#210. The Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60/2.8, the soulful engineer

By pascaljappy | Review

Apr 01

Some lenses are clearly designed with specialists in mind, while others can shine at any challenge you throw at them. The Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 is (almost) one such lens.

A fire explosion on a cinema set photographed with a Sony A7r & Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60/2.8

Fire & Water – Sony A7r & Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60/2.8

It focuses right up to 30cm from the sensor (15cm from the front lens), which equates to a 1:2 reproduction ratio. A figure that can be doubled to 1:1 with a dedicated extension tube. But it’s just as happy with landscape, where it’s subtle reproduction of tone and colour will find favor with the naturalist and all those looking to presevre data for post-processing rather than push the limits in camera.

The king of subtlety

Below is photograph that pretty much sums up what you’re getting with this lens.

Numbers on a house wall - Sony A7r & Leica R60/28

Fahrenheit 751 – Sony A7r & Leica R60/28

  • The colour, untouched in post processing, is spot on.
  • Detail throughout the frame is fantastic. This is f/8 and at close range. More later on other situations.
  • The focus plane is perfectly flat (as a plane should be šŸ˜‰ )
  • Highlights are well preserved, although this is largely due to the A7R’s tendency to under-expose.
  • Nothing is in your face, the rendering is very natural, yet full of zest.
Sharpness

At f/2.8, a hint of the artistic veil so characteristic of Leica’s Summicron-R 50 (reviewed here) is present in the highlights, though nowhere near as pronounced. See the 100% enlargement below at f/2.8.

Click for 100% view (center of the frame).

Click for 100% view (center of the frame).

So micro-contrast is slightly low compared to more modern alternatives. But detail is abundant (the picture above is unsharpened at full aperture and the entire frame roughly 6-foot wide, at typical screen resolution).

Wide-open, life is not quite a sexy in the corners, but still very acceptable. In the enlargement below (again 100%), focus is on the top row of tiles, so the grass looks worse than it would if it was in focus.

Bottom-right corner - Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60 at f/2.8

Bottom-right corner – Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60 at f/2.8

Shut-down, this lens is almost perfect. Micro contrast is down on modern Zeiss glass such as the mighty FE 55/1.8. But the image is very detailed at any distance and very natural looking.

Colour

What can I say? Perfectly natural out of the box. The lens is a *perfect* match for the Sony A7r in that any respective casts seem to cancel out and produce very natural and pleasing results without any enhancements being required.

Did I say natural ? The Macro-Elmarit-R can also rock. Take it to a concert and go wild.

Did I say natural ? The Macro-Elmarit-R can also rock. Take it to a concert and go wild.

Of course, this combo also packs so much data in a file that you can go berzerk with the sliders without the image breaking up at all. Even on a camera as brilliant as the A7r, this is not true of all lenses.

Natural blue ?

Natural blue ?

Macro

I’m officially the worst (uninterested) reviewer of macro lenses, so let’s skip over this briefly.

If you’re willing to set up a strong tripod, face the task of finicky focusing and work lighting like a pro, I hear this lens will reward the effort in spades.

Close-up Yum at f/2.8 (sugar balls less than 1mm in diameter)

Close-up Yum at f/2.8 (sugar balls less than 1mm in diameter)

If, like me, you just plonk cup-cakes on a table by a window, hand-hold and breathe smoothly, it ain’t bad either. F/2.8 above/ F/11 below. Both are (large) *full-size* files if you wish to inspect at 100%.

Close-up Yum at f/11 (sugar balls still very small)

Close-up Yum at f/11 (sugar balls still very small)

Yum, right?

Bokeh

Sweet. This Leica R macro lens is not a bokeh king. Nor does it isolate subjects in a 3D-pop sort of way like the specialists do, but what bokeh it does offer is  very smooth and pleasant. This was unexpected and a nice surprise.

A bronze statue of an ownl in a derilict building - Sony A7r & Leica Macro-Elmarit 60/2.8

Distortion

Here is one righteous lens. Architects and engineers must love it. Even if you do not fall into one of these categories, you will be happy to come home with a card full of photographs that do not require post-processing to look right. This never feels clinical, however. The lens just acts natural, adding no unwanted geometry to the scene. Anyone ever confronted to mustache distortion will hop with glee.

This totally untouched and totally boring shot of a gate shows what I mean.

Call me Bill

Call me Bill

This lack of distortion may seem unimportant in an age of in-camera correction. And that’s partly true. But remember that even the best digital image manipulation is by nature destructive and I think the very natural look produced by this macro 60 is largely due to the fact that so little has to be corrected after the shot is made.

Flare

Time to trip over … This is a 30+ year-old Leica R. It takes flaring to heart …

That said, I actually had to make it flare to show you and this almost never happens in real-life sessions. The deeply recessed front lens, narrow-ish field of view and good (though not excellent by modern standards) coating mean you very rarely get into trouble.

Leica R Macro Elmarit 60mm f/2.8 worst case flare at f/2.8

Leica R Macro Elmarit 60mm f/2.8 worst case flare at f/2.8

If you do, this is what it looks like. F/2.8 above, F/8 below.

Leica R 60mm f/2.8 Macro Elmarit worst case flare at f/8

Leica R 60mm f/2.8 Macro Elmarit worst case flare at f/8

The great news is A+ control of contrast and glare. Sunlight doesn’t spread around the frame to damage shadows. Remarkable.

100% view of the sun behind an electric post. 60mm f/2.8 Macro Elmarit on Sony A7r

100% extract of the sun behind an electric post. 60mm f/2.8 Macro Elmarit on Sony A7r

Build and ergonomics

The lens reviewed is numbered 315XXXX, indicating production in 1981. It shows some signs of use and wear on the ring metal groves. But close your eyes and you’ll swear you are using a brand new toy. Everything about it is taut and buttery smooth. Focusing is pure joy.

Built like the proverbial outhouse, the Leica Macro-Elmarit-R will never let you down.

Built like the proverbial outhouse, the Leica Macro-Elmarit-R will never let you down.

It comes with a screw-on cap that is both a blessing and a pain.

On the negative side, it takes ages to remove so you’ll likely leave it off most of the time, which is not a danger since the front lens is so deeply recessed. But when you need to react fast, and the cap is till on, believe you me, you will let a few four letter words run free in frustration.

The happy flip is that if anything damages the lens through this cap, well … you probably won’t be around to lament about it. It is thick, solid and reassuring metal that will take whatever you throw at it.

Ergonomics and build are a clear cut above anything I have ever used form any other stable. Good ’nuff?

Conclusion

Should you buy one? Well, I have 2 things to say about this :

  1. If you have a great friend such as Philippe who lends you one to play with, then, life is good šŸ™‚ So thank you Philippe šŸ™‚
  2. If you don’t, this is a great lens at a very reasonable price (less than 500ā‚¬), particularly for the nature photographer. It will require very little post-processing effort for natural-looking pictures, doesn’t get in the way with an unwanted signature if you’re feeling creative, and is never bland.

DSC04723-2

Some will miss the last drops of micro contrast that more modern lenses provide. The Summicron-R 50/2 might offer at tad more sharpness at f/8 (and one extra stop of light gathering and smaller size) but is clearly more of a specialist lens. The FE 55mm is technically superior in almost every way except colour. But build, price, durability and ‘soul’ go to the Leica.

If this was a HiFi amp, it would be a class-T, with almost the accuracy of the best digital amps yet with the natural tones of well-fed monotriodes. If these characteristics work for you, you really cannot go wrong with this soulful engineer.


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  • philberphoto says:

    Pascal, one way to look at equipment is to judge the effect it has on the photographer. And, in that respect, the A7R can be faulted for inducing too many shots, the sole purpose of which is to “show off” the camera’s awesome performance. This, of course, at the expense of artistic expression.
    But if I follow this logic to judge the Leica Elmarit 60 Makro, the remarkable beauty and creativity of your shots, and their variety too, tells me it is a superb piece of glass. Great glass, great shots, great post!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Philippe, thanks for the kind comment and for lending me this lovely lens! It is a superb piece of glass and a real pleasure to use. Focus is quick and easy, which was not the case with my R19, for reasons I still don’t understand.

  • Bob Hamilton says:

    Good review, Pascal, and a great follow on to your review of the 19mm f2.8. Having tried out the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm FE f4 lens on my A7r and being completely underwhelmed by its performance – massive distortion at the wide end, which makes it nearer to 28mm when the file is corrected, and, as borne out by the MTF charts, huge complexity in layers of focus, making it difficult to obtain consistency of output in landscape work – and already having a Novoflex R to Sony E adapter for my R 100mm Macro Elmarit lens, I decided, on the recommendation of a mate who has one adapted by Leitax for his Nikon D800E, to get myself the (rare as hen’s teeth) R 28-90mm f2.8-4.5 Vario Elmarit.
    Findings so far – in one word, “outstanding”.
    For all those A7r owners interested in landscape work, if you can obtain one, go get yourself this lens and be amazed by its resolution and superb, predictable behaviour.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Bob,

      that’s very interesting, the R 28-90 has a stirling reputation and is definitely a lens I would love to try out one day. I’m glad that you were able to find one and are liking the results with it. These older lenses are far too under rated.
      BTW, I love your gallery !

      Cheers,
      Pascal

  • David Murray says:

    Thank you for this very well researched review, I have been considering one of these to use with a Leicaflex SL I bought last year. I have acquired a Schneider Kreuznach 35mm f4 and a Leica 135mm f2.8 Elmarit, so I felt that a 60mm lens would round out the outfit. 60mm is an interesting focal length and a useful one for. Casual shots and medium length portraits. The 50mm f2 Summicron is very expensive and I don’t need anything as fast as that – wouldn’t be used at f2.

  • chyun says:

    im very happy to find your review cause i justbought same lense n i going to use with A7r thank you i agree its great lense for travel ph0t0

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