Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM (Eng)

Categoria: English Pubblicato: Venerdì, 28 Aprile 2017 Scritto da Max Angeloni

Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/350, f/2, Iso 200


A "Classic" taste for the Leica M system ... and not only
(Translated by Pietro Todaro)

There are few unchanging certainties in photography. One of these is the 50mm.
The 50mm is the quintessential photographic lens.
The whole world has been photographed with this focal length. Entire generation of photographers grew up with the 50mm.
Through the years zooms have partially obscured prime lenses and the "fifty millimeters" have become, in the collective imagination, the "fifty" ... or rather a substantially economic lens, that is only able to amaze those newbies who were used to photograph with the limits imposed by the various 18-55 kits, who then discover the wonders of reduced depth of field and the selective blur.
Without going too too much in depth into this universe, just think that this focal range goes from the minimalist and economical version f / 1.8 for reflex systems up to the sophisticated and oversized version of the Zeiss Otus series (55mm).
In spite of everything, the general opinion of the 50mm is still considered simply as the "fifty".


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/350, f/2, Iso 200


Fortunately, in range finder systems, since there are no zoom lenses, the facets that distinguish a fixed lens from one another are more widely understood.
Thus 50mm lenses enjoy all the attention that the focal queen deserves and the options that the market (new and used) offers are really endless.
The C Sonnar T * 1.5 / 50 ZM is one of these options and like many of them, it has some peculiar characteristics that differentiate it from other 50mm.
Let's start from "C". "C" as Compact and Classic. It is beyond doubt that this lens has very small dimensions and weight. The design of the diaphragm and geometry are inspired by a model that dates back to the 1930s. The technology of the optical glass and anti-reflection system is however very modern. This combination of classic and modern, in theory, should result in a yield that very much recall lenses of the past, but minimizes the compromises of delivery thanks to modern constructive solutions.
But from a practical standpoint are all these promises maintained?
Lets proceed with order.


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/125, f/1.7, Iso 640



The Zeiss C Sonnar T * 1.5 / 50 ZM combines lightweight and sturdy construction. It certainly does not achieve the absolute perfection of a Leica lens, but the focus ring is fluid and precise. The diaphragm has the option of selecting thirds of a stop.
Both black and silver versions are available on the market. I opted for the latter because this color reminded me more of a "Classic" lens. I know ... it's an illogical choice ... but at least, for once in my life, I wanted to have a "silver" lens.
Difficult to say more. If not the regret that the lens hood was not included in the box.


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/30, f/2.4, Iso 640


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/125, f/1.4, Iso 500


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/125, f/2, Iso 1600


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/500, f/1.4, Iso 200


On the field

If you ask some optics experts of the M system or search on the net, you will notice that most of the discussions on this lens are about the quality of bokeh and inaccuracy of the focus when used with very open diaphragms and with extremely close subjects.
Let's start with the bokeh.
The Zeiss Sonnar C 50mm f / 1.4 ZM has an excellent performance from this point of view.
Precisely a... "Classic" delivery.
There... If you are not looking for a modern lens under all point of views but desire a lens that can characterize your image, then this Zeiss is probably the right bet.
It is difficult (as always) to explain in words concepts that are so complex and subjective.
I hope that the images, in some way, will be more thorough.
I really don't want to go into exasperated technicalities to support my thesis or to talk about Petzval field curvature, so on and so forth.
What is needed to be known is that this 50mm, that delivers a "Classic" rendering marked by an excellent blur, had to accept some compromises in its design stage.


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/60, f/1.5, Iso 400


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/125, f/1.5, Iso 200


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/250, f/2.8, Iso 200


One of these is the Shift focus, that is in in a few words ... the with the variation of the diaphragm the focal point also varies.
Specifically, with this lens, it seems that this phenomenon is present at f / 1.5, f / 2 at the minimum focal distances.

Obviously, this phenomenon produces sharp focusing errors only with a rangefinder focusing system. Now ... on the net there is much talk about alleged unofficial statements by Zeiss (or Zeiss-related people) and a whole lot of evidence trying to demonstrate this behavior and the solutions that should be adopted. To this, another news should be added. News that apprentely show a change of direction from Zeiss: the latest lenses are optimized for f / 1.5.
In short a huge mess that led me to throw away the first week of testing by taking an indecent amount of shots with unnecessary diaphragms to useless subjects at unnecessary distances. Then, in the end, my brain melted out ... or that little bit of it that remains... and I decided to put all these notions aside and to start taking photos with this lens.
Now ... I still have not understood how and in what way I have optimized my lens. But for my way of photographing I did not encounter any particular anomalies. Now ... I am not saying that this problem does not exist ... nor do I exclude it from being more or less present from lens to lens. But in my case, any macroscopic focusing mistakes, can be attributed to my difficulty in focusing with the rangefinder when the selected aperture requires a very low field depth. Like with all other lenses.
I repeat again ... I did not say that the Zeiss Sonnar C 50mm f / 1.4 ZM is free from shift focus. I am only saying that, “my” photography, this phenomenon has never created any problems.
This obviously applies to me and to my way of photographing.


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/125, f/4, Iso 500


Having closed this "technical" parenthesis, I would like to say a few words on the other aspects that characterize this lens.
If you look at the shots in this article or better yet, look at the shots that you've made with this lens, or even better ... look at the prints made with your shots with this lens, you will immediately notice how this lens leaves its signature in the photographs. Obviously I do not mean panoramic views taken at f / 11. If you are looking for the "aseptic" perfection or love to shoot with closed diaphragms, then there are definitely lenses that are more suitable to your needs. Sonnar is far from "aseptic" perfection. Sharpness, for example, has a very special rendition. But thanks to this mix with antique flavors, the results are truly unique.

For the rest, given that appreciation of this lens consists entirely of subjective elements, it is pointless to go any further.


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/250, f/2, Iso 1250


If the 50mm were to be my reference focal range, and if I had to produce a wide-ranging reportage with only one lens, I would probably leave the Zeiss Sonnar C 50mm f / 1.4 ZM at home and would choose a 50mm Leica Summicron ASPH or a 50mm Zeiss Biogon .
If, on the other hand, I wanted to mainly shoot human figures, then I would not have any doubt in choosing this Zeiss lens.
Some find that the Zeiss Sonnar C 50mm f / 1.4 ZM is, in many ways, even better than the Leica Summilux. I would never go so far.
What I can certainly say is that this lens has an extremely personal delivery.
Whether to buy it or not depends only on whether you like this type of yield and whether it can offer benefits to your photography.
If the answer is yes, I would not hesitate a single moment to buy it.
If the answer is no ... as I wrote in the beginning of the article ... the 50mm universe for range finder cameras virtually has no boundaries.

Somewhere there will be the perfect lens for your needs.


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/180, f/2, Iso 200


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/125, f/2.4, Iso 800


Leica M Typ 240, Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM - 1/350, f/2, Iso 200


Special Thanks to:

Raffaello Balzo, Claudia Loi, Francesco e Antonio Inglese, Aldo Zanetti.