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Leica's New 28mm Elmarit ASPH - First Impressions Street Shooting

Leica's New 28mm Elmarit ASPH - First Impressions Street Shooting

I've been shooting 35mm almost exclusively for almost two years now (and in full monochrome). However, with the introduction of Leica's updated 28mm Elmarit, and also the introduction of the Leica MD Typ 262, I've decided to make a change - or rather, I permanently affixed the new 35mm Summicron on the Monochrome, so it makes sense that I pair the 28mm Elmarit on the MD, my current daily shooter.

However, there are other reasons why I've done this. With regards to my switch over to the MD, I'm bored of black and white. Plus, I've come to the conclusion that the Monochrome's metering and sensor are somewhat too sensitive to extreme lighting conditions with excessive shadows and highlights. However, this doesn't quite explain why I've decided to change from the 35mm focal length to 28mm. It's actually for a very practical reason.

When I was testing the Nikon Df with the 135mm f/2 defocus lens, it dawned on me just how ill suited longer focal lengths are in Hong Kong. And it got me thinking - maybe my goto 35mm focal length is also too long for Hong Kong street shooting? Admittedly, the 35mm focal length isn't exactly long, but I did notice that I have been missing shots, because of how crowded Hong Kong is. I would miss shots because rather frequently passersby between the lens and the subject, would block and ruin my shot. The practical solution is to shoot even closer to the subject so that I would not be blocked by passersby. That meant switching to a shorter focal length, like the 28mm Elmarit.

Caught in the rain. Image was cropped because the foreground passersby was too distracting. But you can see how close to the subject the 28mm focal length allowed me to go.

In truth, I've always like the 28mm focal length. For a while, I was loving the "now" previous version 28mm Summicron. But I stopped using it, in favor of the 35mm Summilux, given it's one stop advantage in lower light... and because I was bewitched by the bokeh. I loved how you could isolate two people on the same focal plane with the 35 Lux. But the more I started to shoot on the street again, the more I found the extra weight and size of the 35 Lux to be a bit of a hinderance. I mean, who the heck wants to blur out the background when documenting on the street? I finally stopped using the 35 Lux in favor of the 35mm Summicron, because of the deeper depth of field.

At the time, it never occurred to me to switch over to the 28mm Elamrit. Truth is, for a lot of Leica shooters, we fall into a pitfall. We all lust after the "more exclusive" lenses, and the 28mm Elmarit, along with the entire Summarit line are considered less desirable because they're always in stock. Between Leica shooters, there's always that sense of peer pressure pushing you to shoot with the more desired lens. I think it's for this reason Leica came out with the 28mm Summilux.

When the subject is shot straight on, distortion doesn't appear to be much of an issue for the 28mm Elmarit. Also notice how forgiving the lens is to pitch and roll. The horizon line is almost leveled. Image has not been cropped.

After a couple of years under my belt, shooting exclusively my 35 Cron, I was finally mature and sensible enough to make a switch to the 28mm Elmarit. 

Ergonomically, it feels exactly like the current version 35mm Summicron. However, what's different is the focal length being shorter. That means the way you shoot changes too - you need to get even closer to your subjects - yikes - and even scarier proposition in street shooting. But in its favor, the 28 Elmarit has an even deeper depth of field than the 35 Cron - making zone focusing all that much easier to do.

At 28mm, waist level shooting is also more forgiving, given that any pitch and roll on your camera position would result in less of a rotational slant in the horizon line, compared to a lens with a higher focal length. However, the downside again is the distortion of image. At the 28mm focal length, the closer you are to the subject - especially if you're shooting the subject away from the center point, and towards the edge of the frame, the more likely you'll see horizontal or vertical distortion. In contrast, the 35mm focal length didn't seem to suffer from the same distortion, from my experience.

One thing you need to keep in mind when zone focusing subjects up close, likely on the 28mm Elmarit, is remembering to refocus when a new photo-op is further than your prefocused distance. Still, I found the 28mm Elmarit rather forgiving, even if the image is slightly out of focus.

As far as sharpness is concerned - again, I'm not a pixel peeper - but from what I can see, the 28 Elmarit does appear sharp across the aperture range - although I'm usually stopped down and shooting around ISO 1600. The only time I'm not stopped down and shooting wide open is under poor lighting condition - either up close isolating the subject, or shooting further away to make up for loss depth of field.

For a more comprehensive rundown of image quality, I will post a comparison between the previous version 28 Elmarit with this current version in a couple of weeks, when I can fit it into my schedule.

Overall, my first impression is positive. The 28mm Elmarit is a very forgiving lens. But I suspect, like the current 35 Cron, there probably isn't any significant difference between this version and the last version 28 Elmarit, The only major difference I suspect is that the new version 28 Elmarit is designed for future higher megapixel sensored Leica M bodies in order to optically optimize effective resolution.

Again, a very forgiving lens. Shot a split second after I turned my head towards the direction of the subject. I didn't even have time to reposition my camera, so there was a slight pitch, which required a very slight rotational cropping of the image.

Update: July 1, 2016. I have added some additional images below.

Comparing Image Samples - Leica's Current Version 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit ASPH vs the Previous Version

Comparing Image Samples - Leica's Current Version 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit ASPH vs the Previous Version

Comparing Image Samples - 3 Generations of 35mm Summicrons

Comparing Image Samples - 3 Generations of 35mm Summicrons