PW

Leica APO-Telyt 600mm f/5

Some lenses are fully developed, but never make it to the production stage. This was the case for the Leica APO-Telyt-R 600mm f/5 mirror lens. Only a prototype of the optic was made. It is the sole catadioptric design among the APO-Telyts and quite an impressive one. It features a relatively fast maximum aperture for a mirror lens of f=1:5. For comparison, the popular Sigma 600mm catadioptric lens has a maximum opening of 1:8. Also, Leica's own 500mm MR-Telyt-R mirror lens is an f/8 optic, despite having a shorter focal length than the APO-Telyt. The relatively large light intake of the 5/600mm comes at the expense of weight and size, though. It is a bulky lens that weighs no less than 5kg (11 pounds).

Even though the APO-Telyt 5/600mm was only a prototype, the lens received a serial number: 172-0001. The latter suggests that this unique copy was fabricated in 1987. It has an R-system bayonet and a non-detachable tripod mount. From the engravings on the lens body, we see that the APO-Telyt was produced by Ernst Leitz Canada (often abbreviated as ELCAN, now a part of Raytheon), which used to be the North American subsidiary of Leica that focused on optical instruments for the military. Unfortunately, no further details are known about the specifications and imaging performance of this lens.

Yet, the very fact that the APO-Telyt 600mm is a unique copy makes it a sought-after collector's item. The prototype was sold for USD 70,000 at a photography auction in 2013, along with three other Telyt-R prototypes (4/280mm, 4.8/400mm, and 5.6/560mm lens-heads) that fetched a combined USD 21,500. The APO-Telyt was put up for sale again on ebay in February 2015 for a starting price of USD 230,000 (EUR 200,000), without finding a buyer. It re-appeared on ebay in October 2016 – this time at a reduced price of USD 156,500 (EUR 140,000). Click here to see the current auction listing on ebay.

It might anyway seem surprising that such a rare collector's item is offered through ebay and not via a specialized auction house, but maybe the seller wants to test the market and stir up a bit of a buzz. Indeed, within hours after PetaPixel had reported on the inital ebay sale, the news post had received more than 2,000 Facebook Likes.

Leica lens protoypes
Three other Telyt-R prototypes that were sold in 2013[tamarkinauctions.com]

Other exotic Leica lenses have attracted the interest of aficionados and collectors before. For example, Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Al-Thani of Qatar acquired a custom-made Leica APO-Telyt 1600mm f/5.6 in 2006 for USD 2 million. This heavy price tag indeed makes the 5.6/1600mm the most expensive camera lens ever sold.

Further Reading

There are other fine tele-photo options in the APO-Telyt line, and more generally in the Leica R lens catalog. In particular, the APO-Telyt 400mm f/2.8 and the APO-Telyt Module system are great photographic tools. However, they don't come very cheap either.