A User Review of the Zeiss 35mm Distagon f1.4 ZM on a Leica M 240
By Howard Shooter
I must confess to being a bit of a Leica fan. I love Leica and the purity of the rangefinders’ back to basics approach to photography. Up until three days ago I have veered towards only Leica glass and my thoughts have been mostly positive. I was niggled and irritated by the slight softness of the 50mm Summilux on the M240mm compared to the M9 and the ever so slight lack of contrast, which means I sometimes have to give the files a bit of the proverbial kick in Lightroom. The shift from M9 to M240 was another learning curve in appreciating subtlety and nuance for me and took longer than I expected to really love the new signature of the much debated cmos sensor.
I always loved the 35mm focal length, as it’s such a versatile lens for so many situations from landscape to portrait. I wanted the Leica 35mm summilux but the price is too steep for me to justify the outlay.
Zeiss have always had their avid and similarly loyal followers and the Leica fit Zeiss lenses have generally reviewed well and been passionately spoken for.
I ordered the Zeiss 35mm Distagon f1.4 ZM a week before they came in and the initial online reviews were scarce and very favorable. At approximately one-third of the price of the Leica equivalent I was looking forward to testing out the lens and deciding if my long and loyal following to owning only Leica glass was now dwindling.
Physically the lens is a little heavy for my liking; bulky and substantial, not balanced perfectly with the body. This isn’t a deal breaker for me as the optics far outweighs the extra size but it is a consideration and a minor irritation. The focus ring is a little tighter than I’m used to but the aperture is wonderfully smooth in third stop increments. The lens blocks the viewfinder a little but not enough for me to care. For all of it’s differences it is a beautifully well made lens in the true tradition of Zeiss and feels and looks better than in the Zeiss promotional shots.
Incidentally I am not going to post shots of my camera with the lens as you can see other reviewers do this. I am not a “professional” reviewer so I’d rather share my hopefully interesting opinions and see if this helps you decide on whether this lens might be of interest to you.
I’m in my favorite photographic haunt again of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, a fishing town with a wonderful English appeal and atmosphere.
The following shots were all taken with the Leica M240 with the Zeiss 35mm lens at various apertures. All were processed minimally in Lightroom with a little post processing but the essence of the lens’s signature is preserved. After you’ve looked at the shots I’ll let you know my personal opinion.
I hope you like these shots because in some ways they really surprised me. Now this may seem strange but the lens seems to give more pop and contrast than most Leica lenses I have used on my M240. The signature almost reminds me of the look I used to get with my M9. In other words if you are missing the M9 pop from your M240 and are looking for a 35mm lens I think you can do no better then with the Zeiss.
Just to re-iterate, when used with the M240 this lens gives you the subtlety of the M240 cmos sensor with the pop of the M9… a perfect combination.
This leads me to wonder if the colour and contrast of this lens on an M9 might be a little too saturated and contrasty but I am merely speculating. I love this lens and think that it actually feels very old school Leica rather than modern day Zeiss. It isn’t overly clinical in my opinion but is very sharp, handles flare extremely well, is very adaptable with various subjects and in the right light gives plenty of pop but at a third of the price. The bokeh isn’t distracting but also isn’t class leading either as subjective as this always is. I think reds do come out a little too red and saturated on the M240 which means they need toning down a little but the black and white conversions are wonderfully filmic. The M240 has always been very good for black and white and I think with this lens you get a real sense of depth and dynamic range.
I can strongly recommend this lens. Have you got this lens and do you share my opinions….?
As always many thanks for reading,
(From Steve: POPFLASH has one Zeiss 35 1.4 in stock in black!)
Hi Howard, great post and a lovely set of images… this lens looks a corker but the size and price would put me off at the moment. Btw that 50mm Cron you sold me is still delivering the goods on my M6 😉 it’s my only lens but would like a 35mm at some point. Best, Dave
Great photos, great lens it looks like. Would love that combo of lens and camera… but you should clean your sensor, when you get around to it 🙂
Thanks for your comments… Always really appreciated and kind… Since taking these shots I have found that the lens is now my main lens I go to on my Leica… It just feels better and better on the M240.
…well quite understandable as people like Lloyd Chambers literally adore it and he even rates it as … the best M Lens available !! *_* … >>> http://diglloyd.com/blog/2014/20141011_1814-ZeissZM-35f1_4-Distagon-best-M-lens.html … I myself had it mounted on a Body in a Shop and must admit it is a very very nice optical & mechanical jewel … and 2,5 x times less expensive as it’s Leica counterpart !! Both the black and the silver (WOW factor for the latter!!) are gorgeous IMHO … Maybe just a tad ‘heavy’ and long as it was pointed out by some comments … but then again, I come from a Cron 35… IV pre-Asph .. 160gr. Pancake lol ^_^ …
…. and last-but-not-least: lovely contribution in pics & in words there Howard , thanx ! 😉
Thanks Jerry… Appreciate your comments… Best Howard
Nice images Zeiss is always an option for a Leica M !
In my opinion it is barely possible to judge the qualities of the combination in question by these shots. You can keep talking about “rendering” for ever, but it is not something that is quantifiable, or something that can describe the properties of the lens and camera.
I had this Zeiss for review and tested it on a M9. Great lens with Zeiss color and contrast which is different from Leica glass. Super sharp at all apertures and nice to handle even though it is bigger (and heavier) than the Summilux. Build quality is top also. Your Images proof that it is a good match for the M240. If i had to decide whether to buy this or the FLE it would be a real hard decision. It is that good.
Great photos, but the light is very cold, perhaps due to the photos being from March? Hope you will take some in May and send in to Huff, and with more people in them – it is obvious you are a great photographer! But bet this is a great people lens as well as a sharp landscape lens. The lens look a bit large though. Look forward to the new and smaller Voigtlander 35/1.7 – would be great if you could test that lens as well? Comparison perhaps?
Great shots and discussion. I use the zm biogon 28 on my m8 and love the look i get both with b&w and color.
It’s difficult to determine, but was “Shot 6 – Boat Silhouette” shot at a smaller aperture comparative to most of the other shots?
Just FWIW, it appears that there are a few dust spots across that frame, which typically are more apparent at smaller apertures with wider DOF.
Other than that, the shots are great & the lens looks to perform really well. Size does seem to be a concern with this lens, but the optics are indeed there. Thanks for sharing.
Striking compositions! Proof that the Zeiss and M240 are a match.
Compositions are in the eye and mind of the photographer,surely. Not saying that the camera lens combo is not a match, only that the compositions don’t prove that one way or the other.
Ahhh…. Aldburgh! Nice spot Howard… Nice pics.
Zeiss lenses are good investments. I have a set of Zeiss 25 + 50 mm and a set of Voigtländer 21 + 35 + 75 mm and they all deliver a nice result… 90 % of my press pics are shot with Leica M. Leica lenses are great, but I get not more money for my pics…
Nice pics, Howard!
Thanks for your reveiw, the rendering is quite M9 like as you say. I am finding the transition from M9 to M240 difficult, have you come to love the M240 now?
Ahhh… the eternal & neverending M9 CCD vs. M 240/ M-P.. CMOS discussion ^_^ … Apart from Steve’s comments etc…on this site >>> Pls. have a look at the well-done and highly instructive dedicated 3-Parts Article by David Farkas @ REDDOTFORUM and… do the test !! …
Some might get quite… surprised *_* >>> http://www.reddotforum.com/content/2015/02/the-great-debate-ccd-vs-cmos-part-1/
M9 images indeed! 🙂
Thanks so much Howard. I enjoy your tight, concise style. You’re images reflect your writing as well. Nicely done…
I’m currently using the 35mm f2 Biogon with my M240 but this Distagon has been on my radar since it was first released. Really the only downside to the lens is the size….quality wise it seems to me to be at least on par with the much more expensive Summilux and there are numerous test by Sean Reid and others that show the Distagon is actually superior. That said, I love how small and compact my Biogon is!
It’s nice to see a review by someone using this lens on a Leica as it is designed and not an A7. No knock against Sony but M mount lenses are not designed for the camera and as such you will almost always have performance compromises compared to shooting on a true M mount.
Thanks for the great review! Awesome pictures! I’ve had a 50mm ZM Zeiss and really, really loved the colors, but switched to the Summicron because of the better sharpness and bokeh, but the Zeiss just had “better” colors, meaning they popped more. In the end i am happy with my Leica 50, but sometimes i miss the Zeiss colors. In that case, i reach into my pocket and get my RX100 out. 🙂
I wish someone would made a lens as sharp as Leica and with the classic bokeh, but with Zeiss colors. Ah…well, one can dream.