I recently went through the Phoblographer’s archives and found an article linked here, written in 2012. Back then, we reported on how Cosina had discontinued the Zeiss Ikon cameras. We even confirmed with our Zeiss reps back then that the announcement had been made to their dealers. I remember being on the phone that day and feeling super sad about the news. The Zeiss Ikon ZM line of cameras was always envied by many photographers who didn’t want to use the Voigtlander Bessa VM cameras but couldn’t afford the Leica M series of film cameras. Today, in 2024, I’m inclined to think that this was their biggest mistake.
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What Was the Zeiss Ikon ZM?
The Zeiss Ikon ZM was Zeiss’s answer to Leica M series cameras. They provided more affordability but the things that photographers would expect from the Zeiss name. The brand, which also made some of the best lenses for DSLR cameras, surely caused a lot of excitement amongst photographers who didn’t want to spend Leica M prices. However, in the long run, Leica’s prices have more or less stayed the same while brands like Canon and Sony raise theirs to match Leica.
In case you’re wondering, Cosina made it. Not Zeiss. It was a camera made in Japan.
These days, on eBay, Zeiss Ikon ZM cameras go for around $2,000 and are some of the most affordable ways to get into Leica M series photography. These cameras were Zeiss’s answer to using the Leica M-mount. They developed their own lenses. We tested three: the Zeiss 35mm f1.4, Zeiss 28mm f2.8, and the Zeiss 50mm Macro. I remember the beautiful images I made with the Zeiss 35mm f1.4, and how, at one point, I even genuinely considered not sending the lens back. It rendered beautiful images. And even today, when I look at the images I made during my review of the lens, I’m enamored with what it was capable of doing. Some of those images are below.
The Zeiss Ikon ZM cameras, however, were known for having several problems around build quality. And unfortunately, those really stopped people from wanting to buy them. Instead, photographers went for Leica CL cameras — myself included.
In 2012, when Cosina and Zeiss discontinued the cameras, it was a very bleak time for film photography. Voigtlander discontinued their A-series rangefinders the next year. I liked the Bessa R so much that I included it in a roundup of affordable film cameras. But that camera was a variant of screwmount and not M-mount.
Why It Was Such a Huge Mistake
Sure, in the early 2010s, the world was getting rid of film products galore. But there was also a huge trend amongst millennials to go back to shooting film. In 2024, it’s not a trend anymore. It’s pretty common. Brands still say that it’s a very niche market, but that’s probably because there aren’t many affordable film cameras.
That’s not to say that the Zeiss Ikon ZM should necessarily be affordable. But if Leica could revive the Leica M6, then why can’t Zeiss do this? Zeiss, at the moment, has stepped out of the photography industry as it pertains to serious photographers. But we’ve often said that they could bring back the Contax lineup of cameras and do very well with them. They’d probably even do far better than their full-frame rangefinder-style camera did.
Could Zeiss Be Swimming in Money Right Now?
Truly, I believe that Zeiss is missing out big here. They could’ve been helping new film photographers connect to something that they’ve never accessed before. And with that, they could’ve gained the trust of those folks, who would then go ahead and buy the company’s higher-end products.
Do I think they’d get rich off of it? No. But I truly do believe that with a few celebrity endorsements, they’d sell like crazy. If they agreed to service all their older gear, they could open up a very lucrative arm of the company.