Zenzanon or Zeiss - is there really a discernible difference?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by paul_richardson|1, Aug 9, 1999.

  1. I'm wavering between the purchase of a Rollei 6001 and a Bronica SQB.
    All things being equal, I'd go with the Rollei, but all things aren't
    equal. Like price, for example. The Bronica is about $1000 cheaper,
    with the current $300 rebate on a complete kit. What I'm wondering is,
    is there truly an appreciable difference in the two lens systems, or
    is the Zeiss advantage largely a matter of cachet? Does the difference
    justify the extra expenditure?
    I'd be printing no larger than 16x20 (if that large). Thanks.
  2. Some say "yes" to that question. It is probably a highly subjective view. There was at least one discussion about this subject a few months back. You might look in the older threads (I'd suggest "Search" but it isn't working for me at this time.) There is a considerable difference in lens price, however.

    I don't know about the Rollei 6001. The Father of Photo.Net (Philip Greenspun) thinks the 6008 is the best medium format camera on the market (see the "static" content elsewhere on Photo.Net).

    About the Bronica, I'd avoid the SQ-B. It is not completely upgradeable. Go with the SQ-Ai. B&H has the SQ-Ai Kit for $2499 (body, 80mm lens, wl finder, and 220 back). Tamron has a rebate offer that will include the 120 film back as part of the kit. (See www.bhphotovideo.com).

    My gut response is that you will be happy with the image quality of either system, so your purchasing decision comes down to price, available accessories, availability of service, and resale value.

  3. Hi:
    I also agree that the Rollei is the better of the two, because of the automation. As far as the lens debate goes I think its purely subjective. Zeiss has the aura, mystique and legend going for it. But the Zenzanon PQ lenses are pretty good. Still, I like the gadgets, bells and whistles, even if I can't afford them. Also, by buying the SQB you are violating one of the universial rules. (It's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.) This is a planned purchase for a main line peice of equipment. Go big! Get the automation.

    Marcus J.
  4. I owned Bronica SQ-Ai before. Now I am shooting with Rollei 6008i.
    There is nothing wrong with Bronica's lens. I love them. High quality and low price comparing to zeiss lens. I switched to Rollei because of everything else. The magazine doesn't _feel_ like well made stuff. I always have to use some force to close the magazine cover. The AE prism drain battery fast, and require adjustment in 2 years. The body is okay, but nothing great about it. Remember, I bought everything new from B&H. Last year, I switch to Rollei6008i. It is the best camera I have ever used. Before Bronica, I owned Hasselblad 503cx, 2000fcm. If I were you, I will get at least 6003.

    rendy cheng
  5. I add the following to support what other contributors have said in hopes the detail may be relevant. Though Bronica is one system I haven't used, I have owned or used most of the competition over a period of years. With the exception of old non-C Mamiya RB lenses (which were disappointing), overall image quality between the brands is pretty much the same. The situation today is not comparable to what it was when people wanting interchangeable TLR lenses had to give away image quality (compared to Rolleiflex) in order to do it. From my perspective, the differences which do exist have more to do with the color transmission characteristics of the glass as designed and implemented than with any genuine quality differences which would cause one to much favor one brand over the other.

    I used to do all my own darkroom work which allowed me to control on paper results from the different systems I had access to. By way of example, one test I ran directly compared the Zeiss Hasselblad 80 CF with an older Pentax 6x7 105mm by shooting the same scenes from a tripod with two different color slide films. The level of detail per unit film appeared to me to be virtually identical. The Pentax had more contrast (snap). The Zeiss, in some of the scenes, seemed to have a slightly more lifelike feel. What surprised me was how closely the comparatively inexpensive Pentax approximated the CF's color rendition. The Pentax 645 did the same thing. (The Mamiya 6 75mm, purchased somewhat later, on the other hand, was quite different, rendering at least an equally sharp image but with (to my eye) significantly more posterish color.) My long-term experience with these cameras confirmed these tests and indicated to me that what differences do exist come down to taste rather than anything one could objectively quantify. I routinely printed 16x20s and 20x24s. (However, I much prefer large format prints in this print size range.)

    I did notice one difference between the CF and the Takumar and that was that the Pentax (an older lens) dropped off substantially in quality below f5.6 and above f11. The Zeiss was more consistent, yet it too was soft wide open. Since I tend to should at optimum apertures anyway, the Zeiss would not have been worth the extra money based on image quality (as opposed to system-wide utility) alone.

    Consequently I agree with the others who have posted answers to your question. Choose based on budget and the system's suitability for what you want to do. Having owned Zeiss in two camera lines, I would say that Zeiss is not a great financial value and its mystique is probably somewhat overblown given the extreme cost of its lenses. (In this, I think, it parallels Leitz/Leica.) I do admit that, thus far, only Pentax's color pleases me the way Zeiss does. (And that difference is something most of the people I know do not notice.)
  6. Hi Paul, I owned Bronicas for quite a while, I would stay away from this watered down B model, go for the Rollei if you can swing it. As far as the lenses go, the Bronica PS lenses are excellent, its the film backs and mirror slap that can't keep up with the lenses, even if you lock up mirror regularly, the backs don't hold up after steady use. I am much happier with my Blads, the cameras can keep up with the Zeiss lenses which are very excellent.
  7. I went through this debate a year ago myself. I am strictly an amateur with a good paying day job who loves to photograph industrial architecture between and after my daily appointments. I ended up choosing the SQ-Ai for several reasons. The cost of the system was a factor. While I could have purchased an entry level Hassy system new for several hundred more than the Bronica, I looked ahead to accessories and lenses. I bought new 50 and 150mm lenses for half the cost of a used Hassy lens. Backs, prisms and anything else you want is going to be a big price difference. The Hassy used market is strong, the Rollei used market in the USA is almost non-existent.

    On to the original question. I have been extremely pleased with the quality of the Zenzanon optics. I have 50, 80 and 150 PS series lenses. I would say they are considerably better than the Zeiss lens in my older Rolleiflex, certainly on a par with the 90mm Grandagon-S and 210 Symmar-S MC I use with my 4x5 system. I don't do L/mm tests, I based this observation on many photos taken in a variety of situations.

    I would not recommend the SQ-B package, you close the door to metered prisms, you give up the bulb shutter setting on the body and the 'B' lens does not have a T setting built in. I do enough night time work that I couldn't be without shutter speeds longer than 8 seconds (for the B, you get 16 seconds on the Ai). I have never used a metered prism choosing to rely on my trusty Sekonic. (I don't need to work extremely fast when shooting abandoned buildings). The build quality of the Bronica systems may be somewhat less rugged than the Hasselblad or the Rollei (my old Rolleiflex was certainly a tank) but I have experienced only minor problems. The spring in the waist level finder pop up magnifier slipped out of place once, I blame myself since I pushed the release and let it snap up without cushioning it with my finger. I had one instance with each of the two backs I have gving an overlap on one exposure. It has never happened again and I suspect I may have swapped backs that one time without advancing the film first or maybe it was not completely advanced. Anyway that was a once only occurence.

    For an amatuer who shoots maybe 50 frames a week and buys film and equipment with the money he can convince his wife is only a what other guys spend playing golf, I'm very pleased with the Bronica. I have a professional quality camera and the only limit to my photo quality is my ability.
  8. Peter Free wrote:

    <<I add the following to support what other contributors have said in hopes the detail may be relevant. Though Bronica is one system I haven't used, I have owned or used most of the competition over a period of years. With the exception of old non-C Mamiya RB lenses (which were disappointing), overall image quality between the brands is pretty much the same. >>

    Peter, by your experience, are you taking the different format sizes into consideration, or are you saying that even these do not affect the final result that much?

    In other words,if the lens quality as far as sharpness and clarity are equal, then the later Mamiya 67 and Bronica cameras would produce better enlargments than the Hasselblad.

    As far as the difference in color renditions of the different lenses, could these be compensated somewhat by using different films?
  9. I'm not familiar with Zenzanon lenses but in my experience there's nothing like Zeiss, especially for black & white. It's not about sharp. Most lenses these days are pretty sharp. But Zeiss optics have an unsurpassed tonal range, contrast quality and light gathering ability that is simply stunning. My only direct comparison is with Mamiya lenses om my M6. The Mamiya optics are sharp as a tack, but tonal range and cocntrast qualities are not up to Zeiss.
  10. I use Bronica EC-TL with Nikkor lenses and Hasselblad with Zeiss lenses. Projecting slides with a Rollei projector I hardly can find any difference. Durability ought to be a truly reason for choosing Hasselblad, but I'am using Bronica since 1980 and Hasselblad since 1998, and unless you are a pro shooting a lot of films every week a Bronica equipment must be ok.

    Felix Lopez de Maturana
  11. In response to Dan Beaty's questions for me reference 1) image size and 2) adjusting for lens' color transmission differences with film type:

    1. You are correct, there was a subtle decline in image quality at 16x20 between the Pentax 6x7 and 645 (normal lenses) when I checked them against each other in the late '80s. I considered the difference slight enough that the 645's many virtues, for those who need them, made up for the slight inferiority.

    I print 6x6 fairly close to full frame when possible and one of the practical print comparisons I made between the Pentax 105 and Zeiss 80CF was done this way. I saw no appreciable difference in the results, but keep in mind that the compositions (rectangle vs. square) were different. In keeping with my bias in favor of large format image quality, I tend to think many people overemphasize the practical aspects of the visual difference between prints generated from 6x7 and 6x6, even when reduced to 6x4.5. For the professional who is attempting to squeeze everything possible from medium format and is prone to rectangular composition, then 6x7 or 6x8 might make sense, especially in the studio setting. But the difference in negative size alone would certainly not be enough to persuade me to finalize such a choice without evaluating other important system characteristics.

    A friend, who runs a commercial lab, once displayed a series of unenhanced Blad shots enlarged to about 40x40. They were exquisite by any standard and easily equal to the similarly sized Mamiya RB/RZ work one sometimes sees. (Remember that all such examples have been selected from a much larger number of less technically perfect efforts. If we knew what the relative proportions of success were between the two negative sizes, we might be onto something.)

    Even when cropped to 645, the Blad and Mamiya 6, for example, produce images of clarity. I very much agree with those contributers who have often pointed out that the variables inherent in taking individual pictures (from film and batch to tripod to lighting to darkroom to inherent chaos) account for more variability than exists among the slight differences between a narrow range of negative sizes and lens capabilities. My life experience leads me to suspect that most people judge a photograph by how well it pleases aesthetically and emotionally. Comparative image quality tends to fall farther down the public's list of characteristics to look for than it does for those of us who are anal in assessing that dimension. With that in mind, it makes sense to me to choose a system which will most consistently deliver what you need to get done across however wide a range of needs you have at a price you can live with.

    One factor which immensely complicates your implied question is that 6x6 SLR is (and 645 still more so) very much more portable than its 6x7 counterparts. That fact alone gives it great credibility as an all-around camera and helps to make up for any perceived deficiency in negative size.

    2. Yes, I suppose you could select film type to compensate for transmission characteristics of the glass in question (certainly I boost the saturation from the Rollei 3.5F TLR in this fashion), but I doubt that you could control it well enough to match results to the lens line you prefer. Like Arthur Gottschalk, I never could persuade myself that the Mamiya 6 pleased me in color or black and white as well as the Zeiss (and in my case, the Pentax) did. This difference alone would not be enough to make me choose one over the other. Yet it might be enough, perhaps, to tolerate slightly less sharpness from a cropped 6x6 versus a 6x7 if it were the former delivering the more pleasing color and tone. One of the interesting and sometimes frustrating things about our avocation is that it takes hands-on experience (and money) to find out what works for you. Then your preferences, interests, and budget change over time, forcing a reevaluation.
  12. I doubt if anyone could tell the difference between the latest Zeiss and Zenzanon lenses in terms of imaging capabilities if both are used at their respective optimum apertures, with a steady tripod, mirror lock-up, shutter cable and a high-res emulsion. My personal experience with the Zeiss CFi and Zenzanon PS series lenses is both positive. They deliver the same level of performance. My PS cost 2/3 less than my CFi, though. If I were to start all over again, I would have bought all Zenzanons and save the $$$ for a round-the-world trip.

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