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Archive 2013 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!
  
 
mpmendenhall
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


Thanks to recent lens acquisitions, I've got the chance to try out the Leica Elmarit-R 135/2.8 and Zeiss Contax Sonnar 135/2.8 side-by-side. For anyone who is interested, I'll be sharing my results in this thread.

To begin, here are the two contenders:











The Leica is the "second version" (designed ~1968, my copy from ~1974) of the Elmarit-R. The Contax is an AEJ version, with a "ninja star" aperture at f4. Both lenses are very similar in weight, with the Leica feeling a bit more dense in the hand.

Build quality is highly admirable on both, and would be familiar to anyone who has used similar-era Leica R or Contax lenses. Both have engraved focus scales, "clicky" aperture rings (in 1/2 stops on the Leica, full stops on Zeiss), and ~240 of turn to go from infinity to MFD (1.5m for Leica, 1.6 for Zeiss). Both have 55mm filter threads and similarly-sized pull-out hoods (common for Leica R, unusual for a Zeiss Contax lens).

The focus ring on Leica has a light touch; while moving, it is buttery smooth and near silent. However, the Leica focus ring has an issue that I have observed in other Leica lenses from the same era, which is a tiny hint of binding whenever you first start moving the lens. This makes fine adjustment tweaks of the focus difficult, because the focus ring tends to start with a tiny "jump" as you overcome the initial friction. I think this is the result of "too precise" helical manufacturing --- the focus mechanism is very tightly coupled together, with no gaps/slop between the threads.

Zeiss has made different design choices for their focus ring. The focus is a bit more damped, and with a hissing feel and sound as if sliding two pieces of paper together. There is no starting stick, so the focus ring can be turned very finely. However, this is at the expense of a tiny amount of backlash: whenever you reverse the focusing direction, you can feel a slight "hiccup" a tiny fraction of a turn later, as the helical shifts from pushing on one side of the threads to the other. This is a tradeoff, adding a little "slop" to the focus, against the potential "stickiness" of Leica's near-backlash-free more tightly matched helical.

More to come later.



Feb 11, 2013 at 04:39 AM
mpmendenhall
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


The obligatory random junk still-life series.
Images from a Canon 5D; click through for full size.

Leica, f2.8





(full size)
Zeiss, f2.8





(full size)

Leica, f5.6





(full size)
Zeiss, f5.6





(full size)

other Leica:
f4.0
f8.0
f11
f16
Zeiss:
f4.0
f8.0
f11
f16



Feb 11, 2013 at 04:55 AM
mpmendenhall
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


Commentary part I:

Generally, the performance at this range is quite close.

The Zeiss has a slightly wider field of view than the Leica (at least at this focus distance from the same camera tripod position).

The Zeiss has slightly better light transmission. At equal exposure time, the Leica needed a +0.15 stop exposure boost at f2.8 and +0.30 stops at all other apertures to match the Zeiss histograms.

The Leica is has a slight green tint relative to the Zeiss (alternately, the Zeiss is slightly magenta). The Leica and Zeiss image sets have each been independently white balanced using the third-from-right gray square of the color checker chart. In Apple Aperture, I needed WB settings of T=2743K, tint=27 for Leica, T=2698K, tint=23 for Zeiss. After WB adjustment for lens tint, overall color and contrast is quite similar.

Both lenses show similar purple fringe halos around bright highlights, which diminish but never entirely disappear with stopping down.

The Leica seems to be a tiny bit better for fine detail contrast in the wood grain texture of the cutting board at f2.8, though both lenses are perfectly sufficient for my wimpy, outdated 12MPx 5D's sensor. At smaller apertures, the fine detail contrast mostly evens out.

Towards the corners, both lenses show some lateral chromatic aberration (red/green edges that persist as the lens is stopped down), but the Leica shows considerably more.
Leica at f8, 100% crop:





Zeiss f8 100% crop:






At f2.8, the Leica's defocus blur circles are more uniformly circular towards the frame corners, while the Zeiss' become asymmetric. Here are crops from the rim of the cup in the lower-left corner, in front of the focus at f2.8:
Leica:





Zeiss:






That's all for tonight; I'll try to have more comparison sets under different shooting conditions over the coming days (and also try to answer any specific questions people have about this lens pair).



Feb 11, 2013 at 05:08 AM
ken.vs.ryu
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


Excellent. I want both.


Feb 11, 2013 at 02:31 PM
Mescalamba
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


Chm.. seems Im going to buy something from Zeiss again.

Thank you for (almost) review!



Feb 11, 2013 at 02:43 PM
mpmendenhall
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


A near infinity test:

Leica f2.8:

Zeiss f2.8:


Leica f8.0:

Zeiss f8.0:


Leica:
f2.8
f4.0
f5.6
f8.0
f11
f16


Zeiss:
f2.8
f4.0
f5.6
f8.0
f11
f16

Focus was by trial-and-error to maximize the moire on the screens around the ventilation chimneys (having a body with live view would make this so much faster...). Based on this criterion, best focus at f2.8 was:
Leica:





Zeiss:






In retrospect, I'm not 100% certain that I nailed focus exactly optimally for the Leica, but I couldn't get *much* better.



Feb 12, 2013 at 01:23 AM
mpmendenhall
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


Commentary II:

The Zeiss has the upper hand for wide-open center sharpness near infinity (future testing is needed to see how repeatable this is; the Leica may not quite be best-case). Stopping down, the Leica comes closer but never quite catches/exceeds the Zeiss.

The Leica has more uniform illumination (less vignetting) wide open than the Zeiss. This improves for both lenses to basically a non-issue by f5.6.

The Leica's stronger lateral CA is still visible in this sequence.

Field curvature behavior is different for the two lenses. In the scene, the roof with the focus-point chimneys is angled at ~45 coming closer to the camera at left. The palm trees mid-left and the gray lamp on the far left are increasingly close to the camera, while the palm trees and branches towards the right of the frame are farther away.

The Leica focuses closer at the frame edges, the Zeiss farther away (a more precisely flat object is needed to determine which is closer to correct for planar subject). From the left edge, here's the Leica at f2.8 focused closer on the front branches:





while the Zeiss is focused on the back trees:







Feb 12, 2013 at 01:32 AM
JohnJ
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


I have to admit I suspected (before seeing any pics) the Zeiss would have the upper hand. I'm not a big fan of the earlier Leica R glass, overall. However, these kinds of tests need Live View otherwise there is too much room for focus error.


Feb 12, 2013 at 01:34 AM
mpmendenhall
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


And for anyone who thinks you can't do BIF with a manual focus lens, here's another 100% crop from the Leica at f8







Feb 12, 2013 at 01:36 AM
mpmendenhall
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


JohnJ wrote:
I have to admit I suspected (before seeing any pics) the Zeiss would have the upper hand. I'm not a big fan of the earlier Leica R glass, overall. However, these kinds of tests need Live View otherwise there is too much room for focus error.


Yeah, I'm not overly shocked that a design Leica hasn't updated since 1968 might fall a bit short of Zeiss' somewhat more recent Contax line. And live-view would make life easier. I may not have live view, but I'm at least shooting in slow "un-dead" mode, using a tethered laptop to check at 100% between tiny focus nudges --- which is more accurate than what I'd get by viewfinder alone, so not entirely hopeless. I'll try to follow up in later tests with more systematic care to see if the Leica is consistently this far behind at infinity. In my previous close-range test, I thought the Leica actually came out a hair ahead, so it could really be different lens optimizations for, e.g., portrait vs. landscape use.



Feb 12, 2013 at 01:43 AM
 

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Dudewithoutape
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


Thanks for the comparison. I already have the 135 c/y in MM form, but always thought about the Leica.


Feb 12, 2013 at 01:48 AM
JohnJ
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


mpmendenhall wrote:
... In my previous close-range test, I thought the Leica actually came out a hair ahead, so it could really be different lens optimizations for, e.g., portrait vs. landscape use.


That's quite possible too. Horses for courses. The Leica might be a better 'portrait' lens (ie lots of aberrations that add character), but the Zeiss might be a better technical or landscape lens.



Feb 12, 2013 at 02:00 AM
Mescalamba
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


Well since designation was tele/portrait and considering age, I think Leica is pretty good.

Supposedly best 135mm are in zooms (Leica and Zeiss) unfortunately they are not f2.8 (except 70-180/2.8 which isnt even remotely affordable). Dunno how much true is that, but I will find out one day! From what I saw f4 at 135mm doesnt give much DOF anyway.

Btw. since its portrait lens, why not try one?



Feb 12, 2013 at 02:58 AM
mpmendenhall
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


Mescalamba wrote:
Btw. since its portrait lens, why not try one?


Finding living subjects willing to stick around still while I swap lenses and re-focus is beyond my abilities
But I do hope to get some mid-distance samples that will focus more on "subjective" rendering differences than the preceding ugly/boring test shots. But before that, probably a few more ugly/boring test shots are in order...



Feb 12, 2013 at 04:57 AM
keysersoze34
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


mpmendenhall,

You own the first version of the Elmarit 135/2.8 .
Version 2 starts from s/n 2772619
They are quite different optical designs ....



Feb 12, 2013 at 02:04 PM
Lee Saxon
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


I wanna see these older designs up against the new 135 APO! (I'll probably be doing that once my 180 Shootout is finished)


Feb 12, 2013 at 03:25 PM
Cadaver
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


What is the present price difference between the two lenses?


Feb 12, 2013 at 04:00 PM
mpmendenhall
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


keysersoze34 wrote:
mpmendenhall,

You own the first version of the Elmarit 135/2.8 .
Version 2 starts from s/n 2772619
They are quite different optical designs ....


Thanks --- where did you find the info? I've seen conflicting reports, including this MFLenses thread and LeicaWiki indicating that mine is a Version II. My previous post was wrong --- mine is a Series VII, not E55, filter ring; but V. II's were apparently made in both varieties. I'll have to weigh it to be sure.



Feb 12, 2013 at 04:28 PM
mpmendenhall
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


Cadaver wrote:
What is the present price difference between the two lenses?


I grabbed the Contax at an unusually low price, then picked up the Elmarit at more of the "going rate," so my price difference was significant. However, for better data than a single anecdote, sales of these lenses are tracked in forum member JColwell's super useful lens$db, indicating roughly around $50-$100 more for the Leica.



Feb 12, 2013 at 04:42 PM
keysersoze34
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · Leica-R & Zeiss CY 135/2.8 Comparison!


mpmendenhall wrote:
Thanks --- where did you find the info? I've seen conflicting reports, including this MFLenses thread and LeicaWiki indicating that mine is a Version II. My previous post was wrong --- mine is a Series VII, not E55, filter ring; but V. II's were apparently made in both varieties. I'll have to weigh it to be sure.



The MFLenses thread is pretty informative if you read it carefully since i'm KeyserSoze27 in this thread Read the last posts in this tread ....

If it weights around 730gr without the caps then it's a version 2 quite alight...
And you probably are using v2 since I totally forgot my posts from 2 years ago ...

those pretty much match my v2 lens characteristics:

mpmendenhall wrote

The Leica is has a slight green tint
The Leica's stronger lateral CA
some lateral chromatic aberration (red/green edges that persist as the lens is stopped down)



Feb 12, 2013 at 06:33 PM
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