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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Zeiss ZF Outperforms Leica R

Following up on the "Careful What You Wish For" post below, this admittedly rather messy graphic is my attempt to superimpose the MTF charts of the new Zeiss ZF 35/2 (black) and that of the Leica R 35/2 (red), which has long been one of my favorite lenses. As usual, dotted lines are tangential, and solid, sagittal. I've erased the top pair of lines from the Leica chart, since it represents 5 cycles/mm and Zeiss tests only 10, 20, and 40. The sets that remain are equivalent.

This is something of a fool's errand, since measurements made in different labs with different equipment can't be taken to be perfectly accurate. Still, what the comparison indicates without too much doubt is that past an image height of about 10mm (the central 20mm of the image circle, that is), the new Zeiss lens handily outperforms its more than 30-year-old Leica rival.

The kicker is that the charts represent the Leica lens at ƒ/5.6 and the Zeiss at ƒ/4! An impressive result for the Zeiss lens. We can expect that the areas of the R lens's advantage will be less with the ZF lens at ƒ/5.6, but that the ZF lens's advantage will increase even further.

In fact, as is also the case with the ZF 85mm ƒ/1.4 and the Leica Summilux-R 80mm ƒ/1.4, a comparison of the MTF charts indicates that this new Zeiss ZF lens outperforms its Leica counterpart. Not bad, considering how good both Leica lenses are. (Note that this is not a lens test; I'm just looking at the published charts.)



Blogger ADias said...

Are you surprised that a 30-year-old design (even if by Leitz) is surpassed by a new lens design (and by Zeiss no less)?

1:17 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

A few of these lenses and an FM3A would make a nice retro combo (AI body for AI lenses, right?), although the VF in something like an F5 has got to be better.

The point of my post however is this: have there been any definitive conclusions whether or not these lenses are reissues of Contax glass or are they really updated (NEW!) designs? Your comments about their performance vs. their "more than 30-year-old Leica rival"(s) makes it sound like the latter rather than the former.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

As I understand it, at least the 85 and 35 are new designs. I'm not sure about the others.


2:39 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

I think the take home point here is not so much that a 30-year-old design has been surpassed, but rather that the art-and-science of lens design is still improving. What's more, this is still true even compared to lenses with stellar reputations. There are no sacred cows; the pace of progress marches forward for everyone.

As much as we like to talk about how lenses are a much more mature technology than bodies/cameras (and certainly that's true in the realm of digital), it's still very gratifying to me to see that lens technology is still being pushed forward.

Leica lenses are considered by many the end-all and be-all of lens design, but the modern ASPH designs are reputed to be yet again a step above anything else they've put out before.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Nemo said...

I don't see the Zeiss outperforms the Leica. At the center of the image the Leica is better. At the borders the Zeiss is better.
...and the Leica is an old design.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Again: the chart for the Leica lens is at f/5.6, the chart for the Zeiss at f/4. The advantage shown by the Leica lens inside 10mm image height would most likely be offset if the lenses were tested at the same aperture. (I thought I said that already, but....)


6:19 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

I would rather like to read it the other way around: provided the Zeiss is indeed a new design, isn't it remarkable how good Leica could design and make lenses 30 years ago?! Just imagine how much computers and manufacturing improved in that time!

Still, it's nice to see that some people still care about quality and the ways of the olden days. I must say, while my Minolta 5D with the 17-35 and 28-75 zooms initially were great, my current setup -- K10D and 21, 40, 70 pancake primes -- are pulling my much deeper into photography and into interacting with the subjects... For me it's much more fun this way.


4:06 AM  
Blogger Player said...

Also there's the subjective lens qualities that don't show up in a chart, like bokeh, etc.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"I would rather like to read it the other way around: provided the Zeiss is indeed a new design, isn't it remarkable how good Leica could design and make lenses 30 years ago?! Just imagine how much computers and manufacturing improved in that time!"

It's not just Leica that could make great lenses thirty years ago. The old M42 screwmount Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar is still a spectacular lens, and the Nikkor 105/2.5, which was still in the Nikon catalog until very recently (is it finally gone? That could be worth a post right there), dates from the early 1960s.

There are really two separate issues determining lens quality: what's technically feasible, and what the manufacturers have the will to make and the public, the will to buy. Great strides have been made in lens design in 30 years, but a lot of the improvement in optical glass has been employed in making lenses with fewer elements and that have other practical advantages, and a lot of the application of computer design has been put to complex zooms with many elements and moving groups. Also, the outliers have been improved--extreme wide angle lenses are much better now than they were then, and improvements in glasses have made similar improvements possible in long telephotos. But the main determinant of quality in a normal or near-normal lens has long been a) how good do you want to make it and b) how much can you charge for it.


7:15 AM  
Blogger Andrey said...

Now is good time for Leica to ask Cosina to make some affordable versions od M lenses ... for Zeiss Ikonta ;)

And F mount is open for the intervention also...

Two new lines: MZ and RF... wow! :)

9:20 AM  

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