5 frames with a Zeiss Ikon ZM and its 35mm Biogon – By Alexis

These photos are part of an on-going series I’m working on. So nothing is finalised yet. I’m still exploring several avenues but so far there’s a theme I tend to revolve around. It’s about the weirdness of this place being a business center (La Défense nearby Paris France) and yet remaining empty most of the day. Outside Lunch and commuting times everything seems to occur somewhere else, behind the curtains of huge slabs of glass covering the surrounding buildings. The whole place feels uninhabited and otherworldly during working hours, very much like an inert plastic casting of society.

I’m working this theme with a Zeiss Ikon ZM and a 35mm Zeiss Biogon lens on HP5 souped in rodinal for a nastier look. I keep marvelling at these tools, because they’re precisely just that: nothing more nothing less: just pure functional photographic machines.

I’ve always been of the crowd that preaches this gospel: when shooting film the most precious piece of gear has to be the viewfinder. Hence all cameras should be built around this viewfinder – which is exactly what uncle Carl and his pals took on to do.

The viewfinder is brilliant, full stop, the red dotters will avoid peering through it in fear of entering the infamous GAS doubt spiral…Yes the range finder patch disappears if your eye is not close to the “ideal” viewing straight line. But who chooses a Range Finder camera to focus all day long?

Next comes the act of operating the camera so let’s talk about knobs: there’s only one really, a big one: the shutter speed/ISO setting/exposure compensation all-in-one knob! Who doesn’t like a fat and well rounded shiny knob? ok, dial for the nerds…

No, nope, no “shininess” here, the Ikon isn’t into foreplays it wants to jump right in…to the assignment, it clicks firmly without poetry or suave silkiness. Always in the adequate direction (including the exposure compensation)! ie the same way around as a Leica M3 shutter dial.

From body to lens everything does not feel being made for the touch it feels being made for efficient use, just pure unemotional practical use. Hence there’s no endomorphin induced caressing your gear with this one. Carl says “You have to love photography and the act of it for what it is, otherwise why doing it? If you’re into caressing then go for the real thing: find a real human partner.”

Carl is a philosopher you know, engineering wise that is…

The shutter display in the viewfinder is discrete enough not to be a bother while framing, you really have to look at it to see it. Which for some will be a defect, whereas it should be considered a true achievement: no one wants to read the meter for each and every frame. We only need to read it once and forget about its presence afterward. And this one does not distract you ever!

Regarding the lens I like how it fights flare and ignores barrel distortion. And that is pretty much what I like about an RF lens, given it’s a sharp one, which knowing Carlito’s standards is not a question one should have in mind.

I shoot this setup in manual, so why choosing an aperture priority capable RF? First the viewfinder is brilliant, especially with a 35mm focal lens, second the viewfinder is brilliant and third, well… you get the idea.

Ok, I probably (certainly) did not have enough money to throw at a pure mechanical body with comparable features…

Actually my ideal 35mm set-up is a 50mm on a pure mechanical RF coupled with a 28mm or 35mm on a metered RF body, with the likely addition of a SLR for tele/macro lenses. So regarding building my set-up I’m at step one really (my washed out and refurbished/CLAed M3 is getting into light leaks territory now).

Zeiss rules the tools!

Twitter: @AlexisAnalog
Blog: http://www.film-photography-blog.com
IG: @alkalexis_i

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8 thoughts on “5 frames with a Zeiss Ikon ZM and its 35mm Biogon – By Alexis”

  1. Talk about a nastier look to your images, what about your poor camera and lens! :D) Surely a testament to the manufacturer that it’s still going. The grain is reminiscent of the HP3 I was using in the mid-1960’s; great for reportage, even pulling some less than satisfactory shots up to the interesting level.

    1. Had the hands covered with mud and made sure my handling was not inserting mud under the focusing ring, that was all the care I gave andit still works flawlessly without missing a beat!
      WRT to HP yes this Ilford folks really know what they’re doing ????

  2. I had a Zeiss Ikon a few years ago and I have to say I was unimpressed with the build quality. While it does have a nice bright viewfinder, the focussing is not great with the disappearing viewfinder patch like you mentioned. The camera body is covered in what I can only describe as texurized rubber. I wore a hole into the rubber cover on the camera back after just a few months of normal use. The ASA ring which you have to pull up to adjust the film speed, broke after just a few months. I was lucky enough to trade it for an M6 (plus some $$). I had never handled a Leica at the time and immediately found the build quality to be like night and day compared to the Zeiss. The Leica felt really superbly engineered machine and very solid vs the Ikon which was more like a mass-produced metal toy. I’m sure you know that Zeiss isn’t the same Zeiss of old and it really shows with the way the Zeiss Ikon is constructed. The Zeiss optics are superb-Sharp and contrasty with a great 3D “pop”. I have unfortunately noticed that my 35mm Biogon-C and my 50mm Planar, both of which I bought new, have accumulated dust after about just a year and a half of ownership. I have two 50mm Summicron’s that are decades older with a nearly no dust. The Zeiss lenses are harder to sell also. There’s not as much demand for them compared to Leica’s glass. I hope not to sound negative with my views but these are my honest experiences with these Zeiss/Cosina products.

    1. Hi Eric,

      Wow, indeed you’re experience is much less positive than mine. WRT to dust I must say I’m surprised as my 35mm biogon which is welded to the body since acquisition is totally dust free and I’m talking several years (lost count) of ownership and I take it with me everywhere. So we’re very much spectrum opposite on this.

      Concerning the rest (not a single issue also with ASA/ISO dial) it is true that the feel if robustness is not comparable to a Leica (ma reference is a M3 I own) for one it is much lighter and second the materials are clearly not the same, but I argue that it’s solid enough to live a rough life.

      The « leatherette » is a joke compare to a Leica yes indeed, personally I don’t care as it’s not an impairment to the image making process.

      WRT resale-ability you’re right again, it cannot be compared to a Leica which by the way is the golden standard reference of resale-ability in the used camera market.

      All I’m saying is this camera was designed with the sole purpose of making images. But it is no Leica indeed. Our differences of experience might point toward a variable quality check at production or you being maybe a bit rough with your gear (I’m not a gentleman myself in this regard so I’m not seeking an argument here).

  3. For the years that I owned them, I loved my Zeiss Ikon ZM bodies. But — as others have previously stated — they are not Leicas. I recently sold all three of the Zeiss ZM bodies that I had, and am going back to the purely mechanical goodness of Leica M3, CL, and IIIf. Why? The ZM bodies are a bit long in the tooth now and getting them serviced is not something I was looking forward to. Leica bodies — by comparison — have far more servicing options, plus you can get them customized to the nth degree.

    1. Global accessibility of servicing is indeed, in my humble opinion, the real valuable reason to invest in a Leica RF system. This being said Zeiss does service the Ikon ZM, my experience was fast and top notch in this regard and not more costly than a leica third party servicing-job (which can be variable in quality -real life experience here…-). Third party Zeiss service jobs are indeed scarce, but Zeiss HQ does a good swift job on these, if one does not mind shipping gear that is.

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