In May of 2003, Tom Abrahamsson (of Rapidwinder fame) was asked on the Leica Users Group list what he thought about third party lenses in the 35mm focal length. Tom has graciously given me permission to repost his expansive reply, reformatted for your viewing pleasure. I've also included photos of the lenses he's talking about, where possible, from my collection.
I have had some experience with the Non-Leica 35's. Being an avid prowler of swap-meets I have bought, sold and traded a lot of these "orphans" over the years.
Here is my take:
Canon 35/1,5: not a great lens as it traded contrast for flare. Any side-light would opaque out the subject. It was also somewhat soft in its rendition. It was for its time a bit of a "tour de force", but similar to the 50mm 0,95 and the 50mm 1,2, it was a numbers game rather than a performance game.
Canon 35/1.8: Not a bad lens, somewhat wild field curvature wide open, but a credible performer otherwise. As most of the 1950's and early 60's lenses, it was lower contrast than what we are used to today.
Canon 35/2: I always liked this lens. It is small and compact and not bad overall. Not as sharp wide-open as a contemporary Summicron 35, but highly usable in the mid f-stop range. Cute too! All of the Canon 35's that I have tried have suffered from a slightly metallic feel to their aperture rings - almost as if they had some grit in the groove for the little ball that springs in to the aperture "stops ".
Canon 35/2,8: Good and cheap, but a Summaron 35/2,8 runs circles around it.
Nikkor 35/3,5: Very similar performance to a Summaron 35/3,5. Small and neat looking and once you hit f5,6 sharp enough. Surprisingly good contrast for an early 50's lens. Its appearance is an unabashed copy of the 35/3,5 Summaron. You actually have to look closely to tell which is which!
Nikkor 35/2,5: This is a really good little 35. Sharp and smooth contrast and fairly freely available too. Only problem is that as with most Japanese lenses, they used strange filter-threads on some of their barrels as well as made hoods that fell off quickly and got lost.
Nikkor 35/1,8: It was a bit of a sensation when it came out in the late 50's. It was considerably better than the 1st generation Summilux 35. Unfortunately it has taken on a bit of "mythical" proportion, at least in screw-mount. I have had two of them and although sharp and with a nice contrast, they also do exhibit a tendency to flare. The hood is virtually unobtainable and the lens is quite rare, hence high prices for a lens that today is only mediocre in performance. I now have one in Nikon RF mount and use it on one of my SP's - it looks cool and if Burt Glinn at Magnum could cover Fidel's arrival in Havana with it, it is good enough for me. Great lens for shooting "vintage" looking stuff. Tri-X or Plus-X in D-76 and that slight flare transports one back to 1959 quickly.
Schneider Xenogon 35/2,8: all right lens, but no great shakes as far as I am concerned. I had mine for a short time, lent it to a friend who put it on a M2 and left the package on the front seat of his car. Somebody stole it, thus my frame of reference is short (5-6 rolls).
Angineux 35/2,5: rare and weird (as most of the Angineux lenses were). Not that sharp either. But admittedly it was also in less than pristine condition. Never seen another one, but I still do not regret trading it off for something else.
Stable- Lineoxon 35/3,5: Now try to say that fast! This lens is sitting on my Periflex 3, but it will screw on to an adapter and can be used on an M camera. Performance is typical of the 35/3,5's. Not too bad, but flare and soft wide open. I keep it because of the name! "What did you shoot that with?" Oh, my Lineoxon 35!" and that usually ends the discussion right then and there.
Voigtlander 35/2,5 Classic and/or Pancake: These are good lenses, sharp and contrasty and fit the Leica very well. Performance wise they are pretty close to the Summicron's from the 70's, but 1/3 to 1/2 the price. The Pancake is a great street shooting lens as it has a large barrel and you can "flick" it from close focus to infinity very quickly. The 35/2,5 Classic looks great on a IIIf and the focusing lever is a bonus too.
Voigtlander 35/1,7 Aspheric: high end performer and modest price. Great lens for the Bessa R/R2, but I have a problem with the ergonomics of it. It has a large diameter barrel and a steeply tapered front for the aperture ring. I find myself "hunting" for the f-stops with that ring.
Jupiter 35/2,8: The all time bargain 35 (if you use non-metered M's, as the deeply protruding rear element blocks the meter) and not a bad lens at all. It is a rather faithful copy of Zeiss 35/2,8 Biogon and if one is copying something, Zeiss lenses are no slouches. It also has the most frightening rear element I know. You don't "slam" this lens into your M-camera without carefully checking everything beforehand.
There are other 35's that I have tried, but these are ones that I can remember. You should also take into context that these lenses are mostly older designs and also in some cases, 50-60 years old and time does tend to accumulate dust, scratches and occasionally fungus on lens surfaces and this does affect performance. Coating technology, aspherical surfaces, improvement in assembly has all taken modern lenses to a level that was unmatched in the 50's and 60's. This said, these older lenses have a different signature and "look" to them, and in most cases they are available at modest prices. We should also venture to save these gems and orphans of old.
I wonder how the Staeble-Lineoxon would perform with Tech Pan?
Subject : RE: [Leica] 35/2
ASPH vs. 35/1.4 ASPH
Date: Wed, 30 Apr 2003 15:24:51 -0400
I have had the [Cosina Voigtlander] 35/1,2 for two months now and I have shot about 60-70 rolls of black/white with it (Tri-X, Acros, Delta 100 and 400 and Tech Pan). I also have the [Leica] 35/1,4 Asph (2nd generation), the [Leica] 35/2 Asph. and the classic [Leitz] 35/2 and 35/1,4. The weather has been co-operating here in the North-West so I have shot in March gloom, in April sunshine and a variety of shots indoors. I have also been doing a test of a developer that supposedly gives very sharp and smooth contrast results so the reason for testing 35's was valid (at least in my mind).
At the moment my take on the various lenses is as follows:
Voigtlander Aspheric: As sharp as the 35/1,4 Aspheric is at 1,4 at
1,2. You gain 1/2 stop with this lens, something that can be critical in low-light.
Contrast is lower wide open than the 35/1,4 but goes up by f2/2,8 and stays
even all the way to f22. It is a heavy lens (450 grams) but with the classic
style knurling and large diameter barrel it is surprisingly comfortable to hold
(if not to carry). Extremely resistant to flare, which is critical for low light
lenses as you more often than not shoot in dim interiors with bright spotlights
in the picture area. It is a special purpose lens, just like the Noctilux or
Summilux 75, but when you need it, there is no substitute. Dramatic drop-off
on the sharpness plane at 1,2. It makes the subject "pop" and the
back-ground goes "fuzzy" very quickly. Bokeh is quite smooth, but
typical for Japanese lenses.
35/1,4 Leica Aspheric: Used to be the bench mark lens for fast 35's. I have had mine since it was announced long time ago. Very sharp and contrasty, but not very well corrected for flare. Mine went back to Solms for a rebuild in 1998 after it started to flare badly enough to be useless. I never got an explanation what had happened, but after 6 months it was back in my hands and has behaved well ever since. Still you have to watch for strong lights at the edges. Wide-open performance is very good, sharp and contrasty, but that also means some burning and dodging when printing black/white as the contrast is almost too high. Less dramatic drop-off of sharpness than the 35/1,2 and a fairly unpleasant "Bokeh". It almost looks like digital pixilation and lacks smoothness. The 35/1,4 Asph. weighs less than the 35/1,2, but not by much and it is a bit smaller. However, it does have a focusing tab which makes it quick to focus. I am not sure that the benefits of the 35/1,2 outweighs those of the 35/1,4 Asph. if you already have the 1.4 lens, but if you are in the market for an ultra-fast 35 I would look at 35/1,2.
35/2 Aspheric: This is a strange lens. It is very sharp and contrasty, but it has a very unpleasant "texture" to the image. "Bokeh" is strongly "pixilated" and very edgy. It is also a heavy lens compared to the old 35/2 and it feels clumsy. It has a very high sharpness wide-open, probably as good as any other 35 lens. Not very sensitive to flare and contrast is "printable" although high. Noticeably sharper wide open than the old 35/2, but it lacks the smoothness in the image. I call it a "technical" lens the way it translates a 3D world into a flat plane.
35/2 Classic: I have several versions of this lens (I do not trade or sell 35's!) and it remains one of my favourite. Smooth quality and, in most cases, more than enough sharpness. Earlier 8 element lenses are more sensitive to flare, but they do have a "signature" that modern lenses lack. The post 1980 version of this lens is probably my favourite. Small, lightweight and consistent in performance. It is easy to pull a 16x20 from a Tri-X neg with this lens. The "Bokeh" is the epitome of smoothness; you go from a sharp plane to a creamy smoothness in a seamless transition. There are certain lenses in the Leica arsenal that are classics in my mind. The 21/3,4, the 50/2 DR, the 75/1,4 and above all the 35/2. The 35/1,4's and the 35/1,2 are lenses for the time when the f2 is too slow. The 35/2 Classic is the perfect "walk-about" lens on a M2 or a 0,58 M6/M7/MP.
35/1,4 Old style. The first version with the OLLUX hood was not very good. Wide-open it exhibited Bokeh and sometimes only Bokeh! The 2nd generation of this lens is not a bad lens, It has a very smooth tonality and, although not super-sharp wide open, it is usable at f1,4. It is just about the same size as the 35/2 Classic and you do get a stop more speed out of it. It has one of the more interesting qualities when it comes to field of sharpness, it curves somewhat and that gives it a quality all its own. If you shoot wide-open and focus at 10 feet, the corners are sharp at 7-8 feet and the sharpness "curves" to the center.
One of the unsung lenses in the Leica production is the 35/2,8 Summaron. If you don't need the speed, this is a great lens. Remember that to get high speed performance in a lens something usually got to give (size, weight or mid f-stop performance). The 35/2,8 is as sharp as the other 35's at f4 and 5,6 and sometimes I suspect that they are sharper than the "faster" counterparts. They are also usually cheaper and in better condition than the used 35/2's and 1,4's as they most likely were bought by non-professionals and treated much more gently. I have a couple of these lenses and what always strikes me is the close-up performance (0,7 to 1,5 meters), noticeably better than the 35/2's or 1,4's.
All of these statements are based on my own experience with these lenses; the results are based on my style of shooting, handheld and with black/white medium speed films (400 ASA). This said, I think that I could survive for a long time with a M2 and a 35/2 Classic and a bag full of Tri-X. It is amazing what you can coax out of a negative shot with this combination!
Now I am going out to shoot a couple of rolls of Tech-Pan with a M2 and my old 35/1,4. The sun is beating down on the beach and life is good.