#339 Living with a (glorious) Zeiss ZM 35 f:1.4

By philberphoto | Opinion

Mar 23

There is nothing wrong with testing a lens, except that it is boring as can be. You need to find subjects that fit whatever you want to test. You need to shoot stuff you wouldn’t shoot in a million years, like a brick wall. You need to report on stuff that doesn’t matter to you. You need to bend over backwards to sound and remain honest, whereas in real life, you are as opinionated as any of us.

Owning a lens is the opposite. Especially if it is a lens that you care to walk about with. Just what my brand new Zeiss ZM 35 f:1.4 is. Then, instead of picking mandatory targets, one gets to pick whatever the circumstances serve up. So, after having passed the test phase, how does the gloriously-testing ZM pass the live-in test?

Remember the glorious colours that had Pascal and I drooling?


Remember the fabulous 3D? If you look at the legs and the stumps of this statue, that is plenty 3D for me.


Remember the humongous amount of detail and sharpness that bowled us over? Before you argue that this isn’t exactly special, pause and and think again, when I tell you this is a 100% crop…


Fortunately, it is still all there. But what I wasn’t ready for, are a few bonuses. Not that the picture below needs apologising for, does it, in terms of wide open performance? Pascal’s classic reaction to it? “You into selfies, now, Philippe?


First bonus, is the fabulous close-up performance, thanks to a helicoid adapter (mine is a Hawks’, but there are alternatives, one from Voigtländer, and some cheap ones on E-Bay). Also wide open, or f:2.0 minimum.


Second bonus, is the fabulous all-round performance. Because  it is so good close up, I don’t use my Leica Makro Elmarit 60mm f:2.8 any more. And because it is so sharp and detailed, I don’t use my Zeiss Loxia 50mm f:2.0, because I can just crop some of the picture and be just fine, thank you very much for asking.

DSC01591Finally, being an f/1.4 lens that’s totally usable wide-open, it lets me photograph scenes other lenses cannot reach 😉 It’s a wonderful tool for night-time or twilight photography, where some of the most interesting urban scenes tend to be happening. On that subject of shooting fast lenses wide open, readers here know that I am no big fan of it. The main reason being that my early such lenses were really no good at f:1.4 and f:1.8 (Canon EF 50 f:1.4 and EF 85 f:1.8). Next came the Zeiss Planar ZE 50 ZE 85 f:1.4. Lots of glow and focus shift too, wid eopen, so no cigar. Things got better with the Zeiss ZE 35 f:1.4. A bit soft, but useable in a pinch. Better yet, the Leica Summilux M 50 f:1.4, qui useable, but the softness stil outweighed the bokeh advantage. The ZM on the other hand is so good wide open (though still a tad less sharp) that the advantages now overcome the weakness, and I love it wide open, as you can see from the last pictures, in this post. I even use it wide open really close up, a very hard test for any lens. Did I say “3D”?


So, in a way, I am using the ZM not as a twofer, but as a threefer, or even a fourfer. Suddenly the price is beginning to look at lot more reasonable. And a 4-in-one has advantages in terms of weight, bulk, and lens changes, too.


Then, as you can see from the road cones, comes trouble. You update the ongoing post, but, instead of saving your work, you post it, and the content is left unfinished, like Schubert’s symphony. Alas, I am no Schubert… And, before I can un-post and hide the work-in-progress, come comments from Bob, and Paul…


So, as you can guess from the above, my ZM is now glued to my camera body, and the chorus of unused lenses gets louder. I am having one more re-think about my lens lineup. My strength-of-character decision to whittle down my number of lens mounts from 7 to 2 lies in tatters, and I am thinking about buying other M-mount lenses “now that I have one with me at all times”. The strange Voigtländer 40mm f:2.8 Heliar beckons, which is just about as opposite to the ZM 35 as can be (really small and light, super-stylish and elegant, inexpensive, full of quirks and very opinionated), as does the new Voigtländer 15mm f:4.5 Super Heliar III, optimized for the Sony A7R.


On for another round of hauling my GAS-rock, like a modern-day Sisyphus, in the hope that, one day, better gear will make me a better photographer.

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  • Bob Israel says:

    Philippe – with a lens that good, you won’t mind selling me your Elmarit R 28/2.8 then, will you? I’m sure it means nothing to you anymore and all you want to do is get rid of it! LOL

    • philberphoto says:

      Bob, you should know me better than that! I want only the very best for my friends, among whom I am pleased and proud to count you. Letting you have my “second-best” would be mean, wouldn’t it? Besides, I haven’t yet tested the 28 and 35 face-to-face, and it should be interesting, because they are two such fine lenses. And do let me know how you find your new Voigtländer 15 Super Heliar III compared to your Sony-Zeiss 16-35.

  • paulperton says:

    My first contact with DearSusan came after reading about the Zeiss 25mm f2.8 Biogon here.

    This is what that can do with an NEX-7. Whenever I look at this shot, I want to reach in and touch the stones and moss:

  • Amos says:

    Interesting. So how would you compare it to the new Sony/Zeiss 35mm/f1.4?

    • philberphoto says:

      I haven’t yet tried the Sony-Zeiss 35 f:1.4, so I can only go from what I have seen published. I expected the corners to be perfect, because it is large and tuned for the A7 series, but, alas, they are not really 100% clean, so it does not gain as much as I had thought on the ZM, which is tuned for the Leica M. Rendering-wise, the S-Z seems to follow in the fE 55’s footsteps: very sharp including wide open (except said far corners). So the comparison will be not unlike a Loxia 50 and a FE 55: the colours-and-subtlety champ Vs the King of Sharpness. Except the ZM is decidedly better than the Loxia (as it ought to be, considering the price difference). Not that the ZM isn’t sharp, or that the S-Z has ugly colours, just each one emphasizes one factor more than the other.

  • pascaljappy says:

    Philippe, that’s just mean. I had moved on, rid my system of that ZM 35/1.4 and started sleeping well again. That’s like offering a cigarette to someone trying to quit 😉

    Glad to hear you’re liking it, though. For me, that ZM is a landmark lens. One that will go down in history as one of the all-time greats.

  • Dean says:

    Where did you purchase your copy of the zm 35 1.4 and for how much? thanks

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