Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f1.5 Review (vs Leica Lenses)(7 Reasons to Buy!)
Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f1.5 Review and Sample Photos
Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH/ Leica Summilux Pre-ASPH 50mm f1.4 vs Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 vs Leica Summicron APO 50/2 vs Zeiss Planar 50/2 vs Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4 lens
Leica M9 Fashion, a photo by MatthewOsbornePhotography_ on Flickr.
Zeiss 50mm vs Leica 50mm
I currently use a Leica M9 camera with various Voigtlander lenses and a Zeiss Planar 50/2 lenses. I don’t own any Leica lenses and I always wonder if I am missing out. So the research began once again.. I like the idea of using the legendary Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 lens but I cannot spend that kind of money at this stage. That lead me to the Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 lens(“Cron”) and Leica Summilux (“Lux”) (Pre-ASPH & ASPH) 50mm f1.4.
Before buying a lens
My reviews normally include reading as much as I can from various sources but also viewing as many pictures as possible to get a feel for what the lenses can do.
After much reading, my thoughts are:
Leica Cron 50/2 APO
Similar to my Zeiss Planar 50mm f2 (but with the Leica touch). The Cron is a very sharp lens with a nice smooth look but costs almost 10x more than the Planar.
Leica 50mm Summilux Pre-ASPH f/1.4
Similar to the Zeiss Sonnar ZM C 50mm f1.5 (but with the Leica touch) Lux pre-ASPH is not as sharp or contrasty as the Planar. Pre-ASPH is also similar to my Jupiter 3 Russian Sonnar clone – 50/1.5 that has that classic look. I feel this vintage look is also obtainable with the cheap, tiny but mighty Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4.
Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (Lux 50)
Similar to the Zeiss Sonnar ZM C 50mm f1.5 (but with the Leica touch) Lux ASPH photos are not as creamy in texture vs. the Zeiss but have better microcontrast and sharpness to give a modern look. I would compare the edge to edge sharpness of the Lux ASPH with the very sharp Zeiss Planar 50mm f2 that also has that modern look.
Leica Summilux 50 vs Zeiss Sonnar
This narrowed down my search to 2 lenses – Leica Lux 50/1.4 ASPH vs Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50/1.5. The new Lux is well known to be one of the best 50mm lenses made today but it is 3x the cost of the Sonnar. So, pro’s and cons of each.
The Lenses Pros & Cons: Sonnar vs Lux 50 ASPH
Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM
7 Reasons to buy a Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f1.5
1) 3x Cheaper than Leica Summilux 50 ASPH
2) Softer classic look overall with centre sharper than edges – great for my female portraits.
3) Nice bokeh and Zeiss 3D look.
4) Stopped down to f5.6 can give modern looking sharp contrasty images.
5) Shorter, smaller filter thread (46mm), lighter (240g) and doesn’t block rangefinder viewfinder in bottom right corner.
6) Sonnar ZM photos have a distinct look (as photos do with the Leica Noctilux) meaning photos have a less perfect and more arty feel to them so different from all the DSLR photos of today. (A big plus for me).
7) Zeiss colours – I prefer this to the flatter looking Leica images.
2 Reasons to avoid a Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5
1) A big one – Sonnar has history of back focusing on digital Leica bodies. I just hope I get a good one set to be sharp at f1.5 (rather than f2.8).
2) Minimum focus distance – 0.9M (Leica lenses are 0.7M) Not good for my portrait work and love of shallow DOF.
Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (Lux 50)
3 Reasons to buy a Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH
1) Perhaps the best 50/1.4 lens on the market.
2) Investment in a Leica lens that will hold it’s value well and can be relied upon.
3) I love the non-uniform bokeh from the Lux ASPH that narrows in the corners. Similar to my Nikkor 50mm f1.2 ai-s lens
1 Reasons to avoid a Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH
Leica Summilux vs Sonnar 50mm – Verdict
After almost buying a new Leica Summilux my brain took over and stopped me. Instead I ordered a new silver Zeiss ZM Sonnar C 50mm f1.5 and saved almost £2000. Serious cash! I just hope I am happy with my purchase. If not I may get my Leica after all.
**Please note the above conclusions are based merely on my humble observations and understanding and do not resemble scientific data or evidence of each lens compared to each other.
My Preliminary Plan
As the Zeiss Sonnar ZM C 50mm f1.5 is more of an arty lens than a sharp lens I hope to use the Sonnar for my female model fashion and beauty portrait work, location shoots and for personal work. For Leica wedding bookings I think I will probably use the Zeiss Planar 50mm f2 lens for reliable sharp images (unless the client prefers the look of my Sonnar work). For the last few weddings using my Leica M9 I found the Zeiss Planar and Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f2 to both give very sharp modern images. The Voigtlander 35mm f1.2 ASPH ii gives slightly softer but still very rewarding images. The Voigtlander Notkon 40mm f1.4 gives a softer more classic look so I have been using it for my Leica M9 portraits where the models skin would not appreciate the sharpness of the Zeiss Planar! I am interested to see where the Sonnar ZM will fit in.
6 thoughts on “Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f1.5 Review (vs Leica Lenses)(7 Reasons to Buy!)”
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I’m thinking of buying a Sonnar and was wondering if you are happy woth your choice. I can’t stretch to the Leica so my alternative is the C Biogon 35mm f2.8.
Hi Bruce, It is a fine less but my biggest problem is it doesn’t focus as close as most lenses, at 0.7M. See my latest blog post and I think that will help you decide. Not the better pop and contrast vs. the Leica Lux in this test but it just cannot get close enough. I’m not sure if I will keep mine long term.
Good post, I have been using the Zeiss Sonnar f1.5 on my Sony A7. I’ve been slowly crawling my way towards a Leica setup, cost is a big factor hence the jump to a cheaper alternative. While I enjoy the Sony and Zeiss I don’t get the same satisfaction out if it that I have when borrowing a friends Leica M. Also, shooting rangefinders has been a love of mine for many years.
Question, are you happy with your purchase of the Zeiss with the M? If so I may be so inclined as to pick up an M and ditch the Sony all together. Personal question for sure, lovely work, keep it up! And thanks!
Thanks Steve, I think you know the answer already but are just itching for the excuse to press buy! 🙂 I have quite a few 50s but the Sonnar is up there with the best. Gives a more organic look that the Lux and sharper than the old Summarit 50/1.5 and Noctilux f1.0. A keeper for sure. Enjoy the new Leica! 🙂
Hi Matt. I was interested to read your thoughts on the Sonnar 1.5, which I am thinking of buying for my recently purchased M2 body.
I have read all sorts of things about focus shift with this lens but with no explanation of what it means and why. I contacted Zeiss about it and here is the reply I had which is of interest. I hope you don’t mind the addition to my comment here:
“Just a few facts about focus shift:
-all spherical lens types without special corrections suffer from a certain amount of focus shift caused by spherical aberration.
-lenses with high aperture (high speed, e.g. f/1.5) suffer more from this issue than slower lenses (e.g. f/2).
-lenses without floating elements design (e.g. Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM) show more focus shift at closer distances than at infinity compared to lenses with floating design
Rangefinder lenses with rangefinder coupling (e.g. M-mount) can only be adjusted to show correct focus with the rangefinder at a certain distance and a certain f-stop. The rangefinder of the camera cannot compensate the effects of focus shift. So every adjustment of the camera´s rangefinder and the lens is a compromize.
In practical use, this means:
-when using those lenses on cameras in live view mode (e.g. Leica M240, or adapted to a mirrorless camera) with pre-selected aperture value, the focus shift is no problem at all. The effects of the focus shift can directly be seen on the screen and the lens could be re-focussed before taking the picture.
-the out-of-factory adjustment of the C-Sonnar (together with a perfectly adjusted camera rangefinder) will show the following results:
about 1.5 cm front focus at f/1.5 and 1m focusing distance
perfect focus at f/2 and 1m focusing distance
about 2-3 cm back focus at f/2.8 and 1m focusing distance
We found that this out-of-factory adjustment is the best compromize for this lens type for nearly all typical applications.
Any different adjustment of the C-Sonnar is possible. So if the lens is adjusted for zero focus shift at f/1.5 and 1m, the back focus at f/2.8 (and stopped down further) will increase significantly, making it much harder to focus when stopped down.
So before considering an individual adjustment of a C-Sonnar lens, individual tests in typical applications with your individual camera body are essential.”