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.

 


Resolution

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.

 

Leica APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 showed a very good overall performance in controlled environment. Performance across different cameras as well as picture frame was fairly consistent as well. Here the lens actually benefits from its rather slow maximum aperture - while most lenses, even telephotos, would show somewhat weaker results with wide open apertures and then pick up by f/4, for APO Telyt f/4 is (almost) the widest aperture. The lens shows very strong center image resolution throughout all aperture settings and all cameras, APS-C or FF. Border resolution remained also quite good, although you might notice a minor drop off in quality at f/3.4 on full frame cameras. The difference is quite small and by f/4 it disappears almost completely. One has to wonder though, how much such a small difference in MTF is going to make in real life situations.

 

Canon 400D (10Mp)

Canon 5D (12Mp)

Canon 5DMk2 (21Mp)

 

Looking at the chart crops, you will notice that there is basically no difference in border image quality from f/3.4 to f/8 on an APS-C body. The difference in quality becomes more noticeable on FF Canon 5D and 5DMk2 cameras, but again, the difference is quite subtle, and hence is unlikely to cause major problems in real life. But let's double-check.

 

Canon 400D (10Mp)


Canon 5D (12Mp)

Canon 5DMk2 (21mp)

 

The crops below compare image quality in a more natural setting. The images were taken using focus bracketing at around 50m with Canon 5DMk2 camera, which, with its higher res full frame sensor, should provide the higher levels of stress on the lens. Image resolution in the center is quite good, but this is not even interesting at this point, given how the lens performed in the lab. Borders show very minor difference here and there, but you really need to squint to notice them and most users will probably be completely indifferent to this. While I do not conduct particularly comprehensive tests to detect field curvature of a lens, the bracketed shooting gives at least a hint of whether the lens suffers from it or not. Given Telyt's performance and its focal length, the probability of image quality actually suffering from field curvature was already low, and after eyeballing the bracketed images I can't detect any noticeable shifts.

Note that the images below do not include crops from the top right corner - these were excluded on purpose for not confusing the readers, as the object in that area was located about a dozen feet further from the point of focus and so the image in crops looked softer because of that.

Interestingly, there are a lot of online discussions where users of APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 swear that the lens performs noticeably worse at close focusing distances. Of course, the term 'performance' can mean many things, but in my experiments I did not notice significant resolution degradation at close distances. As a matter of fact, the MTF50 resolution tests that I recorded at distanced from ~3m to ~10m did not show significant variation. However, images recorded at closer distanced did have different character, with less definition, but we will cover that in the next section.

 

Center

f/3.4, Canon 5DMk2

f/8, Canon 5DMk2

L.L.Corner

f/3.4, Canon 5DMk2

f/8, Canon 5DMk2

R.L.Corner

f/3.4, Canon 5DMk2

f/8, Canon 5DMk2

L.U.Corner

f/3.4, Canon 5DMk2

f/8, Canon 5DMk2

 

Color Reproduction

The lens showed pretty good handling of lateral chromatic aberration, which was pretty minimal on all types of cameras. CA in the center never exceeding 0.4px across all aperture settings, while border CA hit about 0.5px at wider apertures and hovered at about this level through most other aperture settings. The levels of CA are so low that they should not even register in real life photography and hence should not be a concern.

 

Canon 400D (10Mp)

Canon 5D (12Mp)

Canon 5DMk2 (21Mp)

 

Color reproduction, under normal lightning conditions, was fairly good, with well balanced and saturated color palette. Images carried good amount of global contrast and tonal reproduction in midtones and shadows was fairly good as well. Generally, images looked perfectly fine, although I can't say that the rendering was particularly unique in any way. For my personal taste, the pre-APO Elmarit-R 180mm f/2.8 E67  produces rendering that is at least as good as with the APO Telyt-R lens, yet offers an extra strop when I need it. As mentioned earlier, there is one exception, when the APO lens seems to falter a little bit. The rendering at focusing distances up to about 5m seemed to carry less definition.  The lack of  definition  however was actually due to lower contrast levels rather then lower resolution per se.


ISO 100, 1/800, f/3.4, 180mm (100% crop)
ISO 100, 1/800, f/3.4, 180mm (100% crop)

DOF & Bokeh

When it comes down to DOF, there's one factor that works against APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 more then anything else, and that is the 2.5m minimum focusing distance. As I have demonstrated with a number of slower lenses, the minimum focusing distance is more influention in rendering smooth OOF background then the maximum aperture - and even an f/4 lense can perform fairly well, if you manage to get it very close to the subject, There are obviously other factors that influence how the lens renders the background, specifically the aperture level used and the distance to the OOF background subjects. In Telyt's case, the 2.5m minimum distance and not so fast maximum aperture ultimately result in a bokeh that does not feel particularly special. The background is blurred, but not quite enough and so the background objects by large retain their shapes even at f/3.4. With smaller apertures and extended DOF the lens brings even more detail in and the bokeh starts to feel pretty busy. And at longer focusing distances the feeling of bokeh does not improve (I'd even say gets worse) as more and more backkground items start to pop into focus.

 

DOF @ 2.5m

ISO 160, 1/1250, f/3.4, 180mm (Canon 5DMk2)

ISO 160, 1/250, f/8, 180mm (Canon 5DMk2)

DOF @ 5m

ISO 160, 1/1600, f/3.4, 180mm (Canon 5DMk2)

ISO 160, 1/250, f/8, 180mm (Canon 5DMk2)

 

Aside from the somewhat iffy background rendering, as mentioned earlier, you should expect somewhat lower contrast when shooting with the lens at close focusing distances. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you're trying to make your subject pop out as a high contrast foreground against lower contrast background will accentuate the feeling. Aside from that, I see minor double contouring in the background, but it does not create too much distraction. OOF highlights have neutral; to neutral/smooth edge transitions and uniform fill. Overall, I can't say that this is the lens to use if you're trying to get the absolutely best bokeh and make your subject breathe with life, but you might be able to achieve decent results under right circumstances.

 

ISO 320, 1/320, f/3.4, 180mm (Canon 5DMk2)

 


Flare

Generally speaking, telephoto lenses are not particularly prone to flare - since FOV is fairly narrow, one needs to point the lens effectively directly into the sun to make it flare. Leica APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 might be one of few telephotos that actually does show a rather nasty flare and not only in most extreme situations. The two shots below compare the amount of flare you'd get with this lens with the sun positioned close to the picture frame. In both cases, the sun rays were hitting the front lens element at about 60 degrees. Both wide open as well as stopped down, the lens shows flare as well as ghosting. Lower contrast and patches of color shifts come along as well across all aperture levels.

 

ISO 320, 1/4000, f/3.4, 180mm (Canon 5DMk2)

ISO 320, 1/800, f/8, 180mm (Canon 5D)

 


Vignetting

Generaly, vignetting (or light falloff) is not a major problem for telephoto lenses of this focal length. Even more so for a lens with such a relatively slow maximum aperture. To my surprise, :Leica APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 did actually show vignetting on a full frame body at f/3.4. Of course the level of light falloff is not particularly alarming at ~0.7EV, but it is still not particularly welcome. Vignetting drops a little bit at f/4 and then drops some more by f/5.6, where it becomes basically not an issue at all. And on APS-C body, vignettign is a non-issue throughout the aperture range.

 

 

What that basically means is that you would end up with slight darkening in corners if you have light colored scenery around corners, i.e. a clear blue sku. To most this is probably not going to be a major issue, but if it is, you can easily correct it in post-processing, or even within your camera.  personally would not stress much about it. Vignetting did not seem to increase with the use of built-in lens hood.

 

Vignetting @ f/3.4 - full frame vs 1.6x crop

 

Distortion

The lens showed minor degree of barrel distortion. At 0.33%, distortion is unlikely to cause any problems in general photography, and would not even be noticeable to the human eye.

 

Distortion (FF) @ 180mm
Distortion (FF) @ 180mm

 


 


Alternatives

Leica used to offer two other 180mm telephoto lenses in its SLR lineup - Elmar 180mm f/4 and Elmarit 180mm f/2.8. Out of these three, only Elmarit 180mm f/2.8is still in production, with the latest variant APO Elmarit 180mm f/2.8 priced at ~US$4,500 new and fetching over US$2,000 on used markets.  An even faster and more expensive Leica APO Summicron-R 180mm f/2 is another excellent choice if you can afford it of course. Outside of the Leica R mount, it is worth taking a look at Carl Zeiss Contax lenses, specifically Sonnar T* 180mm f/2.8 and APO Sonnar T* 200mm f/2, both of which offer excellent image quality and are priced more reasonably. If you feel adventurous, you might even want to look at older Nikon lenses, including Nikkor ED Ai-S 180mm f/2.8 or its newer variant Nikkor AF ED 180mm f/2.8 IF.

 

Recommendation

Leica APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 is a very solid lens, with pretty good overall performance,  outstanding and sturdy build construction and minimal amount of harmful artifacts (flare is the only exception here). This is certainly not the fastest lens on the market, but that is reflected in its price - anything faster would also cost almost twice as much. The bottom line is that those of you willing to shoot with manual lenses, would not regret choosing this lens. Of course competition in the telephoto segment is pretty stiff these days with both 800 pound gorillas (Canon and Nikon obviously) offering an excellent choice of telephoto lenses in their respective lineups.

 

Sample Images

 


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