The Leica Vario-Elmarit-R 28-90mm f2.8-4.5 ASPH is a great lens. Arguably one of the best medium zooms ever made. It is fairly light considering its range, and yields beautiful images. We mounted it on a Leica M9, M240, and a Leica SL for this test. The lens went into production in 2004. Considering its vintage, its an exceptional design that rivals, and even surpasses, many modern zooms. When introduced, it set a new level for standard zoom performance, rivalling many prime lenses of the time. Lets see how it does today!

 

Specifications

Lens no. – 11365

Production Years – 2003-2009, Total Lenses Produced: 2,135

Lens mount – LEICA R-bayonet

Number of lenses /groups – 11 /8

Zoom range – 1 : 3.214

Focusing range – 0.6 m / 2 ft < ∞ can be focused beyond infinity, focusing does not have to be corrected for IR-photography

Aperture – f/2.8 – f/22

Position of entrance pupil – 408 mm / 16.0 in (related to the first lens surface in light direction)

Filter mount – Internal thread for screw-in type filters E 67, or 67mm Filters

Lens hood – Built-in, pull-out, petal shaped sections

Focal length – 28 to 90 mm / 1.1 < 3.5 in

Length to bayonet flange – 99 mm / 3.9 in

Largest diameter – 80 mm / 3.1 in

Weight – 740 g / 26.1 oz

Bag Weight – Including F-Pro UV filter, generic caps 774g

The Leica 28mm–90mm f/2.8–4.5 ASPH Vario-Elmarit-R lens is a standard zoom starting at 28mm and continuing to 90mm. It was first manufactured in 2004, and is today (2018) considered an older design. Since the R mount film camera has been discontinued, many people use this lens with adapters on various digital bodies. This review will only look at the lens in this context, that is, using digital bodies and adapters.

I have owned three copies of this lens, and each one has been exemplary. All of them were within production limits, and showed essentially the same performance – this says a lot about Leica’s production tolerances at that time. Up until the recently announced Leica SL Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH lens, this was Leica’s go to zoom lens in the mid-range. There are others, such as the 35-70mm zooms, but they do not have the useful range of this lens.

By pushing the zoom range out to 90mm, Leica has created a very useful zoom. Most manufacturers tend to create both a 24/28-70mm fast (F/2.8) zoom, or a 24/28-104mm F/4.0 zoom. The shorter zoom length is really only useful for more specialized purposes, such as weddings, sports, and general portraiture. This limited focal range is not very practical as a day to day zoom for travel, and general use. This is why, manufacturers create the larger range 24/28-90/105mm zoom lenses. Other manufacturers settle with a constant F/4.0, Leica chose to limit the range to the classic 90mm, and go for a faster aperture at the wider focal lengths. Remember, this zoom was designed before lens stabilizations systems were around. So this compromise, kind of makes sense. As always, Leica went for maximum image quality, and this was considered to be “the reference zoom” by any manufacturer, with this range, at the time. Even today, it is much better than most other manufacturers offerings in terms of absolute lens performance.

 

 

As always, these are processed images from Raw files. I want to show what the lens is capable of with processing. The centre and corner shots are unprocessed and unsharpened crops from Raw files.

Click on an image to view full size

Performance at 28mm

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F/2.8
F/8.0

We see softer corners wide open at 28mm. As with all zoom lenses, we are seeing some compromise. The designers chose to make 28mm wide open corner performance weaker. Lets face it, if you are shooting a wide angle shot at 28mm, you are going to stop the lens down. Corner performance at F/8.0 has improved substantially with little to no vignetting. CA is essentially gone. Field curvature is still showing itself on the infinity shots, this curvature does lead to some continuing softness at F8. Centre performance is already excellent wide open at 28mm.

In the two images below you can see the performance of the lens wide open at F/2.8 and closed down to F/8.0 in normal shooting. The lens yields a beautiful image wide open. the sample image shows both foreground and background bokeh. For a zoom it is very pleasing. Wide open you will see some softness in the corners, but that is expected. Field curvature is well controlled

The lens shows no chromatic aberrations (CA) in the plane of focus, and slight magenta and green longitudinal CA in the out of focus area’s behind the marching soldier. Look at the stone directly behind his head. This type of CA is easily removed, Lightroom will remove half of it automatically, and a little manual fiddling in the CA tool will easily remove the rest. I picked this image because it showed the CA really well. Purple lens blooming is evident around the soldiers buttons, again easily removed in lightroom. The image was processed with no CA removal, so that you can see the extent of it.  Otherwise considering the age of the lens, CA performance is exceptional for this zoom/age.

At F/2.8 you can expect about one stop of vignetting. This amount of natural vignetting is pleasing to the eye, and helps add a dimensionality to the images. It is easily fixed in Lightroom or Photoshop. Lightroom does have a profile for this lens by the way.

Stop the lens down to F/8.0, and all of the CA is gone with the lens exhibiting excellent performance and no vignetting. The second image shows the level of performance that you can expect.

M240 @28mm F/2.8M240 @28mm F/8.0

Performance at 35mm

Top LeftTop RightCenterBottom LeftBottom Right
F/3.5
F/8.0

At 35mm corner performance improves substantially wide open. The lens now displays a very fine softness in the corners, remember, these are unsharpened images. No CA is present in the corners, and purple blooming is non existent. Vignetting has improved to about half a stop. Centre performance is excellent wide open. At F8 the corners are sharp, with no CA or vignetting.

Performance at 50mm

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F/3.5
F/8.0

At 50mm, corner performance improves from 35mm. The corners are now showing fine detail, and with a little sharpening will appear sharp. No CA is present and vignetting drops to about a quarter stop. Centre performance is excellent wide open. At F8, very fine detail is evident and the corners are fully sharp.

Performance at 70mm

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F/4.0
F/8.0

At 70mm, corner performance is very good, with fine details rendered crisply. No CA is present and vignetting drops to about an eight of stop. Centre performance is excellent wide open. At F8, very fine detail is evident and the corners are fully sharp.

Performance at 90mm

Top LeftTop RightCenterBottom LeftBottom Right
F/4.5
F/8.0

At 90mm, corner performance is very good, with fine details rendered crisply. No CA is present and vignetting drops to about an eight of stop. Centre performance is excellent wide open. At F8, very fine detail is evident and the corners are fully sharp.

At 90mm wide open the lens has very good performance. Images are sharp, with very good bokeh. Since the 90mm focal length is a primary length for portrait photography, the lens is actually quite good for this use. Contrast control is exceptional, which is typical of the R system lenses. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled, typically 1-2 pixels at the  very edge of the image field. and easily removed in post processing.

M9 @90mm F/4.5M9 @90mm F/8.0

Conclusion

The Leica R 28-90mm is a lens that performs amazingly well, especially when consider that it went into production in 2004. The lens has great ergonomics. It is relatively small, no bigger than Canon’s 24-105mm lens. The focus is super smooth on my sample, and it zooms precisely with ease. It has that Leica build quality, so you know that it will last, and continue to perform.

Remarkably, considering that this lens was designed for film use, and yet today, we see that it still performs exceptionally well on digital sensors. The corner test shots were shot on a Leica SL with the Leica R-SL adapter. The sample images were shot on an M9 and M240 with the Leica R-M adapter. If you are shooting a digital M, and want a standard zoom, then this is the lens for you. On the SL, it is a lot smaller than the SL 24-90mm. This is to be expected, since it is manual focus and does not have any stabilization like the SL zoom does.

If you are looking for a general Leica zoom, that can be mounted on almost any mirrorless camera, then this is your lens. As with all Leica lenses, it is not cheap, but it will hold its value. It is highly recommended.

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Sample Images

  
M240 @ 28mm F/2.8

 

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