Beautifully Made Luxury Telephoto: Leica M 135mm F3.4 Review

The Leica M 135mm f3.4 is one of the longest lenses in Leica’s beloved M mount system. As such, it brings more background separation and the ability to get in close without physically being close. The lens, formally known as the Leica APO Telyt M 135mm f3.4, brings several key features that I’ve come to expect from the system, starting with the solid build and continuing to the color and contrast. Of course, it has a price that I’ve come to expect from the system as well — $4,495.

You can view this article and much more with minimal ads in our brand new app for iOS, iPadOS, and Android.

Leica’s M system, as fans of the series know, is all manual focus. Just how hard is it to focus with a 135mm? Does the Leica M 135mm f3.4 demand the high price? I tested the lens on the M10R to find out.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The 135mm focal length is the longest for an M mount lens. Like the rest of the series, the Leica M 135mm f3.4 is beautifully made and delivers some great color and contrast. Getting such a long lens sharp using manual focus is tricky, but it rewards patience with some great background separation.

Leica M 135mm f3.4 Pros and Cons

Pros

  • All metal design
  • Longest focal length in the Leica M mount
  • Great contrast
  • Excellent bokeh
  • Solid sharpness

Cons

Gear Used

I paired the Leica M 135mm f3.4 with the M10R. A loaner from LensRentals, I used a Leica 49mm UVa II filter on the front of the lens.

Innovations

The Leica M 135mm f3.4 is one of the longest focal lengths in the M mount system. It’s a longstanding lens that’s been around for several years, yet still has several advantages to offer.

Leica M 135mm f3.4 Tech Specs

For the APO TELYT M 135mm f3.4, Lensrentals lists the following specifications:

Angle of View18 degrees
Aperturef3.4-22
AutofocusManual Focus Only
BrandLeica
Diameter2.3″
DimensionsLength: 4.1″
Filter Size49.0mm (nonrotating)
Filter Stylenonrotating
Focal Length135.0-135.0
Groups/Elements4/5
Hood IncludedNo
Image StabilizationNo
Item TypeLens
Lens TypeNormal Range
Max Aperture3.4
Maximum Magnification1:9
Minimum Aperture22.0
Minimum Focusing Distance5.0feet
MountLeica M
Weight1 lb.

Ergonomics

The Leica M 135mm f3.4 is the longest focal length available for the M mount system, yet it isn’t terribly large. It’s about 4.2 inches long. The lens is also pretty narrow and is capped by just a 49mm filter thread. 

With a metal build, the lens is also surprisingly not terribly heavy. Leica’s 90mm f2 lens is actually heavier. It weighs just a touch under a pound. Carrying three M lenses for a two-hour portrait session, I felt like I was carrying less gear than my typical bag. The compact size makes the metal construction less overwhelming in weight.

The Leica M 135mm f3.4’s front end is taken up by nearly all glass, with just enough of a metal ring to hold a 49mm filter. A built-in metal lens hood slides smoothly out from the body to help fight flare. Just below that hood is a thin aperture ring. It turns easily with a nice click for making changes by feel.

The aperture ring is much wider. It’s easy to grab, even with gloves on, and turns smoothly. Labeled with both meters and feet, it’s matched up with a depth of field scale.

The Leica M 135mm f3.4 is a very classic Leica lens with a design similar to the 90mm f2. It’s fun to shoot with and not terribly heavy.

Build Quality

This Leica lens feels lovely. The all-metal build feels great and adds durability. It is narrower than the lenses I’m accustomed to, but that allows the metal build to not make the lens too heavy.

Leica doesn’t label their lenses as weather-sealed. The metal design does feel like it can take a beating, but there’s no rubber seal at the mount. The lens also changes in length slightly as it focuses. If there’s a weak spot, it would be most likely to suffer from dust and dirt. It definitely feels wrong to use weak in a sentence with this lens, however, and I would anticipate the 135mm lasting well beyond the typical lifespan of a plastic lens.

Focus

Of the M mount lenses that I’ve used so far, the 135mm was the most difficult to get in focus at the widest aperture. The long 135mm focal length makes a small depth of field, even at f3.4, with lots of room for error. I’m a Leica novice, however, and experienced shooters should have a bit easier time.

But, Leica intends the Leica M 135mm f3.4 to be partially used for landscapes with the telephoto’s ability to compress the scene. For that, the lens is easy enough to use. At narrower apertures, the lens is easy to lock in focus. Using it for portraits proves a bit trickier and requires some patience.

The lens can focus as close as 1.5 meters, which converts to just under five feet. That’s pretty close for a 135mm and can help create even more bokeh.

Ease of Use

The longer focal length makes the lens a bit trickier to get in focus than shorter optics. But, photographers that have used other M system lenses before will adjust easily to this lens. The design is very familiar to other optics in this series. There’s a learning curve for Leica newbies that have never used a manual focus lens. But, it’s not complicated — it just requires patience and often a higher ISO to handle that longer focal length and narrower depth of field.

The lens overall is a joy to use. I could shoot portraits without that in-your-face feeling. And, of course, the longer focal length creates a nice background. It’s easier to use for landscapes, where the aperture will naturally be stopped down a bit more, but still rewarding enough for some portraits.

Image Quality

The Leica M 135mm f3.4 is a sharp lens that works well even with the higher resolution of the M10R. The edges soften a bit, but the telephoto focal length creates some nice creamy backgrounds. Like the other M mount lenses that I’ve shot with, photos have a classic feel to them. The longer focal length tends to need a higher ISO, which can be negative or can add even more of a classic feel.

Bokeh

At 135mm, this lens can create some great background blur, especially when getting in close to the subject. The subject fades into a soft but compressed background. The 135mm makes that background appear closer, which helps to exaggerate the softness of the background.

Points of light are rendered into round bokeh balls wide open. As the aperture steps down, these points start to have more solid sides, like a decagon instead of a circle. These points of light are round at the center and take a slight cat-eye shape towards the edges.

Sharpness

When perfectly focused, the Leica M 135mm f3.4 has excellent sharpness at the center. That sharpness has only a slight fall off toward the edges — which is a bit better than the 90mm f4 Elmar. If you can lock in focus, you’ll be rewarded with a sharp but not too sharp subject that fades quickly to a soft background. The challenge is getting such a long lens locked in with manual focus.

Lens Character

This lens limits colored fringing, and as a longer lens those landscape shots won’t have the bending horizon of a wide-angle. The 135mm isn’t as common for landscapes or portraits, so it brings a background compression that adds some uniqueness as well.

Facing the light, this lens does a bang-up job maintaining contrast and not succumbing to too much flare. If you want some flare, just place the light source on any edge of the frame. You’ll be rewarded with a beautiful soft spot of light. This is really an ideal scenario since, if I want flare, I want it towards the edge so I still have room for the subject. But, if you don’t want flare, just adjust the composition so that the light source isn’t on an edge.

Color Rendering

The Leica M 135mm f3.4 sits right in line with other Leica M mount optics that I’ve tested. It’s got some great contrast to it. But, the colors are more classic and understated, not over-the-the-top. There’s no over-saturation here. With the M-10R, it has a nice classic look. With controlled flare and little aberration, colors are pretty well protected.

Extra Image Samples

From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Edited

Used with a Lensbaby Omni Color Expansion Pack wand

Unedited

Conclusions

Likes

  • The metal design is beautiful.
  • It’s the M mounts longest lens, which brings some nice background separation.
  • The contrast and colors are great, even with some flare.
  • The lens is pretty sharp and the sharpness doesn’t fade towards the edges as quick.

Dislikes

  • It’s pretty difficult to get in focus at f3.4
  • As a Leica, it’s luxuriously priced.

As one of the longest lenses in the series, the  Leica M 135mm f3.4 creates some beautiful background separation. A brighter aperture really isn’t necessary with the longer focal length — and would be exceptionally difficult to focus. The lens delivers the color and character that I’ve come to expect from Leica.

The longer focal length, however, makes it one of the trickier lenses to get in focus. It’s a lens that’s going to be better in the hands of a seasoned Leica-ographer rather than a newbie to the series. The lens is a challenge to use. There are simpler, sharper lenses for less money in other camera systems. But the M system is one that photographers invest in for character and a beautiful metal lens design. And this lens has plenty of that.

I’m giving the Leica M 135mm f3.4 four out of five stars. Want one? Check them out at LensRentals or on Amazon.

Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photographer and tech writer based in Michigan. She shoots weddings and portraits at Hillary K Photography. A mother of three, she enjoys hiking, camping, crafting, and reading.