Leica 24-90mm Vario Elmarit Lens
The Leica 24-90mm Vario Elmarit lens was released at the same time as the Leica SL, and I got my copy a few weeks after buying the camera body. Mounting an SL series lens to the camera opens up a whole new host of features compared to using a M series lens. These new creative options make the Leica SL a powerful image creation tool.
The main advantage to using a system lens like the SL is that it allows you to tap into the blazing fast autofocus. The Leica SL has numerous focus modes, but my favorite by far is to use the joystick and single point focus to choose my precise focus point. I have become very comfortable with the speed and process of focusing by maneuvering the crosshair with the joystick, and the 24-90mm lens never gives the annoying “thunk thunk” of my Nikons while trying to lock focus; it is fast, crisp, and dead on.
The bokeh on the 24-90mm Vario Elmarit lens is also quite nice. In a side-by-side shootout with the Noctilux, there is more bokeh at apertures like f/8 on the SL lens than on the Noctilux (see full comparison here).
The lens accepts 82mm filters and does not rotate as you zoom or focus, so gradated filters maintain their orientation. I only use neutral density filters for long exposures…. otherwise I carry the lens naked.
Optically, the 24-90mm Vario Elmarit is a beautiful lens. It’s sharp, has nice color rendition, beautiful contrast, and makes for a great all-purpose lens for landscape and outdoor photography. There is very little vignetting or distortion (I often forget to even click the lens correction button because the adjustment is so minimal). I have yet to see any chromatic aberration produced by this lens, and while I’m sure it exists, it is in such minor quantity that I’m not noticing it in an edit.
There have been several trips where I have only carried that lens, and it has been able to capture every moment without issue. It really is a fine piece of optical engineering, and it’s easy to overlook the lens because there are so many mid-range zooms on the market. But make no mistake, Leica’s incredible engineering and optical prowess is certainly visible in the results produced.
Much as I like this lens, there are a few things I’d do differently with it after months of use. The first is that I wish there was a focusing scale or at least a stop on the focus ring. While in Jordan, I went into the Wadi Rum desert hoping to photograph some star trails. It was pitch black, so I had to focus the camera to infinity. This is the first time I’d really tried to use manual focus in total darkness, and it took a lot of trial and error using the SL iPhone app to check focus before I was confident I had the lens aimed to infinity. There’s not reason for this. Every other lens from Leica I’ve owned has a focus stop and markings. I don't need a depth of field scale, but some lens markings to help hit focus without all the trial and error would be very nice…. and a focus ring stop. Please.
Secondly, the felt lining inside the lens hood is a mega dust and dirt trap. The lens hood is already funky looking (albeit effective), and while the felt lining may help reduce glare, I have an incredible collection of dust in it. Maybe Leica’s engineers designed it to help me collect miniature souvenirs from all the places I photograph? And if I can be really picky, I’d like the lens hood to have a metal latch to release it. Because that square and boxy shape does get banged enough that the hood dislodges.