Zeiss 50mm f/1.5
Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar ZM in silver (46mm filters, 8.2 oz./232g, about $1,120, also comes in black). enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially these directly to it at Adorama in silver or in black, or at Amazon in silver or in black, or locally at OC Camera, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Here's the link to the optional hood at Adorama or at Amazon. It helps me keep reviewing these specialized lenses when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.
See also Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar.
The Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar ZM lens for LEICA is an unusually compact, high-speed lens. It is superb for people pictures.
It's a superb lens for just about anything. Its classic design gives spectacular bokeh wide-open, and it gets super-sharp stopped down. In this one Zeiss Sonnar we have a great lens for isolating subjects at large apertures, and a super-sharp, distortion-free lens at moderate apertures for when we need sharpness. It gives beautiful images wide open, and super-sharp images stopped down.
This 50mm f/1.5 is an optical design from the 1930s. It is a special lens intended for old-style bokeh in a new, contrasty and multicoated lens. It's a pleasant surprise to get this old design in a new lens without all the internal haze, fog and worn exterior glass all too common with any original versions of this lens still around today.
The Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar ZM excels in being smaller, shorter and lighter than other 50mm f/1.4 lenses. It doesn't block the finder, as do other 50mm f/1.4 lenses. It has no visible distortion, but it's not the lens for people who are counting pixels wide open. It is for people who demand pleasant bokeh at large apertures in an unusually compact lens at a reasonable price.
The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH is bigger, heavier and more expensive than this Zeiss, and also has great bokeh. This Zeiss lens is far more pleasant to shoot than the larger LEICA ASPH due to its better size and weight, and this Zeiss focusses more easily and doesn't block the finder as does the 50mm f/1.4 ASPH.
If you count pixels, the Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar is sharper for less money at larger apertures, but for pleasant bokeh in a compact lens, this Zeiss Sonar is unusual today for being what it is: a modern reincarnation of a classic 1930s lens.
This f/1.5 Zeiss lens is as good optically as LEICA's previous (1961-2004) 50mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX, and Leica sold the heck out of that old design until they introduced the ASPH. Honest, I've shot them all back-to-back at the range, and this Zeiss is as good on the sides and corners, and about the same, and sometimes better, in the center at large apertures. No one ever complained about the earlier SUMMILUX, but these fine points were never as easily visible on film.
In keeping with its classic design, it only focuses to 3 feet (0.9 meters), not the 2.3 feet (0.7 meters) of most modern rangefinder lenses.
Zeiss 50/1.5 Sonnar ZM. enlarge.
Zeiss calls this the Carl Zeiss C Sonnar 1,5/50 ZM T*.
"C" stands for your choice of Compact or Classic.
Sonnar is Zeiss' trademark for fast normal lenses.
ZM means LEICA M mount.
T* is Zeiss' trademark for their multicoating.
Internal Diagram, Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 ZM. enlarge.
6 elements in 4 groups.
T* is Zeiss' trademark for their multicoating.
This lens was designed in the days before lens coatings. Its simple design works well without coatings, so with multicoating, its contrast remains very high in difficult light.
Front, Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5 at f/5.6. enlarge.
10 straight blades.
Stops down to f/16.
Angle of View top
27º by 39º (45.7º diagonally).
Close Focus top
0.9 meters (3 feet).
This is less close than modern LEICA lenses, which focus to 0.7 meters (2.3 feet).
Maximum Reproduction Ratio top
Area covered: 37 x 55 cm, rated.
2.187" (55.55mm) diameter by 1.501" (38.13mm) extension from flange, measured.
8.185 oz. (232.0g), measured.
8.5 oz. (240g), specified.
The precision metal hood (part nr. 1428-461) isn't included, which is too bad, since it's very nice.
This Zeiss hood bayonets and locks. The only way to get it off is by firmly pushing it towards the camera to unlock and then rotating. It is spring loaded so it will never fall off, unlike LEICA hoods.
Announced at Photokina, 28 September 2004.
Shipping since top
Part Numbers top
Black Lens: 1407-218.
Silver Lens: 1407- 067.
Scope of Delivery top
You only get the lens, caps and fancy paperwork.
The hood is $85 extra.
Made in top
The Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 ZM is a classic design offering small size, pleasant bokeh at the largest apertures and low distortion instead of pixel-counting sharpness.
Bokeh, the character of out of focus backgrounds, not simply how far out of focus they are, is excellent.
It's a little weird at f/1.5, and absolutely beautiful from f/2 onwards.
Here are crops from the center of 100% LEICA M9 images, focused on a reference phase lattice at 3 meters (10 feet) with synthetic reference vegetation at 15 meters (50 feet). Printed full-image at this size, these would be about 52 x 35 " (130 x 90cm) prints, at least as seen on most 100 DPI computer monitors:
The calibration is right-on: the meter in my M9 tracks each full-stop perfectly throughout the entire range, except of course for the largest aperture.
The Zeiss ZM 50/1.5 has no visible distortion.
There is very slight barrel distortion if you like to enlarge LEICA M9 files to 200% and drop rulers on them in Photoshop, for these uses, use these coefficients to correct it in Photoshop's lens distortion filter:
© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.
Here is Zeiss' claimed distortion curve, however Zeiss doesn't specify the distance at which it is measured.
Claimed Distortion, percent
Distortion, Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 ZM.
Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5. enlarge.
Ergonomics are perfect, better than other 50mm f/1.4 lenses because this lens is small enough not to block any of the viewfinder.
The numbers and their indices are easy to read in any light, except that the red footage markings on the black version are invisible in anything other than daylight. They are much clearer in these pictures than they are in practice. The silver lens is always easy to read.
Focus is silky-smooth, has no play, and slides with a fingertip. There is a raised metal nubbin on the bottom to help you focus with just one finger, as well as be able to set distance by feel in the dark.
The aperture ring also flicks with a fingertip. It has a detents at third stops, and the full stops aren't more deeply detented, so if you count clicks as I do, it can become confusing if you shoot LEICA lenses at the same time.
Falloff is minor on a LEICA M9.
I've exaggerated this here, showing gray field shots against gray.
These were shot with no lens profile set in the M9; set a profile and you'll get different results.
Any standard 46mm filter works great, with no vignetting.
There is no finder blockage.
The edge of the 50/1.5 ZM just barely touches the frame edge at 1 meter, and is nowhere near it at farther distances.
Focus is smooth. It's easy to move with a fingertip from any position.
Focus accuracy was just fine on a LEICA M9 at f/1.5.
With rangefinder cameras, if you get too picky, you'll never be happy. They all vary a little from sample to sample.
THis 1930s design may have some focus shift, meaning that the point of best focus may be slightly different at different apertures. If you're picky about focus, try your lens on your camera at various distances and apertures and see if you need to make any corrections. I had no problems; it worked great.
If you're looking, there is some minor red-cyan shift.
Rear, Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5. enlarge.
This Zeiss 50/1.5 ZM is very well made. Leica has economized by using plastic for its focus tabs, while this Zeiss still uses solid metal for everything.
Filter threads and hood mount
Seem like chromed brass.
Barrels, aperture and focus rings
Seem like aluminum.
Matte silver anodized or semi-gloss black enamel.
The silver is a little bit brighter than the chrome of a LEICA M3.
Seem like brass.
Seems like chromed brass.
Engraved and filled with paint.
Blue index dot
The more you know about photography, the more you know that lens sharpness doesn't matter.
This Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar is always sharp and contrasty in the center, but softer away from the center at large apertures. That's what we expect from its classic design. This isn't a lens for modern landscape and nature photography; it's a people lens.
Stopped down, its super-sharp, so it offers the best of all worlds: perfect bokeh for out-of-focus areas wide-open, and super-sharp stopped down.
This Zeiss 50/1.5 is sharper at f/1.5 in the center than the 1961-2004 LEICA SUMMILUX 50mm f/1.4, and about the same sharpness at other apertures, and that was LEICA's top 50mm lens until just a few years ago.
As tested on a LEICA M9 at infinity
The center is sharp and contrasty, while most of the rest of the image is softer.
The rest of the image isn't smeared, it's just softer as if there is curvature of field
The center is sharper than at f/1.5, while the rest of the image is much softer.
The center is now optimally sharp; much sharper than at f/2, and up to modern standards of being very, very sharp.
The periphery is soft.
f/4 - f/11
The center was already optimum at f/2.8, while the periphery and corners continue to improve as stopped down.
Diffraction makes it less sharp than at smaller apertures.
Zeiss's MTF curve for the 50mm f/1.5 ZM at f/1.5 (white light, 10, 20 ü. 40 c/mm).
Zeiss's MTF curve for the 50mm f/1.5 ZM at f/4 (white light, 10, 20 ü. 40 c/mm).
With a straight 10-bladed diaphragm, the Zeiss 50/1.5 should make 10-pointed sunstars on brilliant points of light.
This is a very compact and fast lens. Its optics aren't designed for ultimate sharpness; they are designed for a pleasant image with compact size and high speed.
* Actual measured.
See my even more detailed comparison chart in my LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH review.
This Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar ZM is an easy lens to love: it's just so small and fast!
It's not a lens for pixel counters. It's very sharp at middle and smaller apertures where it matters, but trades sharper images for smoother images at the largest apertures.
This 50/1.5 is superb for general photography and people pictures, but for critical landscape and nature photography, opt for one of the f/2 lenses.
If you find the time I take to research all this helpful, my biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially these directly to it at Adorama in silver or in black, or at Amazon in silver or in black, or locally at OC Camera, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Here's the link to the optional hood at Adorama or at Amazon. It helps me keep reviewing these specialized lenses when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.
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