Gear Talk: Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar T* ZM

Do you all love to talk about camera gear as much as I do!? For me, taking photos isn’t always enough, and expressing my joy (or dislike) for a specific piece of photographic equipment is another enjoyable aspect of photography! When I made the decision to buy a Leica M3 I was torn between buying the amazing Leica Summicron 50mm or the Zeiss 50mm. They’re both fantastic lenses and are brilliant to use. Of course, there are some obvious differences – namely price, lens “signature” and place of manufacture and build quality. Of course, with the Leica lens, you’re going to get a top notch piece of gear that will help you take stunning pictures. So what about the Zeiss, and why did I choose it? From my point of view and based on the specs and research I reviewed, it was an easy decision to make.

Price: Currently $859.99 compared to the $2,350 price tag of the Summicron (B&H Photo pricing). I’ll be frank. The M3 was a dream camera for me. I wanted it for years and when I finally found one locally, in great condition with a warranty and full service, I went for it. That said, I didn’t want to spend a small fortune on a lens if I didn’t fall in love with the camera as I had hoped.

Specs: There aren’t many differences between the two lenses. If you compare the specifications you’ll notice that they are quite similar. The Summicron didn’t offer significantly more for me to spend another $1,500. That extra cash buys a lot of film! The Zeiss has a greater f-stop range (f2 – 22 vs. f2 – 16 of the Leica) and is slightly lighter. Magnification, groups and elements, focus distance and size are very close.

Image quality / build quality / ease of use: Many side-by-side comparisons of these two lenses have been performed and to be perfectly honest, the Zeiss is a powerhouse of a lens (Summicron owners might not agree with me!). The quality of the out-of-focus areas is pleasing while the lens has its own signature. The manual focus is smooth and precise and can be done quickly while sharpness is what you would expect from Zeiss. I find the focus nub to be comfortable. I had the pleasure of using both lenses and I can happily say that the Zeiss can go toe-to-toe with the Summicron. Build quality is solid and the lens feels like it was put together with serious attention to detail. No loose or ill-fitting sections.

Aesthetics: Although it’s not something I considered when making my decision, when the lens arrived and I attached it to the M3, I have to admit that I was a bit giddy with excitement! The 50/f2 Planar looks like it belongs on the camera. The camera and lens feel balanced and the slightly lighter weight of the Zeiss might appeal to some users. I’m not sure what this lens would look like on an all black rangefinder, or with the M-E, but it looks good on a silver M3. If aesthetics are something you care about, have no fear, the lens looks good!

Filter size: Some people have complained about the 43mm filters that are required for this lens. For me, it’s not a big issue and definitely not a deal breaker.

I’m not going to get into all the ins and outs of lens performance because I simply don’t care! I test a lens and if it does what need it to, I’m happy. Real world use is the best way to test a lens. This lens has performed flawlessly and without any major issues, unless I’ve messed up the shot in some way. I’ve traveled with it to several locations in Asia and North America and have used it in both extreme heat/humidity and freezing cold. If you want a solid performer at a reasonable price, the Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar T* ZM will likely satisfy your needs. Will I ever consider buying the 50mm Summicron? Absolutely. It is an amazing (and slightly better) lens. For the time being, the Zeiss has met my photographic needs. I can’t wait to test it on my digital Leica when it arrives. All images below were taken with the Zeiss 50mm/f2 Planar and Leica M3.

* I am not an expert reviewer nor have I ever used test charts or graphs to measure data. I buy a piece of gear and test it on the streets, when I travel, etc. The photos below represent, in my opinion, decent results from my experience with this particular lens. In the end, the decision is yours when deciding what lens will best suit your photography, budget and any other considerations you might have.