Leica Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8

Introduction

Leica Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 is one of only two macro lenses currently available in Leica's modern lens lineup. The third one, Macro Elmar-R 100mm f/4 was discontinued back in 1986, but is still available on used markets. The lens was originally manufactured as Series 8 variant (reviewed here), which was later replaced by an E55 model. Both variants followed same optical formula and the only difference between the two is the built-in lens hood offered with the E55 model. And like its longer cousin Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8, Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 supports only 1:2 macro magnification, so if you require a life-size macro, you will have to purchase optional 1:1 Leica R adapter. Both S8 as well as E55 variants of the 60mm f/2.8 are readily available on used markets, with good quality copies fetching ~US$400 on eBay.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 6 elements in 5 groups - a pretty straightforward optical design. The build quality of Leica Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 is superb, as expected from a Leica lens - the barrel, focus and aperture rings, the mount are all metal. The focus ring is very smooth and the aperture ring snaps with a nice click, moving from f/2.8 through f/22 in half f-stop increments. The lens looks and feels very sturdy, with no wobbling inside or out. And considering its fully metal barrel, the lens is quite lightweight, weighing only 400g and measuring 62 x 67mm (2.44 x 2.63in) when fully collapsed. The inner cam of the lens actually extends when focusing towards the macro, doubling the overall length of the lens.

Like all manual focus Leica lenses, Leica Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 sports a DOF scale on the barrel with marking for f/2.8, f/5.6, f/11 and f/22. The focusing mechanism of the lens is quite precise - you need to turn the focusing ring about 340 degrees to go from the infinity to the closeup distance. Good news for macro photography requiring precision, not so good news for action shooting. The minimum focusing distance is 24cm (0.78ft).  The lens accepts 55mm screw-in type filters.

Image

The lens is compatible with a number of 3rd party camera systems, including Canon's EF/EF-S mount cameras and Olympus 4/3 cameras. Within the scope of this review, the lens was tested on full frame and APS-C type Canon SLR bodies. When attaching the lens to a Canon camera, I relied on a generic, non AF chipped Leica R to Canon EOS adapter. Like all Leica R lenses, Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 is a full-frame lens, so when used on an APS-C type camera with 1.6x crop ration, its field of view will resemble that of a 96mm lens on a full frame body.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 6 elements in 5 groups
Angular Field ~24 degrees
Minimum Focus 24cm/0.78ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, manual
Filter Size 55mm
Lens Hood Metal bayonet (included)
Weight 400g/0.88lb
Dimensions 62x67mm/2.44x2.63"
Lens Case None

 

Field Tests

Leica Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 is quite an interesting lens in sense that it combines a 1:2 macro in a lens with focal length that many consider to be a 'walk-around' range. The lens certainly fits the criteria of a 'walk-around' lens quite well - moderately fast aperture, pretty compact (at least when fully collapsed), light and sturdy construction. However, be mindful of the extremely long focusing action - it's suitable for macro and less so for a street or action photography. As mentioned above, the lens sports a DOF scale, so you might want to present it instead of trying to refocus for every shot.

 

ISO 400, 1/15, f/2.8, 60mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 400, 1/15, f/2.8, 60mm (Canon 5D)

 

Like its longer cousin, Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8, the 60mm f/2.8 variant provides only half-size, 1:2 macro. If you do need a life-size macro, then you would need to use Leica's 1:1 macro adapter. The macro adapter obviously adds to the overall length of the lens, making it almost the same size as the 100mm version.  And once fully extended (when focused at its closeup distance of 24cm), the lens actually becomes almost unwieldy. Well, you get the point... But at least Leica offers a 1:1 macro adapter, if you're a user of the new Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 50mm f/2 or its longer version Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2, then I'm afraid you're stuck with 1:2 macro at best.

As far as the macro quality, the shots below, which were taken at the 1:2 macro distance, show that the image quality remains pretty consistent throughout the aperture range. Naturally, at its widest aperture, the lens has a pretty narrow depth of field, so comparing border image quality is pretty fruitless. One thing that was curious though is that the lens seemed to produce somewhat warmer color palette, especially when compared to macro lenses from its chief rival Carl Zeiss. This trend actually continued at non-macro distances as well and the lens in general produced warmer colors more reminiscent of a Canon lens then a Leica one.


Setting aside the image quality at macro distances, the lens actually performed quite well in the field. Image quality on both APS-C as well as FF cameras was pretty good across the tested aperture ranges. Images were more or less uniform across the image frame, although borders seemed a little bit soft at wider apertures. The different though was pretty subtle to the naked eye.

 

ISO 400, 1/60, f/2.8, 60mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 400, 1/60, f/2.8, 60mm (Canon 5D)

 

When shot with wide open aperture, the lens produced round, uniformly lit out of focus highlights. The highlights however often carried pretty pronounced outligning around edges, which is common in lenses with over-correction for spherical aberration. Contrast transitions in OOF areas remained pretty harsh, and there there was a minor hint of double-edging around far OOF objects.

 

Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (60mm)
Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (60mm)

 

On a full frame camera, the lens showed moderate level of vignetting with wide open aperture. Vignetting is reduced with stopped down aperture and by f/5.6 it pretty much becomes non-existent. On an APS-C type body with cropped sensor, the lens showed basically no vignetting throughout the aperture range.

Flare control was quite well under control on both  APS-C as well as FF cameras, which is not surprising for a macro lens of this focal length. The worst manifestation of flare with a strong direct light source in or near the frame was reduced contrast, which obviously cannot really be avoided. The shot below shows probably the worst case of flare I was able to observe in the lens. Here the sun was positioned straight above building on the left side of the frame, hitting the lens under ~45 degrees. You can notice the generally reduced contrast across the entire picture frame as well as reflective star-shaped flare from the car's windshield.

 

ISO 100, 1/200, f/8, 60mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 100, 1/200, f/8, 60mm (Canon 5D)

 

The lens also showed very minor color fringing, mostly noticeable around borders, but occasionally also seen in the center (take a look at the balcony door handle in the crop below). The degree of color fringing however was quite minimal. In addition to color fringing, Leica Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 also showed small amount of axial CA (halation), primarily seen in high contrast areas with wider apertures.

 

ISO 100, 1/2500, f/2.8, 60mm (100% crop)
ISO 100, 1/2500, f/2.8, 60mm (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: The lens produced very solid performance on a cropped camera. Center image quality remained simply outstanding throughout the tested aperture range. Border quality is also quite solid, following center pretty closely, except at f/2.8, where border image quality suffers a little bit. Still, even at f/2.8, border quality is not that bad. At its peak around f/8, the lens is capable of producing outstanding 19in and decent 24in prints. Conclusion? Excellent overall results, and the minor weakness around borders at f/2.8 should not spoil your experience - most lenses are somewhat softer at wider apertures and compared to the rest, Leica Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 holds its ground quite well.

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 60mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 60mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 60mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 60mm

 

Chromatic aberration with an APS-C type camera was quite low in the center, averaging ~0.4px across the aperture range. CA around borders approached ~1px at f/2.8, gradually dropping to ~0.6px by f/11.

 

Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 60mm
Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 60mm

 

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

 

Image borders @ 60mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 60mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: Leica Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 showcased very solid results when used on a full frame Canon 5D. Center image resolution was simply outstanding throughout the tested aperture range - image quality here remained very consistent and more importantly, top notch. Border image quality suffered a little bit at f/2.8, where the lens performance is kind of average. However, by f/4 image quality improves quite nicely and remains outstanding throughout the rest of the tested apertures. The f/4-f/11 range is clearly the sweet spot for the lens, with most balanced results around f/8 and f/11. Conclusion? Very good performance for this macro lens, but then again, most macros are supposed to perform well.

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 60mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 60mm

 

The lens showed negligible amount of barrel distortion - at ~0.08%, barrel distortion should not be even visible in your shots.

 

Distortion (FF) @ 60mm
Distortion (FF) @ 60mm

 

Chromatic aberration on a full frame Canon 5D was quite well under control. Center CA was ~0.4px with wide open aperture, but surprisingly creeped up a little bit towards f/11, where it hit ~0.6px. Border CA was highest at f/2.8, approaching ~0.8px but then dropping around mid apertures and then going up slightly again towards f/11. Nevertheless, even at its highest level, CA should not be a major concern.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 60mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 60mm

 

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

 

Image borders @ 60mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 60mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Alternatives

As mentioned earlier, if you're looking for a Leica macro lens, then your choice is rather limited. You can go for either APO Macro Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8, which offers outstanding image quality but at a pretty high price tag. The other option is Macro Elmar-R 100mm f/4, which was discontinued some time ago, but is still readily available on used market. However, if you're looking for an alternative macro lens, then you should certainly expand your search to include Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2and Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 50mm f/2 in  Nikon or Pentax mounts, or their older, Contax/Yashica mount versions, Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2.8 and Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 60mm C f/2.8 and Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 60mm S f/2.8. Another interesting option is Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-Macro 90mm f/2. Finally, Voigtalnder's APO Macro Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 is a fantastic lens if you can find one at reasonable price.

 

Recommendation

Leica Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 is an outstanding short macro lens. Like all Leica lenses, it sports outstanding build quality. Combine that with very solid image performance, non-existent distortion, low level of chromatic aberration and more or less manageable vignetting and you have a winner on your hands. One thing worth noting here is the somewhat warmer color palette, which is not very characteristic of Leica lenses. Aside from this, are there any other, 'real' concerns? Not really. If you're using Leica's R system or even if you're into alternative mount lenses, Macro Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 should remain on your short list of 'must have' lenses.