I don’t have many Leica lenses in my collection and I don’t claim myself as a collector so I buy lenses that I actually use. When I was searching for the ‘right’ portrait lens for my Leica M6, I came across Summicron 90mm and this Tele-Elmar 135mm. You can read my Summicron 90mm review HERE.
**UPDATE** I now have a new revisit review of this magical tele lens on the Leica M Type 240 HERE **
I truly love the Summicron 90mm for its sharpness (not pin sharp but sharp enough for details which is perfect for portraits, in the end, you don’t want to show too much blemishes to your clients right?). Then I heard great things about this 135mm Tele-Elmar. As described in my previous Leica blogs, I would love to find THE portrait lens for my Leica body. It’s a difficult choice really. I love 50mm but if I want to completely isolate the subject to the background, then I need something longer. Having seen images online, 50mm is good but even the monster Noctilux, doesn’t do the trick for me. Therefore, I would stick with my traditional portrait focal length for 135 format, something between 70 – 135mm.
So why this lens?
As much as I love the Summicron 90mm, I want to try the 135mm Tele-Elmar. It’s not that expensive and I got a pretty mint looking lens from a Leica dealer. The latest APO may be the best but again, any new Leica optics costs a fortune these days so getting something older is a bargain, even at 90% modern performance. But any Leica man will tell you that even old Leica lenses outperform any modern SLR lenses by far! I wouldn’t disagree after seeing the results from my other older Leica glass.
My version of 135mm Tele-Elmar was the one before Leica re-modeled it for a more consistent look to other new lenses in 1990. But because it had a old shape, it’s cheaper. But once you do some research, you will know that this lens share everything of the latest Tele-Elmar (not the APO and don’t get confused because the latest 135mm has a maximum aperture of 3.4). Moreover, this version is also lighter and shorter which makes it perfect for travelling. Even at f/4, this lens is fast enough for most occasions apart from low light and long enough to compress the background and separates subjects. So it seems a good portrait lens again and at a price of a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM, it wouldn’t say no and would love to give it a go.
Perhaps my copy is virtually mint and it feels better in hand than my Summicron 90mm. Focus is super buttery smooth and the aperture is clicky clicky. Similar to long lenses that were designed in the same era, they were all two-part design for Visoflex compatibility. Tele-Elmar is no different. I heard about the potential flare problem from this lens so I hunted for a original metal lens hood and caps. They are available but at a cost. Any metal Leica hoods these days can cost significantly more than a cheap Canon lens! I am not joking. They become collectors’ items. Strange. All in all, this lens is up to any Leica lens’ construction standard and the full metal design has no flaw whatsoever. As mentioned, this version of Tele-Elmar actually lighter than the more modern version and has the same optical formula, which is better than the older Elmar design. Sounds like a no-brainer!
Using it in practice, good and bad
As with the Summicron 90mm, I would believe all the hypes about this Tele-Elmar but getting a super sharp photo requires super fine precision calibration between the lens and the camera. As I got both mine used, I don’t expect a perfect match. But ‘some’ of my photos turned out just fine, though not 100%. When I nail the focus, the photos looks sharp on film scan. Of course, you can send the lens and the camera to Leica or any reputable Leica service/repairer to have them both calibrated.
Despite being shorter than any Tele-Elmar lenses, it still looks long and will look odd in any M camera, especially with hood on. However, it’s light so it doesn’t affect performance at all. I can’t say the same for longer Elmar or heavier APO lenses.
Performance aside, focusing is even more difficult for a 135 lens. I think this is the absolute limit for rangefinder camera and even with my 1.25x magnifier, I find it squinting my eyes a lot when I try to focus the lens. The latest digital M Type 240 has focus peaking using the EVF will definitely help in this case and I can’t wait to give it a try.
Focus is rather long but precise, which I think it’s needed for such long lens and the limit of rangefinder. As I will be using this lens for portrait, this isn’t a problem but don’t expect it to be a paparazzi or sports lens. In the end, you are focusing manually and there’s no AI Servo!
135mm is a nice focal length and together with 90mm Summicron, I complete the ‘portrait’ collection. Now I need to shoot more and post more samples here. Like I said, this lens doesn’t burn a hole in your pants so get it before all the nice ones are gone as some modern photographers love using this lens for their CSC cameras to date.
I do think having a set of lenses, 35mm, 50mm, 90mm and 135mm completes the range for any camera. Now I have the complete set for M to try. As soon as I feel comfortable, I will make a switch from my beloved Canon. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Canon but lugging nearly 20 kg of gear every wedding really takes the toll on my body. Rather than lifting weight to train my muscle to hold these giant fast Canon primes and zooms, I prefer to save my energy to take some good shots. Leica lets me achieve it for sure. Modern CSC comes close but not the same in terms of image quality. Even the latest announced Sony A7/A7R, the tiny body is good but lenses are still rather big and pricey, I would pay Leica anytime over this. Plus I don’t need any latest features like videos or filters. I prefer everything manual so I have full control over everything I shoot.
I will be posting more photos in the future but during my short ownership, I do enjoy this lens. My twins have occupying all my spare time at the moment so I have limited time to test any lenses that I bought in the past few months. Just a thought, I won’t use this lens for babies though, too slow.