When I think about this lens I cant help but laugh. I still own this lens, but I really don’t want too. That’s not very nice of me, and to be honest it’s not very fair either. This lens has actually produced some of my favourite images. This lens may have even taken my favourite image ever (so far): the Patagonian eagle standing in-front of the iconic Mt. Fitzroy. Why then, is it that I feel like I desperately need to get rid of this lens?
It all started out as an experiment. I bought an M6 set with four lenses for a good price, so that I could play with everything a little and make some profit off of the re-sale. This set included the 24mm f/2.8 Elmarit ASPH, but this lens interested me the least, by far. The idea of a 24mm lens on a Leica M camera seemed laughable to me, at first. First of all, there are no 24mm lines in the M viewfinder. Second, why go through the hassle of using a 24mm lens and using an external viewfinder - or guessing the frame lines - when 28mm is kind-of close (or so I thought... I was wrong) and has lines in the M viewfinder. Most importantly, I really really don’t like big lenses.
OK, it isn’t huge, but it’s much longer than my 28mm Elmarit f/2.8 was - my ‘everyday’ lens at the time - and the fact that it slopes outwards as it extends away from the camera makes it feel even bigger; and it doesn’t look great in my opinion. Also, if you think about it, what do you really get for that extra size? Not much, only a few degrees of extra field of view, because this lens, like my 28mm Elmarit, has a f/2.8 aperture. It’s also a lot heavier than my small 35mm Summicron v3, and to be honest the weight is quite noticeable when carrying it around. When I got this lens I still always carried my camera in my jacket pocket, and the size - but especially the shape - made it extremely awkward feeling in my pocket, and it barely fit.
I’m getting ahead of myself. As I was saying, I had just bought the 24mm 2.8 as part of a set, but then I immediately put it up for sale. In the meantime it sat on my desk, and I remember looking at it and thinking to myself: ‘ok, I’ve got to at least try it’. So that’s what I did. I put it on my M6 and then went out to the Hague to give it a shot. I was never going to put an extra viewfinder on it (for size reasons), so I just used the entire viewfinder as an approximation for the lines. It was pretty fun experimenting with it, but it was also strange having such a large view. I finished up a half-full roll, and assumed I wouldn’t think much of the results. I hadn’t liked any of the results from the two 21mm lenses that I had owned and tested, and how different could this be?
This being film it was a few days before I saw the results. Also I was no hurry to see the pictures. Once I did see the pictures I was pretty confused. Initially, I had conducted this ‘test’ so that I could conclusively say that the lens was no good for me and get rid of it. Most pictures were nothing to write home about, but a few were good. In fact, one picture was even very good (the pigeon at the train station). People also didn’t look warped or so small that the effect of their presence and actions felt lost, like with the 21mm’s. The pictures looked natural. The field of view was interesting, with a lot happening, but where I was able to keep the number of subjects and messiness to a minimum, it created a pretty striking effect. First of all, the wide angle of view really gives you perspective, it feels like you’re in the room/hall/space together with the subject. At the same time, your eye is really drawn the subject. My conclusion was: I probably just got lucky. In the end I told myself that this lens is still way to big and unpractical for me so I was definitely still going to sell it, and it went back online.
The thing is: this lens wont sell. The rest of the set sold pretty quickly, but I just can’t get rid of this one. I got some offers, but they were all pretty low, and the point was to make a profit (so I can get more Leica gear of course). As a result, when I moved to Edinburgh for a year, and switched to the M9M - which you can hear about in my Leia M6 review - this lens came with me. Having the lens also kind of bugged me, I couldn’t shake some feeling about it. I was pretty sure I was just annoyed at the fact that it wasn’t selling, then I realised that it was also because I hadn’t given it a proper chance. So after some thought and with great reluctance I put it on my M9M.
At first I was not happy, now it was even bigger. OK the lens was not bigger, but the M9M is significantly bigger than the M6, and now in combination with this bigger lens I felt like I was betraying my core photography values (smaller = better). However, the pictures that came from this lens kind of spoke for themselves. I couldn’t help but feel intrigued by the perspective this lens offered me - or the creative possibilities of this new perspective. I described one of the effects of the 24mm above, and it’s really a great effect. You can also get in close and intimate with your subject, whilst still keeping perspective of the scene and everything looking natural, another great effect. There are more effects but for me these are the most important.
Probably the coolest thing about the 24mm focal length, is that it feels 'different'. Not many photographers use this focal length, and most smartphones typically have focal lengths closer to 28mm (I have seen a few heading toward 24mm). Obviously there are enough photographers that do use this focal length, it just doesn’t feel quite as common, or ‘mainstream’ as the 28mm focal length for example - a focal length that also used to be pretty 'different' until smartphones widely adopted it. And, it is important to mention that 24mm feels extremely different from both 21mm and 28mm. Despite the difference only being a few degrees, to me 24mm feels like the most different focal length from other focal lengths, I guess I could just be crazy.
In my M6 review I write about how the 35mm & 28mm are the ‘story-telling’ focal lengths. I still stand by this, but now after using 24mm for a while I want to state that 24mm can also be used for story telling, it’s just much harder. You have to be careful when framing a shot with a 24mm. For example, if you start to tilt your camera too much the perspective will start to look very strange and this will draw too much attention. This can take away from (and ruin) the story telling element of the picture. Another problem for this particular lens, is that even wide-open basically everything is always in focus. With such a wide perspective and everything in focus, things/people/stuff in the background quickly become distracting and this can also ruin the story you want to tell with your image. These two things together can make this lens… pretty frustrating and unrewarding to shoot. Also, to me that is why 24mm is not really a ‘story telling’ focal length, it’s more of a ‘perspective’ focal length - because it gives you really good perspective of whats happening, as if you were in the picture yourself.
On the other hand, when you do get the picture right the effect is amazing... I just love it. In many ways this lens (and the 24mm 3.8 I tried to replace it with) was kind of like a photography-drug for me. When I used 24mm too much it made me angry and frustrated with photography, it just felt impossible to get the pictures like I wanted them. At one point of shooting with 24mm’s for about 4 months, I just stopped taking pictures for about a month. I still had my camera with me all the time, I just didn’t feel like I could do it anymore. Although I should probably note that it was winter in Edinburgh and having about 4 hours of daylight per day and a slow aperture didn’t help to inspire me. On the other hand, I also didn’t want to give up on 24mm, because the pictures that I did get right… they were so damn good. It was like a bad addiction.
I’m getting ahead of myself again. Once I started to use the 24mm 2.8 on M9M in Edinburgh, I started to finally appreciate what it was capable of. At the time however, I still had a one camera & one lens policy. So slowly I started to realise ‘ok, 24mm is pretty amazing, so I guess it’s time to sell my 28mm.’ However, despite my appreciation of the pictures this lens took I still hated it’s size and shape. So I looked for an alternative. At first I wanted something small and considered the 25mm f/4 lens Voigtlander makes, but if this was going to be my only lens it had to be Leica. In this case there are only two other options: the crazy big and crazy expensive 24mm f/1.4 Summilux, or the 24mm f/3.8 Elmar. Obviously I wasn’t going to go bigger, so I got the 24mm 3.8.
The 24mm 3.8 is not actually much smaller, it’s actually almost as long as the 24mm 2.8. The only real different is that it doesn’t become any wider at the front-end. Both lenses are also incredibly sharp, these are two of the sharpest lenses Leica makes, so no noticeable difference between the two. It really is a simple trade off: one stop slower for a slight decrease in size, that was enough for me. I’ll write a separate review about this lens, because I’ve probably used it even more than the 24mm 2.8. Parts of these two reviews will be similar, because their stories overlap. When I bought the 24mm 3.8 I put the 24mm 2.8 back on sale.
I was still using a 24mm, so lets get back to my 24mm drug-addiction. It was very hard, but eventually I realised that the 24mm focal length was bad for me, and after months of struggling I finally found the strength to put the lens away. OK, I’m joking a little here - the real story is that using this lens (too much) just made photography no fun, so I eventually gave up on it. I actually still liked the 24mm focal length, I just felt like it was time to try something else again. I picked up an old lens… my beloved 35mm Summicron v3. As one might know from my 35mm Summicron v3 review, I was also still ‘trying’ to sell this lens for over a year, without any success (really I just couldn’t let go of it). It was so refreshing going back to what felt like an easy, familiar, and (most importantly) fun focal length. It actually felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. But don’t worry, the story of my 24mm 2.8 Elmarit is far from over.
Over the next year I put up both of my 24mm’s for sale, and eventually sold my 24mm 3.8 (also not the easiest lens to get rid of). Actually the 24mm 2.8 had been on sale since I got the 24mm 3.8. They both went on sale because I wasn’t planning on using 24mm again, I was just having more fun with 35mm and also 50mm - because of my discovery of the 50mm Summarit f/2.5. Then I got an assignment, my very first (well) paid photography assignment! As I was getting proper pay, I wanted to take this assignment very seriously and come with my whole Leica arsenal. So I brought the whole family, my: M246 (By now I had switched to the M246), M6, 35mm Summicron v3, 50mm Summarit 2.5, and of course the 24mm 2.8... the lens that I just couldn’t get rid of.
Without getting too specific, I was assigned to take street-photography style pictures of 13 different environmentally focused companies. Many of these were industrial or agricultural sites so I thought a wide 24mm perspective could be interesting. The 24mm smashed it, I had completely forgotten how incredible its pictures could be. After the assignment I started to think about why I was selling it. I was no longer a one-camera and one lens photographer, so technically I could keep it, so I did! Ok, I did try one more time to replace it with a Voigtlander 25mm f/4, but that lens is not very sharp. I now used my 24mm 2.8 with moderation, which worked much better for me. And I am very grateful that all of this happened, because when I eventually left to Patagonia, I finally appreciated this lens and felt that it was worth lugging around. Most of all I’m happy about the Eagle picture. I’m also happy because having this lens made me think again about the 24mm focal length: How can I simultaneously love AND hate this lens at the same time?
It was actually very simple: I hated that everything was always in focus. This is one of the most important tools for a photographer (in my opinion). Sometimes it’s ok that everything is in focus, when you get lucky and the picture is not too busy, but usually it sucks. Especially with such a wide perspective, it becomes too easy to get stuff you don’t want in the picture. And that was the explanation: I loved the 24mm perspective, but the wide field of view combined with the fact that everything is always in focus made it really hard - almost impossible - to get a clean image without any unwanted distractions. The only 24mm lens that does have some ability to render things out of focus is the 24mm Summilux, so was that the solution? No, the Summilux lens was so expensive and so BIG, I couldn’t imagine myself ever liking it. In the end I told myself the 24mm 2.8 was the best compromise, and I that I would just need to use it as an addition to my other lenses… and not too frequently.
It’s about time I write the ‘review’ part of this review. As I mentioned earlier, this is a sharp lens. I have read online somewhere that it is the sharpest lens Leica makes, I’m not sure that this is true anymore. It’s size is actually pretty ok! It took me a few years, but I’ve gotten used to it. The key is tell yourself that don’t need to use it all the time, only when you feel like it. It’s definitely smaller than 24mm’s from other brands, except maybe Voigtlander. In your bag or coat pocket this lens wont take up too much space, but you will definitely notice that you are carrying it. When mounted on to your camera it does feel pretty heavy. Hanging from my shoulder the camera tends to tip forwards slightly. This is most noticeable during long hikes or walks, as the camera tends to be more unstable when walking around. This can be a little annoying, however, If I started to get annoyed I would just swap it for a smaller lens.
The 24mm 2.8 is very well built, very solid. The quality feels slightly better than most of Leica’s newest lenses, except maybe the very premium Summilux and Noctilux line. I took good care of mine (because I was pretty sure I would eventually sell it), so it has not been banged up, but I wouldn’t be afraid if this lens banged into a rock or wall. I’m sure it would hold up just fine. The hood could also act as extra protection, however, that means carrying around an even bigger lens. The hood is plastic like Leica used to make them in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I don’t like it, it’s very big, but overall the quality and feel is good.
The focus and aperture of this lens are extremely smooth. The aperture is actually too smooth, I often accidentally change the aperture setting. The aperture clicks sound a little soft on my model, but you can hear them. Turning the aperture ring feels good though, it feels solid and doesn’t wobble. Conversely, the smoothness of the focus ring is appreciated. The focus-throw is not very long, which is also nice. You can quickly switch from close to infinity, and back! When looking through the viewfinder there is some considerable blockage, especially when using the hood. Although since I have live-view on the M, I generally use that for focus and framing with 24mm lenses. I still use the viewfinder though, if I want to focus quickly. This might defeat the purpose of having a viewfinder a little bit, but I like having both options anyway.
And that’s about it. Oh yeah, if you care about six-bit coding watch out with this lens, as some have it and others don’t.
1. Super sharp
2. ‘Small’ for a sharp 24mm lens
3. Distinctive & uncommon 24mm field of view
4. Well built
5. Actually cheaper than the newer 24mm f/3.8 Elmar model
1. Everything is always in focus
2. Still pretty big and heavy
3. Ugly (in my opinion) & space-consuming design
It’s funny, because when I started to write this review I almost became sentimental and began to wonder if I should really sell my 24mm 2.8. However, the further I got in, the more I got reminded again why I needed to sell it. Also, I don’t want two 24mm’s and I did eventually get the 24mm Summilux.* Not that I expect to sell it anytime soon... I actually recently got an offer, but of course the buyer cancelled last minute.
*Quick note about the 24mm Summilux: I love it, these days I probably use it even more than my 35mm and 50mm combined. If you're wondering how this is possible!? The short story is that I happened to try a 21mm Summilux, which has almost the same form-factor, and to my great surprise I didn’t absolutely hate it. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t really like how big and heavy the 24mm Summilux is (i'd prefer something small), and I regularly swap it for a smaller lens when it’s size and weight gets on my nerves. But I like the results so much, that I'm actually willing to tolerate it. Also, somehow this particular form factor actually kind of works for me (here for more explanation). I will eventually give my 24mm Summilux it’s own review, but first I want to use it for a year or two longer to really get to know it.
However, if I didn’t get the 24mm Summilux, I would definitely keep my 24mm 2.8. In the end, and after everything, I would advise the 24mm 2.8 to anyone; BUT with the caveat that they understand that everything is always in focus with this lens, and that that can have it’s drawbacks. On the other hand, this is a great lens to get to know the 24mm focal length, and it’s much more affordable and approachable than a 24mm Summilux. Also it’s cheaper than the 24mm 3.8, and actually the faster 2.8 aperture is the better trade-off, even if it means a slight increase in size. With 2.8 you can at least get things a little out of focus when using the minimum focussing distance, which happens to be the case for the eagle photo... better than nothing.
In a sense, this lens was an experiment gone horribly wrong. At first because using the 24mm 2.8 & 3.8 too much (or all the time) made photography no fun. Then later because the result of my testing this lens, is that I bought the 24mm Summilux many years later. The Summilux is an amazing (and amazingly fun) lens, but cost me an arm and a leg. It was worth it though, all of it.