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Novoflex tele (leica telyt)

Miha Hadl , Apr 15, 2004; 09:53 a.m.

Hi, guys

I just found something about Novoflex Rapid Focus (pistol-grip) lenses. Are they worth considering ? What about the Leica Apo Telyt lens heads ? They are more expensive, but are they worth the price ?

Is there someone with experiences using these lenses ?

Please, help me. Miha

Responses

Mark Chappell , Apr 15, 2004; 10:25 a.m.

I've no direct experience with these two lens designs, but FWIW, I used the Leica 560 f5/6 Telyt/Televit combination for years. Somewhat like the Novoflex -- the lens has a shoulder stock and a pistol grip with a release trigger that, when squeezed, lets you push/ pull the camera to establish focus. This works better than you might expect and there are thumbwheels for fine focus. This lens is quite sharp and the combination permits pretty rapid focus.

However, I've been using modern AF stabilized lenses for the past couple of years, and they are light-years ahead of the Telyt + Televit in all the critical areas: focus is faster and more accurate (especially for moving subjects), stabilization is a vast improvement over even the best handgrip/shoulder stock combination (sans stabilization),and -- most important -- current optical designs are far superior.

I have a friend who has used the Novoflex system (400 mm head) for many years. He likes it -- it's better for quick focus than the Telyt/Televit and with the built-in bellows it can achieve VERY close focus -- but it's not up to current standards in either focus speed or optical quality. I assume that the modern Leica APO lens heads are superb optically but as you say they are extremely costly. Also, they don't autofocus and aren't stabilized, and for wildlife work those are very significant detriments, IMHO.

Douglas Herr , Apr 15, 2004; 01:27 p.m.

The Leica lens heads for the Novoflex grip are not APO, they're achromats meaning two wavelengths meet instead of 3. I have used the optical units in the Leica focussing mount for a number of years and I've been very pleased with the optical performance. There are many example photos on my website.

I've also used an older Novoflex setup with the Novoflex optical units. I found the focussing action was very quick but that it needs a good viewfinder optimized for manual focus to be used effectively - an AF camera's viewfinder is something of a compromise for manual focus. The Nikon F viewfinder with E screen was quite good and I expect the F2 and F3 viewfinders would work as well. The viewfinder of the old Leicaflex SL is also excellent for manual focus.

The Novoflex I used was quite heavy and hand-holding it was problematic after a few minutes due to muscle fatigue (I'm a 6'1" triathlete) but I found it very steady to shutter speeds as slow as 1/60 sec. I have heard from one photographer in England who is using the Leica/Novoflex setup and feels he gets better results with flight shots than his compatriots with Canon IS gear because the AF systems hunt too much.

If you want to use the Leica lens heads on your camera (you don't say what kind it is) look for used pieces in the Visoflex mount (these would have the Leica focussing mount). Adapters are readily availble to mount these on many brands of 35mm SLR. Adapters are also available to fit the Leica-R mount versions to Canon EOS, and the lenses are almost reasonable cost. One colleague recently bought the 400mm f/6.8 and the 560mm f/6.8 together for under $1000. The optics of these are identical to the Leica lens heads for the Novoflex grip.

Optically the Leica lenses are quite good, with limitations. They're a very simple 2-element design, with means you get some field curvature and very little flare. I've been very pleased with the sharpness, bokeh and color rendition.

Rolf Knebel , Apr 18, 2004; 03:03 p.m.

Hi Miha,

I agree with the statements Mark Chapell and Douglas Herr have given.

I bought a Novoflex 5.6/400 mm from hard earned money when I was still a pupil in 1974. It was "state of the art" for wildlife and sports photography THEN: Nothing could focus more rapidly and nothing was easier to use without a tripod. For the pistol grips there were two interchangeable achromatic lenses from Novoflex (5.6/400mm and 8/600mm) in the beginning, with a Novoflex 5.6/400mm T (for "Triplett" = apochromatic) and the Leica 6.8/560 mm (achromatic, as already stated) later on.

While the Novoflex lenses optically were "good for what they are made" - you don't make repros with a 400mm lens, but have an animal or a sportsman in the center of the picture - the Leica lens was optically tested quite good (i.e.: *slightly* worse) even in comparison to modern top telephoto primes from Nikon, Canon et al. Moreover, 6.8/560 is a good compromise between 5.6/400 (too short for wildlife, too dark with TC) and 8/600 (to dark for focussing and handheld).

Mechanically those lenses, consisting mainly of two alloy tubes and some glass, where *very* sturdy and comparatively lightweight. So *if* you are thinking about using a manual (non-AF) system *and* quick focus is of importance, you should definitely consider the Novoflex with a Leica lens. While they are still listed at roughly about $3000 new, I see them going "like new" for around $ 1000 about once every month on ebay (Germany), sometimes cheaper.

But on the other hand: We are in 2004 now, I sold my old Novoflex three years ago and could get/afford a Canon 4/500mm USM IS "like new" on ebay some weeks ago: 4/500 mm means 5.6/700mm with the 1.4 TC, still very sharp, still (fast at least with an EOS 1V) AF then, and with Image Stabilization (great !!!) this is "state of the art" NOW.

Two main caveats:

1. I spent about $ 6000 for this setup as compared to $1500 to $2000 for a good (used) MF-body + the Novoflex/Leica. (The real worth of money is known to vary very much between societies and individuals.)

2. I'm much more concerned about weight and robustness of my modern equipment when I want to take it out for canoing or up into the mountains (where the birds to be photographed actually live).

Despite that: If you have the money, go for AF and IS (or VR, if you like). If not: If I'd go manual focus for any reason I'd get a Novoflex with Leica lens head if interested in moving objects.

HTH, Rolf

P.S.: Any corrections of my english to Rolf@sverigefans.de are welcome.

Mark Chappell , Apr 18, 2004; 05:32 p.m.

One comment to Rolf: I did not find the Leitz 560/5.6 Televit combination to be particularly robust. In fact, construction was rather shoddy: one of the tripod mounts was fixed to the lens barrel by four tiny screws that detached themselves the first time I tried to use it. Also, there is a screw fitting on the iris diaphragm section that has extremely fine threads -- excellent machining but really poor strength, as I discovered when the lens was bumped not too hard one day and the fitting separated. I had to resort to epoxy glue to restore it as the threads were stripped. Also, the shoulder stock simply broke one day, apparently from metal fatigue. A machinist made me a replacement and commented on the poor choice of aluminum alloy in the original piece.

All in all, I was not impressed with the quality of Leica design and construction with this item. Nevertheless it served me -- with glue and replacement parts -- for 25 years.

Douglas Herr , Apr 19, 2004; 12:45 p.m.

Mark's experience is worth noting however the equipment he was using (560mm f/5.6 with Televit rapid-focus grip) is in no way related to the mechanical construction of either the Novoflex or Leica-mount versions of the f/6.8 lenses.

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