Dec 142009
 

maintitlereview

UPDATED 2013: A new look at this lens on the Leica M 240 and Monochrom is HERE

Zeiss ZM 50 Planar Review: Well its about time! You guys have been asking for more Zeiss ZM love around here and I am continuing on with the 50 Planar test! I have had four of these Zeiss ZM lenses here for a month or so and have been so busy with the Leica Noctilux, Leica WATE, and various other things, that I am just now getting around to writing about these little Zeiss lenses. Last month I did the review (see it here)  for the Zeiss 25 2.8 and I really enjoyed that lens.

As many of you may know, Zeiss makes a line of lenses for the Leica M mount and they are MUCH less expensive than their Leica counterparts. For example, this Zeiss ZM 50 planar F2 can be found for around $690. It is a fast F2 Aperture 50mm and is comparable to the Leica 50 Summicron, which is also an F2 lens. The 50 Summicron is about $2,000 these days, so the Zeiss is less than half the cost. Sounds pretty damn good to me! But one thing to remember is that the Zeiss lenses are NOT made in Germany, but rather they are made in Japan. Leica glass is made in Germany at the magical Leica factory! Ha ha.

With the super $781 price, I was very curious about this Zeiss 50 planar. Its reputation on the forums and from those who shoot it is stellar. Users who shoot with it claim it is just as good, if not better, than the Leica 50 Summicron. So, those are some pretty big words. I do know that it has some big shoes to fill, as the 50 Summicron is one of those “legendary” Leica lenses. I shot with the Summicron years ago when I owned the Leica M7. It was great with film, and I had no complaints. But with the Leica M9 being such a high resolution camera, this would be more demanding on any lens, so I wanted to see if this Zeiss 50 would be sharp, have good color, and have pleasant bokeh.

Quick Stats: The 50 Planar has 1/3 stop clicks on the aperture dial with 10 blades for smooth and pleasing out of focus highlights. Zeiss also says it has a water resistant filter mount, but the lens itself is not water resistant (Neither are Leica lenses). It has an oddball 43mm filter size so it may be tough finding filters for it depending on where you look.

THE LENS ARRIVES

My quick video showing the size of the Planar next to the Noctilux

The lens arrived from Zeiss Germany with 3 other lenses. After opening the huge box of goodies, my 1st impression was “Man, this lens is LIGHT“! It was much lighter than my past Leica 50′s and almost felt hollow. I was a bit disappointed in the build because I remember the Zeiss 50 1.5 Sonnar being heftier, or more solid feeling. That Sonnar was a lens I really fell for and loved its dreamy almost Noctilux type of rendering. I hope to try it out again, but on the full frame M9 instead of the M8. While I remember the Sonnar being heavier, maybe it really wasn’t. Maybe I have just been so used to the heavy Noctilux that I got it mixed up. To find out, I pulled out my handy-dandy scale.

scaleplanar

The Zeiss Planar is indeed a light lens at 7.4 oz. But, just because it is light does not mean it will not take gorgeous pictures. Zeiss is known for their warm 3D “look” and some really love that look. These Zeiss ZM lenses are also hyped by Zeiss to have “high resolving power” and some have said that this 50 is about as good as it gets in the sharpness department. From what I have seen, I cannot disagree with that.

So after the weigh in, I put the lens on my Leica M9 and went out for some neighborhood shooting. I just wanted to check color, detail, and Bokeh during a sunny day walk.

All at F2 – click any image for larger version

“The First Shot” – M9 and Zeiss Planar at F2

leavesf23

“Testing Bokeh” – F2

L1002458

So from my first walk I was pleasantly surprised. I saw that special Zeiss 3D pop, warm color, and smoothness. These shots are right from the camera, so no processing. I also snapped an image on my dining room table to see if focus was spot on with this copy before I headed out to shoot more. Not only did I see that the focus was perfect, I saw how sharp this sucker is! Man, for the price, this lens was looking like a giant killer. Click the image below to see the larger version with better color.

oocbokehf2small

and a 100% crop…

oocbokehf2crop

Look at that color, smoothness, and detail! Wow! Yes, this lens supplies “smooth detail” as I like to call it. It’s smooth, not harsh, but  still provides plenty of sharpness. The contrast also looks really good here. As I browsed through my images taken not only with this lens, but the Zeiss 25 and 35 2.8 Biogons (another wonderful lens), I was saying, “Damn! These are really good”! The cost savings here can be huge when compared to the Leica lenses (which are going up in price yet again as of Jan 2010), and in this day and age that is important! One thing the lens also seems to excel in is color. The color really POPS with this lens. Some people who shoot this lens tell me they feel it almost puts out a little too much “pop”. The cool thing is that you can easily tone it down if it is a little overboard for you.

With Zeiss, you can get a 28 2.8, 35 F2 and 50 F2 for under $2500. That same setup in Leica land would cost you $6600 or so…more than double. Is the Leica glass double the quality? Well, MAYBE, just MAYBE in build they are. Like I said, this Zeiss felt a little on the cheaper side in the build department. Its focus ring was also a little stiff/sticky, but it is a well-used lens that has been sent around the world a few times to reviewers, so it could be a bit worn out or need a CLA.

Out of all of the Zeiss lenses I received though, this one was the  “stickiest” with its focus feel. The 35 2.8 felt really smooth and nice, as did the 28 2.8 and 85 F4. The aperture rings are all solid and feel great. For the cost, Zeiss did a great job overall designing these lenses.

So as I was at home messing with the lenses, I get a call from my mother who told me there was an auction going on and it may be a good place for some pictures. Nothing like a small town auction!

SOME REAL WORLD SHOOTING

It was kind of surreal walking around this tiny town, with a population of about 1000 with my M9 and Zeiss lens. I also had the Leica WATE with me. As I walked around and snapped I got the stares, mainly because no one knew who I was. Still, me and my son stuck around for a while and I tried to get a few shots.

“Looking for a Deal” – M9 and Zeiss Planar at F2

auctionmansm1100

Also in B&W to show you how good this lens does with B&W. The micro contrast of this lens is good, which always makes for good B&W conversions. Also, look at that 3D separation.

auctionmansmbw1
“Bottles” – M9 and Zeiss Planar at F2

bottlesbokeh

“Box of Dolls” – Leica M9 and the Zeiss Planar at F2

dollsbox

I can already hear it from some people who stumble here and see this review. “Why are you shooting only at F2″! True, I was shooting at F2 at this auction and the reason why I do that with these lenses is because if they are good at F2, they will be even better when stopped down. With most of these Leica M mount lenses, they will be superb throughout the F stop range. So if I shot at F4, or F5.6, then all it will do is give me a little more sharpness and more Depth of Field. From the looks of this Zeiss, it does extremely well, even when wide open at F2. Plus, if you are a regular reader of this site, you know I am a “real world” kind of guy, not a “test chart” guy.

Here are two more at with a crop but you have to click on the image to see the larger size to see the crop at 100%.

F2.8 with Crop – Direct from Camera

POLAROIDWCROP

F2 with Crop – Direct from Camera

peeweesmwithcrop

F2 – Direct from Camera – Click HERE for a full size out of camera file

twgf21400

and a crop…

100croptwg

Also, I did manage to get a shot off at F5.6 with the Zeiss Planar…It may have been F4, but I am almost positive it was F5.6. I also did some color tweaking on this one as the light was harsh and flat and the color was not right due to it being mid-day. So while this may have a heavily processed look, all I did was enhance colors, contrast, and upped the black level a bit, all in the RAW conversion. Look at how sharp it is. The Zeiss Planar has no issues with sharpness. So far this lens and the Zeiss 25 2.8 have been some of the sharpest lenses I have ever shot with.

oldschoolss

I also have to say that I am finding the Zeiss ZM line to be a notch above the Voigtlander line of lenses in all areas, and in many cases these Zeiss lenses are scary close or even equal to their Leica counterpart– for image quality alone.

Many of you reading this are probably trying to decided between the Leica 50 Summicron and this Zeiss Planar 50. I’m a huge fan of Leica lenses in general, though not a fan of their current pricing structure. I appreciate good engineering and design and I know what I like when I see it, and I love almost ALL Leica glass. I am also starting to grow fond of the Zeiss ZM line. The 50 Planar is a superb lens, and when you factor in the cost of under $800, it almost seems like a no-brainer. It’s contrasty, very sharp, and has that Zeiss 3D pop and warm color. Not everyone likes that look though, so it is up to you to decide just what look you are after. I have found that Leica lenses provide the more neutral, or realistic color. Zeiss pumps it up a bit with warmer and deeper color.

JUST FOR FUN

Just for fun, I did a side-by-side at F2 with my F1 Leica Noctilux. The Noctilux F1 is also a very warm lens, so the colors are closer to the Zeiss.

First the Noctilux at F2

noctf2fencepost

Now the Zeiss Planar at F2

planaratf2fencepost

and just to show why I love the classic Noctilux so much, here is one at F1. This one has had the colors boosted just for fun.

noctif1fencepost

I must say I slightly prefer the rendering of the Noct at F2 over the planar, but a used Noct will run you $5000+ and this Planar is $700. But wow, look at that crazy F1 version!

As for the Planar vs Summicron I cannot say if the Planar is better than a Leica 50 Summicron because I have yet to shoot with one on the M9. I do know that on film the 50 Cron is spectacular, but I also have no doubt that the Zeiss would be as well.

I guess you have to ask yourself a couple of questions before buying one or the other. Like, “Do I want a wonderfully great 50 F2  lens for $700 or would I prefer to pay more for the Leica build and reputation”? Also, do you enjoy the “Zeiss Look”?  To me, the Zeiss is PLENTY good enough and I really found no weakness with it on the full frame M9. It’s a hell of a lens for a GREAT price.

It seems to me that if I were starting from scratch and wanted a 50F2 lens, I would take a SERIOUS look at this Zeiss 50 Planar. It’s a better lens than I expected and probably the best (technically) of the Zeiss ZM line that I have tried to date. These ZM lenses flat out ROCK! Here is my short PRO/CON list:

PROS OF THE ZEISS 50 PLANAR

  • It’s small and light.
  • The price is right! Under $800 for a stellar 50 F2.
  • Black or Silver color.
  • Plenty of sharpness, warm color and that Zeiss 3D look. Its all here!

CONS OF THE ZEISS 50 PLANAR

  • It does not come with any kind of case or hood.
  • The lens cap pretty much sucks.
  • Build quality not up with the Leica equivalents.
  • Focus on my test lens was kind of stiff/sticky

WHERE TO BUY

You can shop where I do! You can buy this lens at B&H Photo in BLACK or SILVER and AMAZON also has it, but only in silver. This is really a BANG FOR THE BUCK lens. Bravo Zeiss!

SUPPORT:

Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links!

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or facebook! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at the upper right of any page and be notified of when new reviews are posted! You can also subscribe via E-mail (also to the right). Thanks so much for reading!

One reason I shoot a Leica is to take advantage of all of these fast lenses that perform just as good wide open as they do stopped down. Therefore, the following images are pretty much all at F2-F2.8!

F2.8 – out of camera – An OLD coffin. Does not seem to me like it would give adequate protection from the elements!

coff

F2.8 – out of camera – notice the vibrant greens and blues

OOCFULLSIZEB1100

F2 – This one has some processing and B&W conversion.
NEGLECTEDDOLLY

F2 at minimum focus distance – out of camera.

CITYPLANARF2

The color and detail is great, even wide open

nudiecards


  39 Responses to “Zeiss ZM 50 Planar Lens Review”

  1. HI Steve, nice review. I agree with you that the prices of the German lenses are getting to a crazy price point. They are worth it, but still crazy. I’d love to see how the Zeiss 21 goes up against the Elmarit.

    I borrowed a Leica 18 for a shoot, and it was really nice, but a lot of WA distortion, as to be expected. I think 21 is about the right number of mm for me.

  2. The Planar 2/50 is a stellar lens, a peer to the Summicron 50mm, each with its own signature. I love the ZM focusing ring ‘bump’ and the 1/3 stop clicks. I wish two things for ZM lenses, though: (a) usable lens caps and (b) a lens pouch.

  3. With all the change one gets when buying the Zeiss over the Cron then no big deal in buying a decent Leica lens cap + pouch I think, after all plenty of change to buy them with.

    Thanks Steve for this review, love the Zeiss lenses on my Contax G’s (As you say that Zeiss 3D pop is so nice. Not better, just different to Leica glass) so was interested to see these lenses tested on the M9 and would be especially interested in a test of the Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 as I’m seriously considering buying one right now for my M8. With the price differences ever growing between Leica and Zeiss glass it’s a no brainer on what to buy unless your name’s Victor Madoff and can easily afford the best at every focal length. :)

  4. Indeed, the ZM 50 Planar is the only lens I have for my M9 and the only lens I generally use on the SLRs too. I concur with cidereye above, after the Contax G, it’s like being re-united with an old friend.

  5. Steve, Thanks for posting this review. I was a big fan of the 35mm Zeiss on my Epson RD-1 and it is good to see that a lot of what I loved about the 35mm lens is also true of the 50mm planar on the Leica M9. Now if I can only get my hands on an M9!

  6. Thanks Steve for another great review. I am very interested in the B&W shot. My 50 C-Sonnar is outstanding on my M8.2 for color and I think the 50 Planar is just right on your M9 for B&W. Both lenses for less than the price of a 50 Summicron.

  7. Thanks guys! Next ZM review will be the 35 2.8 C-Biogon.

  8. The C Biogon 2,8/35 is my favorite ZM lens. Erwin Puts has it being the most flare resistant Leica M mount lens. I shot 20+ rolls just with that lens when I went to Morocco last December.

  9. Hi Steve…great review. Will you be doing a review on the Zeiss 21mm? I read on another blog that it had some real CA problems with the M9….curious to know if you have similar problems…keep up the great work…you sure seem to be keeping busy…

  10. Hey Scotty,

    Not sure I will do the Zeiss 21ZM as I know it has some issues on the M9 as do most NON Leica wide angles. I would not recommend the 21 on the m9 right now due to what I have seen and heard. But, when the new firmware comes out for the M9, it may solve these issues. Have to wait and see. Thanks!

    Steve

  11. Hi Steve,

    Really nice reviews and for the first time I could see clearly what you mean by 3D look popping out of the picture. I might jump in the rangefinder world (thanks to you) this friday, when I should buy a mint condition Epson RD1 which comes bundled with this amazing lens. I am looking forward to it. I promise you when I buy the M9 (if I like the rangefinder experience) I will do it through your Amazon or B&H links!! :)

  12. Steve,
    Might be useful for those considering Zeiss lenses for you to research which framelines they will bring up on an M8/M9, and whether they can have their mounts milled (where and at what price) to allow six bit coding. These issues have kept me in the Leica stable (I can’t quite bring myself to use the word ‘scuderia’ like you-know-who!)

  13. Chris, this brings up the 50mm frame lines on the M9, just as it should. With the M8 or M9 you will not need 6 bit coding with a 50 unless you really want to see 50mm in the EXIF data.

  14. Steve,

    Congratulations on all your work, I’m the new owner of a used M8 and an Elmarit 28mm f/2.8 and your website has done a lot to rekindle my interest in photography.

    You reviewed the 50mm Sonar a while ago and I was wondering if you had to choose between the Sonar and the Planar, do you think it is worth giving up some speed with the Planar for what seems to be a ‘no issue’ lens (no focus shifts?).

    Thank you!

    Philipp

  15. Steve – no mention of a comparison between this lens and a 50 Lux Pre-ASPH and/or ASPH? Which would you prefer (I’m thinking of these 2 lenses – 50 Planar and 50 Lux Pre-ASPH for purchase now and I’m not sure which one to go with). Any suggestions?

  16. Thanks for the review, always interesting to read your work :)

    One question please. At f/1.4 (or f/1.5) upwards, which would do you think is better optically (or more soul in your opinion), a Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5 or the Nokton 50mm f/1.1 ?

    Thanks !

  17. Thanks for the many reviews you keep giving us. Saw your review on the 35 Summarit vs the 35 Biogon lenses and just wondered if this Zeiss 50 planar would show the same “slightly less sharp” quality when compared with the Leica 50 f2.0 Summicron.

    Thanks–Ajit

  18. Ajit, I do not think so, The 50 Planar was sharp as a pin, as is the cron. Their color signatures are different, and the build goes to Leica without question. My 50 cron review will be up soon.

  19. Thanks for the fantastic reviews and website. It’s my favorite on the web. A quick question on the 50/2. Did you have the chance to use it on the M8/8.2? I’m wondering about whether the hood obstructed the view (since the hood is required for the IR filter, which I believe is vital). Thanks!

  20. Thanks Oz! I did not try this lens on the M8.2 but I know a few people who do and they love it. The hood may obstruct a small amount of the view but nothing to worry about IMO. Great lens for a great price.

  21. you can buy 4-5 ?? 50mm af nikkor lenses, is it that much worser ??

    SOME REAL WORLD SHOOTING- is what I really like about your reviews. Small beautiful towns.

    thanks

  22. How about the Zeiss 28mm Biogon? Interested in you opinion on the chunk of glass Steve.

    [img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2696/4533608154_600d7fe1e0_b.jpg[/img]

    [img]http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4066/4530136238_39bcd2ae99_b.jpg[/img]

    [img]http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4036/4529512431_44c171f240_b.jpg[/img]

    [img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2171/4513631898_7920551828_b.jpg[/img]

  23. [img]http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4043/4530215436_7980713973.jpg[/img]

  24. Ordered a NEW (!) Zeiss 50mm 2 Planar from B&H via the “SILVER” link in this review. Thank you, Steve, for all the amazing pictures here. In my case, they are worth a thousand dollars. ;)

  25. Steve,
    Great review, now I have to go out and buy one. Thanks,
    george

  26. Steve, what size filter for the Zeiss 50mm f/2? looks as though it is a lock on type rather than threaded.
    Cost for such filters? Others have already stated this, but this is most informative and my favorite site. I will purchase any and all future photo equipment from B&H. They are great to deal with. BTW, can you photograph other women in addition to your wife and mother? Attractive as they are, variety in photos might be in order. My wife prohibits me photographing other women, heck, she doesn’t even let me date.

  27. George,
    The filter size is 43 which I still can not get one (Any buddies that can tell which choices is better ? Heliopan, B+W, Leica ?)

    Steve,
    You did a great review. I do agree your comments as I am also using this Planar with my M9. I am also feel annoying due to the sticky focusing ring. Apart from that, no complain at all.

  28. Steve,

    Thanks for all your posts, reviews and honest comments about the gear that comes your way. For all of us out in the world, your site provides a TON of content and fair perspectives on the cameras/lenses etc…

    I wanted to share a perspective on your reviews of the Zeiss lenses, because, your thoughts and comments have triggered an interesting retrospective on my part. But before I do that, I should share with your readers my gear and content. I have both Leica M system (Leica MP with 35mm 1.4ASPH) and Hasselblad systems (501 C/M with 50mm and 80mm lenses). Both sets of gear are film based. I have photographed extensively with my Hassy 501CM and Leica MP. In fact my wife and I traveled around the world (over 6 months in the Developing world) with both systems and needless to say I’ve put them through some tough situations. Notwithstanding that I love my cameras and film based images, the urge to upgrade is strong, and so I’ve started doing alot of research.

    And now I must comment….Given that I have shot both Hassy (ie. Ziess) glass and Leica glass – on film- , I had noticed a difference between the two, but hadn’t been able to put my finger on it. The difference that I observed in my own pictures/prints, I thought it was mainly due to the fact that with the Hassy I was shooting medium format and with the Leica I was on 35mm…but then I saw your review of both the Zeiss 50mm and 85mm lenses for the m-Mount cameras, and then I said “A-ha! That’s it. He’s found the difference!”

    When I look at your images with the Zeiss glass, I see the same qualities that I’ve always noted on my medium format Hassy (i.e. Ziess glass). The way the contrast is laid out and the Brokeh is identical. It’s “sharp” (if you can call Brokeh ‘sharp’) and the microcontrast is sooo nice. My medium format lenses (I have a 50 mm and 80mm as I mentioned above) behave in the same way that you’ve described on the M9, and clearly Zeiss has migrated their medium format/lens coating technology down to 35 mm (which is awesome, ’cause I love my medium format Zeiss lenses).

    My MP on the other hand was almost exclusively used in street photography situations (i.e. no tripod). I found the images to be slightly less sharp than the Hassy (although still fine), and the overall look/feel to be more ‘quiet’ than the Hassey images, maybe even ‘warmer’. It’s not that the Leica images weren’t full range (ie. Zone 0-Zone X), but they rendered a more natural image in terms of relative contrast. To be honest, I still don’t know which I prefer better (Hassy vs Leica images) because every image has a personal story, and I love ALL the stories of my photographs. But your reviews have allowed me to question my own images, which is a beautiful thing.

    Both the Leica glass and the Zeiss glass in the film world are outstanding. What you’ve shown us here is that they’re both maintaining that excellence in the digital world, and in fact, good glass still transcends the mode of capture.

    Now I just need an M9 to test my 35mm 1.4ASPH and see it with my own eyes ( or maybe some Zeiss glass…the 85mm sure looks nice). I’m sure my wife is going to rue the day I found this website.

    :o)

    - Paul

  29. hi steven thank you for the wonderful review.
    If you had a choice of buying 50mm f1.5 and the f2, which one would you buy? I think I can live without the F0.5 of a different but would nice if i had. The price difference between the two was not that much so i was wondering which one to go for thanks!!

  30. Ahhh…I just love lens reviews…I have a C/Y 25 2.8, 50 1.4, 85 1.4, & 135 2.8. The real world results I have gotten from them both in film and digital are at times superb.

    Recently I had a chance to shoot my brother’s M3 with the Zeiss 50 2.0. The results from the shoot of the young model were flat out amazing. To risk sounding a bit self-congratulatory, some of these images could have been in Vouge. Why? Simple light, simple metering, Simple graffiti background. Fuji 400 Pro H film. But really, it was the Zeiss glass that separated this session from many others I have had.

    It is such a comfort to know that a “simple” camera (M3) and a great piece of glass can produce one winner after another. I know the loyalty of the Leica camp, but I am puzzled as to where Leica asks and gets often 3-4 times more for the relatively the same piece of glass. One can get a Zeiss Ikon rangefinder and a 3 lens kit for around $4,500.00. That is less than the cost of a single Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux. Makes one wonder, no disrespect to that lens.

    Just my 2 cents…

  31. When you’re not really really wealthy, the Leica glass is probably out of your league. But you still can buy Zeiss and achieve absolute top quality glass. If you are really wealthy, you still might prefer Zeiss (personal taste). Or you can like the Leica lenses more, buy them without harming yourself, and yes, add the Zeiss lenses because of their different character.
    Bottom line: everybody must buy Zeiss. Simple. ;-)

  32. Great review Steve. After getting a chance to run both Leica and Zeiss lens through the M9. Personally i preferred the look of Zeiss glass. I ended up buying both Zeiss 35/2 & 50/2. I love them both.

  33. Hey quick question: does this lens have a focusing tab? I could see a raised bit to one side of the edge.. is this on the focusing ring?

    Thanks!

  34. To be honest, I don’t know if the Summicron is worth the money when you compare it to the Zeiss. Are you truly getting double the performance and build? No, not even close to it. I think the only real reason that Leica can charge so much is the manufactured demand.

  35. You did a great review. I do agree your comments as I am also using this Planar with my M9. I am also feel annoying due to the sticky focusing ring. Apart from that, no complain at all.

  36. Hi Steve, thanks for yet another great review. I found your posts priceless when I recently moved over to Leica. I just bought an M9 but have no reall need to stick to Leica glass. This lens impressed me immensely so I just ordered one to join my Voigtlander glass. If it is that much better I may get a few more!

  37. Steve
    Appreciate the review. Considering buying an M4 for both B&W and color images. The Zeiss 50 Planar should be a nice alternative to the Leica Cron. I have a Contax G2 w both 45mm and 28mm lenses..
    Very nice color and sharpness.

    Thanks again

Don't just sit there! Join in and leave a comment!

© 2009-2014 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
21