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Tom Abrahamsson of RapidWinder.com It is almost never that an inventor improves on a Leica product so that it is better than the original Leica product. Tom holds that distinction with his RapidWinder for Leica M rangefinders -- a bottom mounting baseplate trigger advance. In addition Tom manufacturers other Leica accessories such as his very popular Soft Release and MiniSoftRelease shutter releases. Tom is well known as one of the true Leica rangefinder experts, even by Leica. IMPORTANT READ THIS: CWE Forum hosts have moderation powers within their forum. Please observe copyright laws by not copying and posting their material elsewhere without permission.

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21mm M-mount lens choice
Old 09-09-2011   #1
semilog
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21mm M-mount lens choice

Hi Tom et al.,

I'm thinking about getting a 21mm lens to use on my M6.

The choices are down to:

ZM f/2.8 Biogon
ZM f/4.5 Biogon
C-V f/4 Color-Skopar

I'd also be interested to hear preferences from people who have used more than one of the available accessory finders - Leica, Zeiss, or C-V.

The lens will be used for both street and landscape work. Bulk doesn't matter much, but weight does (lighter is better). However, I live in Seattle and the light gets pretty low in the winter time, so f/2.8 might be extremely useful. The only other M-mount lens that I currently own is a 35mm C-Biogon, which is one of my favorite lenses ever. I sure wouldn't want that lens to be a stop slower.

Guidance?
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Old 09-09-2011   #2
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The ZM 21/2.8 with the hood can block the RF patch when focus gets close. I ran across this as a bit of a problem several times. With Digital not that big a deal, but when one cannot easily confirm focus (on film) I found it annoying.

The ZM 21 finder is very nice, the Leica finders (latest) are quite a bit smaller (I use the 18 for my 24mm), and if you are springing for the Leica I'd say the Frankenfinder is worth the little bit more. Top-notch for wides.
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Old 09-09-2011   #3
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How important is speed to you? Presumably not very, or you'd not be asking.

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Old 09-09-2011   #4
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hard to go wrong with any of them.

i had the zm 4.5 and it was near perfect, small enough, sooo very sharp. i also have early darkness in winter here but i have learned to cope with slower lenses as i prefer the smaller size. plus a 21 is easy enough to hand hold.

i just sold my cv 21 but it is an excellent lens as well, not as good as the zm 4.5 but for the price difference, plenty good enough.

never used the 2.8 zm.
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Old 09-09-2011   #5
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I'm not Tom, and I've only got the one 21 and finder that I own, but I have used other lenses and finders, so maybe this will be relevant.

I've got the ZM 21/4.5 and Zeiss finder. The lens is awesome, as is the finder. The lens is relatively compact, super sharp, and has zero distortion. On the other hand, if you need f/2.8, then I've heard great things about the ZM 21/2.8. The slower speed doesn't really bother me because when the light gets low, I switch over to a faster 28. Not every lens has to function every where I really can't imagine having a better 21. Well, maybe the 21 Summilux at times, but I'm totally happy with this lens. I've actually stopped using my CV 15 for the most part because of this lens.

Likewise, the Zeiss finder is pretty great. I've not used other 21mm finders, but do have the CV 15mm square plastic finder (and lens). I've also used the CV angle finder (6x6 version). The Zeiss is definitely the best, though the angle finder is very nice, but can be a bit more awkward to use as your only finder. The Zeiss is very bright with very little distortion. It is larger and squarer if that is important. However, good as it is, I'm not sure if it's worth a $200-250 premium over the cheaper CV finders. I framed my 15mm pictures with the much cheaper CV finder just was well as I do with the more expensive Zeiss finder. On the other hand, if you have the extra money and want the better of the two, go with the Zeiss. Or if you can snag one for cheaper, which I was able to do, then get the Zeiss.

Of course, it might be worth noting that I shoot a lot with a 28/2. So I have access to a reasonably fast wide angle for indoors use or use in bad lighting. I approached the 21 as a super wide that I might be using in good light or on a tripod.

Also, depending on what films you shoot with, you might be able to make up that 1.3 stop difference between f/2.8 and f/4.5 by using a faster speed film. If you are grain adverse and shoot mostly ISO 100 speed films, definitely check out TMY-2...

If you are interested, here are some shots with the 21/4.5:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/tgray1/...biogon21mmf45/
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Old 09-09-2011   #6
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I have a long association with 21mm lenses. From the early 60's onward it has been my favorite "wide" lens and that also means that I have a lot of them and have tried even more!
Currently my favorite is the ZM Biogon 21mm f4.5 - probably the best 21 I have ever used. No discernable distorsion. Compact size and plenty sharp even at f4.5. It is a bit bigger than the 21f4 VC - but not bulky.
The Zeiss 21f2.8 is very good, comparable to the Elmarit 21f2.8 Asph - slightly lower contrast (which is good as the Asph looks like you shot everything with a polarizer!) Distorsion is visible - around 1.5-1.7% - but not disturbing - unless you shoot architecture.
The VC 21f4 is a very good lens, some distorsion though less than the Elmarit 21's or the Zeiss 21f2.8. A bit more distinct edge fall off - though, again, most wide-angles have it in one form or other. One advantage with the VC 21 is that it uses 39 mm filters.
At the moment I am waiting for UPS to deliver my Super Elmar 21f3.4 - yet another 21, but I could not resist it - a "new" Super Angulon maybe.
As for finders, Zeiss is the best - by a major margin. Leica's 21 finder is expensive and not as good. The CV plastic finders are good - and they are less prone to cracking when dropped - just bounces around on the ground.
Cosina also makes a new 21/25 metal finder - smaller than the older plastic ones and it is very bright - the "two" frame set-up is not my first choice - but once you get used to it - it's OK.
As usual, go to Flickr and use the tags for the various lenses and see what the images looks like. You cant really judge resilution - but things like distorsion and edge fall-off can the evaluated even on smaller size images.
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Old 09-09-2011   #7
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This was a goldmine.

Thanks everyone, and especially Tom for sharing your breadth of experience, and Tim -- your pictures are highly informative because you use the same 2TMY-XTOL combination that accounts for >50% of my own work (I am somewhat grain-averse, and prefer ACROS in XTOL where possible). Not only that, but many of your ZM21-tagged subjects are highly similar to subjects that I've photographed with the 35/2.8 C-Biogon, which will be the other lens in the kit:

http://semilog.smugmug.com/Landscape...9_nkVqQ-XL.jpg
http://semilog.smugmug.com/Travel/Ja...1_S3rpm-XL.jpg
http://semilog.smugmug.com/Travel/Ja...1_szQAD-XL.jpg
http://semilog.smugmug.com/Travel/Ja...2_8tARX-XL.jpg
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Last edited by semilog : 09-09-2011 at 14:49.
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Old 09-09-2011   #8
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I ordered the 4.5 this week and will also get the ZM finder. I've got the ZM 25/28 finder and know I won't be happy with anything but the Zeiss.
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Old 09-09-2011   #9
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Nice pictures. They are eerily similar to some of mine. haha.
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Old 09-09-2011   #10
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I didn't really expect such overwhelming praise for the 4.5 vs. the 2.8 Biogon!

So now it's down to the 21 Biogon-C and (yes, I realize it's a very different lens) a friend's ZM 18/4 Distagon, which he wants to sell for a good price and which I'll get to borrow before I make a final decision. But I'm really leaning toward the compactness and slightly saner FoV of the 21.

I'll report back in a couple of weeks once I've decided.
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Old 09-09-2011   #11
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I actually have more pictures of the Sagano Bamboo grove too that I haven't uploaded yet. Strange...
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Old 09-09-2011   #12
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I just ordered the Zeiss 21/2.8. It actually arrives today. I spent weeks pondering these same choices and went with the Zeiss. I think it meets my needs for a wide and should do well as my travel lens on my M8.2. I'm hoping I can get away without a finder since the 8.2 has frame lines for a 24mm. The 21(27.93) isn't to far off from the 24(31.92). If not the 28mm VC finder is only about 200 bucks.

Good Luck in your search...
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Old 09-09-2011   #13
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^------- Michael, it would be great if you'd tell us what you think about the lens after you've had a few days to get comfortable with it.
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Old 09-09-2011   #14
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Thumbs up

Quote:
Originally Posted by semilog View Post
^------- Michael, it would be great if you'd tell us what you think about the lens after you've had a few days to get comfortable with it.
No problem... its my first wide on a rangefinder, so I'm sure there is a learning curve, and I need to get used to shooting with it before my Tokyo trip in December anyways...
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Old 09-09-2011   #15
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To me, the 21/2.8 offers a very special blend of ultra wideness and subject separation ability, despite the obvious f2.8. Yes, it is bigger than the other two options and yes, it might have a tad more distortion also, but for street shooting it just isn't that much of an issue, at least to me. I got mine with the square hood, but after some trials with no hood I didn't find it to improve things enough to justify the hassle. The lens itself is as long as 50/1.5 Nokton, which is not that big. I've been wanting to stick a summicron focus tab on mine, but last time i checked evilbay I could find none for sale, it should improve handling, though its default is good already.

regarding the finder, Tom said it all. I find the Leica ones much similar to Voigtlander ones (plastic version). The Zeiss viewfinder is something outwordly, but it costs as much as an LTM 21/4 from Voigtlander, which comes with a plastic viewfinder... so I just got the plastic vf and am happy with it: pretty light, works well enough and if something happens to it I won't get too pissed off. which is always a bonus!
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Old 09-09-2011   #16
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First, the Zeiss finder costs more than the CV 21mm lens but it's probably the best finder ever made. It's amazing. Showing people my finder gets them thinking that they need one of their own. It's much better than my Leica 21mm plastic finder.

I owned the 21mm f/2.8 ZM lens and it was fantastic but just a bit too big for me. It's not heavy but it's long. Fantastically sharp, good flat field and ability to close focus down to about .5m but with any hood it was just a bit too long.

I got rid of it after I bought a Super Angulon f/3.4 and now I'm a total convert. I love the fall-off at wider apertures. The lens is amazingly sharp with zero distortion. Overall length of the SA is half that of the ZM 21/2.8 lens but then it's almost a full stop slower. It's just a very special lens and considering as much as I love it and the focal length, if I only had one lens wider than 50mm it would be the 21mm SA.

Among your choices, I'd pick the ZM 21mm f/4.5. It's smaller than its faster brother, supposedly a bit sharper and also has undetectable distortion. It's probably going to become a cult lens like the SA because it's that good.

Good luck with your search!
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Old 09-09-2011   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by umcelinho View Post
I've been wanting to stick a summicron focus tab on mine, but last time i checked evilbay I could find none for sale, it should improve handling, though its default is good already.
Yeah, I've got a Summicron tab on my 35 C-Biogon. Wonderful. Shoulda bought three when I had the chance!
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Old 09-09-2011   #18
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If you're handy with a dremel tool or have a lot of time and a file, it's very easy to craft a custom made tab out of 1/4" plexiglass. Contour it to the lens' focus barrel then contour it to your finger, smooth it out and stick it on with 3M outdoor use double sided tape and it's just an hour or so of work at a very small expense for the plexiglass.

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Old 09-09-2011   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil_F_NM View Post
If you're handy with a dremel tool or have a lot of time and a file, it's very easy to craft a custom made tab out of 1/4" plexiglass. Contour it to the lens' focus barrel then contour it to your finger, smooth it out and stick it on with 3M outdoor use double sided tape and it's just an hour or so of work at a very small expense for the plexiglass.

Phil Forrest
I'm not sure I can find a small piece of plexiglass where I live, I'm thinking maybe doing it with epoxy, dead easy to mold.. might be this weekend's minichallenge
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Old 09-09-2011   #20
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Have and love the Zeiss 21mm f/4.5 and Zeiss finder. Go back and forth between finder and R4a... nice little camera ..
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Old 09-09-2011   #21
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UPS just delivered my Super Elmar 21mm f3.4. My R4M was already loaded with Pan F+ - so the lens went on that one. Between my Nokton 35f1.2 vII (arrived earlier today!) and the Elmar 21f3.4 - it will be a busy week-end! Yet another 21 in my arsenal.
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Old 09-11-2011   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom A View Post
UPS just delivered my Super Elmar 21mm f3.4. My R4M was already loaded with Pan F+ - so the lens went on that one. Between my Nokton 35f1.2 vII (arrived earlier today!) and the Elmar 21f3.4 - it will be a busy week-end! Yet another 21 in my arsenal.
This will be interesting to watch. Thanks, Tom!
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Old 09-09-2011   #23
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So my 21 arrived a few hours ago... First impressions.. seems to be built well and the f stop clicks sound wonderful. Also, reviews of this lens made it seam huge. I guess its all relative. Its tiny in comparison to my everyday lens, the Nokton 35/1.2. The hood is a little big, but solidly built. I am also thinking I might get the viewfinder anyways just to have incase I want to be more precise in my framing.
Took a few shots outside of these bushes that are perfect for test shots. Always green @ 18% grey, and has white and red flowers. Going to take it out this weekend and see what it can do.
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Old 09-10-2011   #24
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Micheal. I agree with the hood. Initially it seems a bit of an overkill sizewise -but it fits the lens well. It is not exactly a small lens - but not much bigger than a 35f2. Comfortable to hold and the hood does not intrude when you want to change aperture (big problem on the Super Angulon). Solid build and focus and aperture are smooth. I am going to shoot some Pan F+ today and tomorrow with both the 21f3.4 and the 35f1.2 II - sun is out and it is unseasonally warm too. Later I will do a side-by-side with the Biogon 21f4.5 and, of course, the Super Angulon.
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Old 09-10-2011   #25
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Based on my experience with the Elmar-M 24/3.8 (superb lens) and some of the comments over at the FM Leica M8/9 forum (alt gear), I think I'd consider the new Super Elmar 21 that Tom mentioned. Its mtf chart is as impressive as the Zeiss 21mm Distagon, the small format UWA by which all others are measured.
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