Dec 082014
 

The Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon ZM (Leica mount) Lens Review

by Cemal Sagnak

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Many People belief, a Leica Camera needs native Leica lenses, although there are Alternatives by other German Companies like Carl Zeiss with a long optical history in making lenses and Rangefinder cameras. As a passionate Leica Photographer, I always search and look for high quality alternative lenses for my Leica M Typ 240.

One of my favorite lenses is the Carl Zeiss Biogon T* 2/35 ZM, a versatile documentary and Photojournalist lens with outstanding optical performance and my standard Lens on the M.

I was very tempted to read the announcement during the last Photokina in September about a new fast 35mm f/1.4 hoping this can match with my Biogon 35/2 in optical performance but with a fast f1.4 aperture.
I could not be happier when last week my Demo Lens arrived.

My initial impression was extremely good, although the Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM is larger (lengths 87,3 49mm Filter, 381gr) vs. the Biogon T* 2/35 ZM (lengths 68mm, Filter size 43mm, 240gr) the finder blockage is still moderate. You get immediately a feel of the build quality, all metal finish, robust and made for the next generation, something I definitely expected from a Carl Zeiss Lens.

The Distagon is build with 10 Elements in 7 groups with and the10 blades can be set in 1/3 steps giving you a good haptic feedback, you can feel comfortably each click on the aperture wheel. The focus wheel is on the right spot, perfectly accessible and smooth in handling, Rotating is not to tight and not to loose, which is important for a fast lens shooting at f/1.4 to achieve precise results.

The lens is equipped with the T* anti-reflective coating to control flare we will see later how good it performs using the Distagon against strong sunlight. The Distagon is made to be used under low light condition or for a clear separation of the subject from the background, don’t be surprised to see many pictures shot at f/1.4.

The Data sheet is promising; with a relative distortion of less than -1% the Distagon beats the Summilux –M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH on paper. Lets see how it performs.

Non-Leica Users need to know that sharpness of a rangefinder lens is relative and depending on the skills and eyesight of the User behind the Finder.

Before I took the Lens out, I did some shots at home on a tripod to see if there is a focus shift or misalignment. One shot through the RF and one with the LCD of the M and no surprise, all was good, as you can see in the crop of the image taken through the RF.

BTW, I tried the EVF of the M240 but I come to the conclusion that I am better and faster with the optical RF and composing is much easier. I turn on the LCD just when I use a 21mm lens to control the frame. I maybe would use the EVF if someone puts me a Noctilux under the Xmas tree and for sure with Leica – R lenses. But coming back to the Distagon…

My first session was taken in my new hometown Cologne, known as the capital of German Photography and this is not because of the Photokina only.  Pictures are DNG files converted into jpg in LR 5.7 I took some random street shots including the Xmas market to get warmed up with the character of the lens.

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The Bicycle shot shows rich and contrasts colors with a nice background blur and a great sharpness on the flowers. I tried similar with people, I am glad my daughters share my passion so they are always great models to try new Gear.
My second opportunity using the Distagon was a fashion shooting with the lovely Dana, who is running a fashion blog and needs regular shots of her in the seasons dress-up.

A 35mm lens is not the first choice for Portraits and People. Still the results were highly satisfying, color and focus are as well. Flare is not always welcome but in this case I used it as an element. Unfortunately Zeiss did not deliver a Lens Hood with this demo unit. I recommend purchasing a hood with the Lens.

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Beside some lens flare, I identified chromatic aberration, which appears when shooting wide open. Nowadays nothing software cant fix and also visible in some of my Summilux pictures. The third part of my Test was the low light capability of the lens, using it in some urban lightning and using it for what it was made for, wide open in low light, I travel much, so taking a tripod with me is a hassle and 100% of my shots outside are handheld. Maybe this is the case for many Leica Users.

This leads me to the Part 3 of my test…. Paris! A perfect Place using a Leica Camera and going for a photo walk along the river Seine and visiting places where Grandmasters of Photography took many iconic pictures. The Zeiss Distagon performs well wide open and paired with the great ISO abilities and Dynamic range of the M240, you will be able to get extraordinary results shooting this combo in the dark.

Here one Bokehlicious shot from a brigde in Paris.

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After all, I am pretty impressed by this new lens. I have owned the Leica Summilux 35mm ASPH (pre-FLE) and use currently the Biogon 35/2 which are the natural competitors. Before I come to my personal conclusion here is a price overview (Prices in Euro )

LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH – 4200 Euros
CZ Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM – 2000 Euros
CZ Biogon T* 2/35 ZM – 1050 Euros

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Now my question before I started this lens test: is it worth to pay almost double the price compared to the Biogon 35/2 for one f stop faster? For me it is, not that everybody needs an f1.4 lens but if you like shooting fast lenses, this is the lens, which delivers the image quality sharpness and details starting from f1.4.

Please find below the comparison shot at f2.0 between the Distagon and the Biogon. The Distagon is clearly sharper, I plan some more shots for a detailed comparison. Is the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM capable to compete with one of the best available lenses the Leica Summilux 35mm ASPH FL?

35 Biogon f/2 at f/2

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35 Distagon 1.4 at f/2

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Based on my experience with the Summilux , the Distagon is definitely worth to consider and not only because its half the price. Sharpness is on par between both lenses. I would like to do a lens comparison but I assume difference is very small and can be better measured in a LAB test rather then comparing pixel.

35 1.4 Distagon and then a crop

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The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM is announced to be ship at the end of 2014.

You can order the lens HERE at B&H Photo.

Cemal Sagnak

https://cemalsagnak.wordpress.com

Sep 162014
 

My top 3 Lusted after Leica items from Photokina 2014

So for me it is the morning after. It is 8Am here in Sunny Phx, AZ and I was up late last night checking out all of the new Leica releases. In fact, Leica has released more than 40 new items and while many are accessories such as cases and bags, many of these were serious releases! Leica has been hard at work creating a range of cameras to fit almost everyone’s tastes and yes, even budget. The stars of the newly announced Leica lineup for me are the new X Typ 113, the M-A, the D-Lux and the new Summarit lenses, which I think will be pretty sweet.

My #1 Lusted after Item announced for Leica?

The new Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon Zm lens – More details HERE

Of course, my #1 most lusted after item that was announced FOR Leica M is the new Ziess 35 1.4 ZM lens. Zeiss is sort of hyping this guy as the best 35mm for the M system and at $2250, it is less than half the cost of the 35 Summilux FLE. I have always had a soft spot for the Zeiss ZM line and while they are not made in Germany, they are made in Japan and the quality of these lenses are of superb quality when it comes to IQ. In fact, I prefer the little 50 Zeiss ZM Planar to the classic 50 Summicron in image rendering, color, pop, bokeh and overall look/feel. The build of the Leica is better but at less than half the price, the Zeiss Zm 50 is so so so good. Many Zeiss ZM lenses are the “goto” for Leica shooters and this new 35 1.4 looks AMAZING. I will be buying one without question for use on my A7s and Leica camera bodies.

So yes, for me, this is the item I most want for my own personal use. You can pre-order the Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 at B&H Photo in BLACK or SILVER

 

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My #2 most Lusted after item announced FROM Leica?

The new X Typ 113 with 23 1.7 Summilux

I have to admit, I am not a film guy anymore due to costs, time, and all of that stuff we associate with film shooting. Today, for me, digital is just too convenient and too good. So while I LOVE the new M-A film release, and would own one in a heartbeat if it were 1979 or if it were $1500, for me it is just not feasible. It is a beauty for sure but just would not fit for my personal use. I am happy with my M, MM and A7s.

I am also extremely pleased that Leica released the M 60 Years edition. No LCD, and a cool Audi design. This is what Leica is all about. Simplicity, beauty, passion. Gone will be the chimping, the stress, the wondering “did I get the focus right”. Nope, you will not know until you see your shots. God forbid your RF goes out, then you are screwed. In fact, without any EVF or LCD, this would be my #1 concern of the this new limited edition Leica. I have had quite a few RF’s go out of whack over the years and without a way to check them while shooting, I am not sure I would want to do an important job with this one. Still, I LOVE THE CONCEPT and IDEA and would love to own one. At $18,500 it is out of my league but I hope to be able to see one someday :) It’s a beauty and I am sure will be sitting on the shelves of quite a few collectors. B&H has it listed here for $18,500 but you do get the stainless steel 35 Summilux lens, which is a collector in itself and will only go up in value. If one bought this set and kept it for 10 years it could probably be sold for $25k and up.

But even so, neither the MA or the M 60 are in my #2 spot. 

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Instead it is the new X Type 113. With the new Summilux f 1.7 lens, this is finally the X that should have been from day one. While Leica is keeping the X2 (disguised as the new XE) the X 113 is where it is at. It is small, beautiful, and now with a fast 35mm equivalent lens it will bring you that Leica IQ and lens quality all in a sweet small gorgeous package. At $2295 it is not cheap but hey, it is a real Leica. Not a rebadged Panasonic. I can imagine my camera set as the Leica M-P, Leica MM, Sony A7s and the X 113. I would use them all on different days and occasions. Overkill? Sure, but it is my passion and for me you can never have too many cameras! The one drawback of the new X? NO EVF! It seems Leica will NEVER learn that putting a nice viewfinder in their smaller cameras is very beneficial. DROP this externals and go internal Leica. Even without the EVF, the camera is beautiful but the lens makes it for me.

You can pre-order the X Typ 113 in BLACK or  SILVER

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My #3 most lusted after item announced from Leica?

Easy. The new line of Summarit lenses. These little guys look so gorgeous, especially in silver! They remind me of some of the classics in design and look and Leica also states that the lenses have been improved and rehauled giving nicer image quality and a SLIGHTLY faster aperture that creeps into Summicron territory. I mean, look how gorgeous and tiny the 50 Summarit looks!

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I have always been a fan of the Summarit line and in fact, the 35 Summarit is one of Leicas best 35’s IMO! It has the most pleasing Bokeh and has a mix of classic and modern in its rendering. I hope the new version is just as good but it should be better. I may have to pick up the 50 and 90 in this line as the price is right (for Leica) and the size is small, and they just feel “right”. As I get older I am starting to appreciate lenses like this more and more. I am moving away from the ultimate speed (except for the Zeiss 35 1.4 which will be amazing) and also enjoy lenses like this these days. I appreciate small size above all, as long as the quality is there. These lenses fit the bill and they come in at 35, 50, 75 and 90 so it covers quite a large range.

I am sure I will pick up one or two of these in Silver as I think they will do quite well on my silver Monochrom :)

You can pre-order at B&H photo HERE.

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While many have written off Leica over the years, even as early as a few months ago, they appear to be going on full steam ahead. Strong, with a plan and on a mission to provide many options for those who want to get into the brand. Just a few years ago it was just the M8 or M9 with the Panasonic made D-Lux series. Then came the X1 when Leica wanted to expand out to a larger audience, and it worked. Then came the S2, then the floodgates opened and out poured the X2, X Vario, M 240, Monochrom. Now we have all kinds of offerings from Leica. The M, The MM, the D-Lux series, the V-Lux series, the X series and even the T series. Of course the special editions and the film offering as well.

Leica is growing and showing all of those who wrote them off years ago that they are here to stay for the long haul. They have been here for over 100 years and plan on being here for another 100.

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My #4 most lusted after Leica item is the new D-Lux. It is actually the same cameras as the Panasonic LX100 that I have already written about but the Leica version looks bad ass. Of course we get the Leica styling, the red dot, the Lightroom software and the longer warranty with the Leica, which comes in at $300 more than the Panasonic version. For me, well worth it for the better styling, the name/resale value, the software and the warranty. Actually, $300 more for the Leica is not bad at all and a no brainer for any enthusiast or hobbyist. It is not a made in Germany Leica but you do get the extras that make it worth it. It is the same camera, same lens and made in the same factory as the LX100 but it is the Leica version, so we all know how that goes as it has been going on for years and years now, ever since the original Digilux 1. and Digilux 2.

At $1195 this will make for a high end super quality P&S. Housing a 4/3 sensor it will provide images that are not possible with the smaller 1″ sensor cameras.

You can order the new D-Lux HERE. 

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LEICA DEALERS I RECOMMEND:

Ken Hansen (E-Mail him at [email protected])

PopFlash.com

The Pro Shop

B&H Photo

Jun 072012
 

 

My time with the Nikon D800 and Zeiss 35 1.4 – A quick 1st look report.

I have only had this Nikon D800 for a short time so instead of writing a big long-winded real world use report, I decided to just keep it basic and short, much like I did when I wrote my old original D700 review almost 3 years ago (So this is only a 1st look report). The D700 was and still is a pretty special DSLR. It was the camera to come along and take on the original Canon 5D and in my opinion, it beat the 5D (Mark I) in every way. IQ, AF, Build, etc. I loved the D700. The build, the feel, the control, the whole Nikon thing…yea, I preferred it to the 5D though I also had a warm spot for the 5D’s creamy rendering. The reality is that the D700 and original Canon 5D are both beautiful cameras capable of professional output. Which one to choose back then came down to ergonomics and lens selection. Also, personal preference. I’ve had my love affairs with both Nikon and Canon DSLR’s over the years but it was the D700 that really hooked me into full frame digital for some reason, I think because back then when I was in to DSLR’s more the Nikon’s always seemed to have better and more rugged body styles. Better ergonomics as well. I also always seemed to see more documentary photos shot with Nikon cameras over the years, whether it was film or digital. Nikon’s have always had a way of putting out rich color and I enjoyed the files coning out of their DSLR’s for many years. From the D100 to the D700.

The richness of the D800 files can be intense at times. This is a shot with the Zeiss 35 of the AZ wildfires still smoking

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Full Frame – There is still an advantage

90% of cameras today are not full frame. What I mean by this is, that most cameras today have smaller than full frame 35mm format sensors. Point & Shoots have teeny tiny sensors, hobbyist cameras go a little bigger, enthusiast models go for APS-C and finally we have a couple of “full frame” sensor cameras which belong to Nikon and Canon. The D700, D800 and the Canon 5D and 1ds series. These cameras are considered “pro” cameras because they have the build, the speed, the low light capabilities and the overall image quality that can satisfy just about anyone. A DSLR has the capability to shoot just about anything. Sports, wildlife, macro, portraits, fashion, studio. They are the true workhorse of the industry and while I love my Leica M9 and shoot it in pro situations (weddings, converts, and even some studio work over the years) you can not deny it is the DSLR that is the tried and true camera of the professional.

With full frame you can take amazing images with shallow depth of field or even crisp images with HUGE depth of field. As mentioned, DSLR’s are the most versatile cameras you can buy and can shoot everything from still life to portraits to sports to macro to wildlife, all without a hiccup.

When I reviewed the NIkon D3s I was BLOWN AWAY at what I could get out of that camera inn low light. ISO 102,000? yep. Didn’t even break a sweat. While I was amazed I was also sore! That D3s was and is a beast of a camera and taking it out for a few hours killed my wrist. It was much more enjoyable at that time take out my Leica M9. So while I really appreciated what the D3s brought to the table, I knew it was not a camera for my personal use as it was just too big.

Since that review we have had so many new cameras come out that are much smaller and really good enough for most shooters. The fact is that a huge percentage of D800 buyers will be hobbyists, enthusiasts and passionate people who just want “the” hot DSLR and for many, it is overkill IMO. The D800 will pump out AMAZING results and image with high dynamic range and superb color and detail, but if you are just going  to resize for web use…you can save money and your arm with a much less expensive camera that will also give gorgeous results.

Cameras that come to mind that have tremendous IQ in a small package? Leica X1 and X2, Fuji X100, Olympus E-M5…all fantastic. Are they a D800? NO they are not but each of these cameras can give you output that is just as pleasing as what comes out of a D800 (minus the crazy resolution of course). But for full-time or part-time pros or those who really want the best bang for the professional buck, the D800 is a winner and at $3000 it is not overpriced as you do get what you pay for and  the D800 gives you quite a bit for that cashola.

The file sizes are huge, the files are sharp and detailed and rich, the color is nice and you will have really good low light performance as well. The build is solid and pro and  the speed is as fast as anyone can ask for. In my eyes, the ONLY weakness of this system is the SIZE and WEIGHT. That is about it and users of this camera really do not seem to care about size and weight :) The full frame sensor here is really nice but it is my personal opinion the 12MP of the D700 was plenty though I feel 18MP is the sweet spot in the digital world. Yep, 36MP is almost overkill for my uses but it does give you nice Medium Format results.

Is this TOO much resolution for a digital 35mm format camera?

Sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much. The D700 was 12MP of sweetness. Easy to work with and open the files, gorgeous prints, nice fat quality pixels on that big sensor. Yep, it was and still is a winner. The D800 is now more advanced with HD video, 36MP of resolution and a slightly differently designed body. But damn, opening these files on my iMac (3 years old) reminded me why I prefer 12-18MP cameras :) For me and my needs this kind of resolution is ridiculously too much. Why on earth would someone need this much resolution when a few years ago there were billboards being printed with a 4Mp Nikon D2hs file? Hmmmm.

My Leica M9 can produce the most amazing prints I have ever seen at 18MP. What does this much power bring to the table? I really don’t know besides more memory card space and a more powerful computer needed. Lol. Well, I really DO know but for me it is not needed. For you? Maybe.

I could easily be happy with the D700 today, probably more so than the D800 only because I will never need this kind of resolution in a camera, unless it is doing something crazy magical but overall what I see in the D800 is a similar look to the D700, just not as much detail and resolution. Does that mean I am trashing the D800? Hell no, it is one hell of a camera with gobs of power and features. Owning it means you have the capability to create some true art, but again, that capability lies in YOUR hands more than the camera. DSLR fans are flocking to this camera and there is a reason why this is so, the D800 is a flat-out amazing DSLR.

OK, sorry for that MegaPixel rant :) Just letting some of my personal thoughts through as I always tend to do. My time with the D800 was short. I did not have the ability to really put it through its paces in a way that I would have liked so what you are reading here is only a 1st look report. Maybe for a full review I will be able to grab a D800E and take it on a nice photo trip.

Resolution

The detail and resolution of the D800 is remarkable. The fat 36MP files are huge and there is a reason for this. If you like zooming in on details in your photos while browsing them at 100% (like it or not, many do this every day) then you will love the D800. If you want resolution, this DSLR has it.

Click image for larger view and full 100% crop – D800 with Zeiss 35 1.4 at f/5.6

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The 35 at 1.4 – click image for full size

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one with the cheap Nikon 50 1.4 at 2.8

and the crop – you MUST click it to see the full 100% crop – pretty nice and this is with the cheap-o 50 1.4 lens!

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The Zeiss 35 1.4 Manual Focus ZF.2 lens

a quick snap I shot with my phone of the D800 and Zeiss 25 1.4 next to my Olympus OM-D :)

Just about 98% of the images in this report were all shot with the $1850 Zeiss 35 1.4 ZF lens on the D800. I have always had a weak spot for Zeiss glass on Nikon DSLR’s and this lens is GORGEOUS in its build, feel and 3D rendering. The only problem when shooting with a lens like this is that it is manual focus only, and it is not always easy to nail the focus on a stock D700 or D800. There are times when you think the image is in focus and it is not. The camera does have a focus indicator in the viewfinder that displays a dot when you are in focus, but even that can be wrong when shooting with a lens like the Zeiss 35 1.4.

The depth of field is amazingly shallow for a 35mm lens and helps to create that magical Zeiss look and feel. The lens is larger than my entire OM-D camera though and heavy as a brick (literally). Magical but Heavy.

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So what did I think with my limited time with the D800?

If you want a truly state of the art DSLR with gobs of power, resolution, speed, color, and a medium format feel – the Nikon D800 may be your camera. If you do not mind size and weight it would due nearly impossible to dislike this camera. The files are gorgeous and have “pro” quality written all over them. By that I mean the Dynamic ranges HUGE, the color is beautiful and the files are very hardy so when editing you can get away with just about anything. The D800 is an improvement over the D700 but I could still be happy as a clam with the now classic D700, as that is also a gorgeous beast or a camera. As for high ISO I did not have the time to do a thorough test but can say the high ISO is a step back from the D3s which was the most incredible high ISO camera I have ever experienced. Still, the D800 offers superb low light performance that would please anyone.

I did not even get a chance to dip into the video modes on the D800 which are said to offer jaw dropping quality.

If I were a DSLR guy today I would have already bought a D800 or the D800E. If I get to spend more time with one or shoot something cool with one I will write a much longer thorough review, maybe even the D800E, which does not have an AA filter so the files are insanely sharp and detailed. I admit, I love full frame sensors and the look they are capable of. After shooting smaller sensor cameras for a while and then coming back to a full frame you can immediately notice the richness and depth and while cameras that I mentioned earlier (X100, X2, OM-D, etc) are more than capable for the majority of us, there is always something sweet about the power of a nice big fat sensor :)

I hope you found this an enjoyable read and thank YOU for reading it! More to come soon so always check back!

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