Inside the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH

Posted on by Mike Evans

The 600cc Ducati Pantah, one of Lawrie Watts's favourite drawings, according to David Dixon, his biographer. This is one of the hundreds of stunning marvels published in Motor Cycle magazine and reproduced in David's book

When I was a young journalist working on Motor Cycle magazine I was in awe of our freelance artist, Lawrie Watts. Lawrie, a "technical artist" worked for most of the Iliffe stable of technical magazines specialising in transport (Autocar), air travel (Flight), photography (Amateur Photographer) and farming (Mechanical Farming).

He had the knack of depicting the insides of a piece of engineering, such as a motorcycle engine, in fabulous detail. Most times, we see only the outer shell, attractive as it is, but forget the complexity of what does on inside. 

This is never more so than with modern auto-focus lenses. Focus and aperture motors, stability systems and other technological wizardry is all hidden behind the the bland façade that we think of as "the lens". So smooth, so perfect that nothing can possibly go wrong.


It comes as a something of a shock, therefore, to see a lens such as Leica's new SL 24-90mm zoom stripped down and naked. Lens Rentals in the USA has gone a great job on this large full-frame lens and the detail is quite stunning—not to mention a wee bit worrying.

All this all begs the question: How long will modern autofocus lenses continue to work flawlessly; over how many decades? It's one of the reasons the manual Leica M lenses are timeless, why you can mount a 1933 lens on a 2016 camera and still make perfect pictures. They can still be repaired after a lifetime of service. And it is one of the main reasons they hold their value so well, even appreciating in price in normal inflationary times rather than in the current unusual atmosphere of deflation.

Interestingly, Lens Rentals have also been let loose on Fuji's bargain 55-200 zoom and have found a very complex and well-constructed interior.

Sadly, I do not think that many modern auto-focus wizards will last 80 years. They're only a chip away from obsolescence.


You can read about Lawrie Watts's career in a book by my late friend and colleague, David Dixon. It is available from Amazon here:

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