Leica’s new 100-400mm f/5-6.3 looks like a rehoused Sigma at twice the price
Leica has announced a new addition to its SL system (L mount) lens lineup. It’s the Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm F5-6.3 and it costs a whopping $2,195. Now, as Leica lenses go, this is par for the course, but when you consider that Sigma also has a 100-400mm f/5-6.3 L mount lens for less than half of that, it’s a bit of a stretch. The Leica lens is quite a bit heavier than the Sigma, too, but we’ll save that comparison for a little later on.
The new lens features a removable Arca Swiss mounting plate for easy attaching to compatible tripod heads with clamp locks every 90 degrees for easy switching between landscape and portrait orientations. Leica has also announced a new 1.4x L mount teleconverter. In conjunction with the new lens, this brings it into a focal length range of 140-560mm, albeit with a stop slower aperture.
The smaller variable aperture of the lens allows it to remain fairly compact, only 198mm long at its shortest focal length and 88mm in diameter. Despite this, it’s still fairly hefty, weighing in at 1,530g. For comparison, the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 weighs 1,135g, and is actually a hair narrower and shorter. What’s particularly interesting, though, is that both the Leica and Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 lenses have an optical makeup comprising 22 elements in 16 groups with a minimum focus distance of 1.1 metres.
100-400mm f/5-6.3 optical makeup
Seeing the same number of elements nad groups got me curious, so I went looking for the optical diagrams for both lenses. Despite the fact that the Leica lens uses 82mm filters whereas the Sigma takes 67mm filters, the optical makeup for both lenses, according to the images on the Sigma and Leica websites, appears to be pretty much identical. When you overlay the two diagrams on top of each other in Photoshop, there is some very slight variance in the diameter of a couple of the optics, but whether this is a truly accurate representation or not is unclear.
What is clear is that they are very close indeed. Even if they are the same exact optical makeup, however, there are still plenty of opportunities for the Leica to differ. For a start, there’s the ergonomics and that Arca Swiss mount. Then there are the electronics, image stabilisation, and motors for autofocus to take into account – any of which may lead to different levels of performance and user experience.
But… They are awfully close.
Now, I’m not saying Leica’s ripping off Sigma. Sigma could have easily licensed the optical makeup design to Leica – and they may be more different from each other than the optical illustrations would suggest – but if they are essentially the same lens, you may be paying an extra $1,200 just for the Leica name. Given that they’re both L mount lenses, and both Leica and Sigma are part of the L mount alliance, it will be interesting to see how the two lenses perform side-by-side on the same L mount body – from either Leica, Sigma or Panasonic – once they start getting into the hands of reviewers.
|Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3
|Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS
|L Mount & Sony E
|22 elements in 16 groups
|22 elements in 16 groups
|Min Focus Distance
|Angle of view
|23.8° to 6.4°
|88 x 198mm
|86 x 197.2mm
Regardless of the internals, the two lenses do appear to be quite different on the outside. The Leica lens will undoubtedly feature more metal and less plastic than the Sigma lens. But is it worth paying an extra ~$1,200 for? Again, we’ll have to wait and see the reviews to see how performance compares between the new Leica and the three-year-old Sigma. I hope I’m wrong, but if reviews show little or no difference between the two, that’s a lot of extra money to pay for the Leica name.
Leica Extender L 1.4x
The Leica Extender L 1.4x is Leica’s new 1.4x teleconverter. It appears to have been designed specifically for the new 100-400mm f/5-6.3 lens, as it’s even part of the product name in current retail listings. Whether or not this will always be the case, that this extender is limited to just this one lens or it’ll be opened up to L mount lenses across the board is currently unknown. But for a cost of $875, I, for one, would hope it would be the latter.
The new Leica Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400mm f/5-6.3 lens is available to pre-order now for $2,195. The new Leica Extender L 1.4x is also available to pre-order now for $875. Both items are expected to start shipping in the next few days.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.