Leica DG Elmarit 200mm f/2.8: Handheld telephoto prime-meister
When I think of prime lenses my mental image tends to top out at 135mm, if not 90mm, in the traditional scale of 28-35-50-75-90-135. The longest prime I own is the 75mm Olympus f/1.8mm, an m4/3 optic which gives a 150mm full-frame equivalence. It is only 70mm long but makes a great portrait lens. It’s one of the big advantages of the 4/3 sensor size that the lenses are so compact. And encouraging for those of us brought up on tiny manual designs such as those made for the Leica M mount. They are indeed generally small and cuddly, more so than is possible with modern full-frame lenses packed with stabilisation engines and electronics.
However, the new Leica DG 200mm Elmarit f/2.8 made for the micro four-thirds system is definitely not small and cuddly. Nor is it any old prime. The 200mm gives a a whopping 400mm in full-frame equivalence. And it also comes with a 1.4x converter to boost the range to 560mm. That’s a serious bit of fast prime for twitchers and sports fans. And when you combine the in-built power optical image stabilisation with the improved 5-axis stabilisation of the new Lumix G9, this prime has a remarkable 6.5-stop advantage over an old-fashioned non-stabilised system. Long-range photography without tripod assistance is now a real possibility.
The 200mm has 15 elements in 13 groups with 9 circular-diaphragm blades. With a maximum aperture of f/2.8 (stopping down to f/22) this is fast enough, combined with the benefits Dual IS stabilisation, to satisfy most wildlife photographers.
Despite my suggestion that this isn’t a cuddly lens — it isn't — don’t run away with the impression that it is an out-and-out monster. By virtue of the small sensor system, this 200mm beastlet measures only 6.85 inches (174mm) tip to toe and weighs a relatively modest 2.75lb (1.25kg) Yes, it’s no pancake. But does offer a similar reach to lenses such as the Canon 400mm f/2.8 IS II USM. That whopper is 13.7in (348mm) long and weighs a back-breaking 5.6lb (2.52kg). It definitely needs its tripod mount.
All this offers a pretty good explanation of why micro four-thirds is popular as a system. You can envisage using a lens like the new Leica DG 200mm when you would think twice about owning — and still less carrying — that Canon 400mm. Oh, and another minor point. The Canon costs £9,300 compared with the price tag on this new Leica DG Elmarit 200mm of a mere £2,700.
Combine the Elmarit with the new Lumix G9 and you create a stable hand-held powerhouse with a total weight under 2Kg.