This lens made history when it was introduced in 1995. It was the first time that a telephoto zoom lens could at least equal the optical performance of the very best fixed lenses in its range, and even surpass them in part of its range. As such this lens represented a breakthrough in conventional wisdom (also for Leica).
The Vario-Apo-Elmarit-R 70-180mm f/2.8 is a high-speed lens with apochromatic correction and variable focal length in the medium telephoto range.
The design of the lens represents an outstanding achievement by Leica's engineers and optical designers. The excellent optical design of this meticulously manufactured zoom lens is based on thirteen elements in ten components. Twelve different types of glass have been used, five of which consist of special anomalous partial dispersion glass. On the basis of precise mechanical construction, five elements in two components are moved in the optical system when the focal length is changed. When focusing, three additional elements in two components are moved. Despite this, the lens has a parallel guided focusing mount, so the use of a circular polarization filter is possible.
The imaging capacity of the zoom lens in medium telephoto range with a speed as high as f/2.8 can be compared to the performance of fixed focal length Leica lenses with the highest imaging capacity. When taking photographs from a distance of approximately 5m to infinity, the image is extremely sharp throughout the entire focal range of 70 to 180mm, even at full aperture. This performance cannot be visibly enhanced by stopping down. However, a smaller aperture does lead to a slight improvement in field illumination. Astigmatic errors and coma virtually never occur. When using a focal length of 100mm, the imaging capacity of the lens can be compared to that of the 100mm Apo-Macro-Elmarit-R. At close range (less than 5m) contrast and resolution can be slightly improved by stopping the aperture down by one or two stops.
The level of system-related vignetting, which could become particularly noticeable with low exposures and uniformly lit areas such as house walls or blue sky, is very low when photographing from long distances. However, above aperture settings of f/5.6-8 the lens is free of artificial vignetting.
If a very uniform field illumination is required at close range, stopping down to aperture f/8-11 is recommended at shorter and longer focal ranges. When photographing difficult subjects at medium focal ranges (100-135mm), it is recommendable to avoid distances under approximately 2.2m, because in this situation vignetting will become visible on the edges of the picture even using the smallest aperture. This is, however, less significant with slides, where this phenomenon is usually concealed by the slide frame.
This is the only medium telephoto lens which ever received a maximum score of five stars for optical quality from the French photo magazine Chasseur d'Images.
The German photo magazine ColorFoto gave this lens 87.4 points (maximum score of 5 stars).
Weight: 1,870 gr, length from bayonet flange: 189.5 mm, built-in telescopic and rubber armoured lenshood. E77 filter size. Eyelets for attaching a carrying strap. Tripod head.
Its Leica catalog number is 11267 or 11279 (with ROM).
Click here for an in-depth test report.