Using the Leica 28mm 5.6 Summaron is like going back 50 years in time. It looks like a lens from the 50's. the feel of the lens is nothing like what is being produced today. And the images have kind of a film look to them that gives a retro vibe.
The original 28mm Summaron 5.6 was first manufactured from 1955 to 1963 and was available only as a screw mount lens. It did not appear in Leica catalogs until 1963. The 28mm Summaron was actually a good selling lens because in the short time frame that it was available 6,228 lenses were made. Even though it was screw mount only remember that adapters were used to allow the lens to work on bayonet mount cameras. The optical design was the same as today’s lens. A bayonet version of the lens was announced by the Leica Photography Magazine in the spring 1956 issue but was never produced. There is one prototype known to exist so the lens was close to production.
The 28mm Summaron 5.6 lens was introduced by Leica in the fall of 2016. It is generally hard to find at the dealers because Leica is simply not making many and most are being scooped up by collectors. Last year Leica released another retro lens, the Thambar. Hopefully we will see more of these speciality lenses.
In use I find that the lens turns my M10 into a point and shoot camera. When focused at about 10 feet at f11 the hyper focal range is from about 4 feet to infinity. For most shooting there is no reason to focus. Although the 5.6 aperture seems like it would limit the usefulness the lens this is not the case. On bright days an aperture of 5.6 is very acceptable and when the light drops just raise the ISO as needed. On the M10 noise is well controlled to 1600. Also remember Leica lenses are designed to be shot wide open so the is no quality deduction for shooting wide open. There is some vignetting on the edges but nothing that can’t be easily fixed in Lightroom. I would describe the Summaron as a medium contrast lens. That is why earlier I described the lens as having a film look. Some early reviews of the lens complained that it was soft. I disagree, no it does not resolve detail like the 50mm apo, but it not supposed to. In actual use it is as sharp as other Leica lenses and I have the enlargements that will verify this. Pixel peepers are never happy.
The main reason that I chose this lens over the 2.0 or 2.8 28mm lenses was its size. I have enough speed lenses so having a small lens that could fit in the corner of my bag was appealing. I tend to carry 2 Leica bodies with me so a lighter lens made the choice easier. And I must admit it is one cool looking lens. The retro vibe was hard to resist.
Comparing the 28mm Summaron to a 35mm Summicron you get a sense of just how small this lens is. It is easy to get photos of your fingers if you don’t adjust your grip on the camera after focusing. A M10 and a 28mm Summaron could easy pass as a point and shoot camera when you are in a crowd. It is so small most people are used to seeing Nikons and Canons so a M10 with this lens is a lot less intimidating.
A 28 mm lens is not my first choice for a lens on a Leica, that would be a 50mm. It is not even my second choice, that belongs to a 35mm lens. But I find that when shooting busy street scenes I am liking more around my subject so that I can tell a more complete story. I guess that Garry Winogrand was right after all.