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Leica APO-Telyt-R 1:2.8/280mm

The Leica APO-Telyt 2.8/280mm (non-modular) broke new ground in the long telephoto category when it was released in 1984. Its apochromatic correction made it possible to achieve high overall contrast and crisp rendering of fine detail already at wide open aperture. In terms of sharpness, the lens was simply outstanding.

In MTF tests undertaken by Lars Kjellberg of Photodo during the late 1990s, the 2.8/280 mm achieved the highest score among all of the nineteen 280-300mm lenses that were tested (see adjacent diagram for details). Similarly, the French photo journal Chasseur d'Images awarded its highest 5-star performance rating to the APO-Telyt-R after assessing the image quality at full aperture to be very good in the image center and good at the borders, and stopped down to be excellent in the center and very good in peripheral image areas.

Photodo ranking of 300mm lenses
MTF (sharpness) ranking of 280-300mm lenses[photodo.com]

Concerning secondary lens traits, the 2.8/280mm shows modest amounts of vignetting of about 0.6 f-stops at full aperture. This light falloff is reduced to about 0.2 f-stops,when the aperture is closed to f/4. The lens produces very little distortion of about 0.3 percent that is not relevant in practical use.

Up until its replacement by the APO-Telyt-R 1:2.8/280mm Module in 1996, the lens was sold with front and rear caps, a lens carrying strap, a pistol stock to facilitate hand-holding, a screw-on front protection filter, and an aluminum case. A later version of the lens, which was marketed from 1992, can also take Series 5.5 filters through a drop-in filter drawer or a special polarizing filter holder. Optically, the two versions of the lens seem to be identical.

Accessories for the 2.8/280mm
ItemDescriptionOrder No.USD Price
(approx.)
ebay
Offers
Lens front cap (A125)Push-on lens cap14012150check
Lens rear capR-mount rear cap1416225check
Lens carrying strapNeck strap with anti-slip pad1431235check
Aluminum lens boxMetal carrying and protection case14595300check
Pistol stockSupport for hand-holding the lens1463280check
Protection filter ND 1x (E112)ND filter as protection for front lens13003400check
Filter ND 1x (Series 5.5)ND drop-in filter13026130check
Filter holder for Series 5.5Holder for drop-in filters14591310check
Polarizer in Holder (Series 5.5)Circular polarizer filter in drop-in holder13338400check
Lens carrying strap, wide30mm wide nylon strap w leather shoulder pad14235120check
APO-Extender-R 1.4xTeleconverter 1.4x11249750check
APO-Extender-R 2xTeleconverter 2x112621,000check

The APO-Telyt-R is fully compatible with Leica's 1.4x and 2x APO-Extenders, giving rise, respectively, to 1:4/400mm or 1:5.6/560mm optical systems. Like all R-system lenses, it has to be focused manually and does not benefit from any image stabilization mechanism. This absence of autofocus and in-lens stabilization can make it challenging to use the 2.8/280mm for action photography.

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 11245 (early version) or 11263 (from 1992);
  • aperture range from 2.8 to 22;
  • effective focal length of 277mm, with a diagonal angle of view of 8.8;
  • lens construction with eight elements in seven groups;
  • front filter size of E112 (early version) or E112 and/or S5.5 (later copies);
  • focus range from 2.5m (8.2 ft) to infinity;
  • maximum diameter of 125mm (4.9 inch);
  • overall length to bayonet mount of 261mm (10.3 inch);
  • weight of 2,750g (6.1 lb.) for the early version, 2,800g for the later version.

The lens comes with a built-in, sliding lens hood and a built-in tripod mount that can be rotated. However, unlike many other tripod collars, the 2.8/280mm can not be locked into any position, but only into a few places around the dial. This lack of flexibility is unlikely to be a major issue for sport photographers, but can become a serious annoyance, if the lens is used on a tripod on uneven ground, for example, during wildlife photography.

There is, of course, only so much words and technical reviews can do to describe the quality of a photographic lens. In the end, the image rendering capability has to be the decisive criterion. Examples of pictures taken with the lens can be found on several locations on the web, for example, here on flickr.

Leica APO-Telyt-R 280mm FAQ

Some users have suggested that the APO-Telyt-R is not a true f/2.8 lens, since both the R8 and the R9 meter it as f/3.4 wide-open. This peculiarity seems to be related to the absence of a half-stop detent between the f/2.8 and f/4 markings, while these half-stops are available for all other aperture intervals. The lack of the intermediate stop apparently disturbs the metering of Leica's SLRs. If the lens is attached to a digital camera instead, it can be shown that the 2.8 f/stop lets in twice as much light than at f/4, thus demonstrating that the maximum aperture opening of the lens is indeed f/2.8.

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

Does the use of a protection filter degrade the image quality of the 2.8 / 280mm?

The lens is sold with a front protection filter and the latter has been taken into account when designing the optics.

Why do images from the lens wide-open seem overexposed when taken with an R8 or R9?

There is no half-stop detent between f/2.8 and f/4, which leads Leica's SLRs to meter the lens erroneously as being a f/3.4 wide-open. Hence, the exposure on these cameras should be adjusted by half an aperture stop to avoid overexposure.

How does the image quality of the non-modular and the modular APO-Telyt-R 280mm f/2.8 compare?

The color and out-of-focus rendering is similar, but the newer, modular lens is even sharper than its predecessor [psquared].

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.

How many copies of the 1:2.8/280mm were produced and sold?

A total of about 3,000 serial numbers were assigned by Leica to the lens [leica-wiki].

Further Reading

Alternatives to the 2.8/280 within the APO-Telyt line are the more recent 280mm f/2.8 Module or the slower, but lighter APO-Telyt 280mm f/4. General technical information on the Leica APO-Telyts can be found in the APO-Telyt specification compendium, as well as the broader R-lens compendium. Finally, a number of Leica-specific terms and abbreviations is explained in the Leica glossary.