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Leica APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4

Introduction

Leica APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 is one of about half a dozen telephoto lenses Leica used to manufacture for its reflex line of film cameras. This was actually one of Leica's first APO telephoto lenses, which the company discontinued in 2004 in favor of a faster Elmarit and later Summicron versions. The lens itself was manufactured in Canada and was available as S7.5 and E60 models. APO Telyt 180mm f//3.4 remains a fairly popular lens on used markets with good quality copies fetching ~US$600 and above (as of November 2007). The lens tested in this review was a late E60 model.

Like all Leica lenses, APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 is a fully manual lens, meaning that there are no electronics of any sort that would allow you to control focus or aperture from the camera (well, this is not entirely true, since Leica used to offer APO Telyt along with a number of other lenses with ROM contacts which allowed transferring aperture and focal length settings from the lens to R8/R9). The optical formula of the lens consists of 7 elements in 4 groups. The build quality of the lens is superb - as expected from a true Leica lens, the barrel, focusing and aperture rings as well as built-in lens shade are made of metal, giving the lens solid sturdy look and feel. The lens measures 65 x 150mm (2.5 x 5.9in) and weighs 750g (1.64lb), although the barrel extends when focusing towards closeup. And speaking of focusing. The focus ring is very smooth - it takes about 3/4 of a full circle to go from infinity to closeup, and aperture snaps with satisfying click, moving in 1/2 f-stop increments. The minimum focusing distance is 2.5m (8.2ft), the minimum supported aperture is f/22 and the filter size is 60mm (the lens accepts screw-in type filters).

Image

Given that all Leica reflex lenses were designed for traditional 35mm film cameras, the EFOV of the lens on a modern APS-C type digital body with a 1.6x crop factor will be 288mm. The lens is easily adaptable to a number of alternative mount systems, including Canon EOS and Micro Four Thirds systems. Within the scope of this review, APO Telyt-R 180mm f3.4 was tested on APS-C type Canon 400D and full frame Canon 5D and Canon 5DMk2 cameras.


Summary
Lens Composition 7 elements in 4 groups
Angular Field ~14 degrees
Minimum Focus 2.5m/8.2ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/3.4-f/22, manual
Filter Size 60mm
Lens Hood Built-in
Weight 750g/1.64lb
Dimensions 65x150mm/2.5x5.9"
Lens Case None

 

Handling

Simple is beautiful, and many of Leica's manual lenses follow this convention quite closely. Considering that all Leica reflex lenses of the past are fully manual, there is not that much that can be said about how they handle. The APO Telyt-R is a moderately heavy, for its focal length, lens. The extra weight comes from the all metal construction of the body rather then the optical complexity of the lens. The barrel is fairly narrow for a 180mm lens - both Elmarit-R 180mm and Summicron-R 180mm are wider and are also heavier partially because they are faster and need to use larger glass elements, and partially because they use more complex optical constructions. On smaller cameras like Canon 400D as well as moderately large cameras like Canon 5D/5DMk2, this means that APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 does not balance particularly well, with the center of weight shifted towards the front of the lens. If mounted on smaller ballheads this might actually result in the lens tipping slightly down under its weight. Of course this would be the case with pretty much all but the smallest and lightest 180mm lenses.

The lens is not particularly large and so despite its shifted center of weight hand-holding the camera/lens combo is not challenging. Assuming you've gripped the camera with your right hand and use the palm of your left hand to support the camera base, your thumb and index fingers will rest comfortably on the thin focusing ring, giving you full control of the action. Focusing ring is quite smooth and gives you enough rotational thrust (about 270 degrees) for precision focusing and as is the case with most manual lenses has larger spacings in the closeup focusing range. One potential drawback here though is the rather long minimum focusing distance. At 2.5m, this is the longest minimum focusing distance among all 180mm to 200mm lenses I have seen so far, and can be an annoyance if you need to get close to the subject. Combined with the rather slow maximum aperture and its awkward focal length, and the number of applications for this lens becomes rather limited.

Focusing the lens is quite easy, as long as you are doing that with aperture blades fully open - the lens is quite bright and if you're shooting a target that is relatively close to the camera, you would not even need any focusing aids. At longer distances, particularly infinity, I found an AF-confirmation adapter indispensable. You can't really use hyper-focal focusing with this lens efficiently since even when set at f/22 the working range spans from ~25m to the infinity (or ~50m to the infinity if you leave the lens focused at the infinity), which does not cover the full focusing range of the lens. As with all adapted lenses though you would end up using stop down metering, which will slow down your work-flow considerably.