Right, 2014 is a big year for me in terms of photography. Not only have I made a big leap in my photographical skill, but I’ve also made a switch from my much loved and used Canon DSLR setup to the famous RED DOT Elite German Leica M camera. Please forgive me, I can just go on and on and on about Leica… it’s like a Ferrari in heart though a much more practical luxury item that I can make money from it and not just ‘showing off’.
Here I am, my first revisit review for some of my legacy Leica lenses: Leitz Tele-Elmar 135mm 1:4.0 (you can see my previous review based on film Leica M6 HERE).
Before I start writing, I need to briefly describe the purpose of these ‘revisits’. As many of you know that Leica M cameras have been around since 1950’s and the latest digital M, the Leica M Type 240 is the most advance M camera yet. But best of all, the latest M is compatible with almost all the M lenses Leica has ever produced!!! So I am happy to use some of my older M lenses on my M240 just to see how they perform and whether they are still noteworthy and relevant in 2014. I am aiming to keep updating my list of legacy lenses so I can update you with some latest digital images with M240.
All my revisit will be rather short because I don’t need to repeat the same thing that I wrote the review before. Most importantly, I want to showcase images here so you have an idea on how these ‘old’ lenses perform and the good and bad on handling. Again, no lab tests, charts or MTFs, I just let the pictures speak for themselves.
But I will still highlight a few areas where people seem to be interested in: Sharpness, Rendering (Bokeh) and handling (with M240 body).
First I will start with sharpness. This is a topic for all geeks out there. Despite my opinion isn’t scientific and frankly I won’t use any MTF charts, I am attaching a few images here so you can see how sharp this legend really is. I am not joking, despite being a 1960’s design, it just shows how brilliant this lens is. It’s performance simply rivals the best there is in today’s lineup. Technically it may lag behind the latest Leica Tely-Elmar APO or the simply alien-made Zeiss 135mm f/2 Sonna APO, but to 99% of the population out there, this old and rather slow Tele-Elmar is sharp enough for any use.
When shot wide open, the bokeh is pleasingly smooth and round. Out of focus area is buttery with that Elmar signature. 135 is perfect for head-and-shoulder portrait shot. Though with a rather slow f/4 aperture, it means it’s more of a daylight lens. With no image stabilizer, it means you need a pretty fast shutter speed to combat camera/lens shake too. But fortunately, Leica M hasn’t got mirror so one less vibration to worry about when shooting long lens.
The best thing about this lens is that its performance is near peak at wide open so there’s no need to stop down to get the ‘best’ of this lens. Though just for your information, it’s dawn sharp between f/5.6 – 8. So it’s great also for pulling details from afar (ideal for some landscape and cityscape).
The close relative to this lens is the not-so-famous-hater Leica Elmarit-M 135mm 1:2.8. I haven’t had a chance to use one and I really would love to try to see if it’s an equally good lens. But from what I’ve heard so far, it’s not as good as this when shot wide open (but we are talking about 2.8 vs 4.0!!). When they both compare at f/4 then there isn’t much difference. I can get one relatively cheap these days so may be I will get one (version 2 is the better one apparently…).
Last but not least, handling. I do think Leica is best suit with shorter lenses. 90mm is probably the longest for the M before it starts to lose balance. Tele-Elmar isn’t a heavy lens nor big by any means but it’s long, especially so when the monster hood is attached. It doesn’t look pretty. But other than look and balance. It’s not too bad to hold and operate. My copy was one of the rarer first batch ‘red’ scale Tele-Elmar. Apparently only a handful was made with red letters so I must be lucky (I didn’t know when I bought it). Despite its age, the aperture ring is snappy and precise, the focusing ring is silky smooth with no play. My 39-year-old eyes do find it difficult to focus however. I bought the EVF just to use this lens so I can see the focus better. Because of its focal length, using the traditional rangefinder patch can prove difficult. I have no problem getting pin sharp picture for my equally old Leica Summicron 90mm but 135 is just harder if not impossible. I find myself squinting my eyes a lot. Mind you, M240’s finder is already the best in M cameras and I sill find it hard. I could have used the 1.4x eyepiece, which I also use for my M6. I just want to see if I can use EVF to do the job.
Is this 50 something years old lens still relevant in 2014? Does it still perform after all these days? Will I use it for work and projects? The answer to all these questions is YES and a BIG FAT one too! Being a Leica manual lens means that it lasts. If it’s been cared for (not stored) over the years, service and use regularly, there shouldn’t be any problems. It’s a little long for M but people have been shooting with them since its inception. 135mm is good for portrait and it is possibly the longest I would use with any M cameras. But despite is ‘slowness’, this is truly a gem and it will continue to shine and surprise you with traditional ‘LEICA’ quality. One last word though, be sure to check the focusing of the lens if you are to get one. it may need to calibrate to match your M camera if you are using any film M camera or any digital M before M240 (because M240 can use EVF to combat any focusing error of the lens). But I still prefer using the rangefinder than EVF but it does work.
Thank you for reading my blog and please support my work and this site by buying stuff from Amazon via the link at the bottom (only if you need to buy stuff of course).
eBay is currently the largest market in used Leica lenses so if you want to try a sample of this lens, feel free to click on to the following links
I have shot black and white jpeg from the M240 for this test so I don’t have any colour photos to show but please check out my flickr page for more as and when I update it to include more photos. My flickr page is HERE.