Leica Tele-Elmar-M 135mm f/4

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Last updated August 21, 2011

Leica description for this lens (borrowed from APO-Telyt 135mm f/3.4 ASPH)

Impressive all-rounder

... This lens can render the finest details clearly and in rich contrast. As the longest focal length in the Leica M system, it's ideal for shooting over long distances and is the perfect completion of any high-class outfit. It permits distinctive landscape shots with typical telephoto effects: the foreground and background are visually compressed. Moreover, it enables frame-filling portraits to be shot from afar, so the subject is undisturbed.

Important specifications

Focal length 135 mm
M8 equivalent 180 mm
Aperture range 4 - 16 (1/2 steps)
Focusing range 1.5 m – infinity
No. of elements/groups 5/3
Filter M 46 x 0.75
Weight 550 g
Produced 1990-1998

Introduction

A full review of the Leica Tele-Elmar-M 135mm f/4 lens, including specifications, performance charts, overview, sharpness and vignetting tests as well as sample images and links for further research.

135mm lenses are a relatively rare breed on the M system and rangefinders in general. The issues are few, but worth noting. First, such a long focal length really pushes the limits of the mechanical focusing system, which needs to be aligned precisely. Another issue is a matter of framing, as not all bodies have 135mm framelines and those that do - it will be the smallest set visible. If you're used to an SLR where WYSIWYG, this will really illustrate the rangefinder difference in a big way. There are some solutions to this; one being a viewfinder magnifier. Leica offers two; 1.25x and 1.4x. Taking the M8/M9 as an example, with their .68x viewfinders, the magnifiers would increase this to .85x and .95x respectively. This would make the framelines appear larger in the viewfinder and also magnify the focusing patch, increasing accuracy. The downside of course is with wider lenses, even as little as a 50mm - would require removing the magnifier again in order to see the framelines completely. They're also somewhat expensive, running several hundred dollars.

The Lens

If you can embrace the limitations (and I've found them on the M9 to be not so bad) this lens offers phenomenal performance at a relatively bargain price in the Leica lens world. Its optical formula has remained unchanged from its introduction in 1965 and was designed by the famous Dr. Walter Mandler. As such, it has that "Mandler look" to the bokeh. It has a bit less contrast that the latest aspherical lenses - but on digital, this is actually a good thing. You're less likely to crush shadows or blow out highlights and can very easily be adjusted in post-processing. The lens is sharp from wide open, with its optimum aperture at f/5.6. Stopping down merely increases the depth of field up until diffraction sets in.

Construction and materials are up to Leica standards - that is to say, essentially perfect. The aperture ring has detents from f/4 to f/16 with half stops and clicks precisely. I did find that the detents could be a little more positive as I often found myself changing the aperture by accident. The focus ring is extremely smooth and well-damped; a true Leica hallmark. Focusing is precise and a real joy with this lens. Given the long focal length and precise focus necessary, this is a good thing.

This lens features a built-in hood which slides out, something popular with later Leica lens revisions (often denoted by the -M designation in the name). Overall, practically identical to the Leica Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8... Just longer and a bit heavier. It takes 46mm filters, which is a very popular size in the M system and allows for easily sharing filters across multiple lenses.

Sample Images

Flickr Pool Images

Further Research

Sample images thread in forum
Leica Tele-Elmar-M 135mm group on Flickr