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On the Way for Testing: Leica 90mm f/2.2 Thambar-M

Get Leica 90mm f/2.2 Thamber-M at B&H Photo.

I know that reader Roy P has been waiting with bated breath for me to review this lens. That’s better than baited breath, since he does not fish. Sometimes I like non sequiturs.

Is there room in today’s market for “throwback retro” lenses? Leica must think so. But I for one would like to see Leica focus on bringing the M platform into the modern world with a built-in 4MP OLED EVF, no rangefinder at all, 45 megapixel sensor, and lenses totally optimized for the sensor.

The Leica 75mm f/1.25 Noctilux-M ASPH is a totally different animal and it is not yet available to me (waiting for loaner), so I thought I’d take a look at something of a similar focal length but entirely different in design.

At about $6495, the Leica Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2 brings “retro” of the 1930's to the Leica rangefinder platform, complete with single-coated lens elements and a leather case and center spot filter.

Leica Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2
  • Leica M-Mount Lens
  • Aperture Range: f/2.2 to f/25
  • Distinct Soft Focus Image Quality
  • Center Spot Filter for Dramatic Effect
  • Single Coated Glass Elements
  • Manual Focus Design
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 3.3'
  • Stepless Aperture Ring
  • 20-Blade Diaphragm
  • Based on Original 1930s Design

While it is surely a specialty optic, it’s hard to conceive of paying $6500 for a lens designed for inferior performance when world-class performance in a Zeiss Otus costs at most about $4500. However, that is a feature and not a bug, according to Leica and there is always that hard leather case good for storing in some box or closet. So it seemed an interesting challenge to find something to love in the anti-Otus.

There is little point in comparing its performance to a traditional lens, whose design goals are high performance imagery. Rather, one has to ask whether it can deliver images that are compelling for their classic look, and then decide when and why that look is justified or useful or advisable.

I’ll be testing the about $6495 Leica 90mm f/2.2 Thambar-M on the Leica M240 (I’d prefer an M10 but what I own is an M240).

Specifications

As per Leica.

With 4 elements in 3 groups, the single-coated elements will be prone to flare, but not overly so. Still, with stopping down contrast is likely to degrade to increasingly collimated rays which might interact with the sensor. Presumably Leica has taken steps to preserve the lens characteristics while avoiding undesirable interaction with a definitely non-retro recording medium.

Leica Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2
Focal length: 90mm
Aperture scale: f/2.2 - f/25
Diaphragm blades: 20 blades
Number of elements/groups: 4 elements in 3 groups
Focusing range: 3.3 ft / 1 meter
Angular field: 27°
Image ratio at close range:            na
Filter thread: 49mm
Weight, nominal: 1.1 lb / 500g
Dimensions: 2.2 x 3.5in / 57.0 x 90.0 mm
List price: about $6495
Includes Leica Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2 Lens
Metal Front Lens Cap
Rear Lens Cap for M-Mount Lenses
Metal Lens Hood
Hard Leather Case (Vintage Brown)
Limited 3-Year Warranty

Leica Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2

Leading the way in F1.4 brightness

Featuring the same optical design and distinct image quality as the original version from the 1930s, the Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2 from Leica is an M-mount lens characterized by its unique soft focus look and use of a removable center spot filter to enhance the lens's dreamy qualities.

This portrait-length lens replicates the optical layout of the original, but improves upon its predecessor with single-coated glass elements for greater protection against the elements and corrosion.

This new version also sports a striking black paint finish and dual aperture scales, in white and red, to represent working with and without the removable center spot filter.

Straying from the clean and sharp quality Leica is best known for, the Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2 serves as an homage to the unique and creative lenses that makeup their heritage of producing truly striking and unmistakable imagery.

  • Dedicated to producing soft focus imagery, this unique lens can be used in conjunction with the included center spot filter to increase the drama of the dreamy effect for striking, ethereal image quality.
  • Based on the original Thambar from the 1930s, this updated version uses the same optical layout but features a single protective coating on the glass elements to guard against corrosion.
  • Deliberate under-correction of spherical aberration, along with a 20-blade diaphragm, produce a circular rendition of out-of-focus highlights along with an overall diffuse quality that becomes more exaggerated towards the edge of the frame.
  • Short telephoto focal length and bright f/2.2 maximum aperture are ideal for portraiture and isolating subject matter using shallow depth of field techniques.
  • Dual aperture scales, in red and white, represent working with and without the center spot filter in place. Additionally, the aperture ring is stepless for smooth, precise adjustment that is not limited by click-stops.
  • Manual focus design provides a minimum focusing distance of 3.3'.
  • Included vintage brown hard leather case further reinforces the classic look and nostalgia of this lens, and contains a storage pocket for the included center spot filter in the lid. Additionally, the included specially designed metal lens hood and metal front lens cap are felt lined to protect the metal body of the lens from scratches.
Leica Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2
Durable and fast, up to 1800MB/s
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