Upload & Sell: On
Jon, Could you comment on the performance of the Vario 21-35? I have been thinking about getting one but couldn't quite make up my mind. Thanks.
It is a hard lens to describe. I gave it a shot a few pages up, which you might want to look for. My problems with it:
-astigmatism. This is limited to the 21-24mm part of the range. It only becomes problematic when there's a more-or-less continuous, textured surface, where you know there should be both radial and tangential detail, but only the radial detail shows what you expect to see--the tangential blurs out.
-corner fall-off. Again, only in the widest parts of the zoom range and with the same kinds of subject matter. While primes have a steady drop in resolution from the center, the 21-35 maintains good performance out through the mid-zone, then plummets. Even though the contrast and resolution may be on par with a prime lens toward the corners, it simply looks worse because the transition is noticeable with the 21-35. At the extreme corners and 21mm, the zoom doesn't perform well at all; it isn't "bad," especially when compared to 20mm lenses from the 1970's and 1980's, but neither is it what people think of when they think of "Leica."
What the 21-35 does well, though, is across-the-frame contrast and good midzone performance. This is made possible by the astigmatism and corner fall-off. :-)
As far as overall optical quality goes, I'd happily put my 21-35 toe-to-toe with the 25, 28, and 35 C/Y Zeiss lenses and expect the 21-35 to win, though "winning" will probably be more of a matter of taste than anything definitive. (The Zeiss 21 is a bit of a paragon. I'd put my 21-35 up against pretty much any other SLR prime, though, including Leica's 21/4 and 24/2.8 primes, subject to the above two points which may affect how the results are interpreted.) The current Z 28/2 and 35/2 are likely slightly better than the zoom, as are the latest Leica 21/2.8 and 28/2.8. Oh, and I believe the Zeiss 25/2.8 focuses insanely close, which is a considerable benefit.
(Two caveats: first, I use it mostly on a Speed Booster, which changes things but I don't know exactly how; second, I haven't used those other lenses. But I researched my purchase of the 21-35 as carefully as I could and haven't seen anything since to contradict my choice. Also, on film, the 21-35 at its worst--corners, wide open, 21mm--rode circles around the Pentax FA* 24/2 when stopped down. Then again, the FA*24 is more of a reportage lens like the Summicron 35 that we've just been discussing, so while it was my wide angle benchmark it may not have been a good lens to compare to. Simply put, it is hard to design a wide angle lens that can handle both f/2 and respectable resolution in the corners.)
I don't know how good the autofocus offerings are--that feature is a huge negative in my book. I suspect that a good copy of recent designs, like Fuji's 10-24 or Canon's rumored 16-35/4, will challenge many aspects of the 21-35. However, I also suspect that my Leica will outlast those lenses and is more likely to be useful on future cameras than they will be.
If you're looking for Super-Elmar-M 21/3.4 type performance, you won't find it with the 21-35. If you're looking for a more compact but still high quality alternative to the wider-range and f/2.8 zooms that Canon and Nikon offer, you may or may not like the 21-35. (If anyone's in the Portland area and wants to do a shoot out, send me a PM.) But its current price reflects the fact that it competes strongly against a collection of three or four $500 to 700 manual primes, with a slower aperture but less size and weight and far more convenience. FWIW, I seriously considered selling my 21-35 and decided against it. For now, it is a lens that makes shooting more enjoyable. I think that, in 20 years, this is a lens I'll be glad I kept.
Wow. That grew longer than I expected it to be. [Maybe I should start a blog.] Any particular interests or concerns? :-)