For quite a few years I’ve enjoyed pairing my staple, day-to-day 50mm lens with a 75* for the occasions when I want a bit more reach and compression. I’ve found this quite nice as it’s offered a bit of variety whilst still retaining a good amount of cohesion in terms of look.
* For the past few years the Voigtländer 50/1.2 has seen tons of use, as well as the Voigtländer 50/1.5 II that I have yet to review. As for 75’s, I first got infatuated with the focal lenght while using the Voigtländer 75/2.5, but more recently I’ve been shooting with the fantastic Voigtländer 75/1.5 that I also haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet.
Plus, on a rangefinder the 75mm focal length comes with fewer practical downsides compared to longer options (something I’ve written about previously).
Recently though, ahead of a planned hiking trip, I began considering if adding an even longer lens instead of a 75 might still make sense. As I’d be spending quite a bit of time outdoors, in grand landscapes, a different set of trade offs started coming in to play compared to my regular everyday shooting. Reach and compression felt more important and the practical downsides mattered less.
So I started researching some of the options and surveying the local availability. The 90 Elmarits and Summicrons. The Voigtländer APOs. I even took more than a passing glance at the Elmar 135. However, other priorities took over my attention and before I knew it there wasn’t quite enough time to pick up something new.
However, I wasn’t too bothered by this as I had soon realized that I actually already had a lens that offered most of what I was looking for – the Leica Elmar-C 90/4.
The Elmar-C was one of the first Leica lenses I bought (in a kit together with the Summicron-C 40 and the Leica CL) and one of the first ones I reviewed on this site. But as I’ve gravitated more towards 75’s it’s not seen much use in the past few years.
Still, for the use case I now had in mind it was quite close to the ideal choice. Aside from offering that longer focal length that I was looking for, it’s also quite compact and very light for a long lens – crucial traits for pieces of gear to bring hiking.
So after a quick trial run to reacquaint myself with the lens, in to the backpack it went.
During the hike I still spent a almost two thirds of the time shooting another lens – the Voigtländer 50/1.5 II, also an impressively small and light lens for its spec, but the Elmar-C saw plenty of use and I was quite happy to have it along. In fact, several of my fave shots from the trip came out of this lens.
As a consequence I continued using the Elmar-C frequently throughout the rest of summer too.
So, a reasonable question at this point is probably; how did it hold up? Well, “pretty good” is a fair summary I think.
Overall I’d say that my assessment from the review still rings true – the lens offers a very pleasant rendering overall and great performance at short to medium distances.
Whilst I was drawn to use the Elmar-C 90 mainly for shooting landscapes, portraiture is certainly a common application for lenses of the focal lenght. And with the Elmar-C 90 in particular, this might be where the lens performs best and shines most in terms of rendering. So in this regard, the Elmar-C definitely makes for a compelling option.
It’s a bit less spectacular at farther range though, with less crisp definition of fine detail. The somewhat slow aperture also limits usability at times, both in terms of isolation capability and more clearly with regards to light gathering (though the very decent high ISO performance of the Leica M Typ 262 mitigates this fairly well). Beyond that, I also ran in to some calibration issues where I saw pretty significant back focus at mid range distances (so this was one of those rare instances when I found myself missing live view on the M 262).
Despite these shortcomings I want to reiterate that I quite enjoyed both the shooting experience and output from the little Elmar. It’s still certainly capable of quite outstanding output.
The overall experience reminded me of how much I enjoy shooting with longer focal length lenses. This was something I used to do a ton back when I was shooting mainly D-SLR’s. But I’ve done it way less frequently lately, mostly due to the fact that a Leica M isn’t the best platform for this use, as mentioned. But this outing proved that even with some trade offs it’s still well beyond good enough. I must also say I’m now more keen to try a few other options in the range.
Even so, another old learning that this experience reminded me of was that as long as each piece of kit performs its role adequately and without major shortcomings, gear is far less important than actually making photos. It’s always far more important to chase standout moments and scenes, rather than standout gear.
Photos in this article were made using the Leica M Typ 262. The image of the camera and lense was made using the iPhone XS. Exif-data is intact. Open any image in a new window for a closer look.