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REVIEWS - Rangefinder - Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M Telephoto #11861

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Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M Telephoto Lens

LEICA 135MM F4 Tele-Elmar M #11861

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Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F4 • 1/4000 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F4 • 1/750 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F11 • 1/750 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F4 • .5 Seconds • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F4 • 1/180 • ISO 3200

Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F11 • 1/350 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F11 • 1/250 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F11 • 1/750 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F4 • 1/1000 • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F8 • 2 Seconds • ISO 200

Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M

M-240 • F5.6 • 1/750 • ISO 200

Leica Product Number 11861 (Available in Black Only)
Production History 1992-1998 (Version #1, 11852, 1965-1985)
Lens Composition 5 Elements / 3 Groups
Floating Element No
Angular Field of View 18º
Minimum Focus 1.5 Meters
Aperture 10 Blades (non circular)
F-Stop Scale F4 to F22 in 1/2 Stop Increments
Filter Size 46mm (E46), Non-rotating
Lens Cap Leica #14231 46mm Plastic Lens Cap
Lens Hood Built-In, Slides Out
Weight 550 Grams
Lens Size 112 x 59 mm / 4.41 x 2.32 inches

OVERVIEW

After hearing so many good things about the Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M, I decided to try one and see how it fared against the incumbent, the Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO. This is a relatively short review because the task at hand was deciding whether or not to save some money replace the Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO, so much of this review is more of a comparison between the two 135mm M lenses.

BUILD QUALITY AND HANDLING

While the 135mm Tele-Elmar’s optical design remained constant over its 30 year production run, the lens barrel changed considerably between the first and second version. I opted for the second version due to the built-in lens hood and its more contemporary lens barrel design.

LEICA 135MM MODEL YEAR WEIGHT HOOD
Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M 11852 1965-1985 550g Snap-on
Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M 11861 1992-1998 550g Built-in
Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO 11889 1998- 450g Built-in

Typical of most Leica M lenses, the Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M exhibits a solid build, smooth focus and excellent fit and finish. Comparing the Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M and Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO, some of the physical differences include -

  • The Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO weighs 100g less is ~1/2” shorter. The Tele-Elmar feels more nose heavy on the M, and the added 100g is appreciably noticeable.
  • The Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M’s focus throw is ~180º rotation; the Telyt-M APO’s is ~135º. Small focus adjustments are easier with the Tele Elmar. On the flip side, focusing the Telyt-M APO is a bit quicker.
  • The Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M’s built-in lens hood is ~2X deeper than the Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO’s; I doubt the APO’s lens hood helps much. In fact, neither hood is particularly effective.
  • The Telyt-M APO come 6-bit coded starting ~417xxxx. The Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M cannot be coded and there is no 6-bit code for it.

The biggest challenge with 135mm rangefinder lens is accurate focus. To improve the odds -

  • If shooting handheld, keeper shutter speeds at 1/250th or faster, preferably 1/500. The impact of camera shake is compounded by the 135mm lens' length.
  • Avoid outstretched handheld shooting with live view - that is a perfect recipe for added camera / lens shake with long(er) lenses. If using the Leica M Typ 240's live view or EVF, doing so with a tripod is much easier versus handheld.
  • Using the Leica VF-2 with the Leica M Typ 240 makes focusing with either 135mm easier. While the Leica VF-2's 1.44 MP and 30 FPS are far from ideal, it is better than nothing

If picking a winner up to this point, I would choose the Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO simply because it is lighter and handles better with my Leica M's. Also, having 6-bit coding makes day to day use easier.

OPTICAL PERFORMANCE

The Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO improves upon the Tele-Elmar’s optical performance; however, the Tele-Elmar compares very well. The 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M's sharpness and contrast are excellent through the aperture range. From time to time there is even a hint of a 3D-like rendering. Due to the short lens hood, the Tele-Elmar is susceptible to veiling with off-axis light. Be very wary of light coming from the side or just outside of the frame. This holds true for the Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO as well.

When it comes to the bokeh, F4 is only capable of so much. At near distances the 135mm Tele-Elmar M produces a very abstracted bokeh, but at moderate distances, such as a typical outdoor portrait, the bokeh peters out. Closer inspection will reveal "onion bokeh" - the concentric circles within the specular highlights. This is surprising given that the Tele-Elmar M contains no aspherical elements; however, there are other possible reasons (Toothwalker’s site has an excellent write-up on bokeh descriptors). Also, green and magenta chromatic aberrations are visible in the bokeh.

The 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO lays down its depth of field differently (essentially more depth) and it generally has less chromatic aberrations in its bokeh. The Telyt-M APO is a bit sharper, and probably has higher resolution. That said, at this point we are talking subtle shades of gray here, not knock-out punches so to speak. The following images illustrate how each lens lays down its depth of field and manages bokeh (blur) in the foreground -

LEICA 135MM F3.4 F4 F5.6 F8
135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO @ F3.4 Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO @ F4 Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO @ F5.6 Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO @ F8
135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M @ F4 Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M @ F5.6 Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M @ F8

As the images illustrate, the results from both lenses can be quite similar. While I consider the Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO to be the better of the two lenses, one could easily argue we're ankle deep in diminishing returns.

CONCLUSION

The Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M enjoyed a 30 year production run with no changes to its optical formula. Given it results and how it compares to the Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO, I can understand why. In the conclusion of my Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO review, I wrote -

“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%."

It was those differences that swung me in favor of the Leica 135mm F3.4 Telyt-M APO and parting with the Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M. Frankly, I think most people would be very happy with the Leica 135mm F4 Tele-Elmar M (and the ~$1000 they saved). If wanting the best 135mm Leica has to offer, get the Telyt-M APO. If wanting "just" a really good 135mm, the Tele-Elmar M is a great value.

end of review flourish

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