Having attributed the appearance and apparent success of the Cosina-made Voigtlander Bessa 35mm film rangefinder cameras and lenses to the contrary mind of the company's president, Hirofume Kobayashi, I had not expected a staid, conservative, old school company also to get into the act. However, as you know, Zeiss did just that with the just becoming available Zeiss Ikon camera plus seven Carl Zeiss lenses.
Why? SLRs defeated rangefinder cameras in the 1970s, leaving the superbly made, still highly capable Leica M cameras as technical relics. Autofocus likewise did in 35mm point-and-shoot rangefinder cameras during the same period. It only remained for megapixels in the last few years to obliterate virtually every 35mm and 120 rollfilm camera. But in enthusiastically trashing all this, have we let somethings valuable slip by us?
I ask asked a major planner of the new Zeiss camera and lenses, Dr. Winfried Scherle, Vice-President and general manager in the Camera Lens Division of Carl Zeiss AG to defend the decision. His answers to my somewhat sticky questions, on behalf of Carl Zeiss, did no such thing.
They went on the attack.
Q: With more and more amateur and professional photographers switching to digital cameras, and Leica M sales static if not dwindling, is there really a market for a Zeiss Ikon film rangefinder camera? If so, where and why?
There are demanding photographers who find the images resulting from even the best digital cameras lacking in some aspects. Those who are familiar with the whole gamut of quality inherent in a very well taken photo may find the Zeiss Ikon to be the most compact and versatile tool of taking such photos.
Images captured on film can be safely stored and reliably retrieved over time spans of more than a century. On the other hand, digitally stored data are often subject to sudden loss within less than a decade. Therefore Hollywood stores all important movies on silver halide film, even if they were digitally taken.
Film capture still provides better dynamic range, higher sensitivity to light without image artifacts and the ability to capture long exposures of over 30 seconds. With the wide range of transparency and negative films on the market, the photographer has many choices to suit their own personal tastes in the form of color reproduction, resolution and film speed, etc. While digital post processing can replicate some specific film stock characteristics, this type of retouching takes considerable time and requires a high degree of experience. The portability of the Zeiss Ikon system, coupled with a choice of high quality films, puts the emphasis back into creative picture taking and away from the drudgery of digital post processing.
Photographers like this exist almost anywhere in the world, particularly in Japan, China, North America, and central Europe. We would like to give these people the right tool and that is the reason why we introduced -- besides a lot of digital products -- the ZI system.
Q: With Sony developing a large Carl Zeiss lens group for its new DSLR cameras, why would consumers need a rangefinder camera instead?
Compared with a SLR, a rangefinder camera is a very different photographic tool.
1. SLR viewfinders are darker than RF viewfinders, and they are darkest -- totally black -- when this is most objectionable: in the very moment of exposing the image receiver (film/sensor).
2. The moving mirror of an SLR causes mirror slap, which limits the resolving power of the lens + camera combination clearly below the level which the lens could achieve. RF cameras don’t have this drawback. And SLR cameras are louder due to the moving mirror.
3. SLR cameras and their lenses are bigger and heavier, almost twice that of a RF camera and lenses (see picture at right comparing a 2/35 ZM for Zeiss Ikon rangefinder cameras and the 2/35 ZF for Nikon SLRs). This allows you for example to take much more discrete pictures.
4. SLR cameras are much slower in terms of “shutter lag.” With a fast RF camera and their shutter lag of only 20 milliseconds, a photographer can precisely capture the very phase of a motif in motion which he or she likes most.
5. DSLR’s have very high power consumption and require hefty battery packs, while the Zeiss Ikon only takes two tiny batteries -- each the size of a pea -- which lasts for over 10,000 exposures. This has many benefits to the travel or nature photographer who may not have the ability to recharge batteries in the field or want to deal with the weight of carrying spare batteries.
Q: While Kyocera was manufacturing Zeiss lenses for the now discontinued Contax line of cameras, Carl Zeiss had a real presence in Japan supervising Zeiss lens quality. Does Zeiss have the same for the new Japanese made M mount lenses and Zeiss Ikon camera bodies?
Yes, Zeiss today has that same presence.
Q: Picture for picture, in what way will the new Zeiss camera and lenses show superiority over top level DSLRs and their best lenses, such as the Canon L lenses.
The Zeiss Ikon camera, being free of mirror slap, easily reaches twice the resolving power of even the best DSLR, be it handheld or from tripod.
1. Wide-angle photos taken with the Zeiss Ikon camera and Carl Zeiss ZM lenses are much sharper, crisper, more detailed than even the very best result from the very best SLR.
2. Those who have used the camera extensively have achieved photos with stunning details, previously not achievable on anything smaller than medium format.
3. Today films are available with much higher performance than digital sensors.
Q: There are rumors that Zeiss will eventually have its own digital rangefinder camera body that will accept the M mount lenses. True or false? Will it be Cosina-made? Full 24 x 36mm sensor?
At Carl Zeiss, we can imagine such a camera. But we feel that is not the right time to introduce such a camera now. Today digital technology is still developing fast and the initial value of a digital camera is lost in quite a short time. Carl Zeiss wants to protect the investment of its customers and will therefore require a high level of maturity of products before we can justify to offer them to our customers. At the time we introduce such a camera we want to be sure that the owner has invested in a long term value.
1. It is much too early to determine a manufacturer for such a camera.
2. Full 24 x 36 is, as far as we see today, for a variety of reasons the preferred sensor size of most serious rangefinder photographers.
Q: Do you see the new Zeiss Ikon camera and lenses being sold as an additional system to a consumers' DSLR or as a substitute?
The Zeiss Ikon rangefinder camera can complement a SLR or DSLR very well for photographers who understand which viewfinder concept is best for which photographic idea. For example, telephoto and macro applications are the domain of the SLR. In wide-angle and most landscape photography the RF has the edge.
The experienced photographer therefore considers the Zeiss Ikon camera an addition to his toolkit rather than a substitute for a SLR/DSLR. But we also know photographers that work almost 100% with rangefinder cameras.
Q: In which parts of the world do you think sales of your new camera and lenses will be most successful?
1. We do know that many camera lovers in Japan want to own this camera or already do so, and we see increasing interest in other Asian countries such as China.
2. We also know that many photographers in North America want to use it for street photography and photojournalistic work.
3. In Europe, semi-professional architecture photographers, travel photographers and “photo poets” prefer it over much bigger, much slower, cumbersome, more expensive photographic tools.
4. We also see it being the ideal camera system for the photo purist. Regardless of film or digital capture, this is the kind of photographer who takes more time composing and creating the image than editing from a large selection and applying post processing techniques to "save" the image. These photographers are methodical in their approach and gravitate to the best equipment available to realize their creative vision.
Q: Why didn't Zeiss insist on a higher speed shutter mechanism instead of the same one that Cosina has been using for all its film SLRs and Bessa cameras for years?
At 1/2000s the shutter in the Zeiss Ikon camera is twice as fast as the one in a more expensive alternative, which has been accepted by the market for decades.
The shutter in the Zeiss Ikon camera is an improved version (longer service life, lower level of mechanical vibration, less noise) of a durable all metal device manufactured in industrial quantities by a Japanese shutter specialist, thus ensuring operational reliability, value for money, and availability for years to come.