I found a much wanted accessory today. I hope it arrives before my next studio portrait shoot.


The Leica 24-90mm f2.8-4.0 Vario Elmarit zoom lens (what a mouthful!) is a wild compromise for most photographers; myself included. For nearly a year and a half it was the only zoom and one of the only lenses of any kind that were available for the fledgling SL camera (model 601). Photographers who wanted a high performing, Leica zoom lens for that first mirrorless, full frame Leica camera didn't have any other choices. 

The lens is very large relative to competitive products. It's quite heavy. It has a variable maximum aperture and it currently costs just under $5800 US dollars. When it comes to what we might call "standard" zoom lenses it's by far the most expensive. 

So, with all these factors mitigating against its adoption by photographers why does it continue to sell? Why do photographers continue to select it for projects? What the heck are these people thinking?

Speaking for myself I bought the lens because I tested one and found it to be sharper and higher performing than any other zoom lens I'd ever shot. It's sharp and contrasty when used wide open. It adds about three stops of vibration reduction with it's in-lens I.S. It's very color neutral. It's capable, when used with the right imaging sensor, of unbeatable color discrimination and it has no real optical shortcomings. At least none that have become apparent to me. Plus, it's right in the sweet spot of the focal length range I use all the time in my work. Both commercial and personal. 

The only time I really want a longer focal length than 90mm is when I'm photographing live theater productions and the 70-200mm Panasonic S-Pro handles that really well (and it's an "L" native lens).

When I use the 24-90mm I'm constantly impressed by what it delivers in terms of imaging. 

But there has been one leg of compromise that sometimes causes me to reject the Leica zoom and default to a much lighter lens. It's the weight. When you mount a camera with this lens on a tripod and put the system into a vertical orientation the whole construction starts to droop down. The weight causes the camera to twist on the tripod head platform. Even with my stoutest tripod head it's a problem. And since I like doing formal portraits in the vertical orientation it's frustrates me.  Plus, from an industrial engineering point of view I'd love to take most of that front heavy weight off the lens mounts; both on the camera and on the lens.

I love the convenience of a zoom for flexible framing on the fly but I want the lens and camera to continue pointing where I want them to point. Ending up pointing at the floor is not...okay. 

I've pretty much relegated the lens to handheld work or landscape-oriented work on a tripod and have defaulted to using small primes like the Sigma 90mm f2.8 for portraits that needed to be in "portrait" mode. And that defeats the purpose, for me, of having such a high performing zoom lens. I've often wished that Leica would make a tripod collar for this lens like the one they have on their even bigger and even more expensive 90-280mm Apo zoom lens. But they don't. 

Happily a friend from Switzerland who also shoots with the same combination of cameras and lenses  emailed to see if I was aware of a product from Novoflex. A tripod collar for the two venerable Leica zooms. Since the 90-280 is already equipped with one it seems pretty obvious to me that this product was intended mostly for the 24-90mm. I presumed the product would be too niche for Amazon.com but the folks at B&H had one in stock and it's coming my way shortly. It's pricy at $235 but if it works as advertised (and I have assurances from my friend that it does....) it will be worth every cent for me. I'll be reviewing the tripod collar after I use it on an assignment to photograph two attorneys at their offices next week. 

My advice to Leica: If you plan to do a 24-90mm type II (an update) consider incorporating a removable tripod collar into the design. Just about everyone who buys the lens from you will appreciate it. And we'll get a lot more use out of our investment as well. 

There is a tripod collar on the longer Panasonic zoom and it works great. I love having it there. I'm thinking that any lens that weighs more than two pounds needs one. 

Studio Light. Black and white. 135mm Zeiss lens on Contax RTSIII. Copied from a print.

©Kirk Tuck. 

I'm restarting an old project. I'm approaching well known people in Austin with the intention of making black and white portraits of them. The short term goal is to do a continuing show of the images on a dedicated website but the longer term intention is to produce a show of prints for one of the two photo-oriented galleries here in Austin that I like. We'll see how it goes. It's helpful to write out an intention because there seems to be more momentum behind a project that way. More stick-to-it-tiveness.

My first subject will likely be our former state senator, Kirk Watson. I have known him for decades and he's a fun and interesting character. It might be fun to compare a comtemporary image with the portrait I did of him at his law offices many, many years ago. Back then I photographed on color transparency film using a Hasselblad camera and a 150mm lens. This time around the portrait will probably be done with a Leica SL2 and the 24-90mm zoom. 

Incidentally, Kirk Watson is running a campaign to be mayor of Austin. It would be a reprise of his successful stewardship of the city back in the 1990s.