Checking for Sharpness

Testing the Leica 90MM f/2.8 Elmarit-M

After growing weary on waiting for the shiny new Zeiss Batis FE 85mm f/1.8 lens, I started to consider other options. After a few days of testing my Sony a7s and Sony a6000 in manual focus mode with the Sony/Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8, I decided that pulling focus manually is pretty easy with Sony's focus peaking function--especially on the A7-series cameras, so I started to look elsewhere for a lens. The only real considerations for me were rangefinder lenses because of their compact size and extremely high quality. This lead me to examine what both Leica and Zeiss had in their lens lineup because I will need a high quality, modern lens for commercial use. The only offering Zeiss had worth considering was a Contax G-series lens from the old film G1 and G2 rangerfinder bodies (I owned a G2 years ago, and it's still on my list of top six or seven favorite cameras I've owned dating back to the mid '80s). The problem with the Contax lenses is that they do not have a manual focus ring because they were auto focus only lenses. Secondly, the adapters for these lenses are fairly expensive, and the autofocus performance is hit or miss depending on the camera that you own. The focus is also the old-fashioned, bone-jarring screw drive type.

This narrowed it down to Leica lenses, so I began to research Leica's 90mm lenses to determine which one is best for my needs. Because all Leica lenses are top notch, the first criteria on my list was small size. Probably the smallest Leica 90mm is the current 90mm macro which is far too expensive for me, but also too slow (it's an f/4 lens) for my needs. It's a really interesting lens though. Leica also has another 90mm f/4 (no longer in production) that is very small, but again, it's too slow for my needs. I then moved on to the f/2.8 (Elmarit) Leica 90m lenses. There are two that I liked, the Leica Tele-Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 and the Leica Elmarit-M f/2.8, the one pictured above, and the one I finally settled on. The Tele-Elmarit is tiny, and it's a wonderful lens, but I couldn't find a good copy of it. The few that I did find were well-worn and priced higher than I was willing to pay. Also, I wanted a "Made in Germany" version. Made in Germany lenses are not better than made in Canada versions, but I just prefer them for aesthetic reasons dating back to photography school and the dream of owning a Leica. Most of what I was finding were the "Made in Canada" versions. Secondly, I favor the slide-out lens hood on the "standard" Elmarit that I ended up purchasing. The other version is indeed smaller, but when you add a lens hood it also adds bulk and one more thing to deal with.

When the lens arrived, I already had a fairly good idea of how large it would be, and there were no surprises there because the Internet is full of photos. But what the Internet cannot do is "show" you how dense and heavy a lens is, or what it feels like in your hand. This lens is currently out of production, so finding specs on it was more difficult, and I never even considered the that it might be heavy. I've only owned two other Leica lenses (both Summarits), and they were very small albeit solid and dense as all Leica lenses are. I had forgotten this. I've you've never held a Leica lens, I think you'll be surprised when you do. Therefore, when I first picked up my 90mm Elmarit, I was simply amazed at the weight. This lens, although small, is a beast. If someone blindfolded you and handed it to you, you'd be tempted to think they handed you a solid block of lead. No kidding, it's that dense.

So far I'm loving the lens! It's in absolute mint condition, I got it for a good price and I'm only the second owner so I feel blessed. Manually focusing is super easy on the Sony a7s and A7r, but during my initial tests I had more out-of-focus images that I suspected. When taking the photos I really thought that I nailed 100% of them--I'm so arrogant! Well, I didn't but I think as I practice I will improve and get a higher percentage of sharp images. It's amazing how short my memory is. When I started in photography, auto focus lenses weren't even invented yet. And while working at my first newspaper, I remember shooting sports with a manual focus lens and praying that I'd get a few in focus and keep my job.

I still have the Zeiss Batis FE 85mm f/1.8 on pre-order (for over two months now), and will still want to test it out to decide between it and my Leica 90MM f/2.8 Elmarit-M. I know that I already prefer the look and the size of the Leica lens to the Zeiss Batis. The Zeiss lens simply looks huge, takes a 67mm filter and has a bulky lens hood. 

The danger in owning such a beautiful piece of Leica glass is the growing desire to purchase anther Leica M digital body. My current first choice: The Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246), and it's Roger's fault.


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