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Leica Vario-Elmar-R 35-70mm f/4

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2 3,722 Wed May 15, 2019
Recommended By Average Price Average User Rating
100% of reviewers $850.00 10.00
Leica Vario-Elmar-R 35-70mm f/4

Construction: 7 Groups/8 Elements

Angle of view: 64-34

F stop range: 4-22

Closest Focusing Distance: 2'

Maximum Magnification1:8 (1:2.8 in macro)

Filter Size: E 60

Dimensions (Length x Diameter): 3.1" x 2.5"/84mm x 70mm

Weight: 500g
Mount Type: Third-party (adapter required)
Price History:

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Forum Member

Registered: December, 2018
Location: Rio de Janeiro
Posts: 99
Lens Review Date: May 15, 2019 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $900.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Best zoom in class for a wide margin
Cons: Expensive
Sharpness: 10    Aberrations: 9    Bokeh: 8    Handling: 10    Value: 9    Camera Used: Sigma SD15 / EOS 5D   

This was the first Leica zoom I had. Bought it in Vienna in pristine condition some years ago.

The main reason I decided to buy it was goes back to when I bought a Sigma SD15 camera from Sigma. This camera uses a Foveon sensor and when I bought it, it came with a Sigma 18-50 2.8 Sigma lens and besides costing $480 this lens was a lemon, horrible at the corners.

I had a Leica R6 with three primes, a Sumicron-R 50/2, an Elmarit-R 28/2.8 and an Elmar-R 90/4, and since I used them before with my EOS 5D I decided do give them a try with the SD15. The result was a big WOW ! Perfect images, extremely sharp and very pleasant rendering. Then I decided to go for a Leica Zoom.

When I was in Vienna, I went to Leicashop and asked for the best zoom they had (used). The manager came with 3 lenses, the 35-70 F3.5, the 35-70 F4 and a 28-70 F-something.

I asked him about which one he would pick for himself, he smiled and pointed to the 35-70 F4. Then I bought it.

First I used it on the 5D. This lens is much better than the 24-70 F2.8 L in definition. On the Sigma SD15 the images were amazing, on par with the Leica primes I had at that time.

The building quality can't be better, no woobing, very precise. Manual focus was very easy with Haoda custom cut focusing screens. Too bad my K3-II and K5-II don't have decent focusing screens.

This zoom is an optical marvel.


I used a Leica-R to Canon EF adapter first, then I ordered Leitax mounts for SA and K mount. Leitax adapters are expensive, about 70 Euro each, but they are perfect and extremely high quality.

The SD15 is an APS sensor size camera. Images were absolutely sharp from center to corners, even wide open. Same with the K3-II and K5-II
Site Supporter

Registered: June, 2010
Location: Sebastopol, California
Posts: 2,000

1 user found this helpful
Lens Review Date: May 13, 2019 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $800.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Leica "Look"
Cons: Short focus throw, only f4
Sharpness: 9    Aberrations: 9    Bokeh: 8    Handling: 7    Value: 8    Camera Used: K1   

I confess to being somewhat of a prime snob. When I'm using a zoom I can never get past the feeling I could take better pictures with a prime. But I've wanted one and have tried a great many zooms, yet sold them all (though I've reacquired the DA 60-250). So when I read this Erwin Puts' review of the Leica 35-70mm f/4 Vario-Elmar-R Zoom (taken from his compendium), it was difficult to believe the part of his summary that stated: "The LEICA VARIO-ELMAR-R 35-70 mm f/4 . . . covers three important focal lengths, the 35 mm, the 50 mm and the 70 mm. Its performance is as good, if not better than that of the comparable lenses with fixed focal length at the same apertures, the LEICA SUMMICRON-R 35 mm f/2, the LEICA SUMMILUX-R 35 mm f/1.4, the LEICA SUMMICRON-R 50 mm f/2 and the LEICA SUMMILUX-R 80 mm f/1.4."

Reservations aside, this is a zoom I'll keep. It breathes all-metal quality, weighs about 520g with the hood, and measures a mere 3" by 2.5" w/o the hood. It close focuses at under two feet, and has a handy macro mode which is selected by pushing the silver button that's above the aperture ring and turning the FL adjustment to just past 70mm. Leitax has an adapter for it, and Lightroom has a profile for it with individual settings for 35, 50, and 70mm focal lengths. There is an aspherical element in the lens, but for some reason Leica declined to include that in the lens' name.

I've so far done some down and dirty comparisons to my Zeiss 35 f2, Voigtlander 58 f1.4 and Voigtlander 75 f2.5 at the zoom's respective focal lengths. As expected the Leica Vario-Elmar-R 35-70mm isn't quite as sharp at f4 as those high-end primes, but by f5.6 it takes microscopic pixel peeping to see a difference. Very impressive.

As for the creamy Leica "look" of gently but richly resolving detail and color . . . the Vario certainly has it. Surprises are how sharp all edges are at F4, how well it captures micro contrast detail (similar to the Zeiss), and how superbly it resists fringing (better than the Zeiss, same as the Voigtlanders which are also real fringe fighters). Someone who judges lenses primarily by high acutance may not appreciate the Leica look, but if you are after a lens that highly resolves but does so with more relaxed edge acuity . . . (check out this interesting discussion of resolution, acuity, contrast and other factors that affect one's perception of "sharpness").

A few words about the logic of my feature ratings. The overall 10 rating is because of the Vario's unique character and great performance as a zoom lens. In terms of image quality, it's the best zoom I've ever owned.

I put Value at 8 due to being a splendid lens but hovering around $1000 on Ebay for good copies, then add the cost of a Leitax adapter. Handling is 7 from several competing factors. At first I was disappointed the lens reach is just 35-70, but as I shot with it I realized that's the focal length range I shoot within the most; plus, apparently (from articles I've read) the lens' conservative range allowed Leica engineers to better apply their considerable lens-making expertise (BTW, this lens is completely different from the lesser Minolta-engineered f3.5 version).

There's the Vario's handling positive of a compact size but which is mitigated by manual focusing and aperture control; similarly mixed is its short focus throw helping to focus it fast, but that makes it a little more difficult to focus accurately. I would have given it a 10 for sharpness, but settled on 9 because of how sharpness standards have been upped by likes of Sigma's Art and Zeiss Otus (also, I upgraded the rating one point after factoring in that the Vario is a zoom).

I gave it an 8 for bokeh because only opening to f4 limits bokeh opportunities, yet for a subject with enough distance from the background the Vario's f4 bokeh is quite nice at 70mm for portraits, etc. For bokeh hounds there is a 2.8 version of this lens one can pick up for a measly $11,000 to $18,000. But that adds extra weight to your kit, and one has to live without the car that was sold to buy it.

How the Vario looks on the K1:

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