” I was standing there looking confused. It was super light, super small and I was $1800 poorer! What mattered most to me though was pure performance so I slapped her on the M8 and took my 1st shot with the new gear. Here is that 1st picture:

When I reviewed this file, which was snapped at F2.8, wide open as just a “snap” I was pleasantly surprised. The subtle tones and color caught my attention and I then decided I had to get out of the house and go shoot this lens.

So I head out on a drive and wanted to test out what this lens could do.  How is the color? The contrast? As I have said before, I am not a “pixel peeper” and not a scientific review guy. I like real world results, which is what we all strive for anyway. When I buy a lens I am not buying it for its ultimate resolution or if it can make newspaper print sharper than it appears in the paper itself. I look for character. Plain and simple. Does this lens have character? Well, I will let you decide for yourself.

Below is a series of shots all taken with this 28 Elmarit, Leicas least expensive 28mm Lens. Click on each photo for a larger version. Also, keep in mind, these shots have all been converted from RAW in Adobe Camera Raw. They have been resized, levels adjusted and in some cases have had color tweaked or have been converted to Black and White. A digital darkroom is necessary if you want to create shots with YOUR own style. I believe that NO camera today produces an out of camera shot that looks absolutely spectacular. But, that is just my opinion. When clicking on the shots they will open in the same window so just hit back on your browser to come back here. Here are the shots:

These are just a few of the shots that I took with the Elmarit since I purchased it and all of the above samples have had some photoshop processing. I also took a series of shots to test sharpness at all apertures so you can judge sharpness right out of the camera. Here is the scene.

The full scene 

Now, the 100% crops at each aperture. These are NOT processed in PS. These are crops just as they came out of Capture One converted from RAW:

2.8

f/4

f/5.6

f/8

f/11

f/22

As you can see its pretty sharp at 2.8 and stays that way through F11 with F4 through F11 being the sweet spot. F22 is a bit hazy. The above are 100% crops of the images as they came out of Capture One which is what I used or the RAW conversion.

This review is not like others out there as I am showing the shots that I took with this Lens and an M8 that have been resized, had levels adjusted and colors tweaked. I believe in the final result. I really do not care what an out of camera shot looks like as long as its decently sharp, in focus and has decent white balance. I did provide the samples above so you can judge sharpness. What this test does show is that the Leica 28 Elmarit is sharp all through its range, maybe a little off at F22 but that is to be expected.

 The old hospital – Leica M8 and Elmarit 28 at f/4

One thing Leica glass is known for is being sharp, even wide open. Leica lenses are usable at ALL apertures and the this Elmarit is no exception. As for the big gun, from what I personally seen with my own eyes, the 28 Summicron beats this Elmarit in color and rendering but not sharpness. I would prefer the F2 of the 28 Cron but at $2200 more for one stop is not justifiable to me. Plus the 28 Cron is TWICE the weight and almost twice the size. The Cron also blocks a big part of the viewfinder with its enormous hood.

One thing to add to this write up is that if you routinely shoot in dark places or want the ability to shoot in low light with the M8, I would recommend a faster lens. F 2.8 is not fast by “M” standards. I found a happy medium by adding a 50 Summilux 1.4 for my low light shooting. This way I have a great daytime or tripod 28mm lens for landscapes, environmental portraits, and every day shooting. I also have a fast lens for portraits, low light and shallow depth of field shooting. But the 28 Elmarit = $1795 and the  28 Summicron = $4000. That is a huge difference.

The 28 Elmarit is a real snappy lens with plenty of contrast and detail. One that will last for decades if treated well. Am I happy in my choice? That would be a big fat HUGE YES! This is one hell of a lens and one that lives on my M8 most of the time. I feel it is a great lens to start with the M8!

UPDATE – I upgraded to a 28 Summicron but some days I miss this little Elmarit!

As I have stated many times, I have bought all of my camera gear from B&H Photo for years. I HIGHLY recommend them for hassle free buying as well as great prices and the best customer service in the business.

To go direct to BH and read about or purchase this lens, click here for the direct link to it! ($300 rebate right now, through April 09)  By doing so, you can help me make this site bigger and bring even more write ups and reviews!

4 thoughts on “The Leica 28 Elmarit Lens Review – The Small and Sharp wonder for your M”

  1. Steve,

    I know this is an old post – I have just read it because I am considering a future purchase of a 28 for a Leica CL (with Cron 40) that I just picked up today.

    I’m curious as to why you went for the 28 Summicron in favour of the Elmar. I want to keep the size/form factor of the CL kit to a minimum, but if a compact 28 with faster aperture is that much of an advantage, I would consider it – including one of the CV or other 3rd party offerings.

  2. Thanks for your review here Steve, it really helped me spend a ton of cash!
    Yesterday, my M8 and 28mm Elmarit arrived from the B&H Used Store and I cannot put it down. I love it.
    I’ve been a full-time commercial photographer for the last 4-years and an enthusiast for many more. I own 5 Nikons (film and digital) and a Hassy with a digital back. I’ve long dreamt of the day I would own a Leica and thanks to B&H I found a real (IMO) deal. Today I had my first out-and-about shoot with it and was able to discreetly use it in public – something you can’t do with some of the clunkers. I’m still getting to grips with it (and waiting on a UV filter) but so far it’s just singing to me. Of course, I would love some more lenses for it as the Elmar at 2.8 is a bit slow for interiors (handheld). That said, I’d be happy to have this pairing at my side forever – it has really opened up a whole new world for me, my photography and my clients.
    Regards,
    Tim

  3. It is not unusual to find a slower lens outperforming the faster ones. However, as an Environmental Photojournalist, I have to consider weight. I normally carry two Leica M4-P bodies with 28/2.8-40/2-90/4 lenses plus Leicameter MR4 and a Gossen Profisix and Sekonic L-428 reflected and incident meters. Add film stocks, notebooks, pens and pencils and my Billingham Hadley original black bag quickly fills up. Moving quickly and discreetly in various environments, I need my bag to be fairly light.

    1. Interesting choice of lenses. I’m assuming the 40/2 is the Summicron/Rokkor from the CL? And the 90/4 is either the Rokkor or the Hektor? In which case this is also a nicely cost-effective set up, as well as great quality. Very good selection!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.