The newly-redesigned, faster version of the 25mm Distagon is a power tool for reportage. With a higher asking price come improved handling and nearly flawless performance at near and middle distances. The new 25mm ZF.2 is more than a viable alternative for the big systems’ fast lenses of similar focal length, it just might be the preferred choice.
Despite strong roots in photojournalism, the Nikon F system somehow failed to maintain a stable of modern fast wide-normal lenses for most of its history. The landscape changed dramatically when, in the middle of 2010, Nikon users suddenly found themselves with choices of fast wide-normals to suit almost every budget and shooting style. The Zeiss Distagon in this review is the most controversial among these new options.
As a class, 300mm f/4 lenses are the standard for the rational photographer in need of moderate reach. This Nikkor is a superb example of the class, but like the other Nikkor (non-exotic) telephotos it is relatively obsolete today. In short, a lens of this focal length needs to have stabilization.
The recent surge of activity surrounding prime lenses has yet to reach the classic primes with focal lengths above 100mm. Only the exotic “Super” telephoto lenses have been updated in recent years, and at a frequency that hardly seems reasonable. Meanwhile, moderate telephoto primes from all equipment manufacturers grow old and dusty on store shelves as the years pass. The 180mm Nikkor lens is an example of this decades-old trend.
The 28mm Summicron ASPH is both a landmark optical design and one of Leica’s most appreciated lenses out in the field. It is to date the best combination of quality, speed and size for the versatile 28mm focal length – the perfect documentary lens. What’s more, not only is this Summicron nearly the perfect lens technically, it is also a very pretty object to behold.
The 25mm Biogon is a wide-angle lens of a simple type that is currently specific to the M system. This imparts the lens its small size, simple distortions and excellent performance. In more ways than one this Biogon sits halfway between the 25mm Distagon ZF and 24mm Elmarit-M.
The 50mm Planar ZM is one of the simplest lenses ever made, yet performs more robustly and consistently than almost any other lens. It is very closely related to the more-storied 50mm Summicron-M, of nearly identical size and capabilities, that it challenges in the marketplace. This Planar is a fundamentally boring lens with its lack of buzzwords to rave about and also substantive flaws to gripe about.
The 24mm Elmarit-M ASPH is an elegant lens emblematic of the M system. It bridges the vast chasm between journalism and architecture, in a form factor that defies all conventional wisdom borne by a DSLR world. How can so small a thing be so sharp, everywhere?
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX is only the second example of a new breed of fast prime lenses from Sigma, recently joining the 50mm f/1.4 EX to form what now looks like a promising new lineup. We typically expect Sigma lenses to underperform compared to Nikon or Canon lenses with an offer of performance proportional to asking price. On most metrics this new lens is a delightfully solid match however – in fact there is little to fault the optical cell of this 85mm lens – and for most photographers the verdict will come down to secondary qualities of off-brand lenses.
The Leica M9 is a controversial object in photography partly because it is a Leica, which implies some generic controversy, and partly because it is itself a messy blend of luxurious quality and lack of polish. It would be easy to dismiss the digital M camera as a collectible toy for the rich and eccentric if only it wasn’t so enjoyable for photographers to actually shoot with it. This is the reality of the M9: it is a second-rate digital camera that also supports a deeper connection with the act of making a photograph. If you actually enjoy making photographs then this should really appeal to you.