Street Ninja: Leica 28mm Summaron Re-Issue

In October 2016, Leica introduced a re-issue of one of their most popular screw mount lenses, the 28mm Summaron f/5.6. The original 28mm Summaron was introduced in 1955 and was very popular, and the re-issue brought the character, design, and delightful imperfections of the old lens forward to modern times.

The most obvious change to the new 28mm Summaron is that it now has the M-mount, so it can be used with any of the modern Leica M lineup without the need for a screw-to-M-mount adaptor.  Other modern updates include the Leica 6-bit coding, which is really just six painted squares inside the lens that tell the camera which lens is mounted for the purposes of metadata, and some modifications to the exterior casing. 

But the classic design, which leaves a particular color rendering and distinctive vignette, still remains.

Leica is known for being expensive, but that expense comes with perfection. Many of their lenses possess some of the finest optics available - lenses like the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux are the pinnacle of optical engineering. So for Leica to re-release a lens that has many imperfections struck many as very un-Leica.

But when has Leica ever been predictable? This is the company that had the guts to make a black and white only camera, and price it over $6k. Then they made a digital camera without a screen. Remember that "predictable" company? 

So in predictable Leica form, they release an old lens without any optical design improvements, and then sell it as 'made to order only.' Guts.

I was drawn to this lens for several reasons:

  1. On paper, it looks like a great street photography lens. I often shoot at f/5.6-f/8 on the street, so having a 'slow' lens was fine with me.
  2. It's the smallest and most compact street photography lens that Leica makes. It's the non-exsistant lens.
  3. There's a certain charm and nostalgia to using a lens with the design and styling from 1950s. And who says you can't look awesome while taking awesome photos? Leica shooters do care about the look of their camera, and any that says they don't is lying to you. 
  4. I like the look of old lenses. I own several 1980s era Leica lenses (from the Made in Canada era) and I love their imperfections.

The first few of these features are self-explanatory, but let's talk about #4. Compared to my other Leica lenses, the Summaron has a distinctive contrast and color rendition that the others lack. I struggle to describe the look with a word other than "unique" - images taken with this lens are just a little different from every other lens. There is also a distinctive vignette - very distinctive - and I love it. Vignettes are seen as imperfections, but many of us add a vignette to an image in post processing to help focus the eye on the subject of the image. I don't see the vignette on this lens as an imperfection, it's adding character, but there are certainly times I don't want vignettes, and I would select another lens for those times.

I wouldn't recommend the Summaron to anyone who is looking to be a one lens shooter, and I will rarely carry it as the only lens on a day of street photography. It's small size lets me pack a second faster lens (like a 35mm f/2 Summacron) and easily stash the Summaron in a pocket. But if you have a few other lenses and want something that will look totally different from your other nearly-perfect Leica glass, then I highly recommend the 28mm Summaron. It's a great lens for street photography, and the unique renderings from this lens look great in color and black and white.

The Leica 28mm Summaron comes in a lovely jewelry box case and includes a metal hood and lens cap. The hood, while fantastic in the construction and feel, totally defeats the point of having a stealthy and compact lens - so it stays at home when the lens goes out and about.

Of course, in Leica fashion, they are asking a pretty penny for this lens re-issue - over $2,500 USD for an f/5.6 prime lens may seem crazy to a lot of photographers. And that is reasonable. It's expensive - as are all things Leica - but the look and feel of this lens is unlike anything else.

I draw a parallel here to film. The cost per image of film can greatly exceed digital, particularly if you shoot thousands of images, but folks (myself included) still flock to film because we like the look. And if you want a unique look, this lens is another tool to get the vintage feel, imperfections, and unique color rendering that otherwise only comes through editing.