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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
  2.8/280mm 2.8/400mm 4/400mm 4/560mm 5.6/560mm 5.6/800mm
Leica Order No. 11846 11847 11857 11848 11858 11849
No. of elements/groups 8/7 10/8 9/7 11/8 9/7 11/8
Angle of view (°) 8.8 6.2 6.2 4.4 4.4 3.1
Minimum focus (m) 2.00 3.70 2.15 3.95 2.15 3.90
Max. reproduction 6.1 8.6 4.6 6.4 3.1 4.5
Smallest aperture 22 22 22 22 22 22
Rear filter Series 6 Series 6 Series 6 Series 6 Series 6 Series 6
Lens hood Built-in Twist-on Built-in Twist-on Built-in Twist-on
Length (mm) 276 344 314 382 374 442
Diameter (max, mm) 125 157 125 157 125 157
Weight (g) 3,740 6,240 3,860 6,360 4,050 6,550
List price (2008) €9,345 €14,945 €10,690 €16,290 €11,990 €17,590
Pre-owned price (ebay) check check check check check check

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
Item Description Order No. USD Price
(approx.)
eBay
Offers
Lens front cap (A125) Push-on lens cap for small head 14012 150 check
Lens front cap (A166) Push-on lens cap for large head 14086 155 check
Lens rear cap R-mount rear cap 14162 25 check
Front cap for focusing units Front cap for all focusing units 14223 30 check
Rear cap for head units Rear cap for all head units 14224 30 check
Lens hood Clip-on lens shade for large head 12590 550 check
Leather lens case Carrying case for 1x focusing unit 11561/14561 85 check
Leather lens case Carrying case for 1.4x focusing unit 11562/14562 100 check
Leather lens case Carrying case for 2x focusing unit 11563/14563 120 check
Aluminum transport case Protection case for small head 14525 310 check
Aluminum transport case Protection case for large head 14526 350 check
Lens and case carrying strap Heavy-duty strap with plastic clips 14311 150 check
Lens carrying strap, wide 30mm wide nylon strap w leather shoulder pad 14235 120 check
Pistol stock Support for hand-holding a lens 14282 120 check
Filter ND 1x (Series 6) ND drop-in filter 13028 100 check
Filter holder for Series 6 Holder for drop-in filters 14592 155 check
Polarizer in Holder (Series 6) Circular polarizer filter in drop-in holder 13340 500 check
APO-Extender-R 1.4x Teleconverter 1.4x 11249 750 check
APO-Extender-R 2x Teleconverter 2x 11262 1,000 check
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].

Comparison of APO-Telyt-R lenses
Leica Lens Designation Elements/
Groups
(#)
Min Dist/
Max Ratio
(m / #)
Filter
Size
(type)
Length/
Diameter
(mm)
Lens
Weight
(g)
Sales
Period
(years)
Used
Price
(USD)
eBay
Offers
(current)
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 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.

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