Vintage glass is fun! A mini review of the Leica 90 Elmarit by Amy Medina

 

USER REPORT: Vintage Glass is Fun
a Mini-Review of a 1961 Leica 90mm Elmarit f/2.8
by Amy Medina – DangRabbit Photography
Nothing too technical here, I just wanted to share my delight with a recent lens I got for my upcoming birthday (yes, I got my gift early!). It’s an old version 1 of the 90mm Elmarit, and what a joy it’s turning out to be.
I’ve wanted a 90 for quite a while, ever since last year when I found myself in a situation where the 50 just wasn’t long enough and there was no way to get closer with my feet. Two very interesting fellows were sitting in chairs conversing on the other side of small boat canal, and I only wished to have something longer to capture more of their wonderfully interesting personalities.
So I finally decided to take a chance with this old Elmarit. While I’d love a newer one, it’s just not in the budget for me.
It arrived on Thursday morning and I immediately set out to give it a try… down to a favorite marina on a misty day. This is one of my first shots with the lens, wide open, of a favorite subject:

 

This old Elmarit renders in a very classic way, with focus-fall-off that isn’t harsh or dramatic, but silky smooth. Wide open, the lens is surprisingly sharp. Contrast is more of what you’d expect in an old classic like this — the contrast is not at all punchy  — but lets face it, in the digital age we can always give contrast a little boost in post if necessary. It has a fantastic character about it, the way an old Summitar does (but the bokeh isn’t swirly). Straight out of the camera, the files have a vintage look to them, not in color, but in their rendering… and it takes to a retro-style post-processing treatment quite nicely.

 

The downside is that the lens is quite prone to flare. Though I didn’t get a hood with the lens, I’ve heard it actually makes little difference, and since it’s a bit long already without the hood, I’m not sure I’d use it anyway. It is something to be aware of though. The flare is of the soft hazy kind.
The lens isn’t heavy, but as mentioned, long. You can see in the photo of my camera with the lens mounted, it’s almost silly looking… almost. Focus is smooth, and the throw isn’t too long. Adjusting focus with the Elmarit is quite comfortable and easy, though with any 90 you’ll want to be sure your rangefinder mechanism is aligned properly. Luckily, mine is spot on, even after almost 5 years. I love my M8.

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Also, focusing can be a little challenging with a long lens like this. I have a 1.25 magnifier screwed onto my M8 and it really does help in a big way. And I have one of the cheaper, “from Hong Kong” magnifiers I got on EBay and it works a charm.

 

Overall, for under $400 I am thrilled with this star-of-a-lens… and it’s a gem worth exploring if your budget doesn’t allow for a more modern 90, or if you just want to try some vintage Leica glass. I’ve been having a ball with it for the last four days, and though I was a little worried 90mm might be long for every-day use, it’s proving to be just a new focal length to explore, and a fun one at that.

 

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Thanks for reading and looking!

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42 Comments

  1. Thanks for the review, in a local camera shop a guy who works there has exactly the same lens he is parting with, I went this morning to try it with my M9, it focused easy and spot on, it’s very clean in good condition, it’s a 1955 version, as you say it looks a little strange but I like that, I noticed the aperture had a lot of blades so the bokeh should be good, I will go and buy it later on today.

    Thanks.

  2. I have the 90mm f2.8 Elmarit and, along with the 35mm f2.8 (specs) Summaron and the 50mm f2.8 Elmar, use it on an M3. My 90 is a little unusual in that just beyond the focus scale on the barrel it says 95. From what I have been able to discover, with long focus lenses, the actual focal length can vary just a little during production. So, if the lens is within certain tolerances – say 88-92, then the lens is released. If however the tolerance is exceeded, then the actual focal length is stamped on the barrel. When, after a small legacy, I decided to buy an M Leica, I looked at all options and decided on an M3 after reading good reviews and in particular mention of the 0.91X viewfinder. I avoided the M2 as no frame for 135 (although I rarely use mine!) and bought the spectacles 35 to allow me to use all four lenses. I don’t find the removable spool a problem and like the resetting frame counter – I’d forget the wheel on the M2. I now also have an MD with this wheel/disc and use this with a Visoflex 2 and 280mm f4.8 Telyt. This is my setup for cricket matches and always garners interest from fielders!

  3. THANK YOU for that review! I got a banged-up M2 with this lens for 400€ and i will spend another 100€ on restoring the lens and 200€ on the body. Looking at your pictures convinced me that this is money will spent, since i am looking for a used M9 soonish. 🙂

  4. Lovely personal review. I have a 1966 Emarit f2.8 90mm (fat) lens on its way and I’m looking forward to putting it through it’s paces. I have a 35 and a 50, but the 90 will do nicely in balance with the wider lens.

  5. I bought my 90mm 2.8 Elmarit in 1973, still have it and use it. The leather covering is coming off and I have lost the red dot, but the glass is clear. I still have the lens hood, but it serves no purpose, it is pretty much a portrait lens and it is very well suited for B&W film.

  6. Denis Gilbert says, I have the 90mm Tele Elmarit 2.8 and use it on my M6 and M2,a beautiful lens which
    I much prefer against newer glass.

  7. What a beautiful lens! Having just got my 70s f2.8 90mm Elmarit, I will enjoy using mine on my digital rangefinder.

    • Robert White Camera have Leica Straps, go to Accessories, choose Leica there are around 6 different types.

  8. Great review. I have the exact same lens for my M9, and agree with your comments.

    I might add that it produces –wonderful— color, saturated and warmish. Stopped down is pretty sharp. Wide open it is somewhat soft, but I bought it for making old-fashioned portraits anyway so that is actually a desired feature for my uses.

    This lens demonstrates in a beautiful way how great the M system is, that one can pick up a 50 year old lens for a couple of hundred dollars that produce top notch results with a certain look.

    Comparing this lens with the modern version (90/2 or 75/2 for example) is like comparing a 1965 ferrari and a 2005 ferrari. Same soul, totally different animals. One just can’t compare them side by side.

  9. I wonder does anybody has any personal experience with both the 90mm Elmarit and the newer and slightly faster 90mm Summarit? Which one has a better rendering?…. looking at a 75mm corn APSH but am tempted by these more economical offerings after seeing what Amy and Rolle have posted.
    Any comments or opinions would be appreciated.

  10. Great report, Amy! My friend, who is trying to sell this lens, will be happy too..I was on the fence about buying it until I read this.

    Joe 😉

  11. Knew you would love this lens Amy and that you would get the best out of it. It’s another real steal in the vintage group alongside the 40 Summicron 50 Summitar and 50 Summilux V1, just love old quality Leica lenses!

  12. Congratulations Amy.

    I’m sure you will enjoy this new challenge and we will be able to enjoy its fruits.

  13. Lot of new gear lately, Pana, Oly, Nikon, Sony, etc. Oeps I didn’t noticed any new Leica stuf, except the usual $$$$ titanium collector items, or the stuff that never reaches the store…. The famous ‘not in stock’ items :). …. Cheers!

  14. Actually, 120mm (equivalent) is quite a nice focal length. Since I’ve gotten my dad’s old Pentax SLR, I’ve grown quite fond of the 135mm lens it came with. It provides a different view on things — more focussed on detail.

    Glad you enjoy your new toy! 🙂

  15. i have owned 3*90mm’s…summicron (lovely but too heavy), elmarit (new version, lovely still heavy) but now have the tele-elmarit (early 80’s version) lovely/perfectly balanced, 3d pop and silky bokeh

  16. Amazing. Reading this makes me want to get a used Leica M8. I am picking up Leica Summicron 35mm version 4 for my Sony NEX 5N. And I already have some M-mount Voigtlander glass as well.

    I mean the NEX 5N produces amazing images with manual focus legacy glass but what I lust is the rangefinder experience! The dynamic range on the 5N sometimes is greater than my friends 5D mk2 and my Alpha A900 at certain times. Higher than Canon for sure at all times.

    M8 is not the greatest technical masterpiece as low light blows and all but the mechanical qualities is what I am after. The innards that make rangefinder focusing and usability experience as what it is.

  17. Great post Amy! It’s nice to see reviews occasionally of some of the older glass that many of us think about acquiring for various reasons (including the high price and ridiculous unavailability of new Leica glass these days….). Your first shot of the seagull is wonderful. I’m currently enjoying a 90mm Elmar C f4, using it on my M9 and my MP. It’s a cheap – but slower – alternative to the 2.8. But even wide open at f4,I get sharpness at the point of focus and a nice, dreamy feeling elsewhere.

  18. Great shots I love the first one . I went from a M6 to a M8 and then to a 9 and never purchased new
    lenes I still use a 35 , 50 ,90 and 135 all go back 40 and 50 years with great results , do not
    think I will ever upgrade because I love the results Good Shooting JM

  19. Thank you for this mini review, Amy! It sure looks like a good lens to me, but in your hands every lens seems to be good! 😉

    And the last image is awesome!

    David

  20. while I am sure that it’s a wonderful lens, I have to admit that 90mm is a bit long on on the M8 (for me).
    I liked 75mm better, but then there is no real vintage 75 except the Summilux which is quite a bit newer than your Elmarit 🙂

    • Lovely rendering, Rolle! Is it straight off the camera with min. PP works? If so, the lens renders beautifully.

      Cheers.

      SP

        • Thanks, Rolle. Apart from the cropping and tweaking of the contrast, blacks and shadows, the original OOC file still renders very well. Nice shot.

    • here is another one:

      [img]http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7009/6715308265_75c1debce4_z.jpg[/img]

      … and B&W:

      [img]http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7159/6715308255_2bae42447f_z.jpg[/img]

      • Thanks Rolle. Love the card playing shot! I think Amy and U successfully convinced me to hunt down an Elmarit on EBay!.. Thanks a million for posting and sharing these wonderful shots.

      • Thanks, Amy and Rolle.

        After reading your review and photo posting, I got my own 90mm Elmarit and loved it.

        Another piece of lovely glass added to my image making stable.

        Cheers,

        SuperP

  21. thanks for sharing! every word is true. last year i bought this lens for my M8. i must admit i don’t use it much, because for me it is too long (in both meanings) and looks -your right- silly 😉
    but i won’t sell it, just because it’s so >vintage<
    🙂

  22. Lovely shots, Amy. I had this lens briefly, but found issues with flare when used without the hood. It has a good reputation, optically, and you are showing its strengths with your images. Hope all’s well. Miss ya!

  23. Wow, this old lens does a great job, plus the one using it too! Very nice shots Amy to show off this ol’ jewel. The bokeh is smooth and creamy. Love it. May have to look at this one if I ever get the M mount for my Ricoh GXR!

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