Leica have made several 180 mm lenses for their R-system. I know of at least eight. I have the last version of the Elmarit R f2.8, which I found to be a good compromise for size/weight, quality and price. Of course the APO-versions are superior, but they currently retail for up to 8000 USD. The version I have can be found on ebay in good condition for a few hundred dollars. But how does this lens, made for 35mm film, hold up on a high-resolution medium format digital sensor? First, some facts:
|Full frame equivalent focal length||ca 140 mm|
|Length (lens only)||121 mm|
|Length (w/adapter and caps)||165 mm|
|Weight (lens only)||810 g|
|Weight (w/adapter and caps)||1075 g|
|Close focus||1.5 m|
|Adapter used||Fotodiox LR-HB|
Size and build
As can be expected from Leica, this is a beautiful piece of hardware. Extremely well built, all metal, wonderful long-throw focus-ring with perfect resistance, and a very nice aperture-ring with half-clicks. Truly a joy to both focus and adjust aperture on in the field. The built in hood is also a nice detail. The lens looks great on both the X1D and X2D. Measuring in at slightly above 1kg (with adapter), it is quite heavy, and much of the weight is in the front elements, making it somewhat front-heavy. I would definitely recommend an adapter with a tripod foot, as pictured above. It is slightly longer and heavier than the Hasselblad xcd 135. The Hasselblad 35-75 is a bit heavier than the Leica, but feels more balanced and safer to use with an L-bracket on the camera.
The artistic value of this composition can always be debated, but that is of course not the point here. This scene was the subject for all my test-shots and all the lenses were tested within a 15-minute period. I chose this subject and light due to the immense amount of details (to evaluate sharpness) and the hight-contrast light (to maximize the risk of chromatic aberrations).
This is not a high-end know-it-all technical lens-test. I don’t photograph charts or brick-walls. I have just tested these lenses to increase my own knowledge of them, in a real-life setting similar to how I mostly use longer focal-lengths: Hasselblad X2D-100c, tripod, 2-sec timer, camera in aperture-priority, auto white-balance, subject close to infinity, f11, iso 64 and of course e-shutter. I have chosen f11 for several reasons. I often have some depth in my telephoto compositions and thus need some depth-of-field. Some diffraction is without doubt introduced at f11. Opening up further would likely improve center-sharpness, but would probably challenge corner sharpness. Stopping further down might introduce the opposite problem. For most of my telephoto-shots, f11 seems like a good compromise. Of course, I could have tested different distances on all apertures, but that would not have been very interesting for me, and is definitely beyond the scope of this investigation.
Raw-files have been imported to Lightroom and undergone only initial raw-sharpening (deconvolution): Amount 30, radius 0.5, details 100. No other adjustments was applied for the initial evaluation.
Distortion and Vignetting
As suspected, there is no distortion to speak of. There is no hard vignette, alas the image circle is quite large with this lens. As you can appreciate from the image above, I find no soft vignette to speak of either. If you photograph a white wall in even light, there may be some very slight darkening of the extreme corners, but it is easily corrected. For real-life photography, I believe it can be ignored.
Sharpness and chromatic aberrations were evaluated on 300 % enlargements in centre, left edge and extreme lower left corner, corresponding approximately to the red squares shown above. The crops are shown below. To the left you will see the unedited file (only undergone deconvolution sharpening), and on the right you can see an edited version after removal of chromatic aberrations in Lightroom and sharpening in Topaz AI Sharpen. Drag the slider to alternate between the two versions.
In my opinion, the image centre looks great already with only raw-sharpening, and seems to be almost up there with my original Hasselblad lenses. The edge is also acceptable unedited, but benefits from sharpening. At the extreme corner things starts to fall a bit apart. Remember, this lens was made for a much smaller “sensor” (35mm film!) so we are way out of the optimized image-circle here. However, after sharpening in Topaz Sharpen AI, it is totally fine, almost like the centre.
This lens is sharp enough for me to use in my daily work. I can always use software to optimize the corners if I feel the need for that.
Much can be said about software for image optimization. This is definitely not a software review. I merely want to point out that many modern lenses (e.g. Hasselblad’s own HCD-series) depend heavily on software correction, and I see no problem with using third-party software to address issues, even sharpness. I have used Topaz Sharpen AI for a couple of years now. I never use it with the files captured with my XCD-lenses, no need. However, when I use adapted lenses, especially tilt-shift, I sometimes find them soft in the corners when shifted, and I need to give them that extra kick. Topaz sharpen AI is fantastic for that, and as you see from the corner image above, it removes all signs of softness. Some may find it a bit over the top though, and artifacts does appear if it’s overdone. In this test, I could have dialed down the sharpening a tad, and in real life I would probably not apply it in the center, only on the edges and corners. I guess it’s all a matter of personal taste and requirements, and here I just wanted to show what is actually possible.
As most film-era lenses, even this one suffers from chromatic aberration. However, as is often the case, it is quite easily removed in Lightroom, and doesn’t represent a problem in my opinion.
As a second telephoto lens, supplementing the xcd 90, the 180 mm focal length makes a lot of sense to me. If I need something in between, I can always stitch with this one or crop in somewhat with the 90mm. I rarely find myself in need of a longer lens than 180 mm, and with the quality of this lens, I could always crop in a tad if needed. By the way, I have a Leica teleconverter, but that proved to be useless on the X2D. It vignetted heavily and sharpness was severely compromised.
The build quality of the Leitz Elmarit is excellent and the lens is a joy to use with manual focus and aperture. It is, however, a bit long and heavy, and particularly front-heavy. I would have second thoughts about adding it to my backpack for a steep and long hike. As mentioned, I would not use it on a tripod without support of a foot on the adapter. That makes vertical compositions cumbersome, as I can’t use my L-bracket the way I usually do. On the other hand, I find nothing to complain about technically. Minor optical flaws are easily corrected and it is sharp enough for my taste. This one will definitely see some use in the years to come!