Recently I took the plunge and picked up a 28mm lens for my Leica. I’ve shot with a 35mm for the past 3 years… Well, there was a brief time that I was shooting with the 90mm Thambar but then it was back to my trusty 35mm, my comfort zone. I know 28mm doesn’t sound like a huge difference but I’ve got to tell you, I’m really liking the extra room. For the past year I’ve felt as though I needed to explore another focal length, perhaps the 35mm wasn’t for me anymore or I had simply outgrown it after 3 years. Whatever the reason, I knew I needed to make a change.
Initially, I considered getting a 50mm lens as I’ve shot with them a lot and felt comfortable using them for street photography… 6 years ago. A lot has happened in six years and my ability to get up close and personal with my subjects has improved dramatically which I think partially eliminated the 50mm from my options. On top of that, I have really been trying to create images that contain more without feeling claustrophobic (if that makes any sense). The 50mm focal length is great for street but my style felt as though I needed something wider in order to get as close as possible without losing my subjects environment.
The 28mm lens I picked up is the Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH Lens that is one of Leica’s smallest. I believe the new vintage reincarnate LeicaSummaron-M 28mm f/5.6 Lens is actually their current smallest offering and I considered it too… But it looked like the distortion that wider angle lenses all suffer from was a little worse in the vintage looking lens (which is probably what gives it some of its characteristics, but I use my camera professionally and stitch images together from time to time to create larger image files for larger prints and distortion is a problem if it’s over the top) so I opted for the more modern 28.
The image above was created to illustrate that the lens has a healthy dose of distortion (though not as bad as most 28mm’s). This is an extreme example as most photographers would not use a wide angle lens this way inadvertently.
Why not the Leica M 28mm f/2 Summicron Aspherical? It’s a bit larger, not much (if any) sharper and I don’t need the extra fraction of a stop because I’m using the M10 which handles low light shooting brilliantly. Plus, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the f/2.8 is around $2,000 cheaper than the f/2… I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t hate my money.
Versatility is a pretty big deal with any lens, we all have that specialty lens that sits at the bottom of our camera bag or on a book shelf that gets used once in a blue moon (mine is a Nikon Macro lens that I lent to my mom indefinitely because I really have no need for it at this time). I don’t want those lenses, I don’t need those lenses in my life… That’s what those lens rental websites are for, saves me a whole bunch of money. The 28mm focal length is an incredibly versatile focal length… Just ask Apple, they use that focal length on their iPhones. I imagine they put some considerable research into determining the best focal length to cater to all types of photographers.
A Month Later
After about a month of shooting with the 28mm I am having no regrets, I believe I will stick with this lens for the next few years (as my primary lens on the Leica). I’ve been shooting after dark, without the lens hood, and have found it to be a very discreet setup where I can melt into the background. For instance, I recently witnessed a street fight where I was able to get very close and document the fight and aftermath (sadly, the second image shows a woman being arrested and another woman in the shadows who overdosed).
At the end of the day, I could have shot all of this with any lens really… But I found the 28mm lens to feel natural and allow me to really fill the frame with the subject matter I wanted. In fact, it feels so comfortable that I now wonder if I should have been shooting with a 28mm lens all this time (hindsight being 20/20 and all).
Note: I recently wrote an article “Which Leica Lens To Buy First” where I recommend the Leica 35mm f/2 lens… I still stand by that. The 28mm isn’t quite as versatile and can actually be too wide for many street photographers (especially newer ones who aren’t as comfortable getting close to their subjects).
Lesson learned? Really explore various focal lengths, don’t settle on what feels comfortable at the time like I did. I’ll certainly keep you posted as I continue to push the 28mm’s limits and report back here. If you’d like to keep up with my current work you can follow @PhotolisticLife on Instagram.