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Quick Hands On Review: Leica 21mm f3.4 Elmarit Lens

by Chris Gampat on 11/05/2011

After announcing the Leica 21mm f3.4 Elmarit lens in June of this year, Leica finally brought the lens to American soil where Gevon and I got some brief playtime with the lens at Photo Plus East. Despite the lens being a tiny bit slow for my tastes, it is probably the lens that has turned me onto the 21mm focal length after trying it on the Leica M9P (M9-P)

But how does it perform?

Gear Used

Tech Specs

Tech specs taken from B&H Photo’s listing of the lens.

Angle of View 35mm format (24 x 36mm): 91°, 80°, 59°
Leica M8 models (18 x 27mm): 74°, 64°, 46°
Focal length equivalent: approx. 28mm
Optical Design 8 elements in 7 groups, 2 aspherical surfaces
Working Range 2.3′ / 0.7m to infinity
Reproduction Ratio 1:29.4
Aperture f/3.4-16 with half-stop detents
Mount Leica M bayonet with 6-bit bar-coding
Filter Mount 46 mm
Miscellaneous Scales: Combined meter/feet graduation
Smallest object field: 706 x 1059mm (35mm format); 530 x 795mm (for M8)
Dimensions Length to bayonet flange: 43/55mm (1.69/2.17″)
With/without lens hood
Diameter: 53mm (2.09″)
Weight 9.84 oz (279g)

Ergonomics

When you hold the Leica 21mm f3.5, you know that you’re holding a Leica. By that, I mean that it adheres to all the common characteristics and traits of the company’s heritage. The lens features an excellent depth of field scale, smooth focusing ring/scale, excellent aperture ring that snaps in place so spiffily, and an excellent build quality.

In both my hands and Gevon’s hands (who has significantly larger hands than I do) it was a delight to hold and play with. Despite saying that, this isn’t a toy lens at all. The design and build are all metal and the lens will probably be able to take a beating if it was faced with a situation like that.

For the price tag that you’re paying, one should expect it to be able to keep up with the best of the best.

Focusing

Focusing this lens is smooth and buttery. If you’ve never held a Leica lens before, they are smoother to focus than Zeiss and Canon FD lenses, but not as smooth as say the new Noktor 12mm f1.6.

Image Quality

I shot much more with this lens, but the first time I shot with it I forgot to put an SD card in the camera :(. Seriously, that’s what a busy trade show can do to you.

Gevon shot this image above of me when he used the lens. As you can see, it’s damned sharp. In fact, this may be the sharpest lens from the company that I’ve played with.

Despite the excellent sharpness and nice bokeh/focus falloff, my problem with the lens is that on the ill lit tradeshow floor, I needed to crank the ISO levels up very high. That isn’t usually a problem because of modern editing software, but Leica’s raw files are like Chrome film in that you need to nail the exposure nearly perfectly to get a great file. And when you do nail it, you’ll sit there in awe for a long time.

I was very impressed with the lens and will request it to come in for review.

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