R180mm f2.8 APO not the best lens....?

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Thanks to some recent advice received through this LUG, I bought the R180 f2.8 APO and went off shooting, handheld (as it is my preference). I deliberately put it through a "real world" test by hand holding, using f2.8 only, low/mid contrast situations, and Fuji Reala 100 film (I made sure the shutter speed was not lower than 1/250s to prevent lens shake). Due to the lighting conditions I used the integral meter. I processed the film through a decent shop and got 4R size prints (12 x 9 cm?).

Even at that small print size I was disappointed by the results. It didn't "wow" me like the R100 f2.8 APO. The pictures simply didn't look like they were taken by a Leica lens: it was sharp but did not give the impression that it was particularly super sharp (like the R100 f2.8 APO or the R35mm Summicron which are capable of very 3D photos in equivalent circumstances when I put them through similar tests). The contrast was not better than a decent 80-200 zoom lens. Everybody says the R180mm f 2.8 APO is the best R lens in the range for both resolution and contrast but that is not my experience so far. Do you think I may have a faulty lens? Thanks.

-- David Yeo (yeo_d@hotmail.com), August 09, 2001


Some of your problems could be due to unsteadiness of the camera. A shutter speed of 1/250 sec will not "prevent" hand shake! To minimise the effect of shake with a focal length of 180mm, you would be better advised to use a minimum shutter speed of 1/500 or, better still, 1/1000 sec.

-- Ray Moth (ray_moth@yahoo.com), August 10, 2001.

David, you may have a faulty lens, or the lab could be at fault. Where I work we are known for out quality photofinishing, but that can depend at times (unfortunately) on which of our staff is working (some are better than others), or a number of other criteria. Shoot a roll of slide film and have that processed at a pro photofinisher. At least this way you are taking out the variables in printing and seening what the actual piece of film looks like. If you are still not happy, take the slides and the lens back to your dealer - there very well may be a problem with the lens.

-- Bob Todrick (bobtodrick@yahoo.com), August 10, 2001.

Hi David,

From my personal experience, after having used the 180 f2.8 APO intensively in all sorts of situations for over 8 months now, and the 100 APO for over 2 years, I find that they are certainly of equivalent level of imaging quality. I was never disappointed by the 180.

I'm sure 1/250s is quite OK, if you make sure you are reasonably stable. I even shoot handheld at 1/125s routinely with that lens with satisfying success rates, due to the great balance of the R8/180 combo (at 1/60s it is really hit or miss). Just make sure you are perfectly stable and that you hold the camera properly..

I'd also be suprised if your lens was to blame. That is easy to check with a short tripod session, using the 100 as benchmark and move the tripod to positions insuring same reproduction ratio for both lenses. If you do these trials outdoors on still life 3D subjects (trees, flowers, etc), make sure that there is not the slightest trace of breeze that day and no change of light when you switch lenses. No filters on either, of course.

Preferably use high res slide film for those trials in order to eliminate any risk of lab print focusing incidents.

Once you have made sure your particular specimen is not to blame, you might want to consider your shooting technique: with moving subjects (humans, animals, plants in the breeze, etc), focusing at shorter distances at wide apertures is pretty tricky as very limited subject/operator movements will push subject before or beyond the plane of focus without you necessarily noticing it. That is enough to render softly instead of super duper sharp. This is true for any fast telelens of course.

Take a little more time with it and put it through the motions.

In the 180-200 range, I have intensively used Nikkor ED and CZ Sonnar, and, from personal experience, I can promise you those highly competent lenses do not come anywhere near the "ooomph" delivered by the APO-Elmarit...

Please come back to us when you have given it a little more time...

Good luck,


-- Alan ball (alan.ball@yucom.be), August 10, 2001.

David, I find that the old rule 1/focal length as a way of achieving good hand held exposures to be partly true. I think it works reasonably well up to a focal length of 100mm. Beyond that, I would keep to twice that. I have had solid results wt. my 180 apo telyt at 1/500 but must admit I like to use it best, well braced or on a monopod, at 1/1000 or above. Keep in mind that telephotos not only magnify the image, 4x for the 180, but also magnify camera shake. The camera shake issues wt. telephotos are such that when I shoot the 280 F4, tripod mounted, I see variations in the sharpness achieved. If you can, go for the highest speed possible.

-- pedro lastra (plastra@webmail.bellsouth.net), August 10, 2001.

Try the comparison again, shooting side-by-side shots on a tripod on ISO 100 or slower transparency film. Shoot at all apertures in order, alternately mounting both lenses. Keep notes and have the lab leave the film in a strip, so you can keep track of which is which. Then examine the transparencies on a light-table with a good loupe of at least 4x, preferably 8x. Let us know how they look.

-- JAy (infinitydt@aol.com), August 10, 2001.

A "real world" test cant really be dont with one film in one day with one aperture.

-- Joel Matherson (joel_2000@homail.com), August 10, 2001.

David, The focus ring on my new 180/2.8 APO moves VERY easily. If I am not careful, it can move slightly from inadvertent hand pressure while I am concentrating on subject, composition, tracking, etc. To prevent such focus alterations, I have altered my hold. Now I support the lens on the palm/heel of my hand behind the focus ring and just use two fingers to move the focus ring. Don't seem to have the accidental focus shift problem any more.

-- Luther Berry (luther.berry@st-systems.com), August 10, 2001.

About all I can add to the insights given above is that it is necessary to take a variety of shots with an unfamiliar lens before reaching any conclusions. Sometimes you get lucky and get a tack- sharp shot on the first roll. Once you've seen that, you know the quality is there, and you begin to trust the lens. If, on the other hand, the lens looks mediocre on the first roll or two, you have established nothing. The lighting may be too soft, or the contrast too low for some other reason. There could have been camera shake, focus error, etc. I would certainly shoot a roll of Velvia or Kodachrome 64, or Provia F, even if you don't have a projector. You could check them with a magnifier. It's not always easy to see the Leica difference with a casual effort, or on the first try.

-- Bob Fleischman (RFXMAIL@prodigy.net), August 10, 2001.

Thanks everyone for your generous comments and advice - I think there was a lot of truth in all the comments which I did put to use. You may be interested in the results.

Here's what I did the second time round: still handheld but used it in slightly better (more contrasty) lighting and yes, the focuing ring is very smoth and can move slightly out of focus very easily (great tip!). I kept the shutter speed to at least 1/360. I had my trusty Nikon AF-S 80-200 ED lens mounted on the F100 for comparison, making sure I kept the latter at 180mm, using the same shutter speed and wide open aperture. I knew which roll was which because I had made certain photos at the end of each roll (Fuji Reala 100) so that I can tell which was shot with the Leica. I also took a bit more time taking ach shot.

I had the rolls processed together and then printed. I took turn taking identical shots with the 2 lenses (using a variety of stationary objects such as neon lights, colourful bill boards, buildings, buses chock full of colourful adverts etc) When I first got the photos back I didn't know which roll was which (because the identifying photos were taken at the end of the roll). The quality was excellent in both rolls. Very sharp, very contrasty (thank God it wasn't a faulty lens after all!) But the real surprise for me was that I found myself asking which roll was taken with the Leica! I have always liked the M lenses because of their special "oomph" and I thought I would always recognise Leica's distinct hallmark when I see it. Not so quickly this time. It took the 7 to 8th photo before I felt I was sure and quickly turned to the end of the roll to check. I was right (whew!). I always knew the Nikon AF-S 80-200 ED is one of the best zoom lenses in the Nikon stable but I never thought that it would give a Leica prime APO lens such keen competition. I then showed the A-B comparison photos to 2 long time Leica users. One got it completely wrong whereas the other took only the 5th photo to be sure which was taken with the Leica. How could we tell? To tell you the truth, the 2 of us who guessed correctly could not tell the difference in 70% of the photos especially when the contrast was low. But once the light is there, the Leica lens always showed more micro details (it was fairly obvious) through more colours in the corners and shadows whereas it would show up as a darker shadow in the Nikon. In the few black & white posters I shot, the Leica was obviously better at rendering a full tonal palette with wonderful effortless gradation in tones.

Has anyone had a similar experience? I can now fully understand why people say Leica lenses are overpriced. But I guess if I can still see the difference then it's been worth it for me. Thanks again for all your help.

-- David Yeo (yeo_d@hotmail.com), August 11, 2001.

I would shoot few rolls of slide film (ISO 50 - 100) and view them under a light table with a good loupe. With the print film and size of 4R, your experience may be limited.

-- Cing-Dao Kan (cdkan@yahoo.com), August 11, 2001.


Compare the lenses at full aperture, tripod mounted or at 1/500th sec minimum. Slide film - I suggest Velvia/K64/Provia F. Use an 8 X or higher loupe. You should be able to see a difference. If not, then I agree with you the R lens is overpriced. However, I am completely confident you will see the difference clearly. Of course if you do only shoot to 4R then buying the Leica is perhaps a bit of waste of time (this is not meant to be a "snotty" comment!) I can't really tell the difference between my Leica R and Canon 35-105USM zoom at 4R when there is enough light to allow the zoom to operate at a reasonable shutter speed.

-- Robin Smith (smith_robin@hotmail.com), August 13, 2001.

Try shooting in low light condition. You'll see the Leica difference. If shooting under sunlight, I would say Leica is no better than Nikon or Canon.

-- W. Andrew (andrew_photo@sinaman.com), August 15, 2001.

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