The Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3 is Leica’s latest telephoto zoom for SL-series 35mm cameras. The lens has the longest reach of any Leica 35mm lens and that can also be extended with a 1.4x teleconverter.
TESTRESULTS Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3:
The Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3 is Leica’s (and Panasonic’s) longest telephoto lens for cameras with a Leica L mount.
The Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3 is Leica’s longest telephoto zoom for its own SL system miniature cameras. The lens has a longer range than the APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm f/2.8-4. That range can be further extended with the Leica Extender L 1.4x.
The focal length then becomes 140-560mm. Of course, you then also lose a stop of brightness. The Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3 is as thick as the 90-280mm, but about 2 ounces lighter and four inches shorter. For nature photographers who spend a long time travelling in the field with their equipment, this is nice. On the other hand, the lens is also more than a stop less bright than the 90-280mm. However, the Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3’s luminosity is fully in line with that of other 100-400mm lenses.
Leica shares the Leica L mount with Panasonic and Sigma. Panasonic’s longest lens for now is the Lumix S 70-300mm F4-5.6 Macro O.I.S. However, another 100-400mm is available for the Leica L mount and that is the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary. It has the same range and brightness and almost the same dimensions. The Sigma also seems to have exactly the same optical design. However, the Sigma is a lot lighter and, most importantly, significantly cheaper. The Sigma is also available for Sony cameras, but only for the L mount, a 1.4x and 2x converter are available for the Sigma zoom. Functionally, therefore, the Sigma is not inferior to the Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3. Now, a true Leica enthusiast will not easily choose ‘foreign’ glass for his or her Leicas, but we are curious to see if the Leica Vario Elmar can live up to its higher price.
The Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3 is a minimalist telephoto zoom with a metal body made of magnesium and aluminium with a sleek design. The tripod nacelle, for example, is fully integrated into the design. The base with Arca Swiss connection can be removed. The lens has only two controls: a large zoom ring at the front and a slightly narrower focus ring about halfway up the lens. The lens has image stabilisation, but there are no switches for image stabilisation or autofocus on the lens.
The lens is weatherproof and both outer glass surfaces have an additional coating that Leica calls ‘Aqua Dura’ to repel grease, dirt and moisture. The optical design consists of 22 elements in 16 groups. The filter size is 82mm and the lens comes with a lens hood that adds 90 grams to the weight of the lens.
Leica has not yet revealed much about the motor used for focusing in the Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3. It appears to be a stepper motor. These are quiet and precise and can be relatively fast, as long as the optical group to be moved is not too heavy.
The focus ring for manual focus is the rear ring, which is closest to the body. This is different from, for example, the APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280mm f/2.8-4, and also from many other manufacturers, the rings are just reversed. So that takes some getting used to. The shortest focusing distance is 110cm at 100mm and 159cm at the 400mm setting. The maximum magnification you can get with this is 0.1x at 100mm and 0.24x at 400mm. Of course, that magnification range increases a little more when using the Extender, which reduces the field of view without changing the shortest focusing distance.
The MTF curves of the Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3 show good centre sharpness with very little gradient towards the corners. Those corners are admittedly a fraction less at 400mm than at 100mm, but in practice at 400mm the corners will run out of focus a bit faster anyway due to the shallower depth of field. Leica gives MTF curves both for full aperture (the F5 at 200 and 400mm can’t be right, of course), F8 and F11 and at F11 it can already be seen that the sharpness decreases due to diffraction.
Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3
|field of view (diag)
|min. setting distance
not yet known
1482 gr/1530 gr (without/with tripod nacelle)
Usable with teleconverter
Conclusion test Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3
The Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3 looks like a fine lens, but it does have stiff competition from the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary.
The Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3 is a sensible addition to Leica’s lens range, as the brand did not yet have a lens with this range. For many photographers with a Panasonic or Sigma 35mm camera, on which this lens also fits, the price might be a bit steep, as Sigma offers an at least on paper comparable lens that costs less than half. And for those who need even more range, there are even two lenses from Sigma that go up to 600mm at the same brightness without an adapter. So the Leica has stiff competition. However, there are also differences. For example, the Leica has a metal body, while the Sigma’s does not. However, if we compare the Leica’s price with that of equivalent lenses from Sony or Canon, that also matches quite nicely.