A new look at the Zeiss ZM 50mm C Sonnar T 1.5 Lens

Zeiss 50 Sonnar on Leica Monochrom

A new look at the Zeiss 50mm C Sonnar T 1.5 Lens

By Steve Huff

Note: all images in this post were shot with the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 ZM lens and the Leica M 240 except one image with the Monochrom (which was noted). You can click them for larger versions. 

A Beautiful Old Friend

It was 4-5 years ago when I wrote a review on the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 Lens, the current model that is still sold by Zeiss for $1200. I originally tested it on the Leica M8 and LOVED it. That old review was hosted on my original website but has since been lost..gone..kaput. So no more old review of the Zeiss Sonnar.

But there’s no need to fear! A review refresher is here! With the new Leica M I have been testing out all kinds of lenses, mainly the 50mm focal length from Leica and Zeiss and I have to say these Zeiss lenses are really beautiful. I recently fell in love with the 50 Planar for its low price and unique signature but remembered the Sonnar from the old M8 days and when I tested it briefly on the Monochrom. The Sonnar is so much different from the Zeiss Planar or Leica Summicron or Leica Summilux that it is worth checking out if you want to make your shots a bit more interesting..or classic..or beautiful. 🙂

I always embrace “different” 🙂

The Dynamic Range of the M 240 is superb and mates well with the Sonnar

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The Zeiss Sonnar is an old 1930’s design (designed in 1929 by Dr. Ludwig Bertele) and this lens as it is sold today uses the same optical formula as the 1934 version but with new modern coatings for enhanced contrast. This modern version of the classic lens does indeed have the classic look but it also has the Zeiss colors and 3D pop to go along with it, which can get addicting because when you go back to Leica glass it is just not there. Leica renders the image in a much different way, technically better but different colors, bokeh, sharpness, etc. There is a Leica look and a Zeiss look. Each look has their share of fans.

Beautiful Fast

It has a 1.5 aperture for shallow depth of field and is beautifully built as well as sexy to look at. Some of the greatest shots by the masters were shot with Sonnar 50mm designs and this design is just as capable today as it was back then. In a day of modern aspherical and APO lenses things can sometimes start to look too perfect, too clinical and too sharp. By going out on a walk with a lens like the Sonnar you will be guaranteed to come back with shots that look much different and unique to what you would get with your normal 50mm lens.

Nice Zeiss color…

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Just a few days ago I revisited the 50 Zeiss Planar, which I adored but even that lens will render a more perfect scene then the Zeiss Sonnar. I argued that it may be wise to own BOTH the Planar and the Sonnar. This way, you get your sharper more perfect look as well as your classic bokeh filled look for just about $2000, or $300 less than a Leica Summicron lens alone 🙂 It’s a win/win.

At $1200 it seems the Sonnar is not cheap but when compared to Leica glass, it is much less expensive in some cases. For example, the Leica Summilux 1.4 comes in at $4000 and yes, the Summilux is the mother of all fast 50’s when it comes to the combo of speed, size, beauty and build. It’s just about the most perfect 50mm lens in existence because it does everything right and never lets you down. The Sonnar is much different because images coming from the Sonnar will not look like what you get from the Summilux ASPH. They will not be perfect, nor modern looking nor will they have the Leica feel.

Part of the beauty of the Sonnar is the flaws and the character that comes along with it. Also, the challenge of shooting it on a digital M body.

Both of these are wide open at 1.5, converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure

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BEWARE!

It’s true. This is a lens you will either love or hate! It just so happens to be very challenging to use and there has been controversy surrounding it since its release. When it was released, some users thought it was a very soft lens wide open and there were statements about it being so soft it appeared dreamy. That could not be further from the truth. This lens is pretty damn sharp wide open but the key is to get the focus right, and using a rangefinder makes it tough because this lens is usually calibrated for use at f/2.8 which means focusing with your rangefinder at 1.5 will not be accurate and will result in a soft “dreamy” look. It is called “Focus Shift”. Keep in mind that this only affects rangefinder cameras and using the rangefinder focusing patch. If you use this lens on a mirrorless system with live view you will not experience focus shift. 

There are simple ways around this issue if you want accurate focus every time at 1.5 though, and if you like the character of the lens it is worth it to put a few minutes into figuring it out.

If you have a Zeiss sonnar set and optimized for f/2.8, it will take you a few minutes to learn how to use it at f/1.5 to be reliable, just as I have when taking the images you see here. These were all mostly shot at 1.5 and captured in one shot using the Rangefinder of the Leica M 240, not live view. They are all in focus where I intended the camera to focus.

The newest copy I have here came from B&H Photo and it appears to me that it is optimized more for f/2 than 1.5 or 2.8 because I can focus in the RF at 1.5 and get a sharp result but if I turn the focus ring a hair clockwise after I line up the RF patch I get super sharp results as you can see in the shot below:

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In other words, this copy of the lens is sharp wide open when focusing normally but can get REALLy sharp wide open with one little trick. I basically shot this scene above as a test for 6-7 shots and figured out where my perfect focus was when using the rangefinder, which as stated, was a hair to the right after I lined up the patch. What I mean by this is when I focus normally the shot is a teeny bit soft due to focus shift. If I move the focus barrel a teeny bit more to the right after focusing I will get real spot on focus. If I do this every time I will nail focus every time.

Still, paying $1200 for a lens you have to work with to focus accurately may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be worth it because this is one of those lenses some call an “Artists Lens”. The look it gives is unique and super classic. Much like the Noctilux has its own gorgeous signature, the Sonnar has one as well. If it is Bokeh you are after, this lens will give it to you. The image below was a test shot to see Bokeh quality and here it is pretty smooth.

Use it, Learn it, Love It!

This one shot on the Monochrom at ISO 4000 and 1.5

slepp

iso4000crop

I have seen some who bought this lens give up on it in frustration because they would focus and get soft results. Some users did not know if it was a problem with their eyes or what but this lens has its share of haters and lovers. I am in the lover camp but let me be honest…there are loads of 50mm choices for your M rangefinder and if you can only have ONE 50mm, I would not recommend this one as an only lens because it does offer such a unique look and you may tire of it after a while. The lens also has a 1 meter close focus limitation where lenses like the Leica 50 Lux let you focus closer t0 0.7 meters.

You can own this as  your only 50, and I know a couple of guys that do, but I feel the 50 Planar or Leica is better as an only one lens solution (which is why I went for both). I am now up to four 50mm lenses but I love my 50’s!

If you learn how to use your Sonnar on your camera it will become quick and easy to focus the way it needs to be focused for sharp results at 1.5, and that is where the magic of the lens happens..wide open.

Leica M 240 and B&W conversion

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In the world of 50mm rangefinder lenses there are many choices from modern Leica perfection to old classic RF lenses from the past like the Canon 50 1.8 LTM (which I also own) and everything in between. The 50mm is a classic focal length and probably the most popular for rangefinder shooters. My #1 recommendation for a 50mm Lens is money is no object is  the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH or new 50 Summicron APO. If money is an object, and for most of us it is, you can still buy a lens or  two that will not hamper you in any way and still give you gorgeous results. Zeiss ZM glass is just one of those options where you get to pay less but still have that special quality that makes  you say “wow” when you nail a special shot.

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The images here were all just test shots around my yard, nothing special at all but it goes to show that a lens like the Sonnar can make things look better than they actually are in some cases. Even a silly shot of some dusty mini blinds (yes, I have now cleaned them after seeing the shot above from my office blinds) have that special Sonnar “look”.

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The Zeiss Sonnar is one of those lenses you buy with your heart. Like I already mentioned, you either love it or you hate it. But for me, it is a lens I will always love and have a soft spot for. I guess you can say this lens has a “romantic” quality, and there is nothing wrong with that because we all need a little romance in our lives every now and then 🙂

You can buy the Zeiss 50 Sonnar at B&H Photo, PopFlash.com or Amazon!

Related Post

93 Comments

    • 100% DIFERENT kind of lens. Different rendering, different feel, much better quality lens with a unique rendering you can not get from any other lens in production today (when shot at f/1.5). With this lens, you either love the look or you do not. But the Canon 50 1.8 is not in the same ballpark with build, IQ or overall character of the lens. Both so much different the one that would be right for you would be the rendering you prefer. But you can not use this lens on any Canon camera so a comparison would be strange as they are for different systems.

  1. I have sn Olympus OM-D E-M1 and I love it, but this review reminded me of the manual focus Contax cameras I had eith 3 Zeiss primes (and a couple of non-Zeiss zooms). My favorite lenses were the Zeiss 135/2.8 for portraits and the Zeiss 50/1.4 for sharpness. Boy, was that lens sharp! Pop photo did a test to find the best 50/1.4 around back in the film days, and the Zeiss was it! I think Leica refused to send them a lens.
    I read in a Shutterbug review of the Leica M6 that Leica aficionados tend not to use the word Zeiss! Your review of the new Zeiss 50/1.4 for Sony E-mount bodies reminded me of my old manual one that I miss. Thank you.

    • Hmm. My Canon is a Serenar and the build quality is probably better than my 35/2.8 ZM. I’ve been very impressed with the heavy little Canon, great tonality and a softer/dreamy look wide open compared to my Voigtlander 50/1.5.

      It seems like the Canon and Zeiss might have similar rendering at mid-apertures? Both are moderate contrast right?

      • Oh I am sorry! I was picturing the cheap 50 1.8, the plastic fantastic. ; ) So ignore what I said! That Canon is actually quite nice and unique in its own right.

  2. Stop publishing gear review please, you make me buy stuff and my wallet is mad at me now.
    (PS : awesome lens, love it)

  3. OMG Steve, I’m in love…. The little sonnar on my A7m2 has taken me over. I have tried Zeiss 55 1.8, loxia 50, mitakon 0.95, cron and lux. Nothing quite made me happy like sonnar.
    Amazing 3d ness, colour, character, perfection its all there.
    I was worried that the ‘character’ might be too much for me, but its just right.

  4. Steve I’d like you to review the Leica Summilux 50mm pre-asph or tell me the differences (besides resolution) in image style between pre-asph and asph. Thanks!

  5. As always, you post the most useful review, cutting to the chase and giving us a great procedure to accommodate the focus shift. Thanks!!!

  6. I have to say — I have more fun with my Sonnars – the Zeiss and the J3 – than any of my other lenses. Love the look of both – and they’re different. The Zeiss has more contrast and a more modern look. The J3 has crazy bokeh and much less focus shift (I believe this has to do with smaller elements). But, generally speaking, if I have a 50 on my M9, it’ll be one of the Sonnars.

    • after loots.. i mean LOOOTSS of reasearch on what i should buy for my new m240 leica (bcos of my limited budget)… i rest my case and decided to buy this lens instead of summicron… look at thosee bokeeh… ive never thought a second brand lens can do so much to leica… now i m a believer..

  7. Sonnar’s are great fun. Mine is a 1963 Russian knock-off (Jupiter 3), optimized for use wide-open up close, must stop down to f/2 at infinity. Terrific lens with that classic “Sonnar Look”.

  8. Can anyone comment on how the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 compares to the Voightlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5? Plane to use mainly on a Zeiss Ikon with film but also on an X-E1. Thanks

    • I prefer the Sonnar and its rendering on b/w film in the M4P over the CV Noktons (but that is personal preference, maybe through conditioning by the extensive use of the original Sonnar 50/1,5 – pre-WWii – lens on my teacher’s Contax II in the 1970ies)… The Sonnar is used wide open most of the time (and calibrated for it), or stopped down to f/8 – then the focus shift becomes a non-issue. For colour shots I use post-1979 ‘Crons, though…

      Regards,

      Michael
      =->

  9. Steve, I recently emailed Zeiss re the Sonnar and your assumption that the lense is now optimised at f2 is correct. Another excellent review, many thanks.

  10. No problem with focus shift on a Fuji XE-1. Focus is done with 1X, 3X, or 10X magnification as you choose.

    • Charlie, Are you (or indeed is anyone else) using this lens on an X-E1? I am considering getting one for mine to use as a portrait lens (approximating 80mm). If so – does the crop mean that you are missing out on a lot of the softening toward the outer part of the image which is characteristic of this lens? If so – is it a good buy?? (a lit of ‘if’s there I know)

      Steve – whats your opinion on this?

        • ok ok ok… so I bought one.
          its simply delicious…
          I mean really!

          self portrait on my tumblr account – result of an early outing… lots more to come!

  11. I had both the 50mm Summicron and the Sonnar, I had to sell some gear and it was no contest I kept the Sonnar, its my one and only lens now for my M9, I feel like I was many years ago with my M3 and my 50 Summicron, a Leica M and a 50mm lens, couldn’t be better.

  12. Nice to see the 50 Sonnar getting another look. Would be great to see more colour bokeh images if you get some time … maybe at that nice old abandoned factory 🙂

    I have a feeling that Zeiss ZM lenses will really grow in popularity now that the new M is released. Not because they will be used on the M, but more so because many more affordable second hand M9’s are hitting the market. Many of us (like me) didn’t really want to pay $7,000 for an M9, but are willing to jump in at around the $3,500 mark and Zeiss glass makes perfect sense in this situation … it did for me anyway 🙂

    I was looking at this lens and the Planar and ultimately bought the Planar, however, when I tested the Sonnar, it seemed to be calibrated for 1.5 as my test shots showed it pretty sharp at 1.5. I hear others finding the same thing with some of the later ones. I see yours seems to be optimised for f/2.

    It would be nice if Zeiss specified what aperture the lens was optimised for inside the box or something.

    Zeiss are pretty cool though … after calling their distributor here in Hong Kong they said just send the lens in and we’ll have it optimised for what ever you like free of charge. The turn around time quoted was very quick too.

    I like Leica lenses but I’m seriously getting addicted to this Zeiss 3D POP !!!

    • I just sold my Planar as it cannot hold a candle to my Lux.
      Not remotely close in build quality or sharpness wide open.

      Upside, it took only 2 days to sell here on Steve’s site.
      You get what you pay for.

      • Nope, build quality does not equal the Leica, no one ever said it did though 🙂 Sharpness does equal the Leica though, quite easily, unless you had a bad copy or I have a bad lux 🙂

          • Change of heart here…

            I went back and looked over my Planar images again.
            While they are not as incredibly sharp as my Lux (but they are still wikkid sharp), I stepped back and noticed the rendering.
            It is different and very cool.

            So now I want one again! My ‘old’ one was scored at a great buy it now price on ebay, and I was able to resell it at a little bit of profit. But I now want a chrome one (which supposedly are a little nicer finished), and a warranty as my used one did feel a little loose in the focus ring.
            It’s worth it buying these new as they still are much much cheaper than Leica glass, plus come with the comfort of the warranty.

  13. I’ve been doing more and more with the Sonnar instead of the Lux lately. heres a couple of galleries for those who’d like to see more sonnar shots 🙂

    on facebook:
    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10200785244143236.1073741829.1526928363&type=1&l=a9a30b8f5d
    and
    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.450105401730383.1073741836.438208516253405&type=1&l=fe3eb5d4b3

    or on http://500px.com/jrtbloke/sets/beauty_shots_portraits and look for the ‘by the sword, black swan, and firelight & wine sequences’

  14. Thanks for writing this. Great lens – you just have to learn how to use it.

    And Huss? You know you need another 50, bro. Do it.

  15. Steve: when you do your next installment on these Zeiss 50 lenses, could you please comment on using them with an adapter on the OMD (and show a few images)? It seems to me that they could possibly be great 100mm equiv portrait lenses for M 4/3. And thanks for bringing these classic lenses back to us with the type of review that really matters to photographers vs pixel peepers. i just ordered a planar for my OMD based on your excellent review.

  16. Really love your dog shot, the draw of this lens is remarkable and thanks Steve for another very useful review

  17. Don’t read this photo web site because I am burning a hole in my wallet again. Hmm…. Black or Silver?

  18. Nice write up Steve. I’ve owned every single Zeiss lens on the Nikon side before I switched to Leica. There are several with this same focus shift (the 50 and 85 ZF.2’s were the biggest offenders). Like you said, you learn the trick to them and it becomes a non-issue. This is the one I plan to compliment my Lux 50 – because it has that classic Zeiss look and the quirky shift that is fun to play with. Yes, I want it BECAUSE of its quirks. Thanks for the encouragement!

  19. Very attractive shots. Could be interesting to hear of experiences with the Sonnar and Planar on other M-mounts – eg Sony NEX or Ricoh GXR. Any offers?

    • Replying to myself! I’ve just caught up with AshwinRao’s very useful contribution in 2011 on the GXR M module.

    • I cannot exactly answer your question on M mounts per se, but as something of a parallel observation would offer the following. I use both the Zeiss Contax 85 Planar, and the 85 Sonnar on a NEX 7, and love them both. Everything Steve says here regarding the 50 Planar and 50 Sonnar applies to the Zeiss Contax 85 pair as well, except that with the NEX and focus peaking you do not have focus shift to deal with.
      Lovely lenses.

    • The Sonnar is my favourite lens for my Nex7. It reminds me of the extraordinary 45/2 Zeiss Contax G lens. Similar contrast and bokeh characteristics and faster to boot. I should like to post an example but the comments box does not allow it.

  20. my understanding from the zeiss reps is that this lens is calibrated perfectly for M mount “film” cameras (released with the ikon zm). and there is a slight (very very slight) difference in the distance between the sensor and the film plane. what i am told is that this is what causes that focal shift in this particular lens on the M digital cameras. i have tried to research this (online) and can’t find anything to support this or contradict it.. i own this lens but i only shoot film and it always looks beautiful. let alone spot on. granted, i don’t ever put my pictures up to a microscope as no photographer ever should. but, every review that i have seen mentioning focal shift has been with a digital camera.

    just wondering if you know anything likewise???

    • It is funny because the lens is slghtly off at 1.5 on my M 240 but on the Monochrom it is spot on perfect at 1.5. This tells me that my 240 may be off slightly..so I go check other lenses critically and it does appear that my 240 is slightly off so it has to go to Leica for calibration. But the Sonnar lens I bought from B&H just last week, the one used here is indeed optimized for 1.5, just as I wanted it. So some are indeed being sold like this.

      • “Typically” a C-Sonnar optimized for F15 on a film camera will front-focus slightly at F1.5 on a Digital RF. And… Typically, using a deep yellow/ Orange/Red filter will produce a light Back-Focus with the M Monochrom.

        This lens lives on my M8, perfect at F1.5. Need to try it on the M Monochrom. A 1950 Jupiter-3 was the first lens on my Monochrom, and was “perfect”. I’ve also used pre-war coated and uncoated CZJ Sonnars on the Monochrom, going back to a 1934 5cm F1.5 and 1934 5cm F2, both custom converted to Leica mount. “Fantastic”.

      • Just got a new ZM Sonnar 50 1.5 today (Silver) and like Steve said with his Monochrom the focus at F1.5 is spot on with my Monochrom too – thought I was going to have to work with this lens but to my surprise its just not a problem.

  21. Thanks Steve for taking time to write about this optic.
    However, I didńt find exactly the right tips to use the optics at 1.5.
    It will take you few minutes to learn ….
    So what’s your main recommendation to get the right focus ?
    Cheers
    Xtof

    • If you do not get focus at 1.5 then expiriment when shooting. Focus on your subject..then turn the lens focus ring ever so slightly to the left of perfect focus..then take a shot with the focus to the right a little..when viewing the images see which one is in focus, the one to the left of perfect focus or to the right. If it is the right, then anytime you shoot the lens at 1.5, focus a little to the right. It will look like it is not in focus in your VF but will indeed be in focus. You just have to experiment with your camera and lens to see where you are at. Many times it is the camera itself slightly off.

      • For someone contemplating M and is used to to dead on focus with a DSLR, wouldn’t using the EV on the 240 solve this problem ? Perhaps I’m getting old an inflexible but not knowing if it’s in focus would add a headace I’d rather be without.

        Thank you for a truly inspiring site Steve, the beauty of the personal angel and your truly beautiful images !

        • The M can do dead on focus, more so than most DSLR’s using the RF. Not an issue. The issue is with some versions of this lens, not the camera. Just as some lenses with a DSLR are off and will not focus correctly. The EVF can be used for critical work but not for any kind of action as using the EVF is at least 2X as slow as using the RF.

          • Have used the Sonnar 50/1,5 on the NEX-7 as portrait lense for a while now, and tried it on the A7 (not R) over Christmas. I like what I see when shooting people with this lense wide open (to be honest, I like it ever since using the original on a 1936 Contax II in the late 1970ies).

            Focus shift naturally is a non- issue with a good LVF – and the T*-coating delivers a huge contrast improvement over the original lens’ single layer coating.

            It is an interesting lense to have in the collection, more so than the competing CV Noktons – however, one should as well have a modern ‘Cron 50 in the portfolio – the two lenses complement each other nicely.

            For film use on the M4P my Sonnar has been calibrated for f/1,5… the aperture I own it for.

            Cheers,

            Michael
            =->

            Thanks for sharing your views and pictures, Steve!!!

  22. After reading the review, I can’t wait to buy a Type 240 to shoot with my C-Sonnar.
    Thanks for your effort, Steve!

    Jonathan

  23. Seing the image you took with the sonnar+mm combo… It’s the first time in years of reading your websites, I really want to make the step to Leica.
    Steve, great photography. Great write-up. Thanks a lot!

  24. WOW that 1st shot of the dog Steve is the best image I have seen taken on the M by anybody with any lens. I use this lens on my M8 and M6 and it is truly creative and can highly recommend it.

  25. God I didn’t want to respond to the other thread where the Sonnar came up. Got a little irritated. But now this is just FREAKY.

    Okay. I got my 50 1.5 Sonnar over 2 years ago, when I was only shooting an M7. Silver lens, silver camera. I basically shot it almost exclusively for a year. A YEAR! With film only. Always dreamed of playing with this creative tool on digital where I could really explore what it is and does.

    I’d gotten rid of my M9, not in small part because I never got to shoot my DREAM lens, the 50 Summilux, and I’d come to believe, as so many did, I’m sure, that I might never get my hands on one.

    Well, then came the 50 ‘lux last May and then my blog of the same name, I shot it on film for a while but THEN I copped an M-E. Bingo!

    From the moment I got my 50 Summilux, I put the Sonnar back in its box. Never to be used again. I had DREAMED of shooting it on a digital M, playing with it, learning it in a way you can’t really learn with film because you’re never going to have the freedom to experiment like you do with digital, etc. blah blah blah. But nothing like I’d dreamed of shooting a 50 ‘Lux.

    So the Zeiss went back in the box. 50’Lux was on the M-E. My ship had finally come in.

    Two night ago. Let me rewrite that. TWO NIGHTS AGO… I starting thinking about another expensive Leica lens that I want. Maybe need. And I decided to take the 50 Sonnar out of the box and do something that I’d once DREAMED of doing, but hadn’t even deigned to do one I’d finally acquired my dream lens, the 50 ‘Lux, that my blog is named for, namely, PLAY with the lens on a digital body. See what it’s like.

    I don’t have much more to say. It’s just the timing. I’ve had my M-E for seven months or so. I don’t know. I’ve shot my 50 ‘lux, 35 ‘Cron ASPH, 50’ Cron (Canada) … but NEVER the 50 1.5 Sonnar. I just decide to try it out and at the same very moment Steve ADDS sort of an addendum to his Planar post about the Sonnar and this happens on the very night I decide to pull mine out and give it an honest go?

    And I swear this all happened before I’d read the previous article about the 50 Planar, which I only read yesterday, I’d taken the Sonnar out, like 2:00 AM prior to it even being posted here, and pulled the trigger on a few shots. Also, I’ve been looking on Flickriver at scores of shots taken with the M9 and the Sonnar.

    So, I mean, is this weird or what?

    One thing I’d like to say to David over in the other article and comments. You know, I ALSO have a 50 Cron, a 50 Lux ASPH, and the Sonnar. Same three lenses you have. I just really don’t think you understand these lenses and I commend Steve for his patience with you. I wouldn’t manage that kind of patience. Steve’s point is these lenses are ALL fabulous and unique. Seriously.

    Kind of like this picture here. Three girls. The one in the middle. Maybe not perfect. But precious. She’s my favorite of the three. By the way, this image was taken with an M9 and the Zeiss 50 1.5 Sonnar.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/feihongliuying/8415365849/sizes/l/in/photostream/

    • Thank you, Donald ..but I’m away at the moment, and don’t have much of a chance to play with the internet, except for a few minutes a day (at breakfast and bedtime). I’m walking the streets of Paris, and going to exhibitions, movies and concerts (..WONDERFUL shows at the Institut du Monde Arabe ..and a very funny film “Des Gens qui s’embrassent”) ..topping up my culture quotient!

      When I get home I’ll reply again with a few more words, but right now I’m popping round the corner to a ‘brasserie’ with my little Rollei A110, and I’ll take a few shots in Paris for you (and with this Fuji Finepix F550 pocket compact, and this Ricoh GXR with its M-mount and a Voigt 15mm and a Leitz 35mm).

      Needless to say, I haven’t brought a Zeiss 50mm f1.5 with me! ..though it is easier to focus with LiveView on a GXR than on a pure rangefinder Leica, or R-D1, etc.

      I’ll write a longer reply when I’m home again next week, if Steve has the patience to take any more!

      But thanks for the thoughts..! Yours, David.

    • Just a quick reply, Donald – as I promised..

      Yes, I do have a 50mm Summicron (..we-ell, two or three: a couple of screw-thread versions, a normal M-mount version, and a Dual Range (close focus) M version). At least one of the screw versions has been cleaned, as has the normal (1954) M version, so they’re as spick and span as possible. But they do flare a bit more, and so give softer images if the light source is near to whatever I’m shooting, than the Dual Range, and certainly more than the current 50mm 1.4 aspheric Leica Summilux.

      So the Summicrons give a softer “light-spread-through-the-image”, less contrasty result than the pretty much flare-less Peter Karbe-designed Summilux, but the DR Summicron is perhaps a fraction sharper wide open than the Summilux is wide open – the DR lens is a truly terrific lens for sharpness, but it’s a heavy lens, and (what were they thinking of..?) won’t work beyond 2 metres with an M8, or 4 metres with an M9, because at greater distances the focusing cam bangs against an obstruction inside the cameras’ lens throat!

      So for better background blur (softer, more “melt-in-the-mouth”), and for anything likely to be further away than 3 metres, I use the 1.4 Summilux (though that, too, is a heavy lens).

      The Zeiss 50mm f1.5 is, of course, a shorter, lighter weight lens, so one would think that it’d be handier. It has that awful attention-grabbing chrome ring at the front, though, so I screw a black lens-hood into that to disguise it ..but that makes the lens longer, of course.

      The Zeiss T* anti-reflection lens coating, of course, makes the Z 50mm a terrific flare-free lens, but I find its “bokeh” (out of focus background highlights) not as smooth and “melt-away” as the Summilux. The Z 50mm, as we know, is really a re-issue of an ancient 1930s lens, and it has the defects – I beg your pardon, “features” – of an old lens design before ‘floating element’ focus-correction became mainstream.

      I don’t drive a 1930s car (with fading or seizing shoe brakes, leaf spring suspension, crash gearbox, manual choke, unassisted steering and brakes, crank-wind windows and crank-handle start) and the only things I like about this 1930s re-issue of a lens are its short length, light weight and decent image EXCEPT when the focus drifts out as one focuses closer!

      It’s a bargain lens, of course, compared with the Summilux, but it’s also a bargain design: no floating rear element(s) to correct its focus failure ..er, I mean focus “feature”, no aspherical lens grinding, and nor does it focus as close as the 0.7m Leica lenses.

      You say that “..I just really don’t think you understand these lenses and I commend Steve for his patience with you … Steve’s point is these lenses are ALL fabulous and unique.”

      Yup. I understand all that. It’s just that if I have an item such as a camera or a lens – or a car, or a boat, or an overcoat – I want it to “just work” (to quote Steve Jobs) and not to need fiddling with, and accommodating, and hoping, and guessing, and approximating, etc, etc.

      I think a lens should work so that when it appears in focus in the viewfinder, it IS in focus – on the film, or the sensor, or whatever.

      But now I’ve got my screwdriver out, and all this recent fuss about this lens has suggested to me that I should take a try at “shimming” it – as I did with my Konica 50mm f1.2 – so that when it’s in focus in the viewfinder (at f1.4, and between, say, 1 metre and 5 metres ..3 feet to 15 feet) it’ll also be in focus on the sensor. It may take just a very thin piece of metal foil to do the job ..I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before now.

      Then, if that DOES work, I’ll then paint the chrome black – like I paint out the white lettering and numbering on the front of all my other lenses, so that they’re unobtrusive and unnoticeable.

      But if it doesn’t work, then it’s off to eBay with it.

      I know that this reviewer and that reviewer gushes over this lens and says “how wonderful” and it’s “two lenses in one” and all that ..but those are THEIR opinions. I’m entitled, of course, to my own, and mine is that it’s a compromise lens: it can be very good at smaller than maximum aperture, but it’s disappointing and pointless at max aperture except on a camera which focuses accurately through the lens itself, as with LiveView, or if it’s been tweaked to focus accurately on a rangefinder at f1.5.

      I prefer the Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 – for its accurate focus without focus shift or creep – to this compromise of a Zeiss 50mm f1.5. The Voigt isn’t so contrasty or flare free – but at least it delivers correct focus all of the time.

      Of course, you too are entitled to your own opinion of the Zeiss, and yours may be entirely different from mine. All the best,

      David.

  26. Hi Steve.. excellent job to put the Sonnar back in the light !

    There’s nothing wrong with having more than one 50mm…I know one who has 9 of them, each with it’s own characteristics for the effect you want

    50: Lux 1.4, sonnar 1.5, hexanon-m 2.0, CV 1.1 and some old leica lenses like the 50/2.0

  27. Very nice articles, Steve (this one and the Planar’s). Always a joy to read!
    Looking forward to the extra’s you’ll post in a few days, because me too, I often use a lens with a smaller aperture when I wanna get larger DOF.
    BTW, I own the Planar and also the Jupiter-3 (a Sonnar in USSR version). It’s really another world when going from one to the other, but so very rewarding.

  28. A nice review with great shots. It would be nice to have a few shots with the lens stopped down to f5.6 or even further were it shows the typical Zeiss rendering with rich colors, tack sharp. One of the further strength of the Sonnar is its compact size and light weight.

    • I chime in here; also get the impression that lenses tend to render in a more pleasing way when stopped down a notch. Generally I like 50’s at around 2.8 or 4, and I really like my M-Rokkor 40 at 3.5 also.
      So I find it a sensible compromise to calibrate these Sonnars for 2.8, because I guess they’ll shine there.

  29. Steve,

    The chihuahua stole the show again! I love it! Nice that it was your first pic. Beautiful eyes that love beast has (my uncle called my first chihuahua a love machine) . At any rate, yes, the Zeiss glow is incredible. When I tested this lens at the Photo Expo Plus last year on my M8 that lens had such a beautiful glow, and the color was to die for! I have a feeling this may be my next lens in that it gives me a Noctilux thrill without the weight and size. I have the f1.0 model and sometimes I do not want to lug that beast everywhere and feel the Zeiss is a elegant and compact solution. I have to stress this: I have quite a few Leica lenses I bought used since 1990, but if I had none and had to buy new, I would buy Zeiss hands down. I just wish Zeiss and Voigtlander would get off of sitting on their hands and make a digital camera for the masses. A Fuji with a traditional rangefinder like the old GSW 690 days and a full frame sensor like the new X100s would be nice too. I dream too much! I had better start saving for the new M.

  30. Hey steve ya should do a silhouette photo set.. those spooky silhouettes of yours are creepy cool heh heh keep up da excellente work dood cheers 😉

  31. Steve, thank you for your write up and images!

    I have this lens as my only 50mm and I love it! Mine is optimized for f/2.8, so when I want to use it wide open I shift my focus ring a bit further to the left and thus nail focus almost every time. When I shoot frontal portraits I just focus on my model’s ear and that always gets me into perfect focus. Yes, a little bit of trickery but the Sonnar look is definitely worth it.

    Cheers,
    Greg

    • I dont have time to read all of that but did skim it. Ive not noticed any issues at all but I do not do microscopic tests looking for problems when these issues would never even have anything to do with taking photos. The 35 Lux is fantastic. Expensive but fantastic. The RX1 rocks as well, still own it and love it but gives a different look over the Leica and Lux.

      • All I noticed, before realizing life is too short to spend time on stuff like this, is that for some reason the Leica jpg was smaller than the Sony jpg.

        As for the rest… seriously?!

        Articles like that really, I mean really, make me appreciate Steve’s write ups.

    • Well, there seems to be significant field curvature on the 35 LUX FLE.

      It is probably worth knowing, in particular if you rely on the EVF to focus at full aperture before stopping down.

      Whether this is an issue in practice really depends on what you are using it for. Same for the Nikon 35 1.4 AF-S which suffers from huge field curvature but still has its fans.

  32. Great Stuff Steve! Good to see these interesting Zeiss lenses being appreciated and used so well. We tend to often overlook the unfairly perceived “poorer” cousins of Leica glass , but there are some really amazing optics to explore out there. Big thank you for these options you are sharing with us. Love 50 mm lenses myself, but would love to also see you refresh the Zeiss 35mm options as so many have this focal length as their main shooting M lens. Be Well and thanks again for a wonderful site.
    Jorge

  33. Steve, dood, u just made me buy a Planar, and now you write this?!
    😉

    I’ll see how I like it (I also have the Lux and a Cron DR which gives a really nice classic look on film). If I’m not crazy about it (as I love the Lux wide open with ND filter in daylight) it’ll be here in the classifieds!

    Still, nothing compares to the build quality of the solid brass Cron DR..

  34. Nice overview, Steve. I have a Sonnar as my only M-mount 50, and I love it. Mine is calibrated for f/1.5, which suits me fine. I basically either shoot it wide open, or at f/4 and smaller apertures. It kind of has a double nature. I love the lens for film, and recently used mine quite a bit on a rented Monochrom, and the combo gave me some of my favorite digital shots, ever.

    I have some examples of that combo posted in a set my Flickr site, and also gave some of my findings in a series of YouTube vids.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mathomas/sets/72157632375237681/

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