Fixed focal lengths are always better than zooms . . really?
The LEICA Vario-Elmar-R 35-70mm f4 Macro
THE LEICA VARIO-ELMAR-R 35-70mm f4 IN MACRO MODE
To leave no doubt about the exceptional quality of this lens right from the start, I have included here a shot taken by the photographer Adele M. Buttolph as an introduction. She had photographed her cat immediately after acquiring the lens for test purposes. (A click on the link is worthwhile - there you can see the picture in even higher resolution).
The colors, the fine but not clinical sharpness, as well as the soft bokeh of this shot would not be reproduced by many lenses - especially not by any other zoom lens. LEICA R lenses are known to render colors warmer than LEICA M lenses, and you can see that clearly here.
MATT OSBORNE JUST BRINGS IT TO THE POINT
Another fan of this lens is LEICA purist Matt Osborne. On YouTube, he is known as "Mr. Leica" and that describes him quite well. He could also be called Mr. Fixed Focal Length, he never even had the word "zoom" in his vocabulary until now.
Here's a video in which he talks about his experiences with this zoom lens, with the announcement that he can leave his three fixed focal lengths (35mm, 50mm and 75mm) at home in the future:
THE LEICA POPE ERWIN PUTS
Erwin Puts enjoys the reputation among LEICA devotees of being the greatest connoisseur of LEICA R and M lenses (outside the LEICA company).
He writes that the imaging performance of the LEICA VARIO-ELMAR-R f4 at identical aperture settings is as good as or even better than the SUMMICRON-R f2 lenses at 35mm and 50mm, and also than the highly praised 80mm SUMMILUX R f1.4.
Here you can have a look at the technical data of the lens on the official data sheet of the house LEICA.
"BOAT IN THE REEDS" BY EMIL NOLDE (1909)
This photo was taken in the BUCHHEIM MUSEUM at Lake Starnberg. Unlike the photo suggests, it was not directly illuminated, there was only diffuse, darkened light in the room - so as not to damage the exhibits with too much light.
The lens gave the oil painting a light-filled expression despite the starting aperture of f4 - and retained very good sharpness.
focal length 45mm
Shutter speed 1/80
Freehand shooting, without tripod
AN ENLARGED SECTION
Here you can see the section outlined in red above in the enlargement.
You can see three-dimensionally where the painter has used more oil paint, where the brush strokes protrude from the picture plane.
And the colors are also captured very nicely - and that's even though this is an untreated JPG file as it came out of the camera.
Outstanding imaging performance - even more impressive in the original on Lightroom!
THE BIG BROTHER:
THE LEICA VARIO-ELMARIT-R 35-70mm f2.8
The prices of some vintage lenses from the R line have risen further and further over the years.
So for the zoom-lens with 2.8 aperture you now have to pay over € 10,000 - this specimen here has already (too) clear signs of use and is therefore a little "cheaper":
LEICA R 35-70mm f4 MAKRO (STILL) FOR LESS THAN € 1,000!
As of 03/2022, you can buy the LEICA VARIO-ELMAR 35-70mm f4 macro for €600 - €900, depending on condition. This can be called a bargain, the three fixed focal lengths would cost about twice as much.
One f-stop (f2.8 > f4) increases the price tenfold. With the good ISO tolerance of modern digital cameras, the speed is no longer critical; at most, the depth of field makes a difference for me. But even that can be controlled by getting closer to my subject and making sure that the distance to the background is right.
The LEICA R 35-70mm f4 is a ROM lens
Bei den LEICA-R Objektiven On the newer LEICA-R lenses, an electronic contact strip - see the strip with the nine brass contact fields in the photo above - was attached to the bayonet. This allows data to be transmitted from the lens to the camera.
LEICA-R LENSES with this contact strip have the additional designation "ROM".
Older lenses with the CAM designation do not have this bar.
COMPATIBILITY WITH ANALOG LEICA CAMERAS
The adjacent table refers only to the analog LEICA cameras (35mm film cameras). On the cameras R3 to R9 it can be used, on the R9 the EXIF data (aperture & focal length) are transmitted in addition to the exposure metering.
COMPATIBILITY WITH DIGITAL MIRRORLESS (LEICA) CAMERAS
Especially interesting nowadays, however, is the possibility of using this zoom lens on a digital camera through an adapter.
In addition to LEICA cameras, you can also connect cameras from CANON, NIKON, SONY and many more.
LEICA R ADAPTER L
This adapter is the ideal way to connect LEICA-R lenses with ROM contacts to my LEICA SL2 or LEICA CL. But LEICA charges very well for this:
Price € 735.- !
The LEICA R adapter L itself also has ROM contacts and the advantage of this is that the camera is informed which R lens is connected with which focal length and can then automatically set the lens corrections and image stabilization. This also works automatically with all R-zooms manufactured from 1976 onwards - and with every focal length setting.
However, the adapter also only transfers this data (name of the lens and focal length), but not the aperture setting. This is then missing in the EXIF data . . .
NOVOFLEX Adapter LET/LER
The adapter from NOVOFLEX has no ROM bar and therefore does not transfer any data. But it also costs considerably less:
Price € 119.-
On my SL2 and CL, you can also set the respective R lens manually in the menu. Of course, this is only useful if it is a fixed focal length, with zooms only the shortest focal length is automatically stabilized.
On this camera this lens is "at home", the two are from the same time.
The serial number 2926472 of the camera corresponds to the year of manufacture 2003 and the serial number of the 3851055 lens corresponds to the year of manufacture 1998.
Naturally, there is no need for an adapter on the R9, where the R lens meets the native R bayonet.
Serial numbers and year of manufacture of LEICA cameras and lenses
So before you buy a camera or lens, be sure to check the serial numbers to see when they were made.
- Cameras - Leica-Wiki
The serial number tells you in which year a camera was manufactured. Since LEICA has rather long-lasting production cycles, you can avoid buying an unnecessarily old camera.
- Lenses - Leica-Wiki
With lenses, the serial number is very important because the lenses were sold under the same name in different versions, and there the latest versions are often the best.
- LEICA Kompendium by Thorsten from Overgaard
This list is very thoroughly researched. Here you can find information about cameras and lenses, including part numbers.
Despite the size of the adapter the lens is very nicely balanced on the SL2 - the camera tilts forward only very slightly even in a standing position.
With the LEICA R Adapter L, the lens is immediately recognized and stabilized in the camera at any focal length. If the option in the menu is not deliberately switched off, the lens correction programmed by LEICA also intervenes helpfully.
LEICA SL2 - Lens profiles menu
In the menu of digital LEICAS (SL, CL, Q, TL) there is the item " lens profiles" under "camera settings".
If - as here with my camera - the LEICA R Adapter L is used for a ROM lens, then the camera automatically sets this in the menu (see screenshot).
But if you use a CAM lens and none with ROM contacts, then you can manually select and activate the correct lens in the table shown here.
- from aperture f4 upwards, replaces the focal lengths 35, 50 and 75mm at least equivalently
- warm, cinematic look with very good sharpness
- very good value for a LEICA lens of this quality
- also very stable in value, will most likely become more expensive
- stabilized by R adapter L in-camera (SL2)
- only manually focusable, no autofocus
- aperture f4
- R Adapter L very expensive
HERE I BUY ALMOST ALL USED CAMERAS AND LENSES
If you follow certain rules, eBay is the ideal platform to buy and sell camera equipment.
What rules are, I have summarized here.
MAKE TWO OUT OF ONE . .
The VARIO-ELMAR-R 52-105mm f4 MAKRO
If the focal length at the long end of the zoom lens discussed here is too short, you can also attach it to a LEICA camera with an APSC sensor, in which case the focal length is extended by exactly half.
35-70mm then becomes 52-105mm. The speed then corresponds to an aperture of f4, but the depth of field is about the same as an aperture of 5.6.
The LEICA CL2 is very small and light and can therefore always be taken along if you want to be able to use the lenses you carry more flexibly in terms of focal length.
GRAFFITI - THE PARROT
In front of the BUCHHEIM MUSEUM at Lake Starnberg there is an old army helicopter painted with graffiti as a sign of peace.
A parrot is sprayed on the back of the helicopter, which documents the color imaging performance of this LEICA-R lens in the best way.
This is also a JPG file, which was taken untreated from the camera.
focal length 70mm
shutter speed 1/1250
Freehand shooting, without tripod
I'm thrilled with the look of the shots this zoom lens produces. In the f2.8 version of this lens, you now pay over €10,000 for a lens that is usually over twenty years old, and the trend is still rising. These LEICA zooms have something special, something that today's lenses no longer have - hence the sometimes horrendously high prices.
The fact that this lens doesn't have autofocus decelerates me when I'm taking pictures. The focusing aids with magnifier and peaking in combination with the very good and high-resolution EVF's also make focusing very easy. In addition, I have the advantage that I decide where the focus is - and not the camera.
And the f4 aperture doesn't scare me either. I usually shoot during the day and when it gets a bit darker, I can increase the ISO values with the LEICA SL2. From f2.8 to f4 it's one f-stop - you can compensate for that by doubling the ISO from the light incidence. So instead of ISO 100 then simply ISO 200, or instead of ISO 400 then ISO 800, that's no problem.
The only thing I can't compensate for is depth of field, but that's not a problem anyway with my main areas of photography - street photography, landscape, architecture, Makro and Keyline where I usually work with much smaller apertures than f4 anyway.
I consider it a gift that the slower LEICA-R zoom lenses like this one are still so inexpensive and predict that it will hardly stay that way.