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Got a nice deal on the C-Sonnar 50mm, but having second thoughts
Old 01-22-2020   #1
der Koekje
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Got a nice deal on the C-Sonnar 50mm, but having second thoughts

Hey guys. I'm in the process of picking up my first Leica (an M6 or M6 Titan by the looks of it), and I'm looking to pair it with a nice lens. Since these are expensive bodies, and I don't quiet have the cash on hand for a lineup of lenses yet, I thought I would pair it with a Zeiss lens since I really like their rendering and they provide better value for money (especially the Distagon but I can't find a second hand copy).

To this end, I found a nice deal on the C-Sonnar 50mm F1.5 ZM, but I'm worried about having this as my only lens. Since I'm planning to use it with film, it's going to be hard adjusting to the focus drift because I can't reliably practice without having a digital back for reference. It will also be hard to give the camera to my girlfriend or friends and trying to explain this issue to them.

I also worry about sharpness. I know it's a characteristic design but as my only lens I do kind of want something sharp and I'm not sure whether this one will deliver on this front. How do you guys usually use this lens? At F2.8? Is it comparable to the Planar at that aperture? I know film is about character rather than clinical sharpness that's expected from digital, but I'm not looking to do lomography here.

I'm also looking at the Planar and the 35mm F2 Biogon, but I do appreciate the extra stop of light for indoor/night photography. I'm looking at the TTArtisan lenses as well. I wonder when they are planning to release their 50mm F1.4 and whether I should wait for it.

Anyway. I'm just curious to hear your thoughts about using the Sonnar as my only lens for a while.
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Old 01-22-2020   #2
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For the first 8 or so years, the C Sonnar was optimized for f2.8. This means that the focus shift occurred only from f1.5 to f2 or so. The closer it got to f2.8, the more accurate focus became. Now it is optimized for f1.5 at the factory. I am not sure how to determine the optimization of this lens apart from putting it on a digital rangefinder, or shooting a roll of film for test purposes. But it should only take a few images at the beginning to figure out.


M9 - Elvis Lives by Archiver, on Flickr


If you're handing the lens to girlfriend or friends (do you really want to hand your new, expensive, M6 or M6 Titan to someone else???) then set it to f2.8 and be done with it. Let them wrangle with rangefinder focus and give you blurry pictures, focus shift is the least of your worries if you have to explain focus shift and rangefinder focusing to someone unfamiliar with it. Oh yeah, you'll probably have to meter for them, too.


M9 - Valentino by Archiver, on Flickr


There is absolutely no issue with sharpness at f1.5, not to me. The lens resolves a lot of detail - the wide open characteristic of this lens is in 'rendering', which is a lower contrast look with huge specular highlight balls, a slight glow, and very soft, dreamy bokeh. The lens becomes more contrasty at f2.8 but retains the pleasant bokeh, and is very sharp. This is one of my favourite lenses for portraits or anything with people in them. This is in no way a lomography lens. It is a high quality, well designed and engineered lens which produces beautiful images.

M9 - Thierry Mugler by Archiver, on Flickr

The focus shift itself is easy to manage. The shift distance at f1.5 is only about an inch, which is like nodding your head slightly in affirmation. Focus first, then lean forward slightly. That's all you need.


M9 - Bathing in the Sun by Archiver, on Flickr


M9 - Lin Fa Kung Lantern by Archiver, on Flickr
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Old 01-22-2020   #3
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A couple of thoughts:

I would not say that film is about "character" namely because the word has picked up a lot of negative connotations. I'r rather say film is about, well, depending on whom you ask the physical hands-on process, or the rendition, or its ability to hang onto highlights much better without looking like an over doctored HDR image.

The modern ZM Sonnar 50/1.5 is plenty sharp for film even wide open. Don't worry about it! I should add that the most crucial part with film shooting these days is not the (modern) lenses but the process of turning it into prints or scans for the web. I've seen some truly atrocious lab-scans and developments. Don't crimp on that area. The best lens in the world is not going to save your pictures if all you have is a 800x600 highly jpeg artifact riddled crap scan.

Focus shift is also largely a non issue -- especially on film. You're supposed to use the rangefinder to its strength, aka use it to quickly focus and compose with moving subjects - not for shoot static test charts.

I wonder if a M6 is a good learners camera. Perhaps get something cheaper but also more reliable without a light-meter? Perhaps an M2 or M4 of some persuasion if it has to be Leica?

Lastly I would stop worrying about all these other lenses and start shooting the Sonnar. Your questions will start answering themselves. Do you like the 50mm focal length? Do you perhaps want something smaller and lighter? Need the speed? Just go and shoot you'll figure it out as you go.
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Old 01-22-2020   #4
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I picked up one of these lenses about six months ago. I love it. Focus shift has not been an issue for me. I seem to have just as much chance of nailing the focus wide open with this lens as I do with my summicron 50. Which is to say, most of the time I get it, and if I don't it's as likely to be because my subject moved (I'm often photographing my kids) as anything else. In practice, I don't even think about the focus shift. But if critical focus is something you really want to control, I'm sure you can easily figure out how to manage it, as Archiver says. I love the rendering of the C-Sonnar, and the compact size is really great. It's plenty sharp wide open. I would definitely recommend it.
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Old 01-22-2020   #5
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The 1.5 Sonnar is an outstanding lens. Give it ten rolls of film and see if you agree. If you don't like it there are plenty of other 50mm lenses (including the Planar you mentioned and many others) that are easily substituted.
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Old 01-22-2020   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Archiver View Post
....... This is in no way a lomography lens. It is a high quality, well designed and engineered lens which produces beautiful images.......
- Ditto. -
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Old 01-22-2020   #7
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If you have all those concerns, then the Sonnar may not be a good candidate as an 'only lens' for you. You may want to consider the ZM Planar.
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Old 01-22-2020   #8
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Wow, I was not expecting so many responses this fast. Let's see if I can get to all of you guys.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Archiver View Post

If you're handing the lens to girlfriend or friends (do you really want to hand your new, expensive, M6 or M6 Titan to someone else???) then set it to f2.8 and be done with it. Let them wrangle with rangefinder focus and give you blurry pictures, focus shift is the least of your worries if you have to explain focus shift and rangefinder focusing to someone unfamiliar with it. Oh yeah, you'll probably have to meter for them, too.


This is one of my favourite lenses for portraits or anything with people in them. This is in no way a lomography lens. It is a high quality, well designed and engineered lens which produces beautiful images.

The focus shift itself is easy to manage. The shift distance at f1.5 is only about an inch, which is like nodding your head slightly in affirmation. Focus first, then lean forward slightly. That's all you need.
Haha, I'm generally very careful around my gear as I tend to sell it to pick up new gear for new experiences. But I don't want to be that guy who tells people they can't touch my shiny toys. Unless you're a landscape or astro shooter, photography should be a social experience.

Great shots by the way. The M9 has such a nice way with colors.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TenEleven View Post
A couple of thoughts:
...
Yeah, I probably didn't use the best word to describe it. I do like the idea of slowing down, and focusing on the process, improving it over time (by finding the style, film, etc. that I like). It's just that as a medium, film is now very popular for it's vintage look with washed out colors, and I do want a style a bit more true to life (I'll be very honest, I was just jealous of those beautifully preserved highlights).

I picked up the Contax G1 over christmas and really enjoy the experience, but it's about as automated as it gets. Why do you say the M6 is not a good learner camera? I'd assume this would make operation quicker without having to manually meter every change of scene.

And yeah. I enjoy doing the research and finding the right techniques to get the files digitzed. I think I'll end up using a high megapixel sensor to shoot the negatives, rather than using a scanner. The results seem very promising. I got some scans back from the lab and there are many jpg artifacts.
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Old 01-22-2020   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dfranklin View Post
I picked up one of these lenses about six months ago. I love it. Focus shift has not been an issue for me. I seem to have just as much chance of nailing the focus wide open with this lens as I do with my summicron 50. Which is to say, most of the time I get it, and if I don't it's as likely to be because my subject moved (I'm often photographing my kids) as anything else. In practice, I don't even think about the focus shift. But if critical focus is something you really want to control, I'm sure you can easily figure out how to manage it, as Archiver says. I love the rendering of the C-Sonnar, and the compact size is really great. It's plenty sharp wide open. I would definitely recommend it.
So you just forget about the focus drift entirely? Or have you just got instinctively gotten used to the operation and are nudging or focusing behind the eyes? I'm glad you like the lens, what made you decide to use it alongside the Summicron?

Quote:
Originally Posted by kxl View Post
If you have all those concerns, then the Sonnar may not be a good candidate as an 'only lens' for you. You may want to consider the ZM Planar.
I like the Planar too, it's probably the safer pick, but availability of ZM lenses is poor in my area (I always buy used).
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Old 01-22-2020   #10
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Originally Posted by der Koekje View Post
I picked up the Contax G1 over christmas and really enjoy the experience, but it's about as automated as it gets. Why do you say the M6 is not a good learner camera? I'd assume this would make operation quicker without having to manually meter every change of scene.
My primary concern would be speed also accuracy.

Firstly the M6 meter kind of gets you into that state of mind where you just follow exactly what the meter dictates without much thinking of yourself. I am not saying this as a put-down, I've fallen into this trap myself with the ZI.

The speed part is that the quickest part to meter a scene is not:
-look at M6 viewfinder
-depress shutter button halfway
-see which way the arrow points, or if you're lucky you get a dot
-take camera away from eye
-adjust lens/shutter speed

But to do as Winogrand did and sort of know by "muscle memory" whereabouts the light of a certain scene would read and change the settings immediately upon entering the scene/light.

This means that you are always ready to shoot and will not have to make adjustments. Even if your guess is not spot-on, you will eventually get good enough to be +/-a stop and that means you "got" the picture.

The accuracy part is that lenses flare, and the M6 meter is TTL but you can not (because it's a rangefinder) see exactly what the lens sees - so you will need to make educated guesses as to why the M6 is metering as it is and/or why it's showing certain values. (Contre jour would be such an example where you absolutely do not want to do as the camera says.)

Lastly the M2/4 are likely cheaper on the used market and there's something to be said about the simplicity of having a single-stand alone frame-line in the viewfinder VS frame-lines in pairs of two as with the M4 or M6.
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Old 01-22-2020   #11
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I bought one years ago, and sold it soon after. The plain fact is that is is not very sharp away from the center (which is VERY sharp), even stopped down. Its a good lens for wide aperture work where you want to take advantage of the unique bokeh that the Sonnar gives. As a general purpose lens, a Leica Summicron or Zeiss Planar will be a much better choice.
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Old 01-22-2020   #12
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I love mine. I don’t shoot 35mm film for optimum Sharpness. I have digital or 120 for that. I shoot it because I love the aesthetic and it offers something profoundly different than digital. It can be almost atmospheric in wide apertures, but stopping down the contrast increases dramatically and gives a perceived sharpness. . The Sonnar has always been plenty sharp for me (I mostly shoot people, family) and shoot it either 1.5/2 or 5.6 or above and haven’t noticed any focus shift issues. Honestly, my focus is generally going to be off more than the focus shift in shots where people are moving and I’m wide open. I think for the size of the lens, the speed of the lens, and the character you get especially combined with film...it’s a clear winner. I won’t be selling mine anytime soon.
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Old 01-22-2020   #13
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I recently bought one at a decent price and so far, I adore it. It has character in abundance, and like all contemporary Zeiss lenses is beautifully made and coated. Two test shots below at a local monastery, the first at f1.5, the second at f8. As Chris says, it's soft at the edges and if you plan to do things like landscapes or architecture, not really the ideal choice - a Summicron or Planar or equivalent. If however you mainly want people, street or isolating subjects, then it's perfect.



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Old 01-23-2020   #14
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It's sharp enough for me. If you got a good deal on the Sonnar, go for it. As people commented above, it's a solid lens.


With the Leica M-E





With the Zeiss-Ikon ZI


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Old 01-23-2020   #15
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Get the Sonnar if you have a good deal. Focus shift of 1" or so is not a big deal and can be easily dealt with. Have you looked at the new 50f1.2 Nokton? It may be the best 50 made right now without going into outer space for Leica pricing. If you are looking for "fast", it is one half stop faster then the Sonnar.

I have the Zeiss 25 and 35f2.8 and think they are some of the best lenses in their respective focal lengths. Would get one of the Zeiss 50's but have had the latest version of a 50 Summicron since early 1990's and hate duplicating focal lengths but I made an exception for the 50f1.2.

If you "google" 50f1.2 Nokton reviews, one will come up which was published in VIEWFINDER in Dec, 2018 by a past president of LHSA and he loved it.
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Old 01-23-2020   #16
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Originally Posted by der Koekje View Post
Haha, I'm generally very careful around my gear as I tend to sell it to pick up new gear for new experiences. But I don't want to be that guy who tells people they can't touch my shiny toys. Unless you're a landscape or astro shooter, photography should be a social experience.

Great shots by the way. The M9 has such a nice way with colors.

Yeah, I probably didn't use the best word to describe it. I do like the idea of slowing down, and focusing on the process, improving it over time (by finding the style, film, etc. that I like). It's just that as a medium, film is now very popular for it's vintage look with washed out colors, and I do want a style a bit more true to life (I'll be very honest, I was just jealous of those beautifully preserved highlights).
Well, we all have our own ways of valuing and dealing with objects and people. In the ten years I've had my M9 (which I love, by the way, it's my favourite camera) I think I've only let three or four people touch it. One is a photographer friend and RF nut. Another was a camera shop person who had never seen one before. Even if photography is a social activity, it doesn't have to involve all and sundry touching your gear. My family and friends tend to understand the value of my gear and how much I personally value it, so they don't touch, lol. I like to keep the company of people who respect other people's property.


By the way, the M9 is capable of some wonderful film-like results. Slightly underexposing to preserve highlights works well, because M9 raws can be pushed quite hard.
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Old 01-23-2020   #17
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Originally Posted by Chriscrawfordphoto View Post
Its a good lens for wide aperture work where you want to take advantage of the unique bokeh that the Sonnar gives. As a general purpose lens, a Leica Summicron or Zeiss Planar will be a much better choice.
I agree. For awhile I used the 1,5/50 as a permanent 50 on my M2. Aspects of the lens that drew my attention were its relatively diminutive size and weight and its speed. In the end the lens seemed like a jumble of old-style-rendering with new-style-contrast. To my eye, untrained though it be, the contrast makes the old-style-rendering too jumpy.
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Old 01-23-2020   #18
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A lens for a lifetime. Wonderful character also at f5,6. Compact. Well made. You may never notice focus shift, especially on film. Waste a roll and do test shots with your own lens. The Zeiss colours are lovely too.

Great advice from TenEleven about the M6 meter. It is scarily good. You could read a lot of good books on exposure and only very occasionally do better than just balancing those little red triangles.
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Old 01-23-2020   #19
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I loved the rendering of my sonnar c 50 1.5 and I had no major issue with the focus shift. At the time it was my only 50, only reason I sold it: I wasn't happy with 1/3 click f-stop. Might be silly but it was kind of irritating for me.
FYI I am only shooting black and white film on meterless M cameras.
I would say, go for it.
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Old 01-23-2020   #20
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I really like mine. The 1/3 stops grates a bit if you have 1/2 stop muscle memory like on my other 50s.

Sharpness fine for me on film or digital and film. It has a (modern) look I appreciate.

If you have either the 45 Planar (highly regarded,v sharp) or 35 Biogon ( said to be the “worst G lens” but its sill stellar) or 28 Biogon on you G system, the ZM Sonnar for an M would be a nice point of contrast.
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Old 01-23-2020   #21
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If you are not comfy with one 50 1.5, get another instead. VM instead of ZM.
It has no focus shift anywhere and it is sharp and pleasing. And both are same factory made.
As for giving kit to else, I would be more concerned with RF focusing and cluttered frame lines. I often give camera to strangers who asked about camera. Most are completely incapable to handle it.
Chances you will not keep 50 as the only lens are 50/50
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Old 01-23-2020   #22
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Well. I bit and bought an M6 special edition. I’ll probably bite on the Sonnar too. The only way to truly know if the lens is for me is to try it. If I don’t, well, there’s always Planar.

Thanks for the Voigtlander recommendations but I’m gonna be very vain and irrational here. I don’t like the way VM lenses look. I really love the Leica lens styling, and the blue ZM dot and engraving matches my camera perfectly.

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I really like mine. The 1/3 stops grates a bit if you have 1/2 stop muscle memory like on my other 50s.

Sharpness fine for me on film or digital and film. It has a (modern) look I appreciate.

If you have either the 45 Planar (highly regarded,v sharp) or 35 Biogon ( said to be the “worst G lens” but its sill stellar) or 28 Biogon on you G system, the ZM Sonnar for an M would be a nice point of contrast.

I have the Biogon 28mm. I’d love to try the 45mm if I get the chance.
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Old 01-23-2020   #23
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Originally Posted by der Koekje View Post
Well. I bit and bought an M6 special edition. I’ll probably bite on the Sonnar too. The only way to truly know if the lens is for me is to try it. If I don’t, well, there’s always Planar.

Thanks for the Voigtlander recommendations but I’m gonna be very vain and irrational here. I don’t like the way VM lenses look. I really love the Leica lens styling, and the blue ZM dot and engraving matches my camera perfectly.

I have the Biogon 28mm. I’d love to try the 45mm if I get the chance.
It's always good to have a backup Planar, because Sonnar or later things are bound to go wrong.
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Old 01-23-2020   #24
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It's always good to have a backup Planar, because Sonnar or later things are bound to go wrong. k
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Old 01-23-2020   #25
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Lenses come and go. You know what they say, here today, Distagon tomorrow.
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Old 01-23-2020   #26
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And sometime you just have to let Biogons be Biogons ��
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Old 01-23-2020   #27
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If you decide to abandon photography all together, then your lenses will be Hologon.
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Old 01-23-2020   #28
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Of course like many here, you could get a bad attack of GAusS and acquire all the lenses.
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Old 01-23-2020   #29
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Of course like many here, you could get a bad attack of GAusS and acquire all the lenses.


Pull out your other credit card, buy twice the gear.
Double GAusS.


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Old 01-23-2020   #30
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Of course like many here, you could get a bad attack of GAusS and acquire all the lenses.
I wouldn't focus too much on the optics of the situation, lens ownership can bring up all kinds of perspectives that can get really distorted. I'd much rather be a lOtus floating on the water than skopar out every new lens under the sun.

@der Koekje - congratulations on your new camera! May it last long and give you much pleasure. Years ago, I had a mint condition secondhand silver chrome MP in my hands, but for some reason, it didn't feel right, and I wasn't shooting much film then, so I passed. A year or two later, I got a M9 and M7, and now I wish I'd bought that MP. Oh well.

I'm sure you'll enjoy the Sonnar as well. Just feed the camera decent film and you'll be fine.
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Old 01-24-2020   #31
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As for the M6, why isn't it a good "starter"? Essentially an M4 with a meter. What's so bad with that?
An M4 could be a better starter because of its more accurately sized 50mm frameline. The badly undersized M6 frameline could be frustrating for a person trying to get used to a rangefinder camera.
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Old 01-24-2020   #32
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And sometime you just have to let Biogons be Biogons ��
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Old 01-24-2020   #33
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I took the lens on a trip to California as the "resident 50" on my M2. It's nice and light and sharp and the filters are relatively normal (46mm), which I could use with the Super-Elmar 3,4/21 and 2,8/90 Elmarit-M.
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Old 01-24-2020   #34
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Originally Posted by dourbalistar View Post
It's always good to have a backup Planar, because Sonnar or later things are bound to go wrong.
Thatís probably a good idea, but Iím bad at anticipating my needs. I guess you could say Iím not a good Planar.

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Originally Posted by f.hayek View Post
Puns aside, a Sonnar wouldn't be a first choice when learning on a rangefinder. It is unique and quirky; Huss Hardan on a different thread was bemoaning the corner softness on his Nikkor 5cm/1.4 at distance. The design focus shifts significantly and with at least the Nikon, its ideal is subjects at close distance.

As for the M6, why isn't it a good "starter"? Essentially an M4 with a meter. What's so bad with that? Take the battery out if you want to learn exposure without help. It'll work just fine and is at least a decade or three newer.
Exactly. The frame lines donít seem that bad to me, especially since Iím not juggling lenses right now.

I do sentiment the focus shift worries. Perhaps I should just shoot a test chart at an angle at F1.5 and F2.8 and see how much I have to lean in at which aperture. Luckily my local developer handles scans within a day.

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Originally Posted by LCSmith View Post

I took the lens on a trip to California as the "resident 50" on my M2. It's nice and light and sharp and the filters are relatively normal (46mm), which I could use with the Super-Elmar 3,4/21 and 2,8/90 Elmarit-M.
Nice shots! Out of curiosity? What filters are you referring to? I come from digital, the only filter Iíve needed is maybe an ND filter (and even that mostly for video). I know B&W can use colored filters, but are UV filters still very relevant for film?
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Old 01-24-2020   #35
der Koekje
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By the way, I do hear the sentiment from you guys and I would like to pair the Sonnar with another lens sooner rather than later, but I’m not sure which one to go for. I really like what I’m seeing from the Distagon 35mm F1.4 but it’s quite expensive. And kind of heavy (though still pretty small compared to my usual lenses). The TTArtisan 35mm F1.4 seems nice too, but out of two lenses I should really have one that’s renowned for sharpness. I wonder if the TTartisan delivers on that front.
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Old 01-24-2020   #36
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Renouned for sharpness? 35f2.8 C Biogon!!
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Old 01-24-2020   #37
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I don’t place sharpness as the highest priority in a lens. I tend to place the highest priority in lens compactness for the simple reason that I tend to carry the camera more often, so keep that in mind with my statements.

If you want a Leica and want to spend the money, just grab a summicron or Lux and be done with it.

If you have a lower budget and you value size, speed, and DON’T care about some barrel distortion (ie, you mostly shoot people) it really is hard to beat the Nokton 35 1.4. I have the V1 but the V2 apparently corrects any focus shift. If you want sharper and slightly slower, the CV Ultron f2 might be a reasonable option. If you place sharpness above all things, maybe look into the Zeiss 35 2.8 which I’ve never used, but gets praised all over the place. I wouldn’t personally ever go for a Distagon or the CV 35 1.2 because they are so big I know I would never take them with me, but that’s just me.

The final option would be to get on the train with the 8 element Summicron replica which you can find on the forum here and looks to produce some fantastic images. I think they are gonna be around $500, which is a steal if it matches the performance of the original 8 element Cron. I’m quite excited to get mine.
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Old 01-24-2020   #38
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If you fancy the 35 C Biogon is only about sharpness, you are woefully mistaken.
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Old 01-24-2020   #39
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Check out the reviews of the M-mount 7Artisans 35/2. $288 and lovely image quality!
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Old 01-24-2020   #40
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ktmrider View Post
Renouned for sharpness? 35f2.8 C Biogon!!
Examples I have seen from the 35 f 2.8 Biogon were very sharp, and notably better wide open than the f2 Biogon stopped to f 2.8 I've considered getting one but find them harder to come by used than the Biogon f2 lens.
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