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Leica APO-Telyt-R 1:4/280mm

Since its release in 1993, the APO-Telyt-R 280mm f/4 has been one of Leica's most impressive lens designs and has been praised by users for its exceptional sharpness and color accuracy. These qualities are clearly linked to its design as an APO-lens that employs 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 imaging results. The elaborate optical engineering shows in the imaging results.

Reading through online forums, it seems that there is consensus that the 1:4/280mm is even sharper than the highly regarded (non-modular or modular) APO-Telyt-R 2.8/280mm at equal apertures. MTF-data from Leica's technical specifications sheet shows that the lens achieves wide-open more than 60 percent of information transmission at 40 line pairs per millimeter throughout the entire image frame, which is exceptionally high. Stopping down results in only minor, if any, further improvements. These findings are consistent with tests undertaken by the French photo journal Chasseur d'Images that gave the APO-Telyt-R 4/280mm a rare five-star performance rating. Indeed, Leica expert Erwin Puts claims that the resolving power of the 280mm exceeds the resolution capacity of photographic film of about 150 line pairs per millimeter.

Leica APO-Telyt-R 280mm f/4 set
Leica APO-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4 complete set[leicaspace]

Concerning secondary lens characteristics, the 4/280mm shows modest amounts of vignetting of about 0.7 f-stops at full aperture, which is reduced to negligible levels when closing the aperture to f5.6. Distortion of about 0.8 percent is perceivable, but not significant in most practical uses. Flare is well controlled.

Up until the discontinuation of the R-system in 2009, the lens was sold with a standard set of accessories, notably front and rear caps, a soft nappa leather case and a lens carrying strap. It can take Series 5.5 filters through a drop-in filter drawer or a special polarizing filter holder. Alternatively, E77 filters can be screwed into the front filter thread.

Accessories for the 4/280mm
Item Description Order No. USD Price
Lens front cap (E77) Clip-on lens cap 14319 70 check
Lens rear cap R-mount rear cap 14162 25 check
Lens carrying strap Neck strap with anti-slip pad 14312 35 check
Leather case Carrying and protection case 14597 250 check
Filter ND 1x (Series 5.5) ND drop-in filter 13026 130 check
Filter holder for Series 5.5 Holder for drop-in filters 14591 310 check
Polarizer in Holder (Series 5.5) Circular polarizer filter in drop-in holder 13338 400 check
Lens carrying strap, wide 30mm wide nylon strap w leather shoulder pad 14235 120 check
APO-Extender-R 1.4x Teleconverter 1.4x 11249 750 check
APO-Extender-R 2x Teleconverter 2x 11262 1,000 check

The lens comes with a built-in tripod mount that can be rotated, with click-stops at 90 degree intervals. The resistance to rotation can be adjusted with a thumbscrew. The APO-Telyt is fully compatible with Leica's 1.4x and 2x APO-Extenders, giving rise, respectively, to 1:5.6/400mm or 1:8/560mm optical systems. The APO-teleconverters preserve the apochromatic image quality of the lens. Moreover, the close focusing distance of 1.7m means that the lens can achieve a relatively large magnification ratio of 1:5, which can be further increased up to 1:2.9 when using the Leica Macro-Adapter-R.

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 f4 to f22;
  • effective focal length of 283mm;
  • diagonal angle of view of 8.8;
  • lens construction with seven elements in six groups;
  • internal focus;
  • drop-in filters of size S5.5 or front filters in E77 screw mount;
  • focus range from 1.7m (5.6 ft) to infinity;
  • maximum magnification of 1:5;
  • built-in, telescopic, rubber armored lens hood;
  • maximum diameter of 88mm (3.46 inch);
  • overall length to bayonet mount of 208mm (8.19 inch);
  • weight of 1,875g (4.13 lb).

The 280mm f/4 is a compact telephoto lens that feels quite heavy for its specification. Yet, it weighs only about half as much as the APO-Telyt-R 1:2.8/280mm Module, while being 25 percent shorter. 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 limit the usefulness of the lens for fast action and wildlife photography.

In any case, there is only so much a technical review can do to describe the quality of a lens. In the end, the image rendering capability is the decisive criterion. Examples of pictures taken with the 4/280 can be easily found on the web, for example, on Doug Herr's photography site or on flickr.


Leica APO-Telyt-R 280mm FAQ

The main drawbacks of the APO-Telyt-R 4/280mm is its price. Leica produced and sold only about 2000 copies of the lens. At the same time, it remains in high demand due to its exceptional optical quality. On the used market, the 280mm f4 is, for example, significantly more expensive than the (non-modular) APO-Telyt-R 2.8/280mm, even though the latter is a full f-stop faster wide-open and, hence, more versatile in low-light shooting situations.

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

What is the Leica order number of the 280mm f/4?

The order number of the 3-cam lens is 11261, while the ROM-version carries the order no. 11360 [leica-wiki].

Does the focusing action on the APO-Telyt-R 4/280mm need to be adjusted for infrared photography?

No, due to its apochromatic correction there is no need for focus adjustment when using the lens for infrared photography.

What is the purpose of the metal rings on the side of the lens?

The metal rings are attachments for lens carrying straps. Two straps are available from Leica: the standard one (order no. 14312) or a wider version (order no. 14235).

Does the use of a protection filter degrade the image quality of the 1:4/280mm?

The lens comes with a built-in front protection filter and the latter has been taken into account when designing the optics.

Can the APO-Telyt 280mm be used with extension tubes, such as the Macro-Adapter-R?

Leica recommends not to use extension tubes with the lens, presumably because the optical performance would not be as good as in the normal focussing range.

Can the lens be used with the Leica M (Typ 240)?

Yes, the lens works well on the Leica M (Typ 240) using the R-Adapter-M and can also be mounted on many other SLR cameras using suitable adapters.

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.

What is the theoretical resolution limit of the 280mm f/4?

The calculated resolution limit of the lens is reached at 450 line pairs per millimeter.

Comparison of APO-Telyt-R lenses
Leica Lens Designation Elements/
Min Dist/
Max Ratio
(m / #)
APO-Telyt-R 3.4/180mm 7/4 2.50m / 11.5 S7.5/E60 135 / 68 750 1975-98 750-1,100 check
APO-Telyt-R 2.8/280mm 8/7 2.50m / 8.1 E112/S5.5 261 / 125 2,750 1984-96 2,300-3,100 check
APO-Telyt-R Module 2.8/280mm 8/7 2.00m / 6.1 Series 6 276 / 125 3,740 1996-09 6,600-8,400 check
APO-Telyt-R 4.0/280mm 7/6 1.70m / 5.0 Series 5.5 208 / 88 1,875 1993-09 3,300-4,500 check
APO-Telyt-R 2.8/400mm 11/9 4.70m / 11.6 Series 5.5 365 / 166 5,800 1992-96 7,000-9,000 check
APO-Telyt-R Module 2.8/400mm 10/8 3.70m / 8.6 Series 6 344 / 157 6,240 1996-09 10,500-13,000 check
APO-Telyt-R Module 4.0/400mm 9/7 2.15m / 4.6 Series 6 314 / 125 3,860 1996-09 7,500-9,500 check
APO-Telyt-R Module 4.0/560mm 11/8 3.95m / 6.4 Series 6 382 / 157 6,360 1996-09 12,000-14,500 check
APO-Telyt-R Module 5.6/560mm 9/7 2.15m / 3.1 Series 6 374 / 125 4,050 1996-09 9,000-11,000 check
APO-Telyt-R Module 5.6/800mm 11/8 3.90m / 4.5 Series 6 442 / 157 6,550 1996-09 13,000-15,000 check

Further Reading

The most obvious alternatives to the 280mm f/4 within the Leica R-lens offerings are the faster but heavier 280 f/2.8 and 280 f/2.8 modular lenses. The much more reasonably priced 180 f/3.4 is unfortunately not compatible with the 1.4x APO-Extender, so that it falls somewhat short in terms of telephoto reach. General technical information on all the Leica APO-Telyts can be found in the specification compendium on this site.

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