Zeiss 1,5/35 Distagon
Leica M mount,  Lens Reviews,  Reviews

Zeiss 35mm F1.4 ZM Distagon Lens Review

Intro

Although marketed for the maker’s M-mount Zeiss Ikon rangefinder, the range of ZM lenses is rightly popular with Leica M users. All are accessibly priced compared with their Leica equivalents and optical performance is often on a par, if not sometimes regarded as being technically superior. With the Zeiss Ikon camera now retired, this new high-speed 35mm model is aimed squarely at Leica’s core users.  Compared to the latest iteration from Wetzlar, the Zeiss is priced somewhat modestly at around £1680 inc VAT. It’s supplied without a case or hood, but there’s no mistaking the quality.

Build

Externally the design is reminiscent of previous models complete with click stopped aperture ring adjustable in 1/3 stop increments placed well forward of the milled focus collar and a choice of dull chrome or black finish.  However its large size distinguishes it from existing models and it feels relatively weighty, although the spec sheets say it weighs just 381g (albeit 60g more than the equivalent Leica Summilux “FLE” version. There’s little doubt that it’s robust. Like others in the range, it adopts an all-metal build but also it shuns the usual extending barrel in favour of what looks to be internal focusing – there’s no information from Zeiss. In any case, it’s a design which should prove more resistant to inadvertent knocks to the front. Like the Summilux, the Zeiss 1,4/35 ZM Distagon features floating elements, which wasn’t disclosed at the time of launch.

The focus ring is smooth and well-damped and a single milled tab placed under the forefinger aids fine focus control. Internally it adopts 10 elements in 7 groups, since launch, Zeiss has since disclosed more details on the construction. Two elements have aspherical surfaces, though Zeiss doesn’t elaborate on how many in total. Plus there are three elements adopting “partial anomalous dispersion” glass, similar to ED or extra-dispersion glass. There are many low-dispersion glass types available to lens makers and from my experience, the inclusion of partial anomalous dispersion glass in Zeiss lenses assures high correction of lateral CA and, in many cases longitudinal CA as well.

Performance

Indeed, Zeiss claims there are no compromises in image quality, and depending on your point of view, that’s mostly true. Short of miss-focusing, capturing an image that fails to impress is practically impossible. The Zeiss delivers a strong performance at the initial aperture, at least centrally. There’s an absence of lateral chromatic aberration and purple fringing or longitudinal CA is negligible but improvements in contrast and sharpness across the field are noticeable upon stopping down. Peak performance is achieved at F4 but F2.8 is the next best and I rarely changed from that unless I needed extra depth of field.  Aperture-dependent focus shift has been an issue with competing models, it’s noticeable in the previous Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux model and the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm F1.4 Classic (v1). Even so, while live view helps mitigate that, the Zeiss is remarkably well-behaved to the point that it’s a non-issue. There’s some vignetting wide-open and slight barrel distortion not that that should be a concern – it’s easily fixed in post. Flare is exceptionally well-controlled. My only reservation is that the out-of-focus rendering is slightly “wirey” and the areas that are sharp are what some refer to as “crunchy”. That drawing style is perhaps not quite as smooth and attractive as the Leica Summilux-M 35mm F1.4 FLE, but that’s subjective.

Conclusion

In performance terms, the Zeiss is a complete and thorough success, but there is a price to be paid in terms of size and weight, and maybe even drawing style. Nevertheless, this lens will win plaudits from the most critical users, and deservedly so. Today, the lens is quite difficult to find new but it’s a super-attractive option second-hand. 

A variation of this review was commissioned and published in the British Journal of Photography magazine when the lens was launched in 2014.

 

Search for new

WEX Photo (UK)

B&H Photo (US)

Search secondhand

MPB (UK)

KEH (US)