Leica R Lenses Review & Photos
Leica R lenses review – my complete guide to the amazing Leica R lenses I use on digital and film cameras. Using Leica R lenses for photography with full res sample photos from Leica SL, Leica M240 and Panasonic Lumix S5. For film I use Leica R film cameras; Leicaflex SL, Leica R5, Leica R6, Leica R6.2, and Leica R7.
Videography and Photography with Leica R Lenses
As a YouTuber I often shoot my videos with Leica R lenses on a Lumix S5 camera. I’m a portrait photographer not a video specialist so most of this article will cover photography with Leica R lenses and using these lenses for photos (mostly model photography) using various cameras.
Leica R Lens Introduction
Before we jump in, a brief Leica R lens introduction. If you know the Leica brand you probably relate Leica to the precision made German rangefinder cameras. Leica iii Barnack cameras were the first to be developed in the 1930s. In the 1950s we saw the introduction of the popular Leica M cameras. Roll forward to the 1960s and Leica released the Leicaflex SLR and with it the first Leica R lenses. Leica R lenses were then in production from 1964 to 2009 in various forms. The big difference between Leica R lenses vs Leica M lenses is R lenses are SLR lenses and not rangefinder coupled. They tend to be larger, cheaper and can focus closer.
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Example Leica R Lens Photos (Portraits + Misc)
This post is less of a technical deep dive on each lens and instead aims to provide a quick overview together with some example Leica R lens photos using each lens. Click on photos in this post to view full res and to see the camera/ film used (excluding those shot with the 24mm and product photos).
Why a Leica R Lens is Better?
As Leica R lenses are SLR camera lenses they offer the big advantage of being able to focus closer than similar Leica M mount lenses. 0.5m minimum focus distance for the 50mm Summicron-R versus 0.7m for the 50mm Leica Summicron-M and 1m for a vintage Leica Summicron 50mm lens. It doesn’t sound like much but it makes a huge difference especially when using wide angle lenses such as my 24mm.
Leica R Lens Compatibility
This is a question a receive a lot. So you can use R lenses on Leica M cameras via a Leica M-R adapter but the lenses are not rangefinder coupled. I use an EVF with my Leica M240 as seen on YouTube. You cannot use Leica M lenses on Leica R cameras. Equally you can’t use vintage Leica screw mount lenses on Leica R cameras. Most third party SLR lenses cannot be mounted onto Leica R cameras such as those from Nikon or Canon. If you buy a Leica R film camera you should budget for Leica R lenses to use with it. See prices further down.
Leica R Lenses on Leica M Cameras
This YouTube video gives an overview of how I use Leica R lenses on Leica M cameras. Now that I have the Leica SL digital camera I tend to use that or my Panasonic Lumix S5, both of which pair beautifully with Leica R glass. If you use a Leica M8 or Leica M9 these cameras do not have LiveView so you can only estimate your focus.
To use Leica R lenses on your Leica M mount camera you need an adapter. Here are some example adapters on Amazon (UK)(US) or visit B&H. I prefer Novaflex Leica M-R adapter but there are cheaper Chinese adapters available too.
Leica R Lenses (Primes)
Since buying the Leicaflex SL Leica R mount camera I have bought a 24mm lens (which wont fit the Leicaflex SL hence me buying Leica R cameras), 35mm, 50mm, 60mm, 90mm, 135mm. I found some great prices so I grabbed them while I could. See examples with each lens below. (Leica R lenses are no longer made so I tend to buy on eBay).
- US – https://ebay.to/2F0HoxY
- UK – https://ebay.to/3ijzle2
- DE – https://ebay.to/3iqDNYs
- FR – https://ebay.to/2ZJ3E75
- HK – https://ebay.to/32A8xBu
Leica Elmarit-R 24mm f2.8 (3-CAM)
The 24mm Elmarit-R lens is said to be sharper than the Leica Elmarit-R 28mm f2.8 v1 but not as good as the more expensive and less common Leica Elmarit-R 28mm f2.8 v2. The 24mm less is actually a Minolta lens whereas the rest in this list are all Leica design lenses. I love the look of the clip on rectangular hood design but it does add bulk. 24mm gives a great focal length for walkabout photography for me.
The Leica Elmarit-R 24mm f2.8 is not as sharp as my Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f2.8 ASPH and much bigger, but it is cheaper.
Sample Photos: Leica Elmarit-R 24mm f2.8
Leica Summicron-R 35mm f2 v2 (3-CAM)
The version 2 35mm Summicron has a built-in slide out hood which is nice. I would say it is not the sharpest lens wide open but it is flattering for portraits and great for video too (like many of the lenses listed here, hence the Cine guys love them so much). If you want sharp images then look to get the Leica M mount Voigtlander 35mm f2 APO lens instead!
Sample Photos: Leica Summicron-R 35mm f2
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Leica Summicron-R 50mm f2 v1 (2-CAM)
The version one 50mm Summicron R lens is easy to identify with it’s narrow nose. This lens uses a clip on hood but I don’t have one. It came with my Leicaflex SL camera and is nice and compact. Again, this lens is nice for video but I think the version 2 50mm is optically superior so I tend to use that for photos. The Leica Summicron R 50mm f2 v1 lens is still one of my favourites for video as I like the increased lens flare vs. version 2.
Sample Photos: Leica Summicron-R 50mm f2 (v1)
Leica Summicron-R 50mm f2 v2 (3-CAM)
This is my most used Leica R lens. It has the same slide out hood design as the 35mm Summicron R and it is lighter than the 50mm R Summicron version 1. It gives a nice compact lightweight setup on a Leica R camera such as the Leica R6 I use a lot. (Leica M lenses are still smaller such as the Leica Summicron 50mm f2 DR (Dual range) and Leica Summicron-M 50mm f2 v5 ).
Sample Photos: Leica Summicron-R 50mm f2 (v2)
Leica Elmarit-R 60mm f2.8 Macro (3-CAM)
Like some of you reading, I use the 50mm focal length the most but always wondered if the Leica 60mm macro lens would be a better performer. One of my experienced followers then took the time to write to me and specifically recommended the later copy of this lens, without prompting. After that, I looked for good deals on eBay and bought a 3-CAM Leica Elmarit-R 60mm f2.8 lens together with a Leica R7, from an elderly photographer. You can see the Leica R7 and 60mm Elmarit-R lens in this YouTube video –
The Leica Elmarit R 60mm lens is larger and heavier than the 50mm I use (which is less ideal for me for travel) but has a deeply recessed lens omitting the need for a lens hood. It also gives macro possibilities and is a nice length for portraits. I am still undecided as to whether I need to carry the 60mm or just shoot the 50mm Summicron R lens at f2.8 for increased performance. I have found that the Leica 60mm macro lens is now my go to lens for making detailed B-roll footage for my YouTube videos.
Sample Photos: Leica Elmarit-R 60mm f2.8 Macro
Leica Elmarit-R 90mm f2.8 (2-CAM)
The obvious choice for a 90mm Leica R lens is the Leica Summicron-R 90mm f2 but these are more expensive than the slower Elmarit f2.8 version. I bought an early 2-CAM copy of the lens with the retractable hood as I tend to use shorter focal lengths. I already have the Leica Summicron-M 90mm f2 Pre-ASPH lens that I can use with M bodies and the Leica SL for extra bokeh/ shallow depth of field. 90mm is also a nice focal length for portraits so I think I will use it and it’s a nice size too.
Sample Photos: Leica Elmarit-R 90mm f2.8
Leica Elmarit-R 135mm f2.8 (3-CAM)
One of the cheapest Leica R lenses you can buy is the 135mm Leica Elmarit-R. It is a bit long for my usual photography but when I’ve used it on the Leica SL the models could tell the difference and kept asking for this lens over the short focal length M lenses I was using. It is rare models request lenses but this did with this one. The Leica 135mm R lens also has the nice retractable lens hood design.
If you want a smaller cheap 135mm lens to adapt to digital you can also use the compact and affordable vintage Leica Elmar 135mm f4 M lens I use.
Sample Photos: Leica Elmarit-R 135mm f2.8
Leica R Zoom Lenses vs Primes
I’ve never been a zoom lens kinda guy. Leica R zoom lenses vs primes was a no brainer for me as prime lenses have always said to be optically superior. When using a compact Leica M camera I feel that small primes are the best way to shoot for me.
Once I invested into Leica R cameras, I had the opportunity to shoot with longer lens and zoom lenses more easily. Zoom lenses are usually bigger than primes but on the larger Leica R camera body they balance OK. One Leica R zoom lens is bigger than one Leica R prime lens but if they offer 3 lenses in 1 lens overall it is less to carry.
Leica Vario-Elmar-R 35-70mm f4 (ROM)
This is a special lens. See my Leica Vario-Elmar-R 35-70mm f4 review YouTube video that explains the difference between the Minolta version, the Sigma version and the Leica version (all badged as Leica!). Leica 35-70mm R f3.5, Leica 28-70mm R f3.5-f4.5 and the Leica Vario-Elmar-R 35-70mm f4 that I bought. This lens purchase was a direct result of a trip where I used the 35mm Summicron R and 50mm Summicron R and the frustration of constantly switching lenses.
After reading Erwin Puts write up where he explains that this lens outperforms 35mm and 50mm Summicron and Summilux lenses at f4 onwards, it was a no brainer. The f4 maximum aperture means it is best suited to bright conditions and for me especially useful for travel. It even offers a macro function. The lens hood is a screw in design and the zoom is internal so the outer lens body does not extend.
Sample Photos: Leica 35-70mm f4
Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f4 (ROM)
I bought the Leica 80-200mm ahead of a wedding booking as I thought it would be useful for speeches and parts of the day when I can’t get close to the action. Optically it is very good however the more expensive larger Leica 70-200mm f2.8 is said to be the best. I find this lens useful for product shots when making YouTube videos to give some compression. A nice tool to have even if it won’t be my most used lens. Lens comes with a built-in retractable lens hood design.
Sample Photos: Leica 80-200mm f4
Best Leica R lens for portraits?
This is a tricky question! In general using a Leica R lens for portraits works really well as the rendering from these lenses is very flattering. That’s why the cine guys use Leica R lenses! The text book anwer to this question is probably the Leica Elmarit-R 135mm f2.8. 135mm is very flattering and so is 90mm. For 90mm I would recommend the faster Leica Summicron-R 90mm f2 even though I have the Elmarit version.
As I tend to be a 50mm guy I enjoy the trusty Leica Summicron-R 50mm f2 for most of my work and even the Leica Summicron-R 35mm f2 for portraits in tighter spaces or environmental portraits. If 50mm is a little to wide for your taste the try the Leica Elmarit-R 60mm f2.8 Macro. On film I found it was not too sharp for portraits.
In bright conditions you can also use the Leica R zoom lenses and achieve amazing results. (I say bright as often theses are f4 lenses).
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The ultimate? Leica Summilux-R 80mm f1.4
Although I don’t own it, perhaps the best Leica R lenses for portraits is the Leica Summilux -R 80mm f1.4. If I ever get to test one I will be sure to make a video for YouTube and link it here. These lenses are expensive and less easy to find. On top of that, the 80mm Summilux R is said to be soft at f1.4 and doesn’t get sharp until around f2.5-f2.8.
My Preferred Camera for Leica R Lenses
Leica R film cameras
I think that if you own Leica R lenses you need to get a Leica R film camera too!
Using Leica R lenses on Lumix S5
Leica R lenses on a Lumix S5 is a great combination and cheaper than the Leica SL / Leica SL2. The pairing works great for both photos and video.
Leica R lenses on Leica SL
I love using my Leica R glass on the Leica SL with it’s big bright EVF. R lenses are well balanced on the Leica SL and it’s fun to use.
Cameras less suited to Leica R glass
Using Leica R lenses on a Leica CL
You can use Leica R lenses on a Leica CL camera via a Leica R lenses to L-Mount adapter. I like the Novaflex adapter brand which are cheaper than Leica but I use both. Due to the size of Leica R glass I prefer smaller LTM or Leica M lenses on the small Leica CL body.
Leica R lenses on Leica M cameras
Again, yes you can use a Leica R lens on a Leica M camera (see video) via an adapter. I use the Novoflex Leica R lens to Leica M camera adaptor. As with the Leica CL, I just generally prefer small rangefinder coupled lenses on Leica M cameras.
As a reminder, Leica R lenses are not rangefinder coupled so if you use them on a Leica M camera you will need to focus via LiveView/ EVF for accurate focusing. I find it easier to use the Leica SL or Panasonic Lumix S5 cameras.
Are you a Fuji shooter? – Leica R lens to Fuji X?
After this workshop I can confirm that a Fuji shooter can see the difference with a Leica R lens! (We shot a Leica R lens on Fuji X camera via a Leica R-M adapter then Fuji to Leica M adapter). An easier solution is to use something like a Leica R lens to Fuji X-mount Novoflex adapter.
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Budget Leica R lenses
Leica R lens prices vary wildly. Don’t be put off by the first price you see as some lenses are expensive. Older 2-CAM lenses are generally the cheapest and the “ROM” lenses (like 6-bit coded) are the most expensive. Once cine guys discovered Leica R lenses that pushed up the prices and many get de-clicked and gears added to use for video.
My top tips for buying cheap Leica R lenses is first, be patient and wait for good deals on eBay. Second, buy a Leica R lens bundled with a Leica R camera for a better deal. Third, select a cheap Leica R lens focal length such as 135mm, 180mm, 250mm or third party Leica R zoom lenses such as those designed by Sigma or Minolta.
Leica R lens prices
Check the latest Leica R lens prices on eBay:
- US – https://ebay.to/2F0HoxY
- UK – https://ebay.to/3ijzle2
- DE – https://ebay.to/3iqDNYs
- FR – https://ebay.to/2ZJ3E75
- HK – https://ebay.to/32A8xBu
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5 thoughts on “Leica R Lenses Review (On Film & Digital)”
I have enjoyed reading your appraisal of several of the Leica R lenses I regularly use. Having used a pair of M3 bodies since a legacy in 2007, with 35-50-90-135 lenses, I was tempted by a Leicaflex SL body around 7 years ago. I got the bug for the ‘Diesel Leica’ and bought 28-35-50-90-135-180-250 lenses. Mostly Elmarits. I subsequently bought a second SL. I sold my Nikon F & F2 gear. Last year I acquired a Leica R8, liked it so much I now have three – one made in Portugal and two in Germany. Fortunately all but one of my R lenses is 3 cam, the two cam one is the 180mm f2.8 that my partner is going to pop on eBay for me. I like Program for street photography, unlike using the ‘flexes whose meters were dud and I had to use the trust Weston V.
I don’t use zooms, heavy, slow and cumbersome. An extra ring to turn. My slowest lens is the 250mm f4, this is used on a substantial monopod at cricket matches.
Hey Tobi, M3s! love them but yes R’s give you a lot more. Nice setup! I’ve not yet gone as long as 180/250 but I know the 180 can be found quite cheap. 3 R8s, cool! I saw your other message, yes i’ve never used the R8s. I like the short zoom (35-70) a lot for sunny weather but the big zoom is too much to carry a lot of the time. Sharp though.
Perhaps Matt, you would like to review the Leica R8? If you’re anywhere near the Peak District, you could borrow my most recent body, the Portuguese one.
Hi Toby, that’s very kind of you thanks! What big town are you close too? Maybe I can find an excuse to come north. It is a beautiful part of the UK.
Bakewell/Matlock. However, we like Oxford/Stratford on Avon/Cambridge/Brighton south of us. Chester across from us and Harrogate/York/Scarborough and Whitby north of us.