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.
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.
Meet the contenders for current M-mount 35/1.4! And my problems with each!
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?
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.
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.
This clean little M3 was also calling to me through the glass.
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!