Leica R Cine-Mod Set

Duclos Lenses has been expanding their rental inventory, slowly but surely. With a highly Zeiss oriented rental inventory, we decided to explore some other Germany options and offer a set of Leica R series lenses. The Leica R lenses were an excellent series that Leica dropped shortly after introducing. The glass was top of the line and second to none when it was new. Even by todays standards, the Leica R lenses easily hold their own in a world of nano crystal coatings and optical stabilization. The images these lenses produce is, for lack of a better description, dreamy. The details are held extremely well while still allowing for that warm softness that has been associated with film and motion pictures for so long. A lot of people will say that they are reminiscent of the look that you get with Panavision. That’s probably because Panavision used very similar Leica glass for a lot of their own in-house lenses.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux on a Canon 5D MkII, photo taken with the 85mm f/1.4 Summilux (the same one from this set) with an Eos to M4/3 adapter on an Olympus E-PL1

Choosing the lenses was a little difficult. We had to split three factors; aperture speed, image quality, and availability. We chose a mixture of Summilux and Elmarit lenses that worked the best and balanced speed and quality. Obviously for lenses like the 19mm Elmarit, there was no Summilux, so we went with the slower Elmarit speed. A little background on the names of Leica lenses: The Summilux lenses are the very fast f/1.4 aperture lenses, Summicron is f/2.0, Summarit is f/2.5, Elmarit is f/2.8, and pretty much anything slower than that is an Elmar. Now that we have that out of the way, a little more on our lenses. The lenses that were available as a Summilux were chosen simply for their speed. Although great for low-light and nice shallow DoF, the Summilux optical performance is slightly less favorable at wide open (f/1.4) than say a Summicron (f/2). The Summicron lenses are usually considered the sweet spot with their very high image quality and relatively fast aperture. After some debate, we boiled our choices down to the following:

  • 19mm  f/2.8 Elmarit
  • 24mm  f/2.8 Elmarit
  • 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit
  • 35mm f/1.4 Summilux
  • 50mm f/1.4 Summilux
  • 80mm f/1.4 Summilux
  • 100mm f/2.8 Elmarit
This set provided the best balance of optical quality and low-light capability. Once that was sorted out, we moved onto optimizing them for motion picture use. We went ahead with our standard Cine-Mod that we offer for just about any lens and added a standard 32-pitch focus gear, a common 80mm front diameter with 77mm filter thread, and declicked the aperture of each lens for a smooth, buttery iris movement. This brought each lens up to cinema standards but the lenses were still stuck in a Leica R mount which nobody, not even Leica, uses anymore. We tossed around the idea of chopping them up and putting a PL mount on them but decided that we had far too much on our plate with other projects at the moment. The amount of work that would go into redesigning the housings for the lenses as well as the cost of manufacturing a one-off design prevented us from perusing such a conversion. The cost would be substantial especially considering Leica has just recently begun to ship their new Leica Summilux C lenses. The last step in the process was to allow the lenses to be mounted to a variety of cameras. To do this, we installed custom Canon Eos mounts on each lens for use on cameras such as the 5D MkII, 7D, and just about any camera sporting an Eos mount, including the new Eos mount for the RED Epic.
Sourcing good lenses can be difficult. There are a lot of scams on eBay and similar sites, even reputable companies like B&H and Adorama let a few bad eggs slip through their QC. We were very lucky to find lenses in good condition that would make perfect candidates for motion picture work. The Cine-Mod process can be applied to just about any lens that goes through Duclos Lenses, but we wanted to offer a high quality set of lenses that were maintained professionally on a regular basis. If you want to take advantage of this set, contact the rental department at Duclos Lenses. Or click here.

19 thoughts on “Leica R Cine-Mod Set

  1. Matt, I own the following lenses and love them. Would love to know cost involved to do the exact mod you did on your set. I have Leitax EOS mounts already installed. I have these 3:

    Elmarit-R 1:2,8/28mm
    Summicron-R 1:2/50mm
    Macro-Elmar-R 1:4/100mm

    You can email me direct if you don’t mind! Thanks.

  2. Just a footnote. Weren’t the Primo’s designed and built by Walter Mandler at Ernst Leitz Canada in Midland Ontario? I was under the impression he also designed/built the IMAX camera lenses in Midland too. Of course he also designed many of the Leica R lenses including the 19mm f/2.8 Elmarit and 80mm f/1.4 Summilux that you mention while at ELCAN. Leica isn’t new to making cinema lenses and was 1/2 Canadian from 1952-1990.

  3. Matt, Can you tell me if there is a preference between the 19mm Elmarit lens with the wider mushroom-like front element and the apparently newer version which has a straight barrel? I’m thinking of putting together a set to be modded and would like to know what you advise.

    1. Michael,

      I usually recommend the 19mm Version II which is much newer and does have better optics. It’s the smaller one with the straighter barrel. It has a built in filter wheel which was great for landscape work but kinda useless these days. It can be quite a bit more expensive because of it’s superior design, but worth it in my opinion. It’s truly difficult to find a GOOD wide angle option these days.

      1. Michael,

        Regarding Version II, how do you attach filters to the lens? I understand that it is not threaded like a normal lens.

  4. Matt, currently have a set of Leica r’s and they’re amazing. But, what’s the next step up beyond these in terms of optics (not looking at CP.2’s or Canon cine glass) at f2 with a PL mount?

    1. That’s a tricky one. If you count out CP.2 and Canon Cine-Eos, you make a huge jump to pro cine glass. I would say the next step would be Schneider Cine-Xenar III or Cooke Mini-S4. Both about $50k but both are true cinema prime sets.

  5. Matthew

    I recently bought an Alexa. I had my Leica primes cine mod done at Duclos. Is there any way to use these lenses with the R mount on the Alexa without taking off the PL? I have a mix of PL lenses as well.

    thanks JP

  6. Matt, recently got an Alexa Mini. I have a 28-70mm Leica Zoom Lens Vario Elmarit 1:3,5 and a 80-200mm Leica Zoom Lens Vario Elmarit 1:4,0. How would you best recommend adapting them? Was thinking of a R to EF adapte and with the mini EF mount at it simplest form. On 5D this adaptation sometimes feels soft…. Would you recommend a mod maybe?? or a Leitax mount and stick with the Mini EF mount??

    Thanks for the advice!

    1. I would do a solid conversion to EF mount and use the native EF mount on the Mini. With such a nice camera, don’t fiddle around with crummy adapters. They’ll just waste your time. Use a Leitax or similar conversion kit that offers a more robust mounting solution.

  7. I used Nikkor lenses for years on 35mm film cameras until J-P Beauviala at Aaron suggested Leica lenses were better. I got a few and was startled at the difference. Then I got more until I had a matched set from 19 – 180mm, mostly f2.8.

    First, the Leica lenses were not as ‘sharp’. as the Nikkors. Some Nikkor lenses are scary sharp… unusably sharp for motion pictures in fact. You might hold focus on an eye or the down on someone’s face while ears and noses would be slightly soft. The Leica R lenses might not resolve every hair in the same way as the Nikkors but they appeared sharper on screen because the usable depth of field was higher. Probably something to do with circles of confusion but I’ll not go there.

    Because of this tolerant depth of field, the R lenses were much easier on the focus puller and you got more usable footage under difficult circumstances. Me, I cannot see the point in superspeed lenses where the focal depth is as thin as a sheet of paper. So the wide open aperture of 2.8 on most of my R lenses was more usable than the same stop on a Nikkor lens.

    The micro contrast of the Leicas was also better than the Nikkors… probably modulation transfer functions or something… but they have a snap to them which the Nikon lenses lack. At the time, there was a lot of stuff written by Leica about this but you had to do a side-by-side comparison to see the difference.

    The other really interesting thing is the way that the Leica lenses hold backlight better than Nikkors… less flare and higher contrast at the edges of bright and dark areas.

    We did occasionally do side-by-side comparisons between Nikkor, Leica and Panavision lenses and I agree that the Panavision images looked suspiciously like the Leica images. However Panavision cheated a bit on their focal lengths. The wide angles were always longer or less wide than written on the barrel.

    For what it’s worth, my opinion aligns with yours that Leica R lenses are excellent cine lenses, especially compared with other still camera lenses. However what the result is on a digital camera compared with a film camera, I can’t comment on. My thought is that being ground for film with a lovely tapering off of resolution might not work so well on a sensor with fixed resolution.

    Good website and interesting articles! Vive good glassware!


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