I was minding my own business, wondering when more tree branches were going to fall from the sky when I got a text from a photographer friend of many years. He was reaching out to see if I would like to go up the street from my house and grab a coffee with him at Trianon Coffee. Since this friend is an unapologetic gear hound with lots of fun information to share I didn't see how I could possibly turn down his invitation.
The coffee house was crowded. Especially for a mid-afternoon. I mentioned this and my friend reminded me that many of the folks present might be there instead of in their homes because at the moment over 100,000 people in Austin are without power. Camping out at the coffee shop means hot coffee, a warm environment and free wi-fi. Ah, that explains the amazing, topical burst of coffee's popularity.
We grabbed our preferred beverages and found a table. From seemingly out of nowhere he produced a leather lens case and handed it to me. I opened it and found inside one of the "holy grail" Leica R lenses. It's Leica's R series 35-70mm f4.0 zoom lens. Not to be confused with two earlier, f3.5 zooms nor the two 28-70mm f3.5-4.5 zooms made for Leica by Sigma.
I had always heard that this final iteration of their 35-70mm lenses was completely designed by Leica, unlike a series of re-badged Minolta and Sigma lenses. And while it was "completely" designed by Leica in Germany I'd also heard that it was produced by Kyocera in Japan. Indeed. Looking at the lens revealed an engraved line of type on the opposite side of the lens from aperture settings that read: "Designed by Leica Camera. Mfg. in Japan. At the time Kyocera was also the owner of Contax cameras and was making very nice lenses for the mark under license from Karl Zeiss. They still make really great lenses for Voigtlander.
While all the previous 28-70 and 35-70mm Leica zoom lenses were "pretty good" The Leica 35-70mm f4.0 has always been considered head and shoulders above them for sheer optical quality. The late Erwin Puts was widely regarded as having a comprehensive knowledge of Leica optics, from theory and design through manufacturing. He exhaustively tested a number of their lenses over the years. His assessment of the 35-70mm f4.0 ROM was that it equaled or exceeded the performance of the 35mm Summicron R, the 50mm Summicron R and the 75mm Summilux M if all were used at f4.0 or higher. It was reported to be capable of resolving upwards of 125 lp/mm in the center of the frame at full aperture.
It's a fairly small lens and it lacks AF and I.S. which only adds to its reliability and durability.
My friend's copy is pristine and was recently serviced. He suggested that I take it and shoot it for a while to see if I might be interested in owning it. Otherwise, after I'm through playing with it (testing it?) if I decide it's not for me he'll put it on the market.
After we finished our coffees and catch up I headed back around the corner to the office to put the lens on a Novoflex R to L mount adapter, put that assembly on an SL body and headed out onto one of my downtown routes to see how I liked using the whole package together. The fly in the ointment today was the heavy overcast for most of the afternoon which limited what was available as subject matter.
The focusing ring is firm and smooth. The aperture ring clicks in half stops and feels just right. And, of course, it zooms with amazing grace.
I need to shoot it in full sun. If it performs as well as its historic legacy indicates I probably will buy it from my friend and then sell my Panasonic 24-105mm zoom to offset some of the cost. The 35-70mm is a beautiful and convenient lens for walking around and for shooting in the streets. If you are into manual zone focusing it's got hard stops at minimum and infinity settings along with a very legible focusing scale. You could put the lens to f11, set the focusing distance to 10 feet and have a blast shooting without focusing.
It's early days with the lens. Tomorrow is supposed to be a sunny Texas day for a change. I'll have more to say about his lens soon. So far I like what I see.