LENS REVIEW – LEICA TELE-ELMARIT-M 1:2.8/90

Leica Tele-Elmarit M 90mmOk, Ken Rockwell is going to hate me.

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?The Pod

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!

Wow!

This is my first Leica portrait lens.

So why this lens?

SusanI 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.

2012_02_11_London_(Fuji_NPC _160) 025

Construction

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.

Pilot

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.

2012_02_11_London_(Fuji_NPC _160) 026

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.

Mickey in the park

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.

Conclusion

2012_Plymouth_Misc_Leica023As 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.

Paris street

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)

90 Sharpness Test

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12 responses to “LENS REVIEW – LEICA TELE-ELMARIT-M 1:2.8/90

  1. Thanx for sharing this. To my opinion your story says something about buying second hand. You’ll never know what’s the reason that it’s being sold. Your comparison with the 90 Cron is clear! However I really love my 1978 Tele-Elmarit version. Tack sharp, nice colours and contrasts, 39mm filter size and easy to carry. A large hood is necessary though, to stay away from flares.

    • Hi Alain,

      Thanks. Yes, indeed. Buying secondhand can be dangerous but also, I guess with calibration, my Tele-Elmarit could be better but the flare that I encountered just simply too much. I used the large lens hood as described too. But yes, 39mm filter is definitely a big plus. But now I am using a Konica Hexanon 90mm which is also as good which I will be reviewing soon. Bang for bucks is spot on for any M users.

  2. Pingback: LENS REVIEW – KONICA M-HEXANON 90MM 1:2.8 | talktog·

  3. Pingback: LENS REVISIT – LEICA SUMMICRON 90MM 1:2.0 V.2 | talktog·

  4. Is the flare and lack of sharpness coming from haze inside the lens? These lenses are notorious for haze problem. I had a Nikkor AF-35-70 f2.8 once that flared really badly and when checked with a flashlight, I found the problem was haze. I sent it in for a CLA and it was great after that.

    • Hi Joel,

      No haze from the lens. I had checked with flash lights and it’s clean as crystal. But that flare was just so noticeable and the only time when I wouldn’t see it was when I was shooting indoor or in the dark.

      The lack of sharpness may be an focus issue (not matched with my M6 at the time).

      But I didn’t bother after any when I saw the Summicron, I went for it straight and never looked back. I didn’t mind the bulk (having coming from DSLR background) and it’s sharp and nice. But I may get a Summarit at some point for the more modern look.

      J

    • Perhaps Tony, I do love the size of the lens. I had the German copy and not only it wasn’t sharp (may have been a focus issue) but it flared like crazy that I had to stop using it. Then I bought the even older Summicron and that outperforms the Tele-Elmarit in both sharpness and flare resistance.

      Thanks for dropping by anyway!

  5. I have been shooting with it and it is quite sharp for portraits when I can nail the focus and have a high enough shutter speed. I am using it with a Sony A7 and typically shoot it indoor, wide open and close for portraits. It does flare a bit in backlit situations. When shooting landscapes, I use a Cokin system (linear polarizer, Formatt Hitech NDIR filters, etc.), which helps flare. This lens is very, very small and lightweight which is a huge plus!

    • Hi Joel, that’s probably the key. As Leica uses mechanical rangefinder coupling so there’s a good chance that my copy was a little out. I didn’t have my digital Leica when I had this lens. I was simply using my film M6. With peaking focus assist on A7, you will get perfect focus. But flare was one of the main issues I had, you can see some of my pictures with centre flare/halo and it wasn’t shooting directly at the sun either.

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