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Reader Asks: Leica R 180/2 APO vs Nikon 200/2 VR II?

Michael B writes:

Concerning your comments on your sharpness page. I've been doing this photo thing since 1975. I’ve had plenty of time to come up with opinions on the subject of sharpness.

I have subscribed to your Making Sharp Images guide because of that interest and just want to say how much I've enjoyed reading the information there. It's good to get external confirmation occasionally on some of what I think I know. Discovering how much I don't know as well as considering new concepts and or thought processes and the fun of refining my technique once again for the best.

Your articles have had other influences on me as well. Such as considering lenses as an investment towards one’s photographic future so to speak and camera bodies as secondary to the choice of great lenses. At least that’s the way I interpreted some of what I have read. As a result I'm re-envisioning my digital camera system going forward and taking an in-depth look at quality lenses.

DIGLLOYD: Thank you. Yes, the lens should come first. Camera bodies change every 2 years, at least.

Michel B continues:

My question to you is have you had the opportunity to compare the Leica APO Summicron R 180mm F2 set up for Nikon VS the Nikon AF-S 200mmF2G ED VR II ( it looks like a D800E is in my future ) I suppose what I'm trying to get a sense for is whether it's worth pursuing the Leica over the Nikon. Yes for sharpness and resolution if you will but also for some of the other qualities that make this Leica lens what it is purported to be. Or have advancements in optical technology advanced to the point where the Nikon is on the same playing field and deciding between the two is pretty much moot.

If it helps I'm a nature and landscape photographer I do a lot of panoramic stitching of images. Both with telephotos as well as shorter focal lengths a 200mm and a 90mm having worked out well for me in the telephoto group. With the 90mm focal length I'm probably looking at he Schneider PC-TS 4.5 90mm as well. Everything I shoot is slow and methodical and as well thought out in advance as possible. With Mirror lock up, Live View, wireless trigger on a very stable tripod treated for vibration with all the rest of what one might expect in that scenario etc etc....

DIGLLOYD: Consider the Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5 SL II APO-Lanthar for your medium range lens. Very small, very light, cheap, and extremely sharp, and f/3.5 is fine for landscape.

Choose the right lens for your needs

I own the Leica 180mm f/2.8 APO-Elmarit-R (see my original brief review). Since then, I have used it for a few years and verified that is is easily the finest 180mm lens available in comparison to the Nikon 200/2 VR (original) or 180/2.8 ED-IF. I chose it for its much smaller size and lower weight over the 180/2 APO. And it's apparently a better lens than the 180/2 APO, at least according to its MTF charts.

As for the Nikon AF-S VR II, I have not tested it, but the original version clear had some less than sharp results outside the central 2/3 area, even at f/2.8. It needed f/5.6 or f/8 for peak results. The Leica 180/2.8 APO-Summicron-R is nearly optimal wide open at f/2.8 and has thrilling color saturation and contrast for low-light shooting at dusk or similar.

I would not recommend it for general use, as the manual focus required to extract its stunning optical results requires Live View. But for tripod use, it's a superb choice. The 180/2 would be excellent also, but it’s so large and heavy that I would not personally use it, since it would fill the daypack to the exclusion of anything else.

On Nikon you will need to modify it with a lens mount from Leitax (modification is reversible). On Canon it can be used with a lens adapter without modification.

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