LEICA SUPER-ELMAR-S 24MM REVIEW
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THE WIDEST AND FASTEST LENS FOR MEDIUM FORMAT TO DATE: SEE HOW IT PERFORMS IN THIS LEICA SUPER-ELMAR-S 24MM F/3.5 ASPH REVIEW ON THE LEICA S (TYP 007)!
Leica is well known for pushing the boundaries of what is optically possible, and the lens in this Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH review is proof of it. Their ultra-fast M lenses are legendary, and while their S lenses aren’t as well known yet outside of professionals and advanced amateurs, they are no less amazing. Let’s see how the Super-Elmar-S 24mm performed!
All Leica S lenses are characterised by their speed: no other medium format manufacturer offers such fast lenses, period.
The Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH reviewed here is no exception. Not only no manufacturer in the medium format arena has a wider lens in their line-up, at the time of writing, but while Hasselblad also has a 24mm lens it’s about one stop slower at f/4.8.
While nobody would choose a 24mm lens on medium format for subject isolation via selective focus, having a faster lens gives you a much brighter viewfinder, not to mention that faster lenses are also easier to focus precisely.
Once more, I got a great sample of this lens, second hand but in perfect conditions, from the great guys at NEWOLDCAMERA in Milan – highly recommended! Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with NewOldCamera in any way.
If you are interested in the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH’s behaviour on the Leica SL compared to the Vario-Elmarit-SL, click LEICA SUPER-ELMAR-S 24MM VS LEICA VARIO-ELMARIT-SL REVIEW.
Let’s get started now and see in this Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH review if it delivers!
Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am a Leica Ambassador. That said, I am a professional photographer looking for the best equipment for my work, I buy all my gear with my hard-earned cash and I don’t get paid by anyone to write articles for my blog.
BUILD, SIZE AND WEIGHT
With its 100mm diameter and 112mm height, weighing at 1.260 gr, the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH is not a small and light lens by any means. However, you have to consider that with its f/3.5 maximum aperture the Super-Elmar-S is extremely fast in wide-angle medium format terms, and faster lenses are generally bigger and heavier. Comparisons with other lenses are impossible: the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH has no equals on the market.
The Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH is magnificently built. Its all-metal body feels extremely solid, with no play or rattling sounds; the lens barrel will not extend, and its front element will not rotate while focusing.
USE OF FILTERS
The ability of using filters is very important for me when I choose a lens. Luckily, the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH has a filter thread. Sadly, however, due to its focal length, speed and consequent size, it supports 95mm filters.
This is good for round filters users but makes it impossible to use my usual 100mm square filter holder with it.
With a bit of research, though, I could find a perfectly viable solution to use two square filters with the Super-Elmar, albeit without a polariser (click on my article 100MM SQUARE FILTERS ON THE LEICA SUPER-ELMAR-S 24MM to find out how).
All’s well that ends well!
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IN USE: FOCUSING AND DIAPHRAGM
Autofocusing the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH through the viewfinder is quite fast for a medium format lens, the lens almost never hunts, focus is precise, and the lens is not particularly noisy – again, for a medium format lens, of course. Using your viewfinder, you’ll just have one point of focus, fixed in the middle of the frame. Being used to focusing and recomposing, for me this is not a problem at all: your requirements might be different, though.
Using your Leica S (Typ 007) on a tripod, on the other hand, you’ll be able to use also your camera’s LCD screen for both focusing and composing. Here things are very different: in Live View, the Leica S (Typ 007) allows you to move your focus point with the camera’s joystick all around the frame, almost up to its borders. More, the camera has some very useful focus aids that make achieving perfect focus a breeze. I love the two-step zoom, even if I never use the intermediate step. As well, I find the coloured focus confirmation feature very useful with such a wide lens, even if it might show high-contrast areas as in focus while they are not.
The only drawback I found using Live View during this Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH review is that, in low contrast situations, the camera wouldn’t lock focus and just kept hunting. Using manual focus, sometimes combined with exposure compensation to increase the image’s brightness if needed, easily fixed that. As expected, viewfinder autofocus is quite a bit faster than its Live View counterpart; generally, working on a tripod with the 24mm I found that I worked better and faster using manual focus.
The Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH has a focus distance window on the lens barrel; however, with the Leica S (Typ 007) it is much easier to check distance and depth of field with the help of the top screen.
Aperture is controlled directly by the camera, and no aperture ring is present on the lens itself.
SHARPNESS AT INFINITY
Methodology: using my usual “real world” test scene, I manually focussed on the tree on the far ridge in the middle of the frame using Live View for maximum precision. I then prepared 900 x 600px, 100% crops of the center, lower left corner and mid-right side at full-stop apertures ranging from wide open to f/16. Let’s see the full scene image first (click on the image to enlarge):
Let’s now examine the center crop (click on the images to enlarge):
Performance in the center at far distances is already amazing with the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH wide open; the lens is extremely sharp and shows great contrast, macro and micro, and very pleasant colours. Stopping down, the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH stays equally sharp until f/8; sharpness then starts declining slightly from f/11 on, and at f/16 the image is definitely softer due to diffraction.
Let’s now examine the lower left corner (click on the images to enlarge):
As expected, with the lens focused at infinity, the extreme lower corner being much closer to the camera than the point of focus is slightly out-of-focus wide-open and remains so until f/16. However, you can see that the grass in the crops is not mushy; it simply isn’t in focus. I found that the lens draws beautifully in the out-of-focus areas; stopping it down brings the grass in focus following a gentle sharpening curve through the aperture series.
Finally, let’s check the mid-right side (click on the images to enlarge):
Here the pattern is similar to what happened in the center; the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH performs already very well wide open but improves stopping down until f/8. Sharpness then starts declining slightly from f/11 on, and f/16 is definitely softer due to diffraction.
SHARPNESS AT CLOSE FOCUSING DISTANCE AND BOKEH
To examine sharpness at close focusing distance, as well as to see how the lens draws out-of-focus areas, during this Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH review I focused on the Phillips screw right under the mailbox’s red flag in the lower right corner of the frame. Together with the full frame image I included 900 x 600px, 100% crops taken at the point of focus, top-right crops to check bokeh at mid-range distances, and mid-left crops to see what happens at infinity.
Let’s see the full image first (click on the image to enlarge):
Let’s now examine sharpness at the point of focus (click on the images to enlarge):
Wide open, the lens is already very sharp; best results are between f/5.6 and f/11, where the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH is very impressive. At f/16, diffraction takes its toll.
Let’s see now how the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH renders out-of-focus areas at mid-range distances in the top-right of the frame (click on the images to enlarge):
Wide-open, the lens’ rendition is pleasant to my eye; the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH seems quite well corrected for aberrations, and the bokeh is beautiful for such a wide angle with just a hint of double rings. Stopping down brings things progressively and graciously in focus. Overall, I really like the way the Super-Elmar-S draws here.
Finally, let’s examine how the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH draws at far distances when focused at its minimum focus distance (click on the images to enlarge):
As you can see, the out-of-focus rendering of this lens is very pleasant and the images, while completely out of focus, are never mushy. You can go back to the full-frame image to see again how the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH draws all over the frame when focused very close: to me, it has a very beautiful way of seeing the world.
As a result of this Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH review, I found the lens’ performance really impressive when focused at infinity. Extremely sharp in the center already wide-open, at f/5.6 it’s equally sharp all over the frame. An impressive performance for such a wide and fast medium format lens!
Focused in the corner and close to its minimum focusing distance, which is a trying situation for any lens, wide-open the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH performed very well. For maximum sharpness, however, I’ll suggest you close it down a couple of stops: then you’ll see what the lens really can do. Its drawing of out-of-focus areas is very pleasant to my eye.
VIGNETTE AND COLOUR CAST
To test for vignette and colour cast, I shot a perfectly white wall evenly illuminated using my Elinchrom Quadra flashes. Due to the very wide field of view of the lens, I then kept just the left half of each image, to get rid of shadows cast by the camera itself on the right-hand side. Let’s see the results (click on the images to enlarge):
As you can see, the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH shows just a tiny bit of vignette wide open; vignette clears progressively stopping down. No colour casts to be seen.
To check for distortion, I shoot my garage door adding some red lines in PP to see distortion better. Let’s see the results (click on the images to enlarge):
As you can see in this Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH review, the images created with this lens present no distortion. However, since looking through the lens you can see a little bit of complex “moustache” distortion, which disappears in the final image, I think some clever software profiling happens in camera to correct for whatever distortion there was to begin with. Honestly, though, I am not a purist or a lens designer: I am a photographer. While I perfectly understand that correcting for distortion in software might reduce sharpness in the corrected areas, and while I agree that having a lens perfectly corrected for everything would be fantastic, let’s not forget that lens design is always a matter of compromises.
In the end, what counts to me are the end results produced by a camera + lens system, and that includes its firmware as well. As an opposite example, take for instance the Voigtlander 10mm (click VOIGTLANDER HELIAR-HYPER WIDE 10MM F/5.6 REVIEW to read my review). Unprofiled, it virtually shows no optical distortion, which means the lens is well corrected optically. However, because of its optical formula, it produces some really heavy vignetting in exchange: there is no free lunch with lens design, you’ll just have to choose your poison. Back to this Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH review: if after whatever in-camera correction is applied I’d get soft, unusable corners, then I’d be unhappy. On the other hand, since the camera + lens system produces wonderful, sharp images without distortion and vignetting, I don’t care whether it’s done optically or with software. It just works, and that’s enough for me.
This Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH review examined what is still a unique lens in the medium format arena: no other lens is as wide and as fast at the same time, at least at the time of writing. You’d expect Leica had to make compromises in designing such a lens. Well, except for size and weight, it didn’t.
The Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH is extremely sharp all over the frame, both at far distances (where it excels) and at very close distances. The Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH is very well contrasted at macro level and shows great micro-contrast as well, for such a wide-angle lens. The lens + camera system works very well in providing us with distortion-free and vignette-free images. As mentioned in the review, the lens is slightly weaker in the corner when used wide-open at its minimum focusing distances, but I really don’t think that this is going to be a problem in real world use.
Artistically, the lens draws quite beautifully and outputs very good colours. Its speed opens new possibilities for medium format wide-angle photography. Add the absence of distortion and vignetting and this is a must-have lens for architectural work with the Leica S (Typ 007).
What about landscape work? In short, the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH s existence is what convinced me to get into the Leica S system. I love working with wide-angle lenses. I also need to be able to use my 100mm filters easily. More, I need my gear to perform in any weather, and to be as small and light as possible. Finally, I need files with plenty of resolution and details for my Fine Art prints. With its 19mm FOV equivalent, its filter ring, its speed, its weather-sealing, and the fact that thanks to it I could get the wonderful Leica S (Typ 007) files even for ultra-wide-angle work, the Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH is a no brainer for my work. Highly recommended!
Thanks for reading this Leica Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH review, I hope you enjoyed it! Why don’t you share it with your friends, or drop me a comment to let me know how you feel about this?
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