Leica Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 S7

Introduction

Leica Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 is one of four wide angle (non fish-eye) lenses that the company currently offers in its SLR lineup. The first version of he lens was introduced back in 1970 and Leica has gone through three design revisions for this lens - the first two had a Series 7 filter thread (the later of these two models had a built-in lens hood, while the earlier one had a snap-on hood), and the latest model offered in E55 filter thread (also with a built-in lens hood). Like all modern versions, the latest revision of Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 is offered with ROM contacts, which are going to be completely useless for you if you plan to use this lens on a non Leica camera. The lens reviewed in this test is the first generation Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 with Series 7 filter thread, manufactured in early 1980s. Serial number of the lens is 3271055. New, ROM versions of the lens is currently priced at ~US$2,500, while good quality used versions of the first generation Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 go for ~US$350-400 on second hand markets like eBay.

The build quality of the lens is superb - all metal barrel and metal focus and aperture rings. Focus ring is very smooth and the aperture ring snaps very nicely, moving in half f-stop increments. The optical construction of the lens consists of 8 elements in 8 groups. The lens is pretty compact and light, weighing 275g and measuring 48 x 67mm (1.88 x 2.63in), although the inner cam of the lens extends slightly when focusing towards closeup, thus making the lens a bit longer. Despite its compact size and light weight, the lens looks and feels pretty sturdy. The minimum focusing distance is 30cm and the minimum aperture is f/22. The lens accepts 48mm screw-in type filters and had snap-on metal lens hood.

Image

As all Leica SLR lenses, Elmarit-R is a full-frame lens, so when used on an APS-C body with 1.6x crop sensor its field of view is equivalent to that of a 44mm lens on a full frame camera. To test the lens on Canon EOS body, I used a generic Fotodiox Leica-R to EOS adapter without AF confirmation. Like with any other non EF (or EF-S) mount lenses, you will have to operate your SLR camera in aperture priority or fully manual mode. You will also loose all but center weighted metering unless you use a  specially chipped adapter.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 8 elements in 7 groups
Angular Field 76 degrees
Minimum Focus 30cm/0.98ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, manual
Filter Size 48mm
Lens Hood Snap-on, metal (included)
Weight 275g/9.7oz
Dimensions 48x67mm/1.88x2.63"
Lens Case N/A

 

Field Tests

Leica Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 showed quite good performance in the field. The lens remained very sharp in the center on both cropped as well as full frame bodies. There was no visible degradation in quality here throughout the aperture range. Border quality on the other hand was noticeably softer at f/2.8 and that was persistent on both types of camera. Although, once stopped down a little bit, the lens seemed to have regained its sharpness.

Unlike some of the modern monstrosities, the lens is pretty small and light, making it an interesting choice as a walk-around prime on a lightweight APS-C camera like Rebel XTi (field of view on such body would be close to 45mm). The only problem with this option is that most modern APS-C bodies do not really have good manual focusing capabilities (viewfinders are small and pretty dark). So if you plan to use manual lenses like this one often, consider investing in a special focusing screen, or buying an AF confirm adapter that can at least trick the camera into thinking that a proper lens is attached to the body, giving you back the AF system (although the quality of such AF adapters varies widely, so don't be surprised if something does not go right the first time around).

 

ISO 400, 1/60, f/2.8, 28mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 400, 1/60, f/2.8, 28mm (Canon 5D)

 

OOF highlights were quite round and uniform, but carried pretty harsh outlining around edges. Contrast transitions in foreground and background OOF areas was somewhat harsh, which seems to be quite typical in most 28mm and wider primes. There was no sign of double-edging around foreground and background objects.

 

Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (28mm)
Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (28mm)

 

The lens shows quite noticeable amount of vignetting on a full frame camera, which while not quite surprising is still a bit disappointing (from a Leica at least). You can reduce vignetting by stopping down the lens and by f/5.6 vignetting is practically gone. On an APS-C body the lens behaves much better, but this is due to the cropped sensor that has smaller frame coverage. Vignetting here is basically non-existent to begin with.

Color reproduction was quite accurate in general, but the lens seemed to produce a better 'punch' with stopped down apertures (around f/8-f/11), where contrast levels were higher and colors were somewhat more saturated. The lens handled color fringing quite well - there were basically no visible signs of fringing even with wide open aperture. Flare was also under control, and there was no noticeable barrel distortion.

 

ISO 100, 1/4000, f/2.8, 28mm (100% crop)
ISO 100, 1/4000, f/2.8, 28mm (100% crop)


Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras as well as cameras from different manufacturers are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for all types of cameras.

 

Canon APS-C: The lens showcased outstanding performance in the center. Image resolution here was top notch straight from f/2.8, peaking at about f/5.6-f/8, but then dropping slightly at f/11. Performance around borders was somewhat worse, especially at f/2.8, where the lens shows pretty mediocre results. Fortunately, quality improves with stopped down aperture and by f/4 image borders reach a pretty decent level, further peaking in the f/5.6-f/8 range. In the f/5.6-f/11 range the lens is capable of delivering outstanding 19in prints and in the f/5.6-f/8 range (its overall peak), you would still be able to get pretty decent 24in prints. Conclusion? Well, performance around borders at widest aperture setting is disappointing, but overall the lens showcases quality one would expect from a good (but not exceptional) quality lens.

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 28mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 28mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 28mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 28mm

 

Chromatic aberration on an APS-C camera was well under control in the center, where CA never exceeded ~0.5px, even with wide open aperture. CA around borders was higher, approaching ~1px at f/2.9, but then gradually dropping to more manageable ~0.6px by f/5.6.

 

Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 28mm
Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 28mm

 

Here are 100% crops taken with Canon Digital Rebel XTi and comparing image borders at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: Leica Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 showed pretty consistent results on a full-frame body (consistent to the results measured with the APS-C camera that is). Performance in the center was top notch throughout the tested aperture range. Quality here would rival pretty much any other wide angle lens on the market. The performance pattern around borders was also similar - soft at f/2.8, but then drastically improving at f/4 and peaking around f/8. Conclusion? Consistency is good and while performance around borders can be considered inadequate, overall performance is still pretty decent.

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 28mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 28mm

 

The lens shows better handling of chromatic aberration on a full frame body. Center CA was quite minimal, never exceeding ~0.3px across the aperture range. Border CA was also quite manageable, averaging ~0.5px across the entire tested aperture range.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 28mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 28mm

 

Here are 100% crops taken with a full frame Canon 5D and comparing image borders at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

Alternatives

Well, if you're looking for a wide angle Leica SLR lens, then your selection is limited to about half a dozen models (I'm not counting different revisions of the same lens). For a wider field of view, check out the latest Elmarit-R 19mm f/2.8, but keep in mind that this lens requires modifications if you plan to use it on a Canon dSLR body. Summicron-R 35mm f/2 in E60 filter thread is another interesting choice. Both of these lenses are current models and are still being manufactured by Leica. For an older, discontinued designs, check out Elmarit-R 35mm f/2.8. The last edition of this lens in E55 filter thread offers outstanding center image quality, but is somewhat weak around borders. Outside of the Leica camp, take a look at the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8 in Contaxt/Yashica mount or its newer variant Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 ZF. Finally, if you can afford spending a small fortune, then Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 is simply a must. For a side by side comparison of several 28mm fixed focals, take a look at the 28mm Challenge.

 

Recommendation

The lens clearly has its weaknesses, but those are not numerous. Weaker border performance at f/2.8 is one and vignetting on full frame body is another. On the other hand, you get excellent center performance, excellent border performance with stopped down aperture, good color handling as well as (virtual) immunity to color fringing. All in all, Leica Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 (S7) is a pretty decent wide angle lens for its time, however there are quite a few modern (as well as not so modern) alternatives that can match and exceed overall performance of this lens. Considering that Leica has gone through two revisions of this lens after releasing the original design, this would not be surprising. So while you might still opt for the older S7 variant due to its cheaper price, those of you looking for the ultimate performance should consider alternatives.