Leicaflex / Leica R lenses

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Leica's series of lenses for single lens reflex cameras are designated R-series lenses and identified by the letter "R" after the lens name. The Leica R-mount is a three lug bayonet mount with a 47mm flange focal distance which has remained substantially unchanged since its introduction in 1964 although the lens aperture coupling mechanism has changed several times as follows:
  • One cam lenses for the original Leicaflex (one sloped cam)
  • Two cam lenses for the Leicaflex SL / SL2 as well as the original Leicaflex (two sloped cams)
  • Three cam lenses for the R3 and later models as well as Leicaflex / SL / SL2 (two sloped cams + stepped cam)
  • R only lenses for R3 and later models only (stepped cam only)
  • ROM lenses, the last version, for R3 and later models only (stepped cam only + ROM contacts for R8 / R9)


Contents

Leitz Wetzlar, Leitz Canada, Leica Solms

In the early fifties Leitz established a factory in Canada complete with a second optical design department. The rationale seems to have been concerns for the future of post war Europe as well as supplying the very important US market.

The two design departments sometimes competed and must have placed a heavy burden on the company's finances. Most lenses were designed and manufactured in the same location, but a few were designed in one and manufactured in the other. Lenses were marked "LEITZ WETZLAR" or "LEITZ CANADA" according to the country of manufacture.

Around 1990 the Leitz group was sold and restructured, Leitz Canada (ELCAN Ernst Leitz CANada) was sold to Hughes Defence, Leica Camera was formed and relocated to nearby Solms with subsequent Solms made lenses (and cameras) simply marked "LEICA".

Lens Contruction

Leica manufactured lens bodies were always of all metal construction, plastics or rubber were never used (a very few externally produced lenses had rubber focussing rings) and aperture mechanisms used ball bearings. The lenses were designed to be resistant to physical shock and temperature change. Leica never produced economy lenses, all were made to the same standard making even normal 50mm lenses extremely expensive. The only cost saving ever introduced was manufacturing "R Only" lenses sold with R3 cameras, these lenses merely lacked the earlier sloped cams.

Optical standards were also extremely high, originally using Leica developed and manufactured glass, and coatings were complex and extensive. Both optically (sharpness, colour balance, & flare) and mechanically (collimation, aperture, & plane of focus) the lenses were extremely consistent.

Leica introduced many new designs and constantly improved both maximum aperture and resolution, later lenses of faster aperture would, at full aperture, almost always exceed the optimum performance of the earlier lens at any aperture. For example, the legendary Apo-Telyt-R 1:3.4 180, reckoned to be the finest lens in its day, achieved maximum (exceptional) resolution at 5.6; the later Apo-Telyt-R 1:2.8 200 exceeded this performance at full aperture.

One cam 1964

The first Leica R lenses were introduced with the original Leicaflex camera. These lenses have one cam on the rear of the lens mount to communicate aperture opening information to the coupled light meter.

The four original lenses were: 35/2.8, 50/2.0. 90/2.8, 135/2.8. The first series were produced in silver satin chrome until it was realised that light reflecting from the lens could affect the coupled light meter. All subsequent lenses were finished in black chrome.

A special lens was the 21/3.4 made by Schneider which required mirror lock up and was supplied with a seperate viewfinder. It could only be used on the original Leicaflex and is the only lens that cannot be used on later cameras.

Two cam 1968

The R lens mount was first modified with the addition of a second cam to couple with the new TTL exposure meter of the Leicaflex SL. The Leicaflex SL2 introduced changes to the mirror clearance and some later lenses must not be used on the earlier Leicaflex and SL models.

With one exception all one cam lenses can be used with stop down metering on the SL and later cameras. Most two cam lenses can be used on the original Leicaflex.

Three cam 1976

The Leica R3 with automated exposure brought another change. An additional stepped cam was fitted conveying both maximim aperture as well as set aperture.

With one exception all one or two cam lenses can be used on the R3 and later cameras with stop down metering. All three cam lenses can be used on the SL2 and, with a few exceptions, on the earlier models.

R only

From the R3 introduction Leica produced some lenses, particularly those sold with a camera, as "R Only" fitted with the stepped cam alone and neither of the earlier sloped cams. A very small change was made to the bayonet so that these lenses will not fit the earlier Leicaflex cameras. They are marked "FOR LEICA R ONLY" on the lens barrel and comprised 50mm and a few zoom lenses.

ROM 1996

Electric data transmission between body and lens introduced with the Leica R8 meant that new lenses were released with ROM contacts to transmit lens focal length. Like "R Only" lenses these have only the stepped cam and will not fit Leicaflex cameras.

Although two cam lenses can be fitted to the R8 / R9 it is not recommended as the earlier sloped cams could damage the camera's ROM contacts. Two and three cam lenses can be converted to ROM, but this entails removing the sloped cams making them incompatible with the earlier Leicaflex series cameras.

R lenses

Elcan

Ernst Leitz Canada made special military lenses at the time of the Leicaflex SL, called ELCAN:

  • Elcan-R 75mm f/2
  • Elcan-R 180mm f/3.4
  • Elcan-R 450mm f/5.6

See this informative post at a Leica forum.

Wide Angle

  • 15/3.5 Super-Elmar-R, made by Zeiss (SL2 and later only)
  • 16/2.8 Elmarit-R fisheye (SL2 and later only)
  • 19/2.8 Elmarit-R first version
  • 21/3.4 Super-Angulon first version, made by Schneider (Leicaflex only)
  • 21/4 Super-Angulon, replaced 21/3.4, made by Schneider
  • 24/2.8 Elmarit-R, glass elements made by Minolta (SL2 and later only)
  • 28/2.8 Elmarit-R first version
  • 35/2.8 Elmarit-R first version, early production in chrome finish
  • 35/2 Summicron-R first version
  • 35/1.4 Summilux-R (SL2 and later only)

Standard

  • 50/2 Summicron-R first version, early production in chrome finish
  • 50/1.4 Summilux-R
  • 60/2.8 Macro-Elmarit-R (SL2 and later only)

Telephoto

  • 90/2.8 Elmarit-R first version, early production in chrome finish
  • 90/2 Summicron-R first version
  • 100/4 Macro-Elmar-R
  • 135/2.8 Elmarit-R first version, early production in chrome finish
  • 180/4 Elmar-R
  • 180/2.8 Elmarit-R second version
  • 180/3.4 APO-Telyt-R
  • 250/4 Telyt-R first version
  • 280/2.8 APO-Telyt-R
  • 350/4.8 Telyt-R

Zoom

  • 45-90/2.8 Zoom lens made by Angénieux
  • 80-200/4.5 Vario-Elmar (SL2 and later only)

Special Purpose

  • 35/4 PA Curtagon shift, made by Schneider, no diaphragm coupling (SL2 and later only)
  • 100/4 Macro-Elmar-R, for bellows only, no diaphragm coupling

Apo-Telyt-R module system

In 1996 Leica introduced the exotic modular telephoto system offering lenses from 280/2.8 to 800/5.6. Comprising two lens heads and three focus modules the system was intended for photographers who wanted the flexibility of different focal lengths without the weight of individual lenses.

The lens heads and focus modules can be used in any combination giving the following prime lenses:

Head Focus Module Lens
1 1 1:2.8 280mm
2 1:4.0 400mm
3 1:5.6 560mm
2 1 1:2.8 400mm
2 1:4.0 560mm
3 1:5.6 800mm

The range is large with overlapping 400mm & 560mm combinations allowing a photographer to have a pair of lenses ready for use. Erwin Puts states "it is evident the the performance of these lenses can only be exploited with a photographic technique of a very high order... The quality of the results justifies the efforts".

Accessories

Hoods

Leica R lenses were always supplied with hoods: bayonet mount for many earlier lenses, built in sliding hoods for most later lenses, and fixed hoods for extreme wide angle and some telephoto lenses.

The original philosophy was to use rectangular hoods with bayonet mount that had a recess to fit the so-called "series" filters. Later lenses had built in circular hoods that slid out while a few extreme wide angle and telephoto lenses had fixed hoods.

Filters

All the original lenses were supplied with bayonet mount hoods having recesses for the "series" filters that were not threaded and simply clipped into place. Series 7 filters covered the 28 - 135 lenses while larger diameter filters series 8 and 8.5 covered other wide angle and telephoto lenses. All these lenses also had internal threads for screw in filters.

Later lenses had built in telescopic sliding hoods and only screw in filters could be fitted, commonly 55mm thread with larger sizes where needed.

Other accessories

  • Adapter to mount the lenses for the Visoflex III:
    • 14127, for the original Leicaflex
    • 14127*, for the original Leicaflex and the later bodies
    • 14167, for the later bodies
  • Fast focusing grip Televit-R, for the 400/5.6 and 560/5.6 Telyt heads
  • Set of extension rings, for close-ups until 1:1 with the Summicron-R 50/2
  • Close-up lenses Elpro (first called Macrotar)
  • Bellows
  • 2x Extender, separate models for Leicaflex and for R bodies
  • 2x APO Extender for R bodies, non-ROM models may be modified to fit Leicaflex SL2
  • 1.4x APO Extender for R bodies, may be modified to fit all Leicaflexes

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