The Leica M10 with the Leica 21mm Super Elmar f/3.4 ASPH

The Leica M10 with the Leica 21mm Super Elmar f/3.4 ASPH

By Peter Mendelson

Steve, your recent article on the end of the disposable digital camera rang true to me – I finally feel like most of the kinks have been worked out on many of the systems available today, and the need for upgrades becomes less and less important. Of course, there are still many different lenses to try! I thought I would share my thoughts on shooting with the Leica 21mm f/3.4 Super Elmar (“SEM”) on the M10.

My goal has been finding the right equipment that (1) is a pleasure to use, and (2) produces files that helps me express my creative vision. I have settled on a combination of the Leica M10 for portability and the Fuji GFX system for higher resolution files when needed (I often get asked to make very large prints and the resolution helps). Both cameras produce absolutely beautiful file quality.

For me, the Leica is getting much more use lately because of its superior portability, fantastic lenses, and because of how much fun it is to shoot with. I am primarily a wide angle shooter, and recently picked up a used copy of the Leica 21mm SEM, since I generally prefer shooting somewhere between 18mm and 21mm. I hesitated to buy this lens due to its slower aperture (after all, the well-regarded Voigtlander 21mm goes to f/1.8), but I kept reading reviews of this lens that extolled the clarity, color and contrast of this lens, and my style of photography doesn’t rely a lot on shallow depth of field effects (the SEM is also reported to have less field curvature than some of the alternatives). So I took to the streets of New York with the M10 and 21mm SEM for two days this past week and shot in the rain and sun, spending most of my time on the Upper West Side or Midtown. It didn’t take me long to realize that the 21mm SEM is going to be one of my most used lenses.

With the Visoflex EVF, I don’t need an external optical viewfinder for wide lenses on the M10, and I can zoom in for more accurate manual focusing in either the EVF or rear LCD on the M10.

However, when shooting on the streets of NYC, I mostly used hyperfocal focusing for a much quicker shooting experience. So off I went, mostly setting the lens to f/11, focus set to around 12 feet (closer when shooting on the same side of the street), and auto ISO set with a max ISO of 12,500. Shooting this way felt very freeing, and the high-ISO files of the M10 look great to me so I didn’t worry about shooting at f/11 even though it would often call for ISOs of 6400 and up. From a noise perspective the files may not look quite as clean as the A7RII I used to shoot with, but I don’t care if the overall impact of the photo achieves my intended purpose (I traded my A7RII and a few lenses for the M10 and haven’t regretted for an instant). Of course, when I had time to shoot more deliberately, I would lower the ISO and adjust the aperture to fit the situation.

One weakness in the M10 is not being able to have an electronic level indicator show up in the EVF/LCD. This makes shooting with the 21mm SEM a bit tricky when shooting buildings or where certain lines need to be straight, and on a few occasions where I was a bit careless I needed to use the Transform tools in either C1 or LR to make corrections. I know that this has an impact on resolution, but quite honestly I have never seen it have such an impact that it ruined any of my photos or degraded resolution to an extent that anyone except extreme pixel peepers would notice. Still, it would be nice to have a built-in level on the M10.

I had high expectations for the performance of the 21mm SEM, but the results exceeded my expectations. The color, contrast, and micro-contrast I was seeing blew me away, particularly when I viewed the files in Capture One 10 (C1). While frankly I would rather do everything in Lightroom, there is detail and tonality I am getting out of C1 that I am not able to achieve in LR, even using different profiles, sharpening, etc. And this is using a generic RAW profile in C1 since C1 does not have a Leica M10 profile yet. So for now my workflow is as follows: I work on the “keeper” RAW files in C1 that I expect to show publicly, and then export them to TIFF for further use in LR or other programs (Alien Skin’s Exposure X2 is a favorite of mine). This is not the smoothest workflow and I am continuing to experiment in both C1 and LR to see if I can make it more efficient.

The small size and smooth focusing of the 21mm SEM also contribute to a fantastic shooting experience with the lens on the M10. I have a feeling the majority of my work from the M10 in the coming months and years will come from using this lens.

I hope you enjoy the photos and find this information useful.

Peter Mendelson


  1. I’ve read in various places that the 21 SEM is too perfect and somewhat clinical in its rendering. Anyone care to comment on that?

  2. I’ve just caught up with this posting after being away. I don’t have an M of any kind, but I do find your 21mm shots both beautiful and instructive. I occasionally (to date) shoot with an 18mm equivalent Zeiss on my Sony NEX6 and always find it helps me to see in a quite different way, and your pictures and comments certainly encourage me to go further. Thanks.

  3. wow amazing picture
    Best street photography and the Leica M10 with the Leica 21mm Super Elmar f/3.4 ASPH is the best for street photography. Nice blog and keep sharing all this type of information. I love street photography

  4. I don´t know how much processing or tweaking in ASE you put on the pictures but the overall rendition is simply beautiful.

  5. I love your framing and leading lines. Also the colors and contrasts are beautiful.
    You use a 21mm very well so many say for street photography it’s to wide , here is roof it’s not. I don’t shoot street but I’m learning composition from looking at street photographers work. I love the 28mm focal lenght a lot myself for what I do. That is live music and event photography. But this 20-21 mm range has me intrigued. I do also shoot a lot of 12-15mm ultrawide stuff of huge crowds but because of the way it distorts people on the edges so much I may start trying this focal lenght. Great article.

  6. Thanks Peter! Beautiful pictures! I am wondering either 21mm f3.4 or 24mm f3.4. I your photos very helpful. Thanks again!

  7. Nice shots! I also use the SE 21mm on my MP240. I absolutely love the results that i get.. I was wondering if the Summilux 21mm1.4 would give me even better colors and render and over all even better pictures than the SE 21mm?

  8. Great photos! Ive wanted to get a wider lens for my M10 and now I know which one I am getting. The color of the M10 & 21 SEM is superb. I prefer like street photography that is wider and more cinematic. You can look around the scene more, layer, or even play around with a bit of distortion. It’s a refreshing perspective considering up close street photography has been done a million times over already.

  9. Peter, thanks for sharing these wonderful photos. I don’t have the M10 (still with my M240), but I do have the 21mm Super-Elmar and absolutely love what comes out of that tiny lens, specially in tight city areas. You certainly show it here with the incredible M10 rendition. Thanks again.

  10. Peter, thanks for sharing these, very nice, and shows how the lens renders a variety of scenes and textures. On the “constructive criticism” side, I found myself looking for more faces. Most of the pictures are of people’s backs. My favorite shot is the couple with umbrellas standing before the phone booth. There you have faces, well-framed by the umbrellas, and some interesting spacial relations and textures. Altogether, a great photo!

    • Thanks Phillip. Most of my photography focuses on the built environment without people in it, so doing street photography with people in it is something relatively new to me (you will find very few photos of people on my website). One photo in this series that I like is the shot of the businessman on the street in a tan suit on the phone taken from behind- the fact that you can’t see his face to me adds a bit of mystery to it. But I understand your viewpoint and appreciate your comment. Thanks for looking.

  11. Wow, superb pictures.
    I also used the 21 SEM a lot with my M240 last March (along with a Cron 28). I tried a Cron 50 but too long IMO.
    And I shall use the mostly the 21 SEM on my next visit. This is the perfect lens for NYC.

    • Thanks Yves! I also carried around my 50mm Summilux, but personally I agree that the 21mm SEM is great for NYC streets, and the 50mm stayed in the bag most of the time.

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