Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Lens Review
I love Leica TL2 camera and the lenses in the Leica TL line up. I had purchased the original Leica T when it was first launched then upgraded in the subsequent versions all the way up to the most current one which is Leica TL2 camera. In this review, all the photographs are shot on Leica TL2 camera body using the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens.
First, let’s talk about what this Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is and where it stands in Leica camera’s APS-C lens line up. For those who may remember, this lens was launched with the original Leica T camera back some years ago. It is compatible with all Leica TL compact cameras. It features a standard zoom range of 18-56mm with a maximum variable aperture of f/3.5-5.6.
Since Leica TL2 camera is an APS-C crop sensor, this Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens yields a 35mm equivalent of 27- 84mm focal range which closely resembles the 24-70mm standard zoom lenses of full frame cameras, but not standard on the current full frame Leica cameras.
Among the important features of the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is its close focusing distance of 30cm (11.8 inches) which is relatively close by Leica camera standards but is not a macro lens. It has an iris diaphragm with seven rounded blades, a stepping-motor-driven focusing system, near silent operation for video recording, and an optical design that features ten elements in seven groups of which include four aspherical elements.
Leica Camera introduced the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens as a ‘kit’ zoom to fit the needs of a market that desired a variable focal length and a light form factor. Its anodized metal body construction and highly-corrected optics are designed to render photographs for both portrait work as well as landscape and other photography applications.
By the light and small form factor, Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens measures at 2.8 by 2.6 inches, weighing only 11.6 ounces which can take on 52mm threaded filters for creative photography applications. By design, this Leica Vario-Elmar lens looks well suited on the Leica TL2 camera body with its clearly marked focal lengths which read 18, 24, 35, and 56mm positions in white on the zoom ring.
A la Leica Camera design, this lens does not feature any image stabilization but offer a smooth focus and zoom ring for manual operation.
The optical design of the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is relatively simple for a zoom lens, with ten elements arranged in seven groups. What sets the lens apart from other zoom lenses in the market is its four aspherical surfaces which correct for some of the lens artifacts such as distortion and chromatic aberration. Besides these important characteristics, in camera “auto-correction” in Leica TL2 removes much of the issues that arise from optical limitations of this lens thanks to the 6-bit coding on the lens.
Optical coatings of Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens suppress ghosting and flare. These coatings are absolutely critical to attaining near clinical perfection required by modern sensors in cameras like the Leica TL2 with a 24MP APS-C sensor. Hence, you will find similar optical coating treatment across Leica TL lens line up for improved image rendering performance.
Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens also features an Internal focusing mechanism which means the lens doesn’t rotate when focus changes but only extends if you are zooming through the focal range. The autofocus drive uses a stepping motor, making it quiet and relatively fast operation for a lens that is as compact as this one. For various applications, Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is a good choice when you want to record movie clips or achieve critical focus in stills mode.
Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is designed to cover the needs of most photographers in the focal range. At 35mm equivalent of this lens yields approximately a 27- 84mm focal range. In another word, it can serve as a moderate wide-angle to short telephoto/portrait lens. To be more specific, at the 18mm (27mm equivalent in 35mm) the angle of view narrows to 28 degrees at the far end 75 degrees is attained at 56mm focal length.
Most kit lenses by default are designed to lour first time camera buyers into a brand; the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens does precisely that, offer everything but the kitchen sink in terms of options for the first time user. In essence, it is an entry-level zoom lens into the Leica camera system in which autofocus and ease of use will serve as a gateway to more advanced camera systems within the Leica Camera line up.
The main drawback from having such a wide zoom range is the extremely slow aperture at which images must be captured resulting in higher and higher ISO levels that cause deterioration of image quality. But under ideal lighting conditions, Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens serves beautifully as a zoom lens that can deliver excellent results. For example, if you are traveling, you will be able to capture amazing panoramic shots of monuments and landscape during the day as the lens performs well at about all focal settings.
Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens can also serve as an excellent portrait lens if you are photographing in a studio or outdoors with ideal lighting conditions preferably during the day. In another word, Leica Vario-Elmar serves a multitude of functions for anyone needing a lens that does it all.
The Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH is a compact zoom lens, especially when compared to lenses designed for full frame cameras. In this respect, Leica TL line up of lenses are more akin to lenses with crop sensors both in Micro Four Thirds format and other APS-C type cameras like Fujifilm lenses.
When Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is mounted on a Leica TL2 camera body, the overall weight distribution makes this lens and camera combination a pleasure to hold. Unlike modern DSLR cameras with a 24-70mm zoom lens that make most cameras front heavy, Leica TL2 along with Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens feels like they were made to complement each other.
Leica Camera also ensures that the build quality of the Leica Vario-Elmar is up to the high standards of the company. For obvious reasons such as to save on the weight and the size, this lens is made to suit the needs of a compact camera rather than the sturdy all-metal construction of the Leica M mount lenses which of course cost several times the price of Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens.
Although the lens offers manual focusing, Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is best used in autofocus mode but should you desire to indulge in manual focusing the action is smooth on the focus ring with a rubberized grip band. The zoom can be altered equally well which makes the lens protrude out at longer focal lengths while 18mm focal length setting nicely retracts the lens to its shortest size.
One of the shortcomings of Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is that it has no “hard stops” at either end of the focus range which makes it difficult to assess if the infinity or the closest focus range has been attained. It is a quirk that would never bother most users of this lens nor the fact that the flash unit in the older Leica T cameras will be blocked partially if the lens hood of the lens is attached. In my opinion, none of these two issues are of concern for the intended user of Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens since the new Leica TL2 camera does not feature built-in flash nor is it best used in manual focus mode.
Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens has an optical design that delivers excellent results at either end of the focal range with 18mm length offering the least performance in terms of resolution. The only saving grace of the 18mm focal length is the fact that the aperture can reach f/3.5 which is still a very, very, very slow lens for hand held low light photography but that should not be a concern for practical purposes of everyday use for the owners of this lens.
If landscape or architectural photography is the intent, at 18mm focal length for the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens, the aperture is best set at f/5.6 or f/8 where the optimum sharpness is achieved. This would require the camera to be placed on a tripod which would eliminate any blur and camera shake and allow the slow speed shutter to be utilized for that ultra sharp images that most photographers yearn for when photographing any landscape.
The benefit of using this native lens on a camera like the Leica TL2 is that automatic lens correction is applied to every image to correct for lens barrel distortion and other lens artifacts which help to improve the overall image quality.
As a general rule, it is important to remember that Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens has diffraction set in at around f/11, so the sweet spot of the lens is between f/5.6 and f/8.
Similarly, at 24mm the center is sharp wide open with peak performance is again attained in the f/5.6-f/8 range while 35mm focal length setting on the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens yields the best results in the focal range with minimal distortion with the maximum aperture at f/5.
For the upper limit of the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens, 56mm shows similar results with best results achieved at f/8, again this lens is best used with a sturdy tripod for excellent results even in under ideal natural light scenarios with the lowest possible ISO setting.
Leica TL2 does improve the image quality via built-in lens corrections however the best results are attained with Adobe Lightroom settings that have a correction for the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens.
Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is not an apochromatic lens hence it does show chromatic aberrations when used against a high key background which again can be corrected in Adobe Lightroom. For best results, knowing the limitations of Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is the key to capturing pleasing images which require that applicatio of common sense and basic photography skills.
Leica lenses such as Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 are considered the epitome of out of focus transition, commonly referred as the bokeh in images but Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is such a slow lens that attaining any bokeh through aperture selection is basically out of the question. I tend to think of the Leica Vario-Elmar as the lens without the bokeh capabilities.
While the limitations of Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens such as its slow speed can be considered a shortfall of this lens, for specific applications it is a very well suited lens. For example, for anyone indulging in some candid street photography, Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is a match made in heaven; not only can the focal distance be varied but setting the aperture at f/8 yields the incredible results.
Zone type of photography which often dictates aperture settings of f/8 or F/11 is also helped by the crop sensor of the Leica TL2 camera which improves the in-focus characteristics for the images. In essence, for anyone using this lens for street photography with zone type of setting the possibilities are endless with varied focal lengths. In an instant, the photographer can choose from a portrait focal length to a wide angle to capture a variety of changing circumstances.
Of course, some bokeh can be achieved if the subject is placed very close to the lens while anything in the background is kept at a considerable distance from the subject. The result would be a very sharp rendering of the in-focus subject due to a very closed maximum aperture with some out of focus area to separate the subject from the background.
Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens features a seven-blade aperture which does not add much to the round circular bokeh characteristics.
Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is also an excellent lens for landscape photography helped by the incredible color science of Leica cameras and resolving power of Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens.
The key point here is to use a tripod, if set on a tripod Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens can deliver excellent results for long exposure captures as well as beautiful sunsets with an aperture setting of f/8.
In the domain of Leica lenses, Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is an excellent example of high-quality optics which serve for a variety of useful photography applications. It is also an ideal lens for anyone learning photography and wants to experiment with different focal lengths.
Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens is great if you have access to some studio lights or flashes which can all be bought at a fraction of the cost of this lens. The use of artificial light or natural light under ideal lighting circumstances can reveal the best of this Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens.
For best results, the lens should be set to f/8 with the lowest ISO settings in the camera. The use of a tripod is highly recommended and with a good understanding of lighting results can stand up to the best portraits shot with a much higher priced camera and lens combinations.
It is important to note here that these excellent results don’t require elaborate setup or heavy equipment or gear. All that is need is Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens with a Leica TL2 camera and a tripod; the rest falls upon the skills of the photographer.
Leica camera has created a mount that does not accept any third party lenses except with an adapter. In another word, Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens has no competition when it comes to its focal range. Obviously, there are other camera manufacturers like the Fujifilm that offer lenses like the Fujifilm Fujinon 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS which has not only optical stabilization but also a much better maximum aperture at a much lower cost.
The Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH is an excellent lens for anyone starting photography. It was initially marketed as the kit lens for the Leica T camera and still serves as an excellent choice for a variety of photography applications. In the hands of a skilled user, the possibilities are endless in achieving outstanding results both in and out of the studio.
For anyone who is considering to buy this lens, it is best to choose a focal length on this lens and stick with that focal length until one becomes familiar with the angle of view and characteristics of the lens. If you are intending to use Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens in any scenario that involves low light or night time photography always carry a tripod because pushing the ISO levels high enough to capture properly exposed images will only yield murky photographs.
On a bright day, you can take this lens for your casual outings without the need to carry multiple focal lengths. It is compact and lightweight to allow all day city explorations while traveling. When placed on a tripod it can yield excellent results for video and stills especially when the aperture is closed down by a tick or tow.
It is important to remember that from a price point of view Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 offers a lot of versatility without the optical stabilization. The fact that this is an extremely slow lens helps in other areas such as reducing the vignetting to a minimum when photographing at the widest aperture.
Where to buy Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens?
Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lens has been in the market for quite some time and is available in the aftermarket as well. I have provided links here for the best prices for new or used Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH lenses.
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