Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jason's guest blog

A few weeks ago I was super excited to pick up a used Leica M8 digital rangefinder. Not having any lenses to go with the body, I explored various options including the highly expensive Leica line up. Their lenses are legendary in reputation and come with a certain amount of pride with their ownership. For years the Leica lenses have produced amazing photographic images. As an alternative to the costly, German built Leica line; Carl Zeiss has produced a line of lenses built for the Leica M mount camera. The Carl Zeiss company, a true legendary lens designer in their own right, designs these lenses in Germany. In order to keep the cost lower these lenses are manufactured in Japan by Cosina Co. of Japan. Zeiss produces a complete line of Leica M mount lenses from wide angle, normal to telephoto designs.

Packed in the small white box.

Having had extensive experience with the Zeiss glass on my Sony Alpha DSLR, I was eager to handle the Zeiss M mount lenses and test them out on the Leica M8. The ZM lenses are delivered in small white boxes bearing the deep blue Zeiss logo and holographic seal indicating they are made for US and Canada. The box contains an instruction manual, warranty card and Zeiss Test Certificate. The Test Certificate is a testament to the quality control that goes into the products bearing the Zeiss name. The card starts by indicating the serial number of the lens included in the box. The card also outlines the final inspection stages and includes check marked boxes for the optical quality, aperture, cleanliness of optics, cleanliness of barrel, and packaging. The signature of the individual that completed the final inspection is signed in ink at the bottom of the card. In a day in age where many mass-produced photographic lenses have quality control issues, this Test Certificate instills confidence in the product before it is even attached to the camera body. Inside the foam packing of the box, rests the Zeiss lens itself.

German designed, Japanese built.

Compared to 35mm DSLR lenses the Zeiss ZM line are small and compact. Having a look at the 50mm f/2 Planar, it becomes obvious why many people prefer to travel with a rangefinder system. The lenses are very well built with an all-metal body. Many of the Zeiss lenses are available in both a silver and black finish, either colour look great but I prefer to purchase the black line as it matches my Leica M8 body colour and seem to attract a bit less attention when out shooting in urban environments.

The focusing ring is smooth with just enough tension, quiet different from the very little tension that exists in focusing ring of many modern DSLR lenses. The Zeiss lenses contain a small “nipple” like device at the bottom of the lens on the focusing ring that allows for precise focusing and something to grip with your thumb. The aperture blades are controlled by the ring at the front of the lens and click into position at 1/3 increments. Both focusing and aperture rings feel precision built and are a pleasure to use in real world shooting situations. The letters and numbers on the lens are etched and painted and are clear and easy to read. All in all the build quality of the Zeiss lenses are top notch, but while build quality is important, the image quality is what people will see.

The final images

Over the last few weeks I have shot with three Zeiss ZM lenses, the 25mm f2.8 Biogon, 35mm f2 Biogon, and 50mm f2 Planar. All three lenses have been excellent on the Leica M8 and a pleasure to use in real life shooting situations. I am hoping to write a more specific review of each lens as I move forward but wanted to report on the general image quality of the lenses I have used. The Zeiss lenses in combination the Leica M8 produce incredibly sharp, detailed images. There is little to no vignette as the cropped sensor of 1.3, really shows the best part of the lenses. Having little experience with Leica lenses, I cannot comment on their quality compared to Leica, but I have used the high-end lenses of several DSLR systems and find that the Zeiss lenses produce excellent results. The lenses produce high contrast, sharp images with warm colours. Shooting at the maximum aperture produces images that pop against the background, and the bokeh of both the Biogon and Planar designs are smooth and pleasing.


I think that I will ultimately decide on a four lens, rangefinder kit from Zeiss. The 18mm f4 Distagon, 25mm f2.8 Biogon, 35mm f2.8 Biogon, and 50mm f2 Planar, would be excellent with my Leica M8 and would be a perfect small kit to travel with. I have only been shooting with the Zeiss ZM glass for a few weeks, but I have already fallen in love with their build quality. The images that these lenses produce are phenomenal and I look forward to continuing to explore the photography medium with these lenses.

A "Guest Blog" by Jason

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