Leica quietly updated its most affordable 28mm lens, the Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH. ($2,295) in 2016, improving its optical design and making some minor cosmetic changes, notably in the design of the lens hood.
The new Elmarit-M is a better lens than the one that came before it, although the difference is not night and day.
It doesn’t have the sexy f/1.4 design of the larger, pricier Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH., but it’s an appealing option for Leica owners who value small, light lenses.
Not Quite Pancake
The Elmarit-M is one of the smaller lenses you can get for a Leica M system. It measures just 1.2 by 2.0 inches (HD), weighs 6.2 ounces, and supports 39mm front filters. When used without the included lens hood there is almost no blockage to the 28mm frame as seen through the viewfinder of the M10-D.
The hood is changed from the previous version of the lens. Instead of clipping on at the sides, it screws onto an exterior thread around the front element. If you prefer to use the lens without the hood, Leica includes a beauty ring to cover and protect the threads used to mount it.
As with all M-mount lenses, the Elmarit is purely mechanical and manual in operation. The aperture control ring is positioned just behind the front element and can be set from f/2.8 through f/22 in half-stop increments. Leica tends to stick to half-stops with its lenses—if you want more precise aperture control, consider the more affordable Zeiss Biogon T* 2,8/28 ZM, which offers third-stop adjustment.
Rangefinder coupling and focus are available to 2.3 feet (0.7-meter). The M system of lenses is not well-suited or designed for macro photography. There are some that are capable of focusing closer—the Zeiss Biogon works to 1.6 feet (0.5-meter)—but you’ll need to switch to an EVF or your camera’s rear LCD to confirm accurate focus. Modern rangefinder cameras can only confirm focus to 2.3 feet when using the optical viewfinder.
Build quality is what you’d expect from Leica. The barrel is aluminium with a black finish—Leica doesn’t currently offer it in silver. The focus ring turns smoothly and comfortably, with a small, concave tab to help you better find the focus ring by feel alone.
I tested the 28mm Elmarit-M using the 24MP M10-D. It’s a different camera than the older M (Typ 240), but it does use the same resolution image sensor, and the two cameras are similar enough to allow for a direct comparison.
The new version of the 28mm puts up better resolution numbers at f/2.8—2,497 lines using Imatest’s center-weighted evaluation. This is an uptick versus the 2,311 lines the previous version of the lens delivered, although not one we consider being significant. Where the improvement is apparent is at the edges of the frame. The newer Elmarit-M records 1,552 lines at the periphery, while the older lens shows 1,347 lines. Neither is a tack sharp result—we want to see 1,800 lines at ma minimum from a 24MP sensor—but it’s good to see the improvements, even modest ones.
Stopping down to f/4 nets results that are sharp from centre to edge. The average score at f/4 is 3,060 lines, and while the periphery isn’t as sharp (2,382 lines), it still passes muster. Compare that with the older Elmarit ASPH., which shows a 2,376-line average, but still lags behind at the edges (1,897 lines).
The advantages of the updated lens are lessened at narrower apertures. It shows 3,304 lines on average at f/5.6, with edges that are strong at 3,140 lines. The older lens shows around 3,100 lines on average, with 2,700-line edges. You’re not going to notice a difference unless you’re taking a really close look at big prints.
Resolution peaks at f/8 (3,350 lines) and holds up at f/11 (3,167 lines). I’d recommend avoiding f/16 (2,725 lines) and f/22 (1,147 lines), as diffraction cuts into image quality quite a bit.
There’s just a little bit of barrel distortion, 1.2 pper cent It’s barely worth noting for a wide lens. There is a vignette, which isn’t surprising given the wide-angle coverage and svelte build. At f/2.8 we see a -2.6EV drop in illumination at the corners of the frame, as compared with the center. The deficit drops to -2.1EV at f/4 and settles in a noticeable, but not extreme, -1.5EV at f/5.6 and narrower f-stops.
Wide, Compact, and Affordable (For Leica)
The Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH. isn’t part of Leica’s official budget-friendly Summarit series of f/2.4 lenses, but it might as well be. Its price is reasonable—for a Leica. If you want a budget 28mm M lens, look at the Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f/2 ($599) or the Zeiss Biogon T* 2,8/28 ZM instead.
If you already own the first version of the Elmarit-M, my advice is to stay put. Yes, the new version of the lens shows some improvements, but not ones that are significant enough to merit an upgrade.
Rangefinder photographers have several modern 28mm options. It’s an appealing focal length as it’s the widest you can use with most models without the need for an external viewfinder. The Elmarit-M is there for photographers who want a modern look, but don’t want to deal with the size, weight, and cost that come with the 28mm Summicron-M or Summilux-M.
It’s not my personal favourite 28mm for the Leica system. To me, the Summicron-M offers a better balance of depth of field control and size. I’ve not used the current version, but was very happy with the previousSummicron, aside from its hood design, which was one of the things Leica changed when it received a similar update to the Elmarit.
But personal preferences aside, the Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH. is no doubt the right 28mm for many photographers. It delivers the image quality and shooting experience you expect from Leica, and despite being a “budget” option, it sacrifices nothing in build quality. It’s an excellent match with almost any M, whether it be your grandfather’s dusty M3 or the modern, digital M10.