Why I chose what I chose to test:
If you consider the original 28mm shopping list, there aren’t that many options in the 28mm range that normal people who shoot film and digital OR who shoot film but might shoot digital someday OR who might shoot only film but might try to sell a lens to someone who shoots digital need to concern themselves with (1).
A big reason is that too many of the legacy wide angle lenses have color shift issues with digital sensors which, although possible to remove in post, are too much of a headache to try to deal with on a routine basis. When I started this project, I didn’t realize that this was as much of an issue as it was with rangefinder lenses. Nonetheless, knowing what I know now, this is why I decided not to test many of the legacy lenses.
At some point I will test the Canon 28mm lens because it is a classic. It isn’t all that expensive so I can justify keeping that one around for film. I know it wont work with digital but a classic is a classic. Everybody who is interested in this type of thing knows “The Winogrand lens.” All of that said, it is unlikely that most normal people reading this will be considering that lens as their primary option so I feel confident about putting out this list even though testing isn’s 100% complete.
I decided not to test the 28mm Minolta Rokkor-m 28mm lens because it is plagued with age related disease including haze and Schneideritis. I talked with a few people that said that essentially all of these lenses are prone to haze. That may or may not be true but I don’t want to invest in something that is so widely known to have problems. It is also reported that Schneideritis (e.g. white dots) are a cosmetic issue but other reports say it more than cosmetic. To me, and probably most normal people, it doesn’t matter. Life is too short to deal with nonsense like Schneideritis and almost guaranteed haze. I would like to give this one a try but I don’t want to get involved with the headaches associated with this lens. It is what it is. Oh well. Sorry Minolta.
I am still not ready to make the jump into Ms-Optical. Someday it will happen but just not yet. I also don’t think that the 28mm Apoqualia, which by all accounts is a speciality/character lens, is on the short list for most normal people. Therefore, for the purposes of this website, I can justify taking a pass for now.
Finally, with the 28mm focal length, excessively large lenses that may or may not also require a lens hood that will poke out into the viewing are unwelcome. Given the limitations of the rangefinder system, 28mm lenses need to be small or they will impinge on the rangefinder window. This is an issue and it is why I am not considering the legacy Leica elmarit lenses. Even though they fall within the LLFNP price range, the older versions of the Elmarit are larger than the new ASPH versions. Large or even largish 28mm lenses are not what I want to own given the other options. Smaller is just better at 28mm. This is also why I am not considering the 7artisans 28mm lens. Too big for my taste.
The Recommended list
Not recommended unless you are a collector: The color shift and vignetting issues precludes me from recommending the Ricoh GR 28mm f/2.8 LTM lens to normal people. The enormous lens hood is also an issue given that it pokes into your viewing area. I loved the handling but there is more to photography than fondling lenses. For the record, however, I couldn’t get myself to sell it. I liked fondling it that much. Maybe I will use it for film someday. I really wanted to love this lens but it was almost like dating a gorgeous psychopath. Great on the outside. Not so great on the inside.
For me, therefore, there really are only two lenses to consider in the 28mm range that fall within the LLFNP price range. These are the Voigtlander and the Zeiss.
If you think there is a huge difference in image quality between these two lenses and you are hemming and hawing looking at images on Flickr trying to make a decision, please stop. You can’t find the differences looking at Flickr. In this case, the handling and practicality of these lenses are the where the differences can be found. They are so close in image quality, at comparable apertures, although there are minor differences if you are pixel peeping, for all practical purposes nobody looking at your images will know or care about those differences.
Although they are very close in image quality, the Voigtlander, is the clear winner because:
- The Voigtlander has a focusing tab and the Zeiss has a stupid, annoying, godforsaken, nubbin
- The Voigtlander goes to f/2 which was surprisingly interesting at 28mm. Remember, a little bokeh at 28mm adds something you cant find in iPhone images. This is a good thing. Just beware of the terrible vignetting at f/2. That is my only reservation.
- The Voigtlander doesn’t flare while the rounded front element of the Zeiss seems to flare pretty spectacularly without a hood (and oftentimes even with a hood). This will save you a few dollars because you can skip the hood on the Voigtlander. Going without a hood also keeps your viewfinder unblocked. NB: the bayonet hood on the Voigtlander doesn’t really impact the viewing area even if you want to use one. I continue to use the hood on mine because I already have it and because it prevents me from putting my greasy fingers on the lens when I am grabbing for the camera in my bag.
- At the time of writing, there are no known issues with the Voigtlander Ultron build quality. It is a brand new lens (released in 2021) so take that with a grain of salt. On the other hand you need to be a little concerned about Zeiss Wobble with Zeiss ZM lenses.
- You can get a brand new Voigtlander for about the same price as a used Zeiss. This is a big one for me. I am tired of messing in camera forums and/or around with eBay exec++++++++++.
But what about the Leica Elmarit 28mm f/2.8 ASPH lens?
That is a really good question. At the time of writing the Elmarit falls just outside the LLFNP price point of $1500/lens. Well, rules are made to be broken. I thought I found a good deal, and I went ahead and broke my own rule and acquired an ASPH V1 of this lens – the one with the old plastic lens hood that clips on.
You will note that I don’t have a post about this lens on the main site. This is because I only had a few days with the lens. It had to be returned because there was rust in the teeth that hold the lens hood in place and the rust had etched the lens barrel. I imagine that the seller had it out in the rain because the focus ring was also sticky. They took it back for a full refund which was nice.
I did, however, have the lens for enough time to do enough testing to answer the question ”is it worth paying an extra $1000 dollars for the Elmarit ASPH or are either the Voigtlander Ultron ASPH or Zeiss Biogon good enough?”
Short story: if you think there is some magic in the Leica Elmarit 28mm ASPH lens that you won’t have with either the Zeiss or Voigtlander, you should stop chasing zebras and windmills. There is no such thing as magic.
Long story: The Elmarit was amazing in every sense of the word. The images are phenomenal. The Elmarit delivered.
The Voigtlander Ultron 28 ASH vignettes TERRIBLY at f/2 but at f/2.8 it is better. It still vignettes but it is way better than at f/2. It is not as good as the Elmarit ASPH V1 at f/2.8 but, if you were my friend, I would chastise you for paying an extra $1000 for what I consider to be a tiny increase in performance because minor vignetting is something you can fix in 2 seconds in Lightroom. And that is where the differences end with regard to image quality, sharpness, corners, and all of the other things that people concern themselves with.
The place the Elmarit really delivers is on the style front. It is minuscule and just looks better than the Ultron which, to my eyes, is a snubby, snouty, triangular, kind of ugly lens, with weird shiny black paint. If you were my friend and you told me you NEEDED the Elmarit for style and size, I would agree with you that the Elmarit wins on style and size 10 times over but I would chastise you for paying and extra $1000 for style.
The Elmarit really let me down on the lens hood front. If you can get past the rust on the metal teeth on the lens hood or at least the potential to rust, and get past the question as to why Leica didn’t just add a bayonet or screw in hood to avoid that problem, you won’t be able to get past the question why they didn’t vent that stupid hood. Without a vent hole to see through it pokes out into the lower right of your image which makes accurate framing difficult. You can always remove the lens hood but there was some flare without the hood. The Voigtlander Ultron ASPH V2 did as good or better than the Leica Elmarit with flare in my limited time with it.
What I am saying is that the Elmarit is awesome and if you have money to burn, you want a really tiny lens, and style is as important as image quality, please burn your money. However, if you are that spendy, I suggest you burn a little extra and go all the way and get the Elmarit ASPH V2 with the updated, metal, vented, screw-in, hood without the stupid little metal teeth that, apparently, rust. The Elmarit ASPH V2, however, is outside the LLFNP budget so that is the last you will hear about it from me.
Both the Voigtlander and Zeiss are great and you really cant go wrong with either one but the Voigtlander wins in this case for the reasons listed above. My Zeiss is going up for sale.
I still want an Elmarit ASPH lens. As stupid as it sounds, someday I might pay the $1000 to get the smaller lens with better styling knowing full well it will get me almost zero in performance at f/2.8. For now, however, until prices come down on the Leica Elmarit ASPH V2 with the updated lens hood, I think I am going to hold off. For the foreseeable future, when I need a 28mm lens, it will say Voigtlander ASPH on it.
NOTE: I didn’t test the legacy Voigtlander Ultron because of the silly and gimmicky lens post, the larger size, and too many previous reviews with niggly performance issues. It is possible that not that the new Ultron is released you can pick one of those up on the cheap but I think I would prefer a stupid nubbin with excellent performance over a stupid post and ok-ish performance. Then again, if money it tight, lots of people liked the original Ultron. If it is cheap and 28mm isn’t your primary focal length it could be a good option. Please let me know how it goes if you make that choice.
1. If you are catching what I am throwing, trying to sell a 28mm lens that only works on film cameras might be limiting or even difficult in the future. My thesis is that future proofing your purchases by buying lenses that can work with film or digital is a factor to consider. Lenses are not investments but sometimes you need to sell them.