Vario Elmar 28-70 f3.5-4.5 : LUSENET : Leica Photography : One Thread

How good is this lense as compared to equivalent fixed focal lenses. In Erwin Putts' page the newer 35-70 f4 gets very good marks. I'm thinking of downsizing my equipment to a very good zoom plus one or two lenses for low light shooting. For the record, I would use this lens for the moment with an adaptor on a Canon EOS camera, only for B&W. Thank you.

-- Miguel Jimenez (, June 22, 2000


Someone else can correct me here if I'm wrong, but I was told this lens was made for Leica by Sigma. That doesn't mean it isn't a good lens, but it sure makes it hard to justify the price difference, especially if your going to put it on a Canon body.

-- andrew Schank (, June 24, 2000.

Andrew was correct. The new book, "The Leica Lens Book", by Brian Bower, states that the lens is a dirivitive of the "successful" Sigma design. The narrative states the performance is about the same as any low end consumer lens, with the expected aberations, based on that level of design. Vignetting and barrel distortion are evident. Miguel, I would if I were you, (wanting to down size), get a good prime lens within that range. A 35 or 50mm summicron will give you the Leica quality with an increase of one and a half to two stops of availible F stop. I can't speak for this exact lens, but I tried very unsuccessfully to use Sigma lenses on my Nikons... the key word being "unsuccessfully"! Al

-- Al Smith (, June 24, 2000.


Most of my experiences with Sigma match yours [I haven't had much luck with the one Sigma Zoom that I have]; but there are exceptions. I have about 14 Nikon fixed length lenses between about 16 and 300 mm. I have one Sigma; a 135 mm. This particular lens is better than my Nikon lens of the same focal length. In addition, I have a Sigma 85/1.8/t-mount for my Minolta [purchased in the 60's]. It has awful flare problems, but used properly, it is outstanding. Otherwise, I have also been unsuccessfu

-- Z1X4Y7 (, June 25, 2000.

Thanks for the info. More or less what I wanted to know.

As for my downsizing strategy, yes, having to or three prime lenses is another option. I already have the 35 Summicron, which I find very good at f2 and f2.8. Sometimes I'd just like to have a zoom for the convenience, without losing optical quality. By the way, my first lense was a Sigma zoom which I don't use anymore (it will be a victim of the downsizing), because I simply like my prime lenses better. Sometimes I also prefer autofocus for the convenience as well. But this is only the nerver ending problem of finding the perfect outfit.

-- Miguel Jimenez (, June 26, 2000.

Miguel, I think that seeing that since you have the 35mm summicron, you would be best served by living with that for awhile. I've gone through the whole gambit of "gotta have it", but after many thousands of dollars, I have arrived, (a bit too late), to the minimalist school of thought. I've lugged a 20 pound bag through Europe and Asia, only to be frustated by what I left on the shelf back home. Then again I spent a month in Spain with a single Leica M3 and a 35mm lens. It was liberating. 4 months in the philippines with only a 50mm lens also proved fruitful. The lack of "potential versitality" of a full outfit is more than made up for by the speed, mobility and lack of decissions when it is one camera and one lens. You will find yourself being in the right place based on your total understanding of your lens and its angle of view. 28-70 sounds good, but your feet and the 35 will get the same shots...better, sharper and in most any light.

-- Al Smith (, June 26, 2000.

I purchased an older Tamron SP 35 to 80mm F2.8-3.8 Macro zoom to use with my Leica when I want a zoom. The lens was used by a press photographer who was now retired, and he swore by it. I did some side by side comparisons to my R primes, and except wide open, it holds it ground. It goes nearly 1/2 life size on the macro, and the macro shots are extremely sharp. It is built beautifully, with very smooth focus and zoom action. You may want to consider it, as you can pick one up on e-bay for $140 + the Leica R adaptall mount.

-- andrew Schank (, June 30, 2000.

For downsizing, Leica' new lens Leica R Vario-Elmar f2.8 35-70mm ASPH may be an attractive alternative. It has a macro setting focusing down to 30mm. I am thinking of upgrading my Vario Elmar 28-70mm f3.5-4.5 to this ASPH Vario. The Vario-Elar 28-70 /3.5-4.5 was based on a Sigma, but with Leica QA and all metal construction, instead of metal + plasic for Sigma version. German foto Magazin rated Vario-Elmar 28-70/3.5-4.5 as Optik performance 9.6; construction quality 9.6. Leica Summicron f2.0 35mm 9.4/9.6. It is quite good, enlargeable to 24x 36" One gripe: The lens is a bit too long to fit into the Eveready case !

-- martin tai (, July 05, 2000.

Martin, If you think the 28 to 70 is inconveient due to its size preventing the use of an (n)ever-ready case, the 35-70 2.8 is a monster. It weighs 1000 grams, (2 and 1/4 pounds) and is six inches long. that is twice the weight and length of the 28-70. It also takes 77mm filters. The list price exceeds the price of a brand new M6 with 50mm Summicron. It may be outstanding, but if I lugged that big of a package around just for 15mm on one side and 20mm on the other side of a faster 50mm lens, it wouldn't take me long to see the folly in that selection. Miguel, I reiterate from a previous post, zooms are not the great panacea they are made out to be. Use your 35mm summicron forever and use the money you would have spent on a new lens to take a trip. That can expand your photo horizons and leave you with shots and memories that will last a lifetime. Al

-- Al Smith (, July 05, 2000.

Al, your are right. It is upsizing, not down sizing :)

-- martin tai (, July 05, 2000.

Was the Leica R Vario-Elmar 3,5-4.5/28-70 really Sigma ? Sigma made 3.5-4,5/28-70 for Canon AF EOS, Nikon and other non AF cameras. Lens Length Weight Vario Elmar 3.5-4.5/28-70 length = 84mm 468 g Sigma /EOS length = 63.5mm 330 g Sigma UC 3.5-4.5/28-70 64.5 mm 330 g Apparently Sigma 3.5-4.5/28-70 for EOS and other non AF camera were the same lens, being of same weight and nearly equal length. The length of Vario-Elmar was more than 20 mm longer, and weight 50 % more. Vario-Elmar 3.5-4.5/28-70 was not Sigma 3.5-4.5/28-70

-- martin tai (, July 06, 2000.

Martin, I have three different publications that all corroberate this fact. the latest is the book that I quote in the post made earlier. Cosmetics can look very different, while optics are the same. The 90mm elmarit M is the same optical formula as the last R series. Even though the back focus had to be added to make up for the mirror box absence on the "M", the lenses still look dramatically different. The diameter of the lenses are completely contrary to the fact that if you stripped away all of the metal... you would have the exact same lenses. Al

-- Al Smith (, July 06, 2000.

German foto Magzin tested over one hundred zoom lenses, no other lens achieved a rating of 9.6/9.6 and five star "foto SUPER" rating. except Vario-Elmar 2,5-4.5/28-70. Sigma 3.5-4.5 /28-70 came second, at 9.6/9.4 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 3,3-4.9/28-85 came third, also a 'foto SUPER" and rated as optik 9.6 mechanik 9.2. Nikkor 3,5-4.5/28-85mm 'foto Super" rated only 9.2/8,8 Leica Vario-Elmar R 35/35-70 did not made it to "foto SUPER", with rating of only 9.0/9.6. No matter what the association with Sigma would be, the Vario_Elmar 28-70 it is an excellent lens. "Sharp and brillant at wide open, at 28mm slight vignette, disappear stop down". IMO, in this zoom range, the only other zoom lens as good as Vario-Elmar is the Zeiss Vario-Sonnar, but it is much heavier and longer.. So far I am quite happy with it, so do other users in LUG

-- martin tai (, July 07, 2000.

Martin, The only true test of a lens is... Do you like it? And it appears that you do, so that should be the only validation that is needed. As far as magazine tests, Popular Photography rated the 50mm Summilux poorly. I bet that shocked all of the happy users who didn't know they shouldn't like their lenses. Also could a German photo magazine have a vested interest in showing Leica and Contax lenses to be superior to other (Japanese) models... Possibly.

-- Al Smith (, July 07, 2000.

Al, Popular Photography test labs was run by Kenny Yamamoto (?), and Leica lenses faired poorly.

-- martin tai (, July 07, 2000.

I have used the VE 28-70 for a while and find it every bit as sharp as equivalent zooms from Nikon and Canon. Very convenient and user friendly for travelling and quick street shots. But eventually I gave it up for a 24/2.8 Elmarit and use this in tandem with the 50'cron. This has shown to be the perfect combination for me. You might find otherwise. The reason I gave up the VE is because of the very noticeable barreling at 28mm setting. It drives me crazy everytime I see that. The 24 Elmarit has very little distortion despite being wider. The bottom line is what you intend to do with this lens and what level of distortion you are willing to put up with. As far as sharpness goes, I think the VE is very good if you stop down 1 stop.

-- Steven Fong (, July 10, 2000.

Surfing around again... Found a reveiw of various 28-70 lenses including the Vario-Elmar. There is a follow on review linked to this site for the 3000 dollar 35-70 2.8 Leica zoom.

I must guard against my blood pressure raising from all of the grains of salt that must be taken with these reviews, (ha, ha), but this one jibes with others floating around... believe it, reject it, here it is:

-- Al Smith (, July 10, 2000.

Al, thank your for the geocity URL. It is a surprize that the f2.8 ASPH zoom did not outperform the slower lens.

-- martin tai (, July 11, 2000.

Steven Fong wrote that there was "noticeable barrel distortion at 28mm setting" ?? I check my Vario Elmar 28-70 at 28mm, pointing to a window frame, there is very little barrel distortion at 28mm setting, hardly visible, and gone completely by 30mm. Steven must have mixed up with other lens.

-- martin tai (, July 12, 2000.

Surfing the web, I find a picture taken with Vario Elmar 28-70: It was on the cover of Leica Historical Society Viewfinder

-- martin tai (, July 12, 2000.

Re Zoom lens vs prime lens. With the wide spread use of sophisticated computer aided lens design software, moderm zoom lenses are approaching the performance of prime lens. A few years ago, PoP test a zoom lens vs a prime lens (Carl Zeiss Planar 50/1.7 ) and concluded that the zoom lens was nearly as good as the prime. Many famous photographers have no hangup on zoom, for example, Art Wolfe uses zoom lens in his landscape photography. Six or seven years ago, I used to bring a Carl Zeiss T* Distagon 28mm f2.8 lens and a Planar 50mm f1.4 lens on trips; because I hate changing lens in the middle (dust got into the camera ) I carried to Contax bodies, one lens on each. After I discovered the Vario Elmar was rated ***** by German magazin, I bought one new, and test it with Kodachrome 25, found out that the pictures were indistinguishable from my Zeiss Prime lenss (both were five star lenses ), I never look back. Why ? Because prime lens does not provide the same ease in "cropping on the fly" framing.

-- martin tai (, July 12, 2000.


OK, OK already, I'm convinced! I still won't get one though as 3.5- 4.5 is too slow for me.

-- Robin Smith (, July 14, 2000.

I would have to agree with Robin here, The lens is too slow for me also. I use Nikon as my SLR (sorry leicaphiles!)and purchased their 28-70 3.5-4.5 zoom, which received good reviews. It utilizes aspherics to reduce the number of elements to 8 in theory reducing potential flare that some zooms display. After a couple of walk-a- bouts, I found myself packing my 35mm f1.4 lens for the aperture... the zoom proved too slow on numerous occasions. Shortly there after I noticed the 35 stayed on my camera most of the time... later the zoom didn't even make it to my bag... it just didn't earn its keep.

28-70 just isn't broad enough a range that I couldn't simply step forward or backward to frame. The long end isn't truely tight enough for headshots and I like the "environmental" look of the 35mm anyway.

As the car ads say, "your mileage may differ" This zoom range may be fine, but to me the viewfinder sure does get dark fast.

-- Al Smith (, July 14, 2000.

Fast lens of f1.4 /F1.0 has long being a forte of Leica rangefinders. There are fast lenes for Leica R, but the advantage is not as great as M series due to more camera vibration. F1.4 at 1/4 sec has long being a specialty of Leica photography (represented by HCB ). With R series, 1/25 sec is the lower limit of hand holding. As for 35mm lens, this is undoubly the most popular focal length, as evident from the large number of compact camera with lenses in this range. I find out that for low light situation, I rather use the super sharp Minoxar lens of my Minox GT-E at f2.8 and hand held at 1/4 instead of using my f1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar lens at 1/25; with my GT-E loaded with TMAX 3200, I can use it in nightclub with shutter speed about 1/8 to 1/15, comfortably hand holdable and not attracting attention.

-- martin tai (, July 14, 2000.

Leitz introduced zoom lens into Leicaflex as early as 1970 with Angenieux- Leicaflex f2.8 45mm- 90mm 15 element zooom lens. Angenieux was a major player in zoom lens for motion picture industry (an Oscar winner )

-- martin tai (, July 18, 2000.

It is a good lens based on leica specs made by sigma japan.Leica do appoint other japanese company to make lens for them based on their specs but some was designed by japanese company like Minolta, But they are all good lens that meet Leica Stadard.

28-70 f3.5-4.5 togeter with 70-210 F4.0 will good for travelling and down-sizing all your prime lens,one thing no good is that they are not fast lens,may be U can try zoom lens with f2.8 (leica lens)

good shooting

-- ONG PJ (, August 13, 2000.

Hi All I am a relatively new Leica R users who had recently added the Vario- Elmar 28-70 ROM to my 50/2. I have taken out-door, in-door existing light and flash photos with the 28-70 and 50/2. Whether Sigma designed or not, it does not make much difference to me, the contrast, color tone and shadow details which characterized LEICA lenses is consistent for both lenses. Both lenses apparent performed excellently at normal minimum aperture (f5.6-f16)but the prime 50/2 excels (as expected) at maximum aperture.I use the 50/2 more often because I belong to the 50mm "standard" generation when I started photography on a budget 20 years ago with the Nikon system and has since switched to Olympus OMs (for macro) and now obsessed with my secondhand Leica R3. As an "entry" into Leica on a budget the 28-70 is an "ideal" lens for any amateur who wish to own a second multi- role Leica lens. BTW I've purchase all my R equipment second hand (used) ,IMO they're worth every hard-earned dollars I've spent on them. No regrets even its made in Japan and has Sigma blood (I was warned by the seller), its the end results that counts. Some how, I believe that the difference may be in the Leica multicoating, Leica did have a couple of other Minolta zooms in their line and apparently the Minolta half-brothers (according to a friend)doesn't seems to have the same Leica color consitency and rendition.

Perhaps BW will show this difference greater in terms of shadow details. Any comments ?

paid for.

-- Alan Cheong (, June 26, 2001.

I have several zoom lenses for Contax: Carl Zeiss 35-135, and Sigma 80-200, I found that the 35mm range is not wide enough, and the Sigma lens for Contax mount does not match the color rendition of Zeiss lenses.

Vario-Elmar 28-70 has beome my world travel companion: I carried only this one lens travel to Spain, from Madrid to Barcelona, Valencia Serville, Granada, Toledo; to Greece from Athens through Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini, to East Europe from Vienna to Budapest, Bratislava, Brno, Prague... to Canadian Rockies from Banff to Lake Louis to Jasper National Park.

In March, I went to Vancourver, to attend my daughter's wedding at Chatteur Whistler, I again used Vario-Elmar to record wedding photos on the side( we hired a pro at Whistler ).. my daughter likes the wedding photo very much, "dad, your wedding photos are sooo good, so good". .

The 20x30" poster size prints on my walls of Maglin Lake, Jasper, Lake Louis, Algonquin Autumn, Santorini, Salgrada Familia Church are all from this Vario

I am sure, this Vario-Elmar will acompany me to other parts of the world, in particular, Huang Mountain and Guilin.

I seldom use Leica standard lenses, last weekend, I went to the Toronto Musical Garden at the Harbour Front area, I used Macro- Elmrit, I found that I could not cover enough backgroud, I should use the Vario instead.

My VE has a very special build in lens hood, it was computer designed to match the zoom range, at 28mm it is a wide angle lens hood at 70mm, the coverage narrows to suit. This is Leica lens hood technology as its zenith. I don't see any other zoom lens has this zooming hood feature.

-- martin tai (, June 29, 2001.

Hello everyone,

I am the guy who wrote the brief review of the Leica 35~70mm f2.8 Vario~Elamrit which was mentioned by someone in an earlier post. I am also the owner of the VE 28~70mm f3.5/4.5 (ROM version).

Yes, it is true that the my 28~70mm is optically sharper than the 35~70mm f2.8 lens. To-date, I have tested three samples of the 35~70mm f2.8 lens. Only one sample was better overall. The other two were soft at infinity between 40mm to 60mm. I have also spoken to a senior staff at Leica AG regarding this new zoom lens. All I can say is that Leica was having a hard time maintaining quality in this zoom lens and due to the difficulty in producing it, production of this lens was eventually stopped.

I have to agree with most of what Martin has written about the VE 28~70mm. The 28~70mm lens is indeed a very good lens optically and despite its slight distortion, the lens is still an outstanding performer in my book. The lens is not heavy and has silky smooth focusing and zooming rings. It may be a little slow but I can live with that with proper handholding technique and faster flims.

If you need a zoom lens for versatility, then you will not regret getting this zoom lens from Leica. But do make sure that you get the ROM version(latest) because optically this version is better than the older model(the one with the built-in hood).

-- Alan Yeo (, August 08, 2001.

I sold my Angeniux-R 35/70 2.5 because of its lenght and short focal range and bought Leica Vario Elmar 28/70, second generation. It's not a good lens, and I'm very unsatisfied with it. Its distorsion is very very very big and you can see it at first glance (I mean in the finder, not in the photos , that's worse). I will probably sell the whole thing and go back to nikon with fixed lenses.Regards. Gus

-- Augusto Vazzoler (, August 27, 2001.

If you are going to use this lens on a Canon EOS body Canon makes three of the best zooms around in this range; 28-105 is good, 28-135 is is great (I use this one and love it) and 28-70 2.8 which is one of the sharpest zooms ever made but a little heavy and pricy at around $1200 (not by Leica prices) and these all autofocus if you want them to. I bought one of the Leica to EOS adapters but it seems a little clugy and I prefer to use my Leica lenses on my R7 or R4S. Regards,

-- Gil Pruitt (, August 27, 2001.

I bought a used 28-70 VE a year ago. After I bought it, I did a simple test shot on close subject and concluded the lens is not as sharp. The lens had stayed in the closet since then. Recently, after I read all the debate, I tested the lens again on far subject and found it to perform quite well comparing to my 50mm Summicron M and 35mm Summicron M, especially when stop down, but wide open isn't bad either. I am using this lens more and more now because it is truly convenient. I also own the older 35-70 VE, it is truly a mechanical marvel and still perform quite well, but the close focus of 1m and the not wide enough 35mm angle is the reason it stayed at home.

Anyway, I cast my vote for the 28-70. My conclusion so far is that the lens performs very well at far subject and degrade a bit at near subject.


-- Chi H (, August 30, 2001.

I had the vario-elmar 35-70 f3.5 made in Japan. I decided to do a brief test in comparison with the 35mm Elmarit and the 35mm Summicron, all shot at F8. The results were very interesting. I analysed the film using a film scanner and was looking at color, contrast and sharpness (detail). The differences were only detectable in the enlargement... of course, not detectable in 4x6 or 5x7 sizes. The elmarit was clearly the sharpest but was lower in contrast, the Vario-Elmar had the most contrast and color saturation and slightly less sharpness, the summicron was a balance between the two, showing almost as sharp as the elmarit and almost as contrasty and saturated as the vario-elmar. The bottom line was that the differences were miniscule. The test did not take into account shooting at larger apertures. Distortion and flare are a different issue and were not examined here. I do know that the summicron is very flare resistant and in general, fixed focal length lenses will always have better distortion specs than the zooms.


-- Michael Mermagen (, October 13, 2001.

Hi everybody

I would like to recommend a photo gallery by a travel photographer, Mr Tong, I believe he uses Leica fixed focal length for M series Leica and Leica VE-R zooms for R series. His series illustrated the performance of our main topic of discussion the Sigma blood Leica VE28-70.

Please judge for yourselves the performance of VE-R 28-70 and if you like to own one. A few picture tells a few thousand words, IMHO.

Best Regards

-- Alan Cheong (, November 20, 2001.

photodo test

Grade: 3.2 35mm/MF LeicaR Vario-Elmar-R 28-70/3,5-4,5

Grade: 3 35mm/AF Nikkor AF 28-70/3,5-4,5

Grade: 2.8 35mm/AF Nikkor AF 28-70/3,5-4,5D

-- martin tai (, January 04, 2002.

How good is grade 3.2 ? It is as good as many prime lenses

Grade: 3.2 35mm/AF Canon EF 28/1,8 USM

Grade: 3.2 35mm/MF LeicaR Elmarit-R 24/2,8

Grade: 3.2 35mm/AF Nikkor AF 28/2,8D

Grade: 3.2 35mm/MF Nikkor 35/2,8

Grade: 3.2 35mm/MF Pentax SMC-F 28/2,8

BTW, Grade: 2.8 35mm/MF Contax Vario Sonnar T* 28-70/3,5-4,5

-- martin tai (, January 04, 2002.

Martin you forgot the photodo grade on the lens I have the 35-70 f3.5, its an amazing 3.6. the highest standard zoom is the 28-70 f2.8L at 3.9, then the 28-70 f2.8-4L at 3.8, I think I saw a nikon had one(standard zoom) at 3.8 also. these lenses both have either aspherical elements or ultra low dispersion glass, I dont know which. I doubt my lens has any of that being as old as it is. though numbers are just numbers, the picture quiality of the 35-70 is just awesome, I shot a picture of a dark dirty stairwell and in the lower corner you could read the words scratched on the brick that was perpendicular to the film plane.

-- gregory nicholson (, July 27, 2002.

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