Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH
A fast, manual-focus wide-angle prime lens for Leica M-mount rangefinder cameras, which is ideal for landscape, reportage and architectural photography.
Leica’s Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH. lens completes the high speed prime lens family for Leica M-mount rangefinder cameras. Released in 2014, it covers a 75 degree angle of view, which is popular for a wide variety of applications and claims to be compact and light enough to be used as a carry-around lens. However, with the Leica M10 camera that accompanied this lens for our reviews the all-up weight is 1100 grams (which isn’t all that light).
Side view of the Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH. lens with the lens hood fitted. (Source: Leica Camera.)
The optical design of this lens consists of 10 elements in seven groups, with one aspherical element and the remaining elements made from glass with anomalous partial dispersion, which focuses all colours on the same plane. A floating element directly behind the iris diaphragm is moved independently of the main focusing group to maintain quality at close focusing distances.
The diagram above shows the positions of the aspherical element and the main focusing group (‘Floating Element’). Source: Leica Camera.)
The close focus limit for this lens is 70 cm, which makes it largely unsuitable for close-up work. The lens is supplied with a shallow metal hood that screws into a thread running around the outer rim of the barrel, fitting very securely.
A slide-on rubber lens cap is provided. It is fitted from the top of the lens and completely covers the front element. It’s held in place by a small tag at the base, which fits over the lower edge of the lens hood to form a light seal, excluding moisture and dust.
Leica Lens Names
To put this lens into perspective, it’s helpful to understand Leica’s nomenclature for its lenses. The company uses six defining names, each of which indicates a specific maximum aperture (or range).
Elmar lenses are the slowest, with maximum apertures ranging from f/3.8 to f/4. Leica has been using this name since the 1920s and Elmar lenses are renowned for sharpness and clarity, even wide open.
Elmarit lenses have maximum apertures of f/2.8. They are currently available in 21, 24, 28 mm, 30mm and 60mm focal lengths.
Summarit lenses are a relatively new range with maximum apertures of f/2.5. Faster than the Elmarits, they are less expensive but have narrower angles of view and come in focal lengths of 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 90mm.
Summicron lenses have maximum apertures of f/2 and come in28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 90mm focal lengths where they combine high optical performance with compact size and fast maximum apertures.
Summilux lenses are characterised by maximum apertures of f/1.4. They are larger, heavier and more expensive than Summicron lenses and show slightly diminished optical performance. The range includes 21mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm and 50mm focal lengths.
Noctilux lenses are the fastest, with maximum apertures between f/0.95 and f/1.2. Designed for low-light shooting they are relatively large and expensive.
Who’s it For?
This lens will only interest owners of Leica’s M series cameras, specifically those who require a relatively wide angle of view. The 28mm angle of view is popular for street and documentary photography. It also works well for landscapes and architectural photography.
As well as paying a premium for the Leica name, the Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH. lens owes its high cost to its wide aperture and wide angle of view. Making such lenses is difficult, particularly when high performance is desired.
Build and Ergonomics
Not surprisingly, the Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH. lens is very solidly built, with an all-metal barrel, metal mount, metal aperture and focusing rings and a metal lens hood. Together, they account for the 440 gram weight of the lens.
When fitted to the M10 camera, a sizeable part of the lens barrel is visible through the viewfinder window. Leica has attempted to address this by cutting a hole in the upper corner of the lens hood, allowing you to see through to the scene beyond.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really compensate for the amount of the frame that is blocked. It is also quite distracting. (You can get around the problems by shooting in Live View mode.)
The aperture ring sits roughly 25 mm back from the trailing edge of the lens hood. It’s roughly 8mm wide and marked in full stop increments from f/1.4 to f/16. Click-stops are provided at the marked full-stop and unmarked half-stop intervals across the aperture range, making it easy to adjust settings while using the viewfinder.
The focusing ring is located immediately aft of the aperture ring. It’s about 10 mm wide and carries distance markings in metres and feet from 0.7 metres to infinity.
There’s a large finger grip on its base to make adjusting focus easy. When the lens is focused to between 1.2 and 1.5 metres, the finger grip can support the lens when the camera is placed upon a flat surface. (This may be convenient for those who shoot group selfies and are happy to use the self-timer.)
Behind the focusing ring is a combined index for focusing and depth-of-field scale, which shows the depth of field range available for the selected distance. A protruding red button on this section of the lens barrel is used for aligning the lens with the mount when fitting it to a camera.
The bayonet mounting plate is made from chromed metal. It carries a 6-bit barcode lens identification tag, which transmits lens data to the camera body enabling the camera’s metering system to set correct exposures and optimise the image data for the lens.
Unfortunately, while it picks up the maximum aperture of the lens, either the barcode doesn’t detect the aperture setting when it has been readjusted or the M10 camera can’t read it. We found no aperture data in the EXIF metadata in any of the files we recorded ““ DNG.RAW files as well as JPEGs. When such information was required, we had to keep track of aperture settings manually.
The lens hood screws onto a thread on the front of the lens and it must be tightly attached to prevent it from intruding into the frame. A hole is cut out of the top left side corner of the hood to let you see the subject beyond.
The lens cap is made from a rubber-like material that is slightly flexible. It slips down over the lens hood and has a sloping top that keeps it in place while blocking off stray light. A tiny lug on the base of the cap fits over the lower edge of the lens hood to keep it in place. We really liked this design since it was easy to fit and remove the cap and it fitted neatly into a jeans pocket.
It’s almost impossible to produce flawless fast wide angle lenses and, despite being a fine performer, the Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH. lens isn’t perfect. However, Leica has addressed some of the most common problems associated with this type of lens effectively. However, JPEG images from the camera were generally quite contrasty.
We found the review lens showed very little rectilinear distortion, which was low enough to be barely detectable. This makes it highly suitable for architectural photography as well as a good choice for landscapes.
Unfortunately, the designers of the lens have been less successful when addressing vignetting (edge and corner darkening), another common problem with fast wide-angle lenses. At f/1.4 vignetting was very obvious and it remained highly visible at f/2.8, when you might expect it to have been resolved. That didn’t occur until f/4.
Imatest showed the lens to be sharpest between f/4 and f/8, with a peak in sharpness at f/4.8. Wide open and persisting through to about f/11, the lens suffered from softening around the edges of the frame, which is not necessarily undesirable as it can produce pleasing images when the subject is centrally positioned.
Diffraction took effect between f/11 and f/13, causing a rapid drop in resolution.The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
Lateral chromatic aberration hovered along the border between negligible and low CA, which is marked by a red line in the graph of our test results below. We noticed slight coloured fringing along high-contrast edges in many of our test shots (an example is shown in the Samples section of this review).
Most of these aberrations wouldn’t be problematic in a modern, fully-digital camera since they are easily corrected in JPEG files by the internal image processor. However, the scanty EXIF data sent to the camera made what would normally be a simple process impossible when the lens is on the M10 camera. (Corrections can be applied when DNG.RAW files are converted into editable formats.)
We found the review lens to be highly flare-resistant, even when a bright light source was within the image frame. Strongly backlit subjects retained their colour and contrast and there was very little veiling flare in our test shots. When it occurred, it was highly localised.
We found it very difficult to use the viewfinder when focusing on close subjects. Leica notes in the M10’s instruction manual that when fast lenses are used at maximum aperture, the shallow depth of field plus ‘inaccuracies in focusing with the viewfinder’ can create ‘setting errors resulting from the (added) overall tolerance of the camera and lens’.
These can be avoided by using Live View for close-ups, where you have access to the camera’s Capture Assistants and can see the full image frame. We also noticed slight softness when the lens was focused at infinity, even with optimal lens aperture settings.
Bokeh at wide apertures was fairly choppy and we found a tendency to outlining in bright highlights. The minimum focusing distance of 70 cm limits the value of this lens for close-up work.
The fast f/1.4 maximum aperture and narrow depth of field at maximum aperture are the main reasons to buy this lens and both provide a degree of creative potential for serious photographers. Its lack of distortion will attract well-heeled landscape and architectural photographers, although for those who prefer shooting with a viewfinder, it’s not an ideal match with the M10 camera we used for this review. Its price will also deter many potential users.
We also found it less than optimal for street photography when paired with the M10, largely because of the difficulties associated with the M10’s viewfinder. It worked quite well when the camera was in Live View mode because we could see the entire frame that would be captured and use the depth of field scale on the lens to ‘guesstimate’ the best focusing distance. (But we much preferred shooting with the Leica Q.)
Leica equipment is seldom discounted and even though this lens has been on sale for several years, you won’t get much change out of AU$8000 at the cheapest online price we found ““ and there aren’t many online sites to buy from.
B&H, which markets aggressively into Australia, has it listed at US$6295, which translated into AU$8485 when this review was posted. Factor in the cost of shipping (just over AU$88), insurance and GST and you’ll pay much less if you shop locally.
Picture angle: 75 degrees
Minimum aperture: f/16
Lens construction: 10 elements in 7 groups (including one aspherical element)
Lens mounts: Leica M quick-change bayonet
Diaphragm Blades: (circular aperture)
Focus drive: Manual focus
Minimum focus: 70 cm
Maximum magnification: 1:21.9
Filter size: 49 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 61 x 67 mm
Weight: 440 grams
Standard Accessories: Lens front and end caps, lens hood
Distributor: Leica Camera Australia, (03) 9248 4444, http://en.leica-camera.com/
Based on JPEG files taken with the Leica M10 camera.
(Note: because the camera doesn’t record aperture settings in the EXIF metadata, most of the lens apertures listed below are estimated.)
Vignetting at f/1.4.
ISO 100, 1/360 second at f/8.
Crop from the above image showing edge softening and slight coloured fringing.
Close-up with backlighting; ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/4.8.
Flare; ISO 100, 1/750 second at f/5.6.
Traces of veiling flare are visible in the top right corner of this image; ISO 100, 1/2000 second at f/2.8.
Bokeh at f/1.4; ISO 100, 1/1500 second.
ISO 100, 1/180 second at f/11.
Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Leica M10 camera.
RRP: AU$8800; US$6295
- Build: 9.2
- Handling: 8.5
- Image quality: 9.0
- Versatility: 8.3