Leica vs Zeiss Ikon: My impression from the Asahi Camera review

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by maestro logos, Jan 15, 2005.

  1. Finally picked up January's Asahi Camera magazine. (You can too if you live near a
    Japanese bookstore such as www.kinokuniya.com) Basically the magazine tests four pairs
    of lenses:

    1) ZI 25/2.8 vs Leica 24/2.8 ASPH. (one photo each)

    2) ZI 28/2.8 vs Leica 28/2.8 (one photo each)

    3) ZI 35/2 vs Leica 35/2 ASPH. (one photo each)

    4) ZI 50/2 vs Leica 50/2 (two photos each)

    All the pictures were portraits of the same lady taken at (pairwise) comparable settings on
    Provia 100F and printed at very high quality (FAR better than the average North American
    photo publication). Differences in lens signature, although sometimes subtle (true for
    modern lenses in general), can be seen from these pictures.

    Overall the magazine views the two groups as equally strong, with perhaps a slight
    preference given to the Zeiss group. (This has been noted in another message.) HOWEVER,
    before reading the conclusion I did a test of my own. Essentially I looked at each pair of
    pictures very closely and decided my own winner, before revealing to myself which lenses
    took which pictures. Here are my findings:

    1) Among the 5 pairs of photos, I picked Leica over Zeiss 4/5 times. The only exception
    was with respect to the 35mm's.

    2) My wife, who has no experience in serious photography of any kind, picked Leica over
    Zeiss 5/5 times. (She took her picks without first knowing what my picks were, or which
    lenses took which. We did this completely independently, and I didn't guide her through
    which traits to look for in the pictures.)

    3) To both of us, the images were not large enough to show sharpness or resolution
    differences. All pictures appeared equally (and very) sharp.

    4) Color rendition, subtle color nuances and bokeh, however, were visibly different, and
    both of us ended up picking pictures based on these qualities. (This is a bit interesting as I
    didn't tell my wife those qualities were what I based my decisions on. But some how the
    differences, although subtle, were compelling enough.)

    5) In terms of color rendition and subtle nuances, the Leica's appeared to be superior in
    every case (to both of us) except the 35mm. Leica's colors were more natural, real, and
    showed slighly finer and smoother gradations. The Zeiss's were punchier and tended more
    red/magenta balance; 35mm was the only exception where the situation was reverse. Even
    there, however, my wife picked the Leica feeling that the Leica image was overall more
    "pleasing". I picked the 35mm Zeiss as superior to the Leica.

    6) In terms of bokeh, there was a visible difference with the 50mm pair. The Leica had a
    more classical look, while the Zeiss was smoother and more controlled. Both of us rated
    Zeiss bokeh as superior here, but interestingly enough neither of us thought it was a
    sufficient reason to pick the Zeiss as voerall winner. We both felt that the Leica colors were
    just more pleasing and real, and the Zeiss colors were a bit bloated which was slightly
    distracting and diminished the effects of subtle tones. In the end, we both picked the Leica
    as overall winner despite it losing out in bokeh. (Again I find this to be interesting because
    we didn't communicate our findings/choices but came to exactly the same conclusion.)

    7) Overall our findings as well as the magazine's are all very subjective. These are not
    based on any "objective" or measured criteria. Purely personal preferences. However I do
    think this is the only way to really judge a lens.

    Aside from the ZI vs. Leica test this issue of Asahi Camera has some very nice pictures
    taken with Leica lenses, including a small calendar of "cat pictures" taken by famed
    photographer Iwago using an R6.2. These pictures are excellent in composition and
    tehnique and printed at an exceedingly high level of quality. Well worth a look. I'd
    encourage anyone to check out this issue.

    Discalimer: I have been a Leica user for many years and owned both R and M systems.
    Prior to those I used two Contax systems. I regard Zeiss lenses very highly and I'm
    certainly not biased towards Leica.
  2. Much of the difference seems to be in subtle rendition of color.

    How much can you trust magazine reproduction to accurately represent subtle color differences between images shot on slide film (presumably different rolls of film), scanned for reproduction, digitally edited and printed in a magazine?
  3. Maestro,
    Thanks for taking the trouble. A really interesting comparison. I had a G2 for a
    couple of years before getting into Leica and people can tell from the photo
    album where the Zeiss glass ends and the Leica starts. I prefer Leica too.
  4. "...people can tell from the photo album where the Zeiss glass ends and the Leica starts."
    Do have any examples you'd care to share?
  5. Interesting. What made you pick the Zeiss 35mm over the Leica?
  6. Here is a translated blurb on this issue of Asahi Camera:


    Asahi Camera and Nippon Camera both have excellent photo reproductions.
  7. Are the Zeiss glass physically larger than Leicas?
  8. Hi Bob. Your concerns are certainly valid, in that printed magazine pages are not the most
    ideal medium for judging subtle color differences. Nevertheless I believe Asahi did their
    best in giving a most accurate comparison. It is specifically stated in the article that they
    used the same camera body (Hexar RF, just to be "unbiased") and roll of film in making the

    I do think that some properties are probably less prone to the effects you described. For
    example if the Leica pictures started out with coarse colors then it's unlikely that fine
    gradations can be recovered by printing alone; similarly if the Leica and Zeiss images
    started out with equally fine color nuances then it's not very likely that effects of printing
    would diminish the fine gradations in Zeiss images while boosting Leica's. Bokeh is also
    visibly different and cannot be due to printing.

    On the other hand something like color balance could easily have been swayed in either
    direction, depending on printing, lighting, film, etc.

    Bottom line is, as I emphasized the above was a very subjective (and casual) comparison.
    Personally I don't think the evaluation of a lens is a science or could ever be 100%
    objective (despite every effort on the part of some publications/manufacturers to pretend
    that it is so). Afterall, it is aesthetics that we're talking about.

    I also think that modern lenses have very little room to deviate from one another. Most
    lenses are very well "optimized", often based on the same set of criteria. This is unlike the
    old days when either measurable properties had not been formally quantified (i.e. MTF) or
    when the limitations of technology were such that significant tradeoffs had to be made,
    possibly based on very subjective preferences. For example, I have here another Japanese
    publication where they compare lenses from Zeiss, Leica, Canon and Nikon. Because these
    are lenses from an earlier generation, the respective "signature" of each lens is extremely
    visible. In one comparison, one lens unlike any other produces a very "swirly" out-of-focus
    rendition. No one can possibly miss that.

    Additionally modern Leica and Zeiss lenses are designed based on a very similar philosphy
    to begin with. The lead designer of Leica lenses in the 90s as well as the current CEO both
    came from Zeiss. So any differences between to two lineups probably were never meant to
    be too dramatic.
  9. 2) My wife, who has no experience in serious photography of any kind, picked Leica over Zeiss 5/5 times. (She took her picks without first knowing what my picks were, or which lenses took which. We did this completely independently, and I didn't guide her through which traits to look for in the pictures.)
    That, for me, is the acid test.
    BTW, does your wife have pert boobs and a cute arse? These minor characteristics matter
  10. To my knowledge, yes, the Zeiss lenses are quite a bit larger than their Leica counterparts.
    Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Zeiss can achieve very much the same
    performance without resorting to the use of aspherics (i.e. fewer restrictions on design

    I picked the Zeiss 35mm over Leica's because I thought the Leica is getting too "magenta"
    in that image, which I find uncomfortable. But that's just me, and also the color balance
    can easily be due to a number of different factors.

    On the issue of print quality of Asahi Camera and Nippon Camera magazines, I can't say
    enough good words about them. It's my belief that the Japanese "equipment" publications
    do a far superior job in print quality (so much so that you can REALLY tell a good lens from
    a bad one), the better photography not withstanding. They also don't pretend that lens
    evaluation is down to a science, and would rate a lens highly based on
    subjective evaluation even if all objective properties measure poorly. As a result I think
    the Japanese are fortunately less infatuated with resolution charts and MTF figures. Take
    the Voigtlander 40/1.4 Nokton as an example. It is a modern lens designed around
    paramters of 50s-60s lenses (and single-coated!) to evoke feeling of that era. That
    wouldn't have been a marketable lens if not the public believes that, on some subjective
    level and for certain applications, older less-optimized lenses can actually do better.
  11. So happens I was going to write about Asahi Camera study of Leica vs Zeiss.

    You really cannot trust photographs in magazines. I sensed that the Leitz 35 and 50 were a tad sharper wide open than the equ. Zeiss lenses. I've just started to plow through this article with the help of my wife.

    They are shooting both sets of lenses wide open on a Hexar RF, interestingly enough. The Zeiss lenses they are covering are the 25, 28, 35 and 50. They are comparing them to corresponding Leitz lenses.

    The only lens I am really interested in is the 25/2.8. What the article said was that Zeiss proved you do not need aspherical elements for excellent results. They did say that the Zeiss lens was a tad softer than the Leitz 24/2.8. But flare control, color are equal in both. The 24 gives you slightly wider coverage. The list price of the Leitz 24/2.8 is 380,000 yen. The 25/2.8 weights 260g. and lists for 105,000 yen, or about 45,000 below the price of a used Leitz 24/2.8. It is also 30 grams lighter than the 24/2.8. It's filter size is 46mm as opposed the the Leitz 24/2.8's 55mm.

    The Asahi test is of the quick n' dirty variety. It's virtue, however, is that it gives you useful quick n' dirty information. That is that the Zeiss lenses are no slouches and you can get then for about a third of what you pay for Leitz lenses. I'd like to know how they handle and how the mechanics stand up after prolonged use.

    I am actually quite excited about the Zeiss Ikon camera, which seems very much like the reborn CLE that Japan's photogs have been dreaming of for years.
  12. Since the only factors which influence color are the choice of glass types and nature of the optical coatings, I guess the conclusion can be drawn that those factors are the only ones making a difference here, not lens design.
  13. The 24mm Leica has a bowl shape frontend and therefore a wider filter size. Length-wise
    it's actually slightly shorter.

    The Zeiss lens that's shorter than Leica's is the 28mm; others are all longer. The one that
    is significantly longer/wider is the 35mm. On the other hand all the Leica lenses are

    To me the distribution of weight is much more important than the weight per se. I didn't
    like the way the 35/2 ASPH. felt on my M body because it was front-heavy. I've had heavier
    R lenses that balance better.

    I'm not so much interested in the ZI lenses myself as I prefer older lenses when using a
    rangefinder. However the ZI body is very interesting especially as a cheaper AE body. It
    also has a very nice and modern look.
  14. <BTW, does your wife have pert boobs and a cute arse? These minor characteristics matter>

    Comments like this again show why so few women frequent this otherwise-good forum. And why some people just plain have no shame.
  15. Appreciate your efforts - It's all quite interesting. The way you describe the differences are pretty much in line with my experience of using the two different lens brands in 35mm - Leica lenses are subtler tonally and have a slightly green/cold leaning compared to the pinker/more magenta of Zeiss. The modern Zeiss lenses tend to be big on saturation too. Leica lenses seem to be able to "tame" Velvia in the pinks/reds so that skin tones look acceptable (given accurate exposure) - whereas both Canon and Zeiss relatively boost reds. This is so much so that one way of getting images from these lenses to look more like Leica images is to tweak the "reds" saturation value down and the "greens" value up in Image/Adjustments/Hue-Saturation in PS.
    Having said that, Zeiss is unbeatable, to my eye, in black and white.
  16. Zeiss glass is very nice, especially when put on a digital camera. Lots of rich colour, contrast. Too much contrast in my opinion...sort of spoils.

    Leica glass is just better on anything. Wish i could say otherwise...hate the prices.
  17. Time for another photo.......
  18. Comments like this again show why so few women frequent this otherwise-good forum. And why some people just plain have no shame
    slinke, ever heard of sarcasm (sar-kas-um)
  19. Importantly, Zeiss has chosen not to use aspherical elements. I presume that this lowers the cost of production and, hence, the price. I might be wrong; apherical elements are apparently easier to manufacture these days.
    At any rate, the Zeiss lenses are not quite up to the quality of Leica but they are very close.

    The Asahi Camera writer makes one apparent error. He says--if I understand him correctly--that Zeiss and Leica keep their distance from one another and never had interchangable lenses and bodies. In fact, Zeiss made lenses in Leica screw mount. HCB used a Sonnar 50.
  20. IMO you have to shoot with lenses under a variety of conditions, at varying distances using varying apertures, before you can make proper conclusions about which ones are "best." One set of photos reproduced in a magazine, photos taken by someone else, simply isn't a large enough sample to conclude much of anything.

    You may even find there is no "best." Rather one lens excels under certain conditions while another excels under different conditions. This is what I usually end up seeing, which is why I've accumulated so many lenses over the years. :) We live in a world where people have an incessant need to pick "the winner." There must always be a winner. But I find this is often contrived nonsense.

    I'm looking forward to trying out some of the new Zeiss offerings. I love the old RF lenses from the 1950s as well as the more recent G lineup. The lenses I like I'll keep and use. The others I won't. Simple as that.

  21. Several C/V lenses have aspheric surfaces and sell for even less than the Zeiss glass.
  22. "Asahi Camera and Nippon Camera both have excellent photo

    Their reproduction are ordinary, nothing great and nothing bad. I
    certainly woulf not use them to make judgements on photographic
  23. I don't agree that the print quality of Asahi Camera and Nippon Camera are "ordinary". As
    far as I can tell they are about the best I've seen among equipment-centric periodicals.
    Considering that their closest American counterparts are the likes of Pop Photo and
    Shutterbug, there simply is no competition.

    The point of the evaluation is not so much that it is unequivocally conclusive as it is a
    casual comparison based on the only available data. The article is also clear about
    its intent---a quick comparison without delving into any meaurements. Afterall we're
    talking about preproduction lenses here.

    Lastly I'm not too worried about the author having biased opinions. I just don't think he
    does. He (Koichi Akagi) is known to be a Leica proponent and a user of several ASPH
    lenses. That he wrote so highly of the Zeiss lenses probably suggests that he is truly
    impressed. As Alex has pointed out, it's quite an accomplishment on Zeiss' part
    considering how much less these ZI lenses cost.
  24. Why the hell don't they just make the Contax G lenses in a freaking M mount. Those lenses are out of this world, and have always been cheap compared to Leica. WTF? Is there a patent issue?
  25. <Comments like this again show why so few women frequent this otherwise-good forum. And why some people just plain have no shame

    slinke, ever heard of sarcasm (sar-kas-um)>

    Nice try. I know sarcasm when I see it--and when I don't. Sexism too.
  26. I thought that I read recently that the patents on the M mount had, or were about to expire.
  27. Hopefully the new Zeiss/Cosina will make Leica M mount a more affordable format and hence allowing more people to see the beauty of a rangefinder camera. Which are a better lens is actually a matter of taste, just as which is a better film in the same token.

    I personally want to try out the new Cosina glass, trying out Leica lens has been a painful experience, financially that is.
  28. Al, the M mount patent expired a while ago (hence Konica was able to produce the M Mount Hexanon RF body and lenses)... however, i believe the Contax G series RF were released prior to the Hexar RF, so perhaps the G was in the design stage while the M mount patent was still enforceable...

    CV and now Zeiss/Kyocera? are taking advantage of the patent expiration...
  29. lmz


    If the ZI 50f/2 is as good as the ContaxG 45/2, I won't hesitate to buy one to fit my Leicas. Absolutely superb lens.
  30. The quality of the magazines is way higher than the US magazines.British mags tend to be more honest than any American magazine but reproduction sucks.I like Aasahi magazine.
    I am also "wondering" why Zeiss did not release the G-mounts in Leica-M ?
  31. To my knowledge Kyocera/Contax is not part of the current ZI project, which is strictly
    between Zeiss and Cosina. My guess is optically it will probably outperform G?

    Regarding the use of aspherics in Leica lenses and the conspicuous absence in the ZI
    lineup: In another article that I read (byt the same author, Classic Camera: M7 Special
    Edition), it is said that Leica's aspherics machining facility is a closely guarded trade secret
    and the company considers the use of aspherics a must for obtaining superior wideangle
    performance. So when Zeiss is able to achieve similar performance using only
    "conventional means", the author is very impressed.
  32. *Why the hell don't they just make the Contax G lenses in a freaking M mount. Those lenses are out of this world, and have always been cheap compared to Leica. WTF? Is there a patent issue?*

    I have read that they can be converted to an M mount for $250. Someone in Japan does it.
  33. For marketing reasons as much as anything else I can't imagine Zeiss just porting the G lenses over to M mount. Personally I wouldn't object to it at all...I eventually got fed up with the G2 camera but the lenses were superb. But I think Zeiss wants to create something "new" here, and maybe they also feel they've been able to top the G lenses. We shall see.

    Leica's particular aspherical processes may be proprietary but aspherics themselves are used all over the optics industry. Zeiss uses aspherical elements when they deem it necessary, as in cine lenses like the Master Primes and many of the small zooms in the Sony digicams.

  34. Aspherics were used since quite some time ago (i.e. first generation
    noctilux, I believe). To my knowledge the way in which Leica uses/
    manufactures aspherical elements is nowadays different. Precisely how it
    differs I can longer recall. However I do know that they were entering the business of
    marketing aspherics for industrial applications as they had a press release about this.
  35. I went back to my earlier posts and they read like I'm suggesting aspherics are an
    exclusive Leica technology. No that's not what I mean. What I'm saying is Leica apparently
    regards the use of aspherics as a "core technology" and has found a way to produce them
    efficiently, so much so that they capitalize on it for other applications. Clearly Zeiss takes
    on a different position and can makes lenses that are as good without use of aspherics. As
    to whether Zeiss can manufacturer aspherics---I have no doubt that they can and perhaps
    even a leader. Just a difference of philosophy in approaching lens designs.
  36. 1.) Was this a blind test? Or did you look at the lens title below?

    2.) What do you mean by "bloated color" -- you need to explain this more.

    3.) Were your wife's selections influenced by you? Such as, "I like this one," and your wife says, "Yeah, me too?" NEVER MIND.

    4.) How does your wife understand the term "bokeh" if she's a non-photographer? Man, I hate that stupid term. A ridiculous way to judge the performance of a lens.

    5.) Are you sure the color variances were due to printing issues? Possibly not.

    In any case, this is interesting but rather useless, as it is subjective.
  37. She didn't have to know the word "bokeh" to see what was going on in the out-of-focus
    part. To me bokeh is not a trivial property of a lens as it can do so much to a picture,
    either in a good or bad way. In fact I think it's far more ridiculous to judge a lens in terms
    of sharpness like so many people seem to do.

    As to "bloated colors" I mean too forcefully saturated to have lost finer nuances. Some
    might prefer that, but I don't and it's certainly subjective. There are many people who love
    Zeiss lenses for the ultra saturated look that they produce.
  38. Since the Contax G lenses are autofocus and have no focusing rings, I don't see how they could simply be converted to an M mount. Presumably, Contax/Zeiss could add a focusing ring if they so desire, but evidently they don't.

    Also, I do not understand the notion that Zeiss lenses have too much contrast. How can a lens have too much contrast, which refers to a lenses ability to separate darker points from lighter ones? The only way that contrast can be excessive, is if intermediate points are being left out or compressed. I know of no evidence that Zeiss lenses are more prone to tonal compression than Leica lenses. Hence higher contrast, if it exists at all, is actually a desirable property.
  39. Zeiss lenses tend to run "hot", which is a feature that I actually prefer, but I've found a lot of folks that shoot chromes prefer a less contrasty lens. I shoot very low-contrast print film, so it's not as much of an issue for me, and I prefer the look.
  40. High contrast lenses can be an issue with digital sensors too. I've run into this with the R-D1 and certain lenses, such as the CV 28mm f/3.5. The 28mm is so "hot" it can easily create images with more dynamic range than the sensor can handle. Lower contrast lenses yield flatter images that are easier to deal with. I've been using my Zeiss 50 & 85mm LTM Sonnars with the R-D1 with great results. They were snappy lenses for their time but are only of moderate contrast by current standards. With digital all you need is enough contrast to resolve fine detail...from there you have total control over the appearance of that detail via post-processing. This is something to consider with the M-Digital as well should that product ever come to market.


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