Leica Tri-Elmar-M 1/4 28-35-50 ASPH
Its design parameters define this lens as a worthy alternative in a compact body for 3 popular focal lengths and it performs outstandingly well in this area. (
This lens is very important in several ways. Its three focus (28-35-50) selection brings zoomlike convenience to the M-rangefinder lineup. It takes a while to become accustomed to its three ring handling (aperture selection-distance selection and focal length selection). The focal length selection ring is close to the distance setting ring and when in a hurry it is easy to mix things up. After some use (it took me a day) your fingers ‘know’ intuitively the right locations. The convenience of having at swift disposal three focal lengths would be useless for the critical Leica M user if the optical performance would be blow par.#3753981) Leica code: 11890(#3753981) Leica code: 11890
General optical performance.
I tested the 3E (My shorthand for Tri-Elmar) in comparison with the 28 Elmarit-M current and third generation, the 35 ASPH and last non-ASPH version and the current Summicron 50. As I always use the same test method I can easily refer to the older generations as well.
First surprise: the 3E hardly improves on stopping down and this statement is true for all three focal lengths. This behavior is only possible in a very well corrected optical system. It also means that the 3E exhibits excellent optical performance at its full aperture. Admittedly not as wide as its fixed focal length brothers and sisters, but this issue we will take up at the end of the report.
How excellent is the performance. Not every person will like the conclusion, but the 3E is clearly superior in all optical parameters to many Leica lenses of the 28, 35 and 50 focal lengths. With the exception of the mentioned 5 lenses (28 current and 3rd generation, 35 ASPH and immediate predecessor: (the 7 element Summicron) and the current Summicron 50) the 3E will outclass any other Leica lens of the 28, 35 and 50 focal length of previous generations by a large margin.
Second surprise: its performance is in many picture taking situations equal to the current Leica lenses of 28,35 and 50 type. There are obvious and visible differences between the 3E and its current fixed focal length lenses, however. To appreciate the importance of these differences I would like to draw a distinction between two types of Leica M users. The Heavy Duty user who demands and needs the highest optical performance and has the expertise to extract the full performance potential out of the Leica lenses. And the Normal user who is quite critical in the performance area, but whose picture taking style is a somewhat less demanding.
The performance of the 3E.
the lens gives a high contrast image with fine and very fine detail detail crisply rendered. Extremely fine detail has somewhat softer edges, but is still quite visible. This performance extends over a circular image area with a diameter of 12mm (the center area). In the outer zones (the image circle from 9 to 16mm from the midpoint) the contrast drops a little and the very fine details become slightly softer. Some astigmatism lowers the contrast here. The extreme outer area and corners are soft with fine detail just visible. Stopping down to f/5,6 brings some what more contrast and better definition of extremely fine detail. This performance level stays till after f/11 where diffraction soften the details and lowers the contrast.
Close-up capabilities (1,2 meter) are very good with a contrasty image showing crisply rendered fine detail over the whole image field.
at full aperture the contrast now is a bit lower and very fine detail is a bit softer. Extremely fine detail is just visible in the center, but in the outer zone barely so. The corners are on the same level as the 50 position. Quite remarkable here is the uniform performance over the total image field. The close-up performance again shows a high contrast image with excellent detail rendition over the whole image field.
Leica states that the 50 position of the 3E gives the best performance with a bit less performance at the 28 setting. Indeed is the distortion a bit more than at the 35 and 50 settings.When photographing flat objects like walls, some barrel distortion is clearly noticeably. When picturing architectural objects with depth, this effect vanishes mostly.
At full aperture fine detail is rendered with medium to high contrast in the center and drops a little in the outer zone. Very fine detail is clearly visible and becomes somewhat softer in the outer zones.
At close-up distance the image is of the same high contrast and evenness of field as at the other settings. Here as with the 35 and 50 setting stopping down brings in contrast but the correction of aberrations is already on such a high level that image details and textural details only improve a little.
Comparison to the fixed focal lengths.
These lenses excel of course with excellent to superb performance at the wide apertures of 2,0 and 2,8. At f/4,0 they are at its optimum and then meet the 3E also almost at optimum performance. For all focal lengths we can give this verdict. Based on the f/4 performance. The fixed focal lenses outperform the 3E in the image quality at the level of extremely fine details and the performance in the outer zones and extreme corners. The overall contrast of the ffl’s too is better, giving the pictures slightly more clarity.
Very careful comparison of the pictures (low speed transparency at 30 x) taken with the 3E and its companions shows these performance differentials in contrast and the quality at the level of extremely fine details.
The 3E shows remarkable suppression of flare and night shots taken on the 28 position give very good clarity of highlights and shadows with good detail rendition and only a faintly visible coma in the extreme outer zone.
For the Normal user the performance differences are immaterial and will not be of any importance. The HD user might note the differences but it is a matter of personal preference how to rate these quality differences.
Is the 3E a replacement for three top class focal length lenses. The answer is obviously not easy. Its full aperture of f/4,0 has its limitations. Especially when using low speed films. It design parameters define as a worthy alternative in a compact body for 3 popular focal lengths and here it performs outstandingly well. The smooth and quick changing of focal length brings many picture taking opportunities that are lost when you have to change several lenses . And the critical Leica user can use these new possibilities in the secure knowledge that the resulting pictures will show all the qualities Leica lenses are famous for nowadays. And she may even smile broadly at all users,even the most critical, who are using the older generations of Leica lenses in the 28 to 50 class. He is using a 330 grams convenient optical system with excellent performance the older lenses simply can not match. The modern and current generations are able but hard pressed to surpass this level of performance at f/4,0 and smaller. The Leica user who needs outstanding performance at apertures wider than f/4,0 and/or big enlargements showing the smallest image detail with great clarity and contrast needs to change lenses and wear out her bayonet flange.