The Leica Summaron-M 28mm F5.6 is a curious thing – a ‘new’ M-mount version of a pancake lens originally introduced in the mid 1950s. Manufactured in limited numbers between 1955-1963, the original Summaron would have been most commonly paired with Leica’s screw-mount and (via adapters) M3 and M2 film rangefinders of the day.
So is the Summaron a collectors item best left inside its presentation box, or is this something you might actually want to shoot with?
Leica Summaron-M 28mm F5.6: Key specifications
- Optical construction: 6 elements in 4 groups
- Aperture range: F5.6-22 (full-stop detents)
- Minimum focus: 3.3 feet (1m)
- Filter thread: 34mm
- Hood included
- 6-bit coded
- Eight aperture blades
- Weight: 165 g (0.36 lb)
The answer to that question is a bit complicated, and I must admit that I changed my mind a couple of times during the course of shooting for this article.
Initially, I must say I was rather skeptical. Leica lent me the Summaron ahead of a trip to Japan at the end of February, and I opted not to take it, borrowing a more practical 28mm F2.8 Elmarit instead. I enjoy vignetting as much as the next person, but I didn’t like the idea of being limited to F5.6. The fact that the Summaron arrived in a satin-lined presentation box scared me a little, too. I’m painstakingly protective of loaner gear, but accidents do happen, and the thought of accidentally losing or scratching the tiny jewel-like lens worried me. So I took the Elmarit, and I don’t regret it.
Back home though, with a few days left on the M10 loan agreement and a strong desire to get away from rain-drenched Seattle, I headed to the coast to see what the little Summaron could do.
There’s not much I can say about the Summaron’s handling, because there’s precious little lens to actually handle. As you can hopefully tell from the photographs in this article, it’s very small indeed, which means that focus and aperture rings are small, too. The focus ring features a traditional infinity lock, by way of a sprung peg that must be depressed to move the lens from its ∞ position.
Whether or not you get on with this depends partly on what you’re used to. Personally I find the infinity lock a bit annoying, more so on this lens than others I’ve used with a similar design, mostly because the whole thing is so tiny. With the hood attached and the camera to my eye, there is very little tactile differentiation between the infinity release peg and the hood tightening peg. A bigger issue is that when rotating the focus ring, the one tends to get in the way of the other.
The Summaron’s aperture ring is unusual by modern standards in that it has detents only at every full stop setting, not 1/2 or 1/3. You can of course live dangerously and set intermediate positions if you want to. The M10, at least, will recognize 1/2 steps in aperture-priority mode, but be warned – in its 1/2 stop positions, the 8-bladed aperture is far from rounded – in fact it’s literally star-shaped.
Like the focus ring, the aperture ring is slim, and a little hard to find by touch when the hood is attached.
Given that the hood also occludes a decent portion of the M10’s 0.72X viewfinder, I stopped using it pretty quickly, except when it was very obviously going to be necessary. Flare isn’t enough of a risk to require it most of the time, and ditching the hood makes the Summaron’s aperture and focus rings easier to manipulate.
Of course this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that when the lens is used at a small aperture and its corresponding hyperfocal focusing distance, there is very little need to actually adjust anything.