A User Review of the Zeiss 35mm Distagon f1.4 ZM on a Leica M 240
By Howard Shooter
I must confess to being a bit of a Leica fan. I love Leica and the purity of the rangefinders’ back to basics approach to photography. Up until three days ago I have veered towards only Leica glass and my thoughts have been mostly positive. I was niggled and irritated by the slight softness of the 50mm Summilux on the M240mm compared to the M9 and the ever so slight lack of contrast, which means I sometimes have to give the files a bit of the proverbial kick in Lightroom. The shift from M9 to M240 was another learning curve in appreciating subtlety and nuance for me and took longer than I expected to really love the new signature of the much debated cmos sensor.
I always loved the 35mm focal length, as it’s such a versatile lens for so many situations from landscape to portrait. I wanted the Leica 35mm summilux but the price is too steep for me to justify the outlay.
Zeiss have always had their avid and similarly loyal followers and the Leica fit Zeiss lenses have generally reviewed well and been passionately spoken for.
Physically the lens is a little heavy for my liking; bulky and substantial, not balanced perfectly with the body. This isn’t a deal breaker for me as the optics far outweighs the extra size but it is a consideration and a minor irritation. The focus ring is a little tighter than I’m used to but the aperture is wonderfully smooth in third stop increments. The lens blocks the viewfinder a little but not enough for me to care. For all of it’s differences it is a beautifully well made lens in the true tradition of Zeiss and feels and looks better than in the Zeiss promotional shots.
Incidentally I am not going to post shots of my camera with the lens as you can see other reviewers do this. I am not a “professional” reviewer so I’d rather share my hopefully interesting opinions and see if this helps you decide on whether this lens might be of interest to you.
I’m in my favorite photographic haunt again of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, a fishing town with a wonderful English appeal and atmosphere.
The following shots were all taken with the Leica M240 with the Zeiss 35mm lens at various apertures. All were processed minimally in Lightroom with a little post processing but the essence of the lens’s signature is preserved. After you’ve looked at the shots I’ll let you know my personal opinion.
I hope you like these shots because in some ways they really surprised me. Now this may seem strange but the lens seems to give more pop and contrast than most Leica lenses I have used on my M240. The signature almost reminds me of the look I used to get with my M9. In other words if you are missing the M9 pop from your M240 and are looking for a 35mm lens I think you can do no better then with the Zeiss.
Just to re-iterate, when used with the M240 this lens gives you the subtlety of the M240 cmos sensor with the pop of the M9… a perfect combination.
This leads me to wonder if the colour and contrast of this lens on an M9 might be a little too saturated and contrasty but I am merely speculating. I love this lens and think that it actually feels very old school Leica rather than modern day Zeiss. It isn’t overly clinical in my opinion but is very sharp, handles flare extremely well, is very adaptable with various subjects and in the right light gives plenty of pop but at a third of the price. The bokeh isn’t distracting but also isn’t class leading either as subjective as this always is. I think reds do come out a little too red and saturated on the M240 which means they need toning down a little but the black and white conversions are wonderfully filmic. The M240 has always been very good for black and white and I think with this lens you get a real sense of depth and dynamic range.
I can strongly recommend this lens. Have you got this lens and do you share my opinions….?
The Sony Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon FE Lens Review. Best 35mm Lens Ever.
Yep. I said it. The spoiler. This is the best full frame 35mm lens I have ever used in my life. But remember, I only review items I love and adore, so if there is something out there I have not reviewed it is because I am not a fan of it, plain and simple. Before anyone says “you like everything you review” – well, YES this is true as I have said over 1,000 times here. If this lens was a dog it would not have been reviewed. So what you see me review on these pages is all gear that I love and adore because if it sucks, it is not worth my time, my 40-60 hours that it takes to do a review like this. With that said, this lens is indeed the best 35 OPTICALLY I have ever used.
This image was shot indoor, f/1.4, and with only a bit of natural light coming in from my kitchen door window. Click it for larger.
Better than ANY 35mm lens I have used in life, and that includes those from Nikon, Canon, Leica, or whoever…and I have used the best of the best. At f/1.4 it is stunning. Absolutely stunning. The lens is a masterpiece of optical quality from detail to color to bokeh. It is auto focus and the ONLY weakness it has is that it is quite large. I am used to Leica lenses, or smaller Sony lenses and this guy is a beast. No bigger than a Nikon or Canon or any DSLR lens, in fact, it is a teeny bit smaller than those beats income ways but not by much. Weight is around the same with this lens being about a few ounces heavier than the Canon and Nikon. (1.32lbs vs 1.4lbs). Even so, after 2+ months with the lens, I am so impressed that I can confidently say this IS INDEED the best 35mm lens I have ever used, or reviewed or held. Yes, beats the Sigma 35 1.4 Art lens for those that were about to ask.
Paired with the Sony A7, A7r, A7II or A7s, this lens delivers the goods but I especially loved it on the A7II. To me, the A7II is the pinnacle of the A7 series. The build, design, features, 5 Axis IS, Af speed, and superb low light capabilities really flesh out this system and mature it to another level. Yes, I own an A7s as well and have shot with the A7R and A7 extensively but the A7II, for me, is the most polished and nice A7 body yet. Notice I said YET as I know there is something else on the way, I feel it in my bones, and hey, this is Sony..and they are on a roll..and I bet they want to strike while the iron is HOT. In the mirrorless world I feel Sony and Olympus are on fire with Fuji right behind. Nikon and Canon are seriously MIA with nothing new, fresh or competitive and the others keep releasing cameras hoping they will stick, and they never do. Leica is always beautiful but most can not afford a Leica setup. Sony is doing most things RIGHT today from design, performance, new lenses and price.
This lens is a tour de force of a 35mm. Versatile for low light and AF which is accurate and pretty fast for a 35 1.4 design. This was shot inside a limo at night. No problem ;) ISO 4000, ZERO NR, f/1.4
Want to get up close and personal? The 35 1.4 has a minimum focus distance of .3 Meters which is GOOD. 1.4
AF is snappy, even in dim light on the A7II – 1.4
We can no longer say that “There is a lack of lenses for the Sony FE system”..because they now have MANY amazing lenses. The A7 system is less than two years old and Sony now has SO many good lenses..
1. The 55 1.8 Zeiss – A fantastic and sharp lens that gets rave reviews.
2. The 35 2.8 Zeiss – Another fantastic sharp lens with the Zeiss pop.
3. The 16-35 Zeiss – a superb wide-angle zoom, this one is one of the best I have tested for Ultra wide. (Review)
4. The 28 f/2 (stunner for cheap) – This is a must own lens, a superb value for under $450 (Review)
5. The new 35 1.4 (this review)
6. A new 90mm Macro! (Review soon)
7. Wide angle and fish attachment for the 28 (Review soon)
8. A pro level 70-200 – The standard 70-200 and this one is also fantastic.
and more.. From fisheye to ultra wide to telephoto to Macro Sony is now fleshing out the FE full frame lens system for the A7 series. They released lenses pretty fast and more will be on the way as there are many more planned lenses coming like a fast portrait prime. I feel an 85 and 135 will be here eventually, sooner rather than later.
This lens is stunning. This time at f/2. Crisp all the way around.
I have quite a few image of Katie in this review as I used the lens for some of her Prom images..this one, f/1.4, converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure
The Zeiss Magic & Pop Will Wow You
This lens is a Sony/Zeiss collaboration and it shows. Zeiss is a legend and has always been lumped in with Leica when it comes to image quality though they have always had their differences. With Zeiss you will usually get more 3D pop, richer and warmer color and USUALLY they are a tad softer than the Leica counterpart. With this lens, you are getting all of the 3D pop and color but even more detail where you need it over a Leica or other lens. At f/1.4 this lens could NOT be sharper. If it was, it would not be a good thing. As it is, it is PERFECT. When focusing on eyes (see and click on the very 1st image in this review) you can see what I mean. But it is here in all images I have shot with the lens so far and I have not had one hiccup with this lens, at all.
With this lens, shooting wide open is where you will get the true character of the lens. If you want to shoot at f/2.8, you would be better off with the much smaller and lighter Zeiss 35 2.8 or Zeiss 35 f/2 Loxia. THIS lens, the f/1.4 Zeiss, seems optimized for wide open shooting, and this is where its beauty lies. Much like the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux FLE which is the lens that used to hold my title for best 35mm lens ever made for full frame digital. Today the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 take that title as it is just so good, again, with the only weakness being the size. There is no distortion, there is no offending CA or problems, there is no vignetting and there is no softness or focus issues. I feel the reason for all of this is because Sony and Zeiss REALLY took their time with it and wanted it to be a WOW kind of lens. This is also why it is large. If it were smaller it would have issues like distortion and other things so I think it is fantastic that Sony chose to go the route of optical beauty vs optical issues.
I have seen 1-2 reports of people buying this lens and saying it is “soft”. This is so not the case. If you are getting soft images with this lens you either have a bad copy, have an issue with your camera body, are not focusing in the right spot (shallow DOF here is VERY THIN at 1.4) or you are mistaking Bokeh for being Out of Focus. There is nothing soft about this lens in any way, shape or form.
As I look over the images I have shot with the lens I am thrilled that Sony did what they had to do as they created a masterpiece. Anyone who loves t he 35mm focal length will be THRILLED with this lens on any A7 series body. I used it mainly on my A7II which is the A7 I use 90% of the time these days. Still own and love my A7s but the A7II just clicks all of my boxes.
This lens is good for color or for B&W conversions as you can see above and below. You can go light on the contrast or heavy on the contrast. By default, this lens puts out a medium contrast – not too hard and not too soft.
But one thing remains a constant with this lens. It delivers the goods each and every time I bring it out or use it. From deep rich color, to beautiful black and white to nice creamy bokeh (background blur) that will not give you a headache, this lens shows what the Sony A7 system is capable of. I have tried the Sigma Art lenses. I have shot with the Canon 35L on a 5DII, I have shot with the Nikon 35 1.4 on a D800 as well as the Zeiss ZF 35 1.4. I have owned and shot with the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux, all versions. It is safe to say that I have had great experience with all full frame 35 1.4 lenses.
This Sony is the best one I have ever used for my tastes as it does everything right. Period. The one that comes closest is the Zeiss 35 1.4 Zf, then the Sigma Art 35 1.4. Last place would be the Canon 35L as it is getting a but long in the tooth, even when used on a 5DII or III. The size of the DSLR 35 1.4’s range from Large to Beastly and this Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 is at the large end. It’s a beast, and a few ounces heavier than the Nikon or Canon (1.4 vs 1.32lbs). After a few snaps you do get used to the size, though I admit I will always prefer a smaller lens. If this lens could be made in a small size it would be one of those legendary must own lenses.
The Leica 35 Lux is small, but manual focus only, a not so close minimum focus distance (.7 meters vs .3 of the Sony) and it does not offer the overall total IQ of this Sony/Zeiss. It is also $5400, so quite a bit more expensive. It is a jewel though, a beautiful legendary lens that was at the top of the heap for IQ. It is good to know that this Sony is up there in the same league as the Leica at a fraction of the cost.
Before I end this quick lens review, let me show you a few comparison shots. Below you will find the same image taken with the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4, the Zeiss 35 f/2 Loxia, the 35 2.8 Zeiss, the 16-35 at 35mm and for grins, the Leica 35 Summicron at f/2 (I do not own the Lux). I will show each lens shot at f/2 to keep it the same aperture except the 16-35 will be at f/4 as that is wide open for that particular lens and the 35 2.8 at 2.8 for the same reason.
It is a LARGE lens – left to right: Leica 35 Cron, Zeiss 35 2.8, Zeiss Loxia 35, Zeiss 16-35, Zeiss 35 1.4
I am not looking for detail or sharpness here, as ANY of these lenses will deliver on that. ALL are fantastic in their own right. But I am looking at color, pop, depth, bokeh, and overall character of image, which is why 99% of us buy these types of lenses…character. A lens like this is not bought for low light or high ISO use, it is mainly bought because so many of us LOVE the character of a fast lens.
YOU MUST click images for the correct view..
1st the 35 1.4 at f/2 on the A7II
Now the Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2 at f/2 on the A7II
Now the 35 2.8 on the A7II (at 2.8)
Now the 16-35 at 35 at f/4
and finally, the 35 Summicron on the A7II
Which do YOU prefer?
I still prefer the Sony Zeiss 35 1.4 but ALL are great, even the 16-35 at 35mm and f/4 renders a great image with contrast and pop. To me, the most amount of depth and 3D comes from the Sony 35 1.4 but all are great and most would have a hard time figuring out which is which. Goes to show, most lenses made today are good and get the job done though these lenses above are all $800 and up, all the way to $3300 for the Leica 35 Cron (though it is my #2 pick as the IQ is fantastic and the size is TINY). I will say if all you care about is corner to corner perfection your best bet is the Sony 35 2.8, but it will lack in Character compared to the 35 1.4, Zeiss Loxia, Leica cron, etc.
Below is a 100% crop from this 35 1.4 Zeiss on the A7II. Plenty of detail for me! THIS is wide open!
My Final Word on the Zeiss 35 1.4 for the Sony FE System
I love this lens. Period.For me, it is the absolute best 35mm 1.4 lens I have ever shot with, used or tested when it comes to image quality. As you know, I do not go by charts or graphs, I go by real world shooting. Using a camera and lens for what they are meant to be used for..images..memories…the main reason we take pictures! For pros, if you have a 35mm in your kit you owe it to yourself to give this one a try. It is a beauty of a lens and now takes the title as the best 35mm lens I have tested or used. THAT says a lot. If you have this lens and you are not getting astounding quality with it then you may have a dud, which is not cool, but it is NOT the norm for this piece of glass. For me, this lens is perfect for just about anything you want to shoot. Environmental portraits, fashion, every day life, landscapes, still life or what have you.
This lens takes the A7 series to the next level. AF is speedy for a 35 1.4 (bested the Art 35 1.4 when I used it on the Canon 6D) and 100% accurate on my A7II. Never did I get a misfocus. I also shot some personal images on my A7s and the results were just as fantastic as they were on the A7Ii with a slightly different feel due to the different look of the A7s sensor (slight).
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Many have been asking me when my full review for the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 Lens will be out. Well, I have been so swamped with all kinds of goodies lately, and I did not want to rush the Sony review so I will be wrapping it up within 10 days or so. For now, I will say that just as I thought in my 1st look report (see that here), this Sony 35 1.4 is the best 35mm lens I have ever shot with, period. For me it beats the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux, it beats the Zeiss 35 1.4 Zm, it beats the Nikon 35 1.4, and handily beat the Canon 35 1.4 L. It has an extreme sharpness at 1.4 but ONLY at the focus point. The background melts away into a beautiful bokeh and the color performance is top notch.
THIS lens, optically, is amazing. As good as it gets in the 35mm world. I will leave you with ONE shot I snapped an hour ago of my Stepdaughter Katie just before her Senior prom.
Review in about 7-10 days.
Indoor, NO flash (I never use flash) and just some soft window light. Shot at f/1.4. Click it for larger. Sony A7II.
Quick Comparison: Canon 6D with 35 1.4 vs NEX-7 and Speed Booster 35 1.4
Before sending back the Canon 6D and lenses that I reviewed I ran out and snapped two test shots against a Sony NEX-7 with a Canon EOS to E-Mount Metabones Speedbooster Adapter. As most of you already know, the speedbooster takes your APS-C sensor camera and pretty much gives you the normal field of view and extra stop of light. It Increases Angle of View by 0.71x and increases the maximum Aperture by one stop. It’s a nifty device that can give you a full frame look and feel on an APS-C camera. Much has been written about the speed booster here and on other websites across the internet but I thought it would be fun to see the nEX-7 go against the 6D with the same glass.
So below are two generic test shots. One with the Canon 85L and 6d against the NEX-7 and 85L using the Speed Booster. Another with the 6D and Sigma 35 1.4 against the NEX-7 and 35 1.4 with Speed Booster.
1st shot, tripod, Canon 6D and 85L at 1.2 – click it for larger – this is direct from camera, RAW.
Now with the NEX-7 and Speedbooster – 85L at 1.2. Notice the Bokeh..like a big blob compared to the Canon lumps. The Bokeh is from a TV in the back. Click image for larger. The cameras were set to A mode and aperture set to wide open. Cameras chose exposure to see if the NEX would expose correctly with the Speedbooster.
Now the Canon 6D with Sigma 35 1.4 at f/2
and the NEX-7 with 35 1.4 at f/2
One thing to note: The NEX-7 with Speed Booster focused so slow it could never really be used in reality. Manual focus would be the way to go. With the 35 1.4 the NEX-7 and speedbooster would not work in Auto Focus so it had to be manually focused. The Speed B ooster is expensive but I can see how it could be useful to give you your focal length equivilant and Bokeh back to you when shooting on an APS-C camera. There is also a speed booster made for Micro 4/3 (Nikon G or Leica R glass to Micro 4/3) and Fuji X as well (Nikon).
Journeys with the Fuji X-E1 and Olympus OM-D by Arindam Pal
Ever since I started following you, my opinions about photography systems changed. Your articles have inspired me to move to a smaller form factor even after shooting full frame for years.
I will try to be brief with my story. I started shooting a few years back but never improved because of poor lens choices and lack of proper education. Then I purchased my first Full Frame, a Nikon D700. Coupled with a few good pro lenses, the initial IQ motivated me to gain more education in this fascinating hobby. So, even though I work as a Management Consultant, my second career would definitely be in photography where I work for myself and not The Man.
When I started reading your blog and discovered mirror-less cameras and the gorgeous Leica, I was skeptical about migrating to a whole new system. But the constant barrage of mind-blowing photos from fellow enthusiasts ignited a spark and I bought my first compact system – the Fuji X-E1 along with 35 f/1.4, 18 f/2 and a Voigtlander 21 f/4. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting with considerable less load to lug around and the superior IQ that rivaled even my D700 in low light. I used the system on a trip to Maui. As you can see, the monochrome renditions and the shallow DoF when wide open were better than what I had expected from this system. Even the color spectrum looked great. It was my companion for a few months.
But then, the utterly sluggish AF posed a lot of problems in the kinds of shots I was aiming for. After reading a few comparison reports, I decided to sell the system for an OM-D with the Pana-Leica 25 f/1.4 and the Oly 45 f/1.8. Overall, I am happy with the system as I can now get sharp focus without even trying! However, I do miss the Fuji look and in contrast to what many others have said, the low light high ISO of the OM-D still does not compare to what the X-trans sensor could do. But for everyday purposes, this system fits fine and even though I was nervous in moving to the M43 format, I think there is no doubt that from a sensor that small, the IQ and the fun factor shooting with the OM-D just topples every notion of modern-day photography. My dream compact would be an updated full frame X-trans like sensor, OVF/EVF with rangefinder options for MF, Leica quality glass and snappy AF with a hybrid contrast/phase detect. Let us see what the future brings!
Image 1: X-E1 with 35 1.4, ISO 250 f/2.8; 4 wheel drive in Lanai
Image 2: X-E1 with 35 1.4, ISO 2000 f/1.4; I loved the super shallow DoF of my wife’s eyes
Image 3: X-E1 with 18 f/2, ISO 800 f/5.6; sunset shot but handheld – carried the least amount of gear as possible
Image 4: OM-D with 45 f/1.8, ISO 1600 f/1.8; the rickshaw puller during a recent trip to India was surprised to see why I was shooting him
Image 5: OM-D with 25 f/1.4, ISO 200 f/2.2; Streets of Old Delhi – the pup had decided to take an afternoon siesta on top of a parked car
Image 6: OM-D with 25 f/1.4, ISO 1600 f/1.4; A hand pump (or tube well) that provides fresh water to the neighborhood. I liked the small area of light on this otherwise dark street
Image 7: OM-D with 45 f/1.8, ISO 1600 f/1.8; Dimly lit room but the IQ was quite good unless you pixel peep
The Leica Monochrom – My final words and samples and comparisons…for now.
So here I am, a few weeks in with my Leica Monochrom and still loving the damn thing. I was hoping I would see it as a camera that is a gimmik..a joke..a camera that is no different from any other Leica M digital but that has not been the case. Yea, I love Leica. Always have. I have also criticized them when it was warranted and when they released sub-par products that was beaten by the competition at a much cheaper price.
The Monochrom is a tricky beast. The price leaves it well out of reach for most yet there are so many photographers who lust for one. Others have the opinion that it is crap..an overpriced camera without features or…COLOR! But I see it as a unique one of a kind tool that does indeed beat the Leica M9 for tonality and high ISO capability.
“Little Man” – Leica Monochrom – 50 F/2 Summitar – cropped – Click it for larger version. BTW, this has not had any Photoshop work.
In case you missed them, you can see my previous entries in my ongoing Leica Monochrom review below:
“Zombie Jake” – Monochrom with 35 1.4 – ISO 320 – You must click this to see the detail in the larger version!
The Monochrom is a real tool..for real photographers..for those who adore B&W photography
I have said this before but not everyone will understand it. Those who refuse to even think about spending this kind of money will instantly bash the Mono on that alone. Others will bash it because they want it but can not afford it and others will bash it because they will say their camera is just as good. Others will say “NOTHING will ever match film”, which is 100% true but why would I pay $8000 to match film? I personally feel what comes out of the Monochrom beats film in many ways. The ones who bash this camera are the photographers who do not get it, and therefore not the target market Leica was aiming at when they released the Monochrom.
The beautiful Zeiss Sonnar f/1.5 on the MM
and a $250 Canon 50 1.8 LTM
I have already stated that I feel the camera is overpriced but the reason for this is because it is indeed a “one of a kind” product. No one else makes a camera such as this and yes, there is a difference in the B&W quality between this camera and a Leica M9 converted file. Is it better? Well, not everyone will agree but I think so. In part 2.5 I posted three images. One from the M9 that was a converted B&W and two from the Mono. I saw the difference in tonality and I will show more below. But is it enough to fork over this kind of cash? No, not really.
What makes this camera worth it to many is because of what it is and that is PURITY. How can a digital camera be pure? By being a simple, old school, B&W only camera. That is how. It is just as pure as film and has capabilities that surpass film. Many film die hards will disagree and I am not bashing film because I also love film, I just do not shoot it these days due to cost and time.
“In Flight” – Monochrom with 50 1.5 Zeiss Sonnar – ISO 320
As I walk the street with my Monochrom I sit and think… What am I doing owning a $8000 Leica camera body when I am not in that upper income bracket that Leica is so marketing this camera to? Why should I own this beauty when there are other more deserving photographers who can make better use of it? Why do I NEED this camera? Then I think some more..and the answer is clear. Because you only live once and if I can say anything about life is that we all need to LIVE IT in a way that makes us happy. We do not get a 2nd chance, life is not a dress rehearsal. We are here and then we are gone and if this camera makes me a happy man then I deserve to have it and use it and adore it.
That is basically the attitude I have with all Leica gear. I certainly should not be spending cash on Leica lenses and cameras but at the same time I do not own anything else extravagant. So why not? :)
The fact is that I love the Monochrom. I have shot it all over the place and what I see coming from it are results in B&W that are “different from any other camera I have shot with and converted. It has a look and a feeling. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and truth be told..when you start shooting the camera it takes some getting used to. The 1st few weeks I always saw shots I wanted to shoot in color. Today when I go out with the Monochrom I do not see color. I see only in black and white.
“Fresh Pie” – Monochrom and 35 1.4 – direct from camera on a harsh bright AZ day
Compared to the Leica M9 – Tones
Many have wondered why on earth they should buy a Monochrom when they may have a Leica M9 already. Let’s forget about other cameras for the moment because if you shoot an M you want to shoot an M. You want that experience of shooting with a rangefinder, a hand-built work of art. If you love Leica then you want a Leica.
So let us say you have an M9 and you have been itching for a Monochrom but you are not sure if there is even a difference between the files when at the end of the day you can convert a color M9 file to B&W.
I have been shooting with both the M9 and Mono for a couple of weeks and comparing results. What I have noticed is that the main things that set the Monochrom apart from the M9 is the fact that you will get MUCH less noise at higher ISO’s and you have the capability to go up to ISO 10,000 with the Mono when the M9 goes up to 2500. The Mono also gives you the Sapphire screen of course but in regards to noise and B&W tonality, IMO the Mono takes the prize when it comes to B&W photography.
It appears that ISO 2500 on the M9 is pretty close to the Leica Monochrom at ISO 6400. Even ISO 10,000 is usable on the Monochrom.
and just for fun, and ISO 10,000 crop on the Mono vs the OM-D in Mono mode – NR off.
It has never been a doubt that the Monochrom is good enough in low light to take images in just about any situation. Since there is no ugly color noise we get a nice looking noise pattern, even with a high ISO setting such as 6400. 10,000 is grainy but some may like this look. Sort of like shooting Delta 3200.
How about tonality? Can the Mono deliver results that look better than the M9 when an M9 file is converted? Well, maybe not better but the images are certainly different.
1st shot is from the Monochrom – 35 1.4 – ISO 320 and 1/4000s – this is the full size file so you can click it to see it full size.
When I focused the M9 shot I realized after I was back home that the focus was off a bit so this is not to compare focus but to compare tones after the B&W conversion. I used Alien Skin exposure. Same camera settings. See a difference?
One more to check for tones – 1st the Monochrom…BOTH converted using the same preset…
And the M9 converted…
I’ve noticed the whites with the Monochrom are a bit more grey. The grey tones are darker grey than what you will get from the M9 converted color file. So is it better? Possibly, for some yes. For some no. I think what it all boils down to is if you want to get into the “Monochrom Mindset” and only shoot B&W. If so, the Mono will force you to do it. With an M9 you will sometimes keep the color file and therefore you may not start seeing in B&W as much as you would if you were shooting with a Monochrom.
“Kids 1st Zombie” – Monochrom with 35 1.4 – noise added via filter in Alien Skin
“Beat the Drum” – 35 1.4 – filter applied in Alien Skin with grain. EXIF is embedded.
So what is my overall bottom line conclusion on the Monochrom? Well, there is nothing like it. Period. To have a Leica M body in all stealth charcoal black without markings that only shoots in B&W is quite the conversation starter. It is a camera that you really can’t get until you use it…hold it..press the shutter. Is it worth $8000? To me, no. To you? Maybe. The files that come out of this camera when a shot is properly focused with a good lens are mind-blowing. Prints..I can only imagine (coming soon..big prints from the Mono).
There is a richness and tonality to the files that come out of the Mono that are very pleasing but do take some getting used to. You can get results that are very grey and flat but you must have that eye in B&W mode to find the right situation for a good B&W photo. Once you get that down as well as the processing and filter use then you can start to feel comfy with the camera.
The Monochrom is not for everyone but for those who dare step into this territory then I feel you will be happy knowing you have one of the most different cameras on the market. A full frame Monochrom only sensor camera with classic beauty, classic handling and even classic usability. Mixed with the ultra simple controls of focus, aperture and shutter speed and you have a winner for those of us who want to shoot in a pure way. The Leica Monochrom gives us that.
Only you can decide if it is for you. B&W only, Superb ISO performance, Gorgeous files in a Leica M body. $8000.
“Hey Brother can you spare some Brains”? – Mono with 50 Summitar
Where to Buy the Leica Monochrom?
If you want to buy one of these and are prepared to take the heat from your significant other about it then you can buy from one of the following dealers, all of whom I recommend:
The only problem is that this camera is back ordered and usually dealers have wait lists going on. Be sure to check with all dealers to see where they stand on stock and tell them I sent you!
Zeiss 50 Planar at 2.8
What else can I say?
After 3 previous parts to this review and several other posts prior to these I feel that everything I could say about the Monochrom has been said. It is what it is and you know if it is something for you or if you would benefit by owning one. All I know is I am in love with mine and will continue to use it during those times where I feel B&W would suit. I may even be inspired to go out and start a new series like I used to do when I had more time. Maybe pick up on my Homeless Project where I left off a few years ago. The Mono motivates :)
Zeiss Sonnar 1.5
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My Leica Monochrom Arrives! Unboxing Video with review up in 3 weeks…
So finally…after months and months of waiting and being #1 on the waiting list of Ken Hansen my Leica Monochrom has come in. Ken only received ONE this week and this is it. Leica has been super slow in getting this camera out for some reason. Not sure if they are trying to keep the stock low to make the demand look high or if they are just restricting the numbers made for other reasons but it has finally arrived, so I am happy.
The Monochrom is one of those cameras that NO ONE else has even dared to take on. No one else besides Leica would even dream of making a B&W only camera so why did Leica do it when it could have spelled disaster for them due to cost and the basic fact that you can not shoot color with this oh so basic old school rangefinder camera? $8000..black & white only. This is not for everyone.
The video below shows an unboxing of a production and final Monochrom
The release of this camera has caused quite the controversy because mostly all of the samples (besides the official Leica samples they showed off at the Berlin event) that have been shown to date on various websites (including this one) has shown results that are mixed. The fact is that the files from the Monochrom appear flat right out of the camera with loads of grey tones. They look very “UN”…un-exciting, un-dramatic and un-soulful. MOst of the time. If you have that perfect lighting you will get amazingly detailed rich files right from a JPG but most of the times these files need some work to spruce them up.
There is a reason this camera ships with codes for Lightroom 4 and Silver Efex Pro. I feel to get the most out of the Mono you must use plug-ins like Silver Efex Pro or Alien Skin Exposure. With that said..why would or should we have to do this with a camera such as this? If we wanted to convert why wouldn’t we just keep our M9 and convert? Is there REALLY a difference?
I feel the B&W images from the Mono do have a different look than a converted M9 file and it is going to take me some time to get it all figured out which is why I will be taking this camera out for the next few weeks and taking my time with the review. I feel once we learn how to properly process these files that the results could be stunning. At this point I am still experimenting.
All I did today was fire off a few snaps with a 35 Lux to test the focus and I can happily say it is amazingly spot on :) What I have noticed so far is the Monochrom has gobs of detail, much more dynamic range than an M9 and high ISO up to 10,000 will be nice to have. So right there it is an improvement over an M9 (though again, no color here). If you have the bucks this camera and the new M should make an unbeatable combo. Even this mono and an M9 or new M-E would be sweet. Again, if you have the bucks and enjoy the Leica experience (such as I do).
Yes indeed this camera will cost you big time but if you have the passion for B&W photography and you have the cash then it really wont get much better than this. Of course I am speaking of 35mm full frame/compact size. After just a full day with it I am really loving this camera, and no, I am not even close to being rich. You do not have to be rich to buy a Leica. I just live a simple life in all other areas. Small cheap house, cheap car, no other expensive hobbies. This is now my only M camera. My M9-P was sold to fund the new M. So it is B&W only for me for the next few weeks as I dig into this new MM. Full Review in a few weeks.
BTW, the case I have on the Monochrom comes from classiccases.co.uk and I will review this case with the Monochrom :) But so far it is a PERFECT companion for the MM because it has a back flap that covers the LCD..no chimping allowed!
Now some snapshots I grabbed right after the camera arrived to make sure all was good…click them to see them the right way.
Here I am with the Mono at 1.4 – click all images to see them the right way and just how detailed they are!
The 35 Lux out of my office window at 2.8 – had some fun with a Alien Skin filter but click it to see the tones!
An old antique 1940’s doll – added an Alien Skin filter
The detail is insane. This is at 1.4 with the 35 – click the image for larger size and 100% crop. ISO 640. Look at the detail on the crop of the hand.
The 35 wide open..cant get any sharper
Detail Detail and this is an OOC JPEG! The 35 at f/2 – click it to see full crop!
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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. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!
Even if you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance
If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or my new facebook fan page and Google + page! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader!