Leica vs. Nikkor (35mm format): As inventor of the 35mm still camera, Leica was the first manufacturer to face the need for sharp lenses to compensate for the “small” format, and gained a reputation for producing the finest 35mm lenses (with the highest prices). Was this reputation justified? We needn’t test every lens Leica ever made; it would be enough to find one or two exceptions to disprove the “myth.”
A Micro-Nikkor 105mm f2.8 was compared to a Leica Macro Elmar 100mm f4 here. Since both lenses are corrected for 1:10 magnification, they are ideal for close-up portraits (subject distance: 1 meter (40 inches). There were no significant differences in the resolution of the two images (no sharpening was applied), but in the Nikkor image (first) the hair is slightly warmer in color, while the hair in the Leica image (second) is closer to the real color of the subject.
The pictures of the Pomelia flowers below show no significant differences in resolution between my two lenses. (There was a slight breeze so the flowers and leaves were in movement, but about the same for both images.) Again, the colors in the Nikkor image (first) are slightly more saturated, while the Leica colors (second image) are closer to the real subject.
In theory, Nikkor lenses cost less because of mass production with less strict quality control. That means you might get lucky and have a very good Nikkor lens, or you might wind up with a mediocre one. A web site that lists the number of Nikkor lenses tested before grading a particular model is an example of that theory. Leica lenses are more consistent in quality, the theory goes, so every Leica lens is a good lens.
Zeiss vs. Nikkor (medium/large format): Although neither Nikon nor Zeiss still make lenses for medium/large format cameras, Zeiss has the reputation for having always made the best lenses for the medium/large formats (with prices on the used market two to three times the price of other manufacturers’ lenses). Is Zeiss’s reputation (and the prices) justified? One of the most expensive Zeiss lenses – the Biogon – faces the competition here (in preparation).
According to Erwin Puts www.imx.nl/photo Leica lenses are characterized by: "balance of sharply rendered crisp detail and smooth gradient of color hues within small subject areas...more sparkle and detail coverage" a challenge that’s difficult and costly to achieve in small, compact lenses. Zeiss lenses are traditionally characterized by: "rich colours and a smooth gradation over the whole image, not only from corner to corner, but also into the image from foreground to background." This is the so-called three-dimensionality that Zeiss and medium/large format are famous for. Are these manufacturers’ qualities significantly discernable to justify differential prices, or only a matter of personal taste?