Leica Elmarit-R 180mm f/28 E67

Introduction

Leica Elmarit-R 180mm f/2.8 is one of two 180mm lenses in the company's modern lens lineup. Technically speaking, Elmarit-R 180mm f/2.8 was discontinued in 1998 and replaced by APO Elmarit-R 180mm f/2.8. The lens was originally offered as Series 8 filter variant. An E67 filter version was introduced in 1979. All three versions of the lens (including most recent APO variant) included built-in lens hoods. The lens tested in this review is an older, pre APO variant, with E67 filter thread. All three versions of the lens are currently readily available on used markets, with good quality used copies of the pre-APO variant selling for ~US$400.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 5 elements in 4 groups. The build quality of the lens is outstanding, as expected from a Leica lens. The barrel is all metal, as are the focusing and aperture rings. There's no wobbling inside or out, the focusing ring is smooth and the aperture ring is snappy - overall, the lens looks pretty sturdy. The lens is not the lightest or most compact among telephoto lenses, falling somewhere in the middle of the pack. It measures 75 x 121mm (2.9 x 4.76in) and weighs 810g (1.78lb). The lens accepts 67mm screw-in type filters. The minimum supported aperture is f/22 (the aperture moves in half f-stop increments) and the minimum focusing distance is 1.8m (5.9ft).

Image

Like all Leica SLR lenses, Elmarit-R 180mm f/2.8 is a traditional FF lens, so when used on an APS-C type cameras with 1.6x crop factor, its field of view is equivalent to that of a 288mm lens on a full frame camera. To test the lens on Canon EOS body, I used a generic Fotodiox Leica-R to EOS adapter without AF confirmation. Like with any other non EF (or EF-S) mount lenses, you will have to operate your SLR camera in aperture priority or fully manual mode. You will also loose all but center weighted metering unless you use a  specially chipped adapter.

 

Summary
Lens Composition
5 elements in 4 groups
Angular Field ~14 degrees
Minimum Focus 1.8m/5.9ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, manual
Filter Size 67mm
Lens Hood Metal, built-in
Weight 810g/1.78lb
Dimensions 75x121mm/2.9x4.76"
Lens Case N/A

 

Field Tests

Leica Elmarit-R 180mm f/2.8 E67 showed pretty good overall performance in the field, with images staying quite sharp in the center throughout the tested aperture settings (on both APS-C as well as FF cameras). Border image quality seemed to be a little bit off with wide open aperture, but the difference was pretty minimal, barely even noticeable.

 

Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (200mm)
Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (200mm)

 

The lens showed moderate level of vignetting on a full frame body at f/2.8. This is rather disappointing, considering that we're dealing with a telephoto lens here. Vignetting is reduced a bit by f/4, but does not completely go away until f/5.6. On an APS-C body, the lens takes advantage of the smaller sensor and shows basically no vignetting throughout the aperture range.

Color reproduction was pretty accurate in general - images carried good amount of contrast throughout the tested aperture range. The lens showed occasional color fringing around borders and fell prone to some flare. There was no visible distortion, which is not very surprising for a telephoto lens.

 

ISO 100, 1/4000, f/2.8, 180mm (100% crop)
ISO 100, 1/4000, f/2.8, 180mm (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 Elmarit-R 180mm f/2.8 showed pretty solid performance on an APS-C body. Center performance was already quite good with the wide open aperture, and even slightly nudging higher with stopped down aperture. Border image quality was OK at f/2.8, but certainly left some room for improvement. Fortunately, border quality improved with stopped down aperture, reaching quite respectable levels by f/4 and peaking around f/8. Performance across the frame was most balanced in the f/5.6-f/11 range, where the gap between the center and borders was the lowest. At its peak around f/8, the lens is capable of producing outstanding 19in prints, while in the f/5.6-f/11 range it would be able to deliver decent 24in prints. Conclusion? Not bad performance in general. The lens suffers around borders at f/2.8, which is disappointing, but ohhh so common. Still, this is a Leica lens, so things are somewhat less foregivable (from my perspective).

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 180mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 180mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 180mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 180mm

 

The lens showed good handling of chromatic aberration on an APS-C camera. Center CA was quite low, averaging ~0.5px across the entire tested aperture range. Border CA was a bit higher at wider apertures, averaging ~1px in the f/2.8-f/4 range, but eventually dropping to ~0.6px. CA is a bit higher with wide open aperture, but it's more or less manageable.

 

Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 180mm
Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 180mm

 

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

 

Image borders @ 185mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 185mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

Canon FF: The lens showed pretty good performance on a FF body as well, with overall trend mirroring that of an APS-C body. Center performance is pretty good straight from f/2.8, improving slowly with stopped down aperture and peaking in the f/5.6-f/8 range. Border image quality at f/2.8 is decent, but not impressive and while performance improves slightly at f/4, it does not really reach excellent levels until f/5.6. Overall results are best in the f/5.6-f/8 range, where quality across the frame is pretty balanced. Conclusion? The lens shows very consistent performance on both APS-C as well as FF cameras, which is obviously a major plus for any lens. Of course considering that this is a telephoto Leica lens, I would have been happier if it showed better border performance at f/2.8...

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 180mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 180mm

 

The lens showed very minor degree of barrel distortion, however, at 0.13% distortion is unlikely to be visible in general photography.

 

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

 

Chromatic aberration on a full frame body was not any worse or as a matter of fact any better that that on an APS-C body. CA in the center did not exceed ~0.5px, while CA around borders reached ~1px at f/2.8, then gradually dropping to ~0.6px by f/11.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 180mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 180mm

 

Here are 100% crops taken with a FF type Canon 5D comparing images at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 185mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 185mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

Alternatives

Leica used to offer four different 180mm models at one point. Two of them, Leica Elmarit-R 180mm f/4 and Leica APO Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 were discontinued, and the Elmarit-R 180mm f/2.8 reviewed here was eventually replaced by an APO version, Leica APO Elmarit-R 180mm f/2.8. And the final model of the four, Leica APO Summicron-R 180mm f/2 is currently one of the fastest telephoto lenses available on the market. Outside of the Leica lens camp, you might want to look at Nikon's telephoto lenses such as Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED AiS and Nikkor 200mm f/2 ED IF AiS. Other then that, Canon's excellent EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM and super telephoto EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM are a natural choice for anyone with a Canon camera.

 

Recommendation

All-in-all, Leica ELmarit-R 180mm f/2.8 E67 is a pretty solid performer. The lens shows minor weakness in resolving capabilities around borders at f/2.8, but as noted above this is more or less common with moderately fast lenses. Vignetting is somewhat problematic on a full frame body - we typically expect better behavior from lenses in this focal length category. Other then that, pretty decent handling of artifacts, good build quality, good color reproduction and reasonable price on used markets, should create enough incentives to entice you to explore this lens.