The Leica 16-35 f/3.5-4.5 SL – First Impressions
By Holger Forst
It has been a long time waiting but finally they it has become real! Talking about the forever announced new lenses for the Leica SL, and in this case the new wide angle Leica Super-Vario-Elmar-SL 1:3,5-4,5/16-35 ASPH (…what a name…). Together with the 75mm and 90mm SL primes the additional lenses for the SL were announced long ago and the roadmap was updated regularly with further delay of availability that I somewhat thought of Samuel Becket’s “Waiting for Godot” and the question if these lenses are real or something like the never appearing Godot…
Anyway, I am happy that I managed to get one of the first 16-35’s from one of the first shipments that Leica made to German dealers. Having made only good experiences with the 2 other Vario-Elmars (24-90mm and 90-280mm) it appeared to be not a high-risk bet ordering this wide-angle zoom. As landscape photography is one of my preferred subjects, I have realized occasionally that I was missing something „at the lower end“. Prior to the Leica SL, I used to shoot Nikon and the Nikkor 4/16-35 was part of my gear then.
Having it in my hand the Leica Super-Vario-Elmar-SL 1:3,5-4,5/16-35 ASPH feels like a Leica lens should feel. Outstanding build quality. Full Stop. From a size and weight perspective it is much in line to the Leica Vario-Elmar 1:2,8-4/24-90 ASPH I own so far. However, there are 2 decisive differences: First, the lens does not change its length when zooming. Not a big deal when actually taking photos but I realized that it simply felt better when wearing the camera „lens-down“, as it does not get longer with every step like the 24-90 (and all other similar constructed zoom lenses). Second, the hood is not as bulky as on the 24-90 which makes adjusting a polarizing filter easy, still large enough to provide some protection for unwanted contacts.
There are countless comments in the www about the size and weight of the Vario-Elmar Zooms that Leica has introduced with the SL. Well, I have never cared – compared to the Nikon equipment I used before I do not feel any big difference and the image quality provided is more than a justification for the given size.
So, unpacked the lens, mounted it on the SL and off I went for a hike tour in the High-Fens, a natural park in East Belgium on a wonderful spring morning. That the lens would be razor-sharp could have been expected (and read from the MTF-curves) but the behavior in backlit situation (ie no flares…) or the complete absence of CA with detailed trees in sunlight (I remember this to be the purple fringe beauty on my M9…) are really stunning characteristics. Autofocus? Works, fast and reliable.
…Of course I am biased as I have paid a decent amount of money for the Leica Super-Vario-Elmar-SL 1:3,5-4,5/16-35 ASPH and I do not want to be disappointed, but these first results make me feel good about the investment. So I guess this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…