Are You a Leica OR Zeiss Person? Leica M6 vs Contax T3

Mar 13, 2020
7 min read

This might sound like a strange comparison and you must be wondering (rightfully) what kind of crack have I smoked to put the Leica M6 and Contax T3 against each others!

These two cameras have nothing in common. One is a mechanical rangefinder with interchangeable lenses whereas the other is a Point & Shoot with a fixed 35mm lens, but stay with me a little more and this will make sense, I promise.

Are You a Leica or Zeiss person?

Between two crack pipes I ask myself existential questions such as “Am I a Leica or Zeiss person?”. It’s like Dog or Cat people, you can’t be both and need to pick your side!

I sit at the Cat People table but when it comes to lenses, I’m still in between 2 camps. For the sake of consistency in my work, I thought that it would be good to finally choose a team and stick to it once for all.

So today we’re not here to compare the cameras but rather their lenses. Most of the time, on my M6 TTL is glued the mighty 35mm Leica M Summicron V4 Pre-ASPH (A.K.A The King of Bokeh). This version is probably the most notorious and soughed among all the 35 Summicron’s. Other 35 Cron’s are excellent but this V4 Pre-ASPH has developed a sort of cult following and became a trophy lens to own at some point for any respectable Leica connoisseur.

The “King of Bokeh” Myth

Before we move further and lead to some disappointment, I’m not going to do a Bokeh comparison here. The term “King Of Bokeh” was mentioned first by Mike Johnston, who later admitted that he almost never shot it past f/5.6. I’m not sure how he came to refer of this 35mm lens as a Bokeh King in the first place, but on his website he makes it clear that this lens is certainly not a Bokeh King!

 I called the Leica pre-ASPH 35mm Summicron “the King of bokeh” in a caption in a magazine, and the phrase still pops up from time to time. Well, it ain’t. That lens has very coherent, very pleasing near-o-o-f blur at smaller apertures and middle distances, but at large apertures close-in it sucks.

Now that we took this off the agenda, let me explain how I came to do this comparison and what I’m looking for here.

Leica Glow or Zeiss 3D Pop?

In my early days of film photography, I jumped right in the Leica wagon without looking around. But over the past years, many Contax cameras and their Zeiss lenses have been pilling up on my shelves and without even noticing I got myself surrounded with T* lenses.

This has become a sort of obsession and can’t resist much to hit the Buy button whenever I see a lens or camera with the famous T* coating. This mark means the lens has received a special anti-reflection coating on each glass elements. The coatings are here to optimise light absorption, reduces glare and ghosting at the profit of an increased contrast and saturation.

On some Zeiss Lenses the coating’s effect is more visible than others but to me, it really shines on the Contax T3. We often hear about the “Leica Glow” which I never really noticed myself but we also hear about the “Zeiss 3D Pop”. Zeiss lenses render the light in such a way that it makes it almost like 3D on some images.

To show you what I mean, here’s are two of the very first pictures I shot on Ektar 100 with my T3. I find the effect particularly visible and makes the plane really pop out of the frame.

Every time I get new pictures shot on this camera, I’m always mesmerised by how it renders colours and textures. Even if sharpness doesn’t make a picture but it also shines there, resulting in crisp and fine details. This lens is so good that it made me wonder if my 35mm Summicron could hold up against it.

I’m also trying to shrink down my camera collection and need to decide which camera/lens combo gives me the results I’m the most happy with. Ultimately this will help me deciding which stable should I stick with and bring more consistency in my portfolio. That’s how came up the idea of comparing these two 35mm lenses.

Summicron VS Sonnar

For this experiment, I took with me on a few occasions both cameras loaded with Portra 160. To make this comparison as fair as possible I did my best to match exposures. All these were shot between f/5.6 and f/11 which should be the sweet spot to get the maximum out of both lenses.

Before comparing images, let’s have a quick look at the optical specifications of both lenses:

Specs

Aperture

Design

Blades

Minimum Focus

Summicron

f/2 – f/16

7 elements in 5 groups

10 blades

0.7 meters (18″ or 2.5 feet)

Sonnar

f/2.8 – f/16

6 elements in 4 groups

5 blades

0.35 meters (13.8″ or 1.75 foot)

Can You Guess The Lens?

This is where the funs begins! Let’s have a look at some samples shot on both cameras. Like I mentioned earlier, these were all taken on Portra 160 and edited as closely as I could while retaining the Portra look.

Then I sent both rolls to my lab Nation Photo who handled the developing and scanning. I got raw scans from them, which I edited identically to get an accurate representation of the character of each lens.

On top you’ll see the pictures taken with camera 1, and at the bottom camera 2. I’ll reveal at the end of this article which was what but I’d love to know what’s your guess and also which one do you prefer. So if you want to play the game, before checking the answer, let me know in the comments what’s your guess. I’m really curious to see if you guys can pick it up!

The Results

Seeing these side by side made me realise how a lens can affect the final image. Even if those two lenses share the same focal, they have different designs, which leads to significant differences on how they capture colours and contrast.

Pictures taken with camera 1 produce warmer tones, lower saturation and contrast, while camera 2 images are a lot cooler, saturated and more contrasted. It’s also hard to tell here because of the web compression but camera 2 is definitely sharper!

So what’s your guess?

Well, camera 1 is the M6 & 35mm Summicron and camera 2 the Contax T3. Did you get it right? Also curious to know if you noticed any other differences between them. The most curious can have a look at this Flickr album with HD versions.

Final Thoughts

This experiment was the opportunity to confirm that I’m leaning toward the Zeiss force more and more. As I’m mentally not prepared to sell my M6, it makes me consider trading my Summicron for the profit of a ZEISS C Biogon T2.8/35 ZM which cost about a third of the Leica.

Another Zeiss alternative to the 35mm Summicron is the faster (but heavier) 35mm f/2 Biogon T* ZM, though I’m not sure I really care about the extra stop and prefer to trade it for a slightly smaller and lighter lens. Anyway we’ll see if I find the strength to say goodbye to my trusty Cron 🥺

Finally if you’re looking for cheaper alternative to the Contax T3, check out this list of all 13 Point & Shoot Cameras With Zeiss Lens.

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4 Replies to “Are You a Leica OR Zeiss Person? Leica M6 vs Contax T3”

  1. Thanks for this article, very interesting. I guessed the second shots were the T3. I have a T3, it is an incredibly sharp lens, so I could spot the look in your photos. I also have an M6, which is just lovely … but somehow I seldom use it. I feel annoyed with myself for taking the lazy route and using the T3!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Yes the T3 was the second camera. I feel the same with the M6, even though the shooting experience is fantastic on the Leica, I feel more inspired and confident with the T3 in hand.

  2. Nice comparison! The M6 shots seemed significantly more grainy – any idea why? If exposure, film stock, developing and scanning were consistent, I wouldn’t expect that? Unless the ‘cron is higher contrast by nature and therefore pulling out those details in scanning is what introduced the grain?

  3. It’s a great and very helpful comparison!
    Can you compare the lens of T2 with T3 as well?
    Thanks!

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