Striking a Balance: The Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM Review

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Striking a Balance: The Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM Review
by Louis Ferreira (500px.com/LouisFerreira)

When photographers talk about classic focal lengths, the two most commonly considered are the 35mm and 50mm. Both are great starting points for photographers to begin building their lens collection. I have always preferred the look of 50mm and the frame lines over 35mm, but there are some great modern 35mm lenses available for the M mount, and the new Zeiss 35mm Distagon is the latest.

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Zeiss color never fails to impress me. I have owned Zeiss lenses in the past and I love the way they render color. In some ways, Zeiss pictures have the Leica pop we are all looking for, even more than equivalent photos created with Leica glass, simply because of what the color adds to the picture. Many modern Leica lenses have a clinical look to them that is more true to life, but they lack character. I don't want to drone on about color, but I'd be interested to see how this lens performs on a M9, because I still prefer the color of my old Leica M9 50mm Summilux combo.

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Similarly, the Zeiss 35mm Distagon can get bitingly sharp, and is very sharp wide open. It performs exactly as you would expect a Zeiss lens to perform and is very well corrected. When you nail focus at f/1.4 the image is sublime, and it builds on the great color characteristic that's present.

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The Zeiss 35mm Distagon is a very big lens for a 35mm M mount lens. It's a little bigger than my 50mm Summilux, but it feels like it weighs about the same amount. The front element of the lens is concave, which is unique in my experience. Zeiss put a small focusing nub on the lens, but I did not find it useful because it is easier and more reliable to just grip the ring when focusing the lens quickly, because the focus ring is a little stiff to move quickly/accurately via the nub. I imagine this lens will break in very nicely because I did notice it loosening up a little, but it's still a little stiff for fast paced street shooting.

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If Zeiss managed to make this lens closer to the size of the 35mm Summilux, then I would consider it a serious threat to the 35mm Summilux, but the size of the lens and the focusing nub make it more difficult to use than a comparable Leica lens. The Zeiss 35mm Distagon is built incredibly well and the aperture clicks into place firmly. It is a very well built lens, but it is also clunky and noisy like a tank.

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It might sound like I did not like shooting with the Zeiss 35mm Distagon, but I think Zeiss has made an exceptional lens for people looking for that Leica look. I'm not aware of a modern lens for the M240 that will render color as consistently attractive as the Zeiss 35mm Distagon does. The Leica 35mm Summilux mops the floor with the Zeiss 35mm Distagon when it comes to size and usability, but I personally prefer the color of the Zeiss so much more than the Leica that, even if the prices were closer, I would pick the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM over the Leica 35mm Summilux.

The Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM is available now at BHPhoto.

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More Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM shots can be found at
https://500px.com/LouisFerreira/sets/zeiss-35mm-f-1-4-distagon-t-zm-review

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  • Al

    I think you pretty much nailed it. I tried the lens last year at Photokina and I was impressed with the optical performance, not so much with the build. The price is less than half of what Leica charges for a similar lens.

  • If the concave front element ‘is unique in your experience,’ you are certainly not qualified to offer a comparative review of the lens.

    • maralatho

      Certainly?

  • Derrick Cohan

    I can’t stand nontechnical lens reviews. Phrases like “Leica pop” and “consistently attractive” or “bitingly sharp” don’t actually mean anything.

  • Chito

    Half the cost of the FLE already makes it a serious threat to the Leica. About size, it can’t be made smaller without changing the optical formula.. The heavier correction it needs the bigger the lens will be… According to some (I have neither) the Zeiss is better corrected.

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