Leica M Secrets Part 1 – Wideangle Lenses
It was a very difficult thing to calculate a 90° angle lens even after WWII. Before the 1950s the lens designers weren’t able to come up with a suitable solution, Zeiss and Schneider were the first ones. In 1958 Leitz adopted the Schneider design and even used their name: Super-Angulon 4/21. This lens, however, was not a really good lens, at least not by todays means: it showed poor contrast wide open and a strong corner darkening even at f/8.
Its successor, the 1963 Super-Angulon 3.4/21, was considerably better at f/4 but still suffered from soft textures, somewhat typical for the Angulon design. In 1980 finally, Leitz came out with its first retrofocus superwide angle 21mm lens, the Elmarit 2.8/21. This early Elmarit 21 was better than the Angulons but still not excellent: low contrast wide open, tendency to flare and a vignetting of 2.5 stops. It was the 1997 Elmarit-M 2.8/21 Asph that for the first time showed a brilliant performance even wide open. So make sure to get the latest version if your budget allows.
It is kind of funnny that the first 24mm lens for the M-system was the Elmarit-M 2.8/24 Asph in 1996. Only Leica’s wide experience in the aspherical lens technology made it possible to launch a 24mm lens with a Leicaesque performance. It is generally accepted that the Elmarit-M 2.8/24 Asph is a better lens than the Elmarit-R 2.8/24 which is based on a Minolta design.
28mm lenses have a long tradition for Leica rangefinder cameras. In 1935 already, the Hektor 6.3/28 was the most “extreme” wideangle lens that was possible. In order to cope with the resulting aberrations the design needed to sport a very slow aperture of f/6.3. And still the performance was rather poor. The 1955 Summaron 5.6/28 was a considerable improvement, at least in the image centre. Towards the corners the image quality detriorated quickly.
The first Elmarit 2.8/28 of 1965 neither was an excellent lens and resembled the Angulons in character. In 1972 Leitz calculated a new, retrofocus, version in Canada which did not improve things a lot. It was not before 1979 when Leitz was able to introduce a better version which worked as the quality standard of 28mm lenses until 1993 when Leitz put the latest version of the Elmarit-M 2.8/28 on the market. This eight lens design still is one of the best 28mm lenses you can find. Leica does not sell this lens anymore, but it is recommendable to look for it on the used lens market.
In 2000 Leica introduced the Summicron-M 2/28 Asph which is about the same size as the Elmarit, shows an even better performance and is a whole stop faster. Aspheric lens know-how again was the key to this almost perfect performance.
(Source: LFI 2006)