Considering the Leica 90mm Lens

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: sep 2010; revised: oct 2017; readers past month: 1750

After posting a message about the two Zeiss ZM 85mm lenses, I received several responses. Thanks to everyone who sent me messages and suggestions.

One thing that was mentioned in different ways by a few people, but I had not previously considered, is the need for a faster lens in relation to the ASA of the film. I’m still very accustomed to the choices with a digital SLR cameras of which I have three options for balancing exposure: lens aperture, shutter duration, and sensor ISO. With a maximum lens aperture of f/4 and the inflexibility of film — that is to say that if I load 160 ASA film, I’m locked in to that ASA until I change the roll — I can only adjust the shutter speed to compensate. When traveling around Europe, I often go from shooting pictures on the street to taking shots indoors in churches and other historic buildings without much lighting. I’m not allowed usually to set up a tripod in such places, nor do I want to lug one around with me. A lens for my film camera which has a maximum aperture of f/4 at times would be very limiting and frustrating for me. So, this eliminates the Zeiss Tele-Tessar 85mm f/4 lens. It doesn’t make spending $3350 for the Sonnar lens any easier, though.

Ultra-Solutions by Paul Watzlawick

There was a book written about ten years ago called, The Ultra-Solution. It suggests that in life we often find ourselves in situations in which there seems to be only two opposing choices, neither of which we may not like. One example it gave was of a sign posted in a park which reads, Don’t walk on the grass! One could risk getting in trouble by walking on the grass, or one could be obedient and not walk on the grass and thereby feel a bit oppressed by the local government. This is a simple example of a common dilemma for many people. The ultra solution is to realize and say, I don’t want to walk on the grass. I’ll get my shoes dirty if I do. Besides, if everyone walked on the grass, the park would be a mess in time. With this attitude one comes to realize that either the municipality is silly for feeling the need to post the sign, or the public is silly for needing to be told in firm language that walking on the grass isn’t a good idea. In essence, the ultra solution mentality is one of deciding not to play the game and thereby freeing oneself from such frustrations.

Several of you have reminded me here that my choices are not between enduring a slower Zeiss 85mm lens at an affordable price or spending all of my money for a faster Zeiss lens. I am not trapped by Zeiss’ decision not to make a fast 85mm lens at a price that’s within my price range. The ultra solution is to buy something other than a Zeiss 85mm lens. So, I’m thinking a Leica 90mm f/2.5 Summarit, costing about $1700 new might satisfy all of my needs. Or maybe a used Leica 90mm f/2 Summicron for a bit more. If not, maybe I’ll get one of the other lens y’all have listed. The irony is that I was only thinking of buying the Zeiss lens and had not considered the Leica lens because I had bought recently a 35mm Zeiss lens (i.e., the Zeiss ZM Biogon f/2 35mm lens) as an alternative to the choices that I didn’t like offered by Leica in that focal length. Flexibility and not fighting the realities, but working around them seem to be keys to happiness.