If you have bought into the Leica range of camera bodies, then you will be wanting an equally high spec lens. This will obviously depend on the types of subjects you are capturing, but owning a zoom lens with the most used focal lengths is always a good idea. Enter the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH which is one of two zooms for the Leica SL system.
A simple and straightforward lens which puts the onus on image quality, with not so obvious features like optical stabilization. Here we will go over the main features of the lens, good and bad points, and if it is worth the high price tag.
The first thing you notice about the lens is that its no lightweight. Measuring 88 x 138 mm and weighing 1140g, the lens definitely feels like it’s built to last. The lens is made with a solid metal construction, which is fully weather-sealed. On the lens barrel there is only a zoom ring and the focus ring nearest to the front of the lens.
Both rings have a smooth firm action with a hard infinity stop. There are no other external features on the lens, with aperture changes and image stabilization being set within the camera body. The optical image stabilization is said to cover 3.5 stops, which is reasonable for a modern stabilization system.
Internally, the lens has 18 elements in 15 groups, an aperture range of f/2.8-f/22 and f/4-f/22 at 90mm. Upfront is an 82mm filter thread, which can also fit the rather cool looking squared off, lens hood. The working range of the lens goes from 0.3m to infinity at 24mm and 0.45m to infinity at 90mm.
Things like a depth of field scale would have been nice, but Leica likes to keep things simple on their lenses, so you have to go with the flow. However, everything can be controlled through the camera body, so it’s just a matter of strapping on the lens to get going.
The Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH in Use
Those out there who are used to the medium-range zoom of 24-70mm will welcome the extra 20mm of focal length. 24-70mm can cover the majority of situations, but having that extra 20mm of length gives so much more scope, while still having great quality.
For example, 85mm is a nice portrait focal length, where you would traditionally have to swap over to a prime lens or even a 70-200mm to cover that base. With this lens, you cover all those bases in one package which is far more convenient.
Strapped onto the Leica SL, the lens has a flexible autofocus system with a quick way to find your focus point and has two levels of magnification. Even in lowlight conditions, through the EVF, the lens can snap into focus very quickly, so no complaints there.
For those who do landscapes and want to use full manual focus and a distance scale, this can be used on the top plate LCD screen, which can also use single-AF with the rear joystick. In other words, plenty of options.
Fully wide-open, the lens shows only the most minimal amount of edge softness, which when stopped down to f/4 comes out almost perfect. Stopping down to f/8 gives the most precise results across the board, with no complaints about artifacts or image quality at all. When it comes to the sharpness of this lens, it’s remarkably tack-sharp across-the-board, from the center to the corners.
Ghosting and flaring are kept well in check by this lens. There’s a lot of glass in this lens for the potential of sending light rays everywhere, but unless you’re shooting directly into the sun, the lens has a minimal amount of flaring.
Images come out with a high degree of contrast and clarity, with detail being top-notch. As for chromatic aberration, this is extremely minimal as with distortion and can be easily corrected afterward in software.
As for background blur or bokeh, colors transit extremely well at the longer focal lengths. When the subject is very near, background blur comes out with smooth colors and adds a definite other dimensional to the images.
How Does It Compare?
Medium zoom lenses for Leica cameras are thin on the ground and being at the top end of the quality spectrum gives fewer options. One consideration is the Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 Macro O.I.S. The Panasonic comes in at less than half the price of the Leica and has a longer range of 24mm to 105mm.
It too has image stabilization, but only has an f/4 minimum aperture. Image quality is extremely good from this lens, but the Leica pips it to the post on ultimate image quality. In many ways, the ultimate decision here will be down to budget.
|Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH||Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 Macro O.I.S|
|Elements||18 elements/15 groups||16 elements/13 groups|
|Diagram Blades||9 rounded||9 rounded|
For those using a Leica camera body and want top-end quality, this lens is hard to beat. Images from wide-open to fully stopped down come out crisp and very detailed with a certain look which is very reminiscent of prime lenses.
Obviously the benefit here is having variable focal lengths and the f/2.8 aperture is going to cover the majority of bases unless you really need ultra-shallow depth of field from something like an f/1.4 lens.
For all other cases, this is the go-to lens. The extra focal length going up to 90mm further extends the usefulness for things like portraits, which means the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH can easily cover landscapes to high-quality headshots with ease. Working with a very high-quality zoom which can cover most situations, definitely gives peace of mind.
The only real caveat to the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH is that it’s very expensive. However, factoring in the image and build quality, this lens will probably outlast you and in that respect, it’s worth every penny.