Leica Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 Review

11/19/2016 - 23:11
Leica Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 Review

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 is a manual zoom lens for SLR cameras Leica R. Produced since 1990 through 1997. During this time, 34,110 copies were produced.

The optical design is 11 elements in 8 groups, was designed and manufactured by Sigma in Japan, but such nuances as a coating have made Leica in Germany. Leica also developed a lens barrel design.

Also, the Olympic version of this lens was released for the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. It differs from the normal version only the «OLYMPISCHE SPIELE '92» inscription in the rest are identical.

And there is a later version, the so-called ROM-version. It has a slightly different barrel design, as well as contacts for Leica R8 and R9 cameras. This version also lacks a built-in lens hood.

According to serial number 3548482, my copy was released in 1991. This is the first version of the lens.


Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 Specs

Focal length: 28-70mm
Max. aperture: f/3.5-4.5
Weight (gr): 450
Length (mm): 76
Filter Ø (mm.): 60 мм
Aperture blades: 6
Min. Focus distance (m.): 0,5 м


Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 Handling and Mechanics

The lens has an impressive size and looks solidly on the camera. Immediately when you take it in hand, you know that thing you take. The body is made of metal.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70

A wide rubberized focusing ring having about 25 mm of width is located closer to the lens front. It is rotated by 180 degrees. It rotates when the focusing front lens and the front block motion occur about 3 mm. The rear lens, however, remains fixed. Focus such a wide ring is very convenient.

The lens includes distance scales in feet and meters.

The aperture setting ring is located closer to the bayonet side. It is not as wide, with an 8 mm. Ring of corrugated metal. When zooming moves whole optical part, including the rear lens, is about 20 mm. But the lens barrel is configured to move within the barrel, so the lens does not change its size.

When zooming, the front element does not rotate. The lens has a reverse zoom, at 70 mm optical part closer to the sensor and 28 mm farther.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70

At 70 mm optical part is planted closer to the sensor, and the barrel forms a hood.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70

On the ring, there are such tags focal distance: 28 - 35 - 50 - 70 mm.

Close to the bayonet is located aperture setting ring. The aperture closes stepwise on half stops. On the ring marked values: 3.5 - 5.6 - 8 - 11- 16 - 22. The Aperture has 6 blackened blades.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 aperture

In front of the barrel is a built-in retractable lens hood. It extends about 1 cm. In my instance, it becomes loose, so put forward but not fixed. This is a common problem in this model.

The lens has an interesting classic cap made of plastic with a Leica logo covered from the top barrel.


Mounting Leica R Lenses to Other Systems

Leica R lenses have a long flange distance - 47 mm; they can be adapted for any other system. For example, my copy was adapted for the Nikon F mount.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 rear

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 adapted for Nikon.

Adaptation is achieved by simply replacing the bayonet fitting. China produces such special tails. Of course, with such adaptation, the automatic preset aperture will not work.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 on Nikon D3100

View on Nikon D3100


Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 Sample Photos

I used this lens on a Nikon D3100 APS-C sensor camera. So this optics is better to put on a full-frame camera, to reveal its full potential, but unfortunately, so far, I have only APS-C.

All the examples are captured on Nikon D3100, RAW export with small exposure compensation in some photos.


Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 Sharpness

At wide-open, the lens is sharp enough. Sharpness is excellent, even though it is the zoom.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos bushes70 mm f/ 4.5

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sharpness test

100% size crop of the previous photo

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos flowers

28 mm f/ 3.5

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sharpness test 28

100% size crop of the previous photo

It seemed to me that the 70 mm sharpness a little better than 28 mm. This is quite normal, given that a 28 mm lens on a step lighter.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos landscape

28 mm f/ 3.5

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos girl portrait

50 mm f/ 4.5

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos people

70 mm f/ 4.5

At f/5.6 sharpness is even better.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos fontain

28 mm f/ 5.6

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos cityscape

28 mm f/ 8

Further sharpness growth, I did not notice, at least just magnifying the image on the camera's screen.


Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 Character and Bokeh

The lens has a good plasticity and character a nice background blur.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos bottle

28 mm f/ 3.5

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos flowers bokeh

70 mm f/ 4.5

On the long end, of course, bokeh nicer than short.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos girl

60 mm f/ 4.5

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos city flowers

70 mm f/ 4.5

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos kid portrait in forest

70 mm f/ 4.5

I'm not a fan of zoom lenses bokeh, but this lens behaves very well. It has its own character.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos flowers

70 mm f/ 4.5


Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 Contrast and Color Rendition

The lens has good contrast—Copes with strong side light and good keeping backlight.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos church

28 mm f/ 5.6 Flare example

Sometimes, if it enters the lens to direct light, you can catch the flare.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos kid

70 mm f/ 4.5 An example brightly reflect light from the house in the background

Actually, what this lens impressed me with is its character, combined with color rendition.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos orange flower

70 mm f/ 4.5

I really liked how it renders colors. Excellent detail rendition, especially in the highlights.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos village

29 mm f/ 3.5

The colors are obtained naturally.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos red bricks

28 mm f/ 5.6

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos pigeon

60 mm f/ 5.6

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos lake

70 mm f/ 4.5

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos building

70 mm f/ 4.5

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos pink flowers

70 mm f/ 4.5

Also, the lens has a good mikrokontrast.

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos gray sky

28 mm f/ 3.5 Gray sky

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos cky and road

70 mm f/ 4.5

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 3.5-4.5/28-70 sample photos cloud

28 mm f/ 3.5 Небо

Leica Vario-Elmar-R 1:3.5-4.5/28-70 has good performance and ergonomics. The most interesting for its color rendition and character. The disadvantage for me, probably the only variable aperture. In all other respects, a great versatile zoom, which you can get live pictures.

Its price on eBay $350-800 depending on the condition and the seller.

David Murray's picture
I have now purchased this lens to use on a recently acquired Leicaflex SL. It will be used alongside the 135mm f2.8 Elmarit I already have and will make a good outfit for travel. The relatively slow maximum aperture does not concern me as the SL viewfinder is quite bright, also I will be using this lens in hot countries. I was pleased to note that the zooming action is by a rotating ring, rather than the push-pull of a cheaper zoom. I have always felt that the letters action pulls dust into the lens.
Paul J. van Os's picture
Nice test of a lens I own. In addition to your story; Lens has horrible distortion on 70mm (full frame)and is not very sharp on color negative film. What's good; Is better in harsh sunlight than my Canon L lenses. I'm almost shure that Sigma made the coating by the way.....
RobertRaw's picture
David Murray's picture
Returning to this topic after three years, I’ve found this lens to be invaluable, especially for travel purposes. Although I have 28-35-50-90mm lenses, they would be heavy to carry. My 90mm f2.8 Elmarit - R is heavier than this lens. At home I tend to carry 35 & 90 mm lenses, but for abroad I carry this 28-70 plus the 180mm f4 for longer reach. Results are fairly indistinguishable from my prime lenses. I thoroughly recommend this lens to anyone using the R system including the R series cameras R3 - 9.
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