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!
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?
PROS and CONS:
- 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.
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