The best 35mm lens for Leica M.
The first lens I got for my M10 set the bar too high for even Leica lenses themselves, enter the 35mm Distagon ZM. This lens is one of the very best pieces of optical engineering available for the M mount and one of the best lenses on the market today. Other than it being a bit bigger than I'd like, this lens leaves virtually nothing to desire. Yes it's that good and I will show and tell you why.
When switching from Sony to Leica in 2017, I had briefly heard about the 35 Distagon ZM in a few posts and articles online. At the time I owned a Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART and a Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mmf/2.8 ZA, both fantastic modern 35mm lenses in their own rights. When shopping for my first M, I tried the 35 Distagon on a MD-262 and immediately fell in love. It was like a marriage of the speed and contrast of the Sigma art and the colors and micro contrast of my beloved 35 Sonnar. Luckily for me someone happened to be selling one used locally and I got a silver copy. I wasted no time and adapted it to my Sony a7rii to tide me over for the 1 week I had to wait for my M10 to be delivered. The best way to describe the rendering of the 35 Distagon is cinematic.
-Sharp, brutally sharp even at 1.4
-consistent image quality from edge to edge
-Bokeh and subject separation (no 3D glasses required)
-Occasional color fringing
-Size (Pretty much equal in size to a 35 FLE with hood)
I have never used a lens, so far, other than the Leica Noctilux-M 75mm f/1.25 ASPH or ZEISS Otus 85mm f/1.4 that is this sharp and corrected wide open. It surpases my 50 Summilux ASPH as well as the 35 ART that I used to own. The images the Distagon ZM produce have a bite and punch to them. You'll see a lot of saturation, great skin tones and contrast. It's modern and reliable, get the focus right and anything in frame will be sharp and detailed, edge-to-edge. It is a proper, no compromise tool. The floating lens group means that even at close distances the image quality is retained. This is the lens that I take whenever I need dependable, accurate image quality. For example, if I'm about to cover a wedding where I am not familiar with the environment or lighting, this lens will be my reassurance that I won't miss a shot.
With that said, I have encountered faint chromatic aberrations in bokeh, as well as some fringing on backlit and high contrast subjects. It's not very noticeable or common, and whenever I encounter any I fix it in post.
Since the lens is deemed a Distagon, it is a more modern retrofocus design comprised of 10 elements including a floating group. The protruding rear element of the lens doesn't only mean mounting the lens is a nail-biting experience, it also means that this lens is pretty much limited to digital Leicas and film. It's sharp and lovely in the center two thirds of an image on my Sony a7rii, then the edges appear dark and suffer from astigmatism and there's a pronounced field curvature. Stopping down fixes it to an extent, though you'll never have the same results that you get with film or on a digital Leica M.
Rendering: Despite all that detail and sharpness, it renders in a modern warm tone with distinct character in the out of focus areas. The bokeh is fantastically corrected with little to no outlining and some optical vignetting towards the edges. The optical vignette in the bokeh is best described as rectangular, almost as if the photos are taken with an anamorphic lens, a bi-product of the floating lens group perhaps? The bokeh does have faint onion rings, but given the minimum focus of .61m (2ft) you're not going to encounter the effect all that often. The colors are warm and saturated, often times I find the low light photos appear to be too warm and too saturated for my taste. The vignette, though pronounced, doesn't take over an image and stopping down remedies the dramatic effect it has.
In use, the lens has a perfect, dampened and smooth focus ring that is naturally placed. It has the most dampened focusing I've experienced in the M system, it feels like it reacts to the slightest input with certainty and precision; precise focusing is a breeze. The knob on the bottom is more of a reference point for zone focusing than it is a proper tab for using a finder . The lens does not extend or contract making it ideal for harsh environments where I wouldn't feel comfortable taking other lenses out in.
The finder blockage is noticeable, and recomposing after focusing is easily done if your subject is obstructed by the lens. The flare resistance is great on this lens and even the worst flare is never enough to ruin an image.
Stopping down the lens on the 1/3 increments may seem like overkill with regards to adjustment, but stop down by one click and you're going to get defined sunstars.
I typically code the lens as a Summilux 35 ASPH FLE on my M10 and then apply the distagon zm profile when I use Lightroom. This way you get the metadata for the lens, reduced vignette and in Lightroom you can get rid of the overcorrected distortion of the would-be Summilux.
I can shoot an entire wedding with the 35 Distagon and Leica M10 combo.