Leica M240 with 28mm Summicron - Some Observations

May 17, 2013  •  11 Comments

Boring.

This was never an exciting lens on the M8 or M9 - always very useful, always a little dull. Its virtues are many: it has a reputation for good flare resistance, medium high contrast that can handle a bright day, fairly low distortion, good sharpness, low field curvature and no notable focus shift. For these reasons and for the fact that it has a very reliable placement of DOF in use, and that it is a useful focal length for travel, street and landscape, it was one of my most used lenses. But on the M240 it has gone from 'slightly dull but useful' to 'not as good as it used to be'. Consequently it has also slipped from 'most used' to 'little used'.

Why?

In short, it isn't sharp enough across the frame until F8 to fulfil the 'bigger prints' promise of the M240 sensor. I put this down to the peripheral falloff in the sagittal and tangential MTF 40 even at F5.6. It also seems to lack sparkle and micro-contrast across the frame - a phenomenon that I put down to the wave in tangential MTF 40 and the astigmatism between sagittal and tangential. Also, colour shifts across the frame are evident with current M240 firmware, even when the lens is stopped down. It is still far better than most lenses on most cameras, of course, but it is no longer a must-have, for me at least.

The aperture series tells all: the lens just doesn't get its act together at the edges convincingly until F8 and that is where diffraction is just starting to take the shine of the cherry on centre. Click the image to go to a gallery which has all files from F2 thru 16 and take a look.

For me, that just isn't interesting enough: it's not as if the lens has enormous character or sparkle to compensate, either. But it does have enough micro-contrast on centre to provoke moire on the M240 - see the following file (click for full size or merely look at the provided crop below).

As you can see, it is not just the colour artefacts that are clearly evident: there's also the 'maze' shaped pattern moire so familiar from the M9 and so very hard to process away convincingly. I once lost a shot that really mattered to this effect.

On the M9, the lens corrections for the Cron weren't perfect. I don't have test frames from that combination to show a comparison but what matters here is that as a system, the M240/28Cron combo (with current firmware as of March 2013) doesn't do quite well enough and there are some residual shifts, even when stopped down, that will sometimes show up in the sky and possibly in other types of subject. Here is the F2 frame  - click on it to go to the entire series.

 

Moving on to distortion - below are uncorrected and corrected frames and for me, they show that this is a non-issue.

Onto flare. Generally, the lens handles it very well if shot with the hood on, but its reputation for being bullet proof in this regard is misplaced: you can provoke it quite easily though I must say that few lenses can cope with having the sun in the frame like this and that generally the lens performs well as long as this situation is avoided. Here's what happens when it goes wrong:

On the plus side, it is really very hard to provoke colour aberrations of the fringe variety. The above file, when viewed it a 100%, shows almost no purple problems, when most fast wide lenses would be afflicted.

So there are some moderate problems with the lens but there are also silver linings and they are not to be underestimated. It performs in a generally well-mannered and predictable fashion on the M240 and, unlike with some other lenses, I do not see strange interactions of focus shift and field curvature (despite that mini-tsunami MTF) that can lead to anomalous results when using stop-down EVF focus. Instead I find, as I always previously did, that it lets me very reliably place the field of focus where I want it. That may also partly be a result of my long experience with it but for whatever reason, it is very useful. Scenes such as the following are deceptively difficult to handle with some lenses but with the 28 Cron, you can get pretty much everything, near to far, in great focus handheld and with no sweat, albeit at F8 - click for full size.

 

Should you want to do the opposite and explore the lens's bokeh characteristics, a few examples follow. I add more shots than usual here because this is one of the Cron's stronger points: wides often have an obviously 'nervy' bokeh but this one is relatively smooth. Click for larger files. All shot at F2 and F2.8.

I might have become mildly hooked on tricky lenses (such as the 35 Lux or the Nikkor 28mm F1.8G) because here, with the 28 Cron, I have a solid, reliable lens that doesn't mess me about. With the exception of the potential for some residual colour cast issues and the need to stop down to F8 for certain kinds of scene, it does pretty much what you want pretty much all of the time. But I don't expect it to remain current much longer than the current or next generation M: it needs a makeover at some point. Not urgently, but soon-ish. It should achieve edge sharpness by F5.6 and the colour shifts should be better controlled.

And it's boring.

 

 

This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.
 

 


Comments

11.Jonno(non-registered)
I have this lens and and use it on the M240. The lens is ok sharp - not exceptionally compared to many modern lenses, just ok. It renders details quite coursely and is very contrasty. Bokeh is quite smooth.
However, close-ups are terrible showing a lack of bite and resolution. Extra sharpness is required in-camera or in LR if you want your photos to "pop".
But the overal rendering is typical Leica and gives a timeless classic feel to images.
Worth the money? - not for pixel-peepers but if you want the disctinctive "Leica look" and are into "arty" shots, then this is still a viable lens.
10.jesse lirola(non-registered)
honestly the 28 cron is my favorite lens for telling a story. when you get close, especially when the sun is low in the sky, low enough to go into the lens it creates results which are stupendous. there's nothing like it.

i've had my 240 a week and now having sold both M9's (i have a monochrom as well now) it's making lenses behave somewhat bizarrely. i know my 35 lux asph (non fle) has some focus shift when stopped down, but it's been acting super weird on the 240. i haven't yet used the 28 cron on the 240 but with fashion week coming up i generally have the noctilux and the 28/2 or a 35/1.4 and a 75/1.4 as my lenses for the week, so we'll see what i can achieve with this camera then.

the 240 is fine, i mean it works well, which is a treat for a professional who has lost more frames than he'd care to count on the m8's and m9's. i'm happy i have the monochrom because honestly there's no digital camera that i know of that rivals the tones and quality of the images. i hesitate to say it's better than film, but when i'm shooting @ 10,000 iso and running it through silverefex it simply must be better than film because i've never push film upwards of 10k. anyhow obviously the 28/2 asph performs flawlessly on the monochrom and that's the lens i intend to have on there, that way when i need to make a B&W portrait i'll switch lenses and that's that.

i am certainly excited to make noctilux portraits with the EVF, that'll insure that i'll nail the eyes every time.

anyhow - my copy flares but it produces the most wonderful perfect 10 pointed bling flares every time, there's no lens that i have like it. i love shooting into the light with this lens, and since i've broken the hoods too many times to buy another one i am most always just shooting with a filter on it, if i know there's little risk i'll take the filter off and go bare, but honestly i was working with my D4 recently and had the light just right and made the shots that the M9 / MM & the 28/2 love so and the d4 with the 24-70 didn't do anything interesting at all, needless to say i knew it was a far inferior optical system but man it just made me love the 28/2 even more.

i'm on the fence about buying that ridiculously overpriced metal hood for it, but i keep stopping myself as it's just damn absurd to spend 600 on such a think. reminds me i need to email leica and bitch about the 28/2 hoods and how i've broken 4 of them. ha.

anyhow i know this is all over the place, but i'm going to put my 28/2 + 240 through the paces and you'll be able to see results on my blog / site @ www.jesselirola.com & blog.jesselirola.com --- you can see some great images from the marc jacobs show with the M9 & MM from february on the blog, they're not too far into it, maybe a page length, it's the fashion b&w work.

not sure if this helps or not, hahha.

cheers,

jesse
9.Dez(non-registered)
Tim, I understand what you are saying about writing about it specifically on the 240, I was just commenting to my experience with that lens.

I have a suspicion that the M240 has a thicker IR cut filter over the sensor than the M9, which is why the per-pixel sharpness has been disappointing in most of the images I've seen so far. It will be hard to say until I get my hands on one though.

As for flare, you say that your copy handled it fairly well, the same cannot be said for mine, not even remotely. I don't see any large purple areas of flare in your example, so I believe yours handles it better than mine.
8.Tim Ashley Photography
Dez, you need to be aware that this was specifically a review about the performance of this lens on the M240 and not on the M9, which is what I understand you to be using it on! I try to test systems, not lenses, and many lenses perform differently on different cameras especially those that have higher resolution, different sensor architecture and different micro lens arrays. I also did note in the review above that the lens has issues with flare and that its reputation for being hard to flare is misplaced.
7.Dez(non-registered)
Rick G, as focal lengths get shorter, the need for APO glass is reduced. I doubt we'll ever see an APO 28mm as all it would do is add significant cost without meaningful benefit.
EvilTed, the 35mm summilux is not meant to be a resolution monster. For that, you're better off with the 35mm summicron, Zeiss Biogon 2/35 or even the "lowly" 35mm summarit. The latter two can be had for under $2000.

I've actually had the opposite experience from Tim using my copy of the 28mm Summicron. I found mind to have good resolution and contrast, and bags of character when shooting wide open. My only complaint is that, unlike in Tim's review, mine is very, very prone to flair. My copy is pre-6bit coding, so it could be that they changed the lens coatings (to be better on digital) when the M8 was released.
I talk about my copy here if you're interested http://www.digipixelpop.com/?p=192
No comments posted.
Loading...