Quick Comparison: Two Generations of Leica 28mm Lenses - Summilux, Summicron, and Elmarit
It isn't often that I write consumer advice articles. But as it turns out, I do have five 28mm Leica lenses on hand... and apparently, there seems to be considerable online chatter inquiring about those lenses... not to mention telltale signs from visitors reaching this blog searching for reviews on the 28mm focal length.
For the sake of interest, and given my availability of time, a hot red interior, and five 28mm Leica lenses with me, I figured why not?
So that's what I did. I conducted a quick impromptu comparison of Leica's current and previous version 28mm lenses. The lenses include the following:
1. Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH
2. Leica 28mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH, version II
3. Leica 28mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH, version I
4. Leica 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH, version II
5. Leica 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH, version I
The camera bodies used for this comparison were the Leica M10, and the Sony A7R Mark II.
The consumer advice, in which I will attempt to provide clarity, is which one of the 28mm lenses is right for you. From my perspective, figuring that out shouldn't be made overly complex, since there really aren't that many variables to consider. Because of that, I didn't believe it was necessary to conduct an exhaustive comparison. Therefore, what I did was limited to the following:
1. Wide open shot at close focusing distance
2. Close crop of to magnify the above set
3. Stopped down f/8 shot at normal focusing distance
And now the disclaimers.
I kind of goofed by conducting this test hastily, and ended up at ISO 3200 on the last set. On the M10, the image files appeared relatively clean, but on the Sony A7R MKII the image files were full of noise. Because of that, I won't be including any high-resolution stopped-down images in this review.
Oh, and there might have been a touch of camera shake (maybe noticeable at close crop), since I was shooting at relatively low shutter speeds. It seemed like a good idea at the time... but in hindsight, I'm rather regretful... and plus the unleveled images which will not be leveled, since the edge and corners of the samples must be preserved for inspection... sigh.
SET 1 - Maximum Aperture at Close Focusing Distance (ISO 800)
SET 2 - Maximum Aperture at Close Focusing Distance at High Resolution (ISO 800)
SET 3 - Close Up Crop of Normal Resolution Capture
SET 4 - Close Up Crop of High Resolution Capture
SET 5 - Stopped Down from Normal Focusing Distance (ISO 3200)
So the final verdict?
The current generation lenses are significantly and noticeably sharper at high resolution than the previous generation lenses. You can tell by looking at Anna's eyes on the close crops. The edge of her lashes are not feathered and much more defined with the current version lenses than with the previous version lenses.
However, at normal resolution, the previous generation lenses aren't significantly or noticeably less detailed than the current generation lenses. In that respect, if you do not intend to go above 24 megapixel, an argument could be made that you don't need the current generation lenses.
With that said, you just know that Leica is itching to introduce a higher resolution M variant, in the near future, given that the current version lenses can resolve details better at high resolution. No way all that goodness was put on earth for the sake of third party camera systems, like Sony.
Bokeh isn't particularly blurry across the range, but as expected, the faster the lens, the more isolating the rendering. However, it should be noted that bokeh doesn't appear to render noticeably different from previous to current version Summicron to Summicron, and Elmarit to Elmarit.
Additionally, barrel distortion between the five lenses appear to be fairly consistent, as is corner and edge sharpness, stopped down at f/8. However, it should be noted that I am not a skilled pixel peeper, so you may need to make that call on your own.
Overall the five lenses are remarkably similar, and the only significant difference is speed and resolving detail at high resolution. So, if you don't need speed, you don't need the Summilux. And if you don't need to resolve details at high resolution, you can do without the current version updates.
However, the current version 28mm lenses will likely be a better investment - assuming that Leica develops a higher resolution M variant - which is very likely. But if you're shooting for the screen, and wish to economize, there are probably many reasonable deals on the second hand market for the previous versions.
With that said, I still prefer the 28 Lux.
Short, sweet, and simple - a quick impromptu comparison. It's not often I post two articles within the same week. Hope this provides some measure of relief in consumer advice.
All images in this comparison are out of camera RAW. Images are full crop unless otherwise stated.