Let me begin by saying that I like Leica. The truth is that I love things built to exacting standards, high quality workmanship with high grade materials. Naturally Leica is one of my favorite photography brands. That is not to say that I love everything they do.
I own a Leica M6 and a Leica ME (simplified M9), both of which I purchased used and decent pricing. I have a single Leica Lens (90mm) and two Zeiss lenses (35mm and 50mm). The next lens I am planning on getting for this kit is a Voigtlander 15mm lens. Notice how I claim very little "Leica" brand things. The reason is simply the price.
So when Leica announced a new lens I was interested but due to previous sticker shock, I viewed it only as academic. Imagine my surprise when I found out that they lens is a 28mm f/5.6! I have long said that the ISO performance of sensors is improving so quickly that the "fast glass" becomes less important in the digital world (not so for film). Is Leica agreeing to this philosophy?
No. Simply put Leica is tipping their hat to a classic lens and are trying to capture its character...this begs for a deeper look.
First question...what is the "character" of a lens? There are some lenses, that through their imperfections, create a pleasing rendition of a scene. This gives it a certain balance between sharpness, contrast and blur that is pleasing. This "lens effect" is indeed difficult to reproduce which is why we all have our favorite lenses. A perfect lens has no "character" because it renders the scene perfectly.
Second question...So every old, imperfect lens has character? Yes but this is not necessarily a good thing. I own a lens (which I will talk about some other time) which is absolute crap. Sure it is predictably crap but I would never say it has a pleasing character.
Third question...What does Leica say?
"Frequently, photographers use lenses with a “vintage” signature to achieve particular effects that are difficult to reproduce, even with the most modern digital post-processing software. The Summaron wide-angle, now more than 50 years old, is a particularly popular and compact lens that has been recreated with an M-bayonet mount, 6-bit coding, and a slightly revised design."
This lens has obvious vignetting, something most lens makers try to avoid and the contrast is soft. A bit of lens flare of light and you have something that many will find pleasing.
Leica is possibly realizing that with all the digital photography quality and the software corrections that can be applied our photographic sensibilities are crying out for something different. The resurgence in film, retro design cameras and the "simplified" design ascetic is all evidence of this. Perhaps Leica realizes that photographers do not need perfection we need something that lets us shoot beautiful pictures. Sort of the search for the "perfect beauty found in its imperfections".
I am not sure what was behind this lens release. I have not tried it so I cannot give a fair opinion about it. In fact the only thing I am sure of is that it will be priced beyond my budget so my study of these lenses will continue to be "just academic".
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.