I’ve gotten a lot of direct messages and questions regarding which lens I use when out on the street. So I decided to put together some words about the lens I shoot with and how I chose it.
For starters, I’ve always been compelled by the 35mm focal length. I appreciate composition from this point of view. I often try to include stories or feelings in my images. Because of this, I like to have more information that can be produced when a background included. I want to bring the viewer into the scene, into the atmosphere with me. I want you to feel what I felt when I pulled the shutter. It’s important to me. It also isn’t just about you. I want to be able to feel that moment again myself. Photography is the craft, art, and ability of freezing time. For that fraction of a second, I can freeze a moment onto a layer of emulsion, and its mine. How I froze it, is my signature. What did I do? Where was I standing? What exactly was included in the frame? Was there movement? Is there a message? Was it sharp? I like my images to be sharp. I like to have the human eye fixate on the acutance of an image. The highest advantage of site is acutance. Capturing a stunningly sharp image is precious because once frozen and reproduced, people can see the image the way you intended. This is why I take my glass very seriously. The Zeiss 35mm F/2 ZM meets my criterion for the price.
This, to me, is by far the best value for the money 35mm lens on the market. I’ve owned quite a few different lenses since I’ve been into photography. I’ve shot through some the cheapest and most plastic lenses as well as some of the highest quality glass available. I had the benefit of shooting a digital Leica for 6 months. I had good connections out in Miami and was able to negotiate a deal for a Leica M-P alongside a 35mm f/2 Summicron lens. That camera was heavy as hell. It was small, and at the time actually, it was the smallest full frame digital camera in production. I regress, it was still heavy as shit. But it was the first time I had an intimate, uninterrupted time with a true rangefinder camera. I fell in love fast. I couldn’t stop shooting. I went everywhere just snapping away. The results from the challenge of shooting this way were amazing to me. That’s exactly what it felt like too. A challenge. There was no autofocusing, electronic viewfinders or automated help controls. It was just me and the camera…and I loved it. But after six months the camera went to shit and decided that it never wanted to turn on again, and this happened to me during the middle of gig. I was furious. I called Leica support who were nice, but couldn’t troubleshoot the issue. It needed to be sent in. Furious for the price I paid for that brick (cause it was heavy as shit), I demanded a refund. I felt that, at that price point, simple technology like that shouldn’t have been capable of failing. I mean, like I said before, there were no automatic help controls or autofocusing. It was just a camera. I had canons survive beat downs that were capable of camera functionality that would eat this M-P for breakfast. So I lost all respect for the price and got my money back as it had been under a year. In Leica’s defense, they stood by their product and provided me a full refund. However, the point of this spiel is the glass. All technology aside, I can honestly say that that Summicron was the best lens I’ve ever shot with. The size of that lens was the huge factor. It was tiny. It was sharp. It had focus data engraved into it. It was metal and built like a tank. It rendered shadows and details in such a way that I felt like I needed to smack someone when reviewing the files. BUT it costs almost as much as the M-P brick coming in at around 3K for a brand new one. Complete ludicrous. Without being able to justify that cost, what was I to do? What glass was going to satisfy my craving for supreme acutance?
This is where the Zeiss 35mm 2.0 ZM enters stage right. I had researched this lens for about a few months, comparing the color renditions, the level of acutance, and the reproduction of shadows. For the size and the price, things were lining up well for this lens. The decision became a little hard when I discovered this guy’s little brother, the Zeiss 35mm 2.8 ZM.
This guy was smaller, not as fast, but still built well at a lower cost. But the acutance took a blow from the 2.0 to the 2.8. The small compromise in size and extra stop of light was indeed the deciding factor between the two. I went with the 2.0 and I have not regretted this choice one bit. My results from this lens on the film plane have been very tasteful and satisfying. This lens is so versatile and ready for the Leica body. I know what you’re thinking, “but you just knocked Leica”. I did, but I knocked digital Leicas. They suck for the money. But the film Leica’s, they are truly mechanical works of art. They (most of them) don’t rely technology to function. As the name would should suggest, film Leicas are some pure form of mechanical perfection that just works. I’ve never worked with a photographic piece of equipment that’s so intimate and inspiring as a film Leica. Add to it this Zeiss lens with third stop increments and you have a formula to create finely dialed images with sharp renderings and great unique color renditions. Here’s what’s crazy, you can get a used Leica film camera for about a grand in decent condition and you buy this 35mm Zeiss lens for about 1000-1200, and you still wouldn’t have breached the price point for a Leica Summicron 35mm lens.
Now, does this mean that I don’t lust after the idea of owning a Leica 35mm Summicron? Of course I do. Most photographers do. That type of Image Quality (IQ) bundled into such a small package is just lustful. Eventually when I reach place in my life where dishing off 3K for a lens seems appropriate, I’ll take the plunge. But for now, this Zeiss lens is all need to make my images the way I want.
I do often find myself considering the use of other focal lengths. Primarily, I’ve always been interested in dabbling with 50mm focal length. The Zeiss ZM line has a very provoking 50 1.5 ZM that I’ve been dreaming about, but at $1,200, it’ll remain a dream for the time being.
Hope you enjoyed this post! If you’re interested in seeing some more of my work, check out my Instagram: @frankjrentas