I am almost certain that every other lens reviewed on this site is either used because it is out of production or used because the new version would be outside of our chosen “normal person” price range of $2000/lens. The Zeiss ZM 50mm F2, however, is a current production lens. Remarkably this lens, and the entire line of ZM lenses, are remarkably affordable and produced in Japan by Cosina Voigtlander.
I have no idea why the location of manufacture is important but the internet seems to think it is important to continuously remind us that Zeiss lenses are made in Japan. Personally, I don’t care where something is made if it is good but I don’t want to break the internet so this is mentioned solely for continuity.
These are modern production lenses so there isn’t much history to discuss but it is worth mentioning that the designs of the lenses (Biogon, Planar, Sonnar) have been around for decades. A full discussion of the design of these lenses is outside the scope of this review and also because I am no expert. Truth be told, I don’t understand exactly how my car engine works either. If you are into how things work rather than just knowing they work, let me Google that for you.
With regard to purchasing considerations, there are scattered reports around the interwebs regarding mechanical issues with these lenses. I am reluctant to mention issues and/or perpetuate rumors that come up in the forums that I have no experience with but La Vida Leica summarizes these issues in one place. In short, you need to be aware of “the Zeiss wobble” and improper or insufficient lubrication although both issues are fixable and both are random occurrences.
A final purchasing issue to be aware of is that the lens hood is sold separately.
Table of Contents
On garden gnomes and parked cars
This lens has a little nubbin of a focusing tab. I wish it was bigger but Ill take a nubbin over no nubbin. Who likes a nubbin? Apparently nobody. The URL nubbinlovers.com is still available for $11.99/year over at Godaddy. That would be a great website for a Zeiss ZM fan club but I digress.
Other than the nubbin, this lens can do no wrong. The focusing is criminally good. The size is about as perfect as a 50mm F2 can get. This is important because it’s arch-enemy in this journey of mine may turn out to be the Summicron 50 V5 which is longer (and has a silly retractable lens hood). I think that will become important at some point here when final decisions are made.
Does it have SOUL?
Did I mention that this lens can do no wrong? I did. You know why? Because THIS LENS CAN DO NO WRONG. But that does not answer the question? Does it have SOUL?
If this lens were a person, it would be that kid in 7th grade who ran for school president. He had straight A’s and took AP classes. He starred in the school play. For his efforts, he got a scholarship to a private college in New England and, as expected, flew through at the top of the deans list while tutoring the disheveled burnout deadheads on weekends. While he wasn’t saving manatees from speedboats in Florida or those baby turtles on the beach in Costa Rica, he worked in a lab researching a cure for foot and mouth disease. In a predictable, albeit boring turn of events, he went to medical school, married a woman whose goal in life is to make babies, sit on the Peloton, and tell everyone who will listen that she thinks the checkboxes on side mirrors of her Mini Cooper are “rebellious.” They lived happily ever after.
By all standards, the doctor in our story can do no wrong. From the day his veiny little baby feet hit the ground he was perfect. Everything about him and his life were perfect. But do you want to be friends with him? Do you (gasp) want to marry him or, if is your preference, his female equivalent?
That right there is a judgment call you need to make if you are considering this lens. If you are looking for that perfect doctor to marry, look no further. If, however, you need a little emotion, grit, rage, crazy, or smelly feet from your partner you have some decisions to make.
For my personal decision, I am routinely using this lens and Leica m10 in my commercial work where things need to be as perfect as I am capable. I didn’t use my Leica until the Zeiss ZM 50mm F2 happened to me. The images are almost hyperreal. It makes life look like we are living in a beautiful world of rainbows and skittles. It is criminally sharp. But does it have SOUL?
There is a soul in there. This isn’t just another modern lens that wins marks because of MTF charts. Banish the thought. This lens has a soul but it is modern. If lenses were buildings, I would say that it is easy for old buildings like St. Marks Basilica to have a soul. It is a bit more different for modern ones. Apple stores are modern and look clean but are devoid of soul partly because of those silly colored ball chairs. The Guggenheim in New York is modern but it has soul. Modern soul is cleaner and more subtle. The Zeiss 50mm F2 like that. Modern with soul.
No review of a Zeiss lens, except perhaps mine, would be complete without some criticism. I should stop right here but it seems that most reviews rave about the Zeiss ZM 50mm F2 and then feel the need to denigrate it slightly. Some of these niggly complaints include complaints about the lens cap or complaint is that the colors render cold. I guess this is maybe sort of true but seriously, every editing program has a slider you can use to make the colors as warm as you want. These complaints may be valid but they aren’t worth the time you just lost reading my complaint about the complaint of the issue.
No. Nada. Zilch. Even without the lens hood, the flare control is superior.
Did I keep it?
Like I said previously, I am routinely using this lens for some commercial work so it stays on the island. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Although it is a keeper, for the purposes of this reality show, time will tell if it makes the cut for my personal use and if it is one of the lenses I would recommend most people, including my friends and family to buy.
To learn more about which lenses I kept and which lenses I sold, learn from my experience, and to support this site, please check out my Leica Lenses for Normal People:The Recommended List. It will cost you about 2 cups of coffee but it will likely save you hundreds of dollars in time and headaches. Your support is also greatly appreciated.