Disclaimer: with the exception of photos of the lenses themselves, no photos were post-processed apart from unifying white balance and output sharpening. All photos were with a Leica M240 and focus was checked to the best of my ability via the EVF-2. The camera was secured to an Arca Swiss Cube via a crap Sunphoto quick release plate.
ohm image: Leica Rumors - MGR Bresson, Leica, MS Optical viewfinder magnifiers compared
ohm image: Sharpness epiphany: 50mm 3rd-gen Summicron-M & Summilux-M ASPH
ohm image: Nagano, Japan: through the Summicron 50
ohm image: How to: iPhone bokeh
It’s about time I wrote about the two 90mm lenses I use for work (embassy and award shoots) and for fun (hiking, portraits, etc.). Because I own two 90mm lenses sharing the same f stop, nomenclature, e39 filter thread, country of manufacture, and price bracket, this essay deserves a sheepish start. There isn’t a good reason to own two Tele-Elmarit lenses. But then there’s seldom good reason to the acquisition of whose primary use is hobby and craft. Yes, both lenses have paid their stable fees. But only one is truly unique.
And that is the slim, or Thin version. It is unique because it is so damn light - and thin. In fact, it is unmatched in either category by any full frame lens of similar spec across the board. My copy weighs 228g. My fat copy weighs 341g, which is closer to its speed and focal length class standard. However, those ~120g were taken out of solid construction. Leica, like everyone, went through a cheap stage. The Tele-Elmarit (Fat) runs on brass helicoids, the Tele-Elmarit-M (Thin) does not. Fat also throws longer focus travel, and turns more smoothly. Its aperture ring is easier to operate with a single finger, and its stops are smoother, more precise, and less clackity.
And, in my opinion, Fat looks better. Perhaps not on camera, but in the hand, and under the nose, its classic lines, enlarged focus ring, finely knurled grips, and cleverly hidden retaining bolts, are part of a superior design. If my choice to keep a lens were decided purely on feel, I would choose it, hands down.
But with few exceptions, I prefer how Thin renders subjects, particularly its smoother blending of out of focus (OOF) areas. Let’s look at the below images:
Photograph #1: my family
OOF areas bubble less, show fewer hard outlines, and striate defocused straight lines less. Here, too, there is a catch: Thin renders pincushion buttons in bright OOF points. This occurs when the OOF areas are small points such as breaks in foliage. Generally, large planes are different as we will see below.
Photograph #2: my wife’s car
I focused both lenses at 1 metre to illustrate close-distance bokeh. The subject, a 2007 Suzuki Alto (kei car), is immaterial. Again, Thin shows less hard outlining, smoother transitions, and noticeably smoother blur in extremely defocused areas (foliage).
Photograph #3: defocused Suzuki logo
Here I moved to within a two metres from the car. Again, notice how much smoother Thin is than Fat.
Photograph #4: Suzuki logo
Fat suffers less purple fringing, however. I expect this to be a boon to people who shoot against bright sources, the sky, or make heavy use of reflected light. Note the purple nimbus around the Suzuki logo in the enlargement below. (Also note the smoother OOF areas in the original.)
That said, in most cases, Fat flares more.
Photograph #5: wheelbarrow
Neither lens veil enough to obliterate subject. Rather, flare occurs as a central, low-quality instagram filter. Personally, I am not a fan of either’s flare. In the wheelbarrow photo above, Thin flares more (evident in lessened central contrast). And again, OOF areas show less outlining, and tend to be smoother.
Photograph #6: Sinaron digital macro lens (Fat)
Photograph #7: Sinaron digital macro lens (Thin)
But it flares far less in the same region under the reflected light of two Profoto B heads. Even when eliminating stray light, Thin is contrastier, and often crisper. When stopped down, differences between the two dissolve. Thin tends to render cooler images, Fat warmer.
Finally, and by a thin (yup) margin, Thin captures a narrower angle of view. I’m not sure which lens is closer to its purported focal length. This is handy for ‘close ups’ of small objects in the studio. Of course, neither lens gets you that close to start with. In fact, I cropped the Sinaron image by 10% to cut out a stray piece of styrene board.
There are specific advantages to both lens. But in my bag, the Tele-Elmarit-M (Thin) wins out. Stopped down, OOF rendering differences are insignificant. But when covering crowded embassies peopled by Mayors and CEOs and the like, lighter, compacter lenses which leave more room for speedlights, is important. And, as a general rule, lenses that flare less, work better with speedlights. In a pinch, Thin’s smoother OOF transitions create more pleasing portraits. Of course, that is my preference speaking. If you’re after character, Fat takes the cake (yup). If you’re after build quality, and classic design, Fat eats it (yup).
For everything else, it’s Thin for the win (yup).