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Zeiss 50mm f/1.5
Sonnar T* ZM (LEICA M Mount, 2004-)
© 2011 KenRockwell.com. This page best with Corporate S regular and bold activated.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 ZM

Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar ZM in silver (46mm filters, 8.2 oz./232g, about $1,120, also comes in black). enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially these directly to it at Adorama in silver or in black, or at Amazon in silver or in black, or locally at OC Camera, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Here's the link to the optional hood at Adorama or at Amazon. It helps me keep reviewing these specialized lenses when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.


February 2011   Zeiss Reviews  LEICA   LEICA Lenses   Voigtländer   All Reviews

See also Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar.


Introduction         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations


Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.


The Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar ZM lens for LEICA is an unusually compact, high-speed lens. It is superb for people pictures.

It's a superb lens for just about anything. Its classic design gives spectacular bokeh wide-open, and it gets super-sharp stopped down. In this one Zeiss Sonnar we have a great lens for isolating subjects at large apertures, and a super-sharp, distortion-free lens at moderate apertures for when we need sharpness. It gives beautiful images wide open, and super-sharp images stopped down.

This 50mm f/1.5 is an optical design from the 1930s. It is a special lens intended for old-style bokeh in a new, contrasty and multicoated lens. It's a pleasant surprise to get this old design in a new lens without all the internal haze, fog and worn exterior glass all too common with any original versions of this lens still around today.

The Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar ZM excels in being smaller, shorter and lighter than other 50mm f/1.4 lenses. It doesn't block the finder, as do other 50mm f/1.4 lenses. It has no visible distortion, but it's not the lens for people who are counting pixels wide open. It is for people who demand pleasant bokeh at large apertures in an unusually compact lens at a reasonable price.

The LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH is bigger, heavier and more expensive than this Zeiss, and also has great bokeh. This Zeiss lens is far more pleasant to shoot than the larger LEICA ASPH due to its better size and weight, and this Zeiss focusses more easily and doesn't block the finder as does the 50mm f/1.4 ASPH.

If you count pixels, the Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar is sharper for less money at larger apertures, but for pleasant bokeh in a compact lens, this Zeiss Sonar is unusual today for being what it is: a modern reincarnation of a classic 1930s lens.

This f/1.5 Zeiss lens is as good optically as LEICA's previous (1961-2004) 50mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX, and Leica sold the heck out of that old design until they introduced the ASPH. Honest, I've shot them all back-to-back at the range, and this Zeiss is as good on the sides and corners, and about the same, and sometimes better, in the center at large apertures. No one ever complained about the earlier SUMMILUX, but these fine points were never as easily visible on film.

In keeping with its classic design, it only focuses to 3 feet (0.9 meters), not the 2.3 feet (0.7 meters) of most modern rangefinder lenses.


Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5.

Zeiss 50/1.5 Sonnar ZM. enlarge.



This LEICA-M mount lens works perfectly on every LEICA M ever made, from the LEICA M3 of 1954 through today's LEICA M9.

It also works on every other LEICA M mount camera, like the Minolta CLE, Zeiss Ikon and those dirty little Voigtländers.



TTL meters in cameras like the CLE, Zeiss Ikon, Konica Hexar RF, LEICA M6, LEICA M6 TTL, LEICA M7, and LEICA M9 work fine with this lens.


Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5.

Sample Image, f/8 on LEICA M9, ISO 160 at 1/250, DNG, Aperture 3, Auto enhance). Full-resolution.


Specifications         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations


Zeiss calls this the Carl Zeiss C Sonnar 1,5/50 ZM T*.

"C" stands for your choice of Compact or Classic.

Sonnar is Zeiss' trademark for fast normal lenses.

ZM means LEICA M mount.

T* is Zeiss' trademark for their multicoating.


Optics        top

Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 ZM internal diagram

Internal Diagram, Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 ZM. enlarge.

6 elements in 4 groups.

T* is Zeiss' trademark for their multicoating.

This lens was designed in the days before lens coatings. Its simple design works well without coatings, so with multicoating, its contrast remains very high in difficult light.


Diaphragm       top

Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5.

Front, Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5 at f/5.6. enlarge.

10 straight blades.

Stops down to f/16.

Third-stop clicks.


Angle of View        top

27º by 39º (45.7º diagonally).


Close Focus       top

0.9 meters (3 feet).

This is less close than modern LEICA lenses, which focus to 0.7 meters (2.3 feet).


Maximum Reproduction Ratio        top


Area covered: 37 x 55 cm, rated.


Size        top

2.187" (55.55mm) diameter by 1.501" (38.13mm) extension from flange, measured.


Weight        top

8.185 oz. (232.0g), measured.

8.5 oz. (240g), specified.


Hood        top

The precision metal hood (part nr. 1428-461) isn't included, which is too bad, since it's very nice.

It sells for about $85 at Adorama or at Amazon.

This Zeiss hood bayonets and locks. The only way to get it off is by firmly pushing it towards the camera to unlock and then rotating. It is spring loaded so it will never fall off, unlike LEICA hoods.


Introduced        top

Announced at Photokina, 28 September 2004.


Shipping since         top



Part Numbers        top

Black Lens: 1407-218.

Silver Lens: 1407- 067.

Hood: 1428-461.


Scope of Delivery        top

You only get the lens, caps and fancy paperwork.

The hood is $85 extra.


Made in        top



Performance         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Overall   Bokeh  Diaphragm Calibration   Distortion  Ergonomics

Falloff   Filters   Finder Blockage   Focus    Lateral Color Fringes

Materials & Construction    Sharpness   Sunstars


Overall     performance   top

The Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 ZM is a classic design offering small size, pleasant bokeh at the largest apertures and low distortion instead of pixel-counting sharpness.

Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5.

Sample Image, f/11 on LEICA M9, ISO 160 at 1/125, DNG, Aperture 3, Auto enhance). Full-resolution.


Bokeh       performance     top

Bokeh, the character of out of focus backgrounds, not simply how far out of focus they are, is excellent.

It's a little weird at f/1.5, and absolutely beautiful from f/2 onwards.

Here are crops from the center of 100% LEICA M9 images, focused on a reference phase lattice at 3 meters (10 feet) with synthetic reference vegetation at 15 meters (50 feet). Printed full-image at this size, these would be about 52 x 35 " (130 x 90cm) prints, at least as seen on most 100 DPI computer monitors:


Diaphragm Calibration     performance   top

The calibration is right-on: the meter in my M9 tracks each full-stop perfectly throughout the entire range, except of course for the largest aperture.


Distortion     performance   top

The Zeiss ZM 50/1.5 has no visible distortion.

There is very slight barrel distortion if you like to enlarge LEICA M9 files to 200% and drop rulers on them in Photoshop, for these uses, use these coefficients to correct it in Photoshop's lens distortion filter:

10' (3m)

© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.


Here is Zeiss' claimed distortion curve, however Zeiss doesn't specify the distance at which it is measured.

Claimed Distortion, percent

Distortion, ZEISS 50mm f/1.5 ZM

Distortion, Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 ZM.


Ergonomics     performance   top

Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5.

Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5. enlarge.

Ergonomics are perfect, better than other 50mm f/1.4 lenses because this lens is small enough not to block any of the viewfinder.

The numbers and their indices are easy to read in any light, except that the red footage markings on the black version are invisible in anything other than daylight. They are much clearer in these pictures than they are in practice. The silver lens is always easy to read.

Focus is silky-smooth, has no play, and slides with a fingertip. There is a raised metal nubbin on the bottom to help you focus with just one finger, as well as be able to set distance by feel in the dark.

The aperture ring also flicks with a fingertip. It has a detents at third stops, and the full stops aren't more deeply detented, so if you count clicks as I do, it can become confusing if you shoot LEICA lenses at the same time.


Falloff (darker corners)     performance   top

Falloff is minor on a LEICA M9.

I've exaggerated this here, showing gray field shots against gray.

These were shot with no lens profile set in the M9; set a profile and you'll get different results.


Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5 falloff on full-frame M9 at infinity, no profile:


© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.



Illuminiation, ZEISS 50mm f/1.5 ZM

Zeiss' chart.


Filters, use with     performance   top

Any standard 46mm filter works great, with no vignetting.


Finder Blockage     performance   top

There is no finder blockage.

The edge of the 50/1.5 ZM just barely touches the frame edge at 1 meter, and is nowhere near it at farther distances.


Focus     performance   top

Focus is smooth. It's easy to move with a fingertip from any position.

Focus accuracy was just fine on a LEICA M9 at f/1.5.

With rangefinder cameras, if you get too picky, you'll never be happy. They all vary a little from sample to sample.

THis 1930s design may have some focus shift, meaning that the point of best focus may be slightly different at different apertures. If you're picky about focus, try your lens on your camera at various distances and apertures and see if you need to make any corrections. I had no problems; it worked great.


Lateral Color Fringes     performance   top

If you're looking, there is some minor red-cyan shift.


Materials and Construction     performance   top

Rear, Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5

Rear, Zeiss ZM 50mm f/1.5. enlarge.

This Zeiss 50/1.5 ZM is very well made. Leica has economized by using plastic for its focus tabs, while this Zeiss still uses solid metal for everything.


Filter threads and hood mount

Seem like chromed brass.


Barrels, aperture and focus rings

Seem like aluminum.



Matte silver anodized or semi-gloss black enamel.

The silver is a little bit brighter than the chrome of a LEICA M3.


Focus helicoids

Seem like brass.



Seems like chromed brass.



Engraved and filled with paint.


Blue index dot



Sharpness     performance   top

The more you know about photography, the more you know that lens sharpness doesn't matter.

This Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar is always sharp and contrasty in the center, but softer away from the center at large apertures. That's what we expect from its classic design. This isn't a lens for modern landscape and nature photography; it's a people lens.

Stopped down, its super-sharp, so it offers the best of all worlds: perfect bokeh for out-of-focus areas wide-open, and super-sharp stopped down.

This Zeiss 50/1.5 is sharper at f/1.5 in the center than the 1961-2004 LEICA SUMMILUX 50mm f/1.4, and about the same sharpness at other apertures, and that was LEICA's top 50mm lens until just a few years ago.


As tested on a LEICA M9 at infinity


The center is sharp and contrasty, while most of the rest of the image is softer.

The rest of the image isn't smeared, it's just softer as if there is curvature of field



The center is sharper than at f/1.5, while the rest of the image is much softer.



The center is now optimally sharp; much sharper than at f/2, and up to modern standards of being very, very sharp.

The periphery is soft.


f/4 - f/11

The center was already optimum at f/2.8, while the periphery and corners continue to improve as stopped down.



Diffraction makes it less sharp than at smaller apertures.


MTF, ZEISS 50mm f/1.5 ZM

Zeiss's MTF curve for the 50mm f/1.5 ZM at f/1.5 (white light, 10, 20 ü. 40 c/mm).


MTF, ZEISS 50mm f/1.5 ZM

Zeiss's MTF curve for the 50mm f/1.5 ZM at f/4 (white light, 10, 20 ü. 40 c/mm).


Sunstars     performance   top

With a straight 10-bladed diaphragm, the Zeiss 50/1.5 should make 10-pointed sunstars on brilliant points of light.


Compared         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

This is a very compact and fast lens. Its optics aren't designed for ultimate sharpness; they are designed for a pleasant image with compact size and high speed.

50mm lenses for LEICA

Voigtländer 50/1.1, LEICA 50/1.4, Zeiss 50/1.5, Zeiss 50/2, LEICA 50/2. bigger.

43 or 46mm
Finder Blockage
usually none
10 blades
12 blades
10 blades
10 blades
8 blades
Aperture ring clicks
half stops
full or half stops
third stops
third stops
half stops
Close focus
1m or 0.7m
Distortion, 3m
Price, 2/2011


* Actual measured.

See my even more detailed comparison chart in my LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH review.


Recommendations         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

More Information

This Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar ZM is an easy lens to love: it's just so small and fast!

It's not a lens for pixel counters. It's very sharp at middle and smaller apertures where it matters, but trades sharper images for smoother images at the largest apertures.

This 50/1.5 is superb for general photography and people pictures, but for critical landscape and nature photography, opt for one of the f/2 lenses.

If you find the time I take to research all this helpful, my biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially these directly to it at Adorama in silver or in black, or at Amazon in silver or in black, or locally at OC Camera, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Here's the link to the optional hood at Adorama or at Amazon. It helps me keep reviewing these specialized lenses when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.


More Information

Zeiss' page on the 50mm f/1.5.

Zeiss' technical data on the 50mm f/1.5.

Zeiss' glossy flyer about the 50mm f/1.5.

Zeiss' glossy brochure on the ZM lenses.


Help me help you         top

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

The biggest help is when you use any of these links to Adorama, Amazon, eBay, Ritz and Calumet when you get anything. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places always have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

If you find this page as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

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Thanks for reading!

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

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