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Canon EOS Meets Leica—1D Mark III Mated to APO-Elmarit-R 180/2.8

Update March 16, 2012— I have owned this lens now for several years. It is one of the finest lenses you can use on any camera and should be ideal for cameras such as the 36-megapixel Nikon D800E.

Leica’s 180mm f/2.8 APO-Elmarit-R is regarded as a very fine lens (as most Leica lenses are). How does it perform on the 10.1-megapixel Canon EOS 1D Mark III? (Using a CameraQuest Leica-to-EOS adapter).

Keeble & Shucat, the San Francisco Bay Area’s premier photography store, kindly loaned me the Leica 180/2.8. I shot it for about 45 minutes on a day with awful lighting, but one has to be happy with the light one’s getting, because that’s all one’s going to get until the weather changes.

Image processing

Images on this page were processed with basic settings. They were not tweaked or specially sharpened; they show the true character of the camera and lens.

Click images to see larger versions.


handheld, 1/640 @ f/2.8

A hallmark of the 180/2.8 APO-Elmarit-R is its extremely smooth out-of-focus rendering, which can be used to draw attention to the subject.

handheld, 1/2000 @ f/2.8

Precision focus is required to lead the viewer’s eye as intended. The so-called “Live View” feature of the latest crop of DSLRs can help, though this shot was take using eyeball focus.

handheld, 1/1000 @ f/2.8

Even with very strong backlighting, contrast and color saturation remain high, and very natural-looking.

handheld, 1/400 @ f/2.8

Pirates apparently suffer the Curse of the Married Man even without getting suckered! Or maybe it’s just halitosis.

handheld, 1/200 @ f/2.8

Confronting Leica prices (with today's’ debauched US dollar) is like being on the outside looking in. Tamron anyone?

handheld, 1/250 @ f/2.8


Infrared performance is phenomenal. For the definitive guide to digital infrared photography, see the diglloyd Guide to Digital Infrared Photography.


With most lenses, strong backfocus (actual focus behind the apparent plane of focus) makes precision focus impossible using one’s eyeballs. But the 180/2.8 APO-Elmarit-R is so well corrected for color aberrations that infrared focus appears to be spot-on with visible light focus, at least on my particular modified Canon EOS 5D-IR. Perhaps it’s not perfect beyond 900nm, but the 5D-IR is maximally sensitive in the 700-800nm range, apparently close enough to deep red light to yield the precision match in focus. Such accuracy is rare.

Infrared hot spots

There might be a very (very) faint hot spot effect at f/16 under adverse lighting conditions, but it’s of no practical consequence. Hot spots can be safely ignored.

Sharpness and contrast

Sharpness in infrared is superb across the frame, especially impressive on the Canon 5D-IR, which is a full-frame camera. Performance seems just as good as with visible light, very impressive by comparison with the vast majority of lenses, placing the 180/2.8 APO-Elmarit-R in the top tier of lenses for infrared work.

Infrared examples

Color rendition across the frame is highly consistent (this is often a problem in infrared, see Zeiss ZF Prototype Lenses for Infrared).

1/30 @ f/16
1/2000 @ f/2.8
1/60 @ ~f/8


The Leica-supplied MTF charts suggest that the lens is nearly diffraction-limited at f/2.8, all that can be achieved.

MTF at f/2.8 and f/8


The 180/2.8 APO-Elmarit-R is beautifully built and surprisingly light for its size (for a Leica lens). It balances nicely, and the aperture ring is smooth and gives excellent feedback. The built-in lens hood is convenient, if not necessarily optimal.

Focusing is nicely damped, though after using it I felt that I preferred the feel of the Zeiss ZF lenses. Perhaps that’s because the ZF lenses use a focusing helicoid and the 180/2.8 Leica uses internal focusing; the Leica focusing feels “dead”; it doesn’t give good mechanical feedback, though it has a reasonably long “throw”, allowing for precision operation. Still, it’s better than the Nikon 180 or the Voigtlander 180.

On the Canon 1D Mark III, the viewfinder is pleasantly bright, on par or better than the Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED. (Viewfinder brightness depends on mirror box design, exit pupil of the lens, etc).


The Leica 180mm f/2.8 APO-Elmarit-R is not only an outstanding lens for color photography, but also an exceptionally good performer in infrared. Those willing to stomach the high price, along with manual focus, manual stop-down and manual exposure will find it a world-class optic for making compelling images.

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See also:

Diffraction—Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III

EOS Meets Leica—1D Mark III mated to APO-Summicron-R 90/2 ASPH

Zeiss ZF Prototype Lenses for Infrared

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