Comparison of some R medium teles : LUSENET : Leica Photography : One Thread

As previously posted, I'm considering my options regarding a Leica SLR body for longer lenses. I got a chance to make comparison shots with 4 medium R teles and here are the results, in case anyone else is shopping around. It would have been nice to include the 180 f/2.8 APO, the 180 f/4 Elmar, and the 135 APO-M (and for that matter a Nikkor 180 and Canon 200) but they weren't available. All shots using a Leicaflex SL (and I now understand Doug Herr's passsion!)

All shots are at max. aperture, since whatever lens I may get will get most of its use wide-open. Scanned details are shown at max. res - 2700 ppi (106 pixels per mm on film). . .

-- Andy Piper (, December 03, 2001


Wow, it looks like the zoom lens has the least sharpness with close objects but solid on point details in the faraway details in the bokeh details? And vice versa for the nice fixed lens. I have to admit that zoom lens have the "worst optics"???


-- Albert Wang (, December 03, 2001.

Alfie - just to clarify - the details are CROPPED from 4 versions of the overall picture at left, not closeups - as are the 'bokeh' samples.

I'll reserve MY comments until everyone else had had a chance.

-- Andy Piper (, December 03, 2001.

The zoom (f4.5) and the f3.4 lens exhibit greater background sharpness merely due to their greater depth-of-field as compared to the f2.8 lenses. You'd have to shoot them all at, say, f4.5 to make any conclusions about bokeh, and then it would only apply to shots made at that specific aperture.

-- Douglas Kinnear (, December 03, 2001.

Were these shots done on a tripod? I also agree that the apparent unsharpness in the background is influenced by DOF due to differences in aperture. But it does point out what I myself found, which is that the v.2 2.8 has the edge in contrast over the 3.4APO. My slides with that lens have a crispness and sparkle that two samples of the 3.4 could not match.

-- Jay (, December 03, 2001.

Well, it seems to me that the Apo is the clear leader in both contrast and sharpness at full aperture. It is possible that the 1980 Elmarit would be like the Apo when stopped down to 3.4, but at the moment, I don't see how Jay gets his opinion from these results.

-- Robin Smith (, December 04, 2001.

On my monitor, I'd have to agree with Robert - the 3.4 apo gives a much finer image rendition - seems like the 1980 2.8 has a way to catch up in just half a stop... Anyway, I look forward to what Andy has to say in his update. BTW, I think the zoom has put in a surprisingly good effort...

-- Steve Jones (, December 04, 2001.

Oops, I meant Robin - sorry (it's not as if I haven't read your advice (and benefitted from it) about a hundred times in the past) I'll have put it down to premature aging... Steve

-- Steve Jones (, December 04, 2001.

The Honda wheel looks like it is missing a stud-damn those tire places, they busted one of mine off once! Too bad the minimum focus on the 180mm 3.4 is so long, as I think it detracts from the usefullness of that great lens. I wonder how it would stack up against the legendary 180mm f2.8 ED Nikkor, which is faster, focuses closer, and cheaper.

-- Andrew Schank (, December 04, 2001.

1) No tripod. If a lens can only show its benefits mounted on a tripod it's wasted on me. For me, mounting a tripod on a Leica is about as sensible as hooking a trailer up to a Miata.

The pix were shot at full aperture at 1/2000 on an SL (1/1000 for the zoom) if that's any comfort.

2) As I mentioned above, I'm most concerned with wide-open performance - I shoot a lot of Velvia and Pan F (and 400 film in low light) and want the fastest possible shutter speed. So I need to know if a lens will stand up at whatever it's max. aperture is.

If, for example, the zoom had showed significantly better at 4.5 than the 180s at f/3.4-2.8, I would certainly do a re-test to see if they catch up to the zoom at the smaller aperture. But since the zoom doesn't hold up anyway, I can cross it off the list and move on - unless I'm willing to sacrifice some resolution to get the zoom's compositional flexibility. At least I now know how much I'm giving up.

So here are the results I see.

First of all, they're all pretty impressive, considering that the Honda "H" is about .28 mm tall on film. To get an idea of the enlargement present in the details of the wheel hub, imagine a 35" x 55" print sitting in front of your computer screen.

* The zoom is good for a late-70's design out of Leica by Minolta - but a tad softer than even the older (1968) Leitz 180, even with the advantages of 10% more magnification (200 vs. 180) and a smaller aperture.

* The older 180 f/2.8 has less contrast and a touch less resolution than the 1980 redesign - the slightly smoother 'bokeh' suggests this is from less-corrected spherical aberration.

I.E, about what we'd expect from designs 12 years apart.

* The newer 180 f/2.8, as Jay notes has a big bump-up in macro-contrast over the earlier Elmarit and the zoom. And a very slightly harder edge to the OOF image (comparing 2.8 to 2.8), from the better corrections.

* The APO-Telyt earns its reputation, with a notch (just a notch) more crispness to the edges than even the 1980 Elmarit. But it does seem to show a faint double-image in the bokeh, especially the vertical window mullion and the brick lines, again suggesting more aberration correction. As Doug (??) points out, I might want to go back and do a further test of the newer Elmarit and the APO-Telyt at f/3.4 to see if the differences stand up. I personally theorize that a half-stop won't make that big a difference.

A followup on f/3.4 'bokeh' I just got back my color slides shot the same day. 80% didn't come out because they were shot with the R3 I was considering, and it definitely has a very sick electronic shutter (but that's another story). Anyway, the one shot that made it with the 3.4 (different subject) has the squirelliest bokeh I've ever seen - TRIPLE/ QUADRUPLE lines to some OOF tree branches. I will post the image once I get time to scan.

So for older lenses priced $1300 or less, the choice seem to be between the 3.4 APO and the last pre-APO Elmarit - with the usual trade-offs we always face in photography: sharpness vs. speed, sharpness vs. 'bokeh', overall usefulness vs. overall image quality - and throw in price there somewhere as well. Plus, as Jay has noted elsewhere, the Elmarit will accept the 1.4x converter - the 3.4 APO will not (rear element too close to mouth of barrel). I still haven't made a final choice, myself.

Anyone know WHY the APO has limited close focus? Does the APO advantage fade out under 9 feet? Or was that just the focus called for in the original military specs for the ELCAN 180, and Leica never bothered to change it?

Some tactile notes: In pictures the 3.4 usually looks compact, but its actually nearly as large and heavy as the later 2.8 (only 5g lighter). The old 180 is the size of an oil can, and has its own tripod mount (and deserves it!).

Andrew: That's MY spare tire in the pix - The CR-Vs spare-tire mount only has 4 bolts, so I only used 4 nuts to attach the spare.

-- Andy Piper (, December 04, 2001.

The government work! Note, Andy, how is looking the bokeh producing with the 180/2.8 and the 180/3.4. The last does unequal resolving on horizontal and vertical (out of focus) and no feeling of smooth bokeh. Victor.

-- Victor Randin (, December 05, 2001.

The 180mm Telyt is outstanding and as it is an APO design has that little extra punch to its images which you do not see in a non-APO lens, even if the non-APO lens is very good. It is seen in comparison. The Telyt is certainly quite heavy, but nice and compact - certainly a good deal smaller than the present 180 APO. In common with many of the Leica APO designs though I would not say the Telyt has beautiful bokeh particularly, although it is OK. Whether the Elmarit is any better I cannot say - there would not seem any a priori reason why it should be. I use my Telyt mostly for landscape work so bokeh is not of great importance to me (I am not really a bokeh fetishist yet anyway!).

I became much less interested in the value of a 2x converter when I realized that if I was shooting K64/Velvia/100 E6 film I would need a tripod to do any high quality long shots with my (Telyt plus 2X)360mm f6.3 as the shutter speed I could select (1/250th for K64/Velvia or 1/500th for E6-100)(in bright sunlight!!) would not be high enough to ensure freedom from significant camera shake. A monopod might help of course. Something to bear in mind. Of course, if you are shooting 400 speed film then this is less of an issue, but still you are terrifically hampered if the light gets even a little dimmer than full sun. I have to say that I do not find the limited close focussing issue of the Telyt a disadvantage. You can get a great head shot with the lens - so why do you need to go closer? If I need to be closer, I switch to an 80 or 90mm lens.

-- Robin Smith (, December 05, 2001.

I'd have to agree with Steve, that the difference in apertures doesn't really get in the way of drawing some conclusions, because 1/2 stop isn't going to clean up either of the f/2.8 lenses enough to equal the APO-Telyt; and the zoom, at 4.5, is already not as good even though slower. On my laptop 14" screen I can see that the Bokeh is different on all 4 lenses, but I'd have to reserve judgment as whether the APO-Telyt has a less desirable bokeh, or not. It's different, but not unpleasant, as far as I can see. Maybe a more complex background would change this.

-- Bob Fleischman (, December 05, 2001.

Considering how cheaply one can find the 75-200, ($4-500 if you poke around) dosen't that seem like the best deal here if your not going to be printing 35"x55"? Anyone using this lens on a daily basis?


-- JDR (, January 16, 2002.

I purchased a used 75-200mm Leica zoom in 1986. I was satisfied with the lens performance, but had always read/heard that the lens was a Leitz-Minolta compromise; whatever. About 7 years ago, I purchased a late 180/2.8 and performed some tests projected and louped against the zoom. I saw little difference, and returned the 180 lens. About a year later while in contact with some Leica technical reps, I discovered that this individual also used the 75-200mm zoom. I was impressed and surprised. I guess the kicker was when at about the same timeframe, I was speaking with Jim Lager, the well known and respected Leica expert, he told me that he ALSO uses this lens. At that point I decided to stick with the lens until it was no longer useable or fixable. Now I suppose that the new 80-200 zoom is a better lens, but I also suppose that it isn't 4 times better even though it costs 4 times as much the older zoom. Most people will not see or appreciate the differences except under the most extreme and, generally impractical, enlargement sizes. I'd recommend purchasing the 75-200mm lens if you can get one affordably.

-- Joe Barbano (, February 01, 2002.

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