Review: Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM (Leica M Mount)

Upon purchasing a Leica CL, I figured it was time to dive into reviewing more M Mount glass; and what better place to start than with the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM. For years now, I’ve been smitten with Zeiss lenses and most manual focus glass in general. Their lenses are fantastic, and are often highly regarded even amongst the M mount community of users. Offering a 35mm field of view in addition to being rangefinder coupled, the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM ([amazon_link asins=’B00TDL05XO’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’5782977b-fddb-11e6-9692-8d1f0c3f6ca6′]) works well with both mirrorless digital cameras and M mount camera bodies.

Oddly enough, though I’ve always loved Zeiss lenses, they’ve never made a 35mm lens I’ve seriously been smitten by. Upon handling and using this lens though, that has changed.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • In my opinion, Zeiss’s best 35mm lens offering
  • Compact
  • Smooth focusing
  • Great bokeh
  • Sharp
  • Fantastic colors!
  • One of the most accurate lenses I’ve ever used when it comes to skin tone rendition

Cons

  • Expensive

Gear Used

We tested the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM with the Sony a7, Flashpoint strobes and the Leica CL along with Kodak Portra.

Tech Specs

Lens specs taken from the product listing on Zeiss’s website

Focal length 35 mm
Aperture range f/1.4 – f/16
Focusing range 0,7 m (27.56’’) – ∞
Number of elements/groups 10 / 7
Image ratio at close range 1 : 16.9
Coverage at close range 609,52 mm x 406,34 mm (24.00‘‘ x 16.00‘‘)
Angular field, diag./horiz./vert. 62,15° / 53,40° / 36,99°
Filter M49 x 0.75
Dimensions (with caps) 87,3 mm (3.30‘‘)
Weight 381 g / 13.4 oz.

Ergonomics

When you look at the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM lens, what you’re seeing is something that makes a whole lot of sense if you’re a veteran Zeiss shooter. It starts with the face of the lens, that special Zeiss font, the writing, etc. It all just feels like everything is right with the world.

When you look at the lens from atop, what you’ll spot is how it works. The aperture ring is located towards the front of the lens while the focusing ring is behind. If you’re a veteran rangefinder lens user, this will seem about right. If you’re a Fujifilm lens user, then it’s going to seem odd that your aperture ring is towards the front.

Build Quality

While this lens has no sort of weather sealing, I should note that it’s built of metal and glass. It’s solid. In fact, solid is perhaps an understatement. This lens is every bit as well designed and manufactured as any Leica glass I’ve used. I sort of like the Zeiss glass better because the focusing ring feels smoother.

Ease of Use

If you’re a manual focus lens user, or know how to use rangefinder lenses, this is going to be a piece of cake due to the wide angle field of view. But if you use autofocus lenses all the time, you’ll need to adapt. I seriously recommend using the zone focusing system.

Of course, that also depends on what rangefinder you own and whether you’re using a camera with focus peaking or not.

Focusing

Focusing this lens is done manually. Of course, with an f1.4 aperture, not a whole lot will ever be in focus. But when you use the depth of field scale and the focus magnification function with EVFs, then you’ll have less of an issue.

Image Quality

On both film and digital alike, this lens is seriously very sharp. The colors are very classic Zeiss, and less new, super saturated Zeiss. I typically prefer these colors for many reasons. As with many of their other lenses, there isn’t a whole lot to complain about here.

Bokeh

This shot was done wide open at f1.4. There are a number of beautiful bokeh shots in this post. The bokeh overall is very creamy and beautiful. I’d even call it cinematic. For that reason, both photographers and videographers alike will like what the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM can do on a full frame sensor.

Chromatic Aberration

In my tests with the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM, I didn’t find any sort of purple fringing that bothered me. There is vignetting but I like the look of it. Overall, I can’t really complain a whole lot about the flaws of any sort.

Color Rendition

In my opinion, the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM has to be one of the best lenses for rendering skin tones. It’s the difference between Kodak Portra and Kodak Ektar in some ways. If you’re a fan of Portra, then you may want to spring for this lens.

Sharpness

When you manage to get the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM perfectly in focus, it’s incredibly sharp. I’d even argue that when using a flash, it can hold its own with many newer and more modern lenses. Perhaps this is part of the justification of the price.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Bokeh
  • Color
  • Sharpness
  • Small size
  • Beautiful feel

Dislikes

  • Expensive

It’s a little odd that I’d give a lens this old an Editor’s Choice rating, but I also never hand them out unless I truly believe in a product’s capabilities. In this case, I really love the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM lens. It offers colors that look fantastic, it’s sharp, and the bokeh is gorgeous. If you’re a fan of the classic look from Zeiss lenses, this one is a keeper. But if you prefer the Otus, Loxia, and Milvus style looks, then you won’t be satisfied until you get those.

The Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZM receives five out of five stars and our Editor’s Choice award. Want one? Check out Amazon for the best prices.