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The M Files (18): Everything but Leica M – here is our Navigator for all articles in the series

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It's all M-mount: Also beyond Leica, here is an amazing variety of cameras and lenses for the most popular rangefinder system.

Photographic gear for M-Mount without the Leica M price tag: That is what many wish for. The Macfilos series, “The M Files”, collects information and experience about such products, mainly cameras and lenses. Two years after its start, it has become a substantial knowledge base. But now it is time to bring some things in order and create our new M Files Navigator.

One thing first: The Leica M system is magnificent and enjoys an almost religious veneration. But it’s expensive to the degree that you need to be a worshipper to justify one or the other purchase. And it is my conviction that committed amateurs without a Leica-compatible wallet should also have access to rangefinder photography. What luck that many products with M-Mount are more accessible than the Leica M bodies and their Summicrons and -luxes.

For several years now, I have been working with M-Mount gear that is not part of the Leica M system. Some cameras and lenses were excellent; others turned out to be average. I used cameras and/or lenses from Zeiss, Voigtländer, Minolta, Konica, and Rollei. The project is ongoing, with several new episodes per year. But it has all become a bit convoluted, and that’s where our new M Files Navigator comes in. 

Our The M Files Navigator gives easy access to loads of information

The Navigator is this very article, and you will find an overview of all products reviewed so far. The list is in the following order: First, cameras by brand; second, lenses by focal length and maximum aperture; third, articles about accessories and finally, a quick list of all episodes in the order of publication. The products will be described in one sentence; if you want to know more, just click on the link or the product image. In the German language, the articles appear on www.messsucherwelt.com. You will also find all the links to the German texts, always marked “Teil xx”.

It’s all M-mount: Also beyond Leica, here is an amazing variety of cameras and lenses for the most popular rangefinder system.

What’s behind the M Files Project

Our M Files navigator will be updated with every future episode. And it will be the platform to access all content from every single part of the series. I want to remind you that The M Files is an independent, strictly non-commercial project. I receive no benefits from any manufacturer or dealer. The products I write about are my own or, in many cases, loans from private persons. I am no influencer and no propaganda exponent. And I hope you find our new M Files Navigator helpful.

The M Files Navigator, Part 1: Cameras

Product image for The M Files Navigator showing a rangefinder camera Konica Hexar RF

Konica Hexar RF

1999-2003

A modern rangefinder camera with motorized film advance, auto exposure and a modern metal-leaf shutter. Is this the camera that Leica’s M7 should have been?

Part 3 | Teil 3


Product image for The M Files Navigator showing a rangefinder camera Leica CL

Leica CL

1973-1976
Designed as an entry-level model, the camera had TTL metering and some more modern features that the M series was lacking. Was it too successful?

Part 7 | Teil 7


Product image for The M Files Navigator showing a rangefinder camera Minolta CE

Minolta CLE

1981-~1985

Minolta’s upgrade of the Leica CL, with outstanding automatic exposure control and a viewfinder for 28, 40 and 90mm M-mount lenses. Much more than a poor man’s Leica?

Part 8 | Teil 8


Product image for The M Files Navigator showing a rangefinder camera Pixii

Pixii Model 2572

2023-

The first non-Leica rangefinder camera for ages, with an impressive APS-C 26 MP sensor, hand-made in France. Will it keep all the charming and annoying traits of a prototype? 

Review | Bericht


Product image for The M Files Navigator showing a rangefinder camera Rollei 35 RF

Rollei 35 RF

2002-≈2005

A legendary name and an allusion to one of the most iconic cameras ever made. But there is much more Cosina under the bonnet than Rollei. A beautiful camera, nevertheless?

Part 4 | Teil 4


Product image for The M Files Navigator showing a rangefinder camera Voigtländer Bessa-T

Voigtländer Bessa-T

2001-2004

Equipped with a precision rangefinder but no optical viewfinder, this camera is an oddity, to say the least. So what is this really exotic M-mount camera good for?

Part 6 | Teil 6


Voigtländer Bessa R3M

2004-2016

The only film loadinge rangefinder camera ever made with a 100% magnification viewfinder. Suitable for lenses from 40mm, maybe a a good second body for the longer lenses?

Part 19 | Teil 19


Product image for The M Files Navigator showing a rangefinder camera Voigtländer Bessa R4M

Voigtländer Bessa R4M

2006-2016

This is the only rangefinder camera ever made with a built-in viewfinder for 21mm lenses. A perfect companion for wide-angle photography, but what about rangefinder accuracy?

Part 2 | Teil 2


Product image for The M Files Navigator showing a rangefinder camera Zeiss Ikon

Zeiss Ikon

2004-2013

Another legendary name, another offspring of the Cosina factory in Japan. And, with its brilliant viewfinder, another candidate for the “this is the better M7” award. Rightly so?

Part 5 | Teil 5


Product image for The M Files Navigator showing a camera Zeiss Ikon SW

Zeiss Ikon SW

2006-2012

A short-lived finder-less camera, originally intended for photography with super-wide (SW) lenses. Cosina/Zeiss packed in auto exposure, M-Mount, and some more remarkable features.

Part 21 | Teil 21


M Files Navigator, Part 2: Lenses

Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15mm F 4.5 Aspherical

15 / 4.5
Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15mm F 4.5 Aspherical

When no one expected it, this lens took advantage of the mirrorless principle and started a rangefinder renaissance.
Part 6 | Teil 6


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Carl Zeiss Distagon 4/18 ZM T*

18 / 4.0
Carl Zeiss Distagon 4/18 ZM T*

Reasonably priced, it made the 100-degree angle of view accessible to rangefinder users. This is clearly, from the film era.
Part 11 | Teil 11


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer Nokton 21mm F1.4

21 / 1.4
Voigtländer Nokton 1:1.4/21

A modern, very fast ultra-wide and extremely versatile lens, certainly a Summilux challenger, but this comes at a price. 
Part 20 | Teil 20


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Carl Zeiss Biogon 2,8/21 ZM T*

21 / 2.8
Carl Zeiss Biogon 2,8/21 ZM T*

One of the lenses that established the fame of the ZM series – high resolving, sharp, flare resistant. 
Part 12 | Teil 12


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer Color-Skopar 1:3,5/21

21 / 3.5
Voigtländer Color-Skopar 1:3,5/21

The wide sibling of the Ultron 35/2. Don’t be fooled by the vintage exterior; it’s all modern inside. Best value for money. 
Part 16 | Teil 16


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer Color-Skopar 21mm F4

21 / 4.0
Voigtländer Color-Skopar 21mm F4

The smallest 21 you can think of and one of the most compact rangefinder lenses ever, but it has its limitations in digital use.
Part 2 | Teil 2


21-35 / 3.4-4
Konica M-Hexanon Dual

A unique lens with two of the most classic rangefinder focal lengths; only 500 ever made; rare
Part 13 | Teil 13


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Carl Zeiss Biogon 2,8/25 ZM T*

25 / 2.8
Carl Zeiss Biogon 2,8/25 ZM T*

Zeiss claimed that this was one of the highest-resolving lenses they had ever made. But this Biogon also sets other standards.
Part 5 | Teil 5


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Konica M-Hexanon 28mm F.28

28 / 2.8
Konica M-Hexanon 28mm F2.8

A popular wide-angle focal length in a lens that wants to be Leica-like. While useful, not state-of-the-art.
Part 13 | Teil 13


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Minolta M-Rokkor 28mm 1:2.8

28 / 2.8
Minolta M-Rokkor 28mm 1:2.8

A stunning small 28 with surprising performance also on digital M cameras. But be aware of a bad lens disease.
Part 8 | Teil 8


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Carl Zeiss Biogon 2,8/28 ZM T*

28 / 2.8
Carl Zeiss Biogon 2,8/28 ZM T*

You can see that this 28 was designed for analogue use. But also great for digital if heavy vignetting is no problem for you. 
Part 12 | Teil 12


Product image shows Voigtländer Color-Skopar 28/2.8

28 / 2.8
Voigtländer Color Skopar 28mm F2.8

One of the smallest and lightest lenses for Leica M mount you can possibly find. Brilliant performance for its size and price. 
Part 23 | Teil 23


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer Nokton Classic 35mm F1.4 II

35 / 1.4
Voigtländer Nokton Classic 35mm F1.4 II

A classic design, similar to older 35 Summiluxes, with all their advantages and disadvantages. Has character, for sure.
Part 2 | Teil 2


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Zeiss Distagon 1,4/35 ZM T*

35 / 1.4
Zeiss Distagon 1,4/35 ZM T*

A beast of a rangefinder lens but a stunning performer. All stops pulled by Zeiss, most likely the final ZM masterpiece.
Part 11 | Teil 11


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer Ultron 35mm F2

35 / 2.0
Voigtländer Ultron 35mm F2

Looks traditional, renders in a very modern and pleasing way. Super value for money. Maybe the only 35 you ever need.
Part 16 | Teil 16


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer APO-Lanthar 35mm F2

35 / 2.0
Voigtländer APO-Lanthar 35mm F2

They put in all they had to create what Cosina calls a landmark lens. Large as it is, it will hardly be overseen.
Part 14 | Teil 14


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer Color-Skopar 35mm F2.5

35 / 2.5
Voigtländer Color-Skopar 35mm F2.5

The sibling of the 21/4, also a pancake lens. A solid performer, great for film cameras and if you are on a budget.
Part 6 | Teil 6


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Carl Zeiss C Biogon 2,8/35 ZM T*

35 / 2.8
Carl Zeiss C Biogon 2,8/35 ZM T*

Another exemplary lens from Zeiss, slow but with consummate resolution. Albeit risk of colour drift in digital use.
Part 5 | Teil 5


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Leitz Wetzlar Summicron-C 1:2/40

40 / 2.0
Leitz Wetzlar Summicron-C 1:2/40

The standard lens that came with the Leica CL. Amazing for its age and small size. Sadly, only a few rangefinder cameras support 40mm lenses.
Part 7 | Teil 7


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm 1:2

40 / 2.0
Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm 1:2

Minolta improved this Leitz lens for their CLE camera. Very similar to the Summicron but with a modern coating.
Part 8 | Teil 8


40 / 2.8
Rollei Sonnar 1:2.8 f=40mm

The name and focal length allude to the lens of the iconic Rollei35S but not a proper Sonnar lens. If outstanding, then mainly for its rarity.
Part 4 | Teil 4


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer Heliar 40mm F2.8

40 / 2.8
Voigtländer Heliar 40mm F 2.8

A modern design with an aspherical element in a very vintage appearance. Remarkably small and lightweight, quite versatile.
Part 19 | Teil 19


technical illustration Contax Planar 45/2 converted to M Mount by Funleader

45 / 2
Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45 T*

The 45 from the discontinued Contax G system, converted for M rangefinder by Funleader in China.
Part 15 | Teil 15


50 / 1.2
Voigtländer Nokton 50mm F 1.2

A remarkably fast lens with modern aspherical elements and a classic in the Voigtländer VM range for years now.
Review | Bericht


technical illustration Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted to M Mount by Skyllaney

50 / 1.4
Carl Zeiss Planar 1,4/50 T*

The standard fast 50 from the former Contax RTS SLR system (C/Y mount), converted by Skyllaney in Scotland.
Part 15 | Teil 15


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Konica M-Hexanon 50mm F2

50 / 2.0
Konica M-Hexanon 50mm F2

Strikingly similar to the Leica Summicron 50 Version 5 but not as good. It was the kit lens for the Konica Hexar RF.
Part 3 | Teil 3


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Carl Zeiss Planar 2/50 ZM T*

50 / 2.0
Carl Zeiss Planar 2/50 ZM T*

Like the Summicron, a double Gauss design, but draws very differently. Stunning contrast and resolution.
Part 5 | Teil 5


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer APO-Lanthar 50mm F2

50 / 2.0
Voigtländer APO-Lanthar 50mm F2

Very similar to the 35/2 APO: Excellent rendering at the cost of weight and bulky size. More user-friendly than the 35.
Part 14 | Teil 14


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer Nokton 1:1.5/75

75 / 1.5
Voigtländer Nokton 1:1
.5/75

A remarkably light and compact design for its focal length and speed. Good performer with a few caveats.
Part 20 | Teil 20


Product image shows Voigtländer Ultron 75/1.9

75 / 1.9
Voigtländer Ultron 75mm F 1.9 MC

A bit slower and a bit smaller than the Nokton. A two-faced lens: A bit dreamy wide open and super sharp stopped down.
Part 23 | Teil 23


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar 4/85 ZM T*

85 / 4.0
Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar 4/85 ZM T*

Decades after the 90/2.8 design became standard, Zeiss released this one. Rendering can’t compensate for slow speed.
Part 12 | Teil 12


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Konica M-Hexanon 90mm F2.8

90 / 2.8
Konica M-Hexanon 90mm F2.8

Another attempt from Konica to imitate a Leica classic. Can’t compete with the last Elmarit 90/2.8.
Part 13 | Teil 13


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Voigtländer APO-Lanthar 90mm F2.8

90 / 2.8
Voigtländer APO-Lanthar 90mm F2.8

Super lightweight and small, contrasty and sharp – if you manage to nail focus. The use of an EVF is highly recommended…
Part 14 | Teil 14


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Leitz Wetzlar Elmar-C 1:4/90

90 / 4.0
Leitz Wetzlar Elmar-C 1:4/90

The telephoto lens that was launched with and for the Leica CL. Slow and not super contrasty. For vintage lovers.
Part 7 | Teil 7


Product image for The M Files Navigator shows Minolta M-Rokkor 90mm 1:4

90 / 4.0
Minolta M-Rokkor 90mm 1:4

Another example how Minolta reworked the Leitz designs. If f/4 suits you, a great and affordable choice.
Part 8 | Teil 8


M Files Navigator, Part 3: Accessories & cross-sections

Viewfinders

Get your framing right: In many cases, an optical or electronic viewfinder is helpful or even indispensable. Also, in this field, there are quite a few options beyond the Leica M system, for example, from Ricoh, Zeiss or… Olympus!

Part 17 | Teil 17


Light meters

Many older rangefinder cameras have no light meter or a broken built-in unit. Leica once sold the Leicameter, but now there are many third-party attachable light meters. They are the topic of a mini-series, parts one and four.

Sub-Series “Decent Exposure”:
Part 01 | Teil 01
Part 04 | Teil 04


Product image shows suitable bags for a rangefinder kit

Camera Bags

The perfect bag for a rangefinder kit? Hard to say. Some have found the love of their lives, others not. At any rate, there are many Non-Leica options on the market. Nine field-tested suggestions for very small, small and medium-sized M-Mount kits.


Part 22 | Teil 22


Examples of Chinese M-Mount lenses: different manufacturers

New brands

Within a few years, several new brands from China have entered the market for M-Mount lenses. The spectrum of what they are offering is impressive – Macfilos has an overview.


Part 24 | Teil 24

M Files Navigator, Part 4: The full list of all episodes

(1) Introduction 
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(2) Voigtländer Bessa R4M; Color-Skopar 21/4.0 VM; Nokton 35/1.4 VM 
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(3) Konica Hexar RF; M-Hexanon 50/2.0 KM 
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(4) Rollei 35 RF; Rollei Sonnar 40/2.8
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(5) Zeiss Ikon; Biogon 25/2.8 ZM; Biogon 35/2.8 ZM; Planar 50/2.0 ZM
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(6) Voigtländer Bessa T; Heliar 15/4.5 VM; Color-Skopar 35/2.5 VM
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(7) Leica CL; Summicon-C 40/2.0; Elmar-C 90/4.0 
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(8) Minolta CLE; M-Rokkor 28/2.8; 40/2.0; 90/4.0
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(9) Conclusion to this point
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(10) Encore: A few lens tips
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(11) Zeiss Distagon 18/4.0 ZM; Distagon 35/1.4 ZM
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(12) Zeiss Biogon 21/2.8 ZM; Biogon 28/2.8 ZM; Tele-Tessar 85/4.0 ZM
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(13) Konica M-Hexanon 21-35/3.4-4.0 KM; 28/2.8 KM; 90/2.8 KM
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(14) Voigtländer APO-Lanthar 35/2.0 VM; APO-Lanthar 50/2.0; APO-Skopar 90/2.8 VM
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(15) Contax Planar converted for M: Funleader 45/2.0; Skyllaney 50/1.4 
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(16) Voigtländer Color-Skopar 21/3.5 VM; Ultron 35/2.0 VM
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(17) External viewfinders
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(18) The M Files Navigator
DEUTSCH |
(this article)

(19) Voigtländer Bessa R3M, Heliar 40/2.8
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(20) Voigtländer Nokton 21/1.4 VM; Nokton 75/1.5 VM
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(21) Zeiss Ikon SW camera
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(22) Bags for M-Mount rangefinder kits
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(23) Voigtländer Color-Skopar 28/2.8 VM; Ultron 75/1.9 VM
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(24) New manufacturers: M-Mount lenses from China
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH

(25) What’s next? Stay tuned...
DEUTSCH | ENGLISH


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13 COMMENTS

    • You’re welcome, Richard. Great to see that all the work is useful. Episode 21 is coming soon and 22 should be out before Christmas as well!

  1. Hi Joerg-Peter, I want to add my congratulations and thanks for this magnificent piece of scholarship, for and all the work you put into compiling it. The photographs of the cameras, lenses and accessories are superb – we could all learn from your meticulous approach to photographing these objects. I am not a rangefinder user, but I have to say, your article has left me with a strong sense that I am missing out on an important and rewarding photographic niche. I have taken some deep breaths and told myself that I do not need to buy another camera, especially one that would require investment in an entirely orthogonal set of lenses, but I wonder how long I can hold out…. All the best, Keith

    • Thanks, Keith. This is a niche-within-a-niche project but this does not mean that it is not worth while researching on this field. And just in case you do want to give rangefinder photography a try – if you buy sensibly, you will not make big losses if you notice after a certain time that it’s not exactly your cup of tea. I wrote an article about entering the rangefinder world here on Macfilos some time ago. Some things have changed, bit it is still true that a Leica M4 or a model M (240 or 262) is a very good starting point if you don’t want to try it with one of the cameras from the M Files (some of which have become hard to find now). All the best, JP

  2. Thank you Joerg-Peter for the effort and what must be a huge amount of time spent building this library of information. I have already used it to select at least one lens, the 35mm Ultron.

    Are you planning on adding Canon and Nikon LTM lenses to the list? I have a few and would be very interested in your analysis.

    • Thank you, Richard, for your kind feedback. I can fully understand your interest in LTM lenses. However, there are no plans to extend the series beyond the eynomous M-Mount. There is still much to cover within the defined scope, and my resources are limited. JP

  3. As the editor of Macfilos, I realise only too well how much effort Jörg-Peter has put into developing the M Files series. It is a tremendously useful work of reference that will enhance the M-Mount world for years to come. This current navigator article has involved even more work than previous posts, involving a huge amount of work in layout, product photography and creating/checking links both to Macfilos and Messsucherwelt.

    I cannot think of any similar series that has been produced simultaneously in two languages and covering such a wide range of products. As Brian Nicol says in his comment, this is “a truly amazing set of resources for M-Mount glass”.

    As editor, therefore, I pay tribute to the transformational work he has undertaken. It has added immensely to the standing of Macfilos in the Leica (or, should I say, M-Mount) world. And it isn’t over yet, there is much more to come. The Navigator, however, will remain as the cornerstone and as a starting reference point for the growing catalogue of information.

    Mike

  4. This is great! I have a 35mm Color Skopar, and wanted to hear about it on digital. And now I could just check here and find the review in seconds!

    • Dear Kathy, thanks for your comment. Withe Color Skopar you ceratinly have a capable lens. And, let’s be honest, the lenses are generally not the limiting factor… JP

      • What you say seems very true. No Summilux 35 APO is going to make me a better photographer! That would require something money can’t give me.

  5. Thanks Joerg-Peter for this tremendous amount of work. I’ve truly enjoyed the series since the beginning and looking forward to more articles
    Jean

    • Thanks, Jean, for your interest and support. I think there are some interesting episodes to come, but you can ceratinly imagine that each of them a lot of work. So I have to ask for patience. JP

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