Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1998/06/21

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Subject: [Leica] the Novoflex 400/5.6
From: "Patrick G. Sobalvarro" <>
Date: Sun, 21 Jun 1998 00:51:44 -0700

I had the opportunity last week to make extensive use of my Novoflex
400/5.6 for the first time in quite a while.  I came away once again
impressed by what an excellent lens this is.

My wife and I went to the San Diego Zoo last weekend.  I had been there
some years back, when I was in San Diego for a scientific conference and
found myself so desperate when I looked over the program for the last
day that I headed to the zoo instead.  I was enchanted -- I spent 8
hours walking around and came away with sore feet and no photographs,
because I hadn't brought a camera.

This time my wife and I had two days to spend there, and so I loaded up
my backpack with two R6's, a 135/2.8 Elmarit, a 50/2 Summicron, a 21/4
Super-Angulon that I never used, the Novoflex 400/5.6 with follow-focus
grip, and a Motor Drive R4 to balance the weight of the long lens.

I anticipated trouble at airport security, because the 400/5.6 looks
like a weapon, but in fact I didn't have trouble leaving San Jose -- it
was when I left San Diego that I was treated to five minutes of mumbling
by a security guard about how this lens might be the new missile gun
she's been hearing about.  This after I took it apart and let her look
through it, operate the diaphragm, etc.  Yes, American air security is
in the hands of people who cannot tell a telephoto lens from a bazooka.

The Novoflex 400/5.6, for those of you who don't know it, is a
two-element doublet that is not a true telephoto.  It is every bit as
long in body as its focal length, and in the follow-focus form it has a
pistol grip underneath the lens that one squeezes to focus.  It doesn't
weigh very much for its size, because its simple two-element design
doesn't have all that much glass in it, but it is big and long.  In this
it is similar to its cousin, the Leitz 400/6.8, but the latter has three
elements to provide less curvature of field.

With the motor drive on the camera, the whole package feels pretty good
in the hands, but if you aren't used to hand-holding such a long lens
(as I was not), it's a little alarming how much things jump around in
the viewfinder.  I was using ISO 400 film, which meant that I had
sufficiently high shutter speeds that I wasn't too worried about camera
movement blurring the image, but simply depressing the shutter was
enough to change the framing.  Also, one has to concentrate on
maintaining the position of the focus grip -- at f/5.6, focused on
something 20 meters away, a 400mm lens has quite shallow depth of field.

But when the results showed up, my misgivings about using this lens
handheld vanished.  This is a nice lens.  I'd used it some on a tripod
when I bought it a couple of years ago, but one doesn't have call for
400mm lenses very often, and so it's languished in the closet.  But if
you want a head-and shoulders shot of a lion, or a portrait of a gorilla
mother and child cuddling and they're a long way away, you need a long
lens, and this one does not disappoint.  Very nice color rendition, and
nice and sharp.  It's slightly less contrasty than, say, the 135/2.8
Elmarit-R, but for the subjects I was photographing, this was a bonus. 
Of course "nice and sharp" with ISO 400 film is not necessaily all that
sharp, but I've also used the lens to photograph bits of refineries on
Kodachome 25, and it is sharp.

There are some things about the lens I don't like.  First, getting it
through airport security.  Second, the stares I get when other people
see me using it.  Third, it's bulky, although it doesn't weigh much.  I
think these disadvantages are probably enough to convince me to look
into something else, like the 350/4.8.  Still, it's a cool lens.  Bulk
alone would not convince me to get rid of it -- it's the interactions
with people over it that are a real problem.

I know that other people on the list have used Novoflex 400's -- can
anyone compare the 350/4.8 Telyt-R to the Novoflex, or tell me anything
about the 350?

- -Patrick