A new look at the Zeiss ZM 50mm Planar f/2 Lens


A new look at the Zeiss ZM 50mm Planar f/2 Lens

This is not a lens review, just a refresher of a lens I reviewed a few years back. The Zeiss Planar has been with me for a few days via LenRentals.com and I have enjoyed it so much I had to write down some thoughts about using it on the Leica M and MM. Enjoy!

The deal of the century..is that not what many of us are always on the lookout for? Well, the Zeiss 50 Planar f/2 lens for Leica M mount may not be the “Deal of the Century” but it is a slam dunk bang for your hard-earned buck if there ever was one. This little 50mm f/2 lens is SUPERB and I reviewed it a few years back on the Leica M9. It is one of my older reviews so it may not be that long or detailed but it does have plenty of samples that were shot on the M9. The good news? It seems to do just as well on the new generation of Leica cameras and in these days of $4000-$10000 Leica lenses it is refreshing to see an under $900 lens perform just as well as its Leica counterpart.

The Zeiss 50 Planar on the Leica Monochrome – click it for 1600 pixel wide version to see how sharp it is at the focus point (whiskers)


I remember this lens and ever since that 2009 review period and ever since then I have toyed with the idea of owning it because I remember it gave me those Zeiss colors and Zeiss pop along with the Zeiss 3D depth that the Leica did not give me. I remember the lens being super sharp as well but how will it hold up today on the Leica M 240 and Monochrom? At under $900 how could this lens compete with the legendary Leica 50 Summicron that sells for $2295? Can it? Well yes it does, and it does so very well indeed. In some ways it is better than the Leica 50 Cron (original, not APO) and in others it is not. Well, mainly in one area only, and that is build.

It appears many have had the same question as me: “Which lens should I get? Zeiss ZM 50 Planar or Leica Summicron”? Again, the cron is now $1400 more expensive than the Zeiss Planar and below I will go over how I feel the Zeiss compares with the legendary cron as well as talk a teeny bit about the Zeiss 50 Sonnar C 1.5 as well.

I do not have a 50 Cron here anymore to compare but I have extensive experience with it on film and digital, so I know it well. I know its rendering, its bokeh quality and its build. It is a great lens and a favorite of mine but the Zeiss belongs right up there with it, especially considering the cost. Be sure to click on the images here  to see them larger with more details.

The Zeiss on the Monochrom wide open at f/2


The Breakdown

Build quality will go to the Leica without question. The Leica, as I said, is legendary. It is a problem free lens and the build has never had any major issues unlike the Zeiss that sometimes can develop “focus slop” over time. The review sample I had years ago had the slop and stickiness and Zeiss sent that one to me direct! It did not affect the focusing performance but it did feel loose and sloppy. The one I am using now is a rental from lensrentals.com and it is perfect in feel and use but build wise, it is lighter than the Leica and you can tell it just is not made as well as the mighty cron. I’d say it is 80% of the Leica build. The Leica also has a built-in slide out hood. The Zeiss hood is an extra $80.

Flare control goes to the Zeiss. I tried to get it to flare and just could not yet the Summicron is known for flare. I never had too many issues with the cron and flare but have experienced it quite a few times last year. The Zeiss is flare free. Period.

The M240 and Planar at f/2


Sharpness wide open may go to the Summicron but it is close. Sharpness from 2.8 on..the Zeiss is a monster. There is gobs of detail when shooting this lens at f4 to the point that you couldn’t get any sharper.

Bokeh goes to the Zeiss. The Zeiss can get harsh at times but the cron can get harsh more of the time. The Summicron is one lens where you either love or hate the Bokeh. The Zeiss is smoother, creamier and more pleasurable to look at.

M 240 and Planar


3D Pop/Depth – Zeiss wins in this area.

Color – Zeiss will give you rich saturated colors where the Summicron will render a bit cooler and with less saturation. To some the Zeiss colors may be overkill but they can be toned down if needed. The Zeiss is also more contrasty.

M 240 and 50 Planar at f/2


Cost – The Zeiss is under $900. The Leica is $2295. Image quality is a little different but I would not classify either as better. You just go with the look you like most but again, $900 for a high quality Zeiss 50 f/2 for your Leica..BRAND NEW? No brainer if you want to save some money. I know how it is after buying a Leica M body..sometimes you have very little left over for a lens.

Resale Value – Leica will always have better resale value with their lenses but if we take a look at resale values of the Zeiss Planar and Leica Summicron 50 (latest non APO version) we can see that the Zeiss is not so bad of a choice when it comes to resale in comparison. I have seen the Zeiss sell for as low as $625, that is $275 less than new. I have seen the 50 cron sell used for $1350-$1500. That is $800 to $950 less than new. You lose less by reselling the Zeiss.

Ive been using this rental for a while and became so tempted to just buy one to add to my 50mm collection. So much so that I just did buy one today. It will be my 4th 50mm so I guess I have a 50mm addiction, lol. It does not give up anything in performance when compared to the Leica equivalent and some will prefer the Zeiss hands down.

Detail and Crops

So how does this lens really do on the M240 or Monochrom? Take a look below at the three shots with 100% crops embedded. You will have to click on them to see the larger views with full 100% crop. BTW, these were all at f/2 but the cat at the bottom from the Mono was at 2.8. Incredible detail here.




One con with the Zeiss is that there is some distortion if you shoot up close at the minimum focus distance when shooting straight lines. You can see this in the 2nd crop image above with the fly. I do not remember ever seeing this with the Summicron.

What about the C Sonnar 1.5 from Zeiss?

This one is Easy. If you are a 50mm fan then GET BOTH. For $2100, $200 less than the Leica 50 Summicron you can have the Planar and the Sonnar and you will have TWO totally different looks. The Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 is a classic design and your images will have that classic look and feel. Use the Planar when you want sharpness and detail and more “perfection” and use the Sonnar when you want “dreamy and creamy”. I adore both of these lenses and both are gorgeous in their own ways. Here are three shots from the Sonnar using the lovely Leica Monochrom:




The Sonnar just has a classic look and feel to the images and the Bokeh is much different from the Planar. This one runs about $1200 and is another of my all time favorite 50mm lenses and yes, I caught that butterfly wide open at 1.5  🙂

Zeiss ZM  – Well worth the cost, a true deal. 

I can easily and highly recommend this lens for anyone who shoots with a Leica M8, M9, Monochrom or M 240. It’s a legitimate deal in the world of Leica mount lenses and the lens is a beautiful piece of kit that really does no wrong. It is flare free, easy to focus, has 1/3 aperture click stops, focus dial is smooth (unless you get a sticky one), and from what I hear the service from Zeiss is top-notch if you ever have issues. The Zeiss Planar ZM is a hell of a lens my friends and it will not break the bank when it comes to putting a lens on your Leica M or Zeiss Ikon.

You can buy this lens at B&H Photo HERE. PopFlash also sells it 🙂

A couple more samples below:







  1. Hi Steve
    A Certain other popular reviewer thinks the Zeiss is closer to 45mm actual focal length from the angle of view specs, leading to looser framing in use have you found this or is it a proper ’50’ in your view? didn’t want one on the wide side…Cheers

  2. Hello Steve, thanks for the great reviews! One question that you might know the answer: for Zeiss ZM 50mm Planar f/2, what lens would you pick in the M9 lens detection menu, since it does not have the 6 bit coding?

    Thanks in advance!

  3. Had been looking for a reasonably priced 50 Summicron, but couldn’t find one. When I told my local photo store guy I’m going start looking for a Zeiss, he said he just got a like new 50/2 Planar. He had sold a new Zeiss several months ago and the buyer now wants to sell it for $675. The gem is now mine!

  4. Thank you Steve, this is the perfect “Executive Summary” article. Maybe every review should start like this and be written in the old newspaper style with the headline first, then details in descending importance. Will order a 50mm ZM!

      • Oups…you did indeed ! I would be more careful next time and go through the archives before bothering you.
        By the way I am very new here, but love the tone and the enthusiasm. Would love to support the site more than via a tap on the back but I am in London and there aren’t many links to UK dealers, are they ? Maybe if there were more guys like myself in the UK who care about what you are doing there could be more links directing from this site where we could buy our stuff in GBP and not in USD and avoid lengthy (and so costly) customs checks and long haul deliveries 🙂 Just a thought.

  5. Steve
    Thanks for the review. I have recently purchased an M6 (my first Leica), I am torn between the Planar 50 F/2 and the Voighlander 50 F/1.5 VM lens based on your reviews…

    Will shoot both B&W and color for landscape images.

    Your thoughts?


  6. Great review Steve. I love the results I have been getting with the Planar 50mm on the M9 – sharp as at f2 and no flaring. My 50mm cron flares badly – and whilst it can give beautiful results I end up leaving the zeiss on more of the time for predictable crisp clean images. The 50 cron is on the short list for replacement because of the flaring and whilst I would love to see a 50mm lux as its replacement, I keep coming back to look at the Sonnar as a companion given my positive experience with the planar.

    Thanks Chris

  7. I just picked up another Planar f2 50mm thanks to a killer deal on ebay.
    I had the black version about a month ago, and didn’t like it much for mechanical reasons. It felt loose and sloppy, both in the focus and aperture ring. Also the red lettering was dull and hard to read on the black body.

    This time I bought a silver version. The difference is striking. While the same body, it seems to be finished to a higher standard. The blue text on the silver bofy is much easier to read, and both the focus and aperture rings are much heavier and more precise. No slop whatsover.
    If buying one of these lenses, I highly recommend handling them first as it seems that the build may not be as consistent as expected.
    I am really looking forward to using this lens!

    As an aside, I must have caught Steve’s 50mm bug. I now have a bunch of them…

  8. Hi Steve,

    I am quite new to the Leica world, I just bought a M-E last December, and currently use a C-Biogon 35 and a C-Sonnar 50. I would like a more “usual” 50, so I had the intention to by a second-hand Summicron 50 (I was convinced by your review and very much liked the look of the summicron’s images). But now that I have read your new Planar 50 review, I just don’t know which one I should get, Summicron or Planar. What would you advise me? (I currently do not have any Leica lens, only Zeiss ones)


  9. Hi. Somewhat OT, but Zeiss-related. I’ve heard on some recent postings about the pending release of a new Zeiss lens for the M? No other info. I need a 90 and it’d be sweet if Zeiss released a new 90mm F2. I’d go on the backorder list in a second!

  10. Nice to see you that you’re more objective about this lens than blind Leica fanboys (doctors, lawyers, weekend warriors etc). I think there’s a lot of dismissal in the Leica community about the quality of Zeiss glass–fact is, they are gorgeous lenses.

  11. Money saving tip:

    The lens hood for the Voigtlander 35mm 1.4 works perfectly with the Planar. Makes sense as they are both made by Cosina.
    The Voigtlander hood is $15 cheaper at $69 vs $84

  12. Hi Steve
    Thanks for a timely reminder that Zeiss glass is still a perfectly valid choice for your new Leica M or Monochrom. I love Zeiss glass as well and once had a Zeiss ZM 28 f2.8 on my M8. Great lens though the tiny Leica 28 f2.8 is super as well- a little bit more neutral than the Zeiss which renders colours with a real Wow ! I now use my M8 with 50 and 35 Summicrons mostly for B+W. Good idea is to have a two lens kit for your Leica -How about an indulgent Leica lens backed up by a work horse Zeiss, Guess If I had my favourite Leica Monochrom -I would have a Zeiss ZM 28 F2.8 and that new 50 Summicron! Dream on !
    Rgds Fergus

  13. I bought my first M lens, a ZM 50mm Planar, for my 2nd hand M8 based on Steve’s review back then. It performed as Steve’s description above. However, I found it too long for my M8, mothballed it and settled for a 35 cron instead. Recently I acquired a M-E, the Planar is back on my fav list again. Looks like I’m a 50mm guy. So many times I was tempted to acquire a 50 cron but could not justify the cost.
    Tried out M-E & Planar at night – http://its-koi-again.tumblr.com/

    Steve, I really like the photo with your fiancé against the wall. It is so “film” like.

  14. I’ve spent the last month considering the purchase of a Leica with a 50mm lens. Actually, I’ve wanted a Leica for much longer than that, but my wallet has always convinced me that I can’t play in that sandbox. But, today is the day I took off my proverbial shoes and kicked around in the proverbial sand. I decided not to go with the new M because of the added expense. Instead, I bought an ME with the Zeiss ZM 50mm Planar.

    Making the purchase reminded me of that old trick about making a decision. Flip a coin. Then, pay attention to your reaction to the randomly chosen heads or tails outcome. LOL In this case, after the purchase, I just happily smiled and nodded my head “yes.” Thanks for all the wonderful information, Steve.

  15. Yep, that cat picture is a gem.
    A simple idea that translates to something greater than the sum of its parts.

  16. Hi Steve

    I have some very quick questions for you that I would really appreciate an answer to if you can spare a minute…It would perhaps help my roadmap forwards.
    Re: Out of all of the 50mm M mount lenses that you have experienced recently – Noctilux f0.95, APO Summicron, Summilux (latest version), Sonnar ZM and your new Planar ZM…Lets say money no object so as not to restrict your choice.

    1. If you could only own 1 lens which one would you choose?

    2. If you could only own 2 lenses which ones would you choose that would compliment one another?

    3. If you could only own 3 lenses which ones would you choose that would compliment one another?

    Very many thanks in advance…My guess at your answers below…But I could be totally wrong!

    1. Lux
    2. Nocti, Apo Cron
    3. Lux, Nocti, Apo Cron

    • 1. APO Cron
      2. 50 Cron APO, Zeiss Sonnar
      3. Lux, Cron and Nocti

      The Nocti is nice but damn, using it for a few days..it is just so large and slow to focus. It makes the RF system a bit cumbersome. In reality I am not 100% sure on those answers either but the 50 APO is about as good as it can ever get in 35mm. From the buttery smooth bokeh (there is no harshness at all) to the detail and contrast and color…its perfection for the new M and MM. The Zeiss is unique and nothing like it, nice to have as a 2nd lens due to the classic character. The Lux of course is a legend. It’s superb but doesn’t have the color or contrast of the APO. Has more character though and 1.4. But money no object my main 50 would be the APO cron.

      • Many thanks again Steve…Most appreciated.
        My presumption of what you would prefer was clearly wrong on 1. and 2.
        It seems you really like the APO Cron a lot!
        I am not sure if you still have the APO Cron any longer?
        But would love to see (I expect like many others) how it stands up side by side with your new ZM Planar on your M240, both are pretty sharp, both are F2 wide open but from what I gather the APO Cron is a clear winner with the bonus of what you describe as a medium format look to the images.
        If not perhaps another time when the APO Cron passes your direction.

  17. I always hated my 50 cron, which is why I sold it over a year ago. I just couldn’t deal with the harsh bokeh and constant veiling flare. Currently I switch back and forth between the Zeiss C-Sonnar and the Leica 50 Lux. They have very different looks, but I love them both.

  18. Hey Steve, thank you for the fascinating article! Are the colours straight out of the camera or did you change them a little? Thanks a lot!

    • The color shots are pretty much straight from RAW though I may have done some WB adjustments that took 2 seconds. I used CS5 and Camera Raw, not Lightroom.

  19. Agree with Mark. And, come on — if you’re shooting an M, you’ve elected to shoot something that requires a great deal more than a point and shoot. In terms of focus shift on the Sonnar, it’s a simple adjustment. Make sure the lens in optimized at 1.5. Then pick 3 apertures between f/8 (where focus shift goes away due to DOF). I use 2.8, 4, and 5.6. Spend an hour shooting those apertures and finding out what the shift is on your particular copy. I find that 2.8 and 5.6 have roughly the same amount of shift. F/4 has the most. So… when I’m not shooting wide open (most of the time), or at f/8 (street), I have exactly two focus positions that I adjust to. It’s ridiculously easy and well worth the trouble for the amazing look of the lens.

    Love Zeiss. Have the 28, the 35 Biogon, and both 50s. All are small, well built, and produce wonderful results. The size and weight of the APO and FLE turn the Leica into a beast, to say nothing of the expense.

  20. Timely article for me, as I just got my hands on a Ricoh GXR kit and M unit in a bargain deal, so now looking into m lenses…though not at Leica prices(!), and I’ve always loved the look of Zeiss lenses (love the cat shot!), when you’ve shot with them. This 50mm looks great but would prefer wider 35mm lens on APS-C unit. Shame I sold my M-Rokkor 40mm last year really!

  21. The Zeiss ZM lenses are great. In many ways (not all), better than their Leica equivalents, for much less money. Unless you use these lenses I guess you would never know. Far easier to propagate the same old internet crap, similarly expoused by other people that have never used Zeiss lenses in general, and the Sonnar in particular, than to actually try and work with what is ultimately a very good lens. It is the only lens of it’s kind. It’s look is unique and beautiful. If you can’t make it so I’m afraid it’s a bad carpenter rather than bad tools!

  22. Nice review.

    I actually bought this lens for my new (to me) M9 a month ago because of your original review. I love it.

    I really like the ‘look’ you get with you images. I think it may be some vignetting you add but what ever you are doing they have a unique signature and a great feel to them.

  23. Yeah! Sonnar rocks! I had my Sonnar calibrated at 1.5, now I’m a loving it more and more! I cannot justify myself to get the Summilux since I’m still in love with my Sonnar! LOL

    Well, I heard someone mentioned about the Sonneta 1.1, it’s the lens that gives me a lot of headache! I wish the focus peaking in M240 could help me nail the focus with this lens…keeping my fingers crossed…

  24. Steve, thank goodness.
    You have finally got round to writing a proper “Huff” style review again.
    The sort of review that got most people looking at your web site.
    Not the sort that was counting the days before another Leica release/announcement!
    Or some body else’s “Daily Inspiration!”

    More top reviews please, Nikon A? Soon… maybe?
    Or how about The Elmarit 135 Goggles version on The M8.
    Quite interested in a 135 at the moment.
    Mr Hicks like it, is that praise enough?

    • The 135mm with goggles is a great lens ..except that it weighs a ton!

      It completely negates the whole Leica idea of small and lightweight! (It was meant for the old M2, as that didn’t have a 135mm frameline (only 35, 50 and 90), so the goggled 135 was designed to use the 90mm frameline (like the 35mm Summaron for the M3, which didn’t have any 35mm lines, so the goggled Summaron reduced the 50mm lines to cover the view of a 35mm lens)).

      But you may find that although the goggled 135mm is easy to focus on an M8, bright and crisp, the magnified framelines may not quite tally with what the lens actually sees.

  25. Really nice article Steve!

    I over the past few years I’ve gone from the Sonar to the Lux asph and finally, to the Planar. They’re all amazing in their own right and you really can’t go wrong either way. Stand out features among them are the compact size of the Sonar, and the sharpness of the Planar. The Lux is amazing but the size, weight and price didn’t make me wana sling it around my shoulder on a daily basis.

    The Sonar is a great choice for me because it focuses closer than the Sonar, is cheaper than the Lux and it still has really has a deep look with great colour.

  26. Thanks for this review. I just ordered a Mono(my 1st Leica ever) the other day and just this morning purchased the 50 Planar. So reading this and a couple of other reviews reenforces that I made a good decision.

  27. I’ve used Summicrons for 45 years or so and have three generations of them. Got a Planar a couple of year ago, and whichever of the four I happen to use always pleases me. There are differences, but all are fine lenses, and it’s better to learn to use the strengths of a lens than to lust after the one you don’t have.

  28. Just like Leica, CZ uses different names for the lens. Being old I can remember Tessar was a three element lens. As I recall Planar was the best. Sonnar was for teles. Distagion was for wide. Does anyone out there have an facts on this? I already looked at the CZ web site, nothing.

    • “..Being old I can remember Tessar was a three element lens..” ..Nope: you’re possibly thinking of Triotar. Tessar is implicitly “Four”, as in the Greek word for four: “Tessera”.

      Can’t find any info about Tessar lenses? ..Tried Wikipedia, or Camerapedia? You’ll find plenty there, Karl.

      Just type into your Search box “Wikipedia Tessar” and then press Enter..

    • The Tessar is the classic 4 elements in 3 groups, the Elmar is a Leitz version of a Tessar.

      The Sonnar was not limited to Telephoto lenses. It is a 3-group lens, the 50/1.5 has 7 elements and the 50/2 has 6 elements. The “Design Layout” of the Sonnar can be described as a Telephoto front section with a magnification of “about” 2.5 times the focal length of the finished lens, and the rear section has a focal length “about” the same as the complete lens. The front/back section are positioned fairly closely, producing a short lens with large aperture, and relatively high amounts of focus shift.

  29. Hey Steve, I know it has kind of disappeared since the SLR Magic 50, but how about the 50 1.1 Nockton on the Monochrom? I haven’t seen any results from that combo.

    Also, I assume it’s the same situation as with the M9; that is the Monochrom and M 240 won’t work with the old 50 Cron Dual Range (won’t focus to infinity, and the “eyes” won’t work on these new cameras), which is too bad (especially since I have this lens!). But I know, if you want to do close up work with the M 240, just get the R lens adaptor and R macro!

    • I can safely say that the Nokton 50mm f/1.1 is really fantastic on the MM. I’d link you some samples but most of my work has naked ladies in it and I don’t want to get Steve in trouble. You are welcome to send me a private e-mail and I’ll show you a link to my blog.

      The f/1.1 Nokton is a challenging lens to use on any rangefinder just due to the very shallow depth of field but when you nail the focus it is one nice piece of glass!!

      • I’d like to see that. I havé the Lens André sait for the M240 with my M9
        Thanks by advance
        I do love as much the C-Sonnar



      • andrew , would love to see the ladies with my visual aperture wide open at f 0.95 for the performance of the lens …sending you the mail 🙂

  30. Can anyone share experience/advice on using this lens with an adapter on m4/3? I’m thinking of getting one for a portrait lens on my OMD, I’m currently using the Oly 45 1.8 and the Leicasonic 50 1.4, thanks.

  31. Have owned both ZM 50mm planar, 50mm summarit and now the 50mm summicron.

    Agree with your finding about the planar. Personally I like the colors and slightly more classic look of the summicron better. But sometimes the pop of the planar with its harder contrast and colors was great indeed. Especially for B&W’s.

    What I also like about the cron is the 39mm filtersize and the build in hood.
    The planar is getting quite big with the hood attached. The cron stays quite compact.

    Back when I had a M8 I had to wait 5 months before I finally got my B+W UV/IR filter in 43mm. While the 39mm filters were easy to get. Now with the M9 thats not a big issue anymore. Nevertheless its nice the cron shares it filters with many other lenses.

    Of those three lenses the one I was most impressed with was the 50mm f/2.5 summarit. Its super compact. Has a focusknob. Great optics, great build. in between the cron and planar I would say. My copy was the smoothest lens to focus I have had so far. Only the 0,95 nocti I borrowed felt as smooth trough much more heavy.
    Only drawback is the 0,8m minimal focus distance. Thats why I sold mine. But for everything else it might be worth notifying for people looking for a 50mm on their M/M9/M8.

  32. I absolutely love the character of this lens. Steve, can you recommend a Zeiss lens with similar character but wide angle around 24-28mm? I want to use it on my NEX-7 and this would be the ideal focal length for given then 1.5x crop factor.

    Cheers! And Thanks!

  33. Nice article.
    Is there any truth that the focus shift with the 1.5 does not happen with film cameras e.g. an M3 or M6?

    With digital you can shoot a bunch of test shots in quick succession, noting changes and vwey quickly afterwards seeing the results , as it is digital. But doing that on film would be much harder, and much costlier.

    Also, I think you should also mention the Zeiss 2.0 Planar lens takes a weird filter size – I think 43mm – which may necessitate in getting a new set of filters for those who use them. The Sonnar takes 46mm filters like the Lux 50mm. (If the Zeiss is the only lens you use it would not matter).

    One reason the Zeiss lenses are much cheaper than Leica lenses, is that while the Leica lenses are made in Germany, Cosina makes the Zeiss (alongside Voigtlander lenses) in Japan.

    You also may want to check on Zeiss forums about the quality of Zeiss/Cosina customer service. People there do not seem to be happy if they have issues.

    • It happens on film. Unless you can learn to compensate it can be a frustrating lens. From 2.5 on it makes the most sublime images I have ever encountered in a 50. The perfect balance of contrast and clarity that makes black and white printing a joy.

      It’s one of the few new lenses on the market that show true character in print.

  34. Wonderful images Steve. I too really enjoy the look of the Zeiss Planar. I may have rented the same lens you’re shooting with almost a year ago during Father’s Day weekend. I rented the Zeiss 35m f2.0 and 50mm Planar for my Ricoh GXR and really enjoyed the look. At the time I had the Leica 40mm and wanted to try something at 50mm FOV and 75mm FOV.

    Right now I’m preferring to stick with Leica brand and same time frame lenses to try and keep the same look across my images.

    • It doesn’t and does not need to as no corrections are really done with 50mm lenses. Coding is only beneficial on 35mm or shorter focal lengths to eliminate any color shifts. I do not mess with coding with any non Leica lenses unless they are wider than 35.

      • Steve, your reviews are great! Here’s a question. I have an M9 as well as some Zeiss lenses that are longer than 50mm. You suggest NOT messing with coding when using longer Zeiss lenses, BUT is there a default code that should be set on the M9? This isn’t clear from your suggestion.

          • Steve, thanks for the advice. In about a month I’ll be trying out some Zeiss lenses on the M9. I’ll let you know how they work.
            The lenses (all West German Contax AEs) are as follows:
            – 25mm f 2.8 Distagon
            – 100mm f 2.0 Planar (the one I’m most interested in)
            – 40-80 mm f3.5 Vario-Sonnar (this should be interesting as I’ll treat it as a vario- Elmar.

          • Steve, here are the results of my tests using Contax Zeiss AE lenses on an M9 using converters and the match Technical D-Coder kit for Zeiss and Voigtlander lenses. Each test used a variety of f stops, and was tested using two methods: first using auto lens select with “no code” and second, using the code for similar Leica or Leitz lenses. The M9 light meter worked exceptionally well in all cases. All you have to do is remember to focus the lens based on estimated distance to the subject.

            1. Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 # 6229746 using a Novoflex adapter. As a test, the code for Leica Summicron 90 f/2 (II), 11136/11137 was used. The results were identical when using the code or simply using auto lens select with no code. Definition and colors were fantastic even in the corners. Steve, you were right! No code was needed. When using the lens wide-open, focusing can be a trick because of the limited depth of field. One note, Novoflex adapters (unlike AST adapters) default to the 28/90mm frame lines – which was perfect in this case. Using the 90mm frame line is OK, as long as you realize that the final image is slightly smaller then what you see in the frame. Practice makes perfect.

            2. Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 # 5816958 using an AST adapter. As a test, the code for Leica 24 f/2.8 Asph, 11878/11898 was used. I did not even try “no code” in this case. This code proved to be optimal, and the results were superb. In fact, considering the great depth of field, using zone focusing on the lens is very easy. AST adapters default to 35/135 frame lines. However, if you use the entire viewfinder, it is very close to 25mm. Using the Coder kit, I tested the auto lens select function and it worked fine. I then used a Dremel (which I’m pretty good with) and made very slight marks where the 6-bit codes were, inked them again, and now can use auto lens select.

            3. Zeiss 40-80 f/3.5 using an AST adapter. This lens I tested and will treat as a “Tri-Elmar”, at 40mm, 60mm, and 80mm. As a test the code for Leica Summicron-M 35 f/2 IV, 11310/11311 was used. Compared to using “no code”, using the Summicron code produced correct color balance. With “no code”, the color was noticeably cool. Also, using the code resulted in slightly better edge sharpness, and a more pleasing Bokeh. Surprisingly, when using the code, results are good at all focal lengths. One does have to manually select the appropriate frame lines. Since the AST adapter defaults to 35/135 frame lines, the 35 mm frame is close to 40mm. Also used were the 50mm and 75mm frame lines for 60mm and 80mm respectively. I again used the coder kit and Dremel to 6-bit code the lens.

            4. My last effort was placing a 6-bit code on my Leitz Elmarit-M 28 f/2.8 (III) 11804. A caution was uncovered here. When inking-in the 6-bit code, and auto lens select read the lens as a 90mm f/2 (Summicron-M II). After a little detective work, I discovered that the Leitz Phillips head screw on the mount was read as part of the code. I little white paint in the screw slots fixed that. My advice is to always test a lens using auto lens select BEFORE adding your own code. That way, any spurious code can be determined before you start adding a 6-bit code to the lens. After using the Dremel and re-inking, the lens is now read correctly by auto lens select.

    • I have the Planar 50, and the Biogon 21 2.8 for my M9, and eventually will utilize with my ordered M240. Both are great lenses wide open and better stopped down. Purchased the Match Technical coder kit and it works great with the lenses. http://www.matchtechnical.com/Pages/coderkit.aspx At the point where the code marks are added on the Zeiss lens’, the ring is somewhat recessed, meaning the codes are less apt to wear off when you change lenses because the recess does not touch the camera body. This has worked very well for me on the Zeiss, especially the 21 which must have a code selection dialed in.

  35. I used both lenses with an nexC3, delivered handfuls of favorites for me. The focusing was easy with “peaking”, how hard is it manual wide open? Think im going to rent one of them for my XE1.

  36. Nice review Steve! Glad to see such nice statements on Zeiss glass. I have been collecting used Leica lenses for 22 years. If I had to start over again, and buy only new, I would probably buy Zeiss. By the way, your Chihuahua is adorable! I have three of them, all females. One is a deer head at 4lbs! She is scared of everything but does not bite and loves kids! What sweet animals they are and how human they act! Too bad people say Chihuahuas are nasty. I think they are nice!

    • Thanks! Yes, I love Chihuahuas. Mine is from a rescue and was 8 months old when we got her. In the past three months we have fully house trained her and like yours she is afraid of everything but she is amazingly sweet and actually quiet for the most part. Great little dog who seems to always want to be with me or on me 🙂

      • We had a chihuahua when I was a boy, it came from a dog home and only had three legs. Wonderful little character, friendly and loyal and lived to 13!

  37. Thanks for the article Steve. I am getting rid of my old 50mm Summarit and and have been debating on what to get. The Cron is just more than I want to pay. I love my Zeiss Contax G lenses ans now I’m pretty certain I’ll be happy with getting the Planar or Sonnar for my old M4.

    • You cant go wrong with the Planar or the Cron but they do have different signatures. I like both equally as much but considering the cost makes the Zeiss a great buy.

  38. I am EXTREMELY happy to see the 50mm f/2 Planar getting some recognition.

    I have owned one for quite a few years (I bought the Zeiss Ikon Film Rangefinder when it was brand new a number of years ago) and I absolutely love it. These days I’m using it quite a bit on my MM. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it is my favorite M mount lens of all time. It is a perfect compromise of size and performance in my opinion. Nice and light, balanced well on an M body, with a great rendering.

    Sure there are some lenses that will handle certain aspects of an image better (sharper perhaps, maybe better bokeh, etc. etc.) but this lens is the most well rounded overall package in my opinion. Even if it was twice the price it would still be a steal.

    It’s a real shame Zeiss has never bothered to make a digital rangefinder. They did such a good job with the Zeiss Ikon film body, which sadly is no longer made either.

    • Yes, Andrew, this has always surprised me that Zeiss never made a digital rangefinder – after all they have the lenses to go with it. Maybe one day!

      • I agree it would be great to see a Zeiss digital rangefinder but I guess it is just not their niche, they make great lenses are developing into new markets and are probably happy not to be involved in the continual update cycle of digital camera production

        • I always figured they’d wander over to Kyocera and coax the Contax G digital plans from them. But dreams are made to be crushed and mine is flat as a Texas freeway armadillo.

          It’s fun shooting the Zeiss G lenses on µ4/3, but cropped they never achieve their full potential. Nevertheless, I completely understand Planar and Sonnar love (and oh yes, the Biogon).

      • Not really a surprise – one needs to realize that it is Cosina who actually produces the camera (as well as the lenses, though they are designed by Zeiss) and Mr. Kobayashi – CEO of Cosina has explicitly stated that Cosina will not produce a digital camera under his leadership. Or so I read a few years back.

        Another reason is – with digital cameras you really have to introduce a new body every 2 – 3 years to stay in business and given how low volume this kind of market is it would not be possible to bring digital Zeiss Ikon which price considerably below M9. This is pretty much a first hand information.

        However if Digital Ikon would happen under €3000 I would probably get one.

        Steve – thank you for this short write-up 🙂

      • Few years ago there was question to Zeiss about digital rangefinder, it was said, they will wait until digital photography will be mature… whatever it mean… 🙂

  39. Great photography Steve your pictures really show the quality of the two ZM lenses. You had me sold on Zeiss back in 2009, I love the pop from these lenses. What do you think, is the M240 partnering even better with ZM and VM lenses than the M8 / M9

  40. Great shots, that f1.5 butterfly shot is amazing. The great thing about the Sonnar is that it is two lenses in one, sharp and contrasty with the typical rich Zeiss colors starting at 5.6 and dreamy at f1.5 to 2.8.

  41. Great/’classic’ Jug(s)-shot;o)

    It’s funny how we all have our different favorites – in Zeiss ZM-land mine is the 21/4.5+25/2.8 but I can absolutely appreciate the love Youre showing/having with the C-Sonnar – especially on the Monochrom here…. Just can’t quite get used to or rather accept the little tricks one has to incorporate shootin’ it… It can get quite frustrating the higher the number of quirky lenses one owns; say the C-Sonnar, a few russians and ie the 35’lux ASPH and what not… and then when ones rangefinder begins to drift; jeez… this is at least one area where I can see liveview being a godsend on the M240;o)


  42. I use this lens on my M6 and my Fuji XPro 1 and it works superb on both cameras. I just miss the notch for focusing, like you find it on leica lenses.
    I think it would be interresting to see a comparison with the Leica 50 Summicron APO ASPH.
    Just for fun. Can a 900$ lens keep up with a 7000$ lens!?? 😉
    By the way you do a great job with your Reviews!

  43. The Planar is really sharp! But that Sonnar on the Monochrom is pure magic. Such a look. This camera and lens were made for each other.
    Hey Steve, can you give us some more Monochrom/Sonnar pics? Show us more of that magic combo.

  44. I have a Planar as well and would not consider side-grading to a modern Summicron 50 considering how good it is (and the cost involved). In fact, I find the current Summicron 50 one of the least attracting lens in Leica’s M lineup, considering its age, price and competition.

    I keep dreaming of the Summilux ASPH but that’s another issue.

    BTW: I have a Summicron 50, but the old collapsible Type 1. It is a lovely classic lens! And I just got a small cheap 50 2.5 Skopar which is pretty good as well. I might actually keep the latter as backup if I ever go for the Summilux.

    Am I 50mm addict?

    • I own a Planar too, but I found that it’s not truly a 50mm, it’s more a 43mm. I had my camera mounted on a tripod and i took one picture with a Sonnar and another with a Planar to compare the bokeh. What I found it that Planar was noticeably wider, not quite a 50, but I actually prefer it, because I’m not a fan of 35mm although i do recognise that sometimes a little wider than 50mm is useful for street photography.

    • The Jupiter-3 has indeed that Sonnar look, and it is normal, as it is derived from a pre-WWII Contax Sonnar design. But I find the ZM Planar has a much more modern rendering than the J8.

      The Jupiter are not bad lenses, especially for the price, but wide open or close to wide open, they are very low-contrast, requiring a hefty dose of post-processing (at least mines did).

  45. Sold my 50 ‘cron for a Planar 50… Never regretted it! It’s a fantastic lens, as Steve says and highly recommended… For the money you save you can buy a lot of other fancy camera stuff! I actually prefer the Planar’s aperture feel to my 35 lux fle, which one wouldn’t expect actually… I think the built is just as good as the Leica glass! Only bummer for me: why in god’s name didn’t they add a focus patch to it? That’s the only thing I’m missing from my Cron! That and the completely non-resisting focus… It’s a bit harder to move the focus ring than with the Cron (some people prefer that I guess… I don’t)! In other words… You need to apply a bit more strength to get it moving! For the record: It’s about the same as the lux fle, so in no means bad!
    Bottom line: highly recommended! 🙂

  46. I don’t see how you could get that butterfly wide open at f1.5 at that distance – unless the lens had been re-set for close focusing!

    In my experience, the 50mm f1.5 is awful, as the focus shifts so much as you get closer: it appears in focus in the rangefinder, but it goes way out as you shoot closer (though, apparently, it can be reset to focus accurately up close, and then drift off as you shoot further away).

    If course, on the latest M (type 240) there’s the rear ‘LiveView’ screen – or electronic finder – which WILL show accurate focus, if you’re using one of those ..but with traditional rangefinder focusing, er, no.

    I think mine’s going on eBay..

    • That was shot at 1.5 on the Monochrom, no live view and with an out of the box lens. Once you learn how to shoot the Sonnar at 1.5 with its shift it is easy to nail focus each time. When up close focus on your subject and right after move forward about an inch..as in, move your body forward. That is one way, Another is to misfocus in camera by a little bit. Both work 95% of the time.

      • Great advice, Steve. Also, I think you mentioned in your older 50mm Sonnar review that for f of 1.5, after you focus on your subject, slight turn the focus ring towards the infinity direction to avoid the back focusing. Every lens is a little different so the user will have to get a feel for how much to compensate for the back focus for the particular lens he or she owns.The back focusing quickly improves as you move up in f stop.

      • Steve, if I pay $900 for a lens I don’t want to “..When up close focus on your subject and right after move forward about an inch..” ..I want the lens to do that for me. Why should I pay $900 and then guess the focus!

        Why keep a dog and bark yourself?

        No, my f1.5 is going ..the Leica 50mm f1.4 costs more, gives better looking results (softer backgrounds) and – having had the camera set up correctly – gives the same accurate focus which you see in the viewfinder (although it’s slightly bigger and heavier).

        The 1.5 is pointless – for me – if it doesn’t focus properly. Would you buy a car which doesn’t steer accurately when you’re within 4 feet of something?

        • Then why did you buy it? These issues were documented years ago when the lens shipped. The Sonnar gives a unique character and when correctly used can give results like no other. It is MUCH different in rendering than the Leica Summilux and by f/4 can be a tad sharper (my old review showed this). Its 1/4 the cost of the Summilux but is not any worse or better, it is different. All depends on the character you are looking for. But I do not understand the complaining about it when the shift issue has been very well documented. It is super simple to focus wide open or stopped down and takes no more time once you figure it out. I can just as accurately focus a Sonnar as I can the Planar without even thinking about it and it took me 20 minutes of messing with it to figure it out. Great lens with gobs of character and it can be pin sharp at 1.5 at the focus point, as you can see in my samples here.

          • I bought it because – after reading about its characteristics – I though “It can’t be THAT bad..” ..but I found that it is.

            So, after being so very quickly disenchanted with it – we-e-ell; I was never actually enchanted with it! – I bought a Leica 50mm f1.4 “aspheric” instead, and am thoroughly enchanted with that.

            I s’pose the Zeiss f1.5 is a “poor man’s Summilux” – but even so, I feel it’s unforgivable to make – or rather sell – a lens which won’t focus accurately at its widest aperture ..which is what you – well, perhaps not you, but certainly I – would buy it for.

            It’s like buying a camera which has accurate slow shutter speeds – 1/4, 1/10, 1/50 – but underexposes by different amounts as you use higher speeds, so you have to keep guessing how much over-exposure to give it as you shoot in brighter light, or with wider apertures!

            Your butterfly shot is great, though. Was it just one shot ..or did you shoot and shoot till one of them came out perfectly focused?

          • That butterfly shot was one snap, as was the girl with the clay mask, as was the guy with the sign, and that was with a rental that was BARELY off. Today I had a brand new in box one arrive and it focuses SPOT ON without any adjutants or movement at 1.5. Seems the ones they sell now, at B&H anyway, are calibrated for 1.5.

          • Well, I’m glad to hear (read) it! ..Great shot for a single snap!

            But I’m very happy with the 50mm 1.4, and would take that any day over the Zeiss 1.5. (..Talking of lenses which won’t focus, I bought a 50mm f1.1 “Sonnetar” from Japan Exposures http://www.japanexposures.com/shop/product_info.php?products_id=520 ..thinking that THAT might be a nice lens: but it’s the daftest lens I’ve ever bought! I sent it back and got a refund. All the blurb on the page suggests how wonderful it is, but what’s NOT mentioned is that (a) you have to take the lens off the camera to adjust its rearmost “coma adjustment” element (!!), and (b) you’re supposed to leave it set at 4 metres when using it on a rangefinder, otherwise the focusing is off ..thus invalidating any point in having the “coma adjustment”!!

            So sometimes what’s written on a webpage as a description of what a lens does – and how it behaves – may be “economical with the truth” and may not mention much – or anything! – about the downsides.)

            But I’m glad that you’re so happy with your Zeiss 1.5, Steve..!

          • I bought a Sonnar a year ago second-hand and the seller told me that the lens was calibrated for f2.8. This did bother me initially because I intended to use this lens wide open, but it was 30 percent cheaper than buying new and this particular sample was in excellent condition.

            When I received it through the post, the first thing I did was to figure out how bad the focust shift really is at f1.5. To my surprise the focus was PERFECT. I thought this cant be right so I did try and compensate the non-existing focus-shift. This only produced pictures out of focus.

            Now I’m not sure whether I was lucky and just happened to purchase the best Sonnar example produced that worked with my M9-P. But this lens is truly amazing.

            The bokeh and the colours are imho excellent. In good light it can be as sharp as anything, even wide open. I prefer this lens to the Summilux 50, and I don’t understand why anyone who truly enjoys photography would pay 3-times more for a leica equivalent.

            just my two pence.

    • Personally I hate focus shift, but I can see people adjusting to it. It is just that I rather have a good lens with perfect focus at every distance and aperture than a “character”-lens with focus issues. Or better a character lens like the Ultron 35 1.7 which is perfect in every aspect 😉

      But in the Sonar’s case, this “feature” is really well documented (read this LL-arcticle at the bottom).

      And I think it is indeed reasonable to use a lens just for its character and live with the quirks. Even the old 35 Lux Asph had focus shift, though it was only in the digital age that people noticed it.

      So relax and shoot 😉

  47. Awesome photos. Love the real world practical reviews. The black and white cat photo would make a great poster. Thanks for all the great images.

  48. This was good. When I picked up the Lux 50, the Zeiss was the contender. I am still thinking of getting one of them as I only shot Zeiss before I went Leica (they sponsored me). I am thinking the C Sonnar 1.5 from Zeiss will be my next buy to compliment the Lux – but now you have me thinking on the Plannar again. Thanks a lot, Steve…. LOL

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