Saturday, November 23, 2019

Range Finder System

ZM 21/2.8 Biogon T*

The ZM Super Wide Angle Artist      2.8/21 Biogon T*




This was the first ZM lens that I was eyeing when Zeiss was releasing its first badge of ranger finder lenses for Leica mount. While my first range finder lens was the HFT 40mm Sonnar that came with the Rollei 35RF, I had long been hoping to photograph with range finder super wide angle lens, believing that they should be superior in performance than the SLR counter parts, especially better corrected for distortion.


Resort World Sentosa S.E.A. Aquarium, Rollei 35RF Portra 400 10 Dec 2012

So when the 21 Biogon first arrived at the Singapore agent I quickly went down and bought a silver version of the lens. I am using it with the Voigtlander finder which I bought earlier on anticipating I will be getting this lens.


Melaka, Rollei 35RF Portra 400, 15 Dec 2011

Although the 21/2.8 ZM Biogon is better corrected in distortion than the C/Y or QBM 18/4 Distagons, it is still not easy to compose with human face at the corners of the photo. Nevertheless, it is much more confident to use in terms of distortion compared to the 18/4 SLR Distagon. Light falls off seems better than the 18/4 with aperture wide opens, but does not improve as much like the Distagon design when stops down.




I have tried a few times shooting at f2.8 and I am quite satisfied with its performance wide open. Now Zeiss offers 2 choices of 21mm, one at f2.8 and one at f4.5. I will stick to this f2.8 version but the 21/4.5 C Biogon is very attractive for its compact size and the near perfect distortion. 


f2.8 1/60 Rollei 35RF UC100 9 Oct 2007                                                Rollei 35RF Portra 400 10 Dec 2012


More photos at Gallery 

ZM 50/2 Planar T*

The natural perspective: ZM 50mm f2 Planar T*






I had been thinking about the 50f2 for quite a while. The main reason was with the 40mm Sonnar that I am using and the range finder disengagement at 0.8m, I found for some of the composition taking kids I am not close enough. A good solution will be to use the 50mm as a shot tele, though in the title above it is suppose to be a natural view point like human eye. Also the 40mm depth of field sometimes is too much and the 50mm narrower depth of field will be more ideal. <p">  <p">Then came the announcement of the 50/1.5 Sonnar that is so tempting. Firstly it is the Sonnar design, which is different from the many Planar that I have been using on my Rolleiflex and Contax SLR systems. Then it is the compactness for the high speed. However, the f1.5 Sonnar can only close focus to 0.9m. I know that I wanted something closer, though may not be significant in practical sense. Then I realised there is this focus shift character of the Sonnar, especially at f1.5, but many Sonnar lovers had found the shift insignificant for most practical purposes. Then one day I managed to find a good deal for a used 50f2 at a price quite comfortable to me, so in the end I have this wonderful 50f2 Planar with me. <p">






Cosina did a good job. All the ZM lenses I owned so far I am very please with the workmanship and feel: the 21/2.8 Biogon, the 28/2.8 Biogon, the 35/2 Biogon, and this 50f2 Planar. Comparing with the made in Germany 15/2.8 Distagon, I do not see or feel a significant difference in terms of product quality, but the Germans ZM have better focusing smoothness. The chrome ZM lenses match nicely with my 35RF. 

I am very happy with the 50f2 in its practical performance. So far I used it confidently at f2 and f2.8 at close distance. When I need more ‘space’ in the composition I will go for the 40mm. If I want a tighter feeling I will use the 50f2. For situation requires f1.4, I would still prefer using my Contax Aria or RTS III SLRs.





I have using this lens and taking photos at close to wide open aperture. I am very happy with the results, both with the picture quality and the focusing accuracy at close distance. At 8R enlargements I can hardly see any flaws at the corners.


Sembawang MRT station Singapore, f2.8 1/125 50/2 ZM Planar T*, 1 April 2007

Rollei 35RF, UC100 



I like the above photo very much. There is a high key effect due to the strong back lighting. It was not my original intention to create this effect though. The new series of ZM lenses are all very flare resistance. You hardly get any softening effect or flare when shooting directly into strong light.



f2.8 1/125 15 March 2007                               f2.8 1/60 10 Mar 2007 

Rollei 35RF, 50f2 ZM Planar T*, Kodak UC100 


f4 1/125 50f2 ZM Planar T*

Rollei 35RF UC100 10 Feb 2008



Rollei 35RF 30 Mar 2008

f4/5.6 1/250 50/2 ZM Planar T*



Rollei 35RF  Portra 400  3 Nov 2012

f2 1/125 ZM 50/2 Planar T*




More photos in Gallery 



The Legend Reborn - 40/2.8 HFT Sonnar

Reborn of a Legend: Zeiss HFT 40mm Sonnar 

The 40mm Sonnar on a Rollei 35RF. On the right is the very popular Rollei 35 S.


I bought a Rolei 35RF range finder camera that came with a 40mm f2.8 Sonnar lens in Rollei’s very beautiful HFT multi-coating. This lens is kind of sentimental to me, as I had used the once very popular all mechanical Rollei 35S. The 40mm Sonnar now in M-mount is very likely the same as the 40mm Sonnar used on the numerous Rollei 35S, maybe with some design improvements. From various information the optical layout is identical.  




 Lens optical layout from a Rollei Classic brochure. 




Lens optical  layout and performance curves from a Rollei 35RF brochure. 



Very small and compact, but by no mean light weight for its size. Filter size is 39mm. For me I use the lens with a 39mm UV filter, then fitted on the original silver hood, and then fitted on a 39-46mm Heliopan step up ring made of solid thick metal as a hood extension. Overall the package is still quite compact in size. The lens construction and design is very different from the rest of my ZM lenses. Aperture settings are in half stops. There is a focusing tab. The lens is originally in Leica M39 thread mount, supplied with a M-bayonet adaptor when purchased. Mounting of the lens on the body is not as easy as the ZM lenses which has a blue protruding dot for easy locating of the lens mounting position. The lens is made in Germany. The focusing ring and aperture ring have more damping than the made by Cosina ZM lenses. 



Character of the lens seems different from the old Sonnar on the Rollei 35S. But I might be wrong as I have not been using both the new and old design side by side, and I do not have the intention to do so. One thing I dislike about the 35S is that it is difficult to take sharp pictures at close distance at big aperture. I am not good at judging distance less than 2m. 





















To school, Rollei 35RF, 40/2.8 HFT Sonnar, Kodak VC160



The 40mm Sonnar does exhibit some loss of sharpness at large aperture at the corners and there is apparent pespective distortion at the edge of the photo especially with human faces. I guess this is the compromise for designing the lens to be compact. Sonnar concept allows a compact design but suffers addition distortion. 





Fushan Park Singapore, Rollei 35RF, 40/2.8 HFT Sonnar, f4 1/250, Kodak VC160.



  Fire works, Rollei 35RF, 40/2.8 HFT Sonnar

Overall, a cute little lens, and I like it very much.


More photos in Gallery 


Rollei 35RF

My Range Finder System



I am a long time SLR user. I am still one. Around 2005 I ventured into range finder system (rather than range finder photography, seems like I am far from it). Well, Leica is too far away for me in dollar sense, even considering buying second hand. Being a long time Rollei and Zeiss supporter, I bought myself (with whatever excuses I could think of) a Rollei 35RF and 40mm Sonnar set.


Note:  The camera strap adaptors shown in the photo are not original from Rollei 35 RF.


My main reasons for getting into a range finder system are a few. Firstly need to find some excuses to spend my savings. Next I have been eyeing at the better performance of the wide angle lenses especially distortion control. Then I was also looking at a smaller camera system in terms of size and weight as my age is catching up, the whole battery of SLR equipment may one day be too heavy for me.


Maybe for the price I paid I should have bought a Voigtlander Bessa R2 instead. Rollei 35RF is essentially a re-badged Bessa R2, both made by Cosina. Of course the external appearance is different, but the mechanical layout are all the same. Frame selection on the 35RF is for 40mm, 50mm and 80mm. Most of the other range finder bodies offer a 35mm frame line. Range finder coupling for the 35RF is closer at 0.8m than the R2 at 0.9m. The later Bessa and the Cosina-Zeiss developed Zeiss Ikon are able to close focus to 0.7m. The 40mm Sonnar lens, however, is provision to close focus to 0.7m.  



I have no complaints on the 35RF body. Good metallic feel. Fully mechanical. The only thing is the shutter noise a bit loud and not very impressive  :). The finder has enough space outside the 40mm frame line for me to frame for a 28mm lens, one of the main consideration when I bought my ZM 28mm Biogon rather than getting the very well praised ZM 25mm Biogon.  

I have been using the 35RF with the trigger winder. I have actually never use the trigger winder in its original design intent that is to take rapid shots at approximately 3 frames per second. I prefer the size of the camera+trigger winder for better gripping.






My first encounter with the Zeiss 40mm Sonnar was with this ever popular Rollei 35 S. The sweetness of the colour and the high resolution apparent of the lens character already atrracted me at that time.




I am a safe shooter. I will almost always taking photos at shutter speed of 1/125 or faster and use aperture setting optimum to the lens, generally 2 stops above the largest f-stop. So for practical purposes I do not face much issue with focusing accuracy with the shorter ranger finder base length. For tele lens and even 50mm at f1.4 I still much prefer using SLR, which allows me to judge the effect of depth of field. Also with SLR I do not need to focus and recompose as I use full matt screen and therefore I can focus at anywhere I like. Especially for taking kids at close range and I always like to focus on the eye nearer to the camera.   If this body has flash TTL and a shutter quiet like Leica M I guess it will then be an almost ideal body, short of a longer range finder base length.

Teck Whye Singapore, Rollei 35RF, 40/2.8 HFT Sonnar, f4 1/250, Kodak UC100, 17 Sept 2006 




The Wide Angle Super Star

The Wide Angle Superstar: Zeiss ZM 15 f2.8 Distagon T*  2.8/15




As Zeiss called it, the 15/2.8 Distagon T* is the wide angle superstar of the ZM series of lenses. The price is crazy, and I am crazy enough to get one after a very very long wait for the lens. As usual there were quite some delays in the launching of this superwide, and there were further delays for it to reach Singapore, where I stayed. Getting impatient, I managed to find one in the eBay and taking risks getting from a German seller that I was not familiar with. The deal was a complete package with the 15/2.8 lens, lens pouch, 72mm centre filter and the very expensive 15mm finder. In the end I got a fair deal considering the purchase price, UPS shipping and the tax.






  Zeiss ZM 2.8/15 T*

First glance of the 15mm Distagon actually did not impress me very much. As least the lens does not look that expensive. The old Rolleiflex or Contax SLR 15/3.5 Distagon looks much more impressive with the very protruding front element. For the case of the ZM Distagon, the front element recesses well into the build-in hood and therefore allows a 72mm filter to be used with the lens. It is actually remarkable that the lens can take a filter and therefore a centre filter can be attached for critical light falls off situation or a protective UV filter can be used.

According to Zeiss special glass materials were used and floating element design was implemented. Physically turning the focusing ring I cannot see any movement of the front nor the back element, and therefore was wondering whether the floating elements were resite within the lens. Handling is comfortable as I have been using heavy SLR lenses for many years. The original 15mm finder has bright frame lines but not much space is there outside the frame lines. Finder is very bright, barrel distortion at the edges as usual. Exposure reduction for the centre filter is 1.5 thus you do not loose too much light when it is used.

The focusing and aperture rings have more damping then the made by Cosina ZM lenses. 

By looking at the MTF curves I was surprised that the top curve seemed to be slightly better in the centre at f2.8 than that at f5.6, a characteristic that I have not seen before in other designs.



Distortion was a bit disappointing. I was expecting the distortion to be improved over the Contax 15/3.5 Distagon but by looking at the distortion curve worst distortion was about 3.75%, only slightly better than the 4% in the 15/3.5. I guessed probably Zeiss wanted to cater for the space in front of the negative for proper TTL metering.







Light falls off was quite prominent, and apparently Zeiss purposely designed the light falls off in such a way that it would not improve drastically with stopping down. As a result you get consistent light falls off characteristics for different aperture setting and thus the supplied centre filter can be used with consistent results. The 15/3.5 lens light falls off improve with stopping down.






Ideally this lens is best used for architecture or scenery photography. Below is an example of me taking interior under hand held condition with the lens aperture wide open:

Voigtlander R4M, Kodak UC400, 15/2.8 D ZM T*, f2.8 1/30, without centre filter, 11 April 2009


I had also taken some photos with the lens outdoor under very good sunlight. When I first saw the distortion curve of the lens I was sort of disappointing at the distortion of 3.75%, which was only slightly better than the old 15/3.5 Distagon of about 4%. So far in practice the distortion did not give me any visible problem yet.


  Rollei 35RF, Kodak VC160, 15/2.8 D ZM T*, without centre filter, 14 April 2006

I do hope I have sometime to play with this lens. Anyway I have learnt that super wide angle photography is not straight forward. It is not easy to get a good composition, especially if there are objects in the foreground. Also I have yet to get use to range finder photography where I need to visualise what the lens see through the external finder which I think is not an easy task. Also perspective distortion especially with human face near the edge of the composition is not possible to visualise as in the SLR.   



  Voigtlander R4M, Portra 400, 15/2.8 ZM T*, without centre filter, 7 July 2013, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum,  f4 1/2, Manfrotto 190B/410gear, 7 June 2013.




 More photos at Gallery




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