Welcome to a new year and a fresh new Carl Zeiss review! I was lucky enough to have my hands on the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1.4/35 lens for the entire month of December (thank you Ben and Nicole @ Zeiss). I kept it mounted to my Leica M-A for the entire test and shot quite a variety of subjects (including the infamous Mr. Patience), lighting and stops to give a fairly rounded test of this lens - then a handful of compares.

The HAPPY Dragon :)

For much of this test, I am comparing it to the Carl Zeiss C Biogon 2.8/35, which I prefer and will go into why in a bit.

So let's get into this.

The Nerdy on the Carl Zeiss 35mm

Let's get the nerdy specs out of the way. Usually don't harp on these kinds of stats, but with such a large lens, I feel it's important this time. The obvious big areas here are length and weight.  The Carl Zeiss Distagon is over 35mm longer and weighs 181 g more. Minimum focus and angular field of view are nearly identical, though the Biogon can be stopped down to F/22 while the Distagon has a minimum of f/16.

Carl Zeiss 1.4/35

  • Length: 35mm
  • Aperture: f/1.4-f/16
  • Minimum Focus: 0.7 m
  • Elements / Groups: 10/7
  • Angular Field: 62.15°
  • Length: 87.3 mm
  • Weight: 381 g
  • Cost: ~$1650 US

Carl Zeiss 2.8/35

  • Length: 35mm
  • Aperture: f/2.8-f/22
  • Minimum Focus: 0.7 m
  • Elements / Groups: 7/5
  • Angular Field: 62°
  • Length: 52 mm
  • Weight: 200 g
  • Cost: ~$860 US

I do notice the length and weight of this lens. It doesn't feel bad by any means, but it does make the camera feel "front heavy" when shooting - especially when switching back and forth with the Biogon / Distagon.  It isn't hard to adjust though as the body of the M-A (578 g) is still heavier by nearly 200 g; meaning the weight of the setup is still to the back.

In the next section, we'll look at what these dimensions mean sitting on a body.

Side by Sides

Here are a couple quick compares I shot with the Carl Zeiss Sonnar on the M-A taken of the Distagon T* 1.4/35 and the C Biogon 2.8/35 (on the M2). Again, you really get an idea on just how large the lens is.

Carl Zeiss 35mm
Carl Zeiss 35mm
Distagon (left) next to Biogon (right on M-A)

Side by Side Results

Biogon @ f/2.8
Biogon @ f/2.8
Distagon @ f/2.8
Distagon @ f/2.8

Size Through the Finder

Probably my most asked question during this review was, "How much real estate does it take up in the finder?" Well, easier to show, so here's a compare of the Carl Zeiss line of 35's: 1.4/35 (first 2), 2.8/35 and the 2/35 (image of this one sent to me from Martin). You can see that the f/2.8 takes up next to nothing, the f/2 just a bit more and the f/1.4, well, a bit!

Distagon 1.4/35
Distagon 1.4/35
Distagon 1.4/35
Distagon 1.4/35
C Biogon 2.8/35
C Biogon 2.8/35
2/35 Biogon view Compliment of Martin
2/35 Biogon view Compliment of Martin

The Build

Like just about every other review of a Carl Zeiss lens I give, the build is outstanding. Solid and heavy with a lot of care taken to ensure a smooth focus barrel. Solid, smooth and easy. I swear, Zeiss just doesn't build a bad lens. I can't find anything to nit-pick.

Pure Mechanical Art
Pure Mechanical Art

The Use

I really enjoyed shooting this over the past month but have to say that each time I pulled it from the bag, I noticed the length. First off, it didn't slip as easily in and out of my Ona Leather Bowery bag when mounted to the body. A slightly more snug fit. Also, just looking at it looked big. Could be me, as I am no longer a fan of lenses with bulk, but it really feels big on a rangefinder. With the Carl Zeiss Biogon, I walk around all day holding the body.  With the Carl Zeiss Distagon, I noticed I walked around all day holding the lens instead. You can take what you will from that.

Leica M-A + Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1.4/35 + Portra 400
Leica M-A + Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1.4/35 + Portra 400

Looking through the viewfinder, you can't help but see the lens.  As you can see above, it takes up a good 20% (give or take) of your vision. Honestly, that annoyed me a bit while framing shots. And notice, that's without a lens hood.  It takes up quite a bit more than the Leica Summilux 1.4/50 with the hood extended - and close to the amount taken by the Voigtlander f/1.1 Nokton and  a little less than the Leica f/1 Noctilux (from memory, so I may be off). But you get the point, it's noticeable.

The Speed

I'd say the number one selling point on this lens is the speed.  f/1.4 is freaking fast for a 35mm.  For street guys, I think this would be a dream.  I know a good number of them like the use of 35mm on the street and in mixed light of a city, the super-fast speed would really come in handy. Shady alley's, dusk/dawn of the city glow and so on.  For a landscape shooter, I really don't know how often wide-open would be utilized. Maybe one of you landscapers can tell me your thoughts on that.

As you can see below, wide open does vignette a bit:

Wiscasset, Maine with Johnny Patience
Wiscasset, Maine with Johnny Patience

In all honesty, it's just too damned fast for me. (Never thought I would form those words!) Sure, I love the results I got with it, but for 35mm, I tend to shoot at f/2.8-f/6 anyhow.  I don't need the depth as much when shooting that wide. But being able to play at f/1.4 quite a bit was really fun. I found myself playing with shots in a different way to just take advantage of the wide-open glass.  As you can see, it really adds a creative element to the images. But for this style of wide-open depth shots, I like the 50mm Sonnar much more.

The Results

We can now let these images do their own talking.  All shot on the Leica M-A with Kodak Portra 400 and processed by the wizards at Richard Photo Lab.

Wiscasset, Maine
Wiscasset, Maine
Wiscasset, Maine
Wiscasset, Maine
Wiscasset, Maine
Wiscasset, Maine
Wiscasset, Maine with Johnny Patience
Wiscasset, Maine
Wiscasset, Maine - featuring the one and only Johnny Patience
Wiscasset, Maine - into the sun
Wiscasset, Maine
Wiscasset, Maine
Ashley & Chief Brody - wide open
Ashley - wide open
Mad Max - wide open

Conclusions

Well, this is an outstanding lens and a Zeiss marvel, but I honestly would not own it. The reasons are:

  1. Size / weight
  2. Viewfinder Obstruction
  3. Simply too fast
  4. 2x the price of the Biogon

I know #3 seems odd, but I feel like I am buying a Porsche to drive around a school zone. It's a waste of power for me.  But I know there are others that would kill for this kind of speed in a 35, so I am by no mean saying the speed here is bad. To put it British, it's brilliant. But just not for me. The C Biogon 2.8/35 is the perfect size, weight and speed for my style.