The Zeiss 15mm F2.8 Distagon T* ZM lens By Jerry Bei

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The Zeiss 15mm F2.8 Distagon T* ZM lens

By Jerry Bei

The Zeiss 15mm F2.8 Distagon T* ZM is a one-of-a-kind lens, it is truly a monster when mounted on a Leica M body that offers exquisite image rendering. In short, this is not a lens for everyone but it offers insanely sharp, highly contrasty and richly saturated images. So if you are looking for an exotic ultra-wide angle lens that generates a unique rendering then look no further.

This lens is not your typical “Made in Japan” Zeiss lens, it is hand-crafted in Germany and Zeiss went all out with this design. The Zeiss 15mm F2.8 ZM used all sorts of exotic types of glass and incorporated aspheric lens elements, which is uncommon for Zeiss designs. All of those factors contribute to making this lens the most expensive lens in the ZM line-up and it is what separates it from all others.

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Build Quality and Ergonomics

The build quality of the Zeiss 15mm Distagon ZM lens is exceptional. It matches the German-made Leica standards and the ergonomics of this lens is excellent. The lens is relatively large when compared to other M mount lenses but it still feels great in the hands of the photographer. The lens comes in at 13oz or around 370 grams, which is not light for a rangefinder lens but it is well-balanced on either the Leica M9 or the Leica M240.

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Practical use

The Zeiss 15mm F2.8 Distagon ZM lens is not rangefinder coupled when using on the Leica M9 but this is overcome by the live-view function on the new Leica M240. Although this lens is not rangefinder coupled, it has the minimum focusing distance advantage down to 0.3m, which is around a person’s forearm length thus allows the photographer to shoot with close objects.

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In terms of Image rendering, there is strong vignetting visible at all apertures and if you a fan of Vignetting effects then this would be the ideal lens for you. Otherwise, this is easily reduced by applying the Central Density Filter (CDF) provided by Zeiss, which is specifically manufactured and designed for this lens. The CDF is a unique density filter that only densifies the central part of the glass which minimises the vignetting overall. (Just a kind reminder, Do not lose the CDF filter, as it does not come cheap to buy it separately at approximately $600 US Dollars. The colour casts can also be noticeable around the corners when taking photos with certain backgrounds, which produces magenta on the left along with cyan on the right but this can be easily fixed by using the CornerFix Software.

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When shooting with the Zeiss 15mm Distagon ZM lens, It is recommended to purchase a Zeiss 15mm Viewfinder or a cheaper alternative Voigtlander 15mm viewfinder for functional use on the Leica M9 and other rangefinder bodies. As for the lens profile, I tend to mount the lens and leave it to automatic detection mode but you are free to experimenting or try different lens profile which suits you.

My Website: www.jerrybei.com

My Flickr: www.flickr.com/jerrybay

44 Comments

  1. Great series and i have definitely had my eye on this lens. However we should point out this is not a digital lens. It was made for “film” and as such the corners will always be an issue on digital, color shift, blur etc.

    Zeiss needs to get on the ball and start redesigning these film lenses to make them digital compatible.

    But even with those limitations this lens is great, but so is the 15mm Heliar for $4100 less!

  2. Agreed. This is the lens I am willing to die for and cannot leave home without. Thanks for the fantastic review Jerry!

  3. Love the street photo! Yes a lens like this ca be used for street-if you have some imagination of course -like all your photos actually-thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks! This lens is tricky yet so fun to use on the street. You are right, it is all about creativity/imagination and there is nothing you can not create with it.

  4. I have this lens. It’s an amazing lens. I use mine on a Leica Monochrome, Leica M8 and Leica M6. I can vouch it’s ease of focus even though it’s not rangefinder coupled. The distance scale is on the top of the lens. When you use the external viewfinder, you can see what the focussing distance is set at through the viewfinder. Another clever design feature.

    It has one significant strength that you didn’t cover. It close focuses down to 0.3 metres. The reason why it’s made in Germany is the multiple floating elements in the lens that can only be set up with proprietary machines Zeiss has in its factory at Oberkochen that they do not allow other manufacturers access to. The Leica 16-18-21tri elmar and 18 mm only focus down to 0.7m and their fastest aperture is f3.4 or f4

    It is as sharp up close as it is at infinity. Super wides are great for landscapes but you haven’t exploited the potential of this lens until you get in close to your subject. Really close. It exaggerates the distance between the subject and the background and it has an f2.8 maximum aperture. This is where the Zeiss 15mm excels. My first choice of lens for a Leica M. I use this lens more often than the Leica 35mm f1.4. As a matter of fact, I use this lens more often than all other M lenses I have and would be the first one I reach for when I travel somewhere.

    Simply the best in my view. Leica don’t have one so you really don’t feel that you are missing out on something.

    • This lens is the only lens that is capable matching the Leica wide angle lenses and it is certainly a Gem. I have compared this lens with the WATE by Leica on my Website and the Zeiss has several distinct advantages over the already fantastic WATE lens.

    • Thanks Ross. The lens is not rangefinder coupled so you will have to pre-focus on the M9 but able to use the live-view with focus peaking function for this lens on the M240. The depth of field is so large that basically everything will be in focus from 1m to infinity even at f2.8 so there is no need to worry.

  5. Thanks for sharing your amazing work and truly show ultra-wide angles can produce astonishing results on the hands of a very capable photographer.

  6. Very well shot series. I have always loved the Zeiss 15 – such an amazing lens. I had it on my D700 when it first came out, then demo’ed a copy on my M-E for about a month. You’ve done a great job showing how well this lens really performs. Kudos!

  7. I agree that these pictures show very competent use of the wide angle lens. There is mood in the photos, and the fact that the mood varies from photo to photo (compare the balloon shot with the water/rocks shot) shows what (or should I say who?) is really in control of the images! I would love to know more about shooting wide angle photography — any suggestions on good reads?

    • There are plenty of amazing landscape Leica shooters that use wide angle for most of their work, just do a search online and I am sure you will find something breath-taking 🙂

  8. You are an amazing photographer! I love these pictures… They are beautiful. Thank you Steve for sharing such a talent!

  9. What you are doing is exceptional I must say, I was a big fan of your Hasselblad work and now you are showing us this. you managed something no one has and keep defying the standard . Great work Jerry!

  10. Breathtaking. You make taking pictures with a 15mm look like you did it on a 35mm, you made it look easy. Love the colours. Thx for sharing.

  11. Awesome images! Wide-angle has always been a challenge for me, but you use this lens very well. I especially like the balloons and the dog!

  12. Looking at your pictures I can see you have made the lens performed to its full potential. Good wide view pictures are always breath-taking. Thanks.

  13. Your eye truly “realized” the potential inherent to this glass. Great work Jerry and thanks to Steve for putting this art up for review.

  14. Wow

    Ultra-wides can be tricky. Your images suggest that you know the tricks well

    Great work!

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