Is There a Budget-Friendly Alternative to Leica’s 28mm Summaron?

Leica cameras are expensive. So are the lenses.

For a Leica owner, these pricey optics hold a special appeal. Some Leica shooters appreciate the history and legacy of legendary lenses such as the 35mm Summilux or 50mm Noctilux. Others enjoy learning the unique characteristics of a particular lens and using that lens for a particular shooting situation where these characteristics make the images shine. For many decades, the measurable technical quality of Leica lenses remained unsurpassed.

In the film days, it was understood that if a Leica shooter wanted the best quality image possible, the only option was to use an authentic Leica lens. Modern computer technology has made it possible for other companies to produce lenses that rival or surpass Leica lenses in optical performance. Today, there are companies producing lenses that cost 10-20% of their Leica counterparts. The quality of these third-party lenses may be inferior, but when you factor in the price difference and consider how you will use the final images, this difference may not matter to you.

In this video, photographer Robin Schimko tests the quality and usability of the TTArtisan 28mm f/5.6 Lens for Leica M mount. This lens, which retails for just over $350, is a knockoff of the Leica Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 lens, which retails for 10x higher than the imitation. Robin does not make a direct comparison between the lenses nor does he attempt a comprehensive assessment of this lens. Instead, he tests the TTArtisan lens as a tool for street photography on print film. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the video is seeing Robin’s point of view as he walks the streets of London looking for photographs to make. We see the visual noise in front of him and watch as he finds those fleeting moments worth preserving. For anyone who has walked the street with a camera and felt frustrated that there was nothing worth photographing, this insight into Robin’s shooting technique may be beneficial.

Check the video for a detailed report on Robin’s experience using the lens, including his thoughts on the aperture and focus rings.

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18 Comments
Stvart Klœ's picture

I will never understand why people will buy a Leica camera and then stick a bargain bin lens on it. The part that does all the work rendering the image.

Why not buy a cheaper camera and a really good lens?

Jan Steinman's picture

Or get an Olympus/OMDS, and have both? :-)

Stvart Klœ's picture

Exactly. Although the M6 featured in the video is a film camera, so it has zero bearing on the final images, only the lens does.

The only reason I can think of to own a film Leica is to “own a film Leica” and enjoy that prestige/clout or conversely enjoy being maligned by people who think they are impractically extravagant.

But when you put the cheapest possible lens on a Leica camera you aren’t getting Leica results, you’re getting TTArtisan results.

And the people who think Leicas are cool because they’re Leicas won’t give you the recognition because you’re using cheap glass, and the people who think Leicas aren’t worth the luxury tax will just think you’re a bigger doofus than they already did. Because you’re doing conspicuous consumption wrong.

It’s just a loosing proposition any way you cut it.

Stephen Strangways's picture

Maybe he's using an M6 because he likes the way an M6 works. Why would anyone choose an Olympus OM-1 over a Nikon FM or Pentax MX? Maybe because they just like how the camera works. Maybe because they like the lenses that are available. You sure can't get a tiny non-retrofocus 28mm lens for an SLR... it is a lens design that MUST go on a rangefonder, so maybe he likes that particular rangefinder for reasons that have nothing to do with what others may think of him for the brand/cost of the camera he likes using. Just because some people who buy Leicas are posers doesn't mean that everyone who uses one is.

Stvart Klœ's picture

Generally speaking, I would consider the images one ends up with to be a somewhat relevant component of photography. In the case of someone using a properly functioning film camera, only the lens has any immutable effect on the resulting photographs, along with the film stock.

A Leica is a rangefinder brick. Well made, but hardly so different from other similar rangefinder bricks that it offers some unparalleled ergonomic experience.

Perhaps I lack imagination, but I cannot conceive of a commonly justifiable reason to overspend on a luxury item who’s inflated price is bolstered by name and history, and dilute those aspects by underspending on the cheapest mass-produced lenses available, to produce photos which include only the character of said lenses.

Cheap camera and Leica lens? Makes sense. Buying a Leica camera and not having any money left over for a higher quality lens? You’re spending money wrong.

Stephen Strangways's picture

Okay, so the images he wants to end up with are taken with a 28mm lens, and he wants a rangefinder body, and it has to have 28mm frame lines, and maybe he prefers manual film winding. So his choices are a Leica M6, a Zeiss Ikon ZM, a Minolta CLE - if that even brings up the right frame lines. The CLE is the cheapest of the bunch, bit not terriblty reliable, and the Zeiss isnt much cheaper, and, well, it's a Cosina, so not all that reliable either. Paying a bit more for an M6 seems like a sensible choice for reliability, not a luxury choice for the name.

Stvart Klœ's picture

He didn’t buy a Leica just for this lens, did he? The lens came second. And if we’re going to be real about it then the lens’ only utility for the guy is probably as content for his YouTube channel.

Rather, the conceit required in your hypothetical example is that someone likes this exact 28mm lens so much, that they’ll go out and buy a >$1000 Leica camera so they can use this exact $369 lens. Instead of a much better 28mm lens from Leica, or even Zeiss, that will give them better results.

Why not buy a better lens? Well we all know the answer now don’t we: cost.

And if you can’t afford the glass, that means you couldn’t really afford the body either.

Try as we might, we’ll never know what’s in his heart. And we will not convince one another otherwise. But to claim that the badge on the front has nothing to do with the motivation to buy a Leica in the first place is trying to do too much heavy lifting in your argument. No one likes the way a Leica handles manual film winding so much that they’ll happily ignore image quality.

Anyone willing to cheap out on a lens because they blew their budget on a body is doing photography backwards.

Stephen Strangways's picture

You're making a lot of assumptions about more expensive lenses being "better" and it's a big stretch to say using a cheaper lens means you have to "ignore image quality."

I own and use a Chinese lens that was $40, brand new, including shipping, that vignettes like crazy, because i like the look of it, and that i can see it in-camera rather than relying on adding effects in post. It was available in several different mounts, and i would have happily bought a body just so i could use it, but instead i just chose to remove from sale and keep a body i was otherwise not using. i chose that body because i like its built-in B&W profiles, which i could create in editing from any camera's raw files, but i like seeing it in-camera when i'm shooting. Do i care what badge is on the camera? No, i just love the images i end up with. Could i afford a more expensive lens? Certainly - i already own more lenses than you'd believe, that all cost more than that one. Are any of them "better?" Not in terms of delivering a certain kind of image. Should i throw out all of those images i like because the body cost more than the lens, so I'm "doing photography backwards?" I bought the lens after i already owned the body. I could afford the body, and i could afford the lens, and i could afford more expensive lenses, but that was the lens I wanted for a certain type of photography.

You said the images one ends up with are relevant, then go on to argue about the cost of things and the badges on them, but do those affect the images one ends up with?

Do you want to know something else that's funny? I have bought cameras because i like the way they handle manual film winding, namely a Nikon F3 and a Pentax S1. If any body will deliver the same images, why not choose one you enjoy holding, or enjoy how it feels to wind it, or enjoy the viewfinder view, or appreciate that the wind lever doesn't poke you in the forehead? Of the Nikon FE/FM bodies i have actually paid more for one that doesn't use the wind lever to lock the shutter release because the ones that do poke me in the forehead when shooting verticals, and i shoot a lot of verticals.

Stvart Klœ's picture

I remain unconvinced that the symbolic status that comes along with a luxury good such as a Leica plays no part in it’s purchase.

And, I must reiterate: the title of the video is “28mm on a BUDGET”
It’s not “I really like this cheap 28mm lens”

What is the purpose of buying a lens on a budget, but not the camera you’re using it with?

Disagree as much as you’d like, I’m not out to convince you. My goal is to merely express my opinion for the consideration of any passersby.

Stephen Strangways's picture

Leica cameras were not always luxury goods. There was a time they were cheaper when new, and were workhorse tools for photographers. There was a time they were extremely cheap used, especially some models like the M5 and the entire R lineup. Some digital models are still rather cheap on the used market. Whether someone paid a lot or a little for one in the past, is there not some possibility that you can imagine where they are now on a strict budget, and want to add a lens to the camera they already own? While you and I will clearly never see eye-to-eye, do bear in mind that not everyone will share your personal view. Some of us get it.

John Ricard's picture

A Leica user doesn't want to use off brand lenses, but sometimes it is the most logical option. And if the off brand lens will be in a focal length you won't use much, it might make sense to buy an off brand lens. I use the Leica 35mm Summilux for about 90% of my portraiture. For my shooting, I like the 24mm focal length, but have no love for 28mm. However I'd be willing to buy a cheap, small 28mm like the one in the video. I would probably use it for less than 10% of my shots.

Stvart Klœ's picture

I can see that if you’re shooting digitally (not sure what your workflow is) but it just makes so little sense to me if one is shooting film.

That and the words “budget” and “Leica” seem mutually exclusive.

At any rate, just my personal opinion on the topic.

John Ricard's picture

Digital only! Never actually used a film Leica.

Brandon Hopkins's picture

A lot of non-Leica M mount lenses ARE really good though. Most people probably couldn't even tell what lens was used in a final image. The photos taken with my Summicron and Canon screwmount and Voigtlander lenses all look pretty similar in prints.

edit: btw, I've been watching Sir_Robin's videos for a while. He has a Leica 28mm.. he's just making these videos for his viewers.

Stvart Klœ's picture

Yeah, one can tell it’s content for his channel, and I won’t begrudge a photography YouTuber for making photography content. People gotta eat.

But these aren’t vintage Canon rangefinder lenses, or Voigtlander lenses, they’re dime-a-dozen TTartisan lenses. A company that even half-copied its name from another similar manufacturer 7artisans. The lenses themselves don’t have the kind of cachet of a classic Canon rangefinder lens (itself a Leica knockoff to begin with).

It’s just the fact that there is a market for these cheap mass produced lenses in M-mount to begin with that confuses me. Either people are shooting with a multi-thousand dollar digital Leica, which makes the idea of buying the cheapest possible lens one can find a weird choice for someone who can afford the body to begin with.

Or they’re shooting with a (overly expensive compared to comparably functional options) film Leica, and using a super cheap lens, in which case the resulting images are independent of the camera body and just between the lens and the film stock.

In the end it begs the question: who buys these lenses in M-mount? You can use the same lenses with a much more capable (and cheaper) digital camera, or you can buy a different (non-Leica) film camera and buy better, or more lenses.

(An X-pro 3 and a handful of Fuji’s best primes are more than a match for any digital Leica’s image quality and gives you the rangefinder experience for less $$.)

People pay the premium for Leica in the first place because Leica is Leica. They aren’t ahead in image quality or any technological aspects, and even the romance of the hand-made craftsmanship doesn’t translate into much of a functional benefit (ask anyone who’s had to pay to send theirs back to have the rangefinder coupling re-calibrated).

It’s maybe a dumb thing to have a strong opinion about, and a pompous one to get my knickers twisted around, but there it is. If people are going to primarily rely on these lenses specifically because of their “budget” nature then IMO it was not a good financial decision for said people to have bought a Leica to begin with. They’d have been better off buying a camera for its capabilities and not it’s “Leicaness”

TmDmL DmL's picture

Funny enough, it's an iPhone + Camera app. Pretty much the same angle that comes with tonnes of convenience.
The next step above would be Leica Q or M + Summaron. Everything in between is not worth it, just IMO.

Michael Brennan's picture

Get a Contax G2 with a 28mm, 21mm,and 45mm and call it a day.