The 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M was produced by Leica between 1990-2008. There were many versions of the 90mm Elmarit and a quick summary of the history can be found here. This review concerns the black version of the lens with Leica number 11807. I only mention this because I found searching eBay by the Leica number helpful with the 90mm Elmarit. This is the modern Elmarit lens with a retractable hood and a 46mm thread mount.
On garden gnomes and parked cars
Let’s play a game. Pretend you are in design school and your professor asks you to design the ultimate paperweight.
Do you make a simple paperweight with a minimal design that functions solely to fend off the average gust of wind and leave it at that? Alternatively, are you going to go mad scientist and overbuild your masterpiece to include a mini-air purifier, make it Alexa compatible so your fans can tell Amazon about your wonderful design, or maybe even paint painful little motivational quotes on the side like, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door!”
Maybe you go meathead chic and 20x the weight of your creation so it has more in common with a kettlebell than a paperweight. Maybe you believe that a stupidly heavy paperweight will entice your meatheads brethren at work to pick it up, do a mini biceps curl, and while they are flexing under their dress shirts think to themselves “mmmm…that is a solid paperweight. I need to get one of these.” Maybe someday your paperweight creation will help you become recognized as the king of all meatheads and lead a legion of paperweight toting goons.
Unfortunately for you, that day will never come. You will never lead your legion of meatheads because Leica stole your idea in 1990 when they built the ultimate paperweight. Leica even included a magnificent lens in the middle of it. They called it the 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit-m and gave it a number 11807.
If you are into stupidly heavy paperweights, you are probably also a member of the internet contingency who picks up a lens and, like a caveman, spontaneously mumbles “lens heavy…uh-uh-uh-gurgle-gurgle-good…must own.” If that describes what you do when you pick up a lens, the Elmarit-m 90mm f/2.8 is for you. You will love it. You need to buy it.
For the skinny arm crew (of which I am a member) it seems to us that the weight: size of this lens defy’s the laws of physics. Perhaps Leica used Tungsten (1) parts. All I know is that it is unexpectedly and remarkably heavy when I pick it up. If you think I am being a drama queen by saying that this lens is an overbuilt paperweight it is very possible you are right. You do not, however, get to criticize my lived reality which is that every time I go to grab this lens I think to myself, “do I really want to carry this beast with me? Hassle. Not really.”
This lens begs the question whether Leica lost the script. Legend has it that the legendary Oscar Barnack designed the original Leicas so they could be small and portable. Some would say that a 90mm lens on the front of a rangefinder is a transgression against portability but putting a physics defying lens of this heft on the front of a camera is another matter altogether. Clocking in at 400 grams, this lens is heavier than some SLR lenses. For example, the Canon FD 85mm f/1.2 lens only weighs 350g. As I mentioned elsewhere on this site, some of the magic of owning and using a rangefinder, at least for me, is that I don’t need to use big ass SLR lenses.
If you are following my journey, you already know I loathe the retractable lens hood on the Summicron 50mm V5. If you are following along you are probably scratching your head wondering why I even gave this lens a chance knowing that it has a retractable lens hood. The answer is that I was watching a video and a reviewer, who I trust, said that this lens was a lens he could not live without. Looking back, he was only talking about image quality.
The good news is that, at least in my opinion, the retractable lens hood on this lens is not nearly as objectionable as the retractable hood on The 50mm Summicron. The main reason is that I rarely keep the 90mm lens on my camera. It comes on and off when needed so it spends most of the time in the bag. Therefore, one of the main benefits of a lens hood (e.g. protection) is obviated with a 90mm lens.
The following paragraph is optional reading because it primarily documents my clumsiness, stupidity, and/or laziness. Nonetheless, it might be important to you because the retractable lens hood did cause me one headache. As you know, I normally keep a lens hood and a UV filter (gasp) on my lenses and then just put them in the bag sticking up so the front element is facing out of the bag. With the Elmarit-m 90mm, because of the retractable hood, the UV filter sticks out past the lens hood and past the edge of the lens. On three separate occasions (one after trying to murder my guts eating some Takis) I was pulling this lens out of the bag and poked the UV filter and it left fingerprints. This isn’t something I think I have ever done before. Apparently, my habit of keeping a lens hood on my lenses prevents me from sloppily touching the front of the lens when changing lenses. Thank you, Leica. You are commended for unearthing yet another problem I need to worry about. I started keeping a lens cap on this one which was a minor annoyance. (2)
The focus throw on this lens is relatively long which is welcome with 90mm rangefinder lenses.
In conclusion, other than the weight and the sticky-outy UV filter which, in all honestly are pretty minor issues, there are no other usability issues other than the internet difficulty of accurately focusing 90mm lenses, at close focus, on a rangefinder at f/2.8. This was discussed previously at length. At that link, you will find some math that explains my reasoning behind what I question the necessity of owning an f/2.8, 90mm, rangefinder lens, and why it is so hard to obtain critical focus at f/2.8 (again at near focusing distances) unless you are photographing garden gnomes and parked cars.
Does it have SOUL?
In the ’70s and 80’s bands like ELO, Boston, and ZZ Top were crushing music with songs like Don’t Bring Me Down, More than a Feeling, and Afterburner. Those songs are pure, polished, and pristine. Naysayers say they are technically perfect, likely great, but overproduced. My bet is that some of the band members would even agree. The naysayers and contrarian band members might even agree with you if you said that those songs lack SOUL. In music and photography, SOUL and greatness do not always go hand and hand. In the photographic Venn diagram with SOUL on one side and great on the other, this lens does not sit in the intersecting area between great and SOUL.
I now request that you go on Youtube and look up any video by your favorite camera or lens reviewer who was just given a lens by his or her favorite camera company to review. Please then type what she or he says and cut and paste everything that is so amazing about the lens (3) they are reviewing and put it here:[This is where you cut and paste everything they say as they drone on about how great the lens is.]
All of that amazing sharpness, clarity, color rendition, perfection, glorious bokeh, luscious sounding aperture ring, sexiness, supple focusing, and whatever else they clamor on and on about for 15 minutes, please just cut and past it above because I am literally boring myself silly trying to come up with ways to describe something that makes perfect images like this lens.
Given that I just asked you do to my work for me, I supposed that I failed this camera review. I take solace in my failure at describing perfect because outside of camera reviews, nobody talks about perfect. It should not be surprising that I have criminally little practice with the technique of describing perfect. Nobody clicks on a news article about how the plane landed perfectly and didn’t crash. Nobody cares about the kid who got coronavirus and didn’t get sick or spread it to anyone. Nobody talks about the kid at the fraternity who jumped off the roof into the pool and made it without breaking their ankle. Leica did everything right with this one…at least if you believe that weight is irrelevant and/or you need to write a review where you are struggling to find a way to describe how something so perfect can simultaneously make you want to leave it at home. Damn you Leica.
Minimal. This lens will flare but you really need to work at it. From any side angle, even with the hood off, flare is minimal. Shooting straight on right into the sun, you can get the lens to flare but, again, you really need to try. Trying to get this lens to flare was largely a failure that left me seeing spots for about 20 minutes. Kids don’t do what I do. Staring into the sun for a lens review is dumb. As you can see in these images, flare is well controlled. This is the worst you can expect and it took me a while to get this one.
So did I keep it?
You mean keep it at home or sell it? You know the answer to the former but the latter is not an easy decision. When I was using the lens, I repeatedly checked my head and asked myself “am I the only genius in the room who doesn’t want to lug along unnecessarily heavy things with me? Am I the only one who doesn’t think “heavy = good = must have?” Can I really sell a lens that is this good whose only fault is that it is a little heavy and lacking in the SOUL department? Given that I do commercial shoots and I have one client who demands “The Leica” I am going to need a purely modern 90mm lens for that. Right?
Even at the time of writing this article, those questions are unanswered since I have a few more 90mm lenses left to test. To see how I made my final decision, please visit the Leica Lenses for Normal People: The Recommended List.
- Remarkably, someone on Quora asked, “ What is the heaviest metal I can legally make a paperweight out of?” I only know this because I actually searched for “what is the densest, nonradioactive, metal I can make a paperweight of” when researching this article. Great minds think alike? The answer was Osmium by the way. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-heaviest-metal-I-can-legally-make-a-paperweight-out-of
- Yes, I am fully aware that a fingerprint won’t really affect the image quality. It still drives me nuts to know that they are there. Princess and the pea for me with fingerprints. #rainman
- You know they are going to like it right? I mean, come on, nobody on YouTube who is given a lens to review says it is Kak. Nobody.