Lenses

The Leica 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH – one of the best lenses I’ve ever… sold…

I only shot a few photos from a couple of rolls with the Leica 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH, but it was enough to realise that it’s nothing short of a stunning bit of kit. As good as it is though, I didn’t keep it long. Owning it just made me realise that I should own my ideal 28mm lens – the Minolta G-Rokkor 28mm f/3.5 – instead. I shall get around to writing about the Minolta lens in more detail another day. This post – all be it a short one – is largely about the Elmarit-M, the limited but very happy time we spent together and the personal reasons it just became a stepping stone to the Minolta.

I never actually intended to buy a new 28mm. I was more than happy with my little Voigltander 28mm f/3.5 Color-skopar (another lens I will come to some other time). My problem is, I’m quite bad at not buying things once I get them in my hand, regardless of how much I do or don’t need them. The 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH came attached to the front of a Leica M8 – a Leica M8 that I had much more intention of buying. So when the deal was done I talked myself into buying the lens too!

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The 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH is a compact full frame 28mm f/2.8mm lens. It was released around the same time as the Leica M8. When mounted on the 1.3x crop sensor M8 gives a similar field of view to the popular rangefinder focal length of 35mm. This 28mm f/2.8 became the standard compact semi-wide angle lens for the M8 photographer.

Funnily enough, I actually don’t shoot 35mm much these days; 28, 50 and 90mm are the focal lengths that I find myself drawn to the most. But since I shoot considerably more film, for my money, it struck me that mounting the full frame 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH on my film M’s would give me a little bit of an “upgrade” over the Voigtlander lens. What I found interesting about the experience of the upgrade – more than any change in the quality of the photos – was that I really appreciated the change in the physical form of the lens in use.

The 28mm Elmarit-M in use

The 28mm Elmarit-M is one of those lenses that manages to achieve two functional advantages that quite often contradict each other. The first is that it manages to be very small; it’s actually the smallest Leica made M-mount lens to date. The Leica 40mm c-summicron was smaller, but that wasn’t made by Leica. The biggest advantage of this small size – short of the obvious portability gains – is that as a 28mm it’s not visible in the viewfinder of the camera. This is something I feel quite strongly about – for example I recently sold a long time owned Voigtlander 28mm f/1.9, largely because of its size.

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Despite the 28mm Elmarit-M’s small size, its second functional advantage is that it’s very easy and comfortable to work with. It has a nice big focusing tab and aperture control meaning that with the camera to the eye, there is little no chance of fumbling. Not only do the controls come to the hand readily, but they also have a fantastic sense of quality about them. I have to say, for as much as I love my 50mm Zeiss Sonnar, the feel of it when focusing just isn’t as perfectly silky as the Leica. In my experience, the feel of Zeiss lenses focusing changes given different weather; when it’s cold it can feel stiffer, when warm it feels looser. Modern Leica lenses seem to always have a very smooth free feeling to the focusing, the 28mm Elmarit-M is no exception to this.

Optical Qualities

As for the optical qualities of this lens, I would suggest it’s possibly a little optimistic of me to think that after the minimal amount of photos I took with it, I could give any in depth analysis. That being said, it doesn’t take that long with a lens like this to see how good it is.

Of course, if you browse through the lenses I have reviewed on this site you might see a trend. Largely speaking they are all lenses that have some sort of novel character trait, or at very least have some sort of reason for my review beyond the optical properties. Simply put, this is because I don’t find it all that interesting writing abut lenses like the 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH. It’s just too good.

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A modern optic

This lens sits firmly in the camp of “modern optic”. In fact it sits firmly in the camp of “very good modern optic”! Its contrasty. It’s sharp. It’s always sharp in fact. Wide open its sharp, stopped down its sharp, in the middle of the frame its sharp, in the corners it’s still sharp enough for me to not be able to see any level of fall off in any of my photos, even when wide open.

First Roll with 28mm Elmarit-M

First Roll with 28mm Elmarit-M

It’s also well corrected for distortions, bokeh is fairly smooth, it doesn’t flare, there’s no ghosting. It vignettes a tiny bit when wide open, but you’d barely notice.

First Roll with 28mm Elmarit-M

First Roll with 28mm Elmarit-M

First Roll with 28mm Elmarit-M

I’m sure if I shot it digital and spent hours testing it I could find some sort of flaw. But I didn’t, and I wouldn’t do that anyway. As such, I don’t feel like I have much to talk about. This is why I don’t review lenses like this, I just don’t see the point. What is there to say, if there’s no objective flaws to discuss the subjective merits or shortcoming of?

Conclusions about the 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH

In short, if your looking for a stunning quality 28mm lens for your Leica, your happy with a f/2.8 lens, you want something that doesn’t get in the way of the viewfinder and is really easy and comfortable to use, I really can’t recommend the 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH enough!

So why didn’t I keep it?

Obviously I was very pleased and impressed with the photos I got out of it… Importantly though I wasn’t really any more pleased with the results than I was with those from the Voigtlander. In fact if held side by side I’m not sure I could actually tell the difference between the results from these two lenses. Both lenses are without doubt optically superb, and in many ways quite similar – which is pretty impressive when you realise the Voigtlander can be had for a fraction of the price! This is a favourite from the Voigtlander:

Cornwall 2015 - day 3

So I sold it to just keep the Voigtlander instead? Well no, as I’ve said already I bought the Minolta lens. The problem was, the 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH revealed a different type of shortcoming in the Voightlander. With the Voigltander 28mm f/3.5 I still had the same advantage of size, unfortunately I didn’t have the advantage of function. As nice as the Voigtlander is to use, when you use it next to a 28mm Elmarit-M it feels fiddly. But – and this is the real source of the issues – the Voigtlander is Leica thread mount, the Elmarit-M is M-mount… and my favourite way to shoot 28mm is in combination with my little Leica iiia.

The outcome of all of this is that I’d gone from being happy with the Voigltander lens, to slightly less than satisfied with either Voigtlander or Leica lens. And to achieve this slight lack of satisfaction I had to sell my Leica M7! This wasn’t a decision I regretted, but I had always promised myself that if I sold the M7 – a camera that was once my prize possession – it would have to be to buy something really special. The 28mm Elmarit-M is a really special lens, it just didn’t work for me in the way I needed it to.

The answer to this problem was simple, and quite obvious in hindsight. I needed a lens that combined awesome optical qualities, tiny size, a good focusing tab and ability to mount on either M-mount or Leica thread mount. Since I’d recently gone down the road of having a lens made for me, my brain first went to a lens conversion. But of course the best 28mm lens ever put into a compact camera – at least in my opinion – is the 28mm lens in the Minolta TC-1, a lens that already exists in Leica thread mount, is tiny and has a good sized focusing tab. All of a sudden, the Minolta 28mm G-Rokkor seemed like a no brainer.

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So what’s my point?

For many, the Leica 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH will be the last lens they ever need in the 28mm focal length. It is without any shadow of a doubt one of the best lenses I’ve ever shot with – both optically and functionally. Yet it just wasn’t the complete package for me.

I suspect, somewhat depending on the sort of photographer – and possibly the sort of person you are – you are going to take one of two things from this post. Either that I am a crazy person who can find all sorts reasons to justify buying and selling gear, or that I have a point (that I continue to labour) about the right gear for the individual being down all sorts of subtle and unique combinations of preferences.

In reality, it’s probably a bit of both of those things. I write a blog about gear, it’s fairly safe to assume that I’m going to buy and sell a lot of it. But I’m still a photographer, and as such I need my gear to be right for me. Do I think the Minolta is going to help me be a better photographer? Probably not… Though having loved the results from my TC-1 (which has the same lens), and it ticking all the other requirements for me, I am hoping I have finally found the right 28mm for me. Actually… I’m really hoping I have… Else I have a horrible feeling I could end up feeling pretty bloody stupid for selling the Leica 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH…

Sign up to my emails below and keep an eye out for the Minolta review… It can only go one of two ways… … Place your bets now! 😉

More reading
A few more shots from me
A review from Yip Van Kuijk


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16 Comments

  • Reply
    rollbahn
    May 22, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    Nice review and I know exactly how you feel. I purchased the Zeiss 35 ZM 1.4 to take on a trip to Tokyo recently and after a test roll I realised that it was just too perfect. Sharp at 1.4 and amazingly sharp onwards but that was the problem. I have owned my 35 Cron Type IV for a couple of years and always think there is something better but end up keeping it as for all its flaws I just love the colour, character and size.

    BTW was that the 28 Rokkor that JCH was selling recently?

    • Reply
      Daniel Fjäll
      May 23, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      Agreed. The 35mm Summicron V4 has that something. I tend to use more modern lenses for colors however. I’m obsessive when it comes to color (why I ended up shooting film in the first place). I’d love to hear Hamish thoughts about it.

      • Reply
        Hamish Gill
        May 23, 2016 at 9:41 pm

        Colour in general? Or the V4 cron?

      • Reply
        rollbahn
        May 23, 2016 at 9:47 pm

        I use it exclusively for colour shooting – Portra 400 – and love the look. Enough contrast but not too much and definitely enough sharpness except in the corners at f2.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 23, 2016 at 9:34 pm

      Yep, though he wasn’t selling it – he sourced it for me

      • Reply
        rollbahn
        May 23, 2016 at 9:46 pm

        Righto – he must have had a couple as he was selling the same lens in his store a couple of weeks ago as it caught my eye.

  • Reply
    Jimmy
    May 23, 2016 at 1:58 am

    Nice review. Leica 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH is always a lens that I would like to try, but I dont think I will use it enough to justify the purchase.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 23, 2016 at 9:37 pm

      28mm is certainly a focal length thats an acquired taste – I don’t always love it, but when it works, it really works I think

  • Reply
    Steve
    May 23, 2016 at 7:18 am

    Interesting review. I bought the 28mm Elmarit M ASPH to use on my M7. I thought I would sell it later after satisfying my curiosity about it. Ha! Ha! Never sold it! It is just too amazing! I often take it when I travel. I have also used it on a Minolta CLE–works great, and you can see the entire frame in the CLE viewfinder unlike the M7 with a .72 finder! I have tried it on my Leica M3 using an external 28mm finder, and that also works brilliantly. It’s an expensive lens, but I think it is one that is worth owning.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 23, 2016 at 9:40 pm

      Yes, I’m hoping I don’t live to agree with you 😉

  • Reply
    Gary
    May 23, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    I had the 28 asph elmarit and sold it and kept my voigtlander 28/3.5, which felt better made (more compact and dense, perhaps) this was when I was using my M8. I have the g-rokkor 28/3.5 and it is a good lens on the M8 and film but it has too much “Italian flag” color shift and vignetting on my M9 – I have tried different lens profiles and they help. The Cornerfix program removes the color problem nicely but removing the 2 stop vignetting impairs the corner details.
    Still, size and ergonomics on the rokkor are superb, although at the expense of a slower aperture. As well, I am uncertain about the quality of the LTM-M adapter and its effects on picture quality when using the rokkor on my M9 – I’ve been shooting with the 28 cron ASPH mostly on the M9 along with the 50 cron.
    I like the rokkor best on my CLE- overall a better experience than my TC-1 (sometimes it can be too small and too noisy)

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 23, 2016 at 9:43 pm

      I tried the minolta on the Sony A7s the other day… not good, very soft edges. Thankfully, I have very little intention of shooting it digitally.
      I really must try a CLE sometime!

  • Reply
    Mark
    May 23, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    I just picked up a lovely silver 28/2.8 Biogon from Zeiss, they have some great rebates going now. I am not sure I could imagine anyone needing more than what I get out of it in terms of sharpness and contrast. Pride of ownership I suppose. 🙂

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 24, 2016 at 8:11 am

      Smaller size – I’d probably shoot the biogon if it was smaller

  • Reply
    KJ Vogelius
    May 24, 2016 at 7:19 am

    Very nice review Hamish. I can relate to what you’re writing about specific preferences swaying you from objectively “better” gear.

    I’ve always wanted to try this 28, looks like a lovely lens. Can’t talk myself into getting it when I have the 28 Summicron though, and I wouldn’t want to trade that lens since it’s my all time favorite.

    An aside – are you sure about Leica not making the Summicron 40? I think Minolta produced the CL in Portugal and the Minolta branded lenses in Japan, but the Leica branded ones I believe were made by Leica and are engraved as made in Germany?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 24, 2016 at 8:13 am

      Thanks KJ – I do feel like I’m a bit nuts when it comes to these choices some times…

      Not sure at all – you might well be right. Perhaps its just the snobs who consider this the smallest M lens Leica have made 😉

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