The Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90 f/2.8–4 ASPH lens review. We review this key standard zoom lens for the Leica SL system. We will look at the ergonomics, centre, and corner performance of the lens. In addition we will examine the OIS performance along with general usage of the lens.

All images on this page can be clicked to see the full size version.

 

Lets start with the Specifications:

Elmarit-SL 24–90 mm f/2.8 4 ASPH. 
Order no:11 176
Field angle
(diagonal, horizontal, vertical)
Focal length 24 mm: 82.4°/72.1°/51.8°; focal length 90 mm: 27.8°/23.3°/15.7°
Number of lenses/groups18/15
Number of aspherical lenses4
Entrance pupil positionFocal length 24 mm: 103.9 mm; focal length 90 mm: 92.6 mm
Working rangeFocal length 24 mm: 0.3 m to infinity; focal length 90 mm: 0.45 m to infinity
Smallest object fieldFocal length 24 mm: 173 x 260 mm; focal length 90 mm: 92 x137 mm
Largest reproduction ratioFocal length 24 mm: 1:7.2; focal length 90 mm: 1:3.8
Aperture Setting/functionElectronically controlled aperture, set using turn/push wheel on camera, including half values
Aperture setting rangeFocal length 24 mm: 2.8-22; focal length 90 mm: 4-22
O.I.S. Performance as per CIPA3.5 stops (at focal length f=90 mm with Leica SL (Typ 601) camera)
Bayonet/sensor formatLeica L bayonet, full-frame 35 mm format
Filter mountE82 or 82mm
Largest diameter88 mm
Leica Published Weight1140 g
Bag Weight1213 g with a Heliopan UV and caps

The Leica Vario Elmarit SL 24-90mm F/2.8-4 Asph is standard zoom starting at 24mm through to 90mm. It is the modern day version of the 28-90mm, which we reviewed here. The 24-90mm focal lengths are simply the most used in general photography. With 24mm yielding a nice wide view, and at the other end, 90mm is a classic portrait focal length. For me, this has become one of my most used lenses. Quite simply, I have shot thousands of images through this lens.

In terms of handling, its a big lens. But, it replaced at least three primes in the bag. It is also weighty, coming in at 1.21kg with a filter and caps attached, your going to feel it in the bag. But, lets put this into context. If I weigh my Leica M 24mm SEM, 50mm APO Summicron, and 90mm Elmarit with an SL-M adapter mounted on to each lens, they come in at 1.25 kg. This surprised me, I weighed the combination a couple of times to confirm the results. Now, I did add an M-SL adapter and caps to each of the M lenses. I do this because, I need the speed to change between different SL lenses in the field quickly, and fiddling with an individual M-SL adapter is not worth the hassle. So while the SL 24-90mm is heavy, its really no heavier than the equivalent M lenses with adapters.

Now your going to say that the M lenses are faster. Well this is not true at 24mm, because the SEM is F/3.4 and the SL zoom is F/2.8. At 50mm the SL zoom is at F/3.6 vs F/2.0 for the Summicron, and at 90mm the zoom is at F/4.0 vs F/2.8. Quite a difference, and one that cannot be undone. The SL 24-90mm has some tricks up its sleeve though. The lens sports optical stabilization which buys you 2-3 stops of shutter speed. This will allow you shoot at lower shutter speeds than the prime lenses, effectively negating the F-stop advantage at longer focal lengths in low light or for action. It also offers a myriad of other focal lengths, 28mm though 75mm, this gives you the flexibility of a zoom. Obviously, the bokeh from the Summicron and Elmarit are going to be better, with better subject separation. But in a fast moving environment, the zoom will be getting the shot, while the prime shooter will be changing lenses.

Leica promises prime like quality, so lets have look and see how it performs. This is a complicated lens, with 18 elements in six moving groups. Four are aspherical lens elements and 11 are elements made from glasses with anomalous partial dispersion for the correction of chromatic aberrations. So we expect very good performance. We are going to look at the prime focal lengths of 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 90mm. Below are samples that show the corner and centre performance at wide open and F/8.0 respectively.

24mm Performance

Top LeftTop RightCenterBottom LeftBottom Right
F/2.8
F/8.0

Leica has pushed the wide end of the  zoom out to 24mm at the wide end. Here we see somewhat softer corners wide open at 24mm. Again, with all zoom lenses, we are seeing some compromise. More than likely, the designers deliberately chose to make 24mm wide open corner performance weaker. Typically, shooting 24mm is usually done with the lens stopped down to achieve maximum sharpness. 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 24mm.

 

28mm Performance

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F/2.9
F/8.0

At 28mm things continue to improve. Corner performance is now very good – remember these are unsharpened images. No Chromatic Aberrations (CA) are present, and the corners are now good, and they sharpen up nicely in post processing. Vignetting is at about half a stop wide open, and completely gone by F/5.6. At F/8.0 the lens is superb, with no CA and uniform performance across the image plane. Centre performance is superb wide open, with no CA or vignetting evident.

 

35mm Performance

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F/3.1
F/8.0

35mm corner performance is slightly improved from 28mm. Fine details are fully rendered, and sharpen up to excellent in post processing. Vignetting is now at 1/3rd of a stop. At F/8, the lens is superb, no CA, and no vignetting at all.

50mm Performance

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F/3.6
F/8.0

At 50mm, wide open corner performance is now excellent. Virtually indistinguishable at F/3.6 vs F/8.0. No CA, and very mild vignetting wide open – approximately 1/4 of a stop.

 

75mm Performance

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F/3.9
F/8.0

At 75mm wide open, the lens is very good at the edges, and displays no Chromatic Aberrations (CA). Vignetting is slightly less than a 1/4 of a stop. At f/8, the lens is simply superb.

 

90mm Performance

Top LeftTop RightCenterBottom LeftBottom Right
F/4.0
F/8.0

At 90mm wide open, we see a very slight performance drop at the corners. This level of drop will sharpen up nicely in post processing, and consequently be unnoticeable. Slight vignetting is evident – about a tenth of a stop. No CA is evident. F/8.0 the entire image is superb. This focal length will primarily be used for portraiture wide open. edge performance is more than adequate for this use. Wide open, at F/4.0, the center portion of the image is superb.

 

Conclusion

For me the Leica 24-90mm is one of my most used lenses. The 24-90mm range covers almost all shooting situations that you might encounter. The built in stabilization really works, and provides up to 3.5 stops of useful steadiness. The lens offers an unusual aperture range from F/2.8 to F/4.0. Most manufacturers usually go with a straight F/4.0 lens for this category. The Leica, while having a slightly shorter range, does have a one stop advantage over its competitors up to 50mm. Shooting at F/2.8, at 24mm at slower shutter speeds is quite possible. Add the heft of the lens, and the SL body, and you do have a stable platform for this type of shooting.

My use of this lens, has tended to be stopped down at 24mm, 35mm, 75 & 90mm and wide open at 35-90mm. Bokeh is pleasant

The lens is quite a beast. it is large, and heavy. At 1250g/44oz bag weight, your going to know that its there in the hand or the bag. But it replaces many prime lenses with near prime quality. You would need a 24mm SEM, 35mm Summicron, 50mm Summicron, 75mm Summarit and a 90mm Summarit to cover the same range. Add those five lenses together and you get 1450g/51oz without the adapter for the M-SL and any filters. So this lens does have an advantage, and that’s range, stabilization, and utility. Changing lenses is a chore, and lets face it, there is a certain freedom with the zoom – you simply get the shot.

Now, I know that many of you are going to go on about the prime quality, and the speed advantages. Without a doubt, those are valid statements, but the zoom adds stabilization as well. So it will come down to shooting style and what you are willing to carry. There is no right or wrong, just personal preference, or if you can swing it, have both setups.

The Leica 24-90mm is a very capable zoom with near prime quality. The all metal construction adds heft, and it is truly a workhorse lens, and will reliably provide years of service.

 

Thank you.

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Sample Images

  
24mm
35mm
50mm
75mm
90mm
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