Real world review of the Zeiss 35mm Distagon f1.4 ZM used on a Leica M240

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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.

Shot 1 Oyster Fisherman

Shot 1 Oyster Fisherman

Shot 2 Lobster Nets

Shot 2 Lobster Nets

Shot 3 Boat's Windows

Shot 3 Boat’s Windows

Shot 4 Gone Fishing

Shot 4 Gone Fishing

Shot 6 Boats at dawn

Shot 6 Boats at dawn

Shot 7 Fisherman sorting his catch

Shot 7 Fisherman sorting his catch

Shot 8 Woman on beach

Shot 8 Woman on beach

Shot 9 Boats at dawn 2

Shot 9 Boats at dawn 2

Shot 10 Man by house

Shot 10 Man by house

I hope you like these shots because in some ways they really surprised me. Now this may seem starnge 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 than with ths Zeiss.

Just to re-iterate, when used with the M240 this lens gives you the subtetly 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 actually it 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 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 conversions and I think with this lens you get a real sense of depth and dynamic range.

I can strongly recommend this lens and given the choice of this or the Summilux, irrespective of price would still choose the Zeiss.

Shot 11 Staircase

Shot 11 Staircase

Shot 12 Town

Shot 12 Town

I hope you like this mini review,

many thanks for reading

Howard