Leica R primes are still photography lenses from the 1980s and 1990s. They have exceptional image quality for still photo lenses, on par with many cinema lenses. They are sharp, but not clinical, and they also have incredibly smooth bokeh, which helps separate the subject from the background, and delivers images with a three-dimensional look.
Does not cover FF. Axis issue. Significant SA.
Significant SA, CA throughout. Does not clean up stopped down.
Significant SA, CA throughout. Does not clean up stopped down.
Significant SA throughout. SA cleans up around T2.8.
Leica R glass holds a special place in my heart. Their warmth and creaminess is so beautiful, and the lenses render faces very pleasantly. The exciting thing about Leica R’s are how many different looked you can get out of them. Wide open, they can be soft and filled with unique imperfections like chromatic aberrations. Once you start to stop down the lenses, they really begin to hold their own against other sharper, more modern lenses.
Once you start to add filtration, they become something else entirely. It’s a shame the wider Elmarit focal lengths weren’t made faster than a F2.8, or this could’ve been the perfect vintage large format “Super speed” or “Standard speed” set. Nonetheless, the glass is legendary and will continue to find itself on many camera for years to come.
These lenses live up to the Leica name. Leica and Leitz are responsible for some of the most impressive lenses ever built. However I think there is some misinformation out there about Leica R lenses. I have heard quite often that people associate Leica Rs with a soft, funky, vintage look. I disagree with this assessment completely. Even in the 1960s Leica built lenses that were sharp and incredibly well corrected for aberrations. The Leica Rs are no different. In fact some of the lenses in a set of Leica Rs could very well be from the 1990s depending on the donor glass chosen!
Regardless, most of the Leica Rs you will find rehoused these days, are very well corrected, they are sharp, and they have extremely smooth, lovely bokeh. Leica also has wonderful recipes for their lens coatings. I love their overall color and contrast, and the way they render skin tones. They flare and ghost beautifully compared to more modern lenses. I think they are great option if you want something with a more interesting look then modern lenses, but don't want anything that might be too distracting, which makes them great for a feature film, as well as commercial work.
Most sets will have either a 35mm, 50mm and 80mm Summilux primes (all f1.4) or Summicrons (f2). Almost always you'll find a 19mm f2.8, 24mm f2.8, 28mm f2.8, 100mm f2.8 and 135mm f2.8. They didn't make faster versions of those focal lengths, so the set does not have as many fast lenses as a set of FDs or Nikons. I happen to prefer the Summilux 35mm, 50mm and 80mm, not just because they are faster, but because I prefer the bokeh and flare character of the faster lenses. Leica Rs have been very popular on super 35mm sensors, and I think they will really impress people when used on full frame sensors.
We've now tested the Leica R's twice in our three-part lens test and they never disappoint. I've used them a few times on projects and they bring such a soft and classic quality to the image. Beautiful flares, bokeh, low-contrast, and yet a compact build, they're perfect for any project requiring handheld or gimbal operating. GL Optics has really done a great job at updating the mechanics yet keeping the lenses compact and easy to use.
One of my favorite vintage lens choice to date; the Leica Rs. These lenses, which were originally produced for the Leicaflex cameras, really hold their weight till today, if not even more so. The optics give such a painterly quality straight out of camera. The most subtle milkiness on skin tones/highlights in relation to the sharpness of the lens makes this set very timeless.
I have owned a set of Leica R lenses for 9 years now. I basically bought a set for cheap at the time a year after I decided to be a full time DP. When I first bought them I had very little or no experience with Leica's and my work at the time didn't have much budgeted for lens sets. I didn't expect much since they were so low cost, but when I started putting them through the paces I quickly fell in love.
I love that old Leica look they have an incredible warm roll off, and these full wash flares that I love. My favorite lenses in the set is my 19mm, and my 90mm. I could shoot an entire feature on those two lenses pretty easily. In fact my first Indy feature I would say I used those 2 lenses 80 percent of the show. The 90mm has an incredible sharpness even wide open but somehow it still feels forgiving on skin. While the 19mm is a lens I've started using for certain close up work. Putting the camera right near the actors on that lens makes you feel like you are sitting right there with them, it's distortion is very minimal, the lens breathing across the whole set is incredibly minimal, they breath far less than more expensive glass like CP.2, and the Canon CN-E lenses.
As I've gotten older, the budgets have gone up quite a bit. Lensing has become one of my favorite creative choices now. Leica gave me the vintage lens bug in a big way. I love older warm glass. The Canon K35's have become my go to lens set when I'm shooting narrative. They have this incredible softness and flare. The only drawback to them is they are hard for the focus pullers. They are so soft it's hard to tell if they are fully sharp so I usually rate them at a 4 or 5.6, for a little extra sharpness.
Usually in my commercial work these days I go with more modern glass, I alternate Leica C lenses, Cooke s4, or Schneider Xenar III lenses (which are super under rated). All three sets have a nice clean commercially sharpness. Though I find most modern lenses too sharp, it works for commercials and branded content. I still pull out my 90mm Leica R. I just love the look too much. I constantly shoot actress close ups on that lens even if I have Leica C, Cookes, or Master Primes on set.
The Leica R lenses (Summilux and Summicron) were never intended to be used for cinema, they were built as SLR lenses, but that didn't stop Cinematographers from finding a way to use their superior edge-to-edge sharpness and low-contrast look to shoot motion pictures. These lenses have an image circle sufficient to cover Vistavision/Full Frame 35mm. Many Leica R lenses were manufactured at the famous Leitz factory of Canada, the same factory that produced many purpose built cinema optics for Panavision. Sometimes Leica R lenses receive minimal modification by the addition of EF mount, lens gears or other superficial changes, other times the Leica R lenses are completely rehoused with a new PL mount and nothing but the original lens elements remain.
Leica R rehoused lenses can sometime vary widely in quality, and over the past decades no fewer than 5 companies have rehoused Leica R lenses. Perhaps the most famous Leica R rehouse project was known as the "Dalsa Cinema Primes," focal lengths of the Dalsa primes ranged from 19mm to 180mm, and only 11 complete sets were ever built. Conceived and built by a pair of former Panavision employees Eric Peterson and Dan Sasaki, the Dalsa Cinema Primes are widely considered the most elegant cinema rehouse of the Leica R lenses to date . These rare lenses have only increased in value since entering the market in early 2009.
Possibly my favorite optics of the vintage photo primes adapted for cinema - The Leica R lenses may seem familiar to anyone who has favored Panavisions optics since many of their designs came from the same source as the Leica R line. Resolution and contrast are both slightly lower which provides a unique, flattering look without sacrificing overall image quality. The GL housing is a vast improvement over their earlier work. While it’s not without its flaws, it can still be a huge benefit over a non-rehoused set of Leica R primes, especially the PL mount.
Leica R still lenses from the 80s and 90s have a lot of qualities I think cinematographers find appealing. Leitz glass and their coating technique share much with their sister line of cine lenses produced by Ernst Leitz Canada (ELCAN), which are the Panavision Primos, which debuted in 1986. I do enjoy the look of the Leica R lenses, especially the middle trio of Summilux-R focal lengths of 35mm, 50mm and 80mm, all f/1.4.
The biggest obstacle to assembling a set of these lenses is the surrounding focal lengths that are offered only in f/2 (Summicron) or f/2.8 (Elmarit) options. However, being designed for full frame 135 still cameras, they offer a nice option straddling the line of vintage/modern renderings and feel. And several companies offer contemporary rehousings of these lenses, aiding their seamless incorporation onto professional film productions.