Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens


    Photo Review 8.5
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    Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens

      In summary

      Since this lens is designed specifically for the Leica T mount, it's only usable on the new Leica T camera, which limits the number of potential purchasers. On this camera, it covers a range of popular focal lengths from moderate wide-angle to short telephoto/portrait magnification.

      Like most kit lenses, it's not particularly fast; but it's a good choice when you start out with a new camera because it provides the flexibility to shoot subjects as diverse as landscapes, documentary pictures and portraits. Internal focusing means the front of the lens doesn't rotate when focus changes. But there is some rotation when zooming from the 18mm to 56mm positions.

      The AF drive uses a stepping motor, making it quiet and relatively fast so it's a good choice when you want to record movie clips. The front of the lens is threaded to accept 52mm filters, the same size as used for the 23mm prime lens.

       

      Full review

      The Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 is the 'kit' zoom for Leica's mirrorless interchangeable lens T system. It offers a 27-84mm equivalent zoom range, and uses an internal focus design for fast, quiet autofocus. It comes at a significant price premium over lenses with similar focal length and aperture ranges for other systems, as a consequence of its anodized metal body construction and highly-corrected optics. 

      Side view of the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. (Source: Leica.)

      The optical design is relatively simple for a zoom lens, with ten elements arranged in seven groups. Four aspherical surfaces are included as part of the design. As with the Summicron-T 23mm f/2 lens, we assume some form of coating has been applied to suppress ghosting and flare.

      Supplied with the lens are a petal-shaped lens hood, soft fabric pouches for both the lens and hood and the usual front and end caps. The front cap has a pinch-style clip which is secure when in position and easy to remove and re-fit.

      Who's it For?
       Since this lens is designed specifically for the Leica T mount, it's only usable on the new Leica T camera, which limits the number of potential purchasers. On this camera, it covers a range of popular focal lengths from moderate wide-angle to short telephoto/portrait magnification.

      Like most kit lenses, it's not particularly fast; but it's a good choice when you start out with a new camera because it provides the flexibility to shoot subjects as diverse as landscapes, documentary pictures and portraits. Internal focusing means the front of the lens doesn't rotate when focus changes. But there is some rotation when zooming from the 18mm to 56mm positions.

      The AF drive uses a stepping motor, making it quiet and relatively fast so it's a good choice when you want to record movie clips. The front of the lens is threaded to accept 52mm filters, the same size as used for the 23mm prime lens.

      Build and Ergonomics
       Build quality is similar to the Summicron-T 23mm f/2 lens, which is also made mostly from aluminium with a low-gloss black anodised finish. The chromed mounting plate is very solid and attaches tightly to the camera body.

      The focusing ring is 15 mm wide and located roughly 6 mm behind the front of the bayonet mounting for the lens hood. This ring has a 7 mm wide band of narrow ridges running around its circumference, slightly forward of the centre point.

      Immediately behind it is the zoom ring, which is 22 mm wide and has a similar, 12 mm wide band of ribbing around its circumference. The trailing edge of this ring is stamped with focal length settings for 18mm, 24mm, 35mm and 56mm focal lengths, which are lined up against a white dot on the non-moving section of the lens barrel just behind the zoom ring.

      The maximum aperture reduces as the lens is zoomed in, going from f/3.5 at 18mm to f/4 at 24mm, f/5 at 35mm and f/5.6 at 56mm.  The inner barrel of the lens extends by approximately 20 mm as you zoom from the 18mm to the 56mm position and the front element rotates through roughly 15 degrees in the process.

      The bayonet mounting for the lens hood provides a very tight fit but the hood itself can partially block light from the built-in flash, particularly when you're shooting close-ups. The hood can be reversed over the lens for carrying and storage.

      No stabilisation is provided in either the camera body or lens. We found it difficult to eliminate the effects of camera shake when using shutter speeds of 1/20 second or slower with the 56mm setting and 1/15 second at 18mm.

      Performance
       Kit lenses are renowned for delivering lower image quality than prime lenses, so it was interesting to see that the review lens could match the maximum resolution of the 23mm prime lens with at least one aperture and focal length setting. Our Imatest tests showed the best results came with the 35mm focal length at f/5.

      While they also showed a slight tendency towards edge softening and the shortest and longest focal lengths, this was modest for a kit zoom lens and not reflected to a significant degree in test shots. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.

       
       Lateral chromatic aberration varied between moderate and negligible, being highest with the 18mm focal length at wide aperture settings and dipping into the negligible category for most focal lengths by around f/6.3.

      The 56mm focal length was in the low CA category at all aperture settings. In the graph of our Imatest results below, the red line marks the boundary between negligible and low CA, while the green line separates low and moderate CA.

       

      Autofocusing was a bit slower than the 23mm prime lens. Manual focusing uses the same 'by wire' system as the prime lens, which is outlined in the review of the Summicron-T 23mm f/2 lens. (INSERT LINK)

      Images shot with this lens were similar in quality to those from the 23mm prime lens, with accurate colour reproduction, a decent dynamic range and enough detail to make most users happy.

      JPEGs shot to assess rectilinear distortion and vignetting showed no significant evidence of either flaw. But when we examined DNG.RAW files captured at the same time with the Raw Therapee converter, which doesn't automatically correct aberrations, there was ample evidence of both, indicating a substantial degree of in-camera correction occurs.

      Noticeable barrel distortion could be seen in the 18mm files, although it metamorphosed into slight barrel distortion at 56mm. Distortion was least visible around the 35mm focal length.

      Vignetting could be seen in raw files at all aperture settings, although it was most pronounced at shorter focal lengths and reduced as the lens was zoomed to 56mm. If you only shoot JPEGs with the camera, neither aberration will be of concern.

      Backlit subjects weren't quite as well handled as with the Summicron-T 23mm f/2 lens. Although we were able to shoot with the sun inside the frame and maintain adequate image contrast with the 18mm setting, the 56mm focal length appeared to be more susceptible to veiling flare, even when the sun was behind a blocking object.  

      It was also more difficult to isolate subjects from distracting backgrounds with this lens because of its relatively small maximum apertures.  Nevertheless, wide aperture settings produced pleasantly soft backgrounds, particularly with longer focal length settings.

       

       

      SPECS

       Picture angle: 75 degrees  to 28 degrees
       Minimum aperture: f/16
       Lens construction: 10 elements in 7 groups (includes 4 aspherical surfaces)
       Lens mounts: Leica T
       Diaphragm Blades: Not specified
       Focus drive: Stepping motor
       Stabilisation: No
       Minimum focus: 30-45 cm
       Maximum magnification: 0.13x
       Filter size:  52 mm
       Dimensions (Diameter x L): 63.5 x 61.0 mm
       Weight: 255 grams

       

      TESTS

       Based on JPEG files taken with the Leica T camera.

       

       

      SAMPLES

       

      Vignetting at 18mm f/3.5 - JPEG file.
       
       

      Vignetting at 18mm f/3.5 - DNG.RAW file viewed in Raw Therapee.
       
       

      Vignetting at 35mm f/5 - JPEG file.
       
       

      Vignetting at 35mm f/5 - DNG.RAW file viewed in Raw Therapee.
       
       

      Vignetting at 56mm f/5.6 - JPEG file.
       
       

      Vignetting at 56mm f/5.6 - DNG.RAW file viewed in Raw Therapee.
       
       

      Rectilinear distortion at 18mm - JPEG file.
       
       

      Rectilinear distortion at 18mm - DNG.RAW file viewed in Raw Therapee.
       
       

      Rectilinear distortion at 56mm - JPEG file.
       
       

      Rectilinear distortion at 56mm - DNG.RAW file viewed in Raw Therapee.
       
       

      18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/6.4.
       
       

      56mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/5.6.
       
       

      Close-up at 18mm; ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/3.5.
       
       

      Close-up at 56mm; ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/5.6.
       
       

      Strong backlighting at 18mm; ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/12.7.
       
       

      Strong backlighting at 56mm; ISO 125, 1/160 second at f/6.2.
       

      56mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/5.6.
       
       

      56mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/8.
       
       

      56mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/16.
       
       Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Leica T camera.

       

      Rating

      RRP: AU$2300; US$1750

      • Build: 9.0
      • Handling: 8.5
      • Image quality: 9.0
      • Versatility: 8.8

       

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