I expect to have the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH in for testing sometime in the next month or so (delivery date TBD), and I’ll be going into it in detail in my Guide and Review of the Leica M9.
You see, my open letter to Leica on the shortcomings of the M9 was very much written for Leica’s benefit and my own— I love the core competency of the Leica M9, which is a relatively small and light camera with outstanding small and light optics. Over the past 20 months, I have invested in a number of M lenses, and so I want to see that investment carried forward with a leap forward in the camera body usability and resolution. And it’s too bad that focusing challenges preclude use by many potential users that do not have 20/20 vision.
The Leica M9 and 4-5 lenses can fit into a small hip pack, which makes it a compelling choice for some adventures. Were it not for my need to constantly test equipment, it would likely be my “go to ” camera for any of my mountainous adventures, simply because of its modest size and weight (far less than a Nikon D3x and Zeiss lenses).
Which brings us to the Tri-Elmar: it offers three marked focal lengths at 16mm, 18mm and 21mm. Reportedly it can be used with excellent results at intermediate settings, which would effectively make it a 16-21mm zoom, though I will need to satisfy myself on that point.
With its impressive angle of view of 107°, this Tri-Elmar conquers 16 mm super wide-angle photography in perfect Leica M style. Due to the minimal distortion and barely perceptible field curvature, it can be recommended for highly demanding architecture photography even at the 16 mm setting. The ultra compact shape is achieved by two aspherical elements. A new design of the interior focusing significantly enhances the quality in the close-focus range through an adaptation of the floating element principle.
Minimal distortion is a matter of degree (I would not consider 3% minimal at any focal length), but one can’t have everything. It’s unclear if field curvature accounts for the graceful rolloff in MTF to the corners; central brilliance is outstanding.
The Tri-Elmar ships with the Leica Universal Wide-Angle Viewfinder, the so-called FrankenFinder, an ingenious Leica optical viewfinder which can be adjusted for a variety of focal lengths from 16mm to 28mm.
At a relatively dark f/4, it’s not so great for handheld use at dusk (the 21/1.4 Summilux comes to mind), but for coverage of the 16-21mm range in such a compact package while hiking, it’s a lens I’ll surely take the next time I hike certain canyons or peaks.