Leica has been a well respected name in the camera industry for a very long time, today our focus is not on the well-known 'M' series or medium format 'S' series lenses, but the lesser known R series. Costs and sales were not the ideal climate for production and by about 2010 Leica AG had seized production of most Leica R series products. Leica did however leave a large heritage of mostly affordable, great performing, adaptable lenses, all ready and available for digital camera systems, Sony/ Minolta Alpha, Pentax K & Nikon F (through mount swap), Canon EF, Olympus／Panasonic 4/3, Sigma SD; mirrorless: Canon EF-M, Pentax Q, Samsung NX, Panasonic/Olympus M43, Nikon 1, Sony NEX/E, Fujifilm X to name but a few.
Today I have brought a few Leica R lenses to the table for the review, personally I use these lenses on my Leicaflex SL, Leica R8, Canon EOS3, Canon Eos 6D and my Fujifilm X-E2, they were attached either through original R mount or adapters, adapters are available on ebay/ camera stores from $30 to $200 dollars, brands such as Metabones, Kipon would have cost a bit more with better build quality, some even had heliocord build in so you could have better close focus capability( mainly only with mirrorless mounts).
List of lenses to be reviewed:
Elmarit-R 24mm f/2.8 - 3 cam
Summicron-R 50mm f/2 - 2 cam early ver.
Summilux-R 80mm f/1.4 (E60)- 3 cam Later ver.
Summicron-R 90mm f/2 -3 cam early Canadian ver.
APO Telyt- R 180mm f/3.4 - 3cam Canada
Elmarit-R 24mm f/2.8 is an underrated lens of the R system, despite being designed by Minolta it does have great performance and doesn’t at a decent price. Distortion is not obvious but light falloff does exist before f 5.6 and the sharpness is above average.
Summicron-R 50mm f/2 basically came with two designs, the early version (Series VI) and the later version. (E55), unfortunately I only had the early version you see above. This 50mm comes with a very reasonable price tag as well, I got mine for about $200, it retains sharpness even wide open, compact size, minimal distortion, bokeh is smooth but certainly the color gradiation is more of the older lenses kind, great presentation of metallic colors and subtle low light presentation.
Summilux-R 80mm f/1.4 is usually an expensive lens but has great performance, great sharpness, very very smooth bokeh. The nearest focusing distance is 0.8m which is pretty normal for portrait lenses. Best sharpness is at f 5.6, although wide open it has above average sharpness and strong focus breathing. Every distance focused does have a different image presentation.
Summicron-R 90mm f/2 Canada, this lens would be the main competitor to the Olympus Zuiko 90mm f/2 Marco but without the macro capability. Sharpness wide open is not ideal, but stop it down to f/2.8 and you get a solid performance. The 3-stage hood is a bit annoying as sometimes it tilts to the side a bit and only takes series VII filters which are proprietary and expensive. The nearest focus distance is 0.7m, not too bad but certainly the OM Zuiko 90/2 having 'macro' capabilities would be more versatile to use. This Leica 90mm is usually still found at a reasonable price, at around $600-$800 for the early version and slightly above that for the later version. When you can find one the APO 90mm f/2 will set you back about the price of a Human Kidney…
APO- Telyt 180mm f/3.4, this lens is a giant with a small body, it is fairly small but it's 4 group 7 element lens design makes it hefty to hold. It was one of Leica’s first APO designs and one of the most affordable, at roughly $600-1000 it's a steal. This lens is sharp at every f stop, but bokeh is quite rough, nearest focus distance is at 2.5 m which means macro capabilities are extremely limited without extension tubes. Words cannot describe how sharp it is, photos below would help, very handy as a compact package, at half the price and half a f stop smaller than the famous APO-Elmarit 180mm f/2.8 it is a good deal. (APO Summicron-R 180mm f/2 is great, exceeding almost all expectations but would cost too much for any non-professional use….)
There you have it, my quick review on my Leica R Series lenses. It really is a great opportunity to shoot with some Leica Glass, if you do a little hunting you can grab mall of these lenses at a fraction of the cost of their Leica M equivalents. Grab one of the many adapters available for your SLR an your ready to shoot with some of the best lenses ever created.