photography and photographs understood

An Adventure in Gear Acquisition

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: Mar 2012; revised: Mar 2018; readers past month: 648

When I started this researching at the end of September 2010 , I was considering buying one of them: the expensive f/2 lens ($3,350) and the inexpensive, but cheaper f/4 lens ($875). A few people sent me messages leading me instead to decide to buy the Leica Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 (46mm filter, German or Canadian made) lens. The original price of that lens, before production was discontinued in 2008, was about $2,000, but I’ve been told that it could have been purchased used for around $700 in 2009—before the Leica M9 camera was released causing an increased demand for used Leica lenses. Unfortunately, when I decided in 2010 that I wanted one, the price was at about $1200. Since I didn’t have that much money to spend on a lens, I waited to buy one in the hopes that the price would go back down.

For the past year and a half, the Leica 90mm f/2.8 lens has been taunting me as I have read several reviews about it, as I have read comments from many on this site raving about it, as I have viewed fantastic photographs taken with it on-line. I have been checking KEH and the other web sites for used Leica lenses. I have searched several camera stores in a few cities that I visit regularly in the hopes of finding this remarkable lens at a price I could afford. However, I have been consistently disappointed to find that the price had not dropped, and instead the market prices had risen to $1700 and higher for ones in excellent condition—with the Canadian models were about $400 less. A few weeks ago I thought about trashing my finances and buying one, but it would have taken months for me to recover from that foolish act. So, I accepted the fact that the price would never go back down and that I would either have to suffer the effect of paying the higher price, or buy some other lens, maybe the Zeiss ZM 85mm f/4 lens.

Last week, I passed by the window of one of my favorite photography equipment stores that sells used cameras and lenses. I’ve sold some equipment there before. In fact I had there an old Epson P-6000 photo viewer for sale on consignment. With the advent of flash drive computer tablets, a photo viewer with a moving internal hard drive is not the preferred choice, so it’s been for sale at that store for about three months. On this day last week, they had a Leica M4-P for sale in their window that had just arrived. Although I wasn’t looking to buy one, I asked to handle it a bit. Since the sales clerks were busy, they told me to go in the window display and grab it myself. While I was in there, I spotted a Leica 90mm lens. I didn’t recognize it right off. The price was low, so I assumed it was one of Leica’s older models. Still, I took it out of the window display along with the camera and went back to the sales counter to examine them both—maybe a cheaper, older Leica 90mm lens in poor condition would be good enough.

After playing with the camera, I took the lens cap off of the lens and realized then that it might be my elusive lens. It has a distinctive look compared to the other versions in Leica’s 90mm series. Look at the photo below comparing them. The one I was looking at was the one which is third from the left. It’s the only one with a hood attached that pulls out like a telescope. Still, when I looked at the price tag and it said €550, which is about $720, I thought again it must not be the same model, since it was about $1000 less than I expected. Then I noticed ‘E 46’ was written on the front ring of the lens, indicating it uses a 46mm lens filter. If I was remembering correctly, that filter size was what distinguishes the newer, better 90mm lens that I wanted from the older models—that and the shape and size. I was starting to get excited, but suppressed myself outwardly. I asked one of the sales clerks if I could use their internet connection to check the specifications of the lens on-line. He agreed and told me to come around to behind the counter and use one of their computers. When he saw the lens I was holding he said that a client had given it to them that morning to sell.

Leica 90mm Lenses

The easiest and quickest way I could remember to verify that this was the lens I wanted was to check Ken Rockwell’s site that had a chart showing the different Leica 90mm lens specifications. I held onto the lens the whole time while I pulled up the review which I had read at least three times in the past eighteen months and confirmed that this was it. I was now becoming giddy, but was still managing to contain my feelings—well, I probably wasn’t hiding my feelings very well, but the staff was too busy to notice.

I told the clerk from before that I wanted to buy it. For some bizarre reason, though, I asked him if they could lower the price. I don’t know why I said that. I should have just shelled out the €550 and ran with the lens. He asked me how much less. I smiled as I felt myself caving and wanted to say I that was joking. I told him whatever he thought they could do. But he insisted on an amount, so I asked for €100 off. I felt immediately ridiculous for having said such a large amount. Then he said he would have to call the guy who owned the lens to ask him. As he turned for the phone, I started to feel a panic coming over me. I was worried the owner of the lens would say something like, “What! No, that lens is supposed to have a price of one thousand-five hundred-fifty euros! You’re missing the ‘1’ in front of the price.” But, after about two minutes the clerk turned back to me and asked if I would pay €500. I smiled slightly and agreed, trying to look like it was a fair compromise. As we walked to the cashier, me still clutching the lens tightly in my left hand and digging for my wallet with my right hand, the clerk said, “Oh! I just remembered, we sold your Epson photo viewer this morning for €250 [$325]. So you only need to pay the difference for the lens.”

What a fabulous turn of events. The lens that I have been dreaming about owning since the end of September 2010, for almost eighteen months, that I thought I would either never own without ruining my personal finances, is finally mine! And I have it at such an agreeable price of $650—but for an outlay of only $325 since I essentially traded in a piece of equipment I hardly used and thought I’d never be able to sell. Oh, I put the lens in my jacket pocket and zipped the pocket closed. I scooted down the sidewalk clutching the lens from outside my coat pocket, feeling like I was about to cry. I felt like life had forgiven me for something. I raced home, worried that the sales clerk would come running after me from the store trying to stop me, yelling that there was a mistake on the price. But no; I made it home, safely. I attached it to my Leica CL first, then to my Zeiss Ikon to see how it feels with each of them: it feels just fine on both. I then got out a Voigtlander adapter and attached it to my Lumix GF1 to take a few shots in my apartment to see immediately how it handles. It was a wonderful photographic day!