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Thursday, 13 March 2008

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I've been a Leica M6 and R8 user for many years. Frustrated with the M6's paltry 1/50th of a second flash sync, I bought the Cosina/Voigtlander Bessa R3A because of its much better 1/125th of a second flash sync and the bigger display in the viewfinder window with the lenses it accepts. Aside from the Bessa not being of the same quality build of the M6s, it is more of a joy to use and it is easier and faster to focus my Leica lenses on it and capture images with it than the M6 is. That's just my opinion, of course, and some diehard Leica fanatics would no doubt dispute my opinion. I've not actually seen the Ikon in any nearby stores, but I would like to examine it and see if it is an improvement over the R3A and if it were, I wouldn't hesitate at all and I would buy it. The improvements, in my case, would have to be a faster flash sync and an improved rangefinder display, both of which the R3A already has.

I think that should be six flaws.
Five: No viewing screen. How do you see that tiny viewfinder at arm's length?
Six: No USB port. That will make it tough to post to flickr.
Also Mike, you failed to mention sensor size and the number of pixels.
I wonder if it has the Leica's IR problems. I guess I'll have to check Michael Reichmann's site for that info.

If I were at a higher pay grade, I'd be one of the people buying that camera. I would love to have that rangefinder experience, but as it stands, $1300 is rather pricey for a "taste," given that I already have both feet in one digital SLR system.

One potential correction: midway through your review you use the phrase, "the choice is an individual one, and she could care less what the rest of the world is doing." I believe the correct way to say this is "couldn't care less." After reading one of Harlan Ellison's diatribes about that common error, I always notice it.

Thanks for writing this, Mike. It sounds and looks like a hell of a fun camera, especially with a lens selection like that. Maybe I should go to grad school, after all...

I bought mine two years ago
Still love it

Great review

Ah yes, I definitely have the feeling that I do not want to "convert to the Leica religion"

They're fine cameras for sure, but I also think BMW makes several fine cars I would enjoy owning and driving, and yet... for every group of un-pretentious BMW enthusiasts I meet, I also bump into one individual who thinks they are better than everyone else because of the vehicle they own, and seem to consider it the primary characteristic defining who they are as a person.

That leaves enough of a sour taste in my mouth to push me towards owning a succession of readily available used Mazda hatchbacks. I don't feel bad about the tinges of pride I feel towards my unremarkable underdog that serves me well and is a blast to drive.

I'd be quite happy with a Voigtländer, and the Minolta CLE has always caught my fancy.
These days, however, I don't shoot much film. When I do, I get by quite well with my Olympus 35 SP and its fixed 42mm f/1.7

I'd love a Voigtländer Bessa R3A and 40mm f/1.4 Nokton, but I don't do anywhere enough shooting to be able to justify the $888 price tag for that combo!

A very nice review, Mike. It looks like a terrific, state-of-the-art rangefinder that might be a far better value than the Leica M7.

"So in sum, what's the deal with the Zeiss Ikon ZI? It's an alternative where we didn't really need an alternative, an improvement over a camera that didn't need improving. It speaks to a niche within a niche within a niche, addresses a very narrow segment of a very small market."

That pretty much says it all. If someone finds that this new retro camera catalyzes their creative eye to new levels then the new Zeiss Ikon will have done its job.

I know that I am not alone in wishing that Zeiss would produce a digital Ikon to compete with Leica's M8. ("DIkon"? Naw...too many p.r. problems. "Ikon-D" Naw, sounds like a prescription allergy med. Name needs more work.) There's no reason to expect that this will happen but it's fun to consider.

Sometimes I wonder if simple "joie de vivre" (pardon my French) is a concept lost on our modern times. A throwback.

The Zeiss Ikon certainly is a throwback. And judging from the pictures and review text, a joyful one.

Perhaps the most endearing quality is that it makes little or no marketing sense. How beautiful it is. Milton Friedman is turning in his grave.

Thanks, Mike. Great work. Finally someone who knows the meaning of the word "review". This is what a potential buyer wants to know. I would like to see more like this.

I think we might see the introduction of the ZI as forebearer of the introduction of a digital ZI in a later stage. Surely the Digital rangefinder market is more attractive than the film RF market, perhaps Cosina Voigtländer are putting out their feelers to see how the market responds to the name and the touch and feel of the camera in order to surpise us all with the ZI-D at the photokina.

Seems pointless to introduce another rangefinder film camera, especially as you mentioned Leica's are becoming more and more available, bessa's are still there and the ZI has no real definate advantage over the M7... but then again this is only a thought flow for CV has no real experience with digital cameras, .... well neither did leica when they introduced the M8 .... see who knows what and why?

Looks like a nice enough camera though at first sight, but I wouldn't replace my M4 with it

A long wait, but worth it, thank you Mike. Very interesting to glean so much about the character of a camera from a review unburdened with technical minutiae.
If I have a sudden windfall then you have summed up my reaction perfectly -
"I suppose it's possible that a potential ZI buyer might not want to wade into all that "Leica Culture," not convert to the Leica religion, and that might be a reason for sidestepping Leica and buying a ZI"

Cheers, Robin

I want this in Digital, I want one len's, the 35 mm f2, I want full frame,and I want it now. God it's good to think like a 5 year old.
Glenn Brown.

The "Z1" is just plain bee-you-tee-full! I am amazed at how the flaws you pointed out seemed more like selling points. However, I am currently tapped out camerawise. I'll just have to settle for the one rangefinder I have - the Voightlander Bessa R2A,the poor man's Leica.

(...whats a Leica?)

Mike, thanks for a great review. I think the only flaw is that it's not digital - sorry. It's the form of camera I first used and I would buy one like a shot, but I know that it just wouldn't get the use it deserves.

So at present I'm enjoying a Ricoh GX100 with a clip on viewfinder (not the evf thing) and just enjoying taking pictures.

Mike

I think Mike's review is is spot on. I purchased a ZI-M (my name for the Zeiss Ikon) with a Biogon 35/2 in April 2006. The camera rarely stays at home. It goes where I go. The viewfinder, weight and less-is-more functionality really work for me. The camera has performed perfectly over the past 22 months. Mike didn't mention one of the Z-M's potential flaws... it won't work without a battery. I just replace mine every four to five months and carry the most recent used set as spares. Still, there are some rangefinder photographers who won't use a battery dependent camera.

The camera, mine is silver, is rarely noticed by potential subjects. When I carry a F3HP or D200, the second I lift the camera to my eye, somebody notices. When the SLR shutters actuate, lots of people notice. By contrast, the ZI-M seems to be invisible. When I show the ZI-M to fellow photographers, they always are amazed by the viewfinder. It is special. Recently I shot a sporting event with a DSLR and took the ZI-M along just for fun. I showed the camera to a pro. When he handed it back to me he said, "now that's a real camera". While he's not the first photographer to say these words to me about the ZI-M, I found this amusing as his bag contained a Mark III, D-3 and D300 bodies. Of course, very few could make a living shooting the ZI-M.

The lightmeter is hard to read in bright light. I use aperture priority and dial in exposure compensation as needed. The reverse-direction rewind requires some adjustment. I damaged one roll by winding in the wrong direction. The leatherette cover is shows wear just below the shutter where I rest my thumb. The body paint is fairly tough and easy to clean. However it does not brass (another flaw?). Instead the few light marks and scratches on my body have a faint grey color. Another potential ZI-M flaw involves support/service. It is not clear how to get the camera repaired. I do not know if Zeiss has a responsive US Service organization.

The ZM 35/2 is a wonderful lens. I also bought the C-Sonnar 50/1.5. The C-Sonnar is really two lenses in one. Below f 2.8 it draws very differently than it does when stopped down. The color rendition is unique. I have not been frustrated focusing this lens below f 2.8. But then, I don't shoot subjects that are less than ~ 8 feet away with a lens wide open, fast lens on rangefinder in the first place. Wide open the C-Sonnar vignettes more than I would expect, and at f 1.5 there is a bit of coma in large, bright out-of-focus objects. But this lens' overall look below f 2.8 is addictive.

I have no regrets. I enjoy using this camera.

Mike, thank you for this review. I'll admit the regular type film door on the Zeiss would be a welcome addition, IMO, to my M's. Your comments on the ZM lenses is taken to heart. Some of the Leicaphiles have been complaining the new ASPH lenses being too sharp and contrasty. One particular chap, using an M8, swapped all his Leica glass for the Zeiss counterparts because he said they focused easier. Each to his own, but in photography it's whatever works for you. And the photos he has posted are, without going into superlatives, excellent. While I don't think I'd trade my 35 Cron ASPH for a Zeiss I will admit to giving some thought to the Zeiss lenses for a DSLR. I should probably click on your Diglloyd lens "ikon" to find out, right?

Mike: Capa shot Contaxes, along with a Rolleiflex, not leicas, for most of his career. In the dominant period of the rangefinder in photojournalism, the Contax had better lenses and a longer baseline and was numero uno in all departments except reliabiity. But Zeiss sold lenses in both mounts so you could mix and match. So it's curious this camera isn't called the "Zeiss Contax RF"

GREAT article Mike, thanks!

One of the commentators noted that CV has no experience in digital cameras. This is only partially true. The Epson R-D1 was a Cosina body.

At the end of last summer I took my M7 out and shot a roll of B&W and developed it in my bathroom with the last of my darkroom equipment, saved for that very purpose, with the idea of scanning it with a Nikon scanner so I could get that "film" look, whatever that is...but developing the film felt like I was climbing a 900 foot cliff with a hundred-pound sack of corn on my back, and when it was dry, I could see a few flecks of dust on it, and the shots didn't look all that good anyway, so I never scanned it...I've still got it, but I can feel it drifting toward the back of the drawer. And that's about where I am with film cameras. The ZI to me would be a gadget that I'd fiddle with, but...just...isn't...worth...the...effort...

JC

John,
Yes, we developed film only because we had to.

Mike J.

There is at least one flaw in this nice review. While I am not people, I am a person, and I do not wish for anything photographic to be digital particularly a rangefinder camera. So, your statement is less than 100% true.

I myself would prefer a top shutter speed of at least 1/4000th of a second to wring the most out of the very fine lenses that will fit the camera and are used with, for instance, Ilford Delta 100 being handheld. I believe that 1/2000th of a second is insufficient to allow the very best quality negative possible when used with the best films and the best of current generation lenses and handheld technique. I will concede that 1/1000th of a second is fine for static subjects when this camera or other high quality M mount camera on a very stable tripod with a minimum of 25 pounds of mass.

Thank you for an interesting read.

After reading the review I almost want one, but I suspect I'll stick to my Bessa R3A for now. Since I've had the Bessa I've found it's the camera I like to use the most, and my DSLR stays in the drawer most times. If I needed to replace it and I had the extra money, I might be tempted by the ZI. It looks mighty fine!

Just a comment on the "Leica as a Religion" crowd: When I first decided to buy the new Leica MP (about 5 years ago), I mentioned to the salesman that I had a Hasselblad XPan. He called over another salesman and they had a great time bashing the XPan. I left without making a purchase. About a year later I got the urge and bought an MP, with a 50mm Summicron. I kept my mouth shut about any other cameras. It really is a great camera and gets constant use. I recently got the 15mm Voigtlander for it. Lots of fun and I was impressed by the build quality also. I suspect my next lens will be a Zeiss 28mm.

Joe

You make me want it, Mike. It would fit my T-max so well.

I think what would be a deal breaker for me with the ZI is that apparently the RF patch doesn't move with the parallax corrected framelines (it doesn't stay centered within the framelines)

Please correct me if I am wrong about this, but I could see this really throwing me off, if I tried to frame a shot in a split second.

The other reason why I would go with the M7, is that it is built like a tank and will probably outlast me. I wonder if the ZI would hold up to getting tossed around in a bag and eating through piles of Tri-X...

John Camp:I don't know where you live but here in Portland Oregon the nice young folks at Blue Moon Camera and Machine are happy for quite small sums to develop and scan and give me prints or a CD or both, of the few films I put through my old Leica these days. In Cartier-Bresson's phrase, "I am a hunter, not a cook."

A great review, and one that convinces me that I would have bought the ZI if I hadn't stumbled on a Konica Hexar RF instead. I would have been very happy with it too, I'm sure, but the HRF was right there at the right price. In fact I might still buy a ZI some time, to go with my HRF and Leica M3 (as you can see, having tried an RF camera I "stuck" to the concept). I just have other priorities right now.

Shooting film, especially for black and white, is something that I find complements my digital SLR photography. For some types of photography, and in my experience and opinion, an RF camera really is "just better" for my way of working. I also find that, for me, scanned film provides better black and white prints than I can currently coax from converted digital files (though perhaps I haven't tried hard enough). And I don't find developing and scanning my film any great burden whether done by a lab or in my laundry (I don't wet print, though.)

So both the cost and the results I get tell me that, right now, I don't really want a digital RF camera. (However, if the costs change, that will probably change too.)

...Mike

Why the ZI rather than a Leica? I think you answered it yourself: aperture metering, sane film loading, lighter, faster sync speed, all in a much more affordable package. And not being part of the Leica in-crowd, with all the myths and historical baggage should go in the benefit list, not the drawbacks. That Cartier-Bresson used a Leica doesn't make the camera or the pictures better or worse, but it does seem to put pressure on some people to view all their Leica pictures through the lens of his accomplishments, to the detriment of their own creative development.

But if I were a betting person I would suspect that this higher-end camera is the first step towards a possible digital rangefinder from the company. Leica is showing that there is a market for it, and their execution also shows that if anything, the niche for other rangefinder makers is greater in digital than analog. But such a camera will be expensive, a premium device; it is not really possible to fit such a unit into the Voigtländer brand. So this might be just the first, film-based camera to be followed by an Zeiss Ikon branded digital unit in another couple of years.

Thanks for the review! I've seen few reviews of the very fine looking Ikon.

However, I have a MP and M6ttl, and sometimes I feel like the only person in the world the perfers the loading technique of M's. I am a long time shooter of Nikon FM-2's and Xpans, and they are much trickier to load than an M. The FM-2 has a little slot one must thread the leader in, and the Xpan has a very long film path that helps the film's curl pop the film cassette out onto the ground. Once you get it down, the M's way is foolproof. Takes 20 rolls to nail it, but hey. I disliked it for a while too, and then slowly realized that it worked better (as in, the film popped in the hole immediately and can't fall out, and the strange 3-prong spool grabs the leader and 'takes up' every time. Something my beloved FM-2 never does. And I have shot thousands of rolls through both types.

But modern film cameras leave 'em all in the dust.

AFAIAC, flash isn't what rangfinders are about. So, slow sync, feh.

I applaud Cosina + Zeiss for less expensive RFs. I love manual cameras because I like their 'process.' I love mechcanical things. I thought the RD-1 was brillant with its 'mechnical' dials/readout, but I am stuck with the thought that a 50mm should stay that way (no crop).

If some designer could engineer a camera that preserved the directness of a paintbrush, but let a user choose automation when they wanted...well, then people would want something else ;-)

I have a Contax G2, but I haven't used it in several years because it uses film.

But it has good noise-free ISO 800 output with Fuji Superia 800, and a shallow DOF if you're into that look. But I say that the new look is to have everything in focus.

I enjoyed this review Mike. My only rangefinder gear consists of a Bessa R3A and the M-Hexanon 50/2. From a RF standpoint, I honestly find very little wanting. I trust that I would want better if I knew better, but I'm content to know less. The only problem with my RF kit is that 9 out of 10 times I want to shoot film, I reach for the OM-2N and Zuiko 40/2. The M-Hexanon is such a great lens, and the R3A was made for 50s. They deserve to be used! Most likely I will let them go to someone who will do just that, but I can't help thinking I'll regret it if I do.

Amin

This review gets me to thinking again about trying a rangefinder and shooting black and white with film. I am currently using a Canon 5D with my new 35mm f/1.4 L series lens and it has been the most enjoyable time I have had taking pictures in quite a while. For some reason I have always had in the back of my mind that shooting B&W film with a rangefinder was more "pure" and had a certain nobility to it that digital somehow lacks. I have a feeling though that in order to satisfy my curiosity nothing less than an M7 would do. The ZI might do the job for me but why not go "all the way" and try that Leica I have always wondered about. Truth be told I have never even held a Leica. The closest I have gotten thus far is a Canon QL 17 GIII.

Many thanks for the review. I especially enjoy the style in which it was presented. Your experience with it comes shining through in palpable ways.

Great review Mike! A couple of comments regarding buying in to the Leica "culture" or joining the Leica "in-crowd":
I own three Leica bodies (with mostly Voigtlander lenses) and I don't feel any hinderance, pressure or any other intangible emotion when I'm shooting. I have a camera in my hand and I use it. Nothing else to think about. Nobody asks me about it or comments on it. My Rolleiflex on the other hand...
Also I wish people would get over the whole bottom loading thing. If you trust it and follow the directions in the manual, it's just as quick and easy as a swing back. I swear to God!
Anyway, the modern features of the ZI are extremely tempting but I think the Hexar RF out does it with its higher shutter speed and auto frame advance. This will surely be my next, and probably last, rangefinder body.

It's a beautiful camera and I would very likely buy it if it were digital. But it would have to offer superb performance: excellent at ISO 1600, no infrared issues, high reliability, accurate framelines, etc. The first generation of a digital ZI would be a bit scary; it would have to prove itself by offering the kind of image quality we are used to with the current Nikon and Canon DSLRs. Repair service would also have to be superlative.

The perfect camera review. You've told me everything I need to know.

A huge improvement on the web site where the review takes 21 pages and in his summary the reviewer admits he's never used a rangefinder before.

Well, at least you mentioned the Hexar RF in passing!

I only bring this up because I openly wonder if there might have been a ZI had Konica not bothered to develop their own take on the Leica M franchise. It was, after all, the first camera since the Minolta CLE to incorporate aperture-priority AE, but then went much further and added a vertically-traveling shutter (with much higher top shutter speed and flash-sync speed), and motorized film-advance/rewind...all in a package the same size as an M7. I might be a minority of one in saying this, but I feel the existence of the Hexar was the kick in the pants Leica needed to bring forth the M7, and, in turn, Zeiss (via Cosina) the ZI.

As far as the remark goes alluding to film shooting being too much of a bother vis-a-vis digital, that's largely true...unless you're interested in seriously above-average images. In that case, digital capture is only marginally easier than film, with its own trap-doors and pratfalls. No medium is "easy" if you're picky about results.


- Barrett

Very nice review, Mike.
I don't own the Ikon, but own the Biogon 35 2.0, and you've said exactly what needs to be said about this lens. It's my favorite in a pretty big stable of glass, and makes this b+w guy love shooting color.
I never bought a film Leica, although I own the M8 and confess to deep admiration for its file quality. I do own the Hexar RF, though, and they can be found in good used condition for less than the Ikon. For my dollar that's the best film M-mount option there is.

Howard

Mike, you pushed one of my buttons when you complained about the lack of a real name for the camera. There seems to be a conspiracy among modern marketing managers - an unspoken agreement NOT to give the buyer a decriptive name for a product. The most blatant examples come from Microsoft, to wit, "Microsoft Expression Media" - what's that? And ".NET Framework". Excuse me? The list goes on and on, and it frustrates me greatly.

Am I becoming an old fart? Is it just a sign of advancing years that I find myself becoming more and more critical of 'modern' language, design, and methods - just like my father forty years earlier? Or is there in fact a genuine deterioration occurring in the society's abilities with language, communication, and design?

"Also I wish people would get over the whole bottom loading thing. If you trust it and follow the directions in the manual, it's just as quick and easy as a swing back. I swear to God!"

Photogdave,
I know it is--the problem is that the bottom plate comes off! As with the M8, except you don't need to take it off the M8 as often. I've never dropped one yet, but as Carl Weese might say, loading an M Leica is "a three-handed operation."

Mike J.

"Am I becoming an old fart? Is it just a sign of advancing years that I find myself becoming more and more critical of 'modern' language, design, and methods - just like my father forty years earlier? Or is there in fact a genuine deterioration occurring in the society's abilities with language, communication, and design?"

Craig,
Possibly both, I suppose, but at least the latter. Naming conventions have gotten particularly inane. I'm reminded of a ninety-something-year-old woman my cousin used to shop for occasionally. Once, she requested that my cousin get her some Oreos. My cousin said, "What kind?" And the old lady replied, as though talking to a 5-year-old, "It's a kind of cookie, dear. Just ask the manager for Oreos, o-r-e-o-s. He'll know what you mean."

She was living back in the day when "Oreo" was a descriptive name. Obviously, it's not any more! There are probably nine different kinds of them now, and none of them have names--just labels, which can still be confusing.

And don't get me started on Coke....

Mike J.

"Photogdave, I know it is--the problem is that the bottom plate comes off! As with the M8, except you don't need to take it off the M8 as often. I've never dropped one yet, but as Carl Weese might say, loading an M Leica is 'a three-handed operation.'"

When I started shooting M cameras a grisly old news shooter once told me to just hold the baseplate with your mouth, like you would a pencil between your lips. But make sure you orient it upside down, so it doesn't fill with drool. Works like a charm and I can load my M bodies faster than my F3.

I like the baseplate. It has personality, in a cookie cutter world.

As an owner of the Leica M8 and like it very much. I'm just wondering if or when Zeiss will enter the digital rangefinder market. This would be interesting.

"I like the baseplate. It has personality, in a cookie cutter world."

It also makes a good cookie-cutter too!

We don't need a film vs. digital argument, but I will say that one huge advantage of digital RF, that makes it painful for me to use the M7 as opposed to the M8 (in addition to the whole film-developing thing), is the ability to chimp. I'm an inveterate chimper; I know some people think it's bad practice, but I do it all the time, and sometimes spend as much time looking at the LCD as I did at the original scene. Chimping gives you do-overs, for some kinds of shots, and you don't get that with film. I once was shooting a nice winter snow-bound sternwheeler scene on the St. Croix River, and an element of that was a violently whipping American flag that I wanted to get standing more-or-less straight-out; took me twenty shots before I was happy with it. Nineteen of the twenty went where digital shots go when you hit the delete button...with film, I might not have bothered to try. As for the bottom plate on Leicas, IMHO it's fine on film cameras but absurd on the M8; if they felt they *had* to keep the bottom plate on the M8, for marketing reasons, as a connection to the past, they should have hinged it.

I understand that some people really enjoy the engineering aspects of cameras, as others do fine pens or watches; and many people seriously enjoy darkroom work, and I say god bless them, and I enjoy talking to them about their enthusiasms and I'm often amazed and deeply appreciate the level of knowledge and skill that they bring to these things. They're just not for me.

JC

Very nice write-up Mike,

You have a persuasive and fluid way with these things.......

I always thought I'd buy a RF and never did. The body reminds me a bit of my first camera, a Cosina made Vivitar SLR. I guess I too would like a digi RF in a price I could afford.

Did you make any photos with it that you like?

"Did you make any photos with it that you like?"

Charlie d,
Well, maybe, but they're all either negatives (B&W) or color negs with 3R drugstore prints. I don't have a functioning darkroom in the house, so it's tough for me to deal with film at this point, although developing B&W has never been that hard. (I do it at the kitchen sink, and have developed literally thousands of rolls over the years, so I'm *very* accustomed to the routine.) I made scans from some of the B&W negs, both with a good flatbed and a not-so-good older dedicated film scanner that I'm just not very skilled with, but they're sort of in that category of being good enough for ME to look at but not good enough to show to others.

I'll have to blog about my life with and without darkrooms sometime soon. It's been an interesting progression. The darkroom is a commitment; I always felt like I had to print at least three times a week to keep my chops up. The main thing that has stopped me from getting back into it has been the discontinuation of some of the photo papers I knew well.

Mike J.

I think that if Henri Cartier-Bresson were in his picture-taking prime today, he'd buy a "point and shoot" camera at Best Buy, and then he'd be out capturing decisive moments while you people are arguing about which $5000 camera system you need to do the same thing.

HCB's philosophy was that it wasn't important to have the highest image quality (otherwise he wouldn't have been using 35mm at a time when it offered extremely sub-par quality), but that you have a camera that doesn't stand out and allows you to photograph while people ignore you. And really, nothing does a better job of not standing out than a small compact digital camera.

I REALLY don't think that HCB would use a 35mm rangefinder today.

I'd like to photograph one - it looks pretty.

Not to belabor the point, but when loading a Leica the bottom plate can be temporarily stowed in a small bag sewn into or on clothing. Most jackets and virtually all pants have these devises. A marvel of technology: the pocket.

Andrew,
Another marvel of technology: the hinge....

Mike J.

Excellent review! What made me eventually choose an M7 over the ZI was the fact that it is available with different viewfinder magnifications. I wear glasses and shoot mostly with a 2.8/28 mm M-Hexanon, so for me it's the 0.58 M7. But I was lucky, I got mine for € 1500 on ebay, with a 1-year-warranty. I wouldn't have wanted to spend the money for a new one.

Dear Mike,

Thanks for a great review, and for persuading me that it's finally time to add a Zeiss Ikon ZI to my 35mm rangefinder camera kit (Incidentally, I think it is called a Zeiss Ikon, not a Contax for two reasons: 1) To distinguish itself from the earlier Contax rangefinder cameras which did not use the M-mount. 2) More importantly, Kyocera still has exclusive rights to the Contax brand.). Like you I was lucky to borrow most of the Zeiss ZM lenses from RS and have written about them in my Amazon.com product reviews of these lenses, most notably those for the 25mm and 35mm Biogons and 50mm Planar. IMHO, I think the 25mm Biogon is optically superior to my Leica 24mm Elmarit-M lens; the same is definitely true for the 50mm Planar vs. the 50mm Summicron lenses. I am a long-time fan of Zeiss lenses, so am not at all surprised by these results virtually of the pictures that I took which are posted at www.mongolianculture.com - were taken using Contax Zeiss SLR and G-series rangefinder lenses.

Thanks for the great review Mike.

I recently got myself one, and if I hadn't you would have convinced me to.

I have been shooting DSLR for 5 years now, currently the Canon 5D with 50 f1.2 L, and I have been aching to try out a rangefinder. I would prefer digital but the M8 is a little flawed and a lot expensive, and the RD-1 is out of production and I was worried about support.

So I calculated that at a roll a week, on top of my 5D shooting, it would be 5-6 years before I reached breakeven with the cost of an M8.

I am a 50mm man at heart and decided on the 50mm Planar, which is lovely, but the rave reviews of the 35mm Planar may force me into trying one.

One thing you didn't perhaps give enough attention to in the review is how much easier it is to use the ZI than the Leicas for eyeglass wearers. I actually find it very difficult to see properly through the Leica viewfinder, but the ZI is a delight by comparison.

A few shots from my first half-dozen rolls.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/peripatetic/sets/72157603919285794/

Thanks for a great review, Mike. You covered the technical aspects very well and made room for the joy of taking pictures, which is what we really like to do.

My rangefinder is the Konica Hexar AF, which is a wonderful camera. The Zeiss Ikon is very tempting (I asked for it for Christmas, but none of the kids came through).

-Robert

Dear Mike,

Would you say that the Zeiss Ikon has a bigger or otherwise better viewfinder than a cheaper Voigtländer RF, such as Bessa R3A?

"Would you say that the Zeiss Ikon has a bigger or otherwise better viewfinder than a cheaper Voigtländer RF, such as Bessa R3A?"

Zoltan,
I've had and used both, but at different times. My subjective impression would be "no," although I'm sure more accurate comparisons could be made by comparing them directly. The R3A viewfinder is 1:1, which allows you to keep your other eye open when you look through it.

I didn't actually find the ZI viewfinder subjectively better than a Leica or Hexar RF viewfinder, with one big difference: the ZI has considerably better eye relief. (Eye relief is the distance allowable between your eye and the eyepiece that still allows you to see the framelines.) The ZI would be the preference for eyeglasses wearers I'm sure.

This information is a little lame--sorry about that! I've had all these cameras but never all together at the same time, which would allow for comparisons.

Mike J.

I have a Bessa R3a, and the comment above made me ck it's RF patch. Sure enough, mine doesn't move (but the frame lines do). Really not a problem though, as w/ any RF camera one needs to get your focus and then recompose your shot. Rarely is your point of focus directly in the middle of your viewfinder.

After briefly owning an M6, all I can say about the Ikon and Bessa is that while fine cameras they are, they ain't a Leica. Not by a long shot. The shutter speeds disappearing in the viewfinder is a huge problem. Why have them if you can't see them? But the main differences are simple quality of construction. The Leica feels solid, dependable, and of high quality. Same w/ the lenses. The Leica 50 Summicron is the best 50mm lens in photography.

I have been shooting medium format cameras, but am going back to Leica because at print sizes up to 12x18 the Leica images are as good or better. And there is no way to duplicate the feeling one gets when shooting a Leica M camera. It isn't a myth. They are extremely high quality cameras w/ the best optics in the world.

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