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The M Files (13): Three Konica M-Hexanon lenses – one of them is a real gem and truly exotic

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It was a spectacular attempt to challenge Leica in the rangefinder sector: In 1999, Konica launched the Hexar RF camera. Next to the 50/2 kit lens, there were some more optics. Let’s take a look at the Konica M-Hexanon lenses 28/2.8, 90/2.8, and the glorious 21-35/3.4-4. 

You might call it the niche inside the niche inside the niche. Film photography has become more popular in recent years but is still a minority pursuit for sure. Within the analogue universe, rangefinders have only a small share of the action. And in the rangefinder world, Konica is certainly less known than Leica, Zeiss or Voigtländer. 

All this does not change the fact that some of the finest products within the rangefinder market once came from Konica. The Hexar RF camera seems to become increasingly sought after among people who are looking for an alternative to a Leica. So it seems worthwhile to look at some of the lenses that were once made by Konica.

Konica: The assassination attempt on Leica gone wrong

I covered the Hexar RF camera with its kit lens, the M-Hexanon 50/2, in part three of my The M Files project that is published exclusively here on Macfilos for the English-speaking world. For all basic information about the camera and its history, you might want to read it here. In order to understand what Konica was doing more than 20 years ago, it is, however, important to have a bit of history. 

Probably in preparation for the day when the M mount patent expired, Konica embarked on its rangefinder system journey in the late 90s. The result was the technologically most advanced rangefinder film camera, the Hexar RF.

Dante Stella suggests in a very recommendable article that the interchangeable lens rangefinder project might have been mainly a pastime for ambitious but under-employed engineers. I am rather inclined to see it as a prestige project by management that wanted to make a statement with something that could rival the much-revered Leica products. 

Well, if it was an assassination attempt and not just an expensive distraction, it was a commercial failure. Probably because the rangefinder audience was too conservative in those days and certainly because the market for film-loading cameras was shrinking rapidly of all things in the period when the Hexar RF was supposed to be a success.

Test-driving the lenses on the M10 and the Hexar RF

I used the four Konica lenses I write or wrote about on the Konica RF film loading body with a variety of negative films. In general, I can judge that all lenses met the needs even of the most modern film, the Kodak Ektar 100. I used the lenses also on digital rangefinder cameras, mostly the M10 (24 MP). This is more of a litmus test because 24MP+ sensors are more demanding than most films for a number of reasons. 

I do not want to go too deeply into the details, but I want to mention the character of a sensor’s pixel wells, the extreme flatness of the sensor as opposed to film and the lack of three-dimensionality that the grain of a film possesses. All my M Files work taught me the rule of thumb that a lens that performs well on a modern digital rangefinder camera will also do so on a film rangefinder camera.

Prices and availability

Konica M mount lenses were discontinued almost 20 years ago. So, there is not much hope of finding a cheap new shelf-warmer from a small shop somewhere (because these shops are sadly vanishing, and there are enough people around who know to make money with Leica-related gear). The lenses to be had will therefore be pre-owned, and the most offerings seem to come from Japan and southern Europe (In fact, I remember from travels to Italy in the 1990s that Konica cameras were quite popular there). 

Prices vary — but expect them to be in the range of a new equivalent Voigtländer lens. The M-Hexanon Dual 21-35 is very rare and thus expensive. Good sources are reputable dealers or specialized auctioneers, but there also seem to be decent offerings on eBay. 

I can particularly recommend Jo Geier in Vienna where I got one of the few Hexanon Dual lenses that seem to have been on offer in Europe over the last few years. The channel in this case was eBay but you can also buy from Jo Geier directly. Normally, my main source is the Leica Store Konstanz with its helpful and knowledgeable team, but for the really rare things, Jo Geier Mint&Rare – nomen est omen – is another trustworthy source.  

A bit wide or rather super wide? For interiors, a 35/21 millimetre (63/90 degrees angle of view) combination is very helpful. St. Michael, München. Konica M-Hexanon Dual 21-35 @21mm and 35mm respectively on Leica M10. ISO 10.000, f/3.4-4, 1/125-1/60 sec.

In any case, patience is a virtue if you are looking for a particular lens. Offerings from Japan can open up an express lane, but keep in mind that import sales tax and customs duties can be quite high depending on where you live and from where you buy.

The elephant in the room: The Konica KM focusing issue

To get away with one issue related to Konica lenses right at the beginning, I want to give an assessment regarding the alleged compatibility issues. Konica marketed their M line as KM mount (meaning Konica M, I suppose). There are constant reports that the KM mount is not identical to the Leica M mount and that it is, therefore, difficult or impossible to get the images sharp when using Konica lenses on Leica cameras. 

I could not notice it generally, but the 90/2.8 proved indeed to be a bit tricky to focus. But the Leica 90 lenses are not that easy to work with either – you do have a very shallow depth of field, especially at close distances. The 28/2.8 is more forgiving by nature, as is the M-Hexanon Dual which has a quite small initial aperture and wide angles at the same time. 

Stephan Gandy, a real rangefinder expert, offers interesting details about the compatibility question in this excellent article (do read to the very end). I for my part would state that there are no compatibility reasons to keep away from Konica lenses generally. 

In the end, and EVF solves all Konica M-Hexanon issues

That said, I should add that on the M10, I often used the Visoflex electronic viewfinder because I find it more comfortable than Konica’s optical viewfinder (better accuracy for framing and exposure). With such a WYSIWYG device, you are safe in any event. My experience with KM lenses on film-loading Leicas or Cosina (aka Voigtländer, Zeiss Ikon, Rollei) rangefinder cameras is too limited to give more than a tendency (which is positive).


1. The Konica M-Hexanon 28/2.8: The sound all-rounder (and not so much more)

The M-Hexanon 28/2.8 was introduced in 1999 together with the Hexar RF. The new system started with the classical focal lengths of 28, 50, and 90 millimetres. The 28 was to remain the shortest prime KM mount lens from Konica – a manufacturer with a very good reputation for its lenses back in its days. So it was and is to be expected that the M-Hexanon’s design can hold its own to this day.

Technical data and scope of delivery

The M-Hexanon 28/2.8 is a moderately sized rangefinder lens but not a particularly small one – see the image in the “Alternatives” section. It is 58 mm long (with both caps, 52 without) and has a diameter of 56 mm. Its weight is 256 grams as-in-my-bag, that is with both caps and the beautifully made screw-in vented hood (230 g naked). For comparison, the Elmarit-M 28 ASPH Version I weighs in at only 198 grams with both caps and hood. 

The original manual gives no type or number for the hood. With this hood attached, the original slip-on metal front cap will no longer attach. So it is better get a no-name 46 mm front cap and make sure it is a centre-squeeze design because otherwise the hood will prevent putting it on and off. Filter size follows the Leica pattern with 46 mm (the Konica 50/2 kit lens has a more exotic 40.5 mm filter thread). In the maker’s box were two soft bags, one for the lens and one for the hood.

Optics and rendering

Lens design

The M-Hexanon 28/2.8 features eight lenses in seven groups and represents a fairly conventional design. Other than the Zeiss philosophy that prefers more or less symmetrical Biogon designs for the widest-angle rangefinder lenses, the Hexanon reminds pretty me much of the last pre-aspheric Leica Elmarit (also known as type IV) which, worth noting, was introduced in 1993, a full six years before the Konica. There were no aspherical elements used, and the manual says nothing about special glass and other outstanding design features.

Colour drift

The rear lens element protrudes relatively far into the camera and thus sits pretty close to the sensor. This implies that lateral rays of light hit the sensor at quite a sharp angle. For whatever reason, the colour drift you would expect off axis is hardly noticeable. Maybe there is a hint of purple towards the right edge of your image but you will see it only if you search for it. This is true for the M10; on older digital rangefinder bodies, the phenomenon could be more prominent.

Chromatic aberration

In high-contrast situations, some CA occurs. Stopping down helps, but be aware that the notorious branches against the sky or other critical elements of your image might appear not perfectly contrasty or crisp even when you use f/5.6 or so. 

Sharpness

The M-Hexanon shows good resolution and sufficient micro-contrast to produce a sharp image even on the best modern films such as Kodak Ektar. On high-resolving digital bodies, you might find the lens a bit soft especially wide open. In post-processing, you will see that it’s more a question of contrast than a lack of resolution. That’s good news of course because it’s easy to add contrast but impossible to add real resolution. However, do not expect clinical sharpness into the corners at f/2.8.

Bokeh and flare

If you use the 28/2.8 next to the close-up limit at full aperture, you can produce some background separation. The unsharp areas are pleasant (the somewhat limited contrast is helping here). With the sun in the image or next to its margins, the M-Hexanon works very well. Flare or drastic contrast loss is nothing to be afraid of in general. They must have had a very good coating technology at Konica. 

My verdict, optics

The M-Hexanon 28/2.8 is a good all-round wide-angle lens with very good flare resistance and good sharpness. However, on modern digital cameras, this almost 25-year-old design reaches its limits, mainly noticeable wide open and in the corners of your image.

Mechanics and handling

Overall appearance

The M-Hexanon 28 is, for its focal length and speed, an average-sized rangefinder lens. Not slender, not bulky. Haptics are as you would expect, with knurled rings for both focus and aperture (in a distinctively different pattern which is good for operating the lens by feel). Markings and numbers are lightly engraved and laid out in white or orange (foot scale), everything is very well legible.

Build quality

All in all, the lens might not be built right up to Leica standards, but it is very well made nevertheless. All metal and glass, and everything’s firm in its place. Maybe I was lucky to find an almost new copy, but what I see is convincing. 

Focusing

The focus ring on my copy is a bit stiff, probably due to years of having seen no use. Unfortunately, the M-Hexanon has no focusing tab so you just have the knurled ring. You can grab it anywhere on its circumference, but there is no chance of using muscle memory with the focus tab at six o’clock representing the standard 1.2-metre setting. That’s really a pity and somewhat surprising because other Konica M-Hexanon wide-angle lenses do have the focusing tab.

Viewfinder

Without the hood, the M-Hexanon 28 obstructs the lower right corner of the M10’s viewfinder a bit but not dramatically. On the Konica Hexar with its .6 viewfinder, it is even a bit better. The supplied hood makes things worse, but it is vented so you can still compose your image with sufficient accuracy.

Close up distance

Close up distance is 0.7 metres which is the limit of your rangefinder anyway.

My verdict, handling

The M-Hexanon 28 is a well-made, easy to use wide angle lens for rangefinder cameras. No frills, no complaints except for the missing focusing tab.

M-Hexanon 28/2.8: Alternatives

There are many 28 mm lenses that make for viable alternatives to the M-Hexanon: Leica Elmarits of whatever vintage – I would say that the last two iterations (ASPH version I and version II) are significantly better than the Konica. This is no surprise as the designs are quite some years younger. The Minolta 28/2.8 that was designed for the CLE is an excellent alternative, too, but read this to know why you should be careful when purchasing

Finally, the Zeiss Biogon ZM 28/2.8 is a stunning lens, too, and it has the advantage of being available new. I covered the Zeiss 28 in this M Files episode. For the sake of completeness, there is also a Voigtländer 28 which I have never used. And if you can afford it, think about the Leica Summicron 28 version I. It has an ugly lens hood, but everything else is stunning, and it is not even heavier than the M-Hexanon despite being a full aperture stop faster. 

All that said, a 28 lens makes the most sense when a 50 is your everyday lens. It takes advantage of frame lines in most rangefinder cameras (including the Konica Hexar RF), but if you are a 35-millimetre shooter, a 21 might be the better extension of your kit.

Konica M-Hexanon 28/2.8: The bottom line 

The Konica 28/2.8 is a very versatile lens that offers the widest angle of view that is still supported by the built-in viewfinder of most rangefinder cameras. While not a bargain, it is still quite affordable on the second-hand market, and the mechanical quality, especially, is great. Optically, it has a few compromises mainly on high-resolution sensors. If you can spend a bit more, I would rather go for a new Zeiss 28/2.8 with a warranty and a very pleasing signature.


2. The Konica M-Hexanon 90/2.8: The wannabe Leica short tele

Lens number two in this review is another classic focal length for rangefinder cameras. 90-millimetre lenses have been around since the 135 film standard was established a century ago. No wonder Konica wanted to offer a ninety in the initial line-up of their M mount system. The maximum aperture of f/2.8 was well-established by then, and Konica obviously made no attempt to go for a daring f/2 as Leica had done already in 1959. 

Technical data and scope of delivery

The M-Hexanon 90/2.8 is a lens of average size compared to other short telephoto rangefinder optics. Its length is 87 millimetres with both caps on (76 without), the diameter is a rangefinder-typical 56 mm. With both caps, it weighs in at 325 grams (308 naked) which is considerably lighter than the latest Leica Elmarit-M 90 (416 grams with both caps for the black version) or the Summarit 90 (385 g). The Tele-Elmarit-M, discontinued in 1990, remains the flyweight at only 260 g. 

There is no separate hood for the M-Hexanon 90 as it has the same built-in, slide-out hood as the Elmarit or the classic Summicron-50. So, in the box is only a nicely made metal cap which attaches very well with its felt-lined inner ring. The scope of delivery comprised a soft bag of which I cannot surely say if it is made from real or fake leather. The filter size is 46, in line with many Leica 90 mm and other lenses.

Optics and rendering

Lens design

The M-Hexanon 90 is a pretty classical design. It does without aspherical lens elements and other advanced features. The lens comprises five elements in four groups. In this respect, it is no simple copy of the contemporary Leica design: The last Elmarit-M 90 has only four lenses. Both Elmarit and Hexanon have a minimum focusing distance of one metre.

Colour drift

Being a telephoto lens, the rays of light reach the sensor of a digital camera in a more or less rectangular way. I did not notice any colour drift either with the M10 or with the older (and, in this respect, pickier) M262. No surprise for a 90 mm lens but nice nonetheless.

Chromatic aberration

In high-contrast situations, the M-Hexanon shows massive chromatic aberration. The sun reflected on the surface of water is purple, and you can also see some green areas where they should not be. This is also visible in photos shot on film, but to a lesser degree. While CA is relatively easy to correct in digital post-processing it is very nasty on your slides for example. I think I never saw a lens with that much CA. The only consolation is that in less contrasty images, CA is much less. The notorious branches against the sky are okay (albeit not really crisp).

Sharpness

While a bit soft at f/2.8, the M-Hexanon shows a good amount of micro contrast and a very good resolution from f/4 onwards. Both add to good sharpness in your image. It is not up to the standards of the Leica Elmarit-M but more than enough for both sunny and contrasty moments and hazy and subdued scenes. That is, if you got your subject in focus. The best way to achieve this is using an electronic viewfinder. But if you really nail it the M-Hexanon will not disappoint you.

Bokeh and flare

Caused by the narrow angle of view and thanks to the nice slide-out hood, you can easily avoid having the sun shining directly or laterally into your optical system. So, flare is no big issue with the M-Hexanon. The out-of-focus areas are rendered in a pleasant, but not in an outstanding way. Wide-open, the lack of contrast gives a certain creaminess to the bokeh. Otherwise, I would rate it normal to slightly uneasy. 

My verdict, optics

The M-Hexanon 90/2.8 is a moderate telephoto lens for M mount with average performance. The biggest weak point is heavy chromatic aberration in contrasty situations.

Mechanics and handling

Overall appearance

The M-Hexanon 90 comes across as a typical rangefinder lens. It is quite small and slender, and all controls are where you will expect them. The aperture ring feels distinctively different from the focus ring (as often for longer focal lengths, no focusing tab is provided). In common with the whole lens, both rings are made from metal. The M-Hexanon has, all in all, a very solid appearance. The markings (f stops and distance in metres are white, distance in feet in orange) are easy to read. 

Build quality

As you would expect from a late 1980s rangefinder lens design with premium ambitions, the lens is made entirely from metal and glass. The bayonet mount is chromed and seems to be very precise. On my copy, both rings are working very well, almost silky and without any slack. The aperture can be set in half stops (not marked, but precisely clicking) All this is not far away from Leica standards.

Focusing

The focusing ring is, as mentioned, well-damped but easy to operate. The focus throw of about 90 degrees seems quite right to me, there is enough way for the fine corrections. More important is that the rangefinder coupling probably is, as mentioned in the beginning of this article, not exactly compatible with Leica standards. This means that getting something tack sharp at close focus and wide open can be somewhat of a lottery if you work with the optical rangefinder. 

Viewfinder

With a 90 millimetre lens, you only use a small part of the rangefinder window. It is so small that even a lens of the M-Hexanon’s length will not obstruct your actual frame. With Konica’s Hexar camera and its 0.6 rangefinder “magnification”, your subject is very small indeed, and framing will not be perfectly exact. Keep that in mind if you have the ambition (or, in case of shooting on slide film, obligation) to frame precisely and tightly. 

Close up distance

1 metre or 100 centimetres, this is resulting in a maximum magnification ratio of 1:9 (a bit more than the size of an A4 sheet). Quite standard for rangefinder 90-millimetre lenses despite the fact that the rangefinder mechanism itself would allow another 30 centimetres of close-up potential. But you don’t normally use a rangefinder camera to shoot macro subjects, do you? 

My verdict, handling: 

The M-Hexanon 90/2.8 is a well-built, easy to handle telephoto lens which was manufactured to high standards.

Konica M-Hexanon 90/2.8: Alternatives

There are so many M-mount 90 lenses that it is almost impossible to name a choice of alternatives for the M-Hexanon 90. For once I want to stick to the speed of 2.8, and there is no way around the Elmarit-M from Leica. Its last version from 1990 (discontinued in 2008) is a great lens. As mentioned, it seems to have been the role model for the M-Hexanon 90. 

To put it briefly: the copy is behind the original in every respect. For a long time, the latest Leica 90/2.8 was still quite inexpensive, and to this day it is one of the more affordable Leica lenses. Its direct predecessor, the very small and light Tele-Elmarit (1974-1990, E 39 filter) is also worth recommending, especially for travel. And don’t forget the 90/2.5 or 2.4 Summarit – get some details in this Macfilos article.

Konica M-Hexanon lenses are not cheap anymore

If you prefer a new lens (designed according to the latest standards and with a warranty), you should have a look at the recently introduced and lightweight (288 g complete) APO-Skopar 90/2.8 from Voigtländer. Since Konica lenses are becoming more and more expensive, it is even an alternative in terms of price. From what I have seen and tested so far, it outperforms the M-Hexanon. 

Some more thoughts about short telephoto lenses for rangefinder can be found in the overview aka part ten of The M Files but also in part number seven, and in the latest episode that covers the Zeiss 85/4 where I take a closer look at slower tele lenses.

Konica M-Hexanon 90/2.8: The bottom line 

The M-Hexanon 90/2.8 is seems to be an attempt to copy Leica’s last Elmarit 90. However, it does not succeed in delivering a similar performance. While not a bad lens, its undisputed mechanical qualities cannot hide the fact that the Konica lens is optically inferior to its Leica sibling, especially concerning chromatic aberration. This lens certainly completes a Konica kit in a beautiful way — but for actual shooting, I would opt for a different 90-mm lens.


3. The Konica M-Hexanon dual 21-35/3.4-4: The chance that Leica always missed

The third lens in this review is the most interesting one for sure. Only Konica had the courage to combine the 21 and the 35-millimetre focal lengths in one varifocal rangefinder lens. It is not a zoom (which would make little sense for a classical rangefinder camera with fixed frame lines and external viewfinders) but a dual lens. It was introduced in 2001, and only 800 items were produced according to various internet sources such as the expert Stephen Gandy. So, let’s have a closer look at this truly exotic lens.

Technical data and scope of delivery

At first glance, the M-Hexanon Dual 21-35 (in fact, it is a 21 and 35 or a 21/35 and not a zoom lens as the hyphen might suggest) is not a small optic, especially when you consider it is not a fast lens. But it’s two lenses in one of course, and with this in mind 78 millimetres in length and 69 in diameters is alright. Weight is 361 grams complete with caps and the original external 21/35 viewfinder (299 g for the naked lens). Fun fact: That’s exactly the combined weight of the Voigtländer 35/2.5 and 21/4 pancake lenses I reviewed in part 2 (21/4) and part 6 (35/2.5) of The M Files.

The M-Hexanon Dual came with the mentioned viewfinder (marked VL-6) which has full frame lines for 21 millimetres (including a parallax mark) and corner markings for 35. In the box, there used to be a lens hood with the designation HL-6. It attaches via metal pins on the lens’s circumference. Unfortunately, on my copy this lens hood is missing. If any Macfilos reader should have one by any chance and not need it – this is a moment when you could help me!

The M-Hexanon Dual has the Konica-typical metal cap that is also fixed with the aforementioned pins. Underneath is a 62 mm filter thread; not quite a standard size, but the occasional yellow or orange filter for b/w work should be easy to find. 

The New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) of München at noon, when the clock chimes. The 21 and 35 millimetre dual lens gives you a lot of opportunities. Konica M-Hexanon Dual 21-35 in both positions on Leica M10.

Optics and rendering

Lens design

As you would imagine, the M-Hexanon Dual is a relatively complex design. It consists of eleven elements in ten groups, and these groups form a total of two lens units. The rear unit, which encompasses the aperture (!) moves back when you switch to the 21-millimetre focal length and forth for 35. The aperture ring stays in its position all the time. 

When focusing, the front lens rotates and moves in and out a bit while the overall length of the lens remains constant. You might call that semi-internal focusing. The front ring with the filter thread is fixed which is helpful if you are using polarizing filters and indispensable for the use of the tulip-shaped hood. I am sure that inventing, designing and constructing this lens was a major effort. This again leads me to the assumption that Konica’s rangefinder episode in general and this very lens in special were prestige projects.

Another example of how useful a combined 21 and 35-millimetre lens can be – especially if it handles contre-jour situations in such an excellent manner. Winter day in Toggenburg in north-eastern Switzerland. Konica M-Hexanon Dual 21-35 on Leica M10. 

Colour drift

With the M10, I could detect no significant colour shift. It may be more prominent on older digital rangefinder cameras. In the 35 millimetre position, the rear lens retracts deep into the lens, so the rays will not hit the sensor in a very sharp angle. Even in the 21 millimetre position, there is considerable space between the rear lens element and the sensor. Well done by engineers who surely had no digital sensor in mind back then.

Chromatic aberration

I could not see a lot of it. In very high contrast situations you might detect some minor CA which makes the image a bit less crisp and contrasty than you might wish. This applies to both focal lengths while the 35 mm position seems to be a bit more favourable when it comes to CA. But all in all, very impressive.

Sharpness

The M-Hexanon Dual is no fast lens and offers some depth of field already when wide open. This, combined with the short focal lengths, leaves little room for sharpness assessment on a razor-thin plane of in-focus objects. That said, I saw a lot of sharpness and good contrast in this lens, equally in both positions. It does not have the almost biting sharpness of Leica’s recent 21/3.4 but the M-Hexanon is sharp enough for sure.

But even this stunning lens is not entirely flare-proof. The helping hand of a fellow photographer solved the problem here. Konica M-Hexanon Dual 21-35 on Leica M10. ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/350 sec.

Bokeh and flare

For the reasons mentioned above, bokeh is not much of an issue with a slow wide-angle lens. What I could produce was okay for me. Much more of a topic is flare in a wide-angle lens. And in this respect, the M-Hexanon Dual is superb, even without its lens hood. I shot into the sun at 21 millimetres and with the sun just outside my subject. With considerable effort, I was able to produce rainbow-shaped flares and overall haziness. But genereally, the flare resistance of this lens is truly remarkable. They must have used an excellent coating technology, and my copy of the lens has kept it very well.

My verdict, optics

he M-Hexanon Dual 21-35 is an outstanding lens optically. While a bit on the slow side (f/3.4 at 21 millimetres and only f/4 at 35 millimetres), it excels in all other disciplines. A masterpiece of optical engineering.

Mechanics and handling

Overall appearance

The M-Hexanon Dual is basically a small rangefinder lens with moderate length and slim diameter with a wide, collar-like front ring. This seems to owe partly to quite a large front lens element but maybe also to the fact that an efficient lens hood must not cause vignetting at a ca 90-degree angle of view (21 mm). 

Build quality

The M-Hexanon Dual is made of all metal and glass. As you would expect it for the period and the framework it was made in. The late 80s and a prestige project from an experienced manufacturer are a marriage made in heaven for all friends of vintage lenses. 

Focusing

The very smooth focus ring can be operated with a feather touch and has a convenient throw of just over 90 degrees. For these two focal lengths, this seems to be a sweet spot. You can be fast and precise at the same time. Speaking of this, the focus ring is plain and not knurled in any way, there is just a tab; at the 6 o’clock position it is set to about 1.2 metres (kind of standard for many M mount lenses, very convenient). This prevents confusing it with the adjacent, knurled ring for the 21/35 focal length setting. The aperture setting has a different haptic pattern so you will not mix the three rings up despite the fact that they are close by each other.

Viewfinder

At the 35 millimetre setting, you might want to use the combined rangefinder-viewfinder of your M mount camera. And here is the bad news: The M-Hexanon Dual obstructs, due to its large front ring (62 mm filter thread!), almost the whole of the lower right quadrant of the viewfinder image on your .72 camera such as the M10. On the Konica Hexar with its .6 viewfinder, it is slightly better. 

At 21 millimetres, you need an external viewfinder (or a well-trained eye). The one supplied by Konica is also partly obstructing the lower area but it is useable, I would say. Live view or an electronic viewfinder, however, are better options. 

Close up distance

The M-Hexanon Dual focuses down to 0.8 metres thus making use of almost the full rangefinder potential. I made no special close up test because a (super) wide and slow lens is not what you would use for such work, would you? 

My verdict, handling

The M-Hexanon Dual 21-35 shows, in its mechanics and handling, the same virtues as in its optical performance. All great with the only exception being the heavy finder blockage.  

Konica M-Hexanon Dual 21-35: Alternatives

Strictly speaking, there are no alternatives to the M-Hexanon Dual. No other manufacturer made an attempt to unite these two important focal lengths in one lens. One can only regret this — I am sure that such a lens would have great opportunities on the market even today. 

In this respect, the story of the M-Hexanon Dual is also a story of missed opportunities. Signal to Wetzlar: This could still be an exciting product today, and all the more so when electronic viewfinders on rangefinder cameras are becoming more and more popular (no, I’m not going to open the debate about an M with EVF now).

The Leica Tri-Elmar…

That being said, the two Tri-Elmars from Leica naturally come to mind, one of which, the WATE[footnote]Wide Angle Tri-Elmar[/footnote], covers the 21 millimetres at the long end. The other, known as the MATE[footnote]Medium Angle Tri-Elmar[/footnote] has 35 millimetres as its middle focal length. However, neither of the Tri-Elmars can remotely replace the M-Hexanon Dual.

So, an alternative to the Hexanon Dual is a combination of a 21 and a 35 lens. There are countless possibilities. I would like to mention a rreally nice Voigtländer kit, which consists of the Ultron 35/2 and the Color-Skopar 21/3.5. Both are excellent optics and even surpass the M-Hexanon Dual in their performance (and they cost less new than a used Hexanon Dual). Moreover, the Ultron is one and a half stops faster. Also recommended: The Zeiss Biogon combination 21/2.8 and 35/2, two excellent lenses as well. But in any case, you can’t avoid changing lenses. And that is often necessary exactly when it is the least convenient.  

Konica M-Hexanon 21-35/3.4-4: The bottom line 

The M-Hexanon Dual with its two focal lengths is an outstanding lens – not only for its bold design and its rarity but also for optical and mechanical performance. I have so far had the chance to shoot with a great number of different M mount lenses both from Leica and other manufacturers, and quite a few of them turned out to be great. With this experience, I can say, quite in line with Dante Stella’s excellent review of the lens: The M-Hexanon Dual 21-35/3.4-4 is unparalleled in every respect, period.

About 63- or 90-degree angle of view? It’s up to you with the wonderful M-Hexanon Dual. Why did they never care to sell such a lens at Leica? The combo is incredibly useful. Konica M-Hexanon Dual 21-35 @21mm and @35mm on Leica M10

Konica’s further M mount line-up

In its attempt to conquer the rangefinder market (or to pursue a prestige project), Konica manufactured two more lenses that were not (yet) covered by The M Files. The 35/2 has a very good reputation, and reviews are suggesting that it might offer an image quality that comes close to the Summicron-ASPH version I. 

Together with a “millennium” edition of the Hexar RF came a rather massive 50/1.2 in 2001(!). Only 2001 items were made, and they seem to be mainly in collectors’ hands now. Judging by its technical data, this super-fast lens seems to be something of an answer to Leica’s first Noctilux.

Konica also made some fine lenses with screw mount, and there appear to exist some adapted versions of the much-revered 35/2 (it appears to be different from the later M mount lens) that was fixed to an older Konica rangefinder camera, the Hexar AF.

Konica’s whole M mount range disappeared in the years after 2001 and was officially discontinued in 2003 when Konica and Minolta were merging (and putting a very sad end to two great brands). So, the story of the first M mount rangefinder camera developed independently from Leica and its lens line-up came to a sobering and certainly undeserved end.

Konica’s M-Hexanon M-Mount lenses: my final words

In the hands of the real-world photographer, the Konica lenses are capable tools and thus to be recommended. This is particularly true for the outstanding dual lens with its very advantageous focal lengths, 21 and 35 millimetres. The M-Hexanon is not only unique and (to this day) innovative, but also of excellent mechanical and optical quality. In so far, it is the pinnacle of all the four Konica lenses I used. While the 50/2 is also very good, the 28/2.8 might be rated as good average. The 90/2.8 is useful but stays optically behind its corresponding Leica lens, the latest version of the Elmarit-M 90/2.8. But rest assured: If you opt for a Konica kit, the biggest limitations you are likely to experience are rooted in the photographer and not in your gear.


The M Files: Get in-depth knowledge of M-Mount lenses, cameras and suitable accessories

The M Files is an ongoing project on Macfilos that focuses on photographic equipment with or for Leica M-Mount, made by companies other than Leica or which are otherwise not part of Leica’s M system. It follows a more or less encyclopaedic approach without being scientific. The focus is always on the real-life use and useability of cameras, lenses and other items. Products covered by The M Files include cameras, lenses, viewfinders, light meters and more. Some of the brands in the growing list are Contax, Konica, Minolta, Rollei, Voigtländer and Zeiss. 

Click here for the M Files Navigator, which gives you easy access to all articles and reviews by product type and brand.

Die M-Files: M-Mount-Objektive, -Kameras und passendes Zubehör jenseits von Leica M

Die M-Files sind ein Langzeit-Projekt, das sich auf Foto-Ausrüstungsteile mit oder für Leica M-Bajonett konzentriert, die von anderen Firmen als Leica hergestellt wurden oder die nicht zum M-System von Leica gehören. Es verfolgt einen mehr oder weniger enzyklopädischen Ansatz, ohne wissenschaftlich zu sein. Der Schwerpunkt liegt immer auf der praktischen Nutzung von Kameras, Objektiven und anderen Produkten. Zu den in den M-Files besprochenen Produkten gehören Kameras, Objektive, Sucher, Belichtungsmesser und mehr. Einige der Marken auf der wachsenden Liste sind Contax, Konica, Minolta, Rollei, Voigtländer und Zeiss. In deutscher Sprache erscheinen die Inhalte auf www.messsucherwelt.com.

Hier geht es zum deutschsprachigen M-Files Navigator, der einen einfachen Zugang zu allen Artikeln und Reviews nach Produkttyp und Marke ermöglicht.


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27 COMMENTS

  1. A marvellous lens for sure, I just received one of them and put it straight onto my Leica SL. Have you noticed that when shifting the focal length ring from the 35mm to 21mm position, the plane of focus moves forward quite significantly, which is well visible on mirrorless cameras (SL 601). For example switching FL without changing position of the camera means that if some object 1.8m away was in focus with 35mm, at 21mm I should rotate the ring towards 1.2m mark. Which is not a big deal on DSLM, but since the RF cam position does not change, it will back-focus on rangefinder bodies.
    Is it normal? It does not look like it has ever been opened or so, as the condition is very good but i am stumbled upon this kind of odd problem.

    • Hi Andrii,

      I can’t speak about putting the 21-35mm ‘M-Hexanon’ Dual Range lens on a Leica SL, but using mine on my Leica M10-P, there’s no focus shift at all when I change from 35 to 21mm, or the other way round. (You have to be careful, of course, to not accidentally nudge the focus ring when turning the focal-length ring!)

      I just checked this using Live View on the M10-P ..which is just the same as using a mirrorless camera – well, the M10 IS a mirrorless camera, giving a live view on its rear screen, and also visible in the clip-on ‘Visoflex’ electronic finder.

      So I’d say that it’s NOT normal, but if you can live with that, then it doesn’t matter. But for me, mine does not back-focus on my rangefinder bodies – not on my M9, either.

      • Thinking about this further, there used to be discussion about whether Konica’s version of the M-mount focusing was exactly the same as Leica’s. Stephen Gandy, on his website, used to wonder about whether there were differences between them, and Dante Stella, on his website, described the minute differences between the Leica focusing and the Konica focusing.

        (When I got a Konica 50mm f1.2, I found that the focusing was slightly off – on my Leica M – and sent it to the UK Leica expert Malcolm Taylor, who opened it up and was delighted to see a lens he’d never seen before ..but it’d have meant a 6-month wait before he actually did anything, so I took it back, unscrewed the lens mount, put in a paper shim, and that fixed it ..in about 20 minutes.)

        But your problem seems to be only when you change the focal length (35mm to 21mm) so it’s not, perhaps, a focus cam problem, but possibly a problem with the ‘zoom’ movement (the change from 35mm to 21mm) not quite engaging its end stops properly. (As you change from one focal length to another, the picture does go out of focus, but should then snap back into focus at the other focal length.)

        To try to see which it is (focus cam or ‘zoom’ fault) try using the lens on another M and see if you still have the same problem (different M cameras sometimes have a slightly different focus accuracy). If it definitely seems to be a focus cam problem, then put a rubber mat on your desk, carefully – with a teeny Phillips cross-head screwdriver – unscrew the six teeny screws which hold the lens mount onto the rear of the lens ..and don’t lose the screws!.. and cut a couple of pieces of paper to match the shape on the lens mount, make six holes in them – for the teeny screws – then put back the chrome lens mount with those two pieces of paper between the mount and the rest of the lens.

        See how that changes the focusing. If that almost fixes the problem, take it apart and add a third slice of paper, etcetera, until you get the focus absolutely perfect. If the two original pieces of paper make it worse, take it apart and remove one slice, screw it together, and see if that fixes it. It did for my 50mm Konica lens.

        My 21-35mm has never given me any trouble, but that fixed the fifty!

        • Hi David, thank you very much for the detailed response. It is indeed a problem of the ‘zoom’ movement. The 35mm position agrees distince-wise with other M lenses, such as the 35mm Summilux ASPH. The 35mm end of Konica aligns perfectly with infinity on the mirrorless and the M2, same as the ‘Lux ASPH.

          When I move the lens to a wider setting the picture does go out of focus, but is sharp again in 21mm position, however focus converges not exactly at the same point where it was aligned on the 35mm setting. The effect is less pronounced when the aperture is stopped down, what I mean is that one has to use the EVF on the SL to see unsharpness, because the picture of the display seems sharp already after closing down half-stop.
          I would estimate the object will probably be sufficient sharp when using f4.5 or below, because of how much DoF the 21mm lens has.

          However, it will focus past infinity if I completely turn the ring on the 21mm setting, the effect not seen with other lenses on this DSLM/adapter combination and not seen in the 35mm setting. This is a bit mind-boggling if I look now at the sharpness of the minimum focusing distance, where it aligns nearly perfectly and the focus plan stays where it was after switching from 35mm to 21mm. This is not so simple defect if I am seeing it right.. I am confused.

          • Please ignore my last point, the focus peaking ON (red) as well as review on the computer display makes it apparent that it slight back-focuses also in the closest setting of 21mm compared to 35mm.

          • It is really not a lot of difference: just a hair amount at 1m and at 0.8m, it nearly disappears. I can not always reproduce this in any motive of the photo. Indoors it seemed like a lot: I know I wrote on the RFF that 5m distance to the object on 35 scale puts me between 2 and 3, but now with good lighting it is not as much as it looked yesterday when i received it. It is not easy to nail focus on small object from almost 5m on a WA lens (with liveview/EVF). I have to look more but the discrepancy roughly corresponds to the distance between the red mark and the greed 4 digit on the hyperfocal scale.. (Btw, the seller also has tested it with another lens on the M4 body but i have only M2)

            And at further distances it is not much discrepancy any more that i can see, it is a miniscule amounts of turn of focusing ring that are required to reestablish the perfect focus, and that is only when shooting wide-open and focusing with a EVF (a good one!). I wonder if some play is involved that is making it more erratic sometimes, but I tested it and I could not find any play. Mind that the barrel is nicely smooth and has a dense feeling to it, the rear of the lens and the front glass rotate when focusing.

          • Hi, you say “.. It is not easy to nail focus on small object from almost 5m on a WA lens (with liveview/EVF)..” ..it certainly isn’t! But the depth-of-field of the lens should cover any slight mis-focusing.

            The d-o-f scale on my lens shows that at 5 metres, and f4, everything should be pretty much in focus between about 3.5 metres to 10 meters!

            And, of course, you need to adjust the focus (dioptre) setting of the EVF to match your own sight, whether with or without glasses.

            You say “..the rear of the lens and the front glass rotate when focusing”. The front glass does, and it slides in and out slightly, but the rear of mine doesn’t rotate at all ..it doesn’t move at all – except when changing between 21mm to 35mm.

            The lens is made in two sections; the front section – which turns during focusing – and the rear section which moves forwards and backwards, when changing from 21mm to 35mm. There’s a diagram of the various lens elements on pages 2, 3 and 4 at: https://research.konicaminolta.com/jp/pdf/technology_report/2003/pdf/10.pdf

            I’d guess that the more you use it, and your eyes get used to the view through your finder, the discrepancies will disappear!

          • Finally,

            The translation of section 4 of Konica’s description says:

            “It consists of a front group frame containing four front group lenses, a rear group frame containing an aperture mechanism and seven rear group lenses, various operating systems fixed in the direction of the optical axis, and exterior parts.

            “Focusing is performed by the front group frame using a helicoid, while focal length switching is performed by moving the rear group frame using a cam in the optical axis direction. By pursuing the precision of individual parts machining, we have achieved a moderate operating feel and consistently stable performance.

            “Bifocal lenses are required to have no shift in focus position when switching between focal lengths [My, David B, emphasis].

            “In this lens, we used a washer (FC adjustable plate) to adjust the distance between the front and rear groups so that the focus position at each focal length is the same” [my emphasis again].

            Yours, happy shooting,

            David.

          • Hi David, thank you, you are right I probably have had the the rear section in my mind, as you said moves forwards and backwards when changing focal length. During focusing only the RF cam (yellow/gold color) will move.
            The link to the Konica whitepaper is extremely useful for me.

  2. No worries, Farhiz, I do not get confused when packing my bag. The fact that I take a photo of a certain lens (or that I take a photo with a certain lens) does not regularly imply that I own it. There are quite some rangefinder friends who are helping me with loans for The M Files. However, there is no gear lent to me by manufacturers, and I am working on a totally independent basis. If I mention a dealer or the like, I do so out of conviction and not as a part of a deal. JP

  3. Jeezus, Joerg-Peter, another great review. Are all the photos of lenses you own? And how do you even choose the one to go shooting with on a normal day?

  4. Thanks Jörg-Peter for another fanstastic review. I almost bought a Konica RF back in the late 20th century. Their Hexar was absolutely amazing.
    Jean

    • You’re welcome, Jean. You would have had lot of fun with the Hexar RF. The camera is great and so are some of the lenses that were in the line-up. JP

    • You’re welcome, SlowDriver. Do have a bot of patience what you are looking for Konica KM lenses, prices vary in a considerable bandwidth. And – but this is only my personal view – if you should find a good copy of the Hexanon Dual at a reasonable price, don’t think twice. JP

      • There are two 50mm f/1.2 lenses on eBay right now but $5K and $6K, ouch… I did not see a 21-35mm, any idea how much these typically go for on eBay?

        • For good reasons, SlowDriver, I never give advice on specific offerings because I don’t know the gear that is offered and I don’t know the potential buyer and his/her situation either. It does make a difference if you are just curious or if you have been craving for a ceratin piece of gear for years.

          But I can say the the offerings you saw seem far too expensive to me. My advice: Start to consider buying a 50/1.2 at half the price you are mentioning. This is also a good framework for a Hexanon Dual. But you are right, they are hard to find, and when ordering from abroad, import duties, taxes and shipping can be very expensive.

          I hope that helps. All the best, JP

        • Well, I see one at £1751, one at £2114, one at £2767, and one at £2998. All from Japan – so there’d be extra import taxes as well to pay, depending on where you are.

          I’d say that £1751 is pretty much reasonable, considering that only 2001 of these lenses – supposedly – were made. The other prices seem too high.

          But it’s NOT a great lens. You’d guess that it might be, as it has an f1.2 aperture. But, as I mentioned above, the wide-open ‘bokeh’ is not very pleasing: it has ‘cats eye’ distant highlights, sometimes with sharp ‘rings’ in the out-of-focus highlights, it doesn’t give quite the sharpness or detail you’d expect at its widest aperture, and it doesn’t -s-m-o-o-t-h-l-y- smear away to gorgeous blurry nothingness; it’s ‘grainy’ ..that’s the only way I can describe it really. Let’s see if I’ve got a picture somewhere which shows it.

          You’d get FAR better results by simply using a lens with twice the focal length, i.e. 100mm, and with a less expensively wide aperture, e.g; f2.4 or f2.8. (People never seem to believe this, and always want to spend more money instead of spending LESS money for double the focal length ..and getting pretty much identical results!)

          Let me give you an example: you’d get FAR nicer results – you WILL get far nicer results!- by using the almost equivalent M-mount Nikkor 105mm F2.5 lens (if you can find one) than using the Konica 50mm F1.2. (I’ve just found a 105mm Nikkor in Pentax/Contax/Praktika M42 mount for just £386 ‘Buy It Now’, which is a really good price for one of those marvellous lenses. (I’ve got one in M39 – Leica screw – mount, and I just put a screw-to-M adaptor on it, and it works perfectly, with proper rangefinder coupling! NOTE that you wouldn’t get that rangefinder coupling if you use, or convert, the M42 SLR version.)

          Try a Konica 50mm f1.2 lens by all means ..but I reckon you’ll be disappointed by it after a couple of weeks, or a month.

          o Here: I’ve uploaded some pics ..as long as Mike allows this link to it:
          http://edituk.com/f1.2_photos.html

          • There are no problems in adding links to comments. However, the spam filter is set to present all such contributions for moderation simply because most spam comments contain links (www.saucypix.com, etc). So there will be a short delay while I check the comment and click the approve button.

          • Thanks, Mike ..thought you might be having a snooze as it’s Sunday; but no: very much awake. Seems like you work a 15-hour day ..even at weekends!

          • I was in Buxton attending the Leica Society annual weekend (the first for three years as it happens) so very much wide awake.

          • I believe I probably searched for Hexar RF instead of Hexanon… In any case right now more curious than willing to spend $2K on the 50mm… I will try to remember that Nikkor 105mm though, prices sound more reasonable as well…

  5. Wow. Another incredible interesting article. Your effort to evaluate these lenses is much appreciated. I never knew much about the konica equipment so this was nice to read and learn the history as well.

    • Thanks, Brian, nice to hear that you read something new. That’s what the blog is meant for after all. I hope you will find the upcoming M Files parts equally entertaining. JP

  6. Thanks for all this J-P.

    Regarding the “..rather massive 50/1.2..” it’s a good lens, but with rather unsatisfying out-of-focus ‘bokeh’ – to my mind, anyway – which looks somehow ‘grainy’, and detailed, and not -s-m-o-o-t-h- like a Leica (!) ..but I haven’t used the similar 60mm f1.2, so can’t say anything about that. (I sold my 50mm f1.2 to Ivor (Red Dot Cameras) in part exchange for a Leica 50mm f2 APO. I think Ivor thought he’d got the better part of the deal (..he could probably resell it at a massive mark-up!) but I reckoned I’d got the better deal, as the 50mm f2 APO has far better out-of-focus blur – surprisingly – than the Konica 50mm f1.2.

    The Konica ‘Dual’ 21-35mm is a great lens ..if you like 35mm! ..I don’t, but as a straight 21mm lens it’s excellent. (Mine’s almost always set at 21mm.) ..In passing, the (bulky) Voigtländer 21mm f1.8 is terrific, and I prefer its rendition to the Leica 21mm f1.4 ..much to my own surprise!

    (I could go on and on and on about 21mm lenses ..but – for everyone’s sake – I’ll stop now!)

    • Dear David,
      thanks a lot for your kind and as ever knowledgeable feedback. Maybe I have the chance to use the remaining Konica lenses, and the 50/1.2 would be particularly interesting for sure. As to the Hexanon Dual – your assessment is a good confirmation for my findings. I was really surprised to see such an amazing image quality. – I know about your love for 21mm as much as you know how much I like the 35mm. Probably we should think about a joint effort for making a small series with a cross-brand and cross-vintage tour d’horizon for some popular focal lenghts such as 21, 35, 50, 90 millimetres or so. In the 21 realm, I would throw in the Voigtländer 21/3.5 Ultron. In all its smallness, it’s a stunner of a lens.
      All the best, JP

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