Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH vs Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH II
Okay. I know that this may sound like a weird comparison. Truth is, it wasn't suppose to be that. It was suppose to be my long awaited 28mm Summilux versus 35mm Summilux comparison. I don't know if you recall, but back in the summer of 2016, I proclaimed the 28mm Summilux as the most perfect travel lens. Then I went further, and said that the 28 Lux was more versatile than the 35 Lux.
Unfortunately, I goofed even before I started this review. I was in such a rush, that instead of bringing the 35 Lux along with me, I grabbed the 35 Cron by mistake. In essence, my intent to pit the 28 Lux against the 35 Lux was dashed. I couldn't believe how careless I was. But I had to do something I thought. I couldn't just postpone the shoot.
How could I? I had been away from Anna for two weeks, and Anna was going to be away for another two weeks, and by the time she returned, I was going to be away for another two weeks. So we only had that week to do a shoot, and it's not like Anna and I don't have other commitments. It was one of those "I better improvise, or else I will have very little to write about for the next couple of weeks" - which does explain why I've been posting significantly less in recent weeks.
Out of necessity, I thought long and hard and said to myself that there had to be a story in this? I had to somehow pull a rabbit out from where the sun don't shine and salvage the day. Thing is, I grabbed the 35 Cron because it was one of my favorite lenses - a lens I have within grabbing distance - so to speak. Then a moment of inspiration. Maybe this was meant to be, as if the fates themselves spoke to me during my moment of despair. The 35 Cron was as much my goto lens as the 28 Lux. I loved them equally. With that being the case, why not compare the two? Why not compare my two favorite lenses.
Besides, it's not like there really is anything new to write about... except for the Leica M10... which I am in no real rush to review, given that I'm in Hokkaido, that my M10 is currently in Hong Kong, and that every known reviewer and their dog and cat have already reviewed the M10. Alright, I am a little sore about Leica's timing with this release. I just don't know why everything is always released while I'm away?
Anyway, let's not get too off topic, seeing how prone to getting off topic I am.
Obviously the main difference between the 28 Lux and the 35 Cron is the size. The 28 Lux is a fairly large Leica lens, whereas the current version 35 Cron is significantly smaller (albeit larger than previous versions). From that perspective, the 35 Cron is easier to carry. But the trade off is a stop of speed. The 28 Lux also has the added advantage of being more versatile as a wider angle lens. It can after all document more at shorter focusing distance than the 35 Cron. But there is the trade off of greater distortion at closer focusing distance.
I know what you are thinking. This review is likely going to be messy and convoluted. And you're probably right. But in trying to reverse engineer a write up from this goof up, I am forced to face an interesting question. Why is it I never bonded with the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE (everyone's favorite lens) and why I overlook the 28mm f/2 Summicron ASPH II and 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit ASPH II?
It really has to do with my perspective on lens pairing. Lets start with the 35mm focal length.
I believe that the 35mm Summicron is the best lens around. It's small, sharp, and renders bokeh relatively well when shot wide open at f/2. Furthermore, the 35 Cron has a somewhat generous depth of field, even at f/2. And depending on focusing distance to the subject, the 35 Cron can get quite a bit in focus which makes it an ideal "group shot" lens, given it's rather forgiving nature in not distorting the image capture.
It is for this reason that I prefer the 35 Cron to the 35 Lux. With the 35 Lux shot wide open at f/1.4, the depth of field is very thin. Wide open, you really can't get the lead eye of everyone in a group shot in tack focus. To accomplish that, you would have to stop down to f/2. And at f/2, the depth of field of the 35 Lux is not as deep as the 35 Cron. And if you're going to be shooting groups of people at f/2, you might as well just leave the Lux at home and bring the Cron.
Thing is this. If you have the Lux, you're going to shoot at f/1.4. You can't help yourself, because you made that extra effort to get f/1.4. As a result, you're going to shoot at f/1.4 and mess up the shot, and not get everyone in focus. With the Cron, you won't have that problem, because the depth of field is deep enough to accommodate most conventional group shot scenarios at f/2.
The only reason to choose the 35 Lux instead is to isolate the image. But that doesn't quite make sense, given that there are more suitable lenses to do that than the 35 Lux, like a fast 50 or a medium telephoto lens. And if your intent with the 35 Lux is to do environmental portrait, need I remind you that shooting fast by definition will do the opposite and blur out all background details. Except for the bokeh, there will be no background to document.
Seeing how I feel about the 35mm focal length, I seldom have a need to shoot at f/1.4. With that being the case, choosing the 35 Cron makes more sense to me. Besides, shooting at f/1.4 with any Leica rangefinder requires some experience in focusing and reframing, given the thin depth of field. In contrast, the depth of field of the 35 Cron shot wide open at f2 is much more accommodating to rangefinder photography.
Because of that, I tend to pair the 35 Cron with a Leica M body. To me, they are a match made in heaven. It just makes sense. It's as if all the signs point Leica rangefinders to be paired with the 35 Cron. Even the frame lines of Leica rangefinders point their preference towards the 35mm focal length. Think about it. Above the 35mm focal length, the frame line becomes a fraction of the finder window. And below 35mm, the frame line no longer accommodates the field of vision of the lens or becomes significantly more prone to finder blockage.
The 35mm Summicron with a Leica M body is just perfect. Ergonomically, they are also perfectly balanced. Given that, I never had the need to shoot with a different lens. But then the Leica SL came into my life.
It's true. The Leica SL was a game changer. It presented me the opportunity to frame beyond the 35mm focal length. The Leica SL was god sent. It made shooting wide open with the 50 Noct a breeze. It made shooting 90mm and above a no-brainer. And it made framing a wide angle field of view accurate. And of all the wide angle lenses, my favorite on the Leica SL is the 28mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH.
Now, a discussion of the 28mm focal length.
Liking the 28 Lux was a surprise to me. I hadn't originally intended to get the 28mm Summilux, given how I've always found the 28mm focal length a little wide on Leica M rangefinders, despite the 28mm frame lines. The problem with shooting wide angle on a Leica M rangefinder is the disadvantage of not knowing how distortions would be rendered, since you don't have the benefit of through-the-lens viewing. Often times, just a slight shift in angle, especially when shooting closer up, can make all the world a difference in making the image capture of a subject appear flattering or unflattering.
However, if distortion control is a concern to me, then why wouldn't I prefer the 28 Cron or the 28 Elmarit? After all, both lenses distort less than the 28 Lux. So it is rather contradictory for me to prefer the 28 Lux because of speed - given the explanation of my preference towards the 35 Cron versus the 35 Lux. But is it really contradictory?
For group shots, I find the depth of field of the 28 Lux to be noticeably more forgiving than the 35 Lux. I know, I don't have a sample image to prove that. But let me put it to you this way. It's much easier to get tack focus on the 28 Lux than the 35 Lux. Indirectly, this demonstrates a more usable depth of field at f/1.4. This makes the extra stop of speed that the 28 Lux has over the 28 Cron significantly more useful than the stop of speed between the 35 Lux and 35 Cron. With this being the case, why would anyone prefer the 28 Cron or 28 Elmarit.
In addition, I also tend to isolate the subject more on the 28 Lux than the 35 Lux, given that the bokeh is noticeably less blurry on the 28 Lux when shot wide open. In other words, I can do environmental portraits with the 28 Lux shot wide open at f/1.4, since the background still retains enough details to create a visual narrative. This is especially useful when shooting indoor, when the light is suboptimal.
Or to put it another way, when shot wide open, the 28 Lux seems to render like the 35 Cron shot wide open at the same focusing distance.
That extra stop of speed coupled with a more forgiving depth of field makes all the world a difference between the 28 Lux and the 35 Lux, or for that matter, the 28 Cron and 28 Elmarit. It makes the 28 Lux the best compromise of an indoor lens in tight spaces with suboptimal light. Furthermore, it's not bad at taking groups shots (although I don't have any samples to show you). But with that said, I have only come to appreciate the 28 Lux because the EVF of the Leica SL makes the focusing and framing experience accurate, and because the 28 Lux feels well balanced ergonomically mounted on the SL.
Messy and convoluted, isn't it. But it's the truth. I love the 28 Lux on the Leica SL. It feels just right. As for the 35 Cron on the Leica SL, I didn't love it so much. It didn't feel as right. Mind you, loving how a lens feels isn't the same thing as appreciating the images it produces. I mean, I may love how the 28 Lux feels and works on the Leica SL. But in comparing these two lenses for this review, I much prefer the images shot on the 35 Cron. Surprise?
To be fair to the 28 Lux, it did shoot better environmental portraits, especially when shot closer up. But there is something noticeably more engaging about the images shot on the 35 Cron. Those images appear consistently more personal and inviting. Maybe it's because the 35mm focal length brings you closer to Anna?
Well, this is embarrassing. All my love for the 28mm Summilux debunked by the 35mm Summicron. Who would have thought? Although, to be fair, I never actually said that the 28mm Summilux was the best lens or my favorite lens. What I did say - and I maintain - is that the 28 Lux is arguably still the best travel lens around, and one of my favorites!
All images in this writeup have been optimize in Lightroom. Images were not cropped. Also need noting is the unreliable EXIF lens data from the Leica SL. The recorded out of camera aperture data is incorrect in many instances, and what I have provided is my best guess, based on my shooting habits and a consensus of recorded data for each set.