#922. My experience with Zeiss ZM and Leica M lenses on Sony A7rii

By Paul Shadarevian | Review

Oct 31

(Pascal) Please welcome new contributor Paul Shadarevian, who shares his love for the combination of modern cameras with more traditional lenses. Something I can defintely relate to 😉 Thank you, Paul. All yours (/Pascal).

I have long been a fan of the Sony A7 series after looking for a full frame camera that did not have the bulk of traditional digital SLRs. Before I purchased my first Sony A7r, I used a Canon D5 with a combination of my Contax R and Leica R lenses. The results with each brand were superb (with slightly different colour rendition and character between the brands).

Having moved on to the A7r, I used the same lenses and again had superb results, but the weight of the lenses (coupled with the relatively large converter) did not do much to address the size issue. So, with the purchase of the A7rii I decided to try and go with Zeiss ZM and Leica m glass.

I have been using 4 lenses, and it is these I will discuss in the hope that my experience will help others looking to go a similar route: (1) Zeiss ZM 35(2), (2) Zeiss ZM 50mm Sonnar (1.5), (3) Leica 50mm Summicron, (4) Leica 90mm (2.8) “Thin” (1982 production Canada Lens).

Before I set out my experience with these lenses on the A7rii, let me say this. I do little landscape, but a lot of townscape, relishing light and shadow. I love portraiture and candid street photography. I also love examining photos on the computer screen (amazed at the resolving power of modern lenses) but, in reality, the level of sharpness that can be observed in prints up to A1 size is nothing like the same as can be seen on screen. Moreover, a good composition for even a large print does not, in the main, rely upon ultimate sharpness, so long as appropriate exposure and focus accuracy is achieved: a lot of that incredible resolving power and detail is simply not apparent on a print. Its the visual impact that matters: context, character,  focus on the critical component of the shot, use of light and shade and, of course, the message (the latter may be intended by the author or spurred to be subjectively created by the viewer). Here is what I have found:

Zeiss ZM 35/2Small, light, beautifully engineered and as good as the Contax. Sharp across the frame and good (realistic) colour rendition. Works perfectly with the Sony and does not seem to raise issues with respect to the thickness of the sensor laminates. No flare issues. Lens hood makes no difference. A perfect choice for everyday use and landscape photogaphy and townscape photography in tight conditions.

Click for larger version

Zeiss ZM 50/1.5 The lens has a lovely character and bokeh and I marginally prefer it to the Planar for the atmosphere it creates. There are no flare issues. At F1.5 it can be a little soft. At F2 it is wholly acceptable for large printing and, at this aperture, produces sumptuous bokeh, ample resolution and atmosphere.

So much has been said about this lens I will keep this short. It has a distinct and different character to the Contax/Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 (which I expect is closer to the ZM 50/2 Planar). However, and bearing in mind my view about sharpness, I have learned, nonetheless, that so many photos published in relation to reviews of this lens seem not fairly to represent its actual resolving capability and sharpness. Yesterday I took a quick shot of my friend, a decorator. This is not a shot that will win prizes: it has no compositional or artistic merit, but is taken simply to show how very good this lens is. The shot has not been subject to any post processing and has been taken at F2.8. If you zoom in, you can see that the dust on the skin and hair, skin texture and hair is resolved superbly. True, this lens does not produce edge to edge sharpness, but this does not worry me unless I am taking a shot which would benefit from it (as in the photo above), in which case I will use the ZM 35/2.


Above is a portrait taken at f2, post slight processing and cropping (it has been softened a little).

Below is a cropped version, to show the lens’ resolution.


Below is a portrait taken at f2, post slight processing and cropping (it has been softened a little).

Click for larger version

Here is a townscape (Le Marche, Italy) taken at f8:

Click for larger version

Leica 50mm SummicronI did not keep this lens. Yes it is superb and a bit sharper than the Sonnar wide open, but there are compatibility issues with the Sony sensor. On occasions it produced a veil or darkish halo in some shots which I found dislikeable, and the combination did not bring out the best this lens has to offer. There are numerous examples on Dear Susan where this can be seen. I found that it also tended to flare more easily (not direct flare, but that latent flare that causes a haze over part of the photo if shooting within 120 degrees of the sun source). It might be just my experience and others with same combination do not have them. In any event, if you can live with these issues, it is a great lens with that lovely Leica signature. However, why waste the attributes of such a superb lens on a camera that responds better to the Zeiss ZM? It is a senseless compromise, in my view.


Leica Elmarit 90/2.8 “Thin”I wanted a short telephoto to replace the contax 85 for occasional use. I also wanted something that would keep the camera light and small. This lens seemed ideal for this purpose (it is very small and compact). It has the same flare issues as the Summicron (not cured by the rubber lens hood), but for the kind of use I put it to (tight compositions and portraits) it is not that important, so in this instance I was prepared to compromise At f.4 it is superbly sharp and detailed (and because it is reasonably long, still produces great bokeh stopped down a little) You might find greater resolution with a newer and more expensive Leica 90, but you will also be loosing the size and portability of this little gem. In any event, if your main objective is to produce prints up to A1, it really does not matter that much-and you get the lovely Leica look. The photo of a the Sonnar below was taken simply to illustrate the resolving ability of the lens at F4. Focus is on the Sonar inscription [already cropped by 100%]. Rest assured this lens will provide an excellent shot if haze does not interfere, with excellent sharpness and resolution.

My son, at f/4. Click for larger version

I hope, Dear Susan readers, this little personal review might prove to be of some assistance to those of you still thinking about using M lenses with a Sony A7. If your experiences differ, I am sure you will say so!


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Hi Paul – this is confusing – the title suggests Pascal wrote the article, but it seems it was really you!

    [Thinks – I must change my name – everyone on this site is called “Pascal” or “Paul”, it seems!]

    Someone must have gotten into my MAC while I was out “tricking & treating” (Halloween here, already – OZ comes before the rest of you – 🙂 ) and found my draft letter to Pascal, where I quoted – or was going to quote – a lens review from an “old hand”, who just picked up a lens from the 1980s that he’s been wanting to try.  And had this to say:

    “. . . it has the reputation of being a good portrait lens, and it has the reputation of being a bit soft, wide open.  I usually shoot wide open and I’m not too concerned about sharpness, as long as the lens is reasonably sharp.  I’m more concerned about the overall look and feel of an image and whether it has a pleasing quality or not.”

    I’ve been burbling on for years about this pixel crap. And how little it can possibly mean, when the largest TV screen in the world has half the number of pixels on the better FF DSLRs or mirrorless cams, and a fraction of what’s in things like Hassy’s etc – so there’s no possible way of viewing “the picture” on a monitor or a computer or a tablet or a cellphone and actually seeing the little measle spots And if you print, you face a different dilemma – ink dot size.

    Of course it’s a boon for idiots who don’t take the time to compose their shots and do 100% or 200% crops. But hopefully they don’t turn up too often on the pages of DS.

    I had the original Zeiss Planar f/1.4 50mm on my Contarex, for the best part of half a century – God, Ioved that lens! – I had a w/angle and a 135mm tele for that camera too, but I loved the Planar so much I hardly ever used the other two! I’ve never tried Sony cams or Leica lenses, though – so I come here to feast on the photos the rest of you produce with that gear.

    Edge sharpness – sometimes relevant – mostly only in architectural shots. Speaking of which – here’s an invitation – you mention you shoot mostly townscapes (and street scenes), yet most of the shots you’ve chosen here are on another page. Since I’ll almost certainly never make it to Canada, how about you post another article, splashing Canada all over DS? I can’t recall any photos from there since I joined up, and from these samples I’m sure you can serve up some great shots of the country. So I can continue spending my travel fund “doing” Europe 🙂

    Last time I was fed a ton of photos of Canada, I was about 10 and the lady who lived at the back of our house went to British Columbia on her honeymoon, just over a hundred years ago now. Since then the feedstock has been rather sparse – and her shots were all B&W, so some colour photos of the place would be very welcome!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Actually, no, my mistake !!! Forgot to set the author field to Paul’s name. Sorry 😉 It’s now corrected and I’ll forward your comment to Paul. Cheers

    • Alan says:

      You obviously missed my blurry Canadian photos. No offense taken.

    • Paul says:

      Pete thanks for your response.

      “Canada” is a reference to the country of manufacture of the Tele Elmarit. A lot of Leica glass was produced there (including the lovely Leica R 90 F2) for a good while. Production of the Tele Elmarit was transferred to Germany for the last few years of production and these lenses fetch a premium on the used market (though no one seriously suggests that the Canada production was inferior). It matters to some people, however.

      In short, I do not have any shots of Canada as I have never visited that lovely country (though I hope to do so).

      I have not loaded more shots because that is not the purpose of this short post. I simply wanted to illustrate that one can have a very discreet system that produces excellent results at a relatively reasonable cost.

      I, and I am sure many others, are often bamboozled by reviews (often contradictory) which dwell on, ultimately, meaningless micro analysis of lens resolution. It probably has little practical implication (outside the confines of the computer screen and its zoom function). When one goes to an exhibition one is often wowed by the artistry of a composition and its impact. How many inspect a work at a gallery for its relative micro contrast, resolution or distortion? These are matters that might assist in creating the ultimate image or influence it (sometimes the negatives make the composition more remarkable), but they are, in the main, rarely pivotal or important.

      Having said this, one lens I would love to own is the Leica Summilux 50mm Asph. Why? Because of its consistently smooth bokeh and ability to resolve better than the ZM50/1.5 wide open (and it is still relatively compact). It is an example of the characteristic quality of the lens. But I would need to sell all my lenses and find another £1000 pounds to purchase it on the used market. The ZM does 90% of the job on a technical level and, in terms of the actual outcomes, it probably does not matter an inch, let alone a millimetre, if I do not use it wide open but at F2 as a starting point. So it becomes simply a question of better usability as between these two great portrait/smooth bokeh lenses. I will get more useable shots wide open with the Leica, but it is difficult to justify the additional cost by reference to the added utility (I know some will say that the ultimate rendering of the Leica lens is superior and this is a subjective view which people are entitled to hold).

      For so many, the outlay on equipment is a major financial consideration and I thought some readers might benefit from my (amateur) experience with this in mind.

      When I think my output is worthy of critical appraisal I might post some more.

      Best wishes, Paul

    • Bstrom says:

      Just wanted to bleat a mild protest to those who are beginning to accept poor edge performance as a necessary and unavoidable evil. A good friend and camera author has fallen victim to this sentiment and I have not succeeded in impressing upon Him the importance of performance across the field, etc. I will walk away quietly but not without a plea for optimum optical quality as a criteria and not an exception.
      I’m looking into the M39 screw mount optics and fear the sensor filter stack issue vs. made-for-film design of these vintage pieces will torpedo much of my efforts – thanks for the notes on what you have found.

      • paul shadarevian says:

        You are correct if you are inferring poorer edge performance with M and ZM glass on Sony A7. I may just add, for those who may be interested, because of the sensor thickness on the A7 series, made to measure Zeiss (and some Sony) glass will give sharper and better resolution edge to edge and, perhaps overall, will give slightly better resolution (if it really matters). They will perform technically better, no doubt. And it is probably correct that something like an expensive M Summicron Aspherical will not give its best on a Sony A7 (and for this reason the expenditure may not be warranted (I have yet to try it)). But I do not want to lug around big lenses. Even the 50/2 Zeiss Loxia is very much bigger and heavier than the closest equivalent Zeiss ZM Planar 50mm, excellent though it is. I am prepared to sacrifice a slight reduction in resolution across the field for the better weight and handling of lighter and more discreet kit (when you get to a certain age, it becomes more important!). I do not mind some edge softness because I do not take shots that require edge to edge (across the image) sharpness. If you do, however, the M and ZM glass may not be for you as your only series of lenses. Having said this, the Biogon 35mm F2 is extremely good across the frame on the Sony, stopped down to F5.8 and beyond, for landscape work.

        Compromises, compromises……..In the end its the overall image that counts and very few individuals, if, indeed, anyone, will perform a diagnostic analysis of a photo that excites the imagination if: it is well made, lit and exposed properly and focuses on the essential point or points of interest. If one can achieve this with a comparative degree of comfort, so much the better, in my view. Flat (not meant pejoratively) edge to edge sharp landscapes where this is important for the overall image may be the exception, I concede.

  • Paul says:

    One other point: who can appreciate the overall impact and artistry of a Seurat painting close up? P

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      My idol is Claude Monet – and if you’ve ever seen his water lilies at the Tuileries and still feel as I do, you’d NEVER be able to understand all this piffle about pixels!

      Art beats sharp any day!

      There are times, though, when I want sharp – architectural shots, macros, portraits (the eyes, at least)

  • philberphoto says:

    Hi, Paul², and welcome to the circle of Ds’ “P”s (Pascal, Paul, Pete, Philippe et al.)
    You picked an interesting topic, because the Sony A7 platform went through 3 phases. First, it had almost no natives lenses, so its ability to mate with alternatives was key to its commercial lift-off. Then it acquired quite a few AF lenses from Sony, reducing its dependence on alt lenses to MF primes. Now it has also a host of native MF primes from Zeiss, Voigtländer, Samyang and a gaggle of Chinese manufacturers, including rangefinder-sized, so, instead of being “forced” to resort to M-mount, it is strictly out of choice. Which makes your post all the more welcome!

  • Ilya says:

    Leica Summilux-M 50/1.4 ASPH works great on Sony a7rii. I love this lens.

    • paul says:

      It very obviously does, Ilya.

      Lovely portraits.

      It is quite a large lens (compared to the ZM 1.5). How is the balance with the camera?


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