May 122016

Zeiss 85 Batis Review

by Richard Pickup

I have been lucky enough to try out the new Zeiss Batis 85mm lens for Sony FE mount in recent weeks, and the other day it accompanied me on a trip to the Natural History Museum in Oxford. This seemed like a good occasion to use the Batis with some purpose and also to organise my thoughts on the lens so far.


The Natural History Museum is a fine place to explore photographically. They have a relaxed and inclusive approach to their audience (photographing is not frowned upon as in so many venues now; they provide portable chairs so as to allow folks to sketch the collections; there is no entry fee), and light streams in from the fabulously ornate iron-clad roof. A stunning collection of specimens, including huge dinosaur skeletons and all kinds of stuffed animals, positively begs for a monochrome treatment. (This may just be me though: I can’t get the fabulous scene from the museum in Chris Marker’s film The Jetty out of my mind. Well worth checking out if you don’t know it, as it is made up of a sequence of beautiful stills put together to feel like a movie.)




As is now well known in the industry, Zeiss has been putting considerable resources into its partnership with Sony and has produced some much lauded lenses for the Sony A7 camera range. I have used the Sony / Zeiss branded 55mm f1.8 quite extensively and it is a superb lens; small, light, built like a tank, and sharp wide open but still full of character (I evidently have a thing for Sonnar designs, see a previous post).

I was in for something of a culture shock when I attached the new Batis 85mm to my mirrorless A7 Mark II. It is not so much a heavy lens (at 475g), as a bulbous one. Immediately one begins to question whether the whole ethos of the mirrorless format has been compromised by adding such a form – inevitably this makes the setup seem much more DSLR-like. My take on this is that there is still a considerable advantage in size and weight over DSLR equivalents, although I expect some will see this differently. I am in the process of investigating 85mm as a focal length, and so cannot say definitively whether I am committed to it yet. I suspect that if I adopt 85mm fully, I could be quite happy accommodating a lens that is a little more bulky than I would like, especially if the results warrant it.


The sun streamed in as I walked around the Museum and set about the task of putting the Batis through its paces. I attached the lens hood to guard against flare, something which approximately doubles the size of the lens. With my camera strap wrapped around my wrist, I could easily hold the A7II in one hand. When shooting, my left hand had a good deal to hold onto, making the whole setup feel very balanced, and this despite the fact that the camera is visually dwarfed by the lens. The Batis has a sleek and smooth shape with very comfortable ergonomics. It has a rubber focus ring which I really enjoyed using for fine focussing.

This is hardly a full and scientific lens review, however I did endeavour to use a range of apertures in typical shooting situations. The Batis is arguably designed as a portrait lens and f1.8 at close distances produces very smooth out of focus areas and gives nothing away in terms of sharpness at the centre. This is clearly an area where modern lenses now excell: the old advice to stop down an aperture or two to achieve full sharpness is less and less relevant (although generally one will have to pay for this privilege, and the Batis is not a budget lens).




Utilising the reach of the 85mm and engaging middle apertures brings sharpness across the frame, as one would expect. I noticed some difference in critical sharpness between f9 and f11, so I would be inclined to use f9 as a limit for bigger prints. As ever, there are a number of variables at play here, so I do reserve judgment on this pending further tests and more accurate data. As ever, I found the viewfinder zoom facility on the A7II along with manual focussing to be a boon for getting focus spot on.

Examining my images from the Museum on Lightroom, it was immediately clear that this is a lens with significant edge distortion. Happily, Lightroom has a corrective profile, and so this is not an issue for me. I know that some people object to such apparent flaws in what is after all a high quality prime; my understanding is that lens designers work with a series of trade-offs to produce the qualities they desire for a specific lens. This is a lens with a distinctive (and to my eye pleasant) character, and as I have already mentioned the designers clearly have people shots in mind. I have made a very beautiful colour print of my son using Hanhnemuhle Photorag paper, which clearly show the strengths of this lens for portraiture. If I didn’t already own some top class portrait lenses, I would surely invest in a Batis for this alone.




In summary, this is a very high quality metal lens which feels robust and has sound ergonomics. While my imagination gravitated towards black and white for my Museum trip, the Batis has a notably ‘Zeiss’ colour signature, with humming blues and intense reddish browns. At f1.8 the lens is already very sharp, and it produces sumptuous out of focus areas. The tonal transitions it produces are attractive to my eye, and while this may be entirely subjective, a little more analog-looking than those produced by some lenses for digital. This is a thoroughly modern lens with some traditional mores: when the camera is switched on a luxurious black and white LED glows a proud ‘ZEISS’, before displaying very accurate depth of field information. A boon to some users I’m sure, but perhaps not me.

As I mentioned above, I am still in the process of investigating the 85mm focal length. What I do now know is that if I settle on it, I will be very hard-pressed to give up the Batis. In any event, I for one am happy to see such a lens being added to the ever increasing options for Sony mirrorless.


Sep 022015

Is this the ultimate budget 75mm portrait lens for Fujifilm X Series users?

By Simon Kimber


Well the actual answer if of course no, but for under £40 this 50mm CCTV lens for APS-C cameras is remarkably good and if your cash strapped, a serious contender to Fuji’s excellent but pricey XF56mm F1.2 lens. Using CCTV lens or ‘toy lens’ is quite popular amongst micro four thirds camera users, and there are many devotees to the swirly bokeh and vignetted images they create. However, having tried one of those tiny lenses, whilst fun, I felt the fiddliness of the tiny focussing ring and lack of defined aperture stops, meant they would never be more than a fun ‘toy’.

optional image 13

This lens however is quite a different beast, and size wise is nearly the same size as a standard Fujifilm lens. Compared with my XF35mm lens, it’s a bit longer but narrower. Whilst idly searching a certain ‘bay’, I came across CCTV lens that fit APS-C sensors available in 25mm F1.4 (40mm in 35mm equivalence), 35mm F1.6 (50mm equivalent) and 50mm F1.8 (75mm equivalent). It’s obviously a manual focus lens, but it has marked F stops and focussing distance marked on and is solidly constructed from aluminium. The lens hood (46mm) and cap are an addition I bought myself. A range of C-Mount adapters are available for Fuji, Sony, Canon and Nikon APS-C cameras. Having recently bought a Fujifilm Xpro1 in their end of line deal, I was looking to expand my lens line up currently having nothing longer than 35mm (50mm equivalent). I thought I would try this focal length to see if I liked it and then maybe in the future save up and buy the XF 60mm (I know it’s not the best lens, the XF56mm is way to expensive).
So what’s this lens like to use? Well it’s not perfect, but you mustn’t forget the price. Image wise as you can see from my not great comparison shots (I should have moved positions really for a better comparison) it’s a little soft, and the colours seem a little washed out compared to Fujifilm’s fantastic XF35mm F1.4 lens. But…. That is a fantastic lens, so being not bad in comparison is a great accolade for a lens costing nearly ten times less.

50mm F1.8 CCTV Lens vs Fujifilm XF35mm F1.4

image 3 cctv lens

image 4 xf35mm

Like other CCTV lens, the only issue is that the glass doesn’t appear to be coated, so the lens is very susceptible to flare, and this can be a major issue. I added a lens hood and often you need to shield the lens with your hand. In many ways it looks and shoots like a vintage lens. I have a vintage Russian Jupiter 8 85mm F2 as well for my Xpro1 and in behaves in a similar way. Focus peaking on the Fuji Xpro1 seems to work quite well with this lens. It doesn’t look like a CCTV lens at all and more like a traditional vintage manual lens. I’m curious about its manufacture as it seems to be far too big for any CCTV camera. Perhaps it is made for just for digital camera using CCTV glass, but I don’t know.

Lens flare in bright evening sunlight can still be a problem even shielding with your hand

image 5 lens flare can be a problem

For me I find this lens works best shooting in black and white and either indoors and in evening or morning light. If you accept that it’s not great in strong sunlight, you can get some nice shots from this lens. In a recent trip to Cologne in Germany, I used this lens quite a bit. I found it actually quite easy to manual focus as there is actually not much distance in the focussing ring from 10 metres to infinity, so manual focussing is quick. I will admit I’m not a great photographer, but I really enjoyed using this lens, and I got (for me) some good photos from this lens)

image 6 Koln riverboat party

image 7 Koln riverboat party 2

A summer party on a Rhine riverboat – everyone was dressed up in white – not sure why

image 8 Koln cathedral

image 9 Koln Cathedral

image 10 Koln Cathedral

I am really pleased with this lens and think it’s a hidden ‘secret’ that people need to know about. This is not a normal ‘CCTV toy lens’! Note – the one I bought says ‘50mm F1.8 APS-C’ on the body of the lens. It does not vignette at all and the images speak for themselves. A number of people on a certain ‘bay’ website sell them, but be careful as there are other lenses being sold that do not that APS-C written on them and appear much smaller. I have no idea what they would be like.

And finally, I think this lens goes quite well with my Fujifilm X-Pro1! Lens wise it has to be the best value for money around at under £40.


Feb 112014


Amazon has the new Olympus 25 1.8 IN STOCK NOW in black for $399. This is a STEAL of a DEAL for this lens and I will have mine tomorrow. Full review soon but I have seen loads of photos with this lens and it is superb, fast focusing, silent and gorgeous! Get it HERE! This will give you the classic 50mm field of view on your Micro 4/3 camera with a fast 1.8 aperture!


Dec 292013

A Noctilux is for Life, not just for Christmas!

By John Tuckey

Hi All, Season’s Greetings!

Some of you may know me from previous posts, for those who don’t, my passion has always been black and white – particularly the timeless quality that it can impart. Black and white allows an element of ‘anywhen’ into an image which with just a couple of props can suddenly be your own personal time machine.

Anyway, I finally gave in to the ultimate in lens lust and bought a Noctilux f1 for christmas. I’ve been blown away, so I wanted to share a few of the first images with you.

Steve’s written extensively about this lens, and frequently uses the word ‘magic’ – he’s right!

There are those who say it’s too big and heavy – but to be honest it’s only 120grams heavier than my silver chrome summilux ASPH. Yes it blocks a chunk of the viewfinder – which doesn’t bother me in landscape – but really freaked me at first in portrait, the models head was completely obscured – yikes! Yeah thats a pain, but it’s not so scary once you remember there’s no reason why you can’t hold the camera the other way round so the lower corner is blocked rsther than the upper ;-)

Viewfinder aside, what’s the picture like – does it deliver the magic that so many others have raved about so much? I’ve gone through most of the 50’s: the 50’Cron, the Lux ASPH, the Sonnar C, the Nokton 1.1 and the 1.5 – will this really be worth all that money on top of say the Lux ASPH and Sonnar?

You can judge for yourself below, here’s two sets of three from my first shoot with the Nocti on an M9 yesterday. The Shots with the shirt are f4, ISO 80, Shutter 1/180 with Elinchrom flash at 4 stops firing through cardboard flags. The vintage styled portraits are done using the same flash heads just as modelling lights (not firing) while switching the lens down to f1, 1/60 and letting the M9 sort it’s ISO out which turned out to be 800.

The last one just shot into the 500px ‘popular’ section within 15minutes, and got placed in the LFI’s M9 mastershots gallery overnight – which tells me there’s plenty of magic in here to go around.

This is one Noctilux that will be for life, not just for Christmas!







All the best

John Tuckey

Jul 192012

The Olympus Micro 4/3 12-50mm Real Use Lens Review – The misunderstood kit zoom.

So I recently acquired a silver OM-D and 12-50 Kit Zoom. You know, the kit lens everyone has just about panned and trashed. Well, not really e v e r y o n e but many reviews and users have said it is just average in optical quality, has awful distortion, and of course aperture speed, or lack of it. I wondered how Olympus could be selling this guy for $499 when it looks HUGE in pictures and everyone is panning it off as soft, slow and lacking in micro-contrast!

Well, the fact is that it is indeed slow when it comes to aperture. With a variable aperture of 3.5-6.3 it is as slow as molasses on a cold winters day as it drips from the spout in a house without heat…BUT with the amazing 5-Axis Image stabilization inside of the OM-D E-M5, I was able to go out at night and get handheld shots on the wide end with no issues. The ISO would get jacked up but the E-M5 has really good high ISO performance so it is not that huge of a deal (samples below). Let’s face it, OM-D users are mostly enthusiasts and hobbyists. The big wig pro’s go with Nikon and Canon and having a weatherproof 12-50 zoom WITH good Macro capability and video capability can be a good lens to have, even with its shortcomings.

Yes, I feel this little lens is misunderstood.

I think this lens had HIGH expectations from most people. I feel many thought this would be a “pro” quality lens because the 4/3 format Olympus 12-60 lens is a gorgeous lens and many thought that this lens would be the Micro 4/3 optical equivalent of that lens so right from the get go this lens had everyone talking! When cameras started to ship the reports came back that this lens was not so sharp or impressive. But again, we all had super high hopes here. A $499 lens SHOULD be damn good but Olympus sees it as a small, light, and versatile lens and that is how I see it as well. I also think it should be $350 instead of $499 but when you get it with the camera body it is a good buy at $300.

I admit though, I never really wanted one of these 12-50’s due to the size it appeared to be in the photos online. The lens looks huge in pictures but in person it is quite slim and skinny and yes, LIGHT. It is indeed on the long side but it is MUCH thinner than I expected. You can see the pic below of the lens next to the Sony 18-55 Kit Zoom and the Nikon 10-30 Kit Zoom. It is a loooooong lens but in reality and in use it is not offensive at all, unless you walk up to a cute girl with it..then she might think your camera is getting a little excited ;)

Left to right: Olympus 12-50, Sony 18-55, Nikon 10-30

I bought this lens as part of a silver OM-D body kit and had planned to sell it because I kept hearing it was just “OK”. Selling the lens for $300 would allow me to have paid “body only” price for the camera but nope, I decided that I am keeping it! As much as I am NOT a zoom guy, I will keep it for the teeny amount of Macro I do and for an all around vacation or family lens. I can see taking this setup to disneyland or the grand canyon even, and it will give good results. Buying it with the camera also saves you some cash…to the tune of $200 and that brings the price of the lens with the body to $300, which is about the right price. I can see this lens being used by your kids or wife as it is simple and versatile.

The test snapshot pics I have shot with it so far show me that the IQ is pretty sharp (you can see crops below) and much sharper than I expected after reading the doom and gloom reports on this guy. No it will not be as crisp as the 12mm prime but for a kit lens this one is worth having over the 14-42 (in my opinion).  I have had no softness issues or contrast issues or any issues really and because it is so light it feels great on the camera. There is some distortion at the wide end that I do not get with the 12mm f/2 but it is to be expected in a kit zoom (but not in s $499 lens) and in real photos (not test charts) it’s not a deal breaker at all.

One thing I like about this lens is the way it goes to macro mode. You just hold the Macro button down on the lens barrel and flick up the lens barrel. The lens will automatically engage macro mode and go to the correct focal length. That focal length is 43mm and the aperture is f/6.

Here is a shot at 12mm, wide open at f/3.5 – so this is the lens at it’s worst, and I have seen much worse than this! You must click to see the 100% crops embedded in the image!

The OM-D E-M5 Camera is a perfect match for this lens

The more I use the OM-D the more I realize how it really has no compromises and this is pretty amazing for a small mirrorless camera. No compromise means no roadblocks when out shooting. Low light? No problem. Fast lenses available? No problem. Great video? No problem. Fast AF? No problem. EVF? No problem. Great design? No problem. With no compromises we can all concentrate on getting the shots AND enjoying ourselves at the same time. I am hoping to do a follow-up on this camera soon as it’s just so enjoyable to pack along and take everywhere. It’s solid, easy to use, hassle free and the IQ rocks. Just how I like it. Seeing that the E-M5 is weather sealed this 12-50 is a perfect match for it as an everyday lens.

Instead of going on and on about this lens, I have said what I needed to say. It’s a good lens though not a GREAT “wow” lens. It is sharp enough for 93% of users, it is light and slim, it is feature rich with Macro and the variable zoom options (you can use a mechanical zoom or an electronic type zoom), it doesn’t get any bigger when you zoom (it’s all internal action) and it’s versatile.  12-50 in Micro 4/3 equals 24-100, which covers a lot of ground. The distortion and edge softness (there is a little of that as well) really is not going to kill your photos but if you want perfection and are shooting in a pro situation, you may want to opt for some of the amazing primes available.

Me, I like it much better than the standard kit 14-42 so I gave that one to my son for his E-Pl1. If you are choosing an OM-D kit, I’d recommend this one over the 14-42 kit for the extra $200.

Pros and Cons of the Olympus 12-50 Kit Zoom


  • It is light and thin but made well
  • Weather Sealed just like the E-M5
  • Great for video with fast and silent AF
  • Good family or all-purpose lens
  • Doesn’t expand as you zoom
  • One button click to macro
  • I had no sharpness issues even wide open that others have had
  • Aperture is slow as molasses
  • By the time you hit 50mm you are already at f/6.3, so you need some light if you want ISO low
  • Some distortion at wide end
  • micro contrast is not up there with the 25 1.4, 45 1.8, or top quality primes
  • Too expensive at $499, buy it with the body at $300, which is about what it is worth
Image Samples using the OM-D E-M5 and 12-50 Lens

Take a look at the quick snapshots I grabbed in the 1st few hours of owning this lens. No complaints from me at all…at all! Oh, and BTW, in case you didn’t realize how much I like this camera…the OM-D is everything it is cracked up to be. A HUGE BIG FAT BRAVO to Olympus on this one. It’s a good time to be a photographer, camera geek or gear hound with G.A.S.! BTW, the new Olympus 75 1.8 is coming soon and it looks AMAZING!!!!


Click on the images for a larger and much better look, including some with 100% crops

and one shot taken by my iPhone..look how beautiful this is :)


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!

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Jan 102012

The Panasonic – Leica 25 1.4 Summilux Lens Review for Micro 4/3

Finally! The lens I waited months for finally arrived! The Panasonic/Leica 25 1.4 Summilux is a very important lens for Micro 4/3 users because it FINALLY gives us a 50mm equivalent focal length with a fast aperture of 1.4! Woo Hoo! When the 1st Micro 4/3 cameras were released this was a lens many of us asked for (I know I did) and Panasonic has now delivered it to us. We already have the now almost legendary Panasonic 20 1.7 lens which just about every serious M4/3 shoot has owned at one point or another so how does this lens stand up to that one?

Well, size wise, the newer 25 Summilux is more than twice the length of the 20 and about $200 more expensive. So is it worth it to splurge the extra $$ and pick up the 25? Read on to find out my thoughts on this lens. But be warned….while reviewing this lens my Nephew was visiting me from Chicago so he was my main model when shooting :) Most of you already know my lens reviews are not scientific, rather they are “real world” results of a photo enthusiast going out and shooting the lens or camera and telling all about my experience, enthusiasm and sharing my results.

I snapped this one late at night using my car headlights to light up the area. My crazy nephew came out of the store and took off his shirt to strike a pose. Shot with the E-P3 in grainy B&W mode at 1.4

The Build and Feel of the lens. Is this a real Leica?

This lens feels just about the same as every other Panasonic Micro 4/3 prime lens, and that is good. Same build as the 20 1.7 and 45 2.8 so it is a solid lens but this lens is a Panasonic through and through, not a Leica. It may have the Leica name on it but the lens is made by Panasonic using a Leica design. No exotic glass but even so, this lens comes the closest yet to giving that Leica look on a Micro 4/3 body. The lens feels good on the camera though it is a little on the larger side for a prime when you consider the small size of the M4/3 bodies, and the size of the 20 pancake!

Wide open on the Olympus OM-D during the Zombie Apocalypse

*Oh and also, for those who are unaware or are new to Micro 4/3 bodies, this lens is a 25mm lens but when mounted will give you the equivalent view of a 50mm lens.

Most of my shooting was done on the E-P3 though I did shoot it on the GX1 as well. In my opinion, it feels better on the slightly larger E-P3. Ok ok…Im an E-P3 “fanboy”.

UPDATE: This lens is a MATCH MADE in HEAVEN on the new Olympus OM-D E-M5. No rattlesnake sound, super share and focuses FAST. See my OM-D E-M5 review HERE.

Using The Lens

When I received the lens I was pretty busy with other cameras and articles but I still managed to get out and use the lens as much as I could. When I unboxed it I noticed it came with a pretty massive lens hood, which I did use most of the time. I never had a problem with flare.

My main thing? I was curious if it could beat the little 20 1.7 which is not only smaller but cheaper as well. When I first started shooting it on the GX1 I noticed my shots were soft and not looking so hot. I thought I had a defective lens but when I attached it to the E-P3 I was rewarded with sharp images. I soon realized the images were soft because my 1st looks were with the out of camera JPEGS, and the GX1 was softer than the E-P3. Once I brought up the RAW files I saw just how capable this lens really is. IT IS A SHARP LENS when you stop down and guess what? It’s even sharp wide open at 1.4 as you will see a but further down.

The lens is no slouch. Full sun in Phoenix, AZ – 25 1.4 at f/8 – from RAW – Click image for full size sample.

ISO 640 and wide open at 1.4 on the Olympus O-MD E-M5

When writing about a lens and real world use (not scientific) it’s not always necessary to have 2000 words in the review because when a lens is good, it’s good. The one thing I can say about the 25 1.4 Summilux is that to my eyes, it does render images in a richer way than the 20, which is also fantastic but maybe a bit “flatter” in the color and overall presentation.  The Summilux is indeed a better lens when it comes to overall image quality. Like I said, “rich” is the word I would use to describe it’s character. It gets about as close to a real Leica lens as I have seen on Micro 4/3. To see my old 20 1.7 review you can click HERE.

The Bokeh of the 25 1.4 looks good to me when wide open – click image for larger view. E-P3.

My nephew is in town visiting me from Chicago so he was my model for most of these test shots. But here you can see the way the lens performs indoors wide open. This was shot on the E-P3.

Is the lens usable at f/1.4? I’d say YES!

So if you had any doubts on image quality, fear not. This lens delivers at all apertures. Even when wide open it is sharp at the focus point. Check out the shot below with the 100% crop under it. There is a reason this lens is $500+. Look at it this way…it is $3000 less expensive than a 50 Summilux ASPH!

Below is an image I shot with the E-P3 at f/1.4 along with a 100% crop below the image. This lens is SHARP

What’s that noise? The Grind when used on Oly PEN cameras

One thing I noticed, as have many others is the grinding noise this lens produces when you use it on an Olympus PEN camera. Take it out in the sun and you will hear a noise that makes you think you have a defective lens as the aperture changes. This lens is silent on the GX1 but noisy as heck on the E-P3 (when in bright light). It did not bother me but it is there though not constant. This may bother some shooters so beware if you plan on using on a PEN. When you hear the grinding rattlesnake noise just know its normal.

UPDATE: This noise does not happen when you use this lens on the new Olympus OM-D E-M5!

E-P3  – Grainy B&W – wide open at 1.4

Again, wide open

more on the OM-D E-M5

and again, on the E-M5

So…which should I buy? The 20 or the 25? Or, should I upgrade my 20 1.7?

This is the big question that everyone wants to know. To be honest, I wish I could have taken this lens with me on a trip. If so I would have been able to get a more wide variety of shots with it but just in the couple of weeks I have used it I can easily say it is the better lens if you are deciding between this and the 20 1.7. But, at the same time it is a couple hundred more and larger making the camera less compact. Also, it is not LEAGUES better. The 20 still has its charm for its size and quality but yes, I would buy the 25 if I wanted THE lens for Micro 4/3.

If you crave creamy beautiful files from your Micro 4/3 camera, this is a lens you will want to own. The IQ is superb, the lens focuses about as fast as the 20 1.7 and I had no issues focusing in low light with the E-P3. Overall I’d say if you don’t mind the size, go for the 25. If you want to stay compact, keep the 20. Not much more I can say about it really. It’s fantastic and the best Panasonic prime to date. For the Bokeh addicts you will have an easier time with shallow depth of field as well and I find the lens a but more contrasty than the 20. If you are sticking with M4/3 – this one is a no brainer and it is amazing on the new E-M5! A must own.

You can buy the 25 1.4 at B&H Photo or AMAZON

More detail wide open at 1.4 – click it for larger view

A quick note about Micro 4/3

At the time of this writing there are some exiting things ahead in the world of digital cameras. The new Fuji X-Pro 1 looks to be a really great mirrorless camera, though at a much higher price tag than any Micro 4/3. While the quality of the Fuji will most likely stomp over any M 4/3 I still feel that this format is here to stay due to the size, and the lower cost. Also, the lenses we have available for M 4/3 just rock. The Olympus 12mm, 45mm and this Panasonic 25 1.4 represent the best of the best for M 4/3 and is reason enough alone to stick with this format. I’ll probably always have a M 4/3 body because they are fun, they can be taken anywhere and the quality rivals the big guys when you attach a great lens.

Sometimes we all get caught up in the hype of new releases, and you guys know I do as well but I love this format for what it is and what it does right. For $700 or so you can get a kit with a solid body that takes superb photos better than many of us can even shoot. I still feel something like an E-P3 or E-M5 and 12, 25  and 45 could last someone many many years.

I love the PEN cameras and hope to see advancement in the bodies in the years to come.

With that said, I will leave you with a few more photos from the lens…some have been processed, some have not. My processing consists of adjusting the RAW file during conversion and sometimes adding a filter using Alien Skin Exposure 3.



PLEASE 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 (and the cost these days to keep it going is pretty damn high), 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!

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Jul 262011

The Leica 35 Summilux DOUBLE ASPHERICAL (AA) Lens Review  – A Classic FULL of Magic!

By Steve Huff


Video Correction – This lens was introduced in 1990-1991 and only 1000-2000 were made. The much more common ASPH was brought out in 1994. So, this lens was NOT released in the 70;s as the video states! Sorry!

How cool is this? I mean, REALLY…how freaking cool is this? I am back home from Seattle and one of the attendees, Ed Tan was at the workshop sporting one of the RARE 35 Summilux ASPHERICAL (AA) lenses. You may or may not know of this lens but I do know it is hard to find, very expensive, and tough to find samples from this lens on an M9 (if you can find any at all). Ed was so nice he let me TAKE THE LENS HOME so I could review it for all of you guys! The only problem is I have fallen HARD for this lens and if I had the cash ($9,000 – $13,000 IF you can find one) then this lens would be my choice in the 35 focal length for the M9. What I mean by that is, if I had hundreds of  thousands of dollars of disposable income this would be my 35 of choice, lol. As it is now, I can’t even afford the current latest and greatest 35 but I have enjoyed shooting with Ed’s lens so THANK YOU Ed! Hmmm…maybe he won’t mind if I send him a cron back instead, hahahah.


Roger Paperno and Ed Tan during Lunch in Seattle – F1.4, black and white out of camera (M9-P) – No focus issues in my samples and its very sharp wide open (focused on Rogers Eyes).

Roger giving the thumbs up to the AA and Ed smiling because he knows the lens is HIS!

Ed…no Post Processing, OOC B&W JPEG!

Yes, I LOVE the latest 35 Summilux ASPH II FLE but I have to say, the rendering of this ASPHERICAL is out of this world delicious. Do not get this confused with the previous 35 Lux ASPH…nope, this is the lens that came out BEFORE that one (around 1990-91) and has the word ASPHERICAL printed on the lens instead of ASPH (which came out in 1994). Its pretty small without the hood attached and not too heavy. The focus ring on this one is smooth though the Aperture rings seems like it needs a cleaning and lubricating, which is always one thing to expect when buying a used 20+ year old lens.

I have written about the 35 Lux ASPH, and the 35 Lux ASPH II FLE but this is the one lens I always dreamed of trying out and here it is. There is not much I can say about it that has not already been said in the other Summilux reviews but it is a SUMMILUX, so it is an f/1.4 aperture lens. It is DOUBLE ASPHERICAL and it is gorgeous! Yep, this lens was VERY hard and expensive to make as it had TWO Aspherical elements that were hand polished. Leica stopped making these after they produced about 1000-2000 of them due to the high costs. They replaced it with the ASPH version which has ONE Aspherical element. THIS “AA” Version is simply breathtaking though and I wish Leica would have re-introduced this version, but I guess we can’t have it all!

Sometimes the color of the older lenses have odd shifts, but this one has GREAT color that just pops. The Bokeh is pretty smooth in my opinion. Wide open at 1.4, as all Leica lenses should be :)

The BEST 35?

When I reviewed the latest 35 Lux ASPH II FLE lens I proclaimed it the best 35mm lens you can get for your M9, and this still holds true. It is the best lens you can buy in the 35mm focal length when buying a new lens for your camera. $5000, new, warranty, box and case, and a beautiful “perfect” lens with a modern rendering of your subject with a very smooth look. If I could afford one of those, and if they were actually readily available, I would buy one in a nano-second. The 35 Summilux lenses, all of them…they all have some kind of magic but…but…but… this double Aspherical version seems to have a perfect mix of what I really love. Classic rendering and great color, but also very sharp at the focal point when wide open, which are all ingredients that can add up to some serious fairy dust magic when the light is right. It may not be everyones cup of tea as I remember Ashwin saying he preferred the current FLE Lux to this one as it fits his lens kit better (more modern Leica look) but for some this may be the golden ticket.

Enjoying lunch and also the 35! Out of camera B&W, no Silver Efex here… Leica M9, 35 Summilux AA wide open. Bokehlicious.

35mm. It’s A great Focal Length. A classic.

Shooting a 35 on the Leica M9 is so natural. I have gone back and forth from the 35 to 50 and one day I may love the 35 and the next day I may love the 50. I also love the 28 but my true love in the lens world for Leica is the old 35 and 50. Two lenses I can live with for life (which is what I do). I have now tried out every 35 Summilux, even the older PRE-ASPH but my personal favorite rendering has come from this AA version. Just wish it was not so damn rare and expensive! There is also a huge lack of information online about this lens which is why I thought it would be cool to have a quick review and video here for it. As you may have seen, the video is at the top of this page.

Another out of camera B&W image (this lens seems to do well with B&W or color). Wide open!


and some more out of camera color…

Why are you only posting wide open shots?

This lens, or any SUMMILUX Leica lens is meant and made to be shot WIDE OPEN. I will not be posting F/8 landscape shots as if you want a lens for that purpose then a 35 Summarit or Summicron would be a better choice. When you buy a Summilux lens, a 1.4 lens, this means that Leica has built this lens for maximum performance WIDE OPEN. This is in part what gives us that “Leica Look”. The mix of sharp subject, creamy backgrounds, the way the lens handles the light and even sometimes creates it own…these lenses create images with DEPTH. There is nothing flat about ANY Leica Summilux or Noctilux lens. When you stop them down to F/8 they become just like any other lens in existence. Nope, for me I shoot Leica for the beautiful glass and shooting that glass wide open is where it shines. It is not a gimmick, it is a LOOK and a look that goes along with MY style. Wide open baby! With that said, here is a sample at f/2.8 :)

f2.8, out of camera JPEG with color set to one notch above standard “Medium High”


Here is one from RAW, and a FULL SIZE 18MP file from the M9. Click the image for the full file. SHOT AT f/2.8

This is a lens that you will not find much info on and in fact, some sites who claim they know all about Leica lenses skip this lens in their listings and reviews. It’s not an easy find, nor is it cheap when you do find it. I mean, you can find it USED for about the same price as a NEW 0.95 Noctilux OR MORE. This is much to high IMO, but when something is out there that is this rare, has the name Leica and the word SUMMILUX on it, AND is a double Aspherical lens…well, I guess we can expect it to be priced into the stratosphere!

So maybe there will be a day when I walk into some yard/garage sale and there will be a table with camera gear…maybe, just maybe, there will be a Leica 35 Summilux AA lens for $100 and I will snag it. That would be amazing. Unlikely, but amazing! Thank’s again to Ed for letting me borrow this little beauty so I could share my experience with you guys! If you have the cash stashed and want a beautiful 35…take your pick as they all have magic, but this one has more MOJO than the others. At least I think so.

Some Alien Skin conversions…both ISO 2500, late night & low light, 1.4

Straight from camera JPEG  – COLOR is nice. Click image for large version.

Wide open, again, OOC JPEG


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Jun 222010

The Leica 90 Elmarit M f/2.8 Lens Review

By Steve Huff

Wow, this review has been 6 months in the making! Not that it has taken me 6 months to write it, but it has taken me 6 months to complete it because I sold my original 90 Elmarit a few months ago! Why? Well, not because I did not like the lens but mainly to help to fund another crazy camera purchase at the time. Also, truth be told, because I really did not use it very often. But as usual, with any Leica lens I sell, I started to miss it after I sold it (I had a PERFECT one). I also only had a handful of images with it so I did not feel I was qualified to really write a review for it at the time. I am not like the guys who review items they never shoot with. Probably why I do not have a “review” for every camera and lens ever made showing up in google. Yep, I actually USE and shoot with the cameras and lenses I write about. Sometimes I will spend a month or two with a camera before writing about it, other times a couple of weeks. Either way, by the time I sit down in my comfy chair to write, you can be sure I have really used the piece of gear I am writing about.

So here I am months later and thanks to Leica dealer Ken Hansen I am now the happy owner of another 90 Elmarit for my M9. Again, this one is perfect and even 6 bit coded. Every now and then Ken gets these and many of then are like brand new so if you have been looking for one, I suggest e-mailing him to see what he has available. Ken is an old school no nonsense dealer and he deals through e-mail and phone. He used to have a huge store in NYC back in the day and these days he is much smaller though he is still an official Leica dealer. If you ever e-mail him, tell him I sent you!

With the new 90 in hand for a few days now I am ready to write this review, but it will be more of a quickie real world use review because there is not really much I can say about this one. It’s a damn good lens.

“Violin Annie” – The Leica M9 with a 90 Elmarit at 2.8, wide open

The Return Of The 90mm

Ever since the release of the M9 there has been a bit of “M9 Hysteria” within the Leica community. It seems like EVERYONE wants an M9 these days! Well, almost everyone. There are many reasons for this and I am not going to list them here, but to make a long story short, the M9 is a camera capable of some of the best image quality in the world for 35mm digital. One of the reasons why is the Leica glass, the lenses…the little jewels that are sprinkled with magic dust by the Leica gods before they get shipped out to the photographers of the world. They cost a fortune but damn, they are usually something special. I also happen to really like the sensor in the M9. I find it pretty amazing actually, even if those DXO tests said otherwise, he he.

With the introduction of the M9, many M shooters were going back to the 90mm focal length. On a full frame M9, the 90mm focal length makes for a wonderful portrait lens and while it is not an “everyday” lens for the M9, it is indeed a nice focal length to have on hand when you want that little bit of  extra reach. With Leica, we have a few options for a 90mm lens, many of them you can find on the used market. I have tried and sent back the really older 90’s like the tele-elmarit which were not up to par with the newer versions. Out of all of the 90 Elmarit variations, this is the best (slide out hood) one I have tried, the 90 Elmarit 2.8.

What is also very nice is that the 90 Elmarit M has a rendering that borders on modern and classic, much like a 28 or 50 summicron. It’s sharp but smooth at the same time. The full frame sensor on the M9 shows what  this lens can do and it’s gorgeous from 2.8 and down.

The sad thing is that Leica discontinued this lens, and I think it sucks because this is very fine lens IMO. The 90 Elmarit is an f2.8 lens, which sounds slow in leica land but in all reality, for a 90mm focal lenth, f/2.8 is plenty fast.

There are other choices in Leica for a 90mm. The main mack-daddy of them all is the 90 Summicron f/2. This is a beast of a lens. Big, heavy and a but unruly on the M. It does indeed have a gorgeous rendering and from f/2 on it is sharp as can be. It’s also expensive these days at around $3700 (but ALL Leica lenses are expensive). The next 90 we have from Leica is the newest 90 Summarit. This lens is nice and has a faster f/2.5 maximum aperture. I shot with this lens once and found it to be a bit clinical for my tastes. Something about it did not speak to me like most Leica glass I try but I did only have it for 3 days and shot with it for a total of 20 minutes. Maybe I did not give it a fair shake.

So as I have already stated, I have owned the 90 Summicron, shot with the 90 Summarit and even tried some of the older 90’s like the tele-elmarit and  I have to admit that my favorite 90 in the Leica line up is this little compact 90 Elmarit!

So why would I prefer a 2.8 lens over the F2 of the Summicron? Well, the main reason is SIZE. The 90 Summicron, while being a fine lens, is on the large and heavy side of Leica glass. The Elmarit is skinny looking sort of like an elongated 50 Summilux ASPH. The latest version is a gem with it’s slide out hood, that slides out REALLY nice and smooth.

So why did Leica stop making this lens? Well, when they released the Summarit line of lenses, the new 90, with a faster 2.5 aperture seemed like a good enough reason. When I tested the 90 Summarit I did not find it had the same rendering as this Elmarit. I found it a little flat and a little more clinical. It was actually my least favorite of the Summarit line, and one reason that I did not review it. I adore the 35 and 75 Summarits but the 90 was a bit of a miss for me instead of a hit. ALso, the build of this Elmarit is nicer than that of the Summarit. The Summarit is still a great lens at a great price for Leica, but I still feel this Elmarit is the better lens.

Leica M9 and 90 Elmarit at 2.8

Focus/Sharpness Test

Since the M9 started hitting the streets I have had quite a few e-mails from those who bought a 90 Summicron F2 only to have focus issues. I would read on forums that a 90 is hard to focus on an M, and it is hit or miss. Let me state right here that this is a myth. A 90 is no harder to focus than a 35 or 50. If you look through your M9 viewfinder with a 90mm lens attached your focus patch is the same size as it is with a 50mm lens, or 35mm lens, or ANY lens for that matter. If you can focus with a 35, you can focus a 90. It may be a little harder to compose because your viewfinder is smaller, but as for focus, the RF patch is the same no matter what lens you attach.

If you find that your 90mm shots are out of focus then your camera body is probably in need of adjustment (from my experience). When I received my first M9, my 90 would not focus correctly on it. Turned out my rangefinder was not spot on which caused the focus to be off with longer lenses. When my camera was adjusted then I had no issues with ANY lens. My new M9 is spot on and focusing this 90 (or any 90) is as easy as focusing any other lens. With that said, let me say right now that this lens is very sharp, even wide open at F2.8 so if you have a correctly calibrated body this lens will NOT disappoint.

Just for fun, instead of shooting newspapers I went out in my backyard with my new 90 Elmarit and set it to f/2.8. I shot an old shovel, a couple of weeds, and the side of a tree. I was paying close attention to my focus point and when I went back in to look over these test shots I was blown away by not only the sharpness at 2.8, but also the smooth rendering and out of focus backgrounds.

Click image below for larger view

Here is a 100% crop of the shovel handle, taken at f/2.8

Here is another shot I took with my last 90 a few months back. This was also wide open at f/2.8 just to show how sharp this lens can be when shot at its widest aperture. This is where most lens show their weakness, but not this lens! Click the image for a larger view.

No problems with the sharpness of this lens at all and it gets even sharper when you stop down.

But is f/2.8 Too Slow! Well, not for a 90!

With most Leica lenses coming in at f/1.4 and f/2 the Elmarit seems like a slow lens at f/2.8. But being a 90mm, 2.8 is actually plenty fast. I have shot the f/2 Summicron and while I really loved the lens, it was bigger, heavier and had a different look to the images. I not only prefer the Elmarit for its size and weight, but also its rendering. For example, when shooting a portrait with the 90 Summicron you will not really want to shoot at F2 as your subjects nose may be out of focus due to the shallow Depth Of Field of a 90mm shot at f/2. For portraits, you will probably want to stop down to f/2.8-f/4 for best results. With that said, if subject separation is your #1 priority, the 90 Summicron has way of making some images look so 3D it is mind boggling.

Many will prefer the Summicron but I feel this little Elmarit is the 90 to get, IF you can find one of the latest versions on the used market. The latest has the slide out hood and I have seen them sell anywhere from $1000-$2500, yes, $2500. I guess the price one pays depends on condition, age, and availability. At the peak of the M9/90mm mania a few months back I saw many of these sell for much more  than they usually go for. To find a mint copy with box, papers and case with 6-bit coding may set you back a bit of money but still probably less (or the same) as a new 90 Summarit, which IMO is inferior to this Elmarit.

So for a 90, f/2.8 is just about right and with its compact size, the Elmarit can easily be slipped in any bag. A Leica M with a 35 and 90 makes for a pretty versatile kit and the beauty of an M camera is it’s small size mixed with it’s outstanding performance. An M9 and 90 Elmarit make for a wonderful combo and I am happy to once again have this lens back in my bag for those time I want the extra reach. It probably will not get too much use but it’s nice to have. Heck, my new ultimate kit would be a 35 Lux II, 50 Lux ASPH and this 90!

This was shot wide open at f/2.8 from a distance and is an OOC JPEG!

Bokeh is silky smooth in most situations…

My Final Conclusion on the Leica 90 Elmarit

This review is pretty short and to the point and the reason for that is that there is not much to say. I sat and thought about what negatives there were with this lens and I really found none. The only negative about this lens is that Leica stopped making it! I feel lucky that I found one again and mine has the slide out hood (latest version), is 6-bit coded and I can find no faults with it. It’s sharp from f/2.8 down, it has a nice smooth rendering, the bokeh is nice, and it is relatively easy to find on the used market for a not so crazy price.

If you are looking for something with a little more reach than your standard 50 on your M camera, the 90 Elmarit is a lens you can’t go wrong with. It will get you in a little closer while retaining that Leica quality that you crave. As I stated earlier, these lenses have to be found on the used market as  they are no longer made. I got mine from Leica dealer Ken Hansen who gets these in from time to time. He even had a new old stock titanium version a little while ago, but sold it quick. You can e-mail him HERE and ask him what he has available if you are interested. Be sure to tell him I sent ya :)

I will leave you with a few more snaps I took with the 90 Elmarit. Nothing too fancy, just mainly quick snaps I shot while I was out and about with camera in hand. Hopefully these will be helpful to some of you! Thanks for reading!



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 it helps this site. 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 :)

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May 162010

The Panasonic 45 Macro F2.8 Lens Review for Micro 4/3

By Steve Huff

Macro. Not really a specialty of mine but I have to admit that there have been times when I wished I had a macro lens for some cool insect or flower shot. When Panasonic released their 45 Macro lens for Micro 4/3 I was curious to give it a try. It did after all have the Leica name on it which basically means it is a Leica design but manufactured by Panasonic. It is not a real “Leica” lens so do not expect the exotic Leica glass to be used in this one, however, from what I have seen while using it the lens is a fine performer with just a quirk or two that has no effect on performance. But before I throw out any spoilers let me thank B&H Photo for sending me this lens to review and allowing me to shoot it for a couple of weeks to get to know it better.

View from our breakfast table in Mexico – Panny 45 Macro at 2.8 on the Olympus E-PL1 – Bokeh looks pretty nice!

Panasonic has been really good about leading the way with micro 4/3. They came out with the awesome G-F1 which at the time beat out the Olympus bodies for functionality and they were quicker to release the cool lenses that all of the M4/3 people wanted to see! For example, the Panasonic 20 1.7 lens has been a super hot seller mainly because it is small, light, fast and provides superb quality with any Micro 4/3 camera.

Olympus has the very excellent 17 2.8 but it’s not F2, so that hurt its sales numbers IMO. These days, especially for Micro 4/3, people want FAST glass. This is why companies have come out of the woodwork to make adapters for these little cameras. We can now mount just about any lens made. Leica, Nikon, Cine Lenses…whatever! They can be mounted on to these little Micro 4/3 bodies and the results can be astounding in some cases.

But for a true macro I think Panasonic has led the way with this 45. They did it right with the Leica design, the nice build and the fast 2.8 aperture which is pretty standard for any macro. On a Micro 4/3 camera the Panny 45 becomes the equivalent of a 90mm so it is a good thing that this lens has built in optical image stabilization. But when you are up close photographing a small insect you will get much better results with a Tripod because I have found when working up close the OIS is sort of useless. I found this out when trying to shoot some macro video WITHOUT a tripod :)

Here are the specs of the lens:

Filter Size 46mm

Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds

f/Stop Range f2.8-f/22

Minimum Focus Distance 0.5′ (0.15m)

Magnification 1:1

Angle of View 27°

Groups/Elements 14 elements in 10 groups (1 Aspherical lens, 1 ED lens)

Aperture 7 diaphragm blades

Circular aperture diaphragm

Maximum Length 2.46″ (62.5mm)

Maximum Diameter 2.48″ (63mm)

Weight Approx. 0.50 lbs (226.79g)

The Olympus E-PL1 and the Panasonic 45 Macro make a great team. With the Oly’s super color this lens can create some really nice looking images.

So this review will focus on the “real world” results I have been able to get with this lens on the Olympus E-PL1. I had this along with the Panasonic 7-14 lens for the past two weeks and they have traveled with me from IL to AZ to CA to Mexico and then back again. While I was on vacation in Mexico I rarely used the 45 as I was not really finding many “Macro Moments”. I did give the 7-14 a workout but mainly just for family snapshots. I will be posting more of those in my upcoming 7-14 lens review in the next few days.

I have already stated that I am not really a macro kind of guy and I will admit I have only used a couple of macro lenses in my entire life. One was the Nikon 105VR f2.8 on a D300 and the other was the Zeiss 100 Makro f2 on the D700. Both were and still are STELLAR lenses. If I owned a Nikon I would own the Zeiss 100. It was gorgeous and IMO beat the Nikon 105VR by a hair, mainly due to the rich color and 3D pop the Zeiss put out. If anyone out there is reading  this and you want a magical and superb macro lens for your Nikon I can say that the Zeiss 100 Makro will thrill you to death. Be aware though that it is manual focus only.

The Zeiss 100 Macro on the Nikon D700

So with my limited experience of macro lenses being two of the nicest ones available, the Panny was gonna have some stiff competition. Plus, M4/3 sensors are not up to par with the APS-C or full frame digital sensors like those in the D300 and D700 so I did not expect image quality to surpass what I got with those other lenses/systems.

The Video

Here is a youtube video I made showing the lens in my hand as well as explaining the switches on the barrel. It also shows how slow/fast the lens is to focus. But remember, it is a MACRO, and usually macro lenses are pretty slow to focus, so this is pretty normal. Just keep in mind that it is a specialty lens. You do not buy this lens for a general use lens, you buy it to shoot close ups (though you CAN shoot anything you want with it if slow focus will not bother you). While it can do fantastic with general photography the lens will be slow to focus and you have to be aware of the limit/full switch on the side. Anyway, here is the video which also includes some handheld macro video shot with the lens :)

Shooting The 45 Macro on the Olympus E-PL1

The lens was mounted to the little Olympus E-Pl1 and with the O.I.S. set to on away I went searching for insects or anything that would show me the quality of this lens. I did not use a tripod because I wanted to see how effective the image stabilization was on the lens. The following are some of the photos I was able to capture with the lens over the past few weeks. It is my belief that pictures should do the talking in a lens review, not charts and graphs. Also, if I can get decent shots with a lens, anyone can.

Sometimes close ups can be so beautiful and tranquil. Shot at f2.8 on the E-Pl1. 100% crop right under the pic.

100% crop of the in camera JPEG (above image) for those that care about that sort of thing.

This is what happens when you shoot in VIVID mode on the E-Pl1. VERY bright reds, almost NEON at times.

They can be softened up a bit in post like this one that has an almost surreal look due to being shot wide open at 2.8

You just have to love the Olympus colors here. The greens really POP and say “BAMMM!” The lens is sharp and contrasty much like a modern day Leica lens.

How about a Non-Macro? My son in the Ocean while in Careyes, Mexico. As you could probably tell, he did not want to come home :) f8.

The look you will get from your kids if you constantly take pics of them. This one was shot at F2.8 from across the table at breakfast

I did some filter/processing work on this one just for fun. Taken at the same time as the shot above.

Shot at F8

This was a quick grab at f5.

Ants climbing down a dandelion stalk

My Verdict on the Panasonic 45 Macro.

Well, well, well. I thought that this lens would be good, but not GREAT. After going over my shots with it and realizing that I am not that good of a macro shooter, I realized that someone who IS a great macro shooter would get mind blowing good results with this lens. I shoot macro just for fun and maybe a few of them every year or two. This lens on the Olympus E-PL1 gave me smooth bokeh, awesome color, and the ability to do duty as a macro, landscape, and even portrait lens. In regards to image QUALITY this lens has it all. In spades.

The only cons of this lens are its AF speed, its manual focus implementation, and it’s price. At $899 it is not a cheap solution but the quality is right up there with the Nikon 60 and 105 macros and those are not cheap either. If you shoot micro 4/3 then this is the premo choice for macro shooting (is it the only choice in m4/3 mount)? The build is good. Not Leica build but probably equal to the Nikon 105VR. The color this lens produces can be outstanding and the built in Optical Image Stabilization works as advertised but not really useful for macros. The AF speed is SLOW and you have to be sure you use the “Limit/Full” switch correctly. When focusing up close for macro set it to “FULL”. If taking a portrait or something distant set it to “LIMIT”. Either way, the focus is not the speediest I have seen.

Manual focus on this lens, well, kind of sucks. Its focus by wire method is nothing like real MF and after a few tries I said “screw it” as it was frustrating at times. I did not like manually focusing this lens.

The lens is sharp at all apertures and for this review I used the in camera JPEG’s only as Aperture does not recognize E-PL1 RAW’s yet. Plus, I love to shoot JPEG with this camera because the results are more than adequate for my needs.

So is the Panasonic 45 Macro worth $899? If you want superb IQ, then yes. If you do not mind slow AF, yes. If you are a macro nut and only shoot m4/3? YES! To be honest if I had cash blowing out of my ears I would buy one just to have on hand for those times I am in a macro mood. But if you want a general all around lens for your M4/3 I would look elsewhere like at the Panny 20 1.7 or the Olympus 17 2.8. The specialty of this particular lens is macro.

So bottom line is that it gives you amazing quality images and if that is your #1 priority then you would be thrilled with this lens! You can read more about this lens, or buy it at B&H Photo. They usually have it in stock! If you do follow my links here to B&H, Amazon or Adorama and make ANY purchase I get a few pennies to help me pay for this ever growing site, and lately I need all the help O can get with it as costs to run it go up every month. So if you make a purchase, I THANK YOU!

Thanks for reading my review of the Panasonic 45 Macro 2.8 OIS lens, I hope you found it helpful!


May 162010

It’s now “official”! The last announcement was more of a leak, but this one is direct from Leica to me! The new 35 Lux ASPH is officially announced and will be heading to dealers in the coming weeks. I have had the pleasure of seeing, holding and shooting with this new revised lens and one word: GORGEOUS! No focus shift and from what I have seen, it is perfection, even at 1.4! I should have one on the way SOON for review. I will be reviewing it on digital AND film so stay tuned! BTW, when I spoke with Stefan Daniels from Leica he said he if could only own ONE lens for the M system, this new 35 Lux would be the one he would choose. Yea, it is THAT good. Fat wallets unite, because at $4995 this lens is NOT cheap but it does come in at only $500 more than the old model.



The reference standard for Leica M photography

Solms, Germany (May 16, 2010) – Leica Camera AG presents the LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH, a revised version of the Leica M rangefinder system’s popular wide-angle lens. The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. sets a whole new standard in the fast wide-angle lens portfolio, utilizing the latest developments in the fields of optics and precision engineering. Regardless of the situation, from selective focus in the close-up range, high-contrast available light applications or landscape shots with immense depth of field, the lens delivers incomparable results.

The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. differentiates itself from its predecessor by offering a floating element: the lenses behind the aperture blades are constructed as a floating group that changes its position relative to the front lens group during focusing. This ensures outstanding imaging performance at closer focusing distances.

Additionally, the new LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. features a full-metal, rectangular, screw-mount lens hood that significantly contributes to the compact dimensions of the lens. The optical design has been optimized for use on the digital Leica M models and reveals the full extent of the lens’ superior performance, especially when mounted on the LEICA M9. The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. also delivers excellent results on analogue M models and is predestined to become an indispensible component of every M system.

“Thanks to the sum of its qualities, this 35 mm lens is a universal tool for every photographer,” says Stefan Daniel, Head of Product Management at Leica Camera AG. “Its moderate wide-angle characteristics, on the one hand, and its natural reproduction of perspectives, on the other, make it ideal for a particularly broad spectrum of photographic uses ranging from portraiture to landscapes. Having produced countless iconic images in the history of photography, lenses of this focal length are counted among the classical entry-level lenses for building an M camera outfit.”

Even wide open, the LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. offers an optical quality without precedent in the field of compact 35 mm lenses: outstanding imaging performance over the entire focusing range, from infinity to minimum focus, excellent contrast even in the finest structures, superb rendition of details across the entire image field, good field flattening and, stopped down to f2 and onwards, almost complete freedom from coma effects.

The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. is a nine-lens design, five of which are manufactured from glasses with a high refraction index. One lens element has an aspherical (non-spherically formed) surface that makes a significant contribution to the compact construction of the lens. Combined with its light weight of only 11 ounces, this lens is an ideal choice for a light travelling outfit or reportage assignments.

Like all other Leica lenses, the LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. was designed and developed by Leica’s optical specialists in Solms, Germany, and represents a perfect combination of optical and technical expertise. A particularly reliable product with enduring value, the LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. is manufactured from only the best materials and assembled in an elaborate process entirely by hand. The combination of cutting-edge technologies and meticulous manufacturing procedures guarantees the consistently excellent quality of every single Leica lens.

The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. is sold with a particularly high-quality, all-metal lens hood. The hood not only protects the lens effectively against reduction of contrast by extraneous light but also against damage and accumulation of dirt on the front lens element. The lens hood should always remain mounted whenever the lens and camera are in use.

The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. will be available in July 2010 at authorized Leica dealers for $4,995. For more information on Leica, please visit

Technical Data


Angle of view: (diagonal, horizontal, vertical)

For 35 mm format (24 x 36 mm): 63°, 54°, 37°

For Leica M8 models (18 x 27 mm): 49°, 42°, 28°, equivalent to approx. 47 mm for 35 mm format

Optical Design

Number of lenses/groups:


Aspherical surfaces:


Position of entrance pupil:

(to the apex of the first lens surface)

1.68 cm

Distance Settings

Focusing range:

2.3 feet to ∞


Combined metre/feet graduation

Smallest object field/ Largest reproduction ratio:

For 35 mm format: approx. 16.5 × 24.6 in / 1:17.4

For Leica M8 models: approx. 12.3 × 18.5 in / 1:17.4

Aperture Setting/function:

With click-stops, half values available

Lowest value:



Leica M quick-change bayonet with 6-bit bar-coding for digital M-models

Filter mount:

Inner threading for E46 screw-in filters, non-rotating front element

Lens hood:

Detachable (supplied with the lens)


Camera viewfinder


Black anodized

Dimensions and Weight

Length to bayonet flange:

approx. 4.6/5.8 cm (with/without lens hood)

Largest diameter:

approx. 5.6 cm


approx. 11 oz

Feb 252010

The Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon Lens Review

Hello to all! I am back again with yet another lens review for the Leica M mount! Today I will be writing about and reviewing the Zeiss 35 Biogon F2 lens. I remember when this lens was released it was causing quite the stir because it was gearing up to be a real competitor to the Leica 35 Summicron at a fraction of the cost. Many say that it is even better that the cron!

For years I wanted to give this lens a try because I have seen some really great results with it on the Leica M8 as well as M mount film cameras such as the Zeiss Ikon, Leica M7, etc.

This Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon now retails for $1000 or so and it has went up in price in 2010. The old price was around $900. The Leica 35 Summicron F2 lens sells for $2995 these days so this Zeiss is 1/3 the price. That adds up to be quite a savings! I have owned the 35 Summicron, the 35 Summilux and I currently own the Leica 35 Summarit which I really enjoy. But even the Leica summarit will set you back $1700, and it’s a slower lens with a f2.5 Aperture vs the f2 of the Zeiss.

Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 on the Leica M9 – Set up as a 35 Summicron Pre-Asph in the M9 Menu

I was so curious about this lens I was about to buy one just to try it out! As luck would have it, out of the blue I received an e-mail from Zeiss and they offered to send me the lens to try out for a while. So for the past 3-4 weeks it has been on my Leica M9 and I have shot with it quite a bit. I even did some side by side stuff with my little Leica Summarit.

The Zeiss 35 Biogon f2 Build Quality. Is it as good as Leica?

I get many questions asking me if the Zeiss ZM build quality is comparable to Leica build quality. First of all, let me point out that the Zeiss ZM line of lenses are all made in Japan (all except the 85 Sonnar and the 15 Distagon which are manufactured in Germany). Leica lenses are made in Germany. What does this REALLY mean? Well, it means that the Leica lenses will cost more :)

When I first took the lens out of the box, I noticed it was larger than my 35 Summarit and my old 35 Summicron. It felt lighter and there was some play in the focus ring, much like the Zeiss 50 planar I tested out a few months back. I had no idea if this was a normal thing or if this lens has been loaned out so much that it was in need of some adjustment or repair.

When side by side with my little Summarit, which is a “lower end” Leica lens, the Zeiss was larger and not quite as well made but it was not that far off. Besides, what really counts is the image quality. If I could describe it in an easier way I would say that the Zeiss may last you 15 years before needing service and the Leica may last you 40 years before needing service. The Leica just seemed more solid.

My Leica summarit next to the Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon. I did not have the Summicron on hand but it’s only SLIGHTLY larger than the Summarit.

Also, let us remember that the Zeiss is 1/3 the cost of the lower end Leica Summarit, and it’s a faster lens with an f/2 Aperture vs t he f/2.5 of the Summarit! So I did not really expect the same build as the Leica. As with every Zeiss ZM lens I have tried the aperture ring is solid and clicks in to place without any worries of it clicking out accidentaly. It’s solid in that dept. I already mentioned that my copy had some focus play but it did NOT affect the actual focus results.

What about the Image Quality?

The Zeiss 35 Biogon F2 frustrated me early on. When I mounted it to the M9 it appeared to underexpose, have some severe vignetting and sometimes overly warm colors. I was shooting it uncoded of course and for the first few days I shot it without setting up any coding for it in the M9 “Lens Detection” menu.

Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 on the Leica M9 – No coding. The lens will vignette on the M9 if not set up correctly. This is an out of camera shot.

Finally, after shooting with it for a while I set up the lens as a 35 Summicron pre-asph in the M9 menu. Once I did that all of the problems were just about gone. I started seeing beautiful results and started to wonder if this was a better lens than my 35 Summarit! I did some comparisons earlier with the two lenses and my Summarit always seemed more accurate in color with better contrast and sharpness. The Zeiss seemed to do better with 3D pop and had plenty of warmth. But again, this was before I set it up as a 35 Summicron Pre-Asph.

Leica M9 and Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 – Set up as a 35 Summicron in the M9 Menu

This one had a cross processing filter applied in color efex pro…

With the Zeiss set up in the M9 menu as the cron I was getting rich color, 3 dimensional depth, and it was plenty sharp for any need I would ever have. I had just bought the little Summarit prior to getting the Zeiss in for review but I was not upset about that because the Summarit is one fine lens and it gives me superb results, and it is coded.

The issue with the Zeiss on a Leica M9 lies with the coding. If you forget to set it up in the menu then your images will have vignetting and sometimes odd color if shooting wide open at F2, or even 2.5. If you own this lens and have been shooting it with the Leica M9, give it a try. Go to  menu, then “lens detection” and then set it up as the 35 f/2 11310/11311. This setting gave me the best results.

Once set up, the IQ is sooooo good at times, especially when you have really good light (this goes for ANY lens/camera combo as light is #1). The images have a warm glow with a rich feel. If you like warm and saturated, the Zeiss will not leave you disappointed.

Ugly Wallpaper Comparisons

I wanted to see how much improvement there really was when setting up the lens in the M9 menu so I set up my tripod and did my “ugly wallpaper” test. Here are the results…

M9/35 Biogon without any setup in the M9 menu. Notice the vignetting even at f/2.5 – Also some odd color casts.

Let’s see what happens when it is set up as a 35 Summicron Pre-Asph in the M9 “Lens Detection” menu:

Much improved but it is not perfect. Since I was all set up in the room with the M9 and tripod, I threw on my 35 Summarit just for fun.

MUCH better! The 35 Summarit, being a Leica lens and coded for the M8/M9 does a better job in the vignetting dept. than the Zeiss. But again, this is wallpaper and there is no way in hell I would ever take a photo of this ugly ass wallpaper so let’s see what the Zeiss can do out in the REAL WORLD. BTW, this wallpaper was in a room in my house when we bought it and the wife is STILL bugging me to strip it off the walls :) After a year, I still have it on my “to do” list!

Real World Samples

I know and you know that what matters most with a lens or camera is how it performs when taking actual images, not images of walls or test charts. If it can do a good job of delivering high quality images, in other words, what it is made for, then it doesn’t matter what the test charts say. I wanted to get out there with this lens and decided to take a short 36 hour road trip!

I went on the road with my Mother (the wife has a VERY busy schedule) and brought along the Zeiss 35 and the M9 (as well as the S2 and other goodies). Here are some of the images from that trip with the Zeiss. You can click on any image for a larger view…

Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 on the Leica M9

As we headed into the state of Kentucky I spotted a log cabin. I pulled the car into this field and on my way back I snapped a shot off. This image has the typical warm and rich Zeiss colors.

Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 on the Leica M9 – No coding

I forgot to set the lens up as the 35 cron for this one. I had my 50 cron on the camera and it was set to “Auto” so you can see some vignetting in this one. This was a small dirt road we went down called “Booger Drive”.

Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 on the Leica M9 – No coding

Again, I forgot to set up the lens (I actually thought it was already set up) but as you can see, in a real image it doesn’t really matter. The vignetting here adds to the mood and I love the colors.

Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 – No setup/coding

Man, it seems like I NEVER remembered to set this lens up! That was the big problem. With my Summarit it was automatic, with the Zeiss it was NOT so if I forgot then the vignetting would creep in. But still, I love the look here.

Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 – Lens setup as the 35 Summicron Pre-Asph in the Leica M9 menu

Finally, I remembered to set it up :) Looks MUCH cleaner now…

So in real world shooting you can see that the Zeiss Biogon did pretty damn good on the M9. When I look at the 35 Summarit shots from the same trip they appear sharper and a bit more clinical than the Zeiss, but also they have more “brilliance”.  It’s the usual Leica vs Zeiss thing and is pretty much personal preference. Here is an image from the Leica 35 Summarit:

Leica M9 and Leica 35 Summarit at f2.5 – The summarit is a bit more “perfect” than the Zeiss on the M9.

Sharpness and Detail of the Zeiss

So I have already established that this lens renders colors in a warm and pleasing way. I have also shown that it has a nice 3D rendering and when set up as a Leica 35 Summicron PRE-ASPH on the Leica M9 most of the issues go away (but not fully). In real world photos the results are very nice. Some may find the colors a bit TOO WARM but others will like the effect.

But what about sharpness? The Leica 35 Summarit is a very sharp lens and in the full size version of the above image the detail is amazing. What about the Zeiss? Well, it is also a VERY sharp lens but it’s about 90-95% of the Summarit in the detail arena. Not as bitingly sharp, and for many things this is a GOOD thing. Portraits for example :) Here is an image I shot with the Zeiss at F4 along with a crop. At F4 it’s just as sharp as the summarit is at 2.5.

The detail is pretty impressive here if you ask me! The lens was NOT set up as the summicron so you still have some vignetting (even at F4)  but it did not hurt the detail. At F2 it has a hint of softness and glow but it sharpens up quite nicely after that.

How about on Micro 4/3?

I did try this lens briefly on micro 4/3 but again, since I own and shoot the M9 I never really find myself wanting to use those lenses on the E-P2, so I tested it out and that was about it. Here are a few shots taken with the E-P2 and Novoflex M to m4/3 adapter, both at F2:

Olympus E-P2, Novoflex Adapter and Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon at F2

The lens seemed to do fine on the Olympus E-P2 with the Adapter but remember, the lens will act like a 70mm focal length and you will not get the same look and detail that you would get on an M8 or M9.

The Zeiss 35 Biogon or Leica 35 Summicron

I used to own the Leica 35 Summicron ASPH which now goes for $2995. Many say the Zeiss is a better lens and you have your fans of each brand. Me, I personally think the Zeiss may give you images that are more pleasing to the eye at times but the 35 Summicron will give you more accurate color, sharper out of focus transitions at F2, and better build quality. It really comes down to what look you are after. At F2 think “round/warm” for the Zeiss and “sharp/perfect” with the 35 Summicron ASPH.

Personally, when you take everything into consideration like price, build, and image quality then it would be hard to dismiss the Zeiss. That is why I say if your budget goes up to $1000, the Zeiss would be a great choice. If you have more to spend, go with your heart and eyes. Which look do you prefer?



  • It’s not cheap but it’s not crazy either. About $1000 for a fast 35mm for your M mount camera.
  • Great warm colors, 3D depth and great detail.
  • It’s a Zeiss!
  • Build is very good (but not Leica like)
  • Seems to do great on m4/3 with adapter.


  • It’s larger than the Leica Summarit and Summicron.
  • It’s hood is a twist on and it is large and is an extra accessory to buy.
  • No coding on the lens means it can be problematic on the Leica M9.
  • Vignettes some at f2-f4 on the M9.
  • No case included.
  • My copy seemed to have some play in the focus ring just like the Zeiss 50 planar I tested so build may not be up there with Leica.

The Bottom Line Conclusion

For the money, the Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon f2 lens is a winner any way you look at it. On M mount film cameras it is superb, on the M8 it is superb and on the M9 it CAN be superb if you remember to set up the lens in the Lens Detection menu to a 35 Summicron pre-asph. The lens is sharp, it has gorgeous rich color, and at f2 you can even use it in some low light situations if needed. If shooting on an M9 just remember to either get the lens coded or to set it up in the M9 menu for best results. In many ways I liked it a little better than my Leica 35 Summarit. I’m a sucker for that Zeiss look and in some of my photos I felt like I could reach out and touch what was in the image.

Some photographers LOVE Zeiss glass and if you are one of those who love the 3D qualities of Zeiss then the Biogon will be right up your alley. It did not disappoint and I have even sold a few prints from one of the photos made with this lens. For the money you can not beat it in the M mount 35mm focal length arena!

If you are looking for a nice 35mm for your M mount camera and have a budget up to $1000 or so, THIS is the lens to get. I would buy mine at B&H Photo as this is where I have been shopping for close to 15 years. They are #1 in my book for anything photo related as well as Mac computers, hard drives, software and so much more. If you follow my links here and make a purchase then you are helping to keep this site going and growing as I will get a tiny commission for any sale generated from my links here. So, if you enjoyed this  review and found it helpful feel free to use my links to this lens HERE for black or HERE for silver! Thank you for reading my Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon review!

Here are even more samples from my time with this lens! These images have some post processing as they are part of my “Rural Landscape” series and they are prepared for print.

This one has had some contrast, color, and highlight tweaks. Also, a filter from Color Efex pro was used as well as cloning the fence on the right to the left. I sold 5 prints of this image in one week and it was shot with the Zeiss 35 at F4.

Here is another with some post processing. The Zeiss just has that 3D quality and it is so cool on these types of images. All I did here was add the “low key” filter in color efex pro. I then took the dodge tool to brighten the building. I then added some blur around the house. These simple steps gives the image a very moody and dreary look. Just what I was going for. Took 10 minutes. BTW, this one was shot at F2.

and one more…did the same thing as the one above, just not as intense! This lens is the most 3D lens I have ever shot with.


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 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! Also, if you are interested in any prints from ANY images you see on this site (taken by me of course) let me know as I sell prints from my “Rural Landscape” series which grows every week.

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 facebook! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader!  Also, interested in becoming a guest writer? Contact me! Thanks so much for visiting my site!

Jan 262010

The Zeiss Biogon 35 F2 and the Leica 35 Summarit F2.5. Both great lenses and two that I have been shooting side by side on the Leica M9. I know, I know…I put up a comparison of these two already but I was not really 100% happy with that one as the shots were taken outside in the freezing cold, so user error could have played a part. Many Zeiss owners were thinking I was out of focus with the Biogon, so this time I spent 4 hours and re-did some tests in my living room on a tripod. I made 100% sure each lens was in focus. You will need to click on each image to see the larger size and  to see the 100% crops at 2.8 and 5.6 from each lens.

This test tells me that the Summarit is sharper than the Zeiss at 2.5, but the Zeiss has less distortion. It appears the Summarit has a bit more barrel distortion than the Zeiss. Also, these are right from the camera converted from RAW using ACR 5.6 with default settings. BTW, this time I did focus bracketing and chose the sharpest shots from each. I am against doing this and won’t do it again as this is not how you shoot out in the real world, but with so many of you saying my focus was off I wanted to make sure it wasn’t. Also, FYI, the sharpest of the bunch was the one that was accurately focused. The Zeiss is not off. Remember, this is on a full frame digital, not an M8.

Both were at F2.5, both were at ISO 160.

First, the Leica. Make sure you click the image to see the large size and 100% crops.

now the Zeiss…

Both lenses did great. Remember, the Zeiss is $1000. The Leica is $1695. $700 difference between these two. How about one more real world test? This time, handheld.

Leica M9 – Leica 35 Summarit Wide Open at 2.5 – ISO 400 – Straight from camera RAW conversion. Click for large view with 100% crop.

Now the Zeiss. Click for larger.

So there you go. Bottom line is the Zeiss is a little softer at 2.5 than the Leica. By F5.6 they even up. The Zeiss can give a more 3D presentation but the corners suffer a little on full frame. These were at F2.5. F2 on the Zeiss shows quite a bit of vignetting on the M9. This is most likely due to the fact that it is not coded and can not be corrected like the Leica can. When the Zeiss is set up as a 35 Summicron, the vignetting lightens up a bit. I could be happy with either of these but I prefer the Leica for its smaller size, better build  and I like its hood better as well :) Still, at $700 less, the Zeiss is a great buy for a Leica M shooter and even has less barrel distortion. Anyway, hope this was useful to some of you. Thanks for reading!

The Zeiss can be purchased at B&H HERE

The Leica can be purchased at B&H HERE

also, this lens which is another alternative is wonderful, but slower.


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 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!

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 twitteror facebook! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader!  Thanks so much for visiting my site!

Dec 172009

Leica Lenses and their names. ELMAR – ELMARIT – SUMMARIT – SUMMICRON – SUMMILUX – NOCTILUX – What do they mean?

I see many Leica newbies to this site and I get asked quite often what those funky names mean. You know the ones. Those odd sounding names Leica gives to its lenses? Summarit? Elmar? Summilux? Summicron? What the hell kind of names are those? Canon lenses are just “Canon EF 24L”. Nikon is just “Nikon 35F2” or whatever. But Leica is different. For newcomers to Leica these names can sound sort of weird and many are left wondering what is what. With the M9 being such a huge success I am seeing quite a few new Leica shooters out there and many have no idea what these lens names mean.

In the Leica world, these names do indeed have meaning and that meaning is mainly SPEED. Once you know how fast of a lens you are looking for, you can easily figure out if you are an Elmarit guy/gal or a Summilux guy/gal! Me, I like them all but I lean more to the Summilux lenses as I am a fast glass kind of guy:) One thing is for sure, they are all fantastic as Leica does not seem to know how to make a bad lens.

On to the meanings and the MAGIC ratings! 1 M = NO MAGIC. 5 M = MOST MAGIC! Continue reading »

Dec 142009


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.


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.


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


“Testing Bokeh” – F2


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.


and a 100% crop…


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!


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


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.

“Bottles” – M9 and Zeiss Planar at F2


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


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


F2 with Crop – Direct from Camera


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


and a crop…


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.


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, 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


Now the Zeiss Planar at F2


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.


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:


  • 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!


  • 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


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!


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!


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


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

F2 at minimum focus distance – out of camera.


The color and detail is great, even wide open



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