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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Optics and rendering
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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