Carl Merkin: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold…The 180mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt-R.

The Leica APO-Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 lens was originally produced as part of a U.S. Navy High Resolution Small Format Camera System in the early 1970s, meant for use in surveillance at long distances. It was made available to the public in 1975. Its designer Dr. Walter Mandler was the man whose genius brought us the 50mm Noctilux, the 35mm Summilux, and close to fifty other lenses for Leica cameras, in addition to lenses for RCA television cameras, IMAX projectors, and Picker X-ray equipment.

The 180 APO-Telyt-R used extra low dispersion glass formulated by the Leitz glass research lab in Wetzlar for two of its seven elements. An Apochromatic lens brings the three colors (red, green, blue) into focus on the same plane, controlling color-fringing and other chromatic aberrations, and eliminating the infrared focus shift.


This lens defined the state of the art in its class for the next thirty years. The sharpness, contrast and color accuracy are exceptional, even at the closest focusing distance of about eight feet, although the lens was intended for photographing at long distance.

The accompanying photos were taken with a LEICA R9 the DMR digital back. The crop factor of 1.37X results in a focal length about 250mm. Using the 2X APO-Extender-R brings it to 500mm and f/7, but the focusing range remains Infinity to eight feet.


Mounting the lens on an auto-bellows, I found that it produced great sharpness and detail despite very limited depth-of-field.

There may be current Leica lenses with even more extraordinary performance, but you won’t find one with a more interesting origin.

This fall at Photokina I hope to see a new Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) camera, and I look forward to using the 180 APO-Telyt (and many other Leica-M and R lenses) with it.

-Carl Merkin

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