Leica Lenses vs. Zeiss

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by Jeremy, Nov 11, 2003.

  1. Jeremy

    Jeremy Guest

    I've read a number of articles that describe lenses from both of these
    manufacturers as being of excellent quality, but having different design

    Is anyone aware of any web sites that have more detailed descriptions or
    test results? I am specifically interested in a comparison of Zeiss manual
    focus lenses for the RTS camera series versus the Leica lenses for the R
    series of SLRs.

    To be more specific, I'd like to see a comparison of the 50mm normal lenses.
    Can the differences in their results be quantified? Is the Leica lens
    demonstrably sharper or contrastier?
    Jeremy, Nov 11, 2003
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  2. Jeremy

    Adam F Guest

    From the contax side of the fence:


    There are also other comparisons on the contaxinfo site, just use the search
    facility. Probably similar thing on the leicainfo site.

    My own take: sharpness differences are so small as to be irrelevant between
    say the 28-50-85-135mm primes, but colour rendition is the main point of
    difference people note between the two manufacturers. Apart from price that
    is. Some Leica R lenses go for up to 10x the zeiss C/Y AE lenses second
    hand. The question is, can you see the difference, and if you like Leica
    better, is it worth 10x more? Not to mention the cost of Leica SLR
    bodies...the functional equivalent of a Minolta XD7 (almost same as a Leica
    R4) now costs at least 5x as much.

    My recommendation? Think outside the square and try minolta xd with 50/1.4
    or Pentax MX or LX with 50/1.4, you might be surprised at the quality. Also
    if you shoot B&W like I do, colour rendition is not critical.

    Adam F

    (FYI I shoot with a contax RTS and minolta dynax 700si - i would contend the
    minolta 50/1.7 is as sharp as the zeiss equivalent, uglier bokeh though)
    Adam F, Nov 11, 2003
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  3. Jeremy

    George Guest

    You bring up some good points regarding contrast and color rendition of
    lenses. Another factor (for film photography) that often gets forgotten is
    film flatness. Contax takes it to the extreme with their vacuum
    hold-down...on other brands compare the pressure plates as some are quite
    short. About 20 years ago a salesman showed me the pressure plates on
    Nikon, Canon, Pentax, and Minolta and back then it was an eye opener
    regarding the differences...I have no idea who would fare best now (nor do I
    care as I am already heavily into one of the systems above).

    Another thing that often gets forgotten is manufacturing tolerances which
    cause sample to sample variation. If one is going strictly by resolution,
    (s)he should be aware that very often variations between samples of the same
    lens are as great as variations between comparable lenses from other

    Finally, is the issue of licensing of lens production and outsourcing.
    "Zeiss" lenses are also manufactured under license by Rollei, Hasselblad and
    Contax (a "Zeiss" brandname purchased by Yashica and is the name of the
    Yashica boutique line of cameras). On the other hand, ever since the Leica
    CL (some twenty odd years ago), some "Leica" lenses are rebranded Minolta
    lenses. All of this isn't meant to disparage any of these lenses as most
    are fine products...just kinda makes you wonder WHAT you are paying the
    premium for.

    In actual use, I wouldn't hesitate to use lenses from Nikon, Canon, Pentax,
    Minolta, Zeiss, Leica, and some of the larger independents. I'm sure I've
    forgotten some other fine brands...
    George, Nov 11, 2003
  4. Jeremy

    Bob Monaghan Guest

    you can see lens test charts for both contax and leica lenses at
    http://medfmt.8k.com/third/variations.html - note these are resolution
    only comparisons. SOme of the modern photo mag tests also included
    contrast, which you can look up if you are so inclined (see dates on

    the more important issue highlighted by my article is that 50mm lenses
    vary more within production runs and batches than they do between brands;

    Pop Photo's Keppler compared the latest kilobucks leica M6 with 50mm f/2
    against a cheapy 50mm f/1.4 pentax spotmatic and super takumar lens from
    1964 on Tmax in May 2001 (p.26-7). Per Keppler, they produced "virtually
    identical prints" at 8x12"

    at http://medfmt.8k.com/mf/rangefinder.html I compare the standardized
    test results for a pair of cheapy 50mm f/1.4 pentax lens against a Leica
    SL2 with 50mm f/2 - the faster cheapy lenses outperformed the Leica lens
    at many f/stops, esp. in the center of the lens (see chart at URL). Oops!

    there are other issues besides resolution to consider, but my point is
    that when you look at lenses, they vary a lot, and you can't know if yours
    is one of the better ones produced, or one of the not so good ones ;-)
    if you get a good example, most 50mm lenses will turn in an astonishingly
    good performance, almost regardless of cost and brand. Similarly, each
    line has some great lenses in it (e.g., 105mm nikkor f/2.5), but then,
    also some not so stellar optics.

    If you really need the highest possible image quality, it is a lot cheaper
    to get it with medium format or LF than with 35mm. You might pay ten times
    more for 10-15% better performance (e.g., contrast..) with the pricier
    35mm lens lines. But you will get several TIMES better performance with
    med fmt, even with relatively low cost setups ;-)

    in any case, don't worry about it - chances are very high that you
    couldn't reliably pick out the shots from the high priced lenses against
    less costly competitors in a blind lens comparison test - I can't with my
    medium format lenses (see http://medfmt.8k.com/mf/blindresults.html) and
    so far nobody has either despite lots of volunteers and tests ;-)

    regards bobm
    Bob Monaghan, Nov 12, 2003
  5. It's not necessarily just pressure plate length. Many years ago I had problems
    with my SRT101 when using wide-angle lenses. I traced it eventually to an
    over-generous gap between the film register rails, and the register lugs on
    which the pressure plate sat. I ground these down so that the gap was just
    wider than the film thickness, and sharpness improved dramatically.
    Malcolm Stewart, Nov 12, 2003
  6. Jeremy

    George Guest

    You're right in that a lot more needs to be considered...also, the flatness
    of the pressure plate itself and its rigidity.
    George, Nov 12, 2003
  7. Jeremy

    George Guest

    Certain focal lengths, especially FIXED focal lengths, have been very well
    designed for quite some time (40+ years). I think the kind of comparison
    you indicate would show more of a difference in newer vs. older lenses with
    designs where computer-aided design has played a significant role, such as
    lenses with aspherical elements and ED glass...very high speed lenses (other
    than 50mm lenses), wide zoom range lenses, apochromatic lenses, etc.
    George, Nov 12, 2003
  8. Jeremy

    Bandicoot Guest

    This is just slightly disengenuous, Bob. Yes, the Pentax 50/1.4 is a very
    cheap lens used, but it was originally designed specifically to rival Zeiss
    and was always sold at a loss even new. Hence while you are being fair to
    imply that cheap lenses can be just as fine as costly ones, it is not really
    'good science' to take that particular lens as an example of a 'cheap' one
    and extrapolate from there. It is an expensive lens that was sold

    A better proof for your contention would be to use a 'genuinely' cheap 50mm.
    Not so many 50s that weren't OEM, but I'm sure there are enough around that
    would be more justifiable in support of your position than the Pentax is -
    it is an aberrant data point!

    Bandicoot, Nov 12, 2003
  9. Jeremy

    lalil Guest

    Wrong on 3 counts. Interchangeable lenses for these brands are
    designed AND made by Zeiss themselves, in Germany and Japan.

    Contax is, and has always been, a Zeiss trade name. Kyocera never
    bought the rights to it. The Contax line cameras are made under a
    licensing agreement with Zeiss. (Yashica is also merely a brand

    The current Leica R9 (and its precursor R8) are Leica's own design and
    have nothing to do with Minolta either.

    lalil, Nov 12, 2003
  10. Nice to see someone who understand the difference between
    the results of a lens
    the results of a marketing department.
    Not only are the old Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lenses oustanding
    (the best of the era??)
    but even the modern Pentax glass is outstanding.
    The Pentax-A 50/1.4 and 1.7 are < $100US and < $50 repsectively and
    produce excellent results. Color correction included.
    The cooler coatings of the A series enhance contract nicely.

    Interestingly, the Pentax FA Limited series went half-way wit the coatings.
    They're not quite so cool, but not as brownish as the older Pentax-M
    or Nikon lenses. They reflect a little blueish, a little brownish.
    They've got good contrast and product more than excellent results.

    I've got the 43/1.9 (can't afford the others) and prefer to shoot it at
    f8 to f16, getting the best results that this optical design is capable of.
    (It does lack in some areas but stopping down reduces that significantly.)
    My favorite lens set has been the 43mm and the Pentax-A 100/2.8.

    In the 1950s one might have been able to say that Leica had the best glass
    (in 135 film format) and in the 70s one might have been able to say the same
    regarding Zeiss in 120 film format cameras. But times have changed.

    But today Pentax, Mamiya, Fujinon, Nikon have the best stuff around.
    Canon is ok. :)
    Minolta & Olympus, even the older stuff, is nothing to sneeze at, either.

    In 2002 Herb also compared the Tak 35/2 to a modern Nikon equivalent and
    found only slight improvement in the corners and some contrast improvements
    probably due to coatings improvements.

    I do think that the brand-loyal posting here are humorous.
    Once I began to use large format, alll that bantering became meaningless.

    Besides, pictures are composed of the gray matter behind the camera..

    If I wasn't using Pentax, some Rokkor-X glass would be really tempting.
    That 45mm seemed pretty under-rated.

    Collin Brendemuehl, Nov 12, 2003
  11. Jeremy

    Jeremy Guest

    I am familiar with that article and test by Kepplar. In all fairness to
    Bob, the test criteria were selected by Kepplar, not by Monaghan.

    I wish that the 50mm f/1.4 had been compared against Zeiss' equivalent,
    since it was designed to compete with Zeiss, not Leica (if memory serves me
    correctly, Zeiss, not Leica, was considered the lens to beat back in those

    I would be interested to obtain some relatively objective information that
    describes the "signatures" of Zeiss vs Leica, if in fact there are qualities
    that are consistent among their respective lens lines.

    Unfortunately, once we get beyond the usual resolution and distortion
    measurements, the other factors tend to be subjectively quantified.
    Jeremy, Nov 12, 2003
  12. Jeremy

    Gregg Guest

    In terms of resolution, contrast and color rendition, the Contax G Zeiss 45
    mm f/2.0 is equal to (or better than) any of the Leica 50 mm lenses. I
    would also say that no Leica 35 mm (including the lastest Summicron or
    Summilux ASP) has ever surpassed beautiful 35 mm f/2.0 Hexanon on the
    Hexar/Classic/Silver series of compact P&S cameras.
    Gregg, Nov 12, 2003
  13. As someone who has an outwardly pristine 45 f2 MD Rokkor, I'd recommend that you
    make sure that you can return a poor sample. Mine is by far the worst lens
    (from a camera company) in my extensive collection. My other Minolta lenses are
    some of the best performers in the collection which includes Nikkor, Olympus,
    Pentax M & Canon L range.
    Malcolm Stewart, Nov 12, 2003
  14. Jeremy

    Adam F Guest

    You'd think so, but in fact old Takumars consistently come up trumps when
    compared with new, expensive lenses. I have an M42 50/1.4 which is ancient
    (and starting to grow fungus) and to my eyes it still performs better than
    my zeiss 50/1.7 from ~1985 (ok that's not an expensive lens, but it is rated
    as the best of the 'modern' 50mms for slrs on photodo).

    Go figure.

    I'm still waiting to see that "3D effect" that I was promised with zeiss
    too, guess I'll have to save up and buy a more expensive one (like an
    85/1.4) to be sure it's not all a myth eh ;)

    Adam F
    Adam F, Nov 12, 2003
  15. Jeremy

    Lewis Lang Guest

    I have owned/used lenses from:


    Rollei (Zeiss & Rollei lenses)

    Leica (M & R systems)

    Nikon (MF & AF)

    Canon (MF & AF)

    Minolta (MF & AF)


    Pentax (MF & AF)

    And yadda yadda yadda (yadda, which everybody knows, is the best brand, but
    nobody talks about it).

    Have read E. Putts (pardon my English sp) articles, Kepler's comparison of
    Leica to Pentax, been to Photodo, www.photographyreview.com,
    www.camerareview.com, photo.net, "I've been to Hollywood, I've been to
    Redwood," etc. etc. etc.

    Almost all lenses these days are super sharp, especailly the 35mm SLR and
    rangefinder lenses. What it all boils down to (for me), is not the sharpness or
    contrast of a lens, because both Leica and Zeiss make super contrasty, super
    sharp lenses, both whose lines have a 3-D quality to them, but what matters is
    their overall look - the particular kind of sharpness/contrast they excel at
    (as well as bokeh and other even more subtler characteristics). Zeiss lenses
    have super punchy color and a sizzling contrast, but even more than this they
    have very high acutence (edge sharpness) which gives the effect (to me) of a
    subject being cut out like from the background in more than just a selective
    focus trick (sharp subject against soft oof background) but in a way that makes
    the subject stand/pop out from their surroundings like a cut out paper doll or
    almost a (hyper)stereoscopic postcard way. Whereas Leica lenses tend to have a
    more natural look while still being super super contrasty and super super sharp
    and their three dimensionality derives from their subtle tonal transition that
    has an almost large format look to it - as if you were no longer looking at an
    image like a person looks through a glass window, but things have an ultra
    clarity as if the window didn't even exist and you were staring directly at the
    subject itself. I remeber viewing a slide from almost 20 years ago, taken with
    a Leica M 35mm lens in which you could keep seeing subtle colors in a car's
    hubcap (pinks, greens, whatever) that you weren't even aware were there in the
    scene when I took them. W/ Leica lenses the more subtleties (color and/or tonal
    and/or detail transitions) you look the more you find.

    You might as well ask which flavor of ice cream is better. Lens
    signatures/looks are a lot like ice cream flavors (but less tasty ;-)). Leica
    and Zeiss lenses are like two premier flavors of ice cream, both taste superb
    but its up to you whether you prefer the Rum Raisen or the Jamoca Almond
    fudge... - its no longer a matter of just sharpness and contrast but the
    qualities/looks of those sharpnesses/contrasts.

    Tests become meaningless after a certain point, and then tastes rules over

    Far better to shoot some film through both lenses and make the tast test
    yourself. No quantitative lens test can tell you which lens's look you
    qualitatively prefer. Even for large enlargements, Zeiss vs. Leica's lpm and/or
    contrast mean a whole heckuva lot less than the look of the lenses themselves,
    and, of course, how compelling the shot is, neither of which Photodo tests ;-).

    Perhaps not the answer you wanted to hear, but something worth considering...


    Lewis Lang, Nov 13, 2003
  16. Jeremy

    Lewis Lang Guest

    Subject: Re: Leica Lenses vs. Zeiss
    Hey! :) I'm using Minolta Maxxum and Zeiss (Contax 35mm MF) lenses and I dream
    of Pentax with the light brown hair ;-). Actually I just tried out "the best
    that Leica(/Zeiss) never made" - the Pentax 31mm Ltd. lens. Its clarity even
    wide open rivals if not excedes the 35mm f/2 M stopped down, absolutley superb!
    It even made the 6MP *ist Digital camera I used it on look good :) ;-). Now if
    Pentax would only make that odd ball focal length 23 or 25mm and 18mm fixed
    focal length Ltd. lenses I've always wanted...

    I owned the A 50/1.7 when I owned a Pentax Super Program and it is also superb
    in both the clarity, the saturation of the color and the super smooth bokeh. If
    I ever get into Pentax again I'll have to pick it up, along with an MZ-S, that
    "Leicaesque +" 31mm Ltd. and that 23mm f/2.4 Ltd. lens (OK, I'd "settle for a
    24mm f/2 AL, for now... until they come out with the smaller 23mm ;-)) :)


    Lewis Lang, Nov 13, 2003
  17. Jeremy

    Lewis Lang Guest

    Subject: Re: Leica Lenses vs. Zeiss
    Which of your Minolta lenses perform better than the Canon L, Malcolm?



    Lewis Lang, Nov 13, 2003
  18. Jeremy

    Lewis Lang Guest

    Subject: Re: Leica Lenses vs. Zeiss
    I'd have to disagree here and say, with high complements, that the 35mm f/2 on
    the original Hexar was as close to the 35mm f/2 (non asph) that I've ever
    seen... except for possibly the 31mm Pentax Ltd. which may just about blow away
    every lens on this planet and a few lenses on Mars and Venus. I tried one out
    on a Pentax *ist 6MP digi camer and even at 4x6", from digital nonetheless and
    shot wide open at f/1.8!, looked better than anything I've gotten on film for
    sheer clarity and hyper realness including all of the Leica/Zeiss glass I've

    Lewis Lang, Nov 13, 2003
  19. Jeremy

    Bandicoot Guest

    There has been a rumour of an 18mm Ltd. It seems to me it would make a lot
    of sense: Pentax has brought out a DSLR with a 1.5 factor sensor, so an
    extra-wide premium lens would make marketing sense. At the same time, they
    long ago made an 18mm that was said to be a truly excellent lens - better
    than either the 15 or 20 that 'bracket' it, both of which are outstanding -
    so they already have a very fine design to start from.

    Part of me really hopes they do, part of me says I couldn't afford it even
    if they did...

    Bandicoot, Nov 13, 2003
  20. It's not strictly a fair comparison with my L lenses which are all teles (135f2,
    200f2.8, 300f4), but I'm very impressed with my copy of the Minolta 85 f2 MD.
    Can give a somewhat 3D impression on slide film - and I think it's my only lens
    which has brought (complimentary) comments about sharpness from
    My SMC Pentax 50 f1.4 M doesn't disappoint.
    Malcolm Stewart, Nov 13, 2003
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