What Leica R lens to buy next?

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Dear All,

Happy New Year and I hope everyone had a relaxing and refreshing holiday.

I have a question about extending my lineup of R lenses. When I bought my R7 last November (in Jakarta), the dealer had a few used R lenses for sale. After inspecting the state of them and considering the prices he was asking, I chose two Elmarit-Rs: a 60mm macro (with extension tube) and a 90mm. A week later, I bought two more lenses, from a different dealer: 32mm Summicron-R and 24mm Elmarit-R.

So, my current lineup of focal lengths is 24-35-60-90. These seem reasonably well spaced out and I don't feel the need to buy any more lenses within that range. This is a very useful working range for 70 or 80 percent of my needs. However, I know I'll need to use longer lenses on occasion and, possibly, even something wider than 24mm. Since I can't afford to buy new lenses, I just have to keep an eye out for whatever becomes available on the used market in Jakarta. I have seen both zooms and fixed telephoto R lenses for sale here but they were either overpriced or in poor condition (sometimes both!) but I'll keep on looking around.

What I'd appreciate is some guidance on what might be suitable lenses to look out for. They don't have to be superfast but should be of typical excellent Leitz optical quality and (hopefully) not too pricey! In the past, with other SLR cameras I've owned, I have tended to use zooms for anything above 80mm but I don't know whether this is a good idea or not with Leica R lenses.

I realise a lot depends on what I'm planning to shoot but I can't really answer that because I don't have any definite subjects in mind - maybe landscapes, zoo creatures, people taking part in festivals, that sort of thing. Anyway, I'd be glad of any advice.


-- Ray Moth (ray_moth@yahoo.com), January 04, 2001



The obvious answer is to look out for a 180 f3.4 Apo-Telyt. This is still one of the best lenses in its class and has well recognized outstanding performance. This is a lens you use at full aperture and the performance barely improves on stopping down. It has been replaced now by a superb 180 f2.8 version, but this costs c.$3000. The older one is priced about s/h $700-1000 here in the US. I have one and find it fantastic.

I suspect others might suggest you look out for one of the older 400mm or 600mm Telyts which have great performance, are cheap, but are rather slow (f6.3). I have little interest in such lenses personally so I cannot really add anything, but people who have them like the quality very much.

The earlier 280mm f2.8 Apo is also exceptional (the non-modular one), but this will still be very expensive secondhand - but certainly cheaper than the current modular version new or secondhand.

On the other extreme I have a hankering for the 19mm Elmarit-R which is also meant to be superb. The current model is the one I would like (with built in filters). As it is current it is again $3000 or so, secondhand it is comparatively rare and still horribly expensive. I find my 21mm Super Angulon a little slow and it needs to be stopped down to f6.3 or so to get corner to corner sharpness, so a new 19mm would replace this. I have no interest in the "old" 19mm Elmarit (production finished in 1990) as it is (or looks like it is) a simple "stretched" Super-Angulon design with a huge front element.

Of course some people will say that only you can really decide whether you want a certain focal length and whether you will actually use it. It does not really seem wise to me to look out for "good" lenses and buy them just because they are reputed to be excellent, as you may find you never use them. On the other hand, I also realize you will not know unless you take the plunge! Personally, I like the 180mm focal length very much - good for animals and people and long tele shots but still handholdable (at 1/500) and not too huge.

It is certainly a truism that more lenses can provide variety to your photography. M users go on a lot about how good the 35-50-90 triumvirate is for 90% of photos - quite true in my opinion, but there is nothing like adding a long tele or ultrawide to the mix too, especially in a slide show (does anyone have these any more?).

-- Robin Smith (rsmith@springer-ny.com), January 04, 2001.

Some comments re: the above. I did a side-by-side shoot-off between the 180/3.4 APO (late E60) and 180/2.8 (late E67 non-APO)and showed the slides to a number of experienced pros and we all picked the the 180/2.8 100% of the time. There was much better shadow detail, much better color saturation, it wasn't even a close contest. We couldn't see anything wrong with the APO Telyt (both lenses were used)to indicate it was abnormal, but the results fly in the face of everything I've ever read on this lens. Anyway, I bought the Elmarit and I am delighted with it. It also focuses about 2ft closer and accepts the 1.4x APO to boot. As to the old 19 elmarit and 21/4 S/A, I owned an older 19 for a short while and traded it for a 21/4. Stopped down to where I use it (f8-11) they are at least equal, and the 21 is a lot nicer to get into a camera bag or walk around with on the camera. Also, although the 19 takes 82mm filters, I had to find one with enough rear space so it wouldn't smack into the crown of the front element, and even then there was corner vignetting even with a slim mount. 72mm filters on the 12/4 do not have that problem. The new 19 is probably a honey of a lens, but price aside it does not take a front filter at all and for my outdoor work I prefer having the option of shielding that $$$$$ front element when the grit is blowing so hard you can feel your face tingling.

-- Jay (infinitydt@aol.com), January 04, 2001.


Yes, I saw your comments about the 180s earlier. I think you must have a defective 180 Apo. Of course, I have not done the same test, but my 180 Apo is better than the f4 180 Elmar which was no slouch and I would imagine a priori is about the same as the newer non-Apo 2.8. I tend to believe the value of the Leica Apo designation too. Still perhaps I will check out a 2.8 180 non -Apo for myself.

Interesting comments about the 19mm versus 21mm SA. Your comments pretty well agree with my expectations. The filter issue on the new 19mm would not worry me since I never put UV filters on lenses as a rule unless in terrible emergency particularly with ultrawides. The SA has a good reputation, but the interesting thing is its relatively poor wide open corner performance - I cannot help wondering whether this is not a characteristic of ultra wides. I saw some photos taken with the Biogon 21 for the Contax G and they very closely resembled the SA in appearance and that too is reputed to be an excellent lens. I can appreciate that edge-edge sharpness is difficult to obtain with ultra wides, optically speaking. It would be nice to be able to use such a lens and get good performance at full aperture. I would hope the new 19mm is better here.

-- Robin Smith (rsmith@springer-ny.com), January 04, 2001.

I also prefer the 180/2.8 APO. But if that is too much right now my 2nd choice would be the 180/3.4 (which I used prior to the Elmarit). In both cases I have paired them with the 2x APO teleconverter = 360mm 5.6 or 6.8. I don't use anything longer than 200mm except on rare occasions, and the 2x APO gives me the flexibility, portability, and quality I need at reasonable cost.

-- Ken Shipman (kennyshipman@aol.com), January 04, 2001.

I should have mentioned before that the current 80-200/4 zoom is quite outstanding and together with its minimum focusing distance of 1.1m (vs 1.8m for the f/4 and f/2.8 Elmarits and 2.5m for the f/3.4 APO)should make anyone take a second look at carrying a bevy of fixed focal length lenses. The only reason I do not part with my 180/2.8 at this point is the ability to attach both the 1.4x (something that can't be done with any other Leica 180) and 2x and still have a bright enough finder for focusing in relatively dim light.

-- Jay (infinitydt@aol.com), January 04, 2001.

Thanks for the advice, to those who contributed an answer. I may not have total freedom over what lenses I buy, since I'm limited to what turns up in the Jakarta used lens market, for now at least. Since that's totally unpredictable, I need to be clear, in advance, about what lenses are worth buying (if they're in good condition and the price is reasonable), so I can act quickly and not miss a good opportunity.


Ray Moth, Jakarta

-- Ray Moth (ray_moth@yahoo.com), January 07, 2001.

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