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REVIEWS - Rangefinder - Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO Telephoto

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Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO Lens

LEICA 135MM F3.4 TELYT-M APO

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Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

M-240 • F5.6 • 1/1000 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

SL • F8 • 1/125 • ISO 250

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

SL • F8 • 1/125 • ISO 400

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

M-240 • F8 • 1/1000 • ISO 200 • Tripod

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

M-240 • F5.6 • 1/1000 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

M-240 • F5.6 • 1/500 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

Leica SL • F3.4 • 1/400 • ISO 50

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

Leica SL • F3.4 • 1/400 • ISO 50

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

Leica SL • F5.6 • 1/250 • ISO 125

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

Leica SL • F5.6 • 1/250 • ISO 165

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

Sony A7II • F3.4 • 1/750 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

M-240 • F8 • 1/4000 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

M-246 • F8 • 1/250 • ISO 1000

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

M-246 • F5.6 • 1/360 • ISO 320

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

M-246 • F8 • 1/500 • ISO 400

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

M-246 • F8 • 1/1500 • ISO 3200

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

SL • F8 • 12 Seconds • ISO 50

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

M-240 • F11 • 4 Sec. • ISO 200 • Tripod

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

Sony A7II • F11 • 10 Seconds • ISO 100

Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO

Leica SL • F5.6 • 1/250 • ISO 200

Leica Product Number 11889 (Available in Black Only)
Production History 1998-Current
Lens Composition 5 Elements / 4 Groups
Angular Field of View 18º
Actual Field of View 135mm
Minimum Focus 1.5 Meters
Aperture 10 Blades (non circular)
F-Stop Scale F3.4 to F22 in 1/2 Stop Increments
Filter Size 49mm (E49), Non-rotating
Lens Cap Leica #14001 E49 Plastic Lens Cap
Lens Hood Built-In, Slides Out
Weight 459 Grams / 16.2 Ounces (without caps)
Lens Size 4.1 Inches x 0.67 Inches

BUILD QUALITY

The Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO is consistent with Leica’s exacting standards. Compared to the Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M, the focus 135mm APO’s focus ring throw is pretty short at ~120º of rotation. The 135mm Tele-Elmar’s long focus throw is tedious at times, but if trying trying to make small adjustments to focus, the longer focus travel is appreciated. Whereas the 135mm APO’s shorter focus throw speeds up the focus process; though, making fine adjustments may not be as easy. The 135mm APO’s focus ring is wide by M lens standards, so no gripes there. Focus is smooth and well dampened.

The Leica 135mm APO is beautifully made and the quality is apparent - from the fit and finish, to how the focus ring is dampened. If I had to put forth a complaint, it would the short lens hood. The short lens hoods are inadequate at night with stray light, such as a street light just outside of the frame and its light falls within the frame. In these situations with moderate side light, there tends to various forms / degrees of veiling and flare. If shooting into the sun or if the sun is slightly off-axis, the 135mm APO will flare to varying degrees.

In 2013 Leica started 6-bit coding new 135mm APO’s. Earlier 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO’s can be sent to Leica for coding at a cost of ~$375 US (yikes!) If considering a Leica 135mm F4 Tele Elmar-M, no 6-bit coding option exists. The only option is to manually select the 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M via Leica camera menu, such as the Leica M-P Typ 240 and Leica SL Typ 601.

ERGONOMICS AND HANDLING

The 135mm APO weighs 100 grams less than the previous model 135mm F4 Tele Elmar M. The 100 grams may sound trite, but in use the difference is appreciable. The 135mm Tele-Elmar M is nose heavy, whereas the 135mm APO feels more balanced. For handheld shooting the 135mm APO is the easy winner.

Being a long lens, the 135mm APO’s barrel is visible in the Leica M's rangefinder window. The 135mm APO does NOT block the 135mm frame line area. Framing with the 135mm frame lines is a guide, not an exact science. If I need to be more precise, the Leica EVF or Live View is the best option with the Leica M-P Typ 240. Of course, this is a total non-issue on the Leica SL Typ 601.

The 135mm APO’s minimum focus distance is 1.5 meters, typical of 135mm rangefinder lenses. Most M lenses have a minimum focus distance of .7 meters or 1 meter, so there are times where the 135mm APO’s longer minimum focus distance catches me by surprise and I need to take a step back. For close-up work, Leica’s new Leica Macro-Adapter-M with a built in focus helicoid is a convenient work-around. I have tried the tube based solutions and the trial & error of stacking 1, 2 or 3 tubes to get right focus distance is tedious.

The best solution I have found for close focusing with the Leica 135mm APO is the Leica SL Typ 601. The 4.41 MP EVF provides a large, highly detailed view. Often I can focus accurately wide-open (with the aid focus peaking) without the need to magnify the focus area. Being able to focus closer helps maximize the Leica 135mm APO's bokeh potential. With the Leica M's I tend to add some distance to improve my focus accuracy (by adding depth of field), at the cost of losing some bokeh potential.

THE FOCUS CHALLENGE

Most M shooters will concede that focusing a 135mm lens via the RF mechanism is a roll of the dice. With the Leica M8 and M9 my in-focus keeper rates were dismal. Before the Leica M-P Typ 240 and having Live View, I simply chose not to use 135mm lenses.

That said, proper rangefinder calibration is half the battle, so if both the M body and 135mm APO are well calibrated, the focus accuracy odds improve radically. Normally I am not a fan of 1.25x or 1.4x magnifiers because they reduce contrast in the RF window, but in the case of the 135mm lenses, the benefits outweigh the risks so to speak. Without a magnifier, my in-focus keeper-rate is pretty low, especially at wider apertures. Fortunately my Leica M-P Typ 240 and 135mm APO are well matched, and with a 1.25x magnifier the wide-open in focus keeper rate is ~50% (usually shooting around F5.6).

While 50% might sound okay, the discussion fundamentally changes with the Live View. With live view or the EVF, seeing focus and RF calibration are nullified. While the M-240‘s Live View is less than ideal, I muddle through with the EVF. Even with a well matched M-P and 135mm APO pairing, I still gravitate towards the EVF because my confidence level is higher. And now with the Leica SL Typ 601 on hand, 135mm APO is seeing less use on the Leica M bodies.

FOCUSING WITH THE LEICA SL TYP 601

Overall I prefer using the Leica M-P as a “M”, but times change. At the end of day it is about coming home with pictures. Frankly, when wouldn't it make sense to use the EVF instead of the OVF with a tricky rangefinder lens like the 135mm APO? I must concede that in this case, practicality trumps preference. "Nailing focus" on the Leica SL Typ 601 is easy. The 135mm APO's sharpness and detail is just as stunning on the Leica SL as the M - perhaps even more so on the Leica SL because the images are well focused.

With regards to the boastful in-focus-keep-rate cited earlier (on M cameras), consider the images shown in this “review” are all landscapes. This is a reflection of what I think is realistically possible on a consistent basis. If shooting portraits, I will use a Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (review here) or Leica 90mm F2 Summicron-M APO (review here). I have used the 135mm APO for some portraits. Those were taken with the EVF and tripod - a very controlled process. Given the M-240's shutter lag with the EVF, timing with portraits can be tricky (and that is being nice).

That is soooo yesterday... soooo M biased... Today those focus woes are a non-issue with the Leica SL Typ 601. Shooting a wide-open portrait on the Leica SL Typ 601 with an off-center composition is easy. In a nod to the Leica M purists, yes, the M body is workable, but the SL is easier and faster.

OPTICAL PERFORMANCE

The 135mm APO’s ability to resolve details is stunning - it is probably the sharpest, highest resolving Leica M lens I own. Pixel peeping with the 135mm APO is a guilty pleasure. Chromatic aberrations in the plane of focus are pretty much non-existent. Distortion is minimal - I never notice any nor apply any distortion corrections in Phase One's 'Capture One' raw editor. When the Leica M8 was released, Leica recommended using the 135mm APO at F5.6 or smaller. The reason was two-fold: 1) the lens is a SOB to focus, and 2) due to the sensor stack, optimal resolution may not be achieved at F3.4. As addressed earlier, I wholly agree with Leica #1 concern. As for #2, if the 135mm APO is losing resolution at F3.4 due to the sensor stack, I cannot tell. The lens is brilliantly sharp at all apertures.

Contrast is beautifully balanced - images are neither overly contrasty nor washed out. There are none of those pesky magenta / green chromatic aberrations in the bokeh like the 135mm Tele-Elmar M. In terms of contrast, resolution, distortion, light fall and chromatic aberrations, there is nothing wrong with the 135mm APO. Its draw is neutral. The trendy way to describe a “neutral” lens is to call it “transparent” - meaning the lens imparts nothing to the image, it simply renders the scene as seen. A year or two ago people referred to such renditions as “clinical”, implying a coldness or sterility. Since the 50mm APO’s introduction, popular opinion has shifted on the merits of “transparent” lenses. Yes, I am being snarky here.

If trying to understand what transparent is, Mandler era lenses are pretty much the direct opposite. The Mandler lenses are famous (or infamous if you prefer) for the “Leica glow”. That glow is a combination of wide open softness, halation and various types of chromatic aberrations. Sometimes the recipe works and the “glow” is eulogized as “magical”. Other times, it comes across as a poor performing lens that needs to be stopped down for decent performance. Mandler eras lenses also exhibit more of a “paintery” bokeh; though, the bokeh contains considerable green and magenta chromatic aberrations. Again, it all depends on taste and preference, and perhaps one’s preference for black & white images vs color.

The new ASPH designs set new standards in wide open sharpness and contrast. The most common trade-off I see in the ASPH lenses is “busy” bokeh (nisen bokeh). It is more noticeable in wider lenses such as the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE, but even the Leica 90mm F2 Summicron-M APO can have its moments. Fortunately the intrinsic telephoto traits of a 135mm lens keep the nisen bokeh at bay. As Leica transitioned to newer ASPH / APO designs, some argue that Leica lenses lost their “magic”. I do not miss the “glow”; though, I feel Leica has sacrificed bokeh in the pursuit of sharpness and contrast. That trend may be changing. Leica appears to be placing increased focus on bokeh with the newest lenses - the 50mm F2 Summicron-M APO and the 100mm Summicron-S APO. The only way Leica could improve on the 135mm APO’s character is by giving the lens a faster aperture (for more bokeh).

CONCLUSION

The Leica 135mm F4 Tele Elmar-M is known as an exceptionally sharp lens. With the 135mm APO, Leica made the lens a 1/2 stop faster, improved wide open sharpness, reduced CA in the bokeh and decreased weight by 20%. That is an impressive feat. Optically, the results are superb and there really is nothing to fault. The 135mm APO is very bokeh capable; however, it cannot match the degree of bokeh produced by a Canon 135mm F2 L @ F2. That is a Captain Obvious statement, but I think it needs to be noted to ensure potential buyers have realistic expectations. For landscape photographers wanting telephoto reach and a focus-coupled rangefinder lens, the 135mm APO is the best option. While there are many 135mm SLR lenses that could be used on the Leica M-240, very few match the 135mm APO compactness and none will match the Leica 135mm APO’s performance to size ratio.

Which brings us to the Leica Tax. I will never say the good the 135mm APO is a good financial value. Though, used prices can be reasonable. A 135mm lens is a focal length where I can compromise on price and not give up much in performance. If looking to simply fill the 135mm space in the lens kit, the Canon 135mm F3.5 LTM is a brilliant low cost option (review here). But if looking for the best quality money can buy in a rangefinder focus-coupled lens, then the 135mm APO is the winner.

end of review flourish

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