Looking Back to the Zeiss ZM 50mm Sonnar Day By Zaki Jaihutan

Looking Back to the Zeiss ZM 50mm Sonnar Day

By Zaki Jaihutan

Dear Steve and Brandon, thanks for providing the opportunity to share my nostalgic moment with the beautiful Zeiss ZM 50mm sonnar f1.5 or the Sonnar.

Not long ago I traded my Sonnar (together with one other lens) with the legenday leica 50mm summilux ASPH. I’ve been wanting to get my hand on the Lux for quite some time, it has its own strong rendition different to that of the Sonnar (perhaps “slight”, but it’s there).

I am not going to provide you with comparison between the two lenses. Not only that I dislike technical comparison (though I admit this type of comparison has its own use), but I also like to see a lens for what it is, its overall feel, its drawing if you like, how the lens work with my camera and myself. I am not good in giving objective explanation about this and prefer picture to do the talking. My acquisition of the Lux is a pure aesthetic choice (not to mention the opportunity to obtain the Lux at a very acceptable price), and while I am happy with the result I get from the Lux, I cannot say that the Sonnar is inferior to it. I don’t want to sound like I’m defending an ex girlfriend, but the Lux and the Sonnar are simply two different beauties.

When I first venture into the difficult world of rangefinder by purchasing my M9, the Sonnar is my first lens, and it has been my go to lens until I got my 35 lux ASPH about 8 months ago. I choose the Sonnar not just due to price consideration (voigtlander can give you a more acceptable price range with a good quality glass), but from the result of its images, their artistic feel, and….guess what? From the possible problem in using this lens due to its famous “focus-shift” issue. I was a total rookie in the rangefinder world (which I still am, mine you I started using leica M9 for only around two and a half years  ), and I thought, gee, why not challenge myself more? It just sounds cool, using tricky lens to get a certain artistic look.

Believe it or not, I don’t find any focus shift issue. Most pictures I took are spot on where I want them to be. Perhaps its me that is less critical? Maybe the objects I choose do not reveal this issue (smaller object might show this perhaps, e.g. pencil points or something like that?). I remember someone said somewhere in the web that he did not get any focus shift issue, and someone responded that is impossible!!! Well, maybe my lens, or my camera, was already adjusted …or maybe, someone had skillfully painted a different lens and put the mark ZM sonnar to the lens in order to fool me. Maybe, mabe and maybe.

Anyway, looking back at what I can get from the Sonnar, its imperfection which add up to its artistic look, its “drawing” as many people like to call it, I feel a bit nostalgic and would like to share what the Sonnar has done to my worldview. I realize many samples are already there, but I guess additional view to enjoy are always fun. Perhaps this can reignite interest to this classic lens (and an option to consider for those who like to get a good quality 50mm glass with their M, but finds it hard to justify purchasing the uber expensive Lux). All of these were taken with either the M9 or the new M. Most of them can also be seen at my flickr site at HYPERLINK “http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaihutan/” http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaihutan/

See if you can feel its unique soft way of blending the subject into soft focus, and find it adorable. Enjoy.

With kind regards,
Zaki Jaihutan










  1. Mine is optimized for f/1.5 and I only have to compensate from f/2 to f/4. From f/5.6 depth of field surpasses focus shift and all is roses.

    My Sonnar was originally optimized for f/2.8 and I had it changed. Drove me crazy because wide-open is where this lens just begs to be used. At f/8 the Sonnar becomes just another compact and sharp 50mm lens; nothing special. At f/1.5 however, there is magic in that glass.

  2. Lovely photos and a terrific lens.

    If you didn’t notice focus shift, I imagine that your lens was optimized at f/2.8, where the shift is only noticeable @ f/2 and f/1.5, and, even then, slight. If your lens had been optimized at 1.5, as mine is, you would have had to compensate from f/2 to f/8.

    • Thanks Jim, that could be the case, unfortunately (or fortunately) I did not really notice that as I feel I always capture what I want correctly, so perhaps it is really minor like you mention so if you not really look into it, you don’t really notice.

  3. Sorry, they all look a little soft to me! Maybe my iMac is out of focus.Have nicer drawing from my nikon lens.

    • Glad to hear you are so amazing and perfect! Just so you know, this site is for everyone and criticism should be done in a constructive way, not ‘hey, look at me, I’m great and you suck!’.

      • It was not a criticism, far from it, just an observation. Why do people get so touchy on trivial things.

        • Some of the images do look OOF, some don’t, what has that to do with a Nikon lens being ‘better’? There are plenty of photography competitions to enter to prove the point if it really needs proving. What we can see is somebody having a damned good go with a Zeiss Sonnar, what we can’t see is somebody having a damned good go with a Nikon lens.

  4. Beautiful pictures Zaki I really enjoyed them and your style.
    I’m thinking about buying the Sonnar 1.5 myself,
    you’ve been very helpful
    thx for sharing

  5. I’m pretty sure that with optics like Leitz and Zeiss, the standard of precision they both work to, are such that this ‘reported’ problem is more of an urban myth, probably put out by those who wish to wind up users. You might however get an issue with the RF assembly getting out of alignment because it uses mirrors, but I’d be amazed if it ever is a body and lens miss-match!

    • I really don’t know Sam, the focus shift issue was that famous, I am not sure if its just rumours… I mean, I think Zeiss actually make a statement about it, I am not sure. Our good host Steve here knows something about it, I think he actually face that issue with the sonnar he use. So it’s a mystery there 🙂 Perhaps I somehow has a finely adjusted M9, and now I cannot find out whether that would be the case since I am already using an M.

    • You don’t understand rangefinder cameras and lenses. All lenses have focus shift at some point in the aperture range, but SLR/DSLR lenses are focused directly on a screen, so the focus shift is compensated for by directly seeing what is in focus. With a rangefinder camera the lens is focused not on a screen but via a series of mirrors that offer no way to compensate for focus shift at each aperture. Some lenses are better than others, such that it is never noticed, but others can drift as the aperture is changed and experience needs to take the reins.

      • Focus shift is as much of a problem on an SLR as you focus with the lens wide-open, and not at the taking aperture. You can stop the lens down on many cameras, but this produced a dark screen and makes it hard to focus.

  6. Nice set Zaki. I share 100% your thoughts this zeiss is my favorite lens ever. I tried a lot of lenses in my life and I always come back to it.
    Although not using it right now, I will never get rid of it

    • No, you don’t want to loose it…unless you really are going to trade with something super special 🙂

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