Back in 2009 I was given a box containing a Leica R4 film camera and a couple of Leica-R lenses (24mm f/2.8 Elmarit, 60mm f/2.8 Elmarit and a 400mm f/6.8 Telyt). At first I thought the 400mm lens was a telescope with a Leica-R lens mount. I’ve since learned that my first guess was close.
The lens is 38cm (15 inches) long, and only weights 1830 grams (4 lbs). Focusing is by push-pull and pushing in the focus release button. Since this lens had not been used for a long time, and had not been stored with a lens cap, the interior glass was coated with dust and the grease in the focus slides has dried out. Cost estimates for a CLA (Clean, Lubricate and Adjust) by Leica service centers ranged from $400 to $600. At the time, it didn’t seem worth the cost to repair the lens, and only be able to use it on a Leica-R film camera since it had been announced that there would be no more digital Leica-R cameras beyond the Leica R9 and DMR.
The first spark to use the Leica-R lenses on a digital cameras came with the discovery of Leitax, makers of lens mount adapters. With the adapters in hand, I was quickly (and easily) able to remove the Leica-R lens mount and attach a Leitax lens mount adapter for the Olympus E-330 that I had at the time. The 24mm and 60mm lenses were converted with Leitax (Leica-R to 4/3 lens mount) and performed superbly. For information on the specific Leitax adapter for the Leica 400mm f/6.8 lens – click here. Even though a Leitax adapter was available, using The Leica 400mm f/6.8 was on-hold due to the high cost of the lens CLA. It was the photographs by Sacramento bird photographer Douglas Herr that convinced me to take another look on restoring this lens. The second spark was discovering a post on MF lenses.com written by malchauDK Servicing Leica Telyt-R 400-560mm/f6,8. Following the step-by-step instructions, including complete dis-assembly, the lens was cleaned, lubricated and re-assembled.
By the time I was done cleaning and lubricating, the lens was good as new. Thanks malchauDK. By this time, I had upgraded to a Nikon D700 and Leitax adapters were available to mount Leica-R lenses on Nikon bodies. On the D700, with the large clear viewfinder (especially compared to the tiny viewfinder on the Olympus E-330), focusing the Leica 400mm f/6.8 is a easy, though does take a little bit of practice.
The Leica 400mm f/6.8 lens was designed in 1968 as a handheld “snapshot” lens, and my particular lens was made in 1977. As mentioned, focus is by using a slider (manual focus), and it needs and adapter to work on modern digital cameras. Why – bother use an archaic lens designed 46 years ago when there are there are plenty of more compact and autofocus lenses available. Maybe, I am a sucker for old lenses being born the same year that this lens was designed. Really, it is such a superb lens that delivers incredible quality.
1) Size and weight. Although it is a relatively long lens (38cm long), it is light and weights only 1830 grams.
2) Portability. The lens unscrews into two pieces that can be stored in a Pelican-type case, or in a PVC-tube.
3) Durable – easy to disassemble, no electronics or moving parts – nothing to break.
4) With adapters, usable on Nikon, Canon, Sony and smaller format cameras (4/3, micro 4/3 and Fuji-X)
5) Price. Used Leica 400mm f/6.8 lenses are available for $400 to $800.
6) Manual focus, not always suitable for moving subjects.
7) Slow minimum aperture results in a darkened viewfinder.
8) Lens design. The lens has only 2 glass elements so there is inevitable curvature of the focus plane. Details in the center of the image are in focus, but off-centered objects are noticeably out-of focus. Even with larger apertures this is still noticeable.
Click on the photos below – and decide if this is a lens for you.
I love it.