During the year we have covered the possibility of a remake of the 1950s 28mm f/5.6 Summaron several times. Both William Fagan and I own the original lens and William wrote about it at length in May (with some excellent example shots, by the way, one of which is reproduced below). Now the remake is reality and full details of the new-old lens have been announced by Leica. It will be available on special order, against a 10% deposit, and will cost £1,900 in the UK.
Many will be surprised to find that the new lens looks almost identical to the original screw-mount design, 6,228 copies of which were produced between 1955 and 1963. Leica claims that the lens is optically identical, retaining a period rendition, but has been improved by more modern coatings.
It even retains the origina’s tendency to vignette. This has now become a virtue: “Through its combination of extreme depth of field, natural contrast, excellent rendition of details, and visible vignetting, the lens gives images a unique character.” Quite.
So why should we be getting so excited about a lens that, even by the standards of half a century ago, was slow. Even the poor old Leica X Vario was panned because of its “slow” lens which, at 28mm, boasted a considerably faster f/3.5 aperture. It is all about size — this is now the smallest M-mount lens — extreme depth of field and ease of focus. And, as X Vario owners found to their advantage, in defiance of the ill-informed bar-room pundits, f/5.6 is approaching the sweet spot for sharpness. In fact, f/5.6-f/8 is ideal for many tasks, from landscape to street photography. Bokeh king it is not and never will be; but then you probably own other lenses to give you a bit more subject separation.
Most street photographers choose f/7-f/8 for general use, enjoying the tremendous depth of field which makes zone-focus a doddle, especially with a wide-angle lens. For those who like the 28mm focal length, including Ricoh GR, Fuji X70 and Leica Q owners, the new Summaron is a perfect little addition to and M camera.
As the owner of a 1958 Summaron 28mm f/5.6 I shall be very interested to compare my original with the new model. If there is little difference in rendition I might conclude that there is no point in shelling out the best part of £2,000 for a lens that does the same job as the original. Although relatively rare, you can still up for between £500 and £600. Red Dot Cameras had a nice example in stock at, I think, £599. Probably not for much longer, though.
Unfortunately this price differential is not destined to last. The arrival of the new Summaron is bound to push up the second-hand price of the original. One proviso: If you own the old Summaron you probably don’t have a matching hood. They are as rare as rocking horse manure (as I discovered) and could set you back nearly as much as the lens itself. However, the new Summaron does come with a hood. That must be worth a bob or two and might sweeten the pill a little.
I have always been a great fan of the 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit, previously Leica’s smallest optic, and I favoured it even before being converted to the 28mm focal length after a year with the Leica Q. The Summaron, whether old or new, is going to be an even better choice for street photographers who want to snap away without worrying about critical focus. With focus set at the right spot, around 2m (or 6ft on my old girl which doesn’t do new measures) this could be hyperfocal heaven. In any case you can’t get nearer than 1m because this is (reprise) A VINTAGE LENS. None of this new-fangled 70cm stuff for the Summaron.
The old Summaron is now mounted on my M-D for a month. Let’s see how it performs. And, if I can persuade the delightful Jenny Hodge at Leica UK to provide an example of the new lens, there could be a useful comparison in the offing.
[Note: I am told that Leica UK has withdrawn the 10% deposit requirement on this lens. Instead it will be ordered through dealers in the normal manner].
Leica’s Press Release
The renaissance of a classic lens:
Ultra-compact LEICA SUMMARON-M 28mm f/5.6 wide-angle lens for unobtrusive reportage photography
Leica Camera has expanded the portfolio of its M rangefinder system with the modern renaissance of a classic Leica lens: the Leica Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6.
First introduced as a screw mount lens in 1955, the predecessor of the Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 is still one of the most compact wide-angle lenses within the Leica M-System, and is famous for its characteristic signature. The new lens takes its lead from the classically compact construction of its ancestor and brings the unique, analogue look it lends to pictures.
The optical design and mechanical construction of the Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 are identical to those of its predecessor, which was manufactured at the Leitz factory in Wetzlar until 1963. Combining the latest optical developments, highest quality finishing and outstanding optical design, the new edition of this very special lens is much more than a simple reconstruction of an existing model.
With minimal contemporary design elements, the new version of the Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 has been reduced to the essentials, but loses none of the character of its legendary ancestor. Its exceptionally short length of less than two centimetres makes it particularly unobtrusive and, together with the incomparable discretion of the Leica M camera, an ideal lens for street photography. The combination of a clearly laid-out depth of field scale and long focus throw allows extremely precise pre-focusing.
The optical design of six elements in four groups arranged symmetrically around the iris of the new lens is identical to that of its precursor. Indeed, the historic optical design of the original lens has remained completely unchanged. For example, wide open, the new Leica Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 renders subjects with rich contrast across almost the entire image field.
The combination of extreme depth of field, natural contrast rendition, excellent resolution of detail and visible vignetting create a unique visual signature, and lend pictures a special look reminiscent of the earlier days of analogue photography.
The exterior of the new Leica Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 reflects the contemporary look of the current Leica M lens portfolio, including the Leica M bayonet mount with 6-bit coding, the shape of the focusing lock button, the diameter of the aperture ring and the style of the knurling on the barrel and rings. The design and construction of the lens hood also mirrors the original and evokes memories of the beginnings of rangefinder photography. The hood is machined from solid brass and finished in a meticulous manufacturing process, and is included with the lens.
As with all other Leica lenses, the Leica Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 was designed and developed by Leica’s precision engineers and optical specialists in Wetzlar. As a particularly reliable product with enduring value, it is made in Germany from only the finest materials and assembled in an intricate process entirely by hand. The combination of cutting-edge technology and exceptionally thorough manufacturing procedures guarantees consistently excellent quality and durability.
Pricing and availability
The Leica Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 has a suggested retail price of £1,900 including VAT.
Due to strong expected demand, the lens must be pre-ordered. Orders will be fulfilled in sequence according to order date.