Leica Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8

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Last updated March 21, 2013 (was January 25, 2012)

The Leica description for this lens

A compact, medium focal length featuring very good contrast and sharpness across the entire picture area – even at full aperture. Vignetting too, is hardly discernible with the lens wide open. Natural-looking portraiture with an out-of-focus background is an optimal task for this slightly longer focal length and the f/2.8 aperture. The black version of this lens weighs slightly more than 400 g (14 oz) and it is only a little longer than a 50 mm lens. In combination with the Tri-Elmar lens, this light tele lens forms an outstanding, compact travel outfit with universal applications.

Important specifications

Focal length 90 mm
M8 equivalent 120 mm
Aperture range 2.8 - 22 (1/2 steps)
Aperture blades 9
Focusing range 1.0 m – infinity
No. of elements/groups 4/4
Angular field, diag./horiz./vert. 27/35/15 º
Filter M 46 x 0.75
Dimensions ø 55 mm, length 83 mm
Weight 410 g
Produced 1990-2008

Performance Data

The following graphs were gleaned from the Leica-provided datasheet (PDF) for this lens:

Introduction

A full review of the Leica Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 lens, including specifications, performance charts, overview, sharpness and vignetting tests as well as sample images and links for further research.

Until not that long ago, barely two years - this lens was among one of the best bargains in the used Leica lens market. It went from around $800 to nearly double that in the last year, likely because of the growing base of M9 users looking to get something longer now that there's no 1.33x crop factor as on the M8 - and the fact that it's a really, really good lens.

What also helps to make it popular is the relatively few options at this focal length, which is clearly not as popular as say, the 50mm. The usual competitors, Zeiss and Cosina/Voigtländer don't have many options. Zeiss offered the Sonnar T* 2/85 lens but it was large, heavy and very expensive. Eventually they introduced the Tele-Tessar T* 4/85 which is much more portable and relatively inexpensive. The problem of course, is that it isn't particularly fast at f/4. To make matters worse, as of January 2011, the Sonnar T* 2/85 has been discontinued. While it was a lens capable of amazing capability and character - it was just too large and expensive for most people. Cosina/Voigtländer is usually a great option, but at this focal length there is only the 90/3.5 APO Lanthar. A good lens and reasonably priced, it's also not that fast at f/3.5. Fortunately, Leica has offered many different versions of the 90mm over the years and not being the most popular focal length meant plenty on the used market.

The Lens

Similar to many Leica "-M" versions, it's a modern barrel design, has an M bayonet mount and offers a built-in, sliding hood. The optical design has been refreshed from previous versions, the Tele-Elmarit and Elmarit. The barrel doesn't taper down towards the front and is basically a perfect cylinder. Mostly due to the fast f/2.8 speed and sliding hood. This particular lens came in the usual colors of black and silver - but also in a titanium finish. It's a beautifully made, nice feeling lens. Deceptively solid and robust. Very much like the Tele-Elmar-M 135mm f/4 but shorter and a bit lighter. As with most Leica lenses, the aperture ring has positive detents in half-stops from f/2.8 to f/22 and the focus ring is nicely damped. Nothing is loose, there's no play in the controls and nothing rattles. If only every lens were built like these.

A nice bonus with this lens is the common 46mm filter size. If you have multiple lenses such as the Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH or Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH, etc. you can use the same size UV/IR, polarizer or B&W contrast filters among them all. The Summicron and APO-Summicron-M use larger 48/55mm filters, respectively.


Optically, the lens is a real gem. Bested only by the latest APO-Summicron 90mm f/2 ASPH, it's much smaller, lighter and cheaper. Much more practical unless you really need that extra stop in speed. Even from wide open, the image is sharp across the frame and stopping down helps only a little and merely gets you increased depth of field. At f/8 the MTF curves nearly (but not quite) flatline - impressive! The bokeh is very pleasant and soft. The image is sharp, the colors saturated and has a fairly modern (high) contrast.

Vignetting is very minimal - only the corners show a hint of it wide open which disappears rapidly at f/4 and is essentially gone by f/5.6. Coding the lens for use on the M8/M9 removes almost all vignetting. Distortion is also very minimal.

Sadly, Leica discontinued this lens in 2008 and replaced it with the Summarit 90mm f/2.5. While the former is now up to around the same price used as the latter is new - we'd still recommend the former. It's just a better lens; perhaps not as much optically as it is mechanically.

Those looking for a cheaper option might want to look into the older Tele-Elmarit and Elmarit versions, which can be had for 1/2 or even 1/4 of the going rate on the Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 currently. They're all decent lenses and you can't go wrong with any of them.

Coding for Digital

This lens has a direct and proper code in the firmware and is "100110" as seen in the Leica Lens Codes reference:

Lens Name Black Chrome Code Picture Framelines
Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 11807 11808 100110 ⬛⬜⬜⬛⬛⬜ 28/90

If your lens isn't coded, you can code it temporarily, or permanently through Leica or independent repairperson - or you can Convert to a Coded M Lens Mount for $15 and 15 minutes worth of work. In any event, you'll see it come up via the INFO button with Lens Detection set to AUTO:

Vignetting

Vignetting was tested using the M9 at ISO 160, firmware version 1.176:

Lens detection set to OFF

f/2.8

f/4.0

f/5.6

f/8.0

f/11.0
 
 
Lens coded as an Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 (11807/11808) and lens detection set to AUTO

f/2.8

f/4.0

f/5.6

f/8.0

f/11.0
 

Sharpness

This test is preliminary, and only tests the center performance - but it should give you an idea of what to expect. It was conducted by shooting a test target at one meter (1m). Images were shot at the various apertures with an M9, mounted on a tripod with a cable release. Wide open shot at f/2.8 was focus-bracketed using three shots. No alterations were done to the image except for auto level and they are 100% crops:

f/2.8 f/4 f/5.6 f/8 f/11

Sample Images

Flickr Pool Images

Further Research

Sample images thread in forum
LEICA ELMARIT-M 1:2.8/90mm group on Flickr