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Performance of Zeiss Sonnar ZM 50 1.5 Wide Open?


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Andre Noble , Jul 19, 2009; 04:01 p.m.

I actually briefly owned the 50 Nokton 1.5 but returned it to b&h because of annoying mechanical play in the barrel - I returned it before testing it optically as I new I would not keep a lens with mechanical play - even of it turned out to be sharp. If the Leica 1.4 summilux aspheric was sanely priced, it would be tops on my list. I have never spent $3,000 on any lens.

Nee Sung , Jul 19, 2009; 10:51 p.m.

The Sonnar is supposed to be soft wide open. The lens was revived for its soft, classical look at F1.5 which could no longer be found in modern lenses. So it's really just for people who specifically want that soft, classical look at F1.5. If you want a sharp lens at F1.5/1.4 you really shouldn't buy it.
All the above were buried somewhere in photonet. I bought the lens after reading those threads and I use it only for that purpose. That must be about 2 years ago. My copy is optimised for F2.8, I think.

Michael DiMarzio , Jul 20, 2009; 01:47 a.m.

I never shot a modern Z 1.5, but the Sonnar I use on a IIIa was really nice for portraits. For me, I don't want or need a sharp to the corner 50 for portraits, are you sure about your needs in this aspect?

My fungus scarred 50/1,5 has always delivered just stinking sweet photos. I never looked at a corner of any portrait, only the face of the subject.

As in anotehr thread, absolute resolution is not relevant. So if my definition of a word is not the same as yours I'm ok with that.

Andre Noble , Jul 20, 2009; 12:23 p.m.

For me, soft lenses and the 35mm format are not a winning combination, no matter the application. In fact, the opposite is true for me. The ability to resolve fine detail in a 35mm lens is mandatory. You can always soften down any lens you deem to sharp for portraiture - whether through digital manipulation or via Zeiss Softar filter, or a black (or white) fishnet, and so on.

If I want a soft lens I'll get a Quantaray or Phoenix lens or lens baby and save a few thousand dolars.

Now, we can talk about soft portrait lenses in the 4x5 format most definitely.

Paul A. - Los Angeles, CA. , Jul 21, 2009; 09:22 p.m.

" I have never spent $3,000 on any lens." Lucky you. Try buying the Noctilux; OUCH!!

Jeff Drew , Jul 21, 2009; 11:36 p.m.

I have the ZM 50mm f/1.5 and no gripes. It is designed for portraiture, people & places and has excellent bokeh and it has a near permanent mounting on my R3a. I like it!
Previously had the Nokton 50mm f/1.5 aspheric and had no particular problems or complaints, but I never appreciated it . . . but it is a good all-around 50mm lens. When I sold it and moved into Contax G series, the 45mm was razor sharp and contrasty. Several of my rf lenses went to good homes at that point. The Zeiss Sonnar has that slightly different look, and the Planar is my journalist's sharp edge. Many of the above are excellent lenses, but you know how it is when you find one that fits your interests better than another.

Marek Fogiel , Jul 22, 2009; 09:06 a.m.

I think your obsession with sharpness wide open can lead into trouble... as has been said above, the sharpest 1.4 lens around is the current Summilux 50, however, now you can buy the new Nokton 50/1.1, and at 1.4 it is sharp enough for less than half the price. If you have never tried the C Sonnar 50 though, I would first take a look at it, as you will never find another 50mm portrait lens like that. The thing about C Sonnar that people unfamiliar with this lens do not realize, is that this lens draws at f 2.8-4 like a mixture of the sharpest f2.0 lens around and an old Canon 50/1.2... I will try to illustrate the point.
Here are some wide open shots of C Sonnar:
ou will see, that it is not unsharp, but certainly it is not anything clinical, on the other hand the bokeh in the close shots looks like a bokeh of an f 0.75 lens...
Now, some shots around f 2.8-3.2, which is what this lens has been designed for in my opinion:
and a couple of colour ones
At f5.6 and higher, this lens becomes like a normal sharp high quality lens of today:
And finally, you can see a couple of shots for comparison, made with the Canon 50/1.2 RF
This one wide open
this one at f2.8

As you can see, in the half body portrait, the bokeh is like that of the C Sonnar at f2.8, but the sharpness is not there to be found, and the lack of sharpness becomes even more apparent at f2.8 - I wish I could have taken that one with the C Sonnar...
Last word - if you shoot B&W film, then the choice of the right film and developer can make a huge difference in the final sharpness impression : here are two shots made with the same lens:
this one on Agfa Scala, not an unsharp, but rather old style film:
and this one on Delta 400:
The pyro developers excel in hugh acutance images...

Frederick Muller , Jul 22, 2009; 09:50 p.m.

Marek, your photos are excellent. The C Sonnar shots at f2.8 were spectacular, and illustrated your point beautifully.

Ralph Jensen , Jul 23, 2009; 10:49 a.m.

If you're looking for a 50mm, I'd consider the 1.5 Nokton if sharpness wide open is important. Although he didn't test the Sonnar, Sean Reid did compare the Nokton to the Summilux wide open, and at least in the center the Nokton compares very favorably for sharpness.

Wide open center crops are just before halfway down the review:


Frank Horn , Jul 24, 2009; 03:08 p.m.

Excellent posts here! My 50mm Elmar-M is not mentioned, but then, it is not really in the category of fast lenses. The old saying, "You get what you pay for," seems to apply.

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