The FOUR lenses in the Leica MATE (Leica 28-35-50 Tri-Elmar lens)


The FOUR lenses in the Leica MATE is by Onasj (see all previous posts by Onasj):

The Leica 28-35-50 Tri-Elmar (also known as the Medium Angle Tri-Elmar, or MATE) is a lens well-known for its complexity, and for the fact that it hasn’t been made in ~14 years. As one might expect for a lens that offers three of the most popular focal lengths, 28 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm, it’s a highly versatile lens, especially for travel and street photography, or whenever carrying multiple lenses is a challenge.

The MATE is an engineering marvel— not only does it offer three focal lengths at constant f/4 aperture, but changing the focal length also mechanically changes the frame lines to match, AND if 6-bit encoded on recent (digital M) bodies, will also change the focal length displayed in Live View and the focal length recorded in each image’s EXIF data to match, thanks to the body’s ability to detect the frame line lever position.

One of MATE’s shortcomings—the maximum f/4 aperture—is mitigated by the high ISO performance of M10-generation bodies, especially the M10 Monochrom.

I was fortunate to obtain one of these lenses recently (v2, E49), and while putting it through its paces, found that the MATE actually offers a “fourth lens”—a ~40 mm pseudo-macro (close-focus) option that is accessed by setting the focal length to the mid-point between 50 mm (the middle position of the zoom ring) and 28 mm (the clockwise-most position of the zoom ring when looking at the front of the lens). The precise position is not critical, although a position close to the actual mid-point between 50 and 28 works best.

At this setting, you end up with a ~40 mm focal length lens that can close-focus to ~0.4 meters! While not as macro-capable as a true macro lens such as the 90/4 Macro Elmar, one can capture subjects at a much greater size than otherwise possible with this lens, especially given that its minimum focusing distance is normally a full 1.0 meters. Of course the rangefinder cannot be used to focus in this mode, but Live View with focus peaking works quite well for focusing in this mode.

Attached is a matrix showing the same subject photographed with the MATE at all four focal lengths, always at the minimum focusing distance. The entire frame of each image is shown (no cropping). You can see that the “40 pseudo-macro” option has a much larger subject reproduction ratio than the three standard focal lengths.

I’ve also found the 40 pseudo-macro option quite useful for taking portraits—more so than the canonical option of 50 mm with a 1-meter minimum focusing distance. This option is optically quite good, approaching the (excellent) 50 mm focal length in terms of overall sharpness.

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