Leica Thambar 90mm Review (f2.2 lens) + Portrait Shoot
New lens! Leica Thambar 90mm f2.2 review and photos together with a short BTS YouTube video showing how I captured some of the images.
Lens Test! Leica Thambar 90mm
OK so I will come clean. The Leica Thambar 90mm is not a lens I purchased. I was fortunate enough to test it while visiting the lovely people at the Leica Mayfair store, London. Thank you for the amazing continued customer service!
Leica Thambar-M 90mm Specs
Firstly lets cover some details about the lens –
Portraits with a 90mm Leica Thambar lens
As a portrait photographer if i’m going to test a lens it is going to be via shooting portraits. Model Charli was with me in London so she kindly posed to let me try out the Leica Thambar lens. The 90mm focal length is perhaps less popular with Leica shooters verses say 50mm or 35mm. That said I own two Leica 90mm lenses and I know it is an awesome focal length for portraits. For me the 90mm on a full frame Leica is best for headshots or that is the sweet spot. At this close distance you can render beautifully soft out of focus backgrounds. Half body portraits are OK but for full length I rather use a 50mm lens.
Leica Thambar spot filter
Unlike all the other Leica M mount lenses I own and use the Leica Thambar 90mm f2.2 is different. The Thambar-M has a removable screw on centre spot filter that fits on the front of the lens. The Leica Thambar spot filter is specifically designed to give this modern 90mm lens the vintage look to match the original 1930s Leica Thambar 90mm lens. With the spot filter attached the soft dreamy look of the lens is magnified 10 fold. Personally it was too much for me so I took the filter off almost immediately. (The photos looked so out of focus I thought there was a problem with my Leica camera!).
Comparision: Leica Thambar 90mm spot filter effect
This was not a planned comparison, they were just two portrait images shot at the beginning of our shoot. The photos on the left are with the spot filter attached. The photos on the right are with the Leica Thambar spot filter removed. (All other photos in the review are with the spot filter removed).
Original images (Camera JPEG, processed via Adobe Lightroom)
Close up crop of same images
Two aperture scales on the Thambar!?
This lens is also unique for me in that the Leica Thambar 90mm has dual aperture scales. The red numbers are for when using the lens with the spot filter attached. The white aperture scale numbers are for when using the lens without the spot filter. (*I used the lens at it’s widest aperture for the whole day and for all images shared).
First impressions of the Leica Thambar 90mm?
My immediate impressions were as I said is there a problem with the lens or the camera!? The image looked so soft it was difficult to tell if it was a rangefinder calibration issue. My first thought was to take of the Leica Thambar spot filter and that fixed the issue straight away. I saw no need to put the filter back on at any stage during the shoot. The photos were still soft and had that classic Leica glow, yet contained sufficient detail/ sharpness to be acceptable to me.
Leica Thambar portraits – Model Charli
Here are some Leica Thambar portraits shot with the 90mm f/2.2 lens. The first set of images are JPEGs (as the loaned Leica M240 I was using was set to JPEG and I didn’t think to check it!)(*My M240 was in Germany for repair). The second set of Thambar portrait photos were captured as DNG file images. All photos were shot with the mentioned full frame Leica M240 camera and processed vie Adobe Lightroom. (I just apply one of my Leica Lightroom presets to all images then adjusted exposure if needed).
JPEG Leica Thambar 90mm portraits
DNG Leica Thambar 90mm portrait photos / samples
Leica Noctilux 50mm vs Thambar 90mm
As I have the Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 v2 lens here is a quick visual to give a Noctilux vs Thambar comparison. The Noctilux 50mm f1.0 version 2 lens has it’s own signature look but still captures that authentic Leica character. The Thambar 90mm vs Noctilux 50 was not a planned comparison but once I returned the Thambar lens to the Leica Mayfair store I went back to using my Noctilux. As the images are shot with the same Leica M240 camera, same Leica Lightroom preset, same model, same location and similar lighting I thought I would share how the images differ. After using the 90mm I kept wanting to be closer than the 50mm would focus. (Both lenses focus to 1m distance but with the longer 90mm focal length it gets you closer to your subject).
Leica Noctilux 50mm f1 portraits (as a comparison)
Controversial perhaps but I prefer the Leica Thambar images!
Leica Thambar glow
So do you need to buy a Leica Thambar 90mm lens to enjoy that famous Leica glow? No. You can save a lot of money and just pick up an older Leica lens (see next paragraph). For the Thambar itself it creates a blooming effect especially on highlights. I found it more easy to clip highlights using the Thambar on the M240 than I’ve noticed with other lenses. On the Leica CL or Leica M10 this would be less of a problem due to the better dynamic range of these cameras.
Other Leica lenses that offer the Leica glow
Other Leica lenses that give a vintage Leica glow look are the early Leica 35mm f1.4 ASPH and the Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v2 (both which I don’t have). Of the lenses I use the Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 lens – Collapsible (old version), the Leica Summitar 50mm f2, Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5 lens and perhaps for the most glow the Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 lens (not a newer Summarit-M version). Most modern Leica lenses excluding the Thambar have lens coatings to minimise this glow effect.
Soft focus filter
Another option is to attach a soft focus filter to a modern lens to try to create a similar look. This way you can use your existing lenses to capture that more vintage/ imperfect appearance. These filters are particularly useful on very sharp lenses and can be found easily on Amazon and eBay.
Leica Thambar bokeh
The Leica Thambar bokeh could be called ring bokeh, with a distinct outer ring to each bokeh ball. I’ve seen people describe ring bokeh as distracting or busy but I quite like it. When used at close range the Leica Thambar 90mm creates very pleasing out of focus blur and a clear subject background separation. The further you are from the subject the less you see this effect. (The same for most lenses).
Cheap Leica Thambar 90mm alternatives?
Is there a cheaper option to the premium price tagged Leica Thambar 90mm f/2.2 lens? From the lenses I use I would say the closest thing to a Leica Thambar alternative is my Leica Summicron 90mm f2 Pre-ASPH lens (Mine has the telescopic pull out built in lens hood). The 90mm Summicron can often be found at bargain prices (why I bought it) on eBay (or it could a few years ago). The Summicron Pre-ASPH lens can create a very similar creamy bokeh
Leica Summicron 90mm vs Thambar
For the huge price difference and if you plan to remove the Thambar soft filter anyway the older Leica Summicron 90mm lenses are worth considering. In a Leica Summicron 90mm vs Thambar shoot out it is difficult to say which is the best. If you find their sweet spots both lenses are fantastic, especially for portraiture.
Leica Summicron 90mm portraits
YouTube: Leica Thambar Photoshoot
Leica Thambar 90mm Review – Conclusion
So to summarise I really enjoyed using the Leica Thambar 90mm f2.2 lens. Shot wide open with the spot filter removed the Thambar images are acceptably sharp and pleasing to the eye. If you are buying this lens to remove the spot filter I feel it would be better to consider a Leica Summicron 90mm f2 lens and save some money.
The dreamy look of the Leica Thambar 90mm would be fantastic for Leica wedding photography but I generally prefer a 50mm lens. The 90mm focal length works very well for headshots and tight portraits but for all other images I would prefer to use shorter lenses. The Leica Thambar 90mm would also be ideally suited to baby photography or flattering portraits of people with less perfect skin. Often modern Leica lenses are so sharp they can be too clinical for some skin types.
Unplanned GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) followed this innocent lens test!
Unknowingly to me, testing the Leica Thambar 90mm lens was to have quite an effect. The days and weeks that followed this day in London became what can only be described as a completely obsessed mission to buy an old lens with the same soft look. That in turn spiraled completely out of control and three months later I have more lenses and cameras than before. You may have already seen the result of this research and buying in some previous videos and reviews.
Let me explain..
Normally I love super sharp photos but the Leica Thambar 90mm lens test let me appreciate the world differently. It opened my eyes to the imperfect actually being just perfect. I set to work to find myself a vintage lens for my Leica cameras. Many many silly late nights reading online and hours on eBay followed. In the daytime I was propped up by caffeine (or a wall), by night the research continued!
My first acquisition is what started all my photography GAS problems. I found that if I bought a vintage Leica lens with a camera attached the camera that came with it was almost free. Did I need one of these ancient Leica cameras? No, but as a Leica blogger and now YouTuber I thought it couldn’t hurt to own one. I bought a 1939 Leica iiia camera with the Leica Summitar 50mm f2 lens. That lead to the purchase of the Leica iiig camera. I then discovered the crazy world of Leica LTM lenses (Leica Thread Mount) and my GAS issues just went into overdrive. “So many great lenses that I didn’t know existed!”. (*Leica LTM lens review to follow).
Non-Leica camera purchases
When discovering this world of 1930s to 1950s lenses I also accidentally discovered folding cameras from this era. They are so cheap! I couldn’t believe it. 6×6 cameras, 6×9 cameras, so many cool designs. I already owned some old folding cameras such as the Moskva-5 and I like how compact it is. My mission then turned to finding the smallest lightest cameras and lenses possible. I found the amazing LTM mount Voigtlander Bessa L (not old I realise but I discovered it during my research). I then spotted the Voigtlander Perkeo cameras and the Agfa Billy Record II to name a few. Reviews on all these cameras and lenses to come (if not already posted).
Dangerous but worthwhile!
I had no idea how testing one lens could be so dangerous ha. I’m happy I did it though as I’ve learned more about vintage cameras and lenses in the last few months than probably the last three to five years. And the more you learn the more you discover and so the exciting adventure continues!