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Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4 - topimage Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4 - side

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4

I wanted 180-200mm lens with some character. I have Canon EF200mm f/2.8 L USM mkII and Canon EF180mm f/3.5 L USM but they didn't provide image with characters, which I would prefer. Do not understand this wrong, both of mentioned lenses are excellent lenses but lack character, they are very neutral. I started my search from old Contax lenses, after discussion in Fred Miranda Alternative forum conclusion seems to be:
- Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 2.8/180 - poor quality until f/5.6
- Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar T* 3.4/200 - quite good quality but some problems caused by old design and lack of modern ED-lens elements - lens is "chunky" and pretty big
- Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar T* 4/200 - this lens doesn't seem to be very good, needs to be stopped down to get decent performance
Based on this it more or less seems that I don't want Zeiss lens for this focal length.
On Fred Miranda discussions few good prime options were mentioned - I did know them beforehand so no surprices, but didn't know all the lens characteristic very well so the discussion was definetly helpful (only few lenses mentioned):
- Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 180/4 - excellent selection for this focal length, but availability is very poor
- Leica APO-Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 - excellent performer at infinity, however doesn't maintain APO performance at medium or close distances
- Mamiya APO 200mm f/2.8 - good performance, but lens handling is awful, lens is very heavy (well it's medium format lens) and very front weighted, which is made worse by that the lens doesn't have tripod ring!

So in situation where no good choices available I decided to try Leica's praised Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4 zoom lens. It's design is derived from excellent Vario-APO-Elmarit 70-180mm f/2.8 (maybe the only zoom which is real APO).

My usage


Image quality


Sharpness and Contrast

The MTFs in Leica's brochyre look exceptionally good for zoom lens. Performance wide open is good at 200mm, and improves slightly when stopped down to f/5.6. Performance at middle focal lengths (around 135mm) is excellent wide open, and stopping down to f/5.6 only improves microcontrast in corners. At 80mm this lens performs worst, even then delivering pretty good performance - this is the only focal length where stopping down to f/8 doesn't decrease microcontrast due to diffraction.

To be evaluated in real world shooting are the MTFs as good as Leica has them drawn. Based on the MTFs this lens is better than any prime I own at 135mm. At 80-100mm I rarely have need for this lens since I will most probably have Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 2/100, even travelling. Performance at 180-200mm looks pretty good.

One thing to consider is of course that published MTFs are calculated/measured at infinity, however in practice these focal lengths are often shoot at medium and close distances. In Erwin Putts Column (PDF available from Leica) he says about shooting close:
As usual it is best to stop down to 1:8 or smaller when working that close. This is advisable not only for the performance improvement, but mainly for the increased depth of field.
In practice this sounds to me that the performance at minimum focus distance is not as good as it's at infinity. However this lens has very short minimum focus distance and therefore high magnification.

Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4 - MTF (screen capture from Leica PDF)
Leica has not specified are their MTFs measured or calculated, but has specified that they have used white light.


Wide open - subjective

Closed down - subjective

Close ups vs medium distance

Consistency through different focal lengths

highlight shapes - in corners "cateye" or not

highlight shapes - is the highlight circle having strong edges or soft edges

Lens flare


Nightphotos on city => strong lights

Vignetting and distortion

In table below you can find vignetting and distortion as numbers. Personally I rarely experience vignetting as a problem, but with lens as slow as f/4 and which is diffraction limited at f/8 this may become problem. I'll report here how this has affected in practice.

fvignetting f/4distortion

Vignetting = how much light comes through compared to image center --> 100% = no vignetting.
Distortion = Leica: Distortion is the deviation of the real image height (in the picture) from the ideal image height.

Generally vignetting is quite linear at f/4, but at f/5.6 vignetting is more difficult to correct, if you wish to do so, since in the curve there is sudden turn at about 17mm from image center at 80-135mm and about 12mm from image center at 180-200mm. At f/8 the small amount of vignetting left and it's linear from 80mm to 135mm but 180-200mm have sudden turn about 17mm from image center, but this is not meaningful since vignettin is about 90% in the corner.

Distortion is quite high for me since I'm used to well corrected primes, but on other hand it has rarely been problem for me. At 80-200mm I rarely shoot architecture in a way which the distortion would be meaningful.


Textures etc.

Handling and usage

Focusing from infinity to 1 meter is about XXX degrees rotation. XXX subjective description of manual focus resistance XXX. XXX Manual focusing is very accurate and it's very easy to achieve accurate focus with live view.

Aperture can be selected 0.5 stop intervals. When using viewfinder and manually stopping down it's easy to calculate "clicks" from wide open to determinen the aperture into which lens is stopped down. Aperture ring is in middle of the lens, not close to camera where it's usually located. XXX subjective feeling of aperture adjustment if any XXX XXX subjective description of focus ring width and usage with gloves if relevant XXX

XXX subjective description of lens hood if applicable - physical and flare protection XXX XXX subjective description of lens cap when lens hood is used XXX

XXX Polarized usage with hood if applicable XXX XXX Lens hood effectiveness with filters XXX

Build quality and basics

Build quality is as good as I could imagine, from different planet than Canon lenses.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 
80-200mm f/4 - constructions Lens dimensions with C/Y to EOS adapter and lens caps are: diameter 71mm, length 165mm+XXXg, weight 1020+XXXg. This lens is internal focusing and therefore it stays constant length when focusing and zoomin. Lens uses filter size E60, which is Leica specific.

Minimum aperture is f/22. Aperture has XXX blades and aperture remains XXX very round even until f/YY XXX.

Lens has 12 elements which are in 9 groups (See Erwin Puts PDF, explaining the error in Leica brochure). Actual focal length is not declared. Minimum focus distance is 1.1m, which results 0.11-0.26x (1:9.3-3.9) maximum magnification and full frame (36mm x 24mm) coverage is between 333mm x 222mm and 140mm x 94mm.



+ Excellent image quality from 135mm to 200mm
+ Hood is not very efficient at 200mm, since optimized for 80mm


- Heavy lens, would be too heavy to shoot without tripod leg, which is optional accessory
- Rare filter size
- Limited aperture range - f/8 is diffraction limited and maximum aperture is f/4

See photos in my picturebank taken with this lens.

Pictures of Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4

Aperture, focus and zoom rings

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4 - Aperture, focus and zoom rings

Front/side projection

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4 - Front/Left

Integrated hood

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4 - Front/Left

Front element moves when focused/zoomed

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4 - Front element

Canon tripod leg

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4 - Canon tripod leg

Huuhaakuukausi 3rd, 2009