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
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).
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 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
- Rare filter size
- Limited aperture range - f/8 is diffraction limited and maximum aperture is f/4
in my picturebank taken with this lens.
Pictures of Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4
Aperture, focus and zoom rings
Front element moves when focused/zoomed
Canon tripod leg