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Leica APO-Telyt-R 180 mm f/3.4

The APO-Telyt-R 1:3.4/180mm was the first apochromatically corrected lens released by Leica. It founded a new class of high performance telephoto optics that since 1975 has expanded to 12 lenses in the APO-Telyt series and several other Leica lenses that bear the APO designation. These optics contain specialty-glass lens elements to ensure that red, blue and green light rays all converge onto the same point on the film or sensor for superior sharpness, contrast, and color reproduction. Leica took considerable care to apply its apochromatic correction to the entire image circle, so that the high optical performance of its APO-lenses extends from the center to the border of the image. The pursuit of optical excellence required substantial engineering efforts and, in turn, resulted in lens prices that were clearly at the upper end of the available telephoto lens spectrum.

Reading through online forums, it seems that few owners of the APO-Telyt-R 3.4/180mm have minded the price and regretted their purchase, as they obtained a lens that more than met their performance expectations. In MTF tests undertaken by Lars Kjellberg of Photodo during the late 1990s, for example, the APO-Telyt-R obtained the highest score among all 180mm lenses tested, thereby besting very strong competition, like the Canon EF 1:3.5/180mm L Macro USM, the Contax Sonnar T* 1:2.8/180mm, and Leica's earlier Elmarit-R 1:2.8/180mm. Examples of pictures taken with the lens can be easily found, for example, on flickr.

Leica 180mm
The APO-Telyt and the Elmarit 180mm

In the broader, 180-200mm category, only the Canon EF 1.8/200mm L USM, a lens that weighs four-times as much as the APO-Telyt-R, obtained a higher MTF score. Similarly, the French photo journal Chasseur d'Images rated the lens as being excellent for center and border sharpness throughout all apertures, except for its border quality ("very good") wide open, and gave it a top 5-star rating. Moreover, the appreciation of the lens extends to today's use for digital imaging, as an assessment at slrlensreview.com noted the already strong performance of the APO-Telyt-R wide open, as well as the relatively even resolution across the image frame from f/4 onwards when evaluated on Canon DSLRs. The lens produces a small amount of barrel distortion (less than 0.4 percent), but significant vignetting wide open (about 0.8 EV), which, however, is reduced to more agreeable levels when stopped down.

The lens was produced in Canada and sold with front and rear caps, as well as a soft nappa leather case. In addition, an optional retaining ring (Leica order no. 14222) was available for the early version in order to make it possible to attach S7.5 front filters. The lens is fully compatible with Leica's 2x APO-Extender, but cannot be used with the 1.4x APO-Extender due to the latter's protruding front elements.

Accessories for the 3.4/180mm
ItemDescriptionOrder No.USD Price
(approx.)
ebay
Offers
Lens front cap (A65)Push-on lens cap (for lens ID below #2947024)1408913check
Lens front cap (E60)Clip-on lens cap for later lens version1429030check
Lens rear capR-mount rear cap1416225check
Soft leather pouchNappa leather lens case1476655check
Retaining ringAdapter to use S7.5 filters on early-version lens1422225check

Lens specifications

The lens-body is a Leica-typical, high quality, all metal construction. The core specifications of the lens are as follows:

  • Leica order number 11240 (early version) or 11242 (later version);
  • aperture range from 3.4 to 22;
  • focal length of 180mm, with a diagonal angle of view of 13.7;
  • lens construction with seven elements in four groups;
  • front filter size of S7.5 (early version) or E60 (later copies);
  • focus range from 2.5m to infinity;
  • maximum magnification of 11.5;
  • integrated, sliding lens hood;
  • maximum diameter of 68mm (2.68 inch);
  • overall length to bayonet mount of 135mm (5.31 inch);
  • weight of 750g (1.65 lb.).

The APO-Telyt-R is relatively compact for a medium-range telephoto lens. Like all R-system lenses, it has to be focused manually. It is worth noting that all the large glass elements within the 3.4/180 are located toward the front end of the lens, which makes it somewhat front-heavy in use.

The APO-Telyt-R was initially conceived as a special purpose lens for military surveillance and reconnaissance, but was quickly integrated into the general R-system. Two variants were produced during the 23 years it stayed in Leica's lens catalog. The main difference between the two versions is the type of front filter used. Early copies produced from 1975 to 1980 (Leica order no. 11240) were designed to take Series 7.5 filters, while the later version of the lens (no. 11242) was threaded for E60 filters.

Leica APO-Telyt-R 180mm FAQ

While the APO-Telyt was standard-setting in many aspects when it was released, it is not without flaws. In particular, Leica enthusiasts sometimes mention five weak spots: (a) the APO-Telyt-R has a long minimum focus distance of 2.5m that makes it impossible, for example, to shoot frame-filling portraits; (b) the lens is optimized for performance at infinity and the resolution it delivers drops somewhat at shorter distances (but remains very good); (c) the unusual front filter sizes (S7.5 for the early version of the lens and E60 for later copies) make it difficult to obtain reasonably prized filters; (d) the bokeh the lens delivers is too harsh for the taste of some; and (e) the APO-Telyt-R seems more prone to flare than other lenses in its focal length class. The lens was discontinued in 1998 when it was replaced with the APO-Elmarit-R 180mm f/2.8. The latter offers a faster maximum aperture, closer minimum focus distance, and improved optical performance in the near-focus range.

Below are some additional issues and questions that have been encountered by Leica shooter's with corresponding responses or suggestions.

Given the importance of the type of glass used for the level of apochromatic correction achieved, is there information available on the composition of the glass elements in the APO-Telyt-R?

Marco Cavina provides information on the type of glass used for the APO-Telyt-R on his website (in Italian).

Can the APO-Telyt-R be used on a Leica S-series medium format camera?

Yes, there is an adapter made by Michael Leibfritz that makes it possible to mount an R-system lens on a Leica S. The image circle of the lens will cover the full sensor area.

Can 60mm screw-in filters be used with the earlier lens model that is designed to take the Leica 14222 Series 7.5 filter ring?

Yes, the use of step-up rings makes it possible to use E60 filters. For example, the Heliopan #700319 Step-up Filter Ring has a filter thread of M59x0.75 and fits in place of the Leica 14222 filter ring. Since the integral lens hood must in this case remain retracted as it does not extend over the 60mm adapter, a 60mm Heliopan rubber lens hood (#701060) can be used instead.

How does the focusing action of the APO-Telyt-R compare to its successor, the APO-Elmarit-R 1:2.8/180mm?

The APO-Telyt-R is not as smooth to focus as the APO-Elmarit-R, which features an internal focusing mechanism.

How does the APO-Telyt-R compare to the APO-Elmarit-R 1:2.8/180mm in terms of vignetting?

At infinity and for apertures of 1:5.6 and smaller, there is very little difference between the two lenses. However, at fully open aperture and close distances, the APO-Elmarit shows significantly less light fall-off.

Can the APO-Telyt-R 1:3.4/180mm be mounted on a Canon DSLR without any problem?

Yes, the APO-Telyt-R can be mounted on Canon full-frame and cropped digital cameras via an adapter and without inhibiting the movement of the camera mirror.

Which adapter solutions are available to mount a Leica R-lens on Canon DSLRs?

Different adapters with or without focus confirmation are sold on ebay. Moreover, an overview of adapter options can be found on pebbleplace.com.

Did Leica change the coating of the APO-Telyt-R during the 23 years it was in production?

The coating was apparently improved over time, with newer versions showing an even higher degree of color accuracy than earlier ones.

Why are some of the 180 f3.4 labelled as "Leitz" and others as "Leica"?

The earlier versions of the lens carried the "Leitz" label, while the later ones were branded as "Leica", which stands for "Leitz Camera".

Further Reading

The 180mm f/3.4 is the shortest lens in the APO-Telyt-R range. Its longer cousins are the 280mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/2.8 lenses. In addition, there is the Module system, which provides focal length options from 280mm to 800mm.