Leica 24mm f/3.8 Elmar M ASPH: Not small enough.

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Pretty straight forward


This is the smallest 24mm lens Leica makes, that’s why I got it - pretty straight forward. This lens’ story is actually just a smaller part of my 24mm f/2.8 Elmarit's story, so for more details see that review. As a result, the first part of this review is basically the same. Nevertheless, this review will contain pictures made by the 24mm f/3.8 Elmar, and I will dive deeper into the 24mm 3.8 starting from the subsection ‘The review’. So feel free to skip ahead - except for the pictures of course - if you’ve already read the 24mm 2.8 review.

Princes Street, Edinburgh

Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Pub, Edinburgh

Central Station, Edinburgh


The experiment gone wrong


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 2.8, 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. There are no 24mm lines in the M viewfinder. Also, 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 however, I really really don’t like big lenses.

Different perspective


After eventually testing the 24mm 2.8, I couldn’t help but feel intrigued by the perspective this lens offered me - or the creative possibilities of this new perspective. 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. 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. You can also get in close and intimate with your subject, whilst still keeping perspective of the scene and everything looking natural. There are more great effects, but for me these are the most important.

Dog-shake, Edinburgh

Good dogs, Edinburgh

Puppies, Florence

Florence

The 24mm f/3.8 Elmar


Despite my appreciation of the pictures the 24mm 2.8 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.


However, 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.

The 24mm focal length


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, but 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, but I could just be crazy.

On the phone, Pisa

Pisa

Wedding shoot, Florence


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.

The 24mm addiction


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 2.8 before it) 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 this lens for about 3 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.

Station, Rotterdam

Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam

Station, Delft

An unhealthy 24mm relationship


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. Over the next year I put up both of my 24mm’s for sale, and eventually sold my 24mm 3.8.


However, I did end up going back to my 24mm 2.8. I learned to use it with moderation, which worked much better for me. And I am very grateful that this happened, because it finally made me properly appreciate the 24mm focal length. Also, I started to ask myself again: How can I simultaneously love AND hate this lens at the same time?

DOF


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.

Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh

Good dog, Edinburgh

Good dog, Edinburgh


The review


So now let’s get into the actual review of this lens. Like I mentioned earlier this is an incredibly sharp lens, one of Leica’s sharpest. The image quality is amazing, and other than sharpness - because everything is always in focus - theres not much to say. The f/3.8 aperture did get on my nerves in the end. I told myself that with a M9M which can shoot at High-ISO’s, it wouldn’t be an issue. However, I primarily used this lens in Scotland during winter, and with 4 hours of daylight a day f/3.8 was just too slow. I actually had much less issues with my 28mm f/2.8, which I had been using in the (also very dark) months before I started with 24mm. I guess it was just one stop too slow, because I also felt happier when I eventually started using the 24mm f/2.8 again (and accepted it’s slightly larger size).

Build & design


The build of this lens is solid, top-notch Leica quality. The focus ring was pretty smooth, although it definitely had some resistance, but the aperture clicks are super smooth and clicky. The focus throw is pretty small, which is good. It’s pretty heavy though, and I definitely noticed the size and weight difference when compared to the 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit and 35mm Summicron v3. In reality it’s a small size difference (< 1 cm), but it really felt like my camera setup was much bigger, much more awkward, and much heavier. Admittedly, it is slightly better than the 24mm 2.8. When it comes down to it, they both exceed the threshold of what is ’small and light’, and comfortably pocketable in my jacket... so they both fail.


It comes with metal hood. I didn’t use that because I was getting this lens for it to be small. When you take off the hood you expose the screw-thread of the lens, which looks a little ugly, and Leica didn’t provide a screw-ring to cover this up like they do for some other lenses. Because of this I don’t like the design. I guess they assume that no one would stupid enough to not use the hood.  Seriously, it’s better without the hood. Otherwise why would you get this over the 24mm 2.8, which is faster and cheaper?

Backlighting, Florence

Florence

Cathedral, Florence

Pros


1. Smaller design (if you don't use the hood)


2. ‘Small’ for a sharp 24mm lens


3. Distinctive & uncommon 24mm field of view


4. Well built


Cons


1. Everything is always in focus


2. Still pretty big and heavy


3. Ugly (in my opinion)

4. More expensive than 24mm f/2.8 Elmarit model

Museum, Rotterdam

Museum, Rotterdam

Museum, Rotterdam

Stiff competition


Really, why would you get this lens over the 24mm 2.8? When I bought this lens it was for size reasons. I can tell you now that that was a mistake. This lens is not small enough to be worth the trade-off's, it's just not that small. So don’t get this lens, instead get the 24mm 2.8: it’s only slightly bigger and it's cheaper, as sharp, faster, and built (a little) better.


If you can afford it though, consider the 24mm Summilux so you can also have some shallow DOF. This is what I eventually ended up getting. 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, however, first I want to use it for a year or two longer to really get to know it.  


That being said, the 24mm 3.8 is still a very good lens. It’s just not as good as the rest.

Florence

French Alps

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