What does it truly mean to be a professional photographer?

It means to be constantly adaptable to shoot anything, anywhere in many styles. As we evolve in our art, and technology improves, one thing stays constant. Good glass. 

This is where Leica R lenses come in. 

Known as some of the most legendary lenses ever produced, the lenses in the Leica R system are great tools for photographers and videographers to produce high-quality results with lots of character. 

Table of contents
What is the Leica R lens system?
What makes the Leica R lenses so great?
Leica R lens compatibility
Leica R lens adapters
Different types of Leica R lenses
How to choose the best Leica R lens
Best Leica R lenses for different types of photography
How to care for your Leica R lens
Leica R lens alternatives

What is the Leica R lens system?

The Leica R lens system is a range of high-quality camera lenses that are designed for use with Leica R cameras. Developed by Leica between 1964 and 2009, a total of 74 Leica branded lenses were released. This number includes all the lens revisions as well. 

Additionally, other manufacturers developed lenses for the Leica R mount, such as Hartblei, Komura, Minolta, Schneider-Kreuznach, Sigma and more. 

Many of these lenses have passed over into vintage territory by today’s standard. You could refer to these lenses as vintage Leica R lenses. In a few short years, 2029 to be exact, all of the lenses will be considered vintage. 

These lenses are known for their excellent image quality, and they’re a popular choice among professional and amateur photographers alike. However many of these lenses are not very budget-friendly – as they can cost anywhere from $200 to $20,000, depending on their popularity and rarity. 

If you’re looking for a high-quality camera lens, then the Leica R lens system is definitely worth considering. With a wide variety of lenses to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect one for your photography needs.

In this guide, I will cover everything you need to know about the legendary Leica R lenses and how to choose the best ones that suit your photography needs.

What makes the Leica R lenses so great?

The Leica R lenses have reached legendary status for good reasons, and it’s not just their allure as a premium German brand. Many of the Leica R lenses have now passed over to the vintage lens territory, 

With a resurgence in the interest in vintage lenses in the last few years, the Leica R lens system is an obvious choice for photographers. 

There are a few reasons why Leica R lenses are better. 

For starters, as vintage lenses they are exceptionally sharp. This is because many of the Leica R lenses (denoted with the ASPH marking) use aspheric elements. These elements help to reduce aberrations and improve image quality. 

They are very versatile in their use and are great vintage lenses for videos and photos. Regardless of what you are shooting, you can expect to get stunning results.

As mentioned earlier, there is a wide range of lenses available in the Leica R mount. The huge selection of Leica R lenses available makes investing in these lenses a great value proposition. 

Shooting with one system of lenses helps maintain a consistent color reproduction in your photos or video across all your focal lengths. It is hard to achieve if you were shooting with different lens brands across those focal lengths. 

Leica R lenses are also really well-built. Their all mental construction makes them very durable. If you’re a photographer or videographer that expects build excellence and reliability, this lens system is for you.   

Finally, Leica R lenses offer excellent value for money. While they may be more expensive than some other brands, their high quality and durability make them a worthwhile investment. 

So if you’re looking for the best image quality and build quality, Leica R lenses are the way to go. With so many benefits, it’s no wonder that these lenses are so popular among photographers.

Leica R lens compatibility

leica r camera with 90mm lens

Leica R lenses are natively compatible with 10 Leica cameras which were built with the R bayonet mount between 1964 – 2009. These cameras are:

  • Leicaflex
  • Leicaflex SL
  • Leicaflex SL2
  • Leica R3
  • Leica R4
  • Leica R5
  • Leica R6
  • Leica R7
  • Leica R8
  • Leica R9

Like many other lens mounts, the Leica R lenses are adaptable to many modern-day mounts and usable on DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. These include adapters for brands such as Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus and Panasonic, 

Leica R lens adapters

The Leica R lenses were developed for Leica R 35mm film cameras. These film cameras are worth a lot of money due to their popularity, scarcity, and brand equity. Thankfully their lenses are thus suitable to be adapted to many other full-frame digital and 35mm vintage film cameras, which removes the necessity for investing in an additional camera to leverage the legendary lenses.

I’ve included below some examples of available adapters for camera systems to which Leica R lenses have been popular to adapt to. 

  1. Leica R to Leica M-mount adapters: If you want to use a Leica R lens on a Leica M camera, then you’ll need an adapter. The Leica R to M Adapter allows you to attach a Leica R lens to a Leica M camera body, so you can continue using your favorite lenses.
  2. Leica R to Canon EF-mount adapter: The Leica R to Canon EF adapter, allows the use of the Leica R lenses on any Canon EOS camera body.
  3. Leica R to Sony E-mount adapter: The Leica R to Sony E-mount Adapter allows you to attach a Leica R lens to any Sony NEX or Alpha camera body. 
  4. Leica R to Nikon F-mount adapter: Similarly to all the other brands, the Leica R mount is adaptable to any Nikon F-mount camera such as the popular D850, and other great cameras in the Nikon DSLR family. 
  5. Leica R to Micro Four Thirds mount adapter: The Leica R to Micro Four Thirds Adapter allows you to attach a Leica R lens to any Micro Four Thirds camera body. This includes brands such as Olympus and Panasonic.
  6. Leica R to Fuji X-mount adapter: Another popular combo allows for the Leica R lenses to be used on APS-C Fuji cameras such as the Fuji X-T4. 

The different types of Leica R lenses

There is a wide range of different Leica R lenses available, each with its own unique set of features and capabilities. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most popular types of Leica R lenses:

Prime lenses: Prime lenses are fixed-focal-length lenses, meaning that they can’t zoom in or out. They’re typically smaller and lighter than zoom lenses, making them a good choice for travel photography. They also tend to have wider apertures making them perfect for portrait photography because of the shallow depth of field that they can achieve. 

Zoom lenses: Zoom lenses offer the flexibility of being able to change your focal length, allowing you to capture both wide-angle and telephoto shots.

Wide-angle lenses: Wide-angle lenses have a shorter focal length than standard lenses, allowing you to capture a wider field of view. They’re ideal for landscape and architectural photography.

Telephoto lenses: Telephoto lenses have a longer focal length than standard lenses, allowing you to zoom in on your subject. They’re perfect for wildlife and sports photography.

Macro lenses: Macro lenses are designed for close-up photography, allowing you to capture stunning detail. They’re ideal for nature and close-up portraits.

How to choose the best Leica R lens

With so many different Leica R lenses available, it can be tough to decide which one is right for you. There are two important questions you might want to answer for yourself to help narrow down your choices.

  1. What type of photography are you interested in? There are different lenses designed for different types of photography, so it’s important to choose one that will suit your needs.
  2. What is your budget? Leica R lenses can vary widely in price, so it’s important to set a budget before you start shopping.

Best Leica R lenses for different types of photography

Here are some of the best Leica R lenses for different types of photography. 

Best Leica R lenses for landscape & architectural photography 

1. Elmarit-R 19mm f/2.8

The Elmarit-R 19mm f/2.8 is a vintage wide-angle prime lens that is perfect for landscape and architectural photography. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of 0.3m, making it great for close-up shots. The lens also has a six-blade diaphragm that creates beautiful bokeh. While being one of the more expensive Leica R lenses, ranging between $3,000 to $8,000 it is a solid investment for the results it produces. 

2. Leica Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 

The Leica Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 is another great choice for landscape and architectural photography. This wide-angle lens was originally introduced in 1970, with subsequent versions released later in 1978 and 1994. This lens offers a fast aperture with excellent image quality. 

Best Leica R lenses for portrait & street photography 

3. Leica Summilux-R 35mm f/1.4 

The Leica Summilux-R 35mm is a fast prime lens with a maxim aperture of f/1.4, that was introduced in 1993. It has an impressive sharp image quality even when open wide. This lens is ideal for low-light photography. The Summilux-R 35mm f/1.4 is also a great choice for portrait and street photography because of its versatile focal length that can be used for full-body and mid-body shots.

4. Leica Summicron-R 50mm f/2

The Leica Summicron-R 50mm f/2 is a classic lens that has been in production since 1973. It is a fast lens with excellent image quality and was made with portrait photographers in mind. The Summicron-R 50mm f/2 is a great all-around lens for general photography and excels at portrait photography. 

5. Leica Apo-Summicron-R 90mm f/2 

The Leica Apo-Summicron-R 90mm f/2 is a telephoto prime lens that was originally introduced in 1970. The lens features an eight-blade diaphragm that produces a dreamy and circular bokeh. With outstanding resolving power and high contrast reproduction, this lens has excellent image quality. It is ideal for portrait and close-up photography. 

Best Leica R lenses for wildlife & sports photography

6. Leica APO-Telyt-R 280mm f/4

The APO-Telyt-R 280mm f/4 lens is a versatile lens suited for all types of photography. Due to its long focal length it offers very flattering characteristics for portraits and great perspective compression effects for landscapes. This lens offers excellent image quality for such a long focal length. The also features APO-Telyt-R 280mm f/4 is a manual focus lens with a built-in tripod collar and also compatible with 1.4x and 2x extenders, making it a versatile tool for wildlife and sports photographers.

7. Leica Apo-Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4

If you’re looking for a telephoto lens, the Apo-Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 is an excellent option. It’s incredibly sharp, and it can produce beautiful bokeh with its eight blade design.

Best Leica R lenses for Macro Photography

8. Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 

The Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8 is a macro lens that was introduced in 1972. With a close focus distance of 0.27m and 1:2 maximum magnification, the 60mm f/2.8 is ideal for close-up photography of small subjects such as flowers or insects.

9. Leica Apo-Macro-Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8

This speciality Leica R lens is great for exploring the macro world. This lens has improved sharpness, contrast and vignetting at all focusing distances while being distortion free in every application. When combined with the Leica Elpro 1:2 – 1:1 this particular lens allows you 1:1 magnification without sacrificing any quality.

How to care for your Leica R lens

Now that you’ve selected the perfect Leica R lenses for you, let’s talk about care. To get the most out of your lenses, it’s important to take proper care of it. 

  1. Clean the lenses regularly: Dust, dirt, and fingerprints can all affect image quality, so it’s important to keep your lens clean. Use a lens cleaning kit to keep your lens clean at all times.
  2. Store the lens properly: When you’re not using your lens, store it somewhere safe where it can’t be easily damaged. Keep it away from moisture at all costs, by storing it in a dry and cool place. For a budget solution you could store them in plastic bins. For a more professional solution you could purchase a dry cabinet dehumidifier.
  3. Protect the lens: When using your lenses it’s good to use a camera bag with padding to keep your lenses safe from any drop or impact. It is also a great idea to keep a lens hood and filter on your lens which could absorb the impact if dropped. 

By following these tips, you can be sure that your Leica R lens will stay in excellent condition for years to come.

Leica R lens alternatives 

Maybe the price is a barrier to owning a Leica R lens. Or you’re simply not interested in a Leica R lens family. Whatever your reason there are plenty of other options available. Here are a few alternatives to the Leica R lenses.

If you are looking for different vintage lenses that perform in a similar way as the Leica R lenses, you might want to consider the Olympus OM Zuiko or vintage Canon FDs. Another great brand to consider is also Zeiss, with their similar legendary status. 

For more modern alternatives to the Leica R lenses, you could consider the following: 

  • Canon EF lenses: As one of the most popular and widely used lens mounts, Canon EF lenses have cemented their place in lens history. The famous “red ring” L lenses are some of the best modern lenses produced to date. Due to the popularity and wide use of the EF-mount, adapters are available for many other popular cameras. If budget is no concern, grabbing a Canon L lens set for your photography or video needs is the perfect alternative to the Leica R lenses.
  • Nikon F lenses: In a close competition for popularity with the Canon EF lenses, the Nikon F lenses are legendary in their own right. In particular, the G prime lenses produce some of the sharpest and high-quality results in modern photography. You would not regret picking up a set of the 24mm, 85mm and 105mm Nikon lenses.
  • Sigma lenses: In recent years, the Sigma brand has elevated itself with their Art series lenses, and produced by far some of the sharpest and best performing lenses on the market. At an affordable pricerange these lenses far outvalue the original manufacturer lenses provided by all of the top camera brands.
  • Tamron lenses: In similar vain, Tamron is right behind Sigma in terms of its recent ability to improve its brand equity by producing some truly spectacular lenses. Their 85mm prime lens one of the top 10 modern 85mm lenses ever produced.