Which New Leica M-Mount 35mm 1.4?

Like many photojournalists, I love the 35mm focal length.  It’s said to be close to what the human eye sees, making it intuitive in use.  For those of us raised on 50mm, a 35 reminds one to include more context in a scene.  And on a practical level, 35 has more DoF than 50 and can more easily be handheld at 1/30th so a 35/1.4 vs. a 50/1.4 can be used in about a full stop less light while still promising accurate focus.

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Nikon F2sb | Nikkor 35mm 1.4 AIS | Kodak Tri-X | Kodak HC110b | Epson V500

This is a strong set of advantages that are absolutely necessary for low light shooters.  However, with great advantages comes a great cost.  Particularly if you want a 35mm of any real speed.

I use a 35mm 1.4 AIS on my Nikons but have dragged my feet for years on selecting an appropriate M-Mount 35mm lens for the reasons above and because the choices were less simple than Nikon.

So…

Meet the contenders for current M-mount 35/1.4!  And my problems with each!

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Stock image from B&H Photo

Voigtlander 35mm 1.4 Nokton Classic MC ($630 + $70 for the hood) – The optical formula and barrel design of the CV Nokton are a blatant copy of Leica’s 1967 35mm 1.4 Summilux which sells for around $2k retail.  With the Cosina Voigtlander clone, you’re paying well south of $1k and and getting a brand new lens.  It’s reported to exhibit some of the same chromatic aberrations, fall off and softer full aperture resolution as the Leitz.  Additionally, it also shows some barrel distortion.  For the cost, maybe these grain-sniffing pixel-peeping issues are more forgivable.  And owners typically rave about this lens while pointing to fantastic results.  But durability of CV lenses is a concern.   Of the three other CV lenses I’ve owned, two had to be rebuilt twice each.  Performance and price were are lovely but who wants to buy and repair or re-buy because one didn’t just lay down the proper money from the start?

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Stock image from B&H Photo

Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon T ZM ($2300 + $154 for the hood) – I have yet to pull the trigger on a Cosina Zeiss lens.  The reason is in the name that curiously, nobody seems to use; Cosina Zeiss.  Many are quick to specify Cosina Voigtlander but not Zeiss for some reason.  Cosina makes nearly all of Zeiss’s M-mount lenses.  So, frankly, I fail to see much sense in paying more for a lens that came off the same assembly line as a cheaper one.  Same reason I drive VW instead of Audi.  Beyond this, while the Zeiss 35/1.4 performs a bit higher on MTF tests than the Leitz ASPH, I really just cannot get down with the click stops in thirds.  I think this would throw off my entire shooting rhythm.  Another significant hurtle for me is that the Zeiss is considerably larger than the Voigt or the Leitz.  To me, the Zeiss 35/1.4 is exclusively designed for the shooter whose chief concern is resolving power, sharpness; a bourgeois concept!  This isn’t me.  And, I’ll be perfectly honest with you, the blue dot clashes with the Red Dot!  Okay, maybe I’m not above being a little bourgie.

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Stock image from B&H Photo

Leitz 35mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH ($5300 + FREE lens hood) – I keep telling myself that the Leitz 35/1.4 Lux is exactly what I need.  If I disregard price, performance-wise and haptics-wise, THIS is the lens that I want.  But the problem is, my bank account cannot disregard this price! Unlike the Zeiss, the Leitz is so tiny that there is no viewfinder blockage.  And only a little with the hood mounted, which is vented.  And despite it’s diminutive size, it’s a pleasure to operate, having an over-proportioned focus tab and a finely sized/milled aperture ring in standard barrel design.  This is unlike the Voigtlander which I’m unsure about in practice.  The slight disparity in MTF reports on wide open resolution compared to the Zeiss are very quickly remedied by the classic feel of its OoF rendering and absolutely perfect distortion correction.  The Voigt’s bokeh is a little busier and it suffers from distortion.

During my last visit to the Leica Store in SOHO, I was fortunate enough to try the 35 Lux on my M6 TTL.  Stephanie would like it to be known that we’d walked about a hundred blocks against the wind to get to the Leica Store.  But with her windblown hair, we can see the precision resolving power of the 35 Lux.

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Leica M6 TTL .85 | Leitz 35mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH |Kodak Tri-X | Kodak HC110b | Epson V500

This clean little M3 was also calling to me through the glass.

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Leica M6 TTL .85 | Leitz 35mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH |Kodak Tri-X | Kodak HC110b | Epson V500

I’m not sure.  None of these three lenses seems “right” for me but I’d really like to fill in that 35mm gap in my rangefinder system.

Which 35/1.4 M mount do you run?  Are you happy with it or are you longing for one of these?  Let me know your thoughts and we’ll see what I end up with!

Thanks for reading!

Follow, Favorite, Like, Add, Contact Johnny Martyr 

      

 

 

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13 thoughts on “Which New Leica M-Mount 35mm 1.4?

  1. You left out the best affordable choice – the CV 35 1.2 ASPH vII. Sharp as a proverbial tack, very close to the Leica 35 1.4 in performance. Way better than the CV 35 1.4 – which I also have. Yes, it’s large and fairly heavy. But for shooting in low light it’s an affordable killer. Seriously. (And back in the day I had the first version of the 35 1.4 asph and the Nocton 1.2 made me stop missing it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, I hadn’t really considered the CV 35/1.2. I feel that it would be a cheaper alternative to the Distagon if someone values resolution over ergonomics. I should probably look into it a bit more but with the size of the Leica and CV 35’s, I am more inclined to balance performance and handling. Thanks for reading. I will follow up once I make a decision and have some results!

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  2. Dude, no brainer. Get a zoom lens with vibration reduction. Duh . . . .
    Silliness aside, the Voigtlander seems like one of those ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ decisions. Even if it doesn’t break, you’ll probably wish you had scrimped and saved a bit more to get a better lens.
    I have a Zeiss 50mm F2 ZM lens for my Zeiss Ikon rangefinder and I love it. It’s solid, sharp, etc etc. Bit of barrel distortion? But the colour and resolution are excellent. I don’t think you have to worry that it’s made by Cosina. They can obviously do excellent work when they need to. But the 35mm is quite long, as you say.
    I think you should go for the Leica. No doubts about build and photo quality and no regrets later. Even if you do have regrets, you can sell it for the same amount of money or more. If the missus complains about the price of the lens, you can assuage her annoyance with a nice dinner at McDonald’s using the money you have left in your bank account . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, very humorous post but not much here that I can use to really base a real decision on! Do you use the Zeiss ZM – why isn’t it CZ? lol What’s with you Zeiss guys and not embellishing the Cosina connection? Anyway, do you use the Zeiss 50 alongside other lenses with conventional stops? Does it bother you at all? I should rent one sometime to see what it’s like.

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      1. Ah, it’s what my students probably think of me. Slightly amusing, but mostly useless . . . .
        The Cosina connection is our dirty secret, though the Made in Japan engraving is a bit of a giveaway. Still, Made in Japan, eh?
        All my lenses from Nikon and Fuji have lenses with 1/3 stop clicks on them, so it never seemed strange to me. The exception is my Nikon F80 camera, which only has half-stops.

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  3. They don’t have clicks on the 1/3 stops, but you can move the aperture ring to the spaces in between stops to fine-tune exposure. I just tried it on my FM2n. It’s a bit of a pain in the rear to do it that way, to be honest. And fiddly. My F6 and D810 don’t allow you to use the aperture ring (maybe there’s a setting for that), but the command dials can be used to adjust aperture in either half or third stops.

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    1. Right. Zeiss M mount lenses are the ONLY manual focus lenses that feature 1/3 stop increments. And if one adjusts ones camera by feel as is intended with manual bodies (one shutter click = two aperture clicks) Zeiss is confusing and disorienting when shooting.

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  4. For now I’ve been using the Voigtlander 35mm Ultron 1.7, the new aspherical version. Build quality has not been a concern so far. In fact, both Leica lenses that I’ve owned had issues with wobbly barrel and stiff focus ring. The Ultron ironically feels better built than my 50mm Summilux with a smoother focus action and no play in the aperture ring.

    The image quality is great. I have no complaints about that However, I would still prefer an F1.4 so I’ve looked at the Zeiss and Leica but like you have not bought them due to size and price, respectively. I am hoping Voigtlander’s next M lens is a modern 35mm 1.4 or more compact 1.2.

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    1. Thanks for your feedback, Derek! I’ve read good things about the Voigt 35/1.7 and 1.2 so those are options also. As far as your Leica issues go, if these were older, it sounds like they were either worn out in the barrel case or required routine service in the case of the focus ring. But that is a realistic concern. Leica gear may be built better but, for the price of a new Voigtlander, any Leica gear will have significant age/use to it. I enjoyed the focus and click stop feel on my CV Nokton 50/1.5 more than any lens I’d used until I got my Leica 50/1.5 Summarit, but that Nokton fell apart twice. I want to support Voigt though. I like the general direction of the company and their stuff is fun and performs well.

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      1. Yes, I think it was just bad luck on my part with the Leica gear. Otherwise both lenses perform impeccably most of the time. I do prefer the focus tab of the 35mm Summilux and the fact it has faster aperture of 1.4 at a smaller size. Yet right now for me the Voigtlander is the best compromise of size, speed and price.

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  5. I had the Distagon and the Summilux (pre-FLE) and both are superb. Because of the things you mentioned, the Zeiss has a fair amount of depreciation on the used market. The paint wears off quicker, but apart from that it is built very well, it can be considered as the update to the 1.2 Nokton, which is also another option even cheaper, although heavier.

    I would probably buy back the Summilux if I could, I’ve been unsuccessful of finding another one for a reasonable price, just seems to hit the best compromise, all things considered, but at the same time, the price gap is pretty big (and even more so with the FLE)

    The Nokton will receive an update very soon to cure focus shift, should be easier to focus, but it won’t improve in terms of sharpness or distortion.

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