Leica-R Lenses – Cinema Glass in a Still Lens Size
6 months ago I was turned onto Leica lenses and decided to give them a try. Bump forward 1 month, and I had sold all my Canon and Zeiss glass for a full set of Leicas. I use them on Canon DSLRs and our new Sony NEX-FS100, and they can also be used on other CMOS cameras like the Sony F3, Panasonic AF100, and even the RED camera.
So what was so great about Leica R series lenses that made me make such a drastic move? I’m glad you asked!
CONTRAST: Leica R series lenses tend to be less contrasty than, say, Zeiss lenses…but they hold sharpness just as good. One could argue that the contrast in Zeiss glass is what makes them appear so sharp. By having an image that is less contrasty is great for someone who grades their footage in post like me, because there is more information to work with, and when contrast is added in post, that sharpness is enhanced beautifully.
WARM AND CREAMY: There’s a reason why Shane Hurlbut, ASC loves Leicas and sys they hold up on the big screen better than most other lenses. The sharp, low contrast is a big help but these lenses have a creamy look to them that just look filmic. They tend to push about 200 degrees to the warm side too. Besides, Panavision lenses are essentially Leica lenses wrapped in a cinema body.
BARREL DISTORTION: Anyone who’s shot down a hallway or through a door frame with some popular lenses have more than likely experienced barrel distortion. This happens when the optics in the lens tends to round the edges of the frame. The wider the lens, the more round the edges get. Leica’s do have distortion on the 16mm (extreme) but the other lenses seem to not have any issue.
BOKEH: Bokeh is the characteristics of the image that is out of focus. The Leica lenses all have stop-sign shaped bokeh due to the 6-blade iris.
BUILD: These lenses are typically older and made of metal, and built like tanks. They do not have modern coating in them so they tend to flare very easily…which I like since it’s a nice option for effect and I can always flag the lens to reduce this. They all come with a metal telescoping hood that helps too.
BREATHING: Many lenses “breathe” when you focus them, which is a term used to describe the slight zoom in/out that occurs. Leica lenses don’t do that as much…but it varies.
FOCUS THROW: On my Canon lenses, the focus throw is about 180 degrees around the lens, and the focus ring keeps spinning, not stopping when the focus hits infinity or macro. The focus throw on Leica lenses go about 340 degrees around the lens, have hard stops on them, and have a tight, fluid motion ideal for a follow focus.
MACRO FOCUS: Leicas are not good for macro focusing under approximately 10-12 inches from the lens.
TURNING LEICAS INTO CINEMA LENSES
FOCUS GEARS: Because of the long focus throw, I use “zip tie” focus gears that wrap tightly around the focus ring and are secured by two little zip-ties. You can purchase yours here. I don’t recommend using the plastic lens rings again because of the long throw.
DECLICK THE IRIS: This is something die-hard people do for their lenses, but it’s only useful of you plan to change iris settings WHILE shooting. Check out Duclose where you can send your Leicas and them converted. I don’t recommend trying this yourself!
ADAPTERS: There are many adapters out there. I have one of Leitax adapters on each of my Leica-r lenses and they’ve been great.
CANON DSLR COMPATIBILITY: The back element of Leica R lenses sit closer to the sensor than Canon glass, therefore you need to refer to this chart before purchasing to ensure the mirror will clear.
SHANE HURLBUT’S LEICA LIST: Read all the comments below this article…some great insight into the performance of Leica lenses from the POV of a Hollywood ASC!