35mm prime showdown

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Registered: Feb 11, 2010
Total Posts: 4222
Country: Sweden

I've been planning for a while to make a formal comparative test of my four 35mm prime lenses and I finally got around to it today.

The lenses are:
1) Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH ("Lux35")
2) Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon ZM ("ZM35/2")
3) Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon Rollei ("ZR35/1.4)
4) Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon ZE ("ZE35/2")

(the lenses are always enumerated the same way which you'll see in the test image name)

The first two lenses were used on a Leica M9 and the last two on a Canon 5DII.
Mixing two camera systems was more complicated than I thought as:

1) Getting the same framing was difficult as the M9 and 5DII have different dimensions so just switching cameras on the tripod resulted in shifts in the framing.
2) Colors are different
3) White balance is different when set manually

I tried to work around those problems as best I could, but they are a source of variation between the shots - a lot in some and less in others.

Ok, the results. Open the images in separate tabs in your browser and flip between them.


Scene A:

f/1.4: Lux35 , ZR35/1.4

f/2: Lux35 , ZM35/2 , RZ35/1.4 , ZE35/2

f/2.8: Lux35 , ZM35/2 , RZ35/1.4 , ZE35/2

f/5.6: Lux35 , ZM35/2 , RZ35/1.4 , ZE35/2

Scene B:

f/1.4: Lux35 , ZR35/1.4

f/2: Lux35 , ZM35/2 , RZ35/1.4 , ZE35/2

Scene C:

f/1.4: Lux35 , ZR35/1.4

f/2: Lux35 , ZM35/2 , RZ35/1.4 , ZE35/2

Scene D:

f/1.4: Lux35 , ZR35/1.4

f/2: Lux35 , ZM35/2 , RZ35/1.4 , ZE35/2

Scene E:

f/5.6: Lux35 , RZ35/1.4 , ZE35/2

A couple of 100% crops from the above:




For some reason I forgot to take a 35 Biogon shot which is a pity as I know from experience that it's the best performer stopped down - and not by a small margin.

Scene F:

f/1.4: Lux35 , ZR35/1.4

Scene G:

f/1.4: Lux35 , ZR35/1.4

Scene H:

f/1.4: Lux35 , ZR35/1.4

Scene I:

f/1.4: Lux35 , ZR35/1.4


Conclusions: My first conclusion is that tests like this are worthless Seriously, after using these four lenses for a while I have a much better and more general knowledge of what look they will give. There were some interesting things though of a technical nature to observe. Each lens has its strong points and weak points.

Leica 35 Summilux:
+Excellent performance across the frame
+Very nice sharpness-to-blur transition
+Good bokeh for the most part
-Dodgy bokeh on occasion
(-)Barrel distortion

Zeiss 35/2 Biogon:
+Über-sharp stopped down across the frame
+Zero distortion
-Dodgy bokeh

Zeiss 35/1.4 Distagon Rollei:
+Center sharpness
+Best bokeh of the lot
+Very nice sharpness-to-blur transition
-Weak corners even stopped down

Zeiss 35/2 Distagon ZE:
+Good sharpness across the frame
+Decent bokeh
-Heavy vignetting wide open

The position of 'my favorite' is shared by the Summilux and the 35/1.4 Distagon. I somewhat prefer the rendering of the Distagon but the Summilux advantage in raw optical performance can't be ignored. Plus both are lenses that I use primarily handheld and for that purpose the M9 is much nice to use than the 5DII. So in the end I'm more likely to pick up the Summilux for walkaround photography.

Registered: Jul 16, 2005
Total Posts: 1765
Country: United States

somebody please loan this man the new 35 1.4 when it comes out!

Registered: Apr 25, 2005
Total Posts: 4201
Country: United States

thanks for taking the time to compare these =)

Registered: Dec 12, 2009
Total Posts: 596
Country: United States

@Denoir-after taking a good look at your work at your website, you are doing some SUPERB photography. The very fact your are making exquisite use of these tools allows me to give a lot more credence to any conclusions you have to make about any set of lenses. For that I thank you.

In all honesty, if you had posted a bunch of poorly lit cat and dog photos to make your point, I probably not have given your website a close look, which would have been my loss, since I always enjoy looking at top notch practioneers in this field. Bravo!

Registered: Jan 18, 2010
Total Posts: 880
Country: United States

The Lux35 on M9 is amazing, at F2 it makes the ZM looks like a Canon! On the other hand, your perfect frame matching make its distortion quite obvious when compared with ZM. Wish you have more F4-5.6 shot comparison with the ZM as it is at its sweet spot.

Registered: Dec 10, 2007
Total Posts: 3899
Country: United States

As an aside - per your images, even the 35 Summilux causes red edges on the M9?
For $12,000 US....

Thank you for the comparison, though.

Registered: Feb 11, 2010
Total Posts: 4222
Country: Sweden

Thank you for the kind words anscochrome!

@Aleksander, here are two ZM35 vs Lux samples that I posted in another thread:

Both @ f/2:

35 Lux @ f/2
35 ZM @ f/2

Both @ f/5.6 (I focus bracketed four shots per lens and picked the sharpest):

35 Lux @ f/5.6
35 ZM @ f/5.6

100% crop of the f/5.6 set:

In a way, I think those two examples are actually more representative of the difference in rendering - or at least that they highlight the important difference in style.

@sirimiri: Yep, the red edge is visible when you have snow and shoot at a wide aperture. You can remove it by using CornerFix but I left them as they were for the comparison shots.

This is what the color cast looks like after in-camera correction on an under-exposed white frame:


It can be much worse - the uncorrected 25 Biogon:


Fortunately CornerFix can be used to completely eliminate any color cast. Example:

Before CornerFix:

After CornerFix:

Registered: Apr 24, 2005
Total Posts: 3824
Country: N/A

thanks for the effort denoir. I thought you had a Sony NEX? Even though it's a crop it would eliminate some factors and leave the lenses to do the work.

Registered: Feb 11, 2010
Total Posts: 4222
Country: Sweden

Nope, never used a NEX. Yes, with a cropper you can avoid some problems at the edges, but at the same time you lose the really good stuff at the edges as well. When using good lenses, especially wides and ultra wides the lenses there is no substitute for FF.

Sam N
Registered: Dec 16, 2006
Total Posts: 1264
Country: United States

That Biogon is great... it's a shame about the magenta corners. I didn't realize the Summilux had so much distortion, but I guess it only stands out when compared to the very low distortion from the Biogon.

All we need to add now are the 'Cron-M ASPH and the 35L.

Ed Sawyer
Registered: May 08, 2007
Total Posts: 2309
Country: United States

It's hard to beat a non-retrofocus design (e.g. rangefinder lenses). Thanks for the comparison.

Registered: Nov 07, 2009
Total Posts: 5833
Country: Australia

Excellent stuff Luka!

Registered: Mar 17, 2009
Total Posts: 93
Country: United States

Very helpful examination. Thank you for your effort, Luka.

Registered: Sep 03, 2008
Total Posts: 1151
Country: United States

The 35Lux looks nice and bright wide open too but I agree about the overall rendering of the Zeiss 35/1.4 is more pleasing to the eye (for me that is).

Registered: Sep 06, 2005
Total Posts: 532
Country: United States

Luka, MANY inspiring shots on the slide show on your web site. Wow


Registered: Dec 10, 2007
Total Posts: 3899
Country: United States

I know Cornerfix can clean up the files - my buddy gave me a half-hour tutorial once...I was chagrined though, to see such a marked problem. My point was more along the lines of "people accept this from a twelve-thousand dollar setup?" :/

I agree with you, about edges containing "good stuff"...it's a pity to lose it on cropping, sometimes.

(even with red edges, I wish I had your setup, the delicious street images that could be taken here...)

Registered: Oct 22, 2008
Total Posts: 9306
Country: Japan


I would have loved to see other brands included as well.

Especially Nikkor and Rokkor.

Registered: Jan 02, 2005
Total Posts: 3938
Country: United States

Thanks for the comparison. Very nicely done.

My Rollei/Zeiss 35/1.4 seems to do much better at the edge of the frame, at f/5.6. Could it be an adapter issue? I use the hard to find Kindai adapter.

The Rollei/Zeiss is the only one being used with an adapter, so it may be at a disadvantage

Registered: Aug 13, 2010
Total Posts: 372
Country: Singapore

Awesome stuff luka!

Registered: Feb 15, 2009
Total Posts: 1501
Country: Norway

Excellent. Thanks. And as always, great shots.

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