Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1999/04/26

[Author Prev] [Author Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Author Index] [Topic Index] [Home] [Search]

Subject: [Leica] report Vario-Apo-Elmarit-R 1:2,8/70-180, part 1
From: Erwin Puts <>
Date: Mon, 26 Apr 1999 22:33:39 +0200

If we would select one of the worst lenses ever produced after 1960, the
Nikkor 43-86 (around 1964) would arguably among the first to be chosen. The
significance of this lens is not its optical performance, but the fact that
it made zoomlenses a creative force in 35mm photography. For a decade or
more  zoomlenses with a range from 80 to 250 set the norm and improved to a
level that was at least acceptable. The ease of use of a zoomlens might be
the decisive factor for the Nikon F to be accepted as the premium
professional camera from 1965 onwards.
Leica followed a more cautious course and the dismal image quality  of the
early zoomlenses reinforced their position that fixed focal length lenses
would be preferred by critical users. How wrong they were! Realising this
market failure, Leica teamed up with Japanese suppliers to offer zoomlenses
of good quality. No match however for the fixed focal lengths. In 1993 the
team of Mr Kolsch introduced a seminal optical system: the first zoomlens
to give optical performance at least as good as that of comparable fixed
focal lenses of Leica origin and in some instances even better.
The Vario-Apo-Elmarit-R 1:2,8/70-180 is an impressive lens, both optically
and physically.
First the optical specs.
At full aperture this lens has very high overall contrast  and outstanding
edge contrast of subject outlines. In the past (and sometimes even today)
excessive attention has been given to resolution figures, but in fact  it
is the crispness of subject contours that define the sharpness impression.
Leica is one of the very few manufacturers to use the 5 lp/mm criterion in
their MTF graphs. This value is of paramount importance for image quality.
Not well known is the fact that good edge contrast implies  high micro
contrast. The Apo-Elmarit at full aperture renders exceedingly fine detail
with good clarity over the whole image field from 70 to 120mm focal length.
Optimum performance will be found at the focal range from 80 till 110 mm
where high edge contrast and exceedingly fine detail will be rendered from
center to the far corners. In this span of focal length the performance of
the Vario-Apo-Macro-Elmarit-R 1:2,8/100 is equalled if not surpassed.
At 70mm the on axis performance is on the same level, but now the far out
area loses a bit in the crisp rendition of extremely fine detail. The 135mm
position has excellent on axis imagery, but now the outer zones will render
very fine detail with good contrast. The 180 position renders very fine
detail on axis with excellent clarity. The outer zones and the far corners
will show fine detail with good contrast.
In comparison the new Apo-Telyt-M 3.4/135 and the new Apo-Elmarit-R
1:2,8/180 are better than the respective focal positions of the
Apo-Elmarit-R 1:2,8/70-180. The older generations of the 135 (2,8) and the
180 however are not on the same level as  the  Vario-Apo-Elmarit-R
Vignetting is practically absent at all positions, but distortion at the
outer positions (70 and >150) is not. It depends on your deployment if it
is acceptable.  It is visible though.
Stopping down of course improves  the imagery a bit, especially at the
extreme positions. To preserve optimum quality you should not stop down
after 1:5,6 or 1:8.0.

The handling of this lens demands strong shoulders. At almost 2 kg this
lens is weighty evidence that optical performance does not come easy. The
superb image quality is easily confirmed on the bench or on a tripod (make
it heavy and secure!!). Practical tests in the field with 100 ISO material
(and lower) show that many pictures taken at a speed below 1/500 exhibit a
slight fuzziness due to movement. At 1/250 or below you are in the chance
area. At 1/1000 or above the true image potential  may be reaped.
Colour rendition is of the modern Leica signature: accurate colours, just
on the verge of full saturation, with great clarity and transparancy .
Flare is suppressed very effectively as can be seen in shots where specular
highlights are part of the scene. The Leica hallmark of very smooth and
subtle gradation of highlights is fully proven. Images get a sparkle and a
high light tonality that must be projected on a large screen to be
Mechanical construction and smoothness of all parts is beyond reproach. The
distance ring however has a long throw to go from 1,7 m to infinity. A bit
prefocussing will help. Turning the ring the whole distance will not
improve the much needed stability when handholding and focusing at the same

This lens provides outstanding performance in all  picture taking
circumstances when used expertly. This will be discussed in the next

To be continued