My entry to the rangefinder world was not in the best moment for the consumer side of the economic equation. For Leica it is time of fat cows: despite their astonishingly high prices there is wait list on almost every item that they sell, its major competitor (Zeiss) adopted Leica´s M bayonet as its standard mount for its rangefinder system (the Zeiss Ikon System) – dismissing into oblivion its unsuccessful joint venture with Kyocera for Contax G rangefinder system – , the success of the M9 digital full frame body is unquestioned, and the public is very enthusiastic about rangefinders again. On the other hand we have the consumer: the professional photographers, the collectors, the amateur photographers, etc.; all of them immersed in a niche market with limited offer (in availability) of products. Consequently, simple economy applies: when the demand is higher that the offer, prices increase. Time of famelic cows for the consumer,definitely not the most appealing scenario for a new photographer on a budget.
Looking at the bright side today there is a larger variety of options both in lenses and camera bodies that matches the different necessities of the avid consumer. This is in large thanks to Cosina’s entry into the rangefinder business. It provided a new line of lenses and cameras to the rangefinder photographer that had years craving for a breeze of fresh air at an affordable price for their Leicas. Their success was recognized both by Zeiss and Leica. Zeiss awarded Cosina’s achievement by granting them the manufacture of a new rangefinder system: the Zeiss Ikon camera and the ZM lenses line, which although made in Japan by Cosina (being the sole exception the Distagon T 2,8/15 made in Germany and the now discontinued 2/85) enjoy the benefits from Zeiss’ standards of quality control. In response, almighty Leica introduced in 2007 the Summarit family, a brand new line of “budget” lenses to compete with the ninjas of Zeiss and Cosina that threatened to undermine its reign over the rangefinder realm.
That is the triad of the major manufacturers of M bayonet mount lenses. Each of them is aimed to a specific consumer: the Voigtlander lenses made by Cosina are aimed to the photographer on a budget; the Zeiss M lenses are aimed to the photographer who seeks quality, the backup form a major company with an undisputed reputation in the field, and who still is relatively on a budget; and finally there is Leica with its mystic aura and unrivaled quality aimed to anyone that is willing to pay the price (quality is expensive).
My personal opinion of each manufacturer is strictly based from what I have read from them: Voigtlander lenses lead the way in the variety of super wide lenses they offer, some of them are on my wishlist. Additionally they are a good option in the most popular focal lengths when the best option can only be acquired at a high premium price, i.e. Nokton 35 1.4 and Nokton 50 1.1; their other bet is uniqueness, by example as of this date they have the fastest 35mm (Nokton 35 1.2), the fastest 75mm (Heliar 75 1.8), the widest lens ( Ultra Wide Heliar 12mm). The list of achievements of being the “first and only providers of….” goes on. Nevertheless there are compromises in quality that some photographers are not willing to accept and they are ready to pay a premium for it.
Zeiss is the company when you don’t want to compromise quality for price. I think Zeiss provides great quality at an acceptable price. Many say the 35mm Biogons are the best. Additionally it gives you the opportunity to enjoy a classic construction in a modern lens such as the Sonnar 50 1.5 (although all the manufacturers do so: Voigtlander Heliar 50 2.0 is another example)
Leica is the holy grail of lenses. Almost everybody agrees that Leica lenses are the best that money can buy. There must be a reason behind the price of the lusted Noctilux. They are extremely reliable and produce exceptional results. A kit of a 35mm Summicron, a 50mm Noctilux and the 90mm Apo Summicron is a midsummer night´s dream.
Those are my thoughts as of this date. They will evolve from the cloud of the “world of the ideas” and materialize into the “world of the senses” when I get the chance to test some lenses.
Photo Advisory: Do not expect to find a many lens reviews since I cannot afford a lot of lenses. However what I will do is to provide an honest review based on my perspective and from real word situations, this means that I will not be shooting walls to compare the extreme detail of the brick’s grains but true events.
I invite you to visit my wishlist section to see which lenses have caught my eye to be acquired and hopefully will nurture the review section.