This was an interesting review for me as I’ve felt like I could push this lens back in my extensive backlog of review drafts I’ve compiled since the start of the pandemic, but the Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH II had unintentionally pushed itself to the front of the line to this finished review.
What was meant to be a 28mm gap-filler for my beloved Leica Q-P, which I’ve sold to a close friend, turned out to be more than a rebound relationship. This was mostly due to the Leica M-D (Typ 262) that I had picked up last month during a trade for my M Monochrom (Typ 246) with a local Leica photographer. While this isn’t a review on the Leica M-D per say, as the lens was pretty much permanently mounted on that body, but how the Summicron 28mm ASPH II turned into one of my favorite lenses for everyday documentary photography.
The Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH II (11672) – we’ll just call it Summicron 28 ASPH II for the sake of verbage – was quietly introduced in 2016 as part of the “ASPH II” trio which consisted of the following:
- Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH II (11673)
- Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH II (11672)
- Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH II (11677)
These new revision models are relatively easy to physically differentiate to their previous generation thanks to their screw-on metal lens hoods, yet I’m surprised by how many Leica photographers have no idea how to identify them. The lens hood improvement alone should be a give away, which replaced the god-awful plastic lens hoods from the “ASPH I” generation – that were frequently lost due to its shit design and in the Summicron 28mm’s case, obnoxiously large.
Based on the technical reviews, the lens showed obvious improvements over their previous siblings, especially the Summicron 28mm ASPH II, which was noticeably sharper and contrasty, especially at wide-open. This is even more apparently at infinity. Not to take anything away from the ASPH I version, but it was getting long in the tooth and it definitely could have used some polishing from the engineers in Wetzlar and after sixteen years, they answered the call by bringing forward a future-proof “ASPH II” for the megapixel wars to come.
Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH II
While this lens is a favorite for street and documentary photographers since its original inception back in 2000, the 28mm focal length in particular helped me grow as a photographer, therefore it’s very personal to me. That being said, the 28mm is not my favorite focal length (that goes to the 35mm), but you cannot ignore its utility and flexibility.
What is tricky about this lens is that it’s positioned in a strange spot against its rivals, particularly within its own family tree:
Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH (11668)
- Price: $7,295
Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH II (11672)
- Price: $4,895
Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH II (11677)
- Price: $2,595
Leica Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 (11695)
- Price: $2,895
As you can see from the short list above, the Summicron is comfortably positioned between both the fastest and slower (I’m not really counting the Summaron as that is a very niche lens), the Summicron had unfortunately positioned itself to a corner as the least compelling lens out of the three. I’ll explain why in my conclusion.
Build and Design
The 28mm of Leica’s Summicron line of lenses have surprisingly have not changed much in terms of their raison d’être of all Leica lenses: keep it small, make sure that it’s sharp, and the ergonomics must be on point. As one of the three reintroduced aspherical lenses, the Summicron 28mm incorporates a modern style screw-in metal lens hood, which is vast improvement over its predecessor as the previous version was unwieldily and fell off easily. The rest of the lens is typical Leica: all aluminum lens design with an internal brass helicoid that give it its legendary smooth focus and durability that Leica lenses are known for.
The focus ring feel extremely smooth with a nice drag to it, unlike the FLE lenses like the Summilux 35mm ASPH II and Summilux 50mm ASPH due to their floating elements, the aperture ring has a satisfying click with good resistance built into the detent spring. Unlike my Summilux 35mm FLE, I never accidentally bumped the aperture ring to the point of shifting it.
The lens is slightly bigger and heavier than both aspherical versions of the Summicron 35mm (11879 and 11673), but I consider this to be immaterial in differences. There were a couple of times where I had accidentally grabbed my Summicron 35mm ASPH II out of my bag because it looked identical to the 28mm. I won’t be the first to have this happen to me and definitely won’t be the last, but you have to admit that these are first world people problems when you couldn’t tell which Leica lens you pulled from your bag.
“…the Summicron hits the perfect balance between size and weight.”
While people may prefer the smaller (and slower) Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH (including the excellent ASPH II version) due to its small size and weight, I’m going to be honest with you: the Summicron feels much nicer to use without being invasive to the viewfinder. While the smaller size of the Elmarit is one of its strengths, some may even say moreso than it’s excellent image quality, the smaller size can also cause some issues for some. For example, there were a couple of times when I had accidentally put my left finger in front of the lens on more than one occasion, even with the metal lens hood on. The shorter barrel also make the lens feel cramped when you’re focusing compared to the larger Summicron and I say larger in a very minimal sense because in practice, the difference is immaterial. I think the Summicron hits the perfect balance between size and weight.
You really can’t find a fault with this lens as this is easily one of the best 28mm lenses I’ve ever used, even compared to what Sony and Fuji has to offer in such a compact lens. This shouldn’t be surprising considering the cost of this lens, but at least it can back up the expensive price tag that this lens demands and you can be assured, the Summicron 28mm ASPH II performs flawlessly.
Wide open, it is tack sharp in the center and corner to corner performance is also very sharp. Obviously, stopping down improves sharpness just a bit, but I feel that this lens performs very well even at wider apertures where the corners continue to stay tamed. While I don’t own the older ASPH I version of this lens, I’ve seen enough side to side performance comparisons to see that there are improvements across the aperture range with the newer ASPH II, mostly in the corners. This is even more noticeable if you shoot with a higher resolution body like the SL2 or the new M10-R as the older ASPH I just doesn’t have the same resolving power as the ASPH II.“…the older ASPH I just doesn’t have the same resolving power as the ASPH II.”
If you want to compare Summicron ASPH II to the slower Elmarit 28mm ASPH II sibling, stopped down at f/4 or more, the difference in sharpness between the two is almost negligible, however I feel that the Elmarit ASPH II retains more contrast across its apertures compared to the more cinematic Summicron ASPH II. Depending on how you like your lens to render and if you can afford it, I can see a time a place to owning both lenses as they both have their own characters.
For example, I can definitely see myself owning the smaller Elmarit ASPH II on a Monochrom body due to the monochrome sensor’s ability to read more light than your conventional color sensor, therefore you’re not losing much with the slower lens as shooting f/2.8. The Elmarit’s strong affinity for contrast will also add a bit more pop to your monochrome images and the smaller size make it a compact weapon for street photography.
The Summicron has a beautiful way of rendering its images, especially if you shoot wide open, with a very cinematic look and fantastic levels of micro-contrast that give the images the 3D pop that fast Leica lenses are known for. While the colors are bit more muted compared to some of the slower lenses, the Summicron has a very beautiful way of rendering its separation between the subject and the background in such a way where it’ll satisfy those that want a bit more bokeh. There are lenses that blow the Summicron away in these regards, like the more exotic Summilux 28mm, but for what it is, the Summicron hit just the perfect compromise between its siblings.
“…very cinematic look and fantastic levels of micro-contrast that give the images the 3D pop that fast Leica lenses are known for.”
This is of course, my favorite part of the review as this covers the intangibles that you wouldn’t get from looking at boring MTF charts and brick walls, but how this lens make you feel. Does it inspire you to grab this lens on your next weekend outing? Does feel great to use when you see something and bring it up to you eye?
While people may prefer the smaller and lighter Elmarit, I personally prefer the faster and bigger Summicron. If you think about it and compare the two lenses, you’re really not giving up much by going with the bigger Summicron. The faster version feels more balanced hanging on your neck and the slightly longer barrel length make it more comfortable to use than the more cramped Elmarit. Your miles may vary, but when I hear people’s justification as to why they prefer the Elmarit size and weight over the Summicron, I can’t help but think they’re just justifying their cheaper purchase without ever using the Summicron. It’s the same people that justify their claims that there is no difference in sharpness between the ASPH I and ASPH II lenses: there IS a difference but they refuse to be pragmatic about it.
Summicron vs. Elmarit
- Weight (w/ Hood): 288g vs. 211gDifference in pocket change to buy a soda
- Size (w/Hood): 54mm vs. 49.4mmWidth of a No.2 pencil
In the real world, will you notice these differences in your pocket?
The bottom line: the Summicron is more comfortable to use and the weight (288g vs. 211g) and size difference (54mm vs. 49.4mm) is not enough to justify choosing one over the other, even more useless when you compare the two without their metal lens hoods. We just need to be honest with ourselves and admit that we didn’t want to spend the money on the Summicron.
Think about it.
Lets say you were holding both the Summicron and the Elmarit mounted on your M camera, therefore seeing the practical size and weight difference between the two lenses.
Then I said that both lenses cost the same – which would you choose?
The answer is obvious.
“…there is no other lens that hit all the checkboxes with just the right compromises.”
Since its original introduction in 2000, the lens had proven itself as the “go to” lens for documentary photography, but it wasn’t until the end of the decade where the focal length became popular for street photographers, mostly due to the popularity of smartphone cameras which mostly use the 28mm equivalent focal length. While its true that 28mm pioneers like Garry Winogrand used this focal length for street photography, but it wasn’t until the popularity of smartphone cameras where the 28mm gained its resurgence in the past decade.
While most people are not comfortable with using 28mm on their cameras, you can’t argue with its utility on how it draws the scene. Whether its taking a photo of your kids picking apples, but want to show the forest instead of just the tree, or if you’re doing street photography and you need to get closer to be a part of the scene rather than an observer – the 28mm focal length had established itself in these situations. While the Summicron 28mm ASPH II, may not be the most economical choice for Leica users, there is no other lens that hit all the checkboxes with just the right compromises. To hit the point home, if we used the same price/weight/size scenario against the sexier Summilux 28mm, I would still pick the Summicron over the Summilux any day of the week.
Additional Photos: Flickr
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