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Leica Tri-Elmar 16-18-21 (WATE) first impressions

I’ve been looking for a Leica Tri-Elmar 16-18-21 lens for some time already. Despite of the fact this is not fast a fast lens (f/4 – f/22), it’s expensive when compared with other Leica lens with similar aperture range and is one of the reasons this lens is not so popular, which can be a good thing since it may reduce its used price.

Once my Tri-Elmar arrived last week I remembered  why Leica lens are so praised by it’s owners. The build quality is something you don’t see matched by other manufactures saving a very few exceptions and, despite of the wide angle capability of this lens, the size is relatively small. It’s truly a piece of great engineering work.

Despite of the fact that this lens can be technically considered a zoom, it was designed to be used with an optical external viewfinder where 3 specific focal lengths (16-18-21) are available. It can be adjusted by an additional ring next to the aperture ring. You will notice that the focal length is set with a click, the same way as the aperture ring does.
If you use a camera with an EVF, however, it is possible to stop the focal ring between the clicks, this would give ou a “zoom like” experience. Maybe Leica will to remove these clicks on future iterations of this lens, who knows.

Angle of view (diagonal, horizontal, vertical)
at 16 mm: 107°, 97°, 74°
at 18 mm: 100°, 90°, 67°
at 21 mm: 92°, 81°, 60°

Length: 62/72 mm (with/without lens hood)
Diameter: 54 mm (53 x 58 mm with lens hood)
Weight: 335 g

Highest: 4
Lowest: 22


Universal Wide-Angle Viewfinder
Due to the very wide angle of the Leica Tri-Elmar 16-18-21, the standard viewfinder from a Leica M camera can’t be used. Leica M240 shooters can, however, use the electronic view finder or set the camera to live view mode.

If you don’t use a Leica M 240 or neither want to use the EVF nor live view, this lens can be bought together with an universal view finder with a discount.

In my case I have opted to buy the Tri-Elmar without the view finder.

Captura de Tela 2015-03-01 às 14.43.06

To use filters with the Tri-Elmar, a filter holder, which is sold separatelly is needed. Unless there is a big camera store in your town, it will probably necessary to order one since it is usually not in stock.The official Leica price for a new filter holder is € 85,- (Product code 14473).
***Filters with 67mm will fit into this holder***

06-03-2015 10-01-20

The quality of the images you can get with this lens is great and the results from my first images didn’t disappoint in any aspect. One can use the images taken with this lens without any correction or further post processing if wanted.

The images below were processed with Lightroom 5 using the built-in lens correction profile.


Leica M 240 with Tri-Elmar f/4 16-18-21mm asph.


Leica M 240 with Tri-Elmar f/4 16-18-21mm asph.

I didn’t regret even a bit about the acquisition of this lens, it greatly covers my wide angle photography requirements. I can say I am very satisfied and looking forward to create more images with it.


  1. Actually, the WATE (Wide-Angle Tri-Elmar) is a zoom lens. If you use it on a live-view digital camera, you’ll find that the lens can be adjusted throughout the focal length range just like a normal zoom. It simply works as a 16-18-21mm with bodies that cannot provide live framing, whether they are digital or film.

    You’ll also find that the sweet spot for the aperture is — sadly — f/8.0, which is when everything is completely sharp across the frame. This isn’t so much of a problem in bright daylight, but can be a challenge when illumination levels fade. Even opening wide up can be a problem unless you’re shooting at ISO 200 to 400, or faster.

    If you develop a hankering for an external viewfinder for the WATE, get the Zeiss ZM 15mm external viewfinder instead; it’s brighter, much smaller, much less expensive, and the framing lines are thinner. The Zeiss viewfinder is also much better than the Voigtländer, which tends to be very inaccurate due to the thick framing lines not being accurately parallel to the hot shoe mount.

    Welcome to the WATE club! It’s a wonderful lens and I know you’ll greatly enjoy it.

    • Hello Mitch,
      Thanks a lot for sharing your experience with this lens. f/8.0 as best apperture is really not optimal in many situations.
      I just did a quick search for the zeiss 15mm viewfinder and was surprised by the price. (US$ 449,00 on amazon) By buying the tri-elmar kit with the leica universal viewfinder the costs would be simmilar. I can’t really say, however, if the Leica viewfinder is better.

      • You’re welcome.

        I’ve got all three viewfinders — the Leica Frankenfinder, the Zeiss, and the Voigtländer — and the Zeiss (which I bought at an attractive price on eBay) is the best by far.

        If you want to go ultra-wide there aren’t many different options available — they are all slow and their best apertures are all even slower.

    • It’s definitely very wide. This is the type of lens that I don’t carry with me without planning in the first place if I’ll use it. Most often a 50 mm lens is enough.

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