PW

Leica APO-Telyt-R Module System

The APO-Telyt-R Module lenses are manual focus tele-photo lenses for Leica-R single lens reflex cameras that have been corrected for chromatic and spherical aberration using apochromatic lens elements. The lens system is modular, which makes it highly unusual. There are three focusing units and two heads available that can be combined to obtain six different lenses with four focal lengths of 280mm, 400mm, 560mm, and 800mm. The 400mm and 560mm focal lengths can be achieved in a faster (but heavier) and a slower (but lighter) configuration. The different heads and focusing units are attached to each other through a locking bayonet. All lenses have a slot for Series-6 filter holders, so that Neutral Density filters or Circular Polarizers can be used.

The modular system makes it possible to change focal length without carrying a large number of heavy tele-photo lenses [Leica owners need to bring only two-and-a-half :-) lenses to replicate six tele-lenses] and offers a larger maximum aperture than corresponding tele-zooms. Unlike tele-converters, modular lens systems do not enlarge the central image circle and, hence, do not degrade the image quality by magnifying lens flaws. Indeed, the Leica modular lenses are themselves designed to be used with the camera maker's 1.4x or 2x APO-tele-converters.

While highly unusual, the Leica system is not unique. Nikon used to offer a modular tele-photo system in the 1960s and 1970s that consisted of several heads that could be fitted to a single focusing unit. The Leica Module lenses can be seen as further developments and refinements of this same approach.

Specifications of the six modular lenses
 2.8/280mm2.8/400mm4/400mm4/560mm5.6/560mm5.6/800mm
Leica Order No.118461184711857118481185811849
No. of elements/groups8/710/89/711/89/711/8
Angle of view (°)8.86.26.24.44.43.1
Minimum focus (m)2.003.702.153.952.153.90
Max. reproduction6.18.64.66.43.14.5
Smallest aperture222222222222
Rear filterSeries 6Series 6Series 6Series 6Series 6Series 6
Lens hoodBuilt-inTwist-onBuilt-inTwist-onBuilt-inTwist-on
Length (mm)276344314382374442
Diameter (max, mm)125157125157125157
Weight (g)3,7406,2403,8606,3604,0506,550
List price (2008)€9,345€14,945€10,690€16,290€11,990€17,590
Pre-owned price (ebay)checkcheckcheckcheckcheckcheck

The Leica APO-Telyt-R Module System was produced from 1996 to 2009. Towards the end of its production cycle, the list price for the complete system amounted to € 32,630 (small head: € 4,995, large head: € 10,595, 1x focusing unit: € 4,350, 1.4x focusing unit: € 5,695, and 2x focusing unit: € 6,995). The lenses feature ROM-contacts, so that the R8 and R9 cameras can use information on focus distance for metering. Since Leica discontinued its R-line of SLR-cameras, the lens system is now somewhat orphaned. However, adapters for Leica R-lenses to other camera brands can be easily found on ebay, so that the  APO-Telyts can have a digital future beyond the 10MB backs available for the R-cameras.

Accessories for the Module lenses
ItemDescriptionOrder No.USD Price
(approx.)
ebay
Offers
Lens front cap (A125)Push-on lens cap for small head14012150check
Lens front cap (A166)Push-on lens cap for large head14086155check
Lens rear capR-mount rear cap1416225check
Front cap for focusing unitsFront cap for all focusing units1422330check
Rear cap for head unitsRear cap for all head units1422430check
Lens hoodClip-on lens shade for large head12590550check
Leather lens caseCarrying case for 1x focusing unit11561/1456185check
Leather lens caseCarrying case for 1.4x focusing unit11562/14562100check
Leather lens caseCarrying case for 2x focusing unit11563/14563120check
Aluminum transport caseProtection case for small head14525310check
Aluminum transport caseProtection case for large head14526350check
Lens and case carrying strapHeavy-duty strap with plastic clips14311150check
Lens carrying strap, wide30mm wide nylon strap w leather shoulder pad14235120check
Pistol stockSupport for hand-holding a lens14282120check
Filter ND 1x (Series 6)ND drop-in filter13028100check
Filter holder for Series 6Holder for drop-in filters14592155check
Polarizer in Holder (Series 6)Circular polarizer filter in drop-in holder13340500check
APO-Extender-R 1.4xTeleconverter 1.4x11249750check
APO-Extender-R 2xTeleconverter 2x112621,000check
Source: Leica product and price lists.

The APO-Telyt system had been aimed at sport, bird and wildlife photographers. With this group comprising only a small number of Leica shooters and a price tag about twice as high as that of comparable lenses from Canon or Nikon, relatively few copies of the lens system have been sold. The existing lenses are, however, keeping their value well. Used copies of these manual focus optics - if they can be found - still demand premium prices on ebay.

Leica APO-Telyt Module FAQ

Leica's modular tele-photo lenses provide very high mechanical and optical quality in the best of the brand's tradition. The lenses are sharp and virtually free of vignetting. Also, the apo-chromatic correction results in the near absence of color fringing and excellent contrast.

Like any other long tele-photo lens, the Leica APO-Telyts need solid tripod support and good photographic technique to exploit their full sharpness potential. Handholding the tele-lenses might be possible on some occasions, but the risk of motion blur will increase markedly. Keeping these general long-lens caveats in mind, user experiences with the lens system are generally very favorable. Below is, nevertheless, a list of issues that warrant the Leica shooter's attention.

How much distortion do the Module lenses show?

Distortion at 1-1.5% (depending on configuration) is somewhat higher than the corresponding value of most competitor lenses, but can be easily corrected in digital post-processing.

Can the f/5.6 lenses be focused easily?

Manual focusing with the f/5.6 lenses can be a challenge, as the viewfinder image is darkened. Leica recommends to replace the micro-prism screen of its R-cameras with a plain ground glass screen.

What are the advantages and inconveniences of the Module lenses having a separate, dedicated hand grip on top?

The dedicated hand grip makes it possible for the tripod mount to be sturdier and less prone to vibration. On the other hand, it provides additional exposure to the wind and accidental knock-overs.

Isn't is cumbersome to manage all those front and rear caps of the different heads and focusing units?

The multitude of caps is indeed an inconvenience of the modular lens system.

Why is the Leica logo engraved on the small head, but only glued on as a sticker on the large head?

The need for cost savings seems to have motivated Leica to use a less sophisticated branding on the more expensive head.

Do the lenses have any depth-of-field markings?

No, there are no DoF markings.

Can the APO-Telyt-R lenses 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.

Is the Leica Telescope Ocular to R compatible with the Module lenses?

Yes, the Ocular to R works very well with the Module lenses and offers a magnification of up to 64x with the 5.6/800mm.

Does Adobe Camera Raw contain any lens profile support for the Module lenses?

Yes, ACR 7.3, published in November 2012, added profiles for the six lenses [adobe.com].

How many copies of the Module lenses were sold?

About 3,000 serial numbers were assigned to module system components [leica-wiki].

Further Reading

The most suitable alternatives to the Module system within the APO-Telyt line are the earlier 280mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/2.8 lenses. General technical information on all the Leica telephoto lenses can be found in the R-lens specification compendium. Finally, you might want to explore the comparison of Leicaflex and Leica R cameras, all of which are, unfortunately, discontinued by now.