My first Leica lens


Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens

After having used Leicas, an M8 and now an M9 for around 9 months it may seem strange that I have only now bought my first Leica lens. Firstly I had a collection of Voigtlander lenses I bought and used with m4/3 and was very pleased with them. Secondly Leica lenses are VERY expensive. Or so I thought.

With the change to the M9's full frame I was struggling with my longest lens being 75mm. Last weekend I took out my GF1 to use as a teleconverter for that lens, and the results were OK, but it did seem crazy not to take advantage of the Leica's sensor. I started looking at Leica 135mm lenses and was interested in the 135mm f3.4 APO-TELYT. A snip at £1800! I'm not normally reticent about pulling out the credit cards but this was a lot of money for a lens.

I decided to try a different option. The esteemed Ken Rockwell has been banging on for years about the advantages of buying old second hand lenses. He is particularly scathing about the prices of new Leica lenses and often recommends the older versions. I had found a selection of S/H 135mm lenses at Ffordes, a dealer I have used for years and who I have always had good experiences with.

I decided to try a 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar, with the idea that if I didn't like it I would bite the bullet and buy the new model.

Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens
The lens was £300 and for that price I was prepared for something a bit battered and possibly optically disappointing. What arrived the next day was neither.

Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens
As you can see its not small. Its not light either weighing in at just over 500g. Its also not the prettiest lens / camera combination I've ever seen. However it was in pretty good condition considering its at least 20 years old. They made these from 1965-1990 apparently. I also discovered that it had been 6-bit coded.

So a quick test round the garden followed by a longer session in my local churchyard.

Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens

Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens

Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens

Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens

Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens

Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens

Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens

Leica M9 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar lens

First picture from the garden on the screen was out of focus, grainy, hideous colour. Oh no I thought, its a disaster. Then I remembered I'd been doing some low light tests at 1000 ISO the previous evening with the WB set to Tungsten.
Next picture - hit the auto white balance in Photoshop ACR, open it up.......... Wow! Next picture.....Wow! Smile starting to appear on my face. Etc. Etc.

Yes its actually very good. When I then shot some pictures at 160 ISO with the correct white balance selected it started to seriously impress me. I've rarely done this here but this is a full-size image:-













Here's a blow up.



















Same again:-


























I hope that you able to see just how sharp this lens is. I was also impressed by the colour rendition from this aged lens designed for film.
I've been smiling away ever since. Spending £300 as opposed to £1800 is a good outcome. It gives me what I want. Using this lens instead of the 75mm + GF1 gives me a small saving on weight and a substantial increase in quality.
My respect for Mr. Rockwell has increased (To be fair many others have said the same thing) and I have finally seen for myself the fact that Leica have been turning out these incredible lenses for years.

Using my own brand of financial logic I now have £1500 to spend on S/H Leica lenses. So I shall be scouring the pages of my favourite dealer websites for more bargains. In the meantime I can proudly assert that I am now a fully fledged Leica photographer with both camera and lenses (OK OK - just lens) and can begin to bore the pants off anyone within earshot!!!

Words & Pictures - D (Or LeicaShooterUK as I shall henceforth be known)


(Not!)