Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH - The Invisible Child of Fast Leica Lenses
What's in a focal length? The 50mm focal length is the gold standard favored by almost anyone who's anyone. The 35mm focal length is the one everyone falls back on for its all-around versatility. The 28mm focal length is the one favored by street documenters and photojournalists alike who require that extra give in getting everything in frame without distortion becoming a nuisance. And the 21mm focal length is the one M photographers go to for the widest angle of view - that is - before Leica threw in the 18mm and the 16mm focal length into the mix.
So where does this leave the 24mm focal length? From my perspective, it occupies the dubious distinction of the invisible child within the Leica bunch. If it were one of the Brady kids, the 24mm focal length would be poor little Jan. How do we know this? The 24mm focal length is the one left out between the two Tri-Elmar - namely the 16-18-21mm Tri Elmar-M ASPH and the 28-35-50mm Tri Elmar-M ASPH. Coincidence? I think not. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Passed over for life with everyone fawning over dear darling Marsha... Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!
Why is it the 24mm focal length is often overlooked? Ignored? Given no love? In my opinion, the reason is self evident. The 24mm focal length is somewhere in between too wide and not wide enough, positioned squarely out in no-man's land, between the trenches of conventional loyalties. But if that is the case, shouldn't the 24mm focal length be more popular? After all, being in the middle would make it the Goldilocks of wider focal lengths. I mean, it's just right when you want to go wider, but still not too wide for most typical documentary situations.
I mean, the 24mm focal length isn't exactly an outcast, when it comes to popular focal lengths. When you look at it from a broader perspective, in including other camera manufacturers, the 24mm focal length is very well represented. Both Nikon and Canon have the 24mm angle of view as the wide angle anchor on both their respective premium f/1.4 lens lineup, and an anchor focal length on both their premium f/2.8 wide angle zoom and normal angle zoom lenses. So like Goldilocks, it's clear that both Nikon and Canon view the 24mm focal length as just right.
From the perspective of Leica rangefinder photography, being in the middle makes the 24mm focal length somewhat nebulous in position. Neither wide enough nor too wide, it's just out of place. In many ways, the 24mm focal length can best be regarded as a compromise. And therein lies the problem. Stuck in the middle, the 24mm focal length isn't anybody's first choice. It doesn't go far enough in offering what anyone needs, since it just doesn't seem to be precise enough for any practical or documentary need. Because of that, this makes the 24mm focal length appear like a mediocre choice.
But honestly, are Leica rangefinder photographer really that shallow with yours truly included? Up to now (excluding the previous post which is related to this one), I've only showcased one 24mm Leica M-mount lens on one blog post - that being the Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH. And even when I did, it was used as part of a fast 24mm lens comparison with the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L and the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G. Apart from that, I've only featured the 24mm focal length on a Leica with the Leica Vario 24-90mm f/2.8-4 Elmarit-SL. I did that on a review, a comparison, and an autofocus test. That said, an SL-mount lens is not the same as an M-mount lens.
Not wanting to be one who is always pegged as playing favorites, I decided once and for all to be more inclusive. I mean, I love all my lenses - I keep telling myself - even the unpopular ones. I mean, what parent would play favorites! That being the case, I settled on the 24mm Summilux for my hop over to Tokyo. Of course in a perfect world, I would've preferred to have brought along something more compact, like the Leica 24mm f/3.8 Super Elmar-M ASPH. But wouldn't you know it, I didn't have one? I mean why would I - with the 24mm focal length living in the shadows of more popular options!
Charity aside in picking Jan over Marsha on this visit, was the unpopular child really not up to standard expected of its family name? I mean, is it any different from the more popular members in the Leica family? if you drop it, would it not hurt just the same? In all seriousness, the experience of using the Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M feels much like any other Leica lenses. It's constructed just as well. It seems to perform just as well as other fast M-mount Leica lenses. And in no way does it seem to be any less deserving than more popular lenses.
But it is less deserving - or at the very least it feels that way. The typical viewfinder magnification of M rangefinders doesn't seem to naturally extend wider than the 28mm focal length - with 24mm just shy of conventional in-camera framing. Because of that, this makes the 24mm Summilux (and I suspect the 24mm Super Elmar) somewhat of an odd duck. I mean, it's just a tad too wide to frame inside the camera's optical viewfinder. And at the same time, it's also not wide enough to be worth the trouble of using an external optical finder.
Still, it's not as if the 24mm Summilux doesn't have any tricks up its sleeves - albeit idiosyncratic differences that can only be appreciated in the context of more popular options. When compared to the Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, the 24mm Summilux does not have a focusing tab. Admittedly, this minor detail may seem innocuous on first glance, but it can be a game changer in giving the 24mm Summilux a practical edge over the 28mm Summilux. Unbeknownst to many, not everyone is in favor of using a focusing tab. This is especially true for those preferring a more tactile focusing experience.
Having said that, the 24mm Summilux is still bigger and heavier than the 28mm Summilux. Although, it should be mentioned that increases in girth are only incremental concerns after a certain threshold in dimension is exceeded. Even so, the 24mm Summilux being bigger has more in-camera finder blockage. But since the 24mm angle of view cannot be framed in-camera without the aid of an external finder, the issue of blockage is somewhat moot. You're going to have to use an external finder anyway, or live view. So what difference would a marginal increase in size make, in the end?
But if size is no longer a concern, then why not go all-out and pick the Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH instead? After all, the 21mm focal length is wide enough to justify the bother of an external finder. Again, it goes back to Goldilocks. I mean, just because the incremental size increase between the 24mm Summilux and the 28mm Summilux is tolerated, it doesn't mean the difference between the 21mm Summilux and the 28mm Summilux will be viewed as incremental. As a substitute for the 28mm Summilux, the 21mm Summilux is still noticeably bigger in size and much wider in coverage than the 24mm Summilux.
Then again, it's not as if the 24mm Summilux offers any specific advantage when viewed in isolation from comparable options. For all its promise of built quality and performance, it doesn't seem to be regarded as anything more than just a substitute for the 28mm Summilux. And therein lies the biggest problem concerning the 24mm Summilux. It's a question of identity. As long as the 24mm Summilux is regarded as a substitute for more popular wide angle lens options, no one will instinctively think about getting it, much less want it. It is for this reason that the 24mm Summilux isn't popular.
Despite that, I cannot fault the 24mm Summilux. It does what it's suppose to do. It's sharp, resolves details with definition, and renders micro contrast in-line with what's expected of any premium Leica lenses still in production. Furthermore, it appears to keep optical anomalies like vignetting and chromatic aberration under control when stopped down pass maximum aperture. I mean, there is nothing wrong with this lens. And on this trip, as I schlepped it through the bad weather, it even tolerated the downpour. Overall, it's one sturdy hunk of glass and not the outcast it's made to be.
Even so, I really can't think of a compelling reason why anyone would want to consider the 24mm Summilux in its own right - over the 28mm Summilux or 21mm Summilux. When it comes right down to it, the 24mm focal length is just an odd choice for Leica rangefinder photography. Though to be fair, I suppose an argument could be made for it, if opportunity knocks in the second hand market. However, it's not as if anyone is giving them away. It is still a Leica product demanding a premium. Having said that, why would anyone consciously choose Jan over Marsha? At least with Marsha, you'll always end up with the more popular choice.
Images have not been tweaked in post except for the title image. Any editing or cropping already disclosed on the image captions. Images captured on the Leica M10 + Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH.
Admittedly, this has been an unorthodox approach to reviewing a lens. But then again, why would anyone need a conventional review? The 24mm Summilux has been around for ten years. There are oodles of reviews out there already. I'm just sharing what I believe is the untold story of this lens and focal length. Plus the bad weather made it impossible for me to do what I had intended to do in Tokyo... that and a late dinner with Japan Camera Hunter on the only clear night of the visit.
Anyways, I'll start on something with a little more meat on it for the next post.