R3, 400 F/6.8, 180 Elmar, various zooms

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While I'm perfectly happy with my M system for the moment, I am considering what I might want in the future regarding an SLR for longer lenses, just so I'll have a shopping list in case I run across a good deal.

I have more or less decided that:

1) The 400 Telyt f/6.8 is one of the prime reasons for getting ANY SLR, so we need to stick with Leica in this thread. Nikon/Canon etc. offer a lot, but not that lens. I've considered the Viso, but would just rather not go that route.

2) I like the R3 Mot body with/without winder. I just personally find it more ergonomic than the R4-8 bodies, and easier to get batteries and a winder for than the SL/SL2, plus inexpensive. An SL would be my second choice or a possible second battery-free body. Leica tells me they still have parts for and can service R3s.

3) I'd also like something to fit between the 400 and my M lenses. I believe there were 3 mid-range zoom designs prior to the current lenses: 70-200, 80-200 f/4.5, and 70-210. I'm also considering the 180 Elmar (non-APO) as a compact and relatively close-focusing alternative. I'd prefer the f/4 to the APO f/3.4 unless the image quality is SO different that it's worth the extra money AND the longer minimum focus.

SO: any comments, opinions, experiences or information on the R3/R3 Mot, the earlier zooms, the 180 or the 400 would be helpful. Especially "Don't go there" warnings! =:^0

I've seen some 400s for sale minus the shoulder stock and pistol grip at a discount. I've used the lens several times without these and it always worked, and actually I prefer it that way. But just to be sure, is there any version of this lens that HAS to have the stock/grip to function properly?

I've read all the R- threads here, also Doug Herr's reviews and Nemeng.com (as always!).

Thanks, folks!

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), November 24, 2001


I would try the R3/400 combination before you buy . My favorite body with this lens is the SL because the viewfinder's so bright and easy to focus. Also consider the Viso version of the 400, which can be adapter to nearly any brand of SLR camera. As far as I know there is no version of the 400 that has to use the stock & grip. I would look for one that has the R nul cam to be sure the R3's meter gives you the correct readings. The mid-range zooms are (chronologically): 80~200 f/4.5, 75~200 f/4.5, and 70~210 f/4.0. I don't know anything about the relative optical quality, but other things to consider include: ) the 80~200 f/4.5 can't be used on the Leicaflex Standard or SL ) ELPRO lenses may be used on either the 80~200 f/4.5 or the 75~200 f/4.5. I've used both of the 180mm lenses, the f/3.4 more extensively than the Elmar, and my impression is that the f/3.4 APO is easier to focus. Since you've read my reviews, you've probably seen my example photo of Pete, the arabian horse, made with the f/3.4 APO. Focussing on Pete as he ran past was unbelievably simple. I'm not sure why, but my guess is the combination of the SL viewfinder, slightly faster aperture, and the apochromatic correction made the image "snap" into focus more than with the Elmar. This isn't much to go on, but here are a few example photos made with the Elmar on an SL2, of my father-in-law shortly before he passed away: http://home.earthlink.net/~telyt/hans/aug2001.html These photos were made at full aperture, and I had no mis-focussed photos, but psycologically I didn't have quite the confidence in the focus as with the f/3.4 APO, so I spent a bit more time focussing with the Elmar than I would have with the f/3.4 APO.

-- Douglas Herr (telyt@earthlink.net), November 24, 2001.


I'd be interested in your comparison between the Elmar and the APO Telyt, especially in contrast and color rendition.

When I bought my first set of R lenses in Germany back in 1977, the dealer talked me into the Elmar. I really like the small size and it seems to perform about the same as my other R lenses of the period.

-- Bud (budcook@attglobal.net), November 24, 2001.

The 400 is a very nice lens. I too would prefer the Viso version along with the R adaptor tube since it'd then be pretty easy to cobble together adaptors to put it on other cameras...but I wouldn't pay a huge price premium for that. The grip/stock isn't necessary.

I use my 400 on an OM-4t; just swapped out the R flange for an OM flange. I think it's also about the same flange distance for a Canon EOS mount.

As for the R3, my main objection to that camera is that its focusing screen is _by far_ the dimmest of all the R cameras so be sure it'll be satisfactory with the 400 lens.

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), November 24, 2001.

I use the R4S and R7. I like the R4S because it is small and has the reputation for better reliability than the R4 or the R3. Anything older doesn't appeal to me. I use it with the 180 Elmar 4.0. It is sharp wide open and gets better stopped down one or two stops. It is really small for that focal length and light for a Leica lens, and it uses the E55 filters so I just carry one Heliopan polarizer and a tiny bag for 28, 35, 50, 90 and 180. I look at the 400 6.8 on ebay now and then. I'm not sure it is fully functional on the R but the price seems right. It's the lens D. Duncan shot the convention with in, I think 1968. I just haven't felt the need or a business reason to have that long a lens. If I did I would probably spring for the big bucks and get the 500 L 4.0 EOS IS lens and figure it would always be on a tripod. Good Luck.

-- Don (wgpinc@yahoo.com), November 24, 2001.


I used the 400 f:6.8 (visoflex) when it was new in 1971 and have a very nice shot of a squirrel with it mounted on a Nikon F with a custom adapter. I recently purchase that exact lens from a friend that owned it. We have called it a SQUIRREL GUN for years because of that picture. I now use in on an R4. I also have the custom adapter to use my VISO lenses on my kids Nikon's. A 280 f:4.8 VISO version recently sold on E-bay with a custom CANON adapter. I prefer to use the VISO III over my R4 due to the ergonomics and brightness of the viewing system. Like you I can appreciate the 400. I have considered (money?) the R8 to see if the viewfinder is better than the R4, which I am not happy with.

Good luck on your choice and keep shooting.


-- Mark A. Johnson (logic@gci.net), November 24, 2001.

Mark: "I used the 400 f:6.8 (Visoflex) when it was new in 1971 and have a very nice shot of a squirrel with it mounted on a Nikon F with a custom adapter"

So Mark, who sells custom adaptors that let you mount a squirrel on a Nikon F?

-- Jay (infinitydt@aol.com), November 24, 2001.

Sorry, I couldn't resist ;>) Ok, to the real issue: I've got a 400/6.8 (Viso) with the 14167. I've used it on both R and M and even on the Hexar RF, where it actually works better than the M6 because of the AE feature that sets the exposure without having to look through the camera's finder. I've used it also with the 1.4xAPO and 2xAPO teleconverters (in bright light of course). The 400/6.8 has 3 major drawbacks for me. 1)The image quality drops sharply away from the center of the image. 2)The trombone focusing is not as easy to fine-tune as a helical type. 3)It doesn't focus very close unless you add the long extension tube...and then it still doesn't focus very close.

The 180/4 is a decent lens, and while I personally tried 2 samples of the 180/3.4APO that disappointed me, I'm in the minority on that lens. However in answer to the 400/6.8 *and* 180/4, I suggest the E67 version pre-APO 180/2.8. IMO this lens performs as well as the 3.4, is a 1/2-stop faster, focuses almost 1m closer. It's a full stop faster than the Elmar and because of its greater weight, is easier to keep steady handholding. But best of all, you can use the 1.4xAPO (250/4), 2xAPO (360/5.6) and 1.4x+2x (500/8).

As to the R3 body, I have a liking for it, too. The meter display and AE-lock is nicer IMO than the R4-R5/RE, and the DOF lever mechanism is less trouble-prone. The finder is not high-eyepoint so using it with glasses is a bit squinty. The focusing screen is not exchangeable, so with the longer, slower lens you have to live with a black circle in the middle of the view. I would not consider the fact that Leica repairs R3's as a major advantage because the cost of parts/labor is more than the camera is worth.

-- Jay (infinitydt@aol.com), November 24, 2001.

>>>I have considered (money?) the R8 to see if the viewfinder is better than the R4, which I am not happy with. <<<

Mark, the R8 viewfinder is MUCH better than the R4, and I'd rate the clarity and ease-of-focus of the R8 viewfinder a close second to the SL, which means the R8 has a fantastic viewfinder.

-- Douglas Herr (telyt@earthlink.net), November 24, 2001.

Dear Andy. The 400mm f6.8 Telyt may not be as biting sharp as some new 400's but has a lovely image quality. It was first designed to cover grand prix car races,hence the trombone action.Max aperture is a little slow however,contrast is excellent.I have found a Gitzo monopod better than the shoulder pod set up.You will be surprised with closer portrait image quality.The viso. 3 alternative gives good viewing contrast, is best with coarse ground glass screen,does not black out on a central spot screen, hardly blacks out on the screen top but lacks the obviously desirable spot metering of the Leicaflex SL.My apo 180 f3.4 gives great colour but is a bit frustrating to use when I can't focus close enough for some portraits. Regards,Sheridan.

-- Sheridan Zantis (albada60@hotmail.com), November 25, 2001.

Can't comment on this particular lens, but I really like my R3. It too find it more ergonomically to my likeing than the latter caneras, and inexpensive to boot. Feels nearly bullet-proof to me. As to the comment about it being too expensive to repair I would have to disagree. I found a mint looking example that required the foam light trapping replaced as well as the LED for the battery check. While I was at it I had it CLA'd by Gerry at Kindermann Canada (excellent work, as many have attested on this forum) - total cost $125.00 US - not at all expensive in my mind......

-- Bob Todrick (bobtodrick@yahoo.com), November 26, 2001.

"...and even on the Hexar RF, where it actually works better than the M6 because of the AE feature that sets the exposure."

Jay - I've been looking at these answers for two weeks and only just figured out why something kept bugging me about your response - how does the Hexar RF set AE exposure with the Viso mirror sitting in front of the meter cell?

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), December 06, 2001.

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