A fine and useful lens for M mount rangefinder cameras. The Carl Zeiss 50mm f2.0 Planar ZM lens


It all started out so innocently...

I'm far past my quota of owning various 50mm lenses. I have variations for L mount cameras, including: two different Zeiss versions. I already have a Voightlander APO 50mm for the M. I even have a 50mm lens from Fuji for the GFX camera. Fifties everywhere. But the best laid inventory control plans of gods and men ofttimes go awry. 

Just as an aside, I love the M series lenses that are made to fit on the Leica M cameras. They are smaller and lighter than the lenses made for DSLRs or mirrorless cameras. They are completely manual and well marked so they are pretty much perfect to use at their hyper focus distance settings for very quick street shots and, with adapters, you can put them on just about any great camera. I've had various M mount lenses on my SL cameras and my Fuji GFX camera by using high quality adapters. It's a great way to make a big, hulking "work" camera into something a bit smaller and stealthier. The camera stays the same size (obviously) but the overall package shrinks. In my studio one of M lenses can serve at least three different cameras systems without breaking a sweat.

Anyway. I was informed by house management (B.) that we're getting a new hardwood floor installed in the living room. I acted shocked as though this was the first time I was hearing this information. Seeing right through my attempted subterfuge the house management handed me an 8.5 by 11 inch piece of paper with the agenda for the deconstruction of the existing wood floor and the installation of the new wood floor. I was floored.

I have, listed on the paper,  two jobs, or assignments. Work which I don't remember bidding on or negotiating payment for. I was briskly informed that my "payment" would consist of "getting to enjoy the new floor for years to come." My assignments were alleged to be "simple." 

The agenda strongly suggested that I be on site one day next week to receive the materials for the project. An additional line item even more strongly suggested that it would be strongly appreciated if I cleaned out all the crap from the floor space of my studio/office and then maybe spent a day or so clearing out all of the furniture, bookshelves, hutches, etc. from the living room, the target of the upcoming renovation, and carrying said objects to my office for "short term" storage. I read the fine print at the bottom of the agenda and discovered that we were expecting one full week of demolition of the old floor, followed by another week of the installation, followed by a replacing of the baseboards and trim, followed by painting of those materials. 

Given my poor performances on previous projects requiring planning, hand skills, dexterity and perseverance (or the necessary follow through) I was summarily excused from doing any of the actual construction work. 

I looked around the studio and discovered that I had a small mountain of gimbals for video work that I had not touched since 2020. Also several ungainly and obese video tripods which initially cost a fortune but which were quickly superseded by the aforementioned gimbals. Drat! Video production can be quite the money pit. Especially if one buys the gear and then, after a few miserable projects, decides that one doesn't ever want to do video ever, EVER again. Add in a couple of photography tripods from the forest of tripods tucked under one big shelf and you have, basically, an SUV's worth of stuff to either take to the dump or otherwise dispose of in a more humane way. And with dispatch. 

I called my favorite equipment retail expert and he let me know that they had no interest in offering to take the equipment in trade for fun and juicy new stuff (the purchase of which kinda defeats the overriding purpose- more space) and that the resale value of now ancient gimbals is plummeting towards zero. I asked if anyone needed equipment donations. He does work with several underserved public schools which could absolutely use the gear. I dreaded having to go from school to school making explanations and wasting time so I was thrilled when my expert offered to accept the gear and donate it for me. Problem solved. Floor space revived. Much needed inventory shrinkage accomplished!!! Yay for me. 

I loaded all the stuff in my vehicle and headed north to the photo store. Noel greeted me warmly and looked over the stuff that took four trips from car-to-counter to deliver. He promised he'd get it into the hands of people who could do something good with it. Now I have a place to stick the sectional couch, multiple big bookcases, an assortment of chairs and .......... so much more.

The house management just delivered architectural drawings to me showing how the furniture should be distributed in my space. I will comply.

But I made one critical mistake. On the way out of the camera store I paused for just a few seconds too long in front of a tall but slender glass case. It's the case in which the store displays their used Leica, Contax and Hasselblad cameras, lenses and accessories. And there they were. Lovely, pristine Carl Zeiss lenses for my M series Leicas. I took off my glasses so I couldn't see all the toys clearly. But it didn't help. I put the glasses back on and, in an instant, spied the one lens in the Carl Zeiss ZM system that I thought I wanted and didn't have. 

It was a demure, black, 50mm f2.0 lens, about the size of an old style enlarging lens, sitting quietly, patiently and begging me to be... more interested. I flagged down my contact in the store and asked him to come and unlock the case so I could take a closer look. Maybe I'd find some deal-breaking flaw that would keep me from having to ask for a raise in my allowance. Haze? Scratches on the glass? A crunchy focusing ring?

But no. A close inspection made it clear that the lens was in great shape. The price was less than half of the new price. The lens came with the lens hood that Zeiss charges over one hundred dollars for, as a separate item. Not included in the box with the lens. And then, the tipping point, the lens had a lovely Leica professional filter on the front. How could I justify not adopting the lens and giving it a good, welcoming "forever" home? 

The way I rationalized it was by the trade off of volume. I left with a hatchback full of unwanted gear and came home with something that fit daintily in the cupholder in the center console of my car. It was destined to be. 

The ZM 50 f2.0 is basically Carl Zeiss's version of the 50mm Summicron but retails for less than half the Leica's new price. The Zeiss lenses, as good as they are, don't have the panache and (nod to MJ) the Veblen appeal of the Leica lenses and so they don't hold their resale value as well. I have convinced myself that all of this impulse buying is fine since the cost of the used lens is but a fraction the cost of the new floor.  I pretend to have the fiscal high ground. 

Yes. I tested the new lens. It's almost as good at the Voigtlander lens I already have. But it looks so cool in the shoulder bag next to the matching 28mm and 35mm ZM lenses. I'll stick the Voigtlander on one of the SL2 cameras and pretend it's just for the big cameras. Then all the lenses in the bag will look like a matched set. I might even take them out and shoot with them for a while. Novel, Yes? 

We're in the middle of the floor project and tax season. Blogging may be choppy for the next few weeks but I'll try my best...


Eric Rose said...

You could go for a Zeiss family picnic. When does that crazy gathering happen in the park? Something to do with a sad donkey I believe. Your brace of Zeiss lenses and M bodies slung around your neck and off the shoulder will evoke memories of war photographers from a bygone era. Maybe my old buddy Dave Burnett will join you.


Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Hey Eric, I think you're talking about Eeyore's Birthday Party. End of April. April 27th, in fact. I think I'll follow the pattern I set many years ago and pick one lens and one camera and a good, sturdy pair of shoes. Not good to look to militaristic in Austin.... Nobody will share their pot with you... Send Burnett. We'll take care of him.

Gary said...

I get it, I really do. And so long as you can deduct the cost as a business expense, go for it. I'm sure you will use and enjoy these babies. To me and probably other average Joes, however, the lenses you mention may be Veblen goods but are better described as fetish objects.

Robert Roaldi said...

"I was floored." !!!

That one hurt.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Gary, It's so egregious that I've given up deducting or depreciating them. I remember though that British photographer David Bailey collected hundreds of cameras and many hundreds of lenses. By comparison I am extremely..... frugal.

mikepeters said...

I had one of those 50mm f2.0 ZM lenses and it was superb. I regret selling it. Enjoy it, that lens is utterly transparent, when you look at the images they are like looking at life itself. Few lenses are like that, most are either more or less.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Bailey has a particularly big collection. On the hand, Terence Donovan had an insanely big collection with lots of really exotic camera gear. There was a big auction of his stuff at somewhere like Christy's or Sotheby's.

Biro said...

It’s been cold and stormy in the Northeast lately, Kirk. Which is why most of my time is being spent cleaning out 30 years of paperwork generated by myself, my wife, our four parents and my late brother in law. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t also been furiously filling out the kit for my M240.

So far, I’ve three dedicated lenses for the M240 - all gently used Voigtlanders, which fit into my budget nicely: The APO 50mm f/2.0, the diminutive and old-school VM 35mm f/1.4 and (just this week) the Ultron 28mm f/2.0.

My next target is the Voigtlander 75mm f/1.9. But I suspect I’ll wind up adding additional 50mm and 35mm lenses down the road. The 50mm APO is a bit large and heavy on the M240, despite its optical excellence. And I’m wrestling with the idea of the 35mm APO but I could go with the Ultron here as well. I can’t seem to find any used Zeiss glass at 50 percent of MSRP.

Meanwhile, after the papers are gone, it’s onto boxes and boxes of stuff that hasn’t been looked at for years - and selling off more rarely used camera gear. It’s painful but I just won’t have the room going forward. My Leica and Nikon Z kits will be more than enough… I hope.

Anonymous said...

Obie Wan

You were doomed before you even entered your camera store. The Force is strong with that one! ;-)

Great find, great lens. I’m looking forward to seeing images from your up coming photo walk.

PS. You are not the only one with an incurable attraction to 50mm lenses. ;-)


Kodachromeguy said...

Repair the house and buy a lens? Hmmm... Some workers are removing an old retaining wall made of rotting RR ties. Should I buy a 25mm ZM lens? I've been considering it for some time.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Kodachromeguy, YES!!! Immediately!

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Adam, That is correct. Made in Japan. By Cosina.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Biro, I spent too much of 2018 and 2019 cleaning out my parents' house. God that was an awful use of time. 45 years in the same rambling house. A depression era couple who NEVER threw stuff away... Great people but they could even see the value in a piece of extra string...

Eric Rose said...

When I had to clean out my parents house I found closets filled floor to ceiling with paper and plastic bags. I filled 5 dumpsters with all the stuff that no one had any use for. So sad.

On another note is your new lens similar in design to the old pre AI Nikkor 50mm f2? I have one of those and always loved using it. I'm not really a lens formula geek but I know what I like. The one formula I really like is the Tessar. It will never win any lens geek awards but I love how it renders. Especially portraits.


Eric Rose said...

Curiosity got the better of me. They are essentially identical. Coatings and quality of glass not withstanding.


Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

A double gauss design with six elements. The basic design is used by tons of different lens brands. Image quality, as usual, depends on the quality of the glass, the precision of the manufacturing, the efficiency of the coatings, etc. A 50mm M Summicron is also a double gauss design at more than twice the price.