He’s written a brilliant review for this, supposedly magically sharp and travel-friendly Leica lens. After reading his review and I was sold, whole heartedly. After my acquisition of my M2 and my 5cm Summicron collapsible, which I still use today (see my review here!), I really hunted for this lens. I have explained many times just how much I love portrait lenses in 35mm cameras and how could I resist not to get one for my ‘new’ M?
While I couldn’t afford to get the latest Leica Summicron APO 90mm, I thought, how about looking for something rather affordable? More importantly, something that’s light to compliment the relatively compact M system? After a few weeks of research, I landed my decision of the Tele-Elmarit. I was fortunate to find one in absolute MINT condition and more rarely, a German-made example from evil bay. It came with box, leather pouch and hood. I couldn’t ask for more. It’s complete!
This is my first Leica portrait lens.
So why this lens?
I already explained my reason. 1. I WANT a portrait lens for my Leica. 2. Small and light weight that won’t cause a dent on my shoulder. 3. It won’t burn a whole in my wallet. It’s that simple. As this was my second Leica lens so I didn’t expect too much but I did have fairly high expectation after the brilliant reviews on internet. There are a few variants of 90mm and it can be confusing to choose a suitable one but this particular Tele-Elmarit was somehow in the middle ground, not too old and not too new. From what I read online, it should produce some very nice and sharp pictures.
Like any Leica lenses, full cladded with luxurious metal. Both focus and aperture rings are very well dampened and silky smooth. Half stop aperture clicked snappily and something that, at first glance, you would lick it!
Because it’s a compact lens, you can’t kill a man with this lens, unlike some other Leica lenses. So I am afraid that you can’t protect yourself with this lens. However, you can still injure someone and use this lens to take pictures afterward.
Using it in practice, good and bad
In the field, this lens is indeed very good to handle. Small, light weight and discrete, only when shoot without that monster hood. In terms of usability, I would definitely rate this one amongst the top of all manual lenses. When stopped down, this lens can be quite decent. However that’s pretty much where all the good points end.
When I shot at larger apertures, I just couldn’t get a sharp photo that I was expecting. Not something that Ken mentioned in his review. I tried another two rolls of film, same things. I wouldn’t call it rubbish by any means but this is definitely not a sharp lens. Despite my relatively lack of Leica experience, I could tell that this lens is more or less better than any kit zoom lens today. That’s what surprised the most.
Another problem I had was flare. I heard about this annoying trait from other users and I had experienced it virtually 60% of the time. The only times I did have any sort of flare issues was when I was shooting in a ‘covered’ area with no direct sun light or at f/8 or smaller aperture. Even that monster hood didn’t help a bit. It just got to a point that I went out and got myself an older Leica Summicron M 1:2.0/90, like out of emergency just to test it. The summircon then turned out to be one of my favourite portrait lenses, review here.
It turned out that the older Summicron was way sharper and produced much less flare in ANY situation. So I sold the Tele-Elmarit.
As much as I wanted to praise the Tele-Elmarit like many others out there. I do respect Ken’s work and I am a constant reader to his reviews, I found myself very frustrated about my experience. It could be a batch issues or I simply got a lemon. But I did hear many good praises from other Leica users for sure. So I am pretty confident that it is a good lens, if you can find one.
As they don’t produce this lens anymore and getting one from forum and evil bay can be risky as you cannot try it yourself and returns can be tricky. So I will strongly advise if you really want one, try to find one in classify or from a reputable dealer. Take your camera there and test it yourself before making any decision. I was fortunate that a collector bought it off from me because it was in such good condition and I didn’t lose any money at all.
Finally I attach a comparison shot that I did on the same bridge. Same setting and focus to infinity so you can see the result. Both of these are film scans. So let me know if you have a very good Tele-Elmarit and I would love to see some shots! In the mean time, I am enjoying my Summicron and a new Japanese offering (review HERE)