The Leica APO-Telyt-M 135mm f/3.4 ($3,650 list) isn’t the first lens you look to when building a Leica system. Rangefinders are traditionally wide-angle cameras, and unless you’re shooting with a modern analog Leica with a 0.85x magnification finder, or the classic M3 with its huge 0.92x design, you’re working with a very small frame line and pushing the rangefinder to its limits in order to precisely focus a lens of this focal length. The latest M (Typ 240) adds live view, which makes focusing a much easier task.
The lens itself is big when compared with other M lenses, but is fairly small when compared to 135mm SLR lenses. It measures 4.1 by 2.3 inches (HD) and weighs in at an even pound. A telescoping hood is built-in, and if you’re a filter user you’ll need to use one with a 49mm thread on this lens. That’s an oddball size for M glass—most of the current lineup uses 46mm or 39mm filters—and filters are something that are more of a concern to film shooters and M Monochrom owners than most digital photographers. The minimum focus distance is 1.5 meters, which is a bit lengthy even for rangefinder lenses, which are generally limited to 0.7 meters.
As you would expect for the price, build quality is excellent. The barrel is metal and the focus ring has shallow ridges so you can identify it by touch. It’s very tight, so precise adjustments are possible. It’s a lot smaller than 135mm lenses for SLR systems; although owners of the digital M (Typ 240) may want to take a look at the Carl Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 2/135. The Nikon-mount version of that lens, which can be attached to an M with a simple adapter, won’t couple with the rangefinder, but the M’s live view functionality allows for focus via the rear LCD or add-on EVF. It’s also an apochromatic design, so there’s no chance of seeing color fringing in your photos.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the APO-Telyt when paired with the M (Typ 240). At its maximum aperture it’s impressively sharp, bettering the 1,800 lines per picture height that we require by a wide margin. It scores 2,709 lines there, with edges that are a little softer, but still impressive at 2,100 lines. Stopping down to f/4 improves the overall score to 3,028 lines, with edges that hover around 2,400 lines. The lens is at its sharpest at f/5.6, where you get even sharpness from edge to edge; the center-weighted score is 3,389 lines and edges approach 3,300 lines. There’s virtually no distortion, as you would expect from a Leica lens.
There aren’t any other M-mount 135mm lenses in production to compare the APO-Telyt’s performance with, but we did test an older Leica Elmar 135mm f/4 lens with the M under identical conditions. That lens can be found on the secondary market for a mere $300. We found it to be almost as sharp—it it his 2,911 lines at f/4 and peaks at 3,128 lines at f/5.6—with very even performance from edge to edge. But it won’t display the same level of micro-contrast as a modern lens, and it is prone to purple color fringing in high-contrast scenes. But if 135mm isn’t a focal length you use frequently, it’s a solid budget alternative.
For the well-heeled shooter, the APO-Telyt 135mm f/3.5 is a solid option for an M-mount camera. Film shooters may want to pair with with an M3 or a later body with a 0.85x viewfinder to ease focusing, and M8 owners are going to have to guess at framing since camera lacks 135mm frame lines. If you’ve got a full-frame M that doesn’t support Live View, like the Monochrom or M-E you may struggle to focus, but there are viewfinder magnifier accessories available. Leica shooters who have embraced the Live View functionality of the M (Typ 240) will find that using the add-on EVF gives you a larger view of your scene at 135mm, and focus peaking is there to aid manual focus. But M owners have the option to use lenses from other systems via adapters; if you’re an M (Typ 240) shooter in the market for a 135mm lens and don’t mind one that’s a lot bigger and heavier, the Carl Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 2/135 shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s incredibly sharp, not as expensive, and can capture almost four times as much light as the APO-Telyt. But that’s not a viable option if you still use a film M or a digital body without live view.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc