Zoom Lenses

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I've been thinking of buying two Leica zoom lenses, the 28-70 f3.5-4.5 vario-elmar (Japan) and a 70-210 f4 vario-elmar (Japan) as a way of getting into the Leica lenses without breating the bank and have a good working range of lenses to start. I already know about the quality of fixed focal lenses and the speed but sometimes you can't move around to reframe the image and having a zoom lens makes that a little easier plus the fact that you don't have a lot of extra weight to carry around with you and watch over. I'm wondering what your comments or opinons are on this. Thanks for your help in advance.

Regards, John

-- John Miller (vwbus1967@earthlink.net), April 22, 2001


I do not use R zooms (only fixed focal), but general agreement in the Leica R user community is that the 35-70 f4 is the one to get. Leica design, manufactured by Kyocera.

The 28-70 f3.5-f4.5 is an already old Sigma design, and, according to most sources, not on par with current Leica designs.

The tele would be the current 80-200 f4, also produced by Kyocera.

-- Alan (alan.ball@yucom.be), April 23, 2001.

The 28-70 (1st version with sliding hood) is a Sigma lens (opticall the same as one they made in many other mounts) which Leica had them make up in a barrel resembling the Leica R cosmetics; the latest version is the same optics mounted in the identical barrel as the current 35-70, for economy (Leica's, not ours!). The 70-210/4 was a Minolta lens (which they also offered in their own MD mount)again trnasplanted into a Leica-like barrel. These aren't poor lenses, but you can get the same lenses (or ones of similar or better specification) to fit other camera bodies for a lot less money. If you are going to pay the price and live with the quirks of the Leica R system, I can only think of one reason, and that's to have Leica glass up front. The current 35-70/4 and 80-200/4, while built in Japan by Kyocera, are Leica designs, and from personal experience I can say they are excellent. They can be found used or gray-market at quite reasonable (for Leica) prices. Eventually, round it out with a 1st-version 28/2.8 for wide shots, and a 50/2 for low-light. Both of these lenses are sharp, small and can be bought very economically second-hand.

-- Jay (infinitydt@aol.com), April 23, 2001.

Leica's strength is in fix focal length lenses, due to their long history

However, in zoom lens area, Japan companies has about twenty years lead over Leica, majority of zoom lens design formula are invented by Japanese.

In terms of design, Japanese design are better than Leica designs.

Optical designer Jihei Nakagawa of Sigma Corporation invented an innovative four group zoom lens, in which group 1 is linked to group 3, and group 2 is linked with group 4; lens group1/3 and lens group 2/4 can move relative to each other while mantaining the fixed distance between 1/3 and between 2/4. His design greatly extended the zoom range of zoom lens, and makes choose of glass and optimization of abberration easier.

Leica still uses one fix group and one moving group design, hence the magnification range of Leica design is much limited, way behind Japan design.

28-70/f3.5-4.5 version 1 and 2 are indeed Sigma design, and implemeted Sigma's 2-2 moving group technique, it is an advanced design with very good performance. Leica has nothing equals, because, the formula is owned by Sigma.

You can buy Sigma lens in Nikon, Canon mount, but not in Leica mount, it would be cheaper. But Leica chose to subcontract this lens to Sigma with Leica mechanism-- that is why it weights 50% more than similar Sigma lens in for intance Canon mount. It will take Leica probably another decade before they can catch up with Canon, Nikon, Sigma in Zoom lens design.

Sigma 4 group zoom lens is a very succesful design.

-- martin tai (martin.tai@capcanada.com), April 23, 2001.

35-70 zoom has only a 2x zoom range, nobody, except Leica still uses 2x zoom on SLR.

In 28- 70, 28-80 or 28-85 zoom with aperture between f3.5-4.5 is very popular because of its compact and good performance.

If you want this range, the two best zooms are Sigma and Carl Zeiss (for Contax RTS ), you will not find any other makes better.

AFAIK, the complain on Sigma lens is not the optics, but the housing, which seems not durable.

Sigma made 28-70/3.5-4.5 for Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Pentax mounts, however, the construction is metal AND plastic.

Leica Vario-Elmar 28-70/3.5-4.5 combines the best of Japanese zoom lens design with the best of Leica lens housing, you get the best of both worlds.

35-70 certain will be better then 28-70, just like fix focal length is better than zoom, in terms of performance.

IMO, 35-70 good as it is, the zoom range is too small, it painfully shows the backwardness of Leica in zoom lens design, not a hallmark of design excellence.

-- martin tai (martin.tai@capcanada.com), April 23, 2001.

Martin makes a good point; I don't see zoom lenses as Leica's forte either. All my R lenses are primes. However, Tamron zoom lenses are usually considered to be pretty good and I know that Tamron sells an "Adaptall" mount for Leica R cameras. I've never tried a Tamron zoom with my Leica R8 but I daresay I'd be happy enough with it if I did. Just a thought!


Ray Moth

-- Ray Moth (ray_moth@yahoo.com), May 02, 2001.

Ray, it happens that I have a Tamron 28-70 /f3.5-4.5 zoom lens for my Minolta. I could have bought and adapter for my R5 to use the same Tamron.

However, Tamron lens has quite visible distortion and 28mm and 70mm end, and was not satifactory.

German Bamim Schultze Laboratory tested a series of zoom lenses and rated Leica Vario-Elmar 28-70/f3.5-4.5 the best five star ^^^^^ zoom lens with a performance index of 9.6, the highest among all zoom lenses in the same range.


Angenieux AF Canon 28-70/f2.6 8.8 metal/plastic construction

Canon 28-80/3.5-5.6 9.2 metal/plastic

Minolta AF 28-80/4.0-5.6 8.6 metal and plastic

Nikor AF 28-70/3.5-4.5 9.0 metal and plastic

Sigma AF 28-70/3.5-4.5 CANON EOS 9.6 metal and plastic

Leica 28-70/3.5-4.5 9.6 ALL METAL CONSTRUCTION Leica/Sigma rank best Canon, Minolta second Nikor third

It is worth mentioning, Sigma AF 28-70/3.5-4.5 CANON EOS weight 330 g 63.5mm

Vario Elmar 28-70/3.5-4.5 weight 468 g, and 84mm in length

Vario Elmar is much longer and heavier the the Sigma, and it is the ONLY ALL METAL ZOOM lens in this range, with no plastic parts

Vario -Elamr is clearly not a "rebadging" business.

Trust the Leica lens designer, when they chosed Sigma design, they indeed made the best choice.

Leica Vario Elmar R 70-210/f4 9.2

Nikor AF 70-210/f4-5.6 9.2

Sigma AF UC AF 70-210/4-5.6 9.2

-- martin tai (martin.tai@capcanada.com), May 13, 2001.

I forgot to add, Bamim Schultze Laboratory in Germany also tested Leica 35-70/f3.5 zoom, and rated as 9.0 not even as good as a Taromon 28-70 at 9.2

The Leica 28-70 is far better

-- martin tai (martin.tai@capcanada.com), May 14, 2001.

I've been using Leica R for about 17 years in combination with zooms and fixed focal length lenses. The zooms, dollar for dollar, are a good entree, and the quality will exceed your expectations. Leica purists (whomever and whatever they are) might disagree; many whom have no first-hand experience with Leica zooms. You will still get those "knock your socks off" results with zooms as well as the versatility over fixed focal length lenses.

-- Joe Barbano (joseph.barbano@symmetron.com), July 05, 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

-- A. Vazzoler (avazzoler@tin.it), August 06, 2001.

I own the Leica R VE 28-70 (ROM, version 2/3?) and the trusty 50/2 (Canada, version 3). I am not a lens/optical specialist or a Leica R fanatics but the 2 zoom lens do have VERY high resolution and produces the same "Leica" finish (contrast & colour) which is consistent with my summicron R 50/2. IMHO, the VE 28-70 should be the best and most ideal Leica zoom ever for a weekend photographer like myself. When I don't need speed, the VE28-70 is my standard lens of choice.

On the other hand, my VE 70-210/4 (version 2) though rough in appearance is mechanically solid and an excellent performer, although a Minolta design, its performance in terms of contrast and colour is consistent with the Leica Summicron 50/2 of the same era. I have compared the same MD mount minolta 70-210/4 (owned by a good friend) and the difference of the 2 lense lies is in the colour tone with other variables like exposure, film speed and subject being the same. IMHO, the Leica coating of the lens and choice fo glass might have made the difference.

Regardless of real or perceived differences or similarities, what matters most IMHO is that the owner must like and enjoys making pictures with his trusted camera and lenses.

-- H K Cheong (hkcheong@pacific.net.sg), November 09, 2001.

I agree with Mr Cheong's comments on both lenses, but particularly the VE 28-70 ROM. Having read the often negative comments about this lens, I have done my own un-scientific testing using both slide film and negative film with enlargements to 11X14. The colour rendition in the transparencies is indistinguishable from my 50mm Summicron R and my 35mm Elmarit 2.8 and sharpness and contrast are comparable. The extremely negative comments I have seen just do not apply to my lens, and as for seeing distortion through the finder, my slides are projected on a decently large screen and I certainly don't see much in the way of distortion.

-- Ivor Quaggin (iquaggin@home.com), November 09, 2001.

While I use Leica R and M cameras a lot I suggest that if you want to use zooms you would be a ton better off buying an EOS 3 or even an Elan 7 with their 17-35 L, 28-135 IS or 28-70 2.8 L, 70-200 2.8 or 4.0 L. This is a relatively inexpensive way to get some of the best zooms in the world right now along with auto focus. They really are fantastic. Leica zooms are probably great but this is the way I would go if I wanted zooms.



-- Don (wgpinc@yahoo.com), November 09, 2001.

Would like to share some interesting travel photographs done by Mr Tong a Leica user. He has some excellent examples works done with the Vario-APO-Elmar-R 70-180/2.8 and Vario-Elmar-R 28-70/3.5-4.5 "Sigma blood" lenses.



-- Alan Cheong (cheong_alan@hotmail.com), November 20, 2001.

I read all your comments about the VE 28-70 ROM (cat 11364) with great interest, and feel I have become a bit of an optical specialist on it. Those of you who are impressed by the sharpness are right to be, but Gus's complaint about the distortion is also dead right. Go to http://www.photodo.com and compare the distortion figures for this lens against others, particularly at 70mm. I also have a 1996 Barnim A Schulze test report on the old 28-70 (cat 11265) whose figures are -2.1 and 3.1%. Figures over 4% would be classified as "considerable" by the UK Practical Photography magazine. Leica describe the distortions with cat 11364 as "very minor". Try photographing something with straight lines near the edge of the picture with it at 70mm.

-- John Greaves (john.greaves7@btopenworld.com), December 22, 2001.

Further to my last posting, and having bought a new Tamron 28-70 mm manual focus lens (model 159A) I re-read Martin Tai's comments of 13- 14 May 2001. Having done a preliminary test for the distortion at 70mm with the Tamron, it's clearly much less than for Leica's 28-70 at 70mm. If you go to photodo.com you will find that Leica's lens has 4.44% distortion at 70mm whereas most other 28-70mm zooms have figures of 2% or less. Regrettably no figure for the Tamron is quoted. I pointed this out to a Leica representative from Solms, who considered that this compromise was necessary in the design to achieve high edge to edge resolution. I was not impressed.

-- John Greaves (John.Greaves7@btopenworld.com), February 24, 2002.

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