Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8

Introduction

Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8 is yet another Leica lens that has by now achieved an legendary status. First released in 1987, the lens design remains the same some 20 years later. Leica used to offer the lens in 3 cams until about 1997 when it started to sell exclusively ROM versions. The lens costs ~US$3,900 if bought new and good quality used (non ROM) lenses sell for ~US$1,500 on eBay.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 8 elements in 6 groups. Build quality of the lens is superb, which is kind of expected from a Leica lens - barrel and inner lens cam are fully metal as is the aperture ring, giving the lens a sturdy look and feel. The focus ring is fully rubberized and is very smooth. There is no wobbling whatsoever inside or out.

The lens weighs 760g (1.67lb) and measures 73 x 104mm (2.8 x 4.1in), although the inner cam extends during focusing towards the closeup, adding another 20mm or so to the total length. The minimum supported aperture is f/22, the minimum focusing distance is 70cm (2.3ft), giving the maximum magnification of 1:2. If you want to achieve 1:1 life-size magnification, you will need to use an optional Leica ELPRO 1:2-1:1 adapter, which will cost you ~US$200 if bought used. Typically, manual macro lenses feature very precise focusing systems, but Leica went to the extreme with its APO Macro  Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8 - it takes two full turns of the focusing ring to go from infinity to the closeup. The lens accepts 60mm screw-in type filters and since the front element of the lens does not rotate, you will be able to use circular polarizers.

Image

To mount the lens on Canon cameras, I used a generic non-AF chipped Leica-R to EOS adapter from Fotodiox. I ended up operating the camera in manual and aperture priority modes with all but center weighted metering disabled. The lens is designed for full-frame cameras, so if you're using it on APS-C type body with 1.6x crop factor, the field of view of the lens will be equivalent to that of a 160mm lens on a full-frame body.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 8 elements in 6 groups
Angular Field ~24 degrees
Minimum Focus 70cm/2.3ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, manual
Filter Size 60mm
Lens Hood Built-in
Weight 760g/1.67lb
Dimensions 73x104mm/2.8x4.09"
Lens Case None

 

Field Tests

Macro lenses come in all sizes and shapes. From tiny 50mm Canon and Sigma macros, to 'gigantic', 180mm Sigma, Tamron and Canon macros. Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8 is not the largest macro out there, but it certainly feels like the heaviest one, thanks to its all metal construction that seems to has been designed to withstand a blast from an atomic bomb. The weight is distributed pretty evenly across the length of the lens though, so even when fully extended it does not feel front-heavy.

The lens showed outstanding performance in the field. Image resolution was top notch throughout the frame and across all aperture ranges - very encouraging in general, considering that most lenses typically struggle a bit at wider apertures. Not so with Leica - images remained sharpon both full frame as well as APS-C cameras. Moreover, image quality did not seem to vary from closeup all the way to the infinity, meaning that the lens is optimized for the entire supported distance range (although the border sharpness is obviously hard to characterize when the lens is shot at close distances and wide open aperture).

Color reproduction was simply amazing - probably one of the best and most accurate among all lenses, fixed focals or zooms, tested so far. Colors were rich and well saturated, creating vivid, life-like patterns and giving an impression of three-dimensionality. Images carried good amount of contrast, even in most difficult lightning situations, leaving basically no room for post-processing improvements of any sort.

 

ISO 400, 1/125, f/2.8, 100mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 400, 1/125, f/2.8, 100mm (Canon 5D)

 

Bokeh handling was somewhat of a mixed bag though. Out of focus highlights were pretty uniform, but did occasionally show a bit of harsh edging. This is typical in lenses that were over-corrected for spherical aberration, but the effect was not too distracting. At very close, macro-level distances, the lens showed good background/foreground  separation, although anything beyond 80cm produced rather average transitions with both foreground and background objects remaining pretty well defined as can be seen from the shot above (~80cm focusing distance to the target). On a positive note, there was no visible double-edging around OOF objects.

 

Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop
Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop

 

The lens showed negligible amount of vignetting on a full frame Canon 5D with wide open aperture, which disappears once you stop down the lens to f/4. On an APS-C body, Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R does not exhibit any vignetting throughout the aperture range, which does not come as a surprise for a medium telephoto. The lens also held up very nicely against color fringing, which was all but absent even around borders at wider aperture levels (both on APS-C and FF cameras). Distortion was also non-existent and the lens did not exhibit any flare, although you might still want to consider using a lens shade when there's too much stray light (fortunately, the lens shade is conveniently built into your lens, so it's just a matter of popping it out of the front of the barrel). Overall, really amazing performance.

 

ISO 100, 1/400, f/2.8, 100mm (100% crop)
ISO 100, 1/400, f/2.8, 100mm (100% crop)

 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for both types of cameras.

 

Canon APS-C: Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8 showed some of the most consistent results among its class of lenses. Good news don't stop there - aside from being consistent throughout the aperture range, the lens also demonstrated outstanding performance across the frame and across the aperture settings. Straight from f/2.8 all the way to f/11, images were sharp in the center, around borders and in-between. There's no point in discussing peak performance here, since there are no peaks and valleys in MTF results and the lens is capable of producing outstanding 19in and decent 24in prints throughout the aperture range. Conclusion? In general, macro lenses are often considered to be excellent performers and Macro Elmarit-R is one of the best in that crop.

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 100mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 100mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 100mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 100mm

 

Chromatic aberration was pretty minimal on an APS-C body throughout the aperture range and across the frame. CA never exceeded 0.3px in the center and 0.5px around borders - nothing to talk about.

 

Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 100mm
Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 100mm

 

Here are 100% crops, taken with an APS-C type Canon Digital Rebel, comparing image borders at f/2.8 and f/8

 

Image borders @ 100mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 100mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: Well, Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8 continued to show impressive results. Image performance on a full frame camera was as exceptional as on an APS-C body. Performance was top notch across the tested aperture range and both in the center as well as around borders, with basically no drop-offs whatsoever - a desirable characteristic in any lens. Conclusion? Results are simply outstanding. While medium telephoto lenses are in general pretty good performers (resolution-wise), Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R can be considered a benchmark for comparison even among this competitive group.

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 100mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 100mm

 

CA on a Canon 5D was basically nonexistent - less then ~0.2px in the center and less then ~0.3px around borders throughout the tested aperture. This is pretty much the lowest CA I've measured in any lens.  Take that Carl Zeiss!

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 100mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 100mm

 

Here are 100% crops, taken with a full frame Canon 5D, comparing image borders at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 100mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 100mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Alternatives

Well, if you're looking for a macro Leica R mount lens, then your choice is rather limited. Currently the company offers only one other macro lens - Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8. An older model, Macro Elmar 100mm f/4 was discontinued in 1997. On the other hand, if you're looking for a medium telephoto lens, then you're in luck as Leica has two other excellent lenses in its lineup - Summilux-R 80mm f/1.4 and Summicron-R 90mm f/2 ASPH (a review of the previous, E55 model of Summicron-R 90mm is posted here). Outside of the Leica camp, consider Carl Zeiss Planar T* 100m f/2 or Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2.8, both in Contax/Yashica mount, or the newer variant Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2 in Nikon (ZF) or Pentax (ZK) mounts.

 

Recommendation

Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8 is the most 'well-behaved' lens I have encountered so far. It's also one of the most well-rounded macro/medium telephoto lenses on the market. Image resolution is simply outstanding corner to corner, chromatic aberration is practically non-existent, color reproduction is one to envy and vignetting is basically under control - what else can one desire in a quality lens? Oh, yes, price... Unfortunately, the lens is not cheap - at almost US$4,000 this is one very expensive lens, so naturally this is not going to be a mainstream macro/telephoto.