Medium Format Forum

Register a free account now!

If you are registered, you get access to the members only section, can participate in the buy & sell second hand forum and last but not least you can reserve your preferred username before someone else takes it.

501cm w 40mm or 903SWC


I am in a bit of a quandry.

I have a 501/CM, and a 553/ELX in addition to a 903/SWC. I dearly love the 903, but use it only occasionally when I need the "wide view". At today's prices, I figure I could sell the 903 "kit", purchase a 40mm CF, and come out a thousand $$$ ahead of the game to get some other equipment I would use more frequently.

I have never really tried a 40mm on the 501CM, but there would be some advantages over the 903 ( like being able to use my PME45 viewfinder).

Anyone out there with direct experience using both? Opinions?
A 40 mm and the SWC are totally different pieces of kit.

The SWC allows two very different ways of photography.
Very accurate wide angle shots that take time and a tripod to set up and also handheld shots where accurate composition is less accurate due to the finder.
I use the SWC often for that last kind of photography.

A reflex camera with a 40 mm CF allows more dynamic use where control over composition is easier. This combination is a lot heavier.

Both will give excellent quality where the extremely low distorsion of the SWC can be an advantage.

Unless you do a lot of close range shots with the 40 mm you can also consider the old "C" lens. It can be had for half the price of a CF
and will serve you well for the rare moments that you need wide angle shots. Look for one with a shade as these are difficult and expensive to find.
I have used both (although the SWC was a borrowed one). I know that some people think the 40 has too much distortion, but I disagree strongly. It is a superb bit of glass and the shortcomings, if any, are such that if you find them unacceptable, you should not be using an SLR, of any film format. Also, you have put your finger on a major advantage - being able to compose and get exposure measurements through the lens. You will not regret acquiring a modern 40.
Note that a C 40mm is a quite a heavy monster of a lens. The CF 40 is quite a bit smaller/manageable. So if space and/or weight is at a premium it is probably a good idea to compare a C and a CF lens side by side before buying.


You are right.
The old "C" lens is 1400 g the later CF(E) a little over 900 g

The extra weight may not be a problem when only used occasionaly.
I happen to like the "C" lens very much.

Hi Paul,

The C is truly an impressive piece of glass. But I suspect the 40mm will see more than "occasianal" use (OK.. my own preferences for wide angle lenses shine through here ;-)

If the potential user finds he uses it more than he now anticipates the CF is the better option.

Hence my advice: get some hands-on with both lens models and then decide.

Coincidentally, I own a 501CM and a 40mm CF FLE. What is more coincidental is that I just bought the 40mm a couple of weeks ago off Ebay, but debated long with myself over whether or not to get the 903 instead. Everything I read pointed to the optical superiority of the 903, but I figured that the 40mm still has "Carl Zeiss" st&ed on the front. How bad can it be?? Well, I've run 3-4 rolls of Velvia through my 501/40 combination so far, and the "look" is just like any other of my CF lenses. I'm a happy c&er. A VERY happy c&er.
My final decision was based on the exact things you inquired about - the convenience and ease of use of the 40mm. I won't argue any optical merits the 38mm has over the 40mm. That's a given. But, this lens is no slouch - like I said, it produces images that look like my 60, 100, 180, and 250 - which is saying a lot.
But back to the ease and convenience - this is the best part of it, in my opinion, over the 903. I use a PME51 metered prism. It's so nice to be able to look through the view finder, take a TTL meter reading, compose on the ground glass, and shoot away. I will use the lens for landscape imagery, and take advantage of the near/far relationship. I used the hyper focal distance for all shots so far, choosing f8 ~ f22, depending on how much DOF was needed. Every one of my images is tack sharp - fore to aft.
Quality wise, I doubt if I would see any difference with my own eyes, compared to the 903, but then, I don't plan on shooting architecture, or anything where barrel distortion may be crucial. The ease of use with the 501CM body far outweighs ANY optical difference there might be for my kind of photography. It's a great lens, and works beautifully with the 500 series body and a metered prism. If I had to do it again today, I'd still buy the 40mm.
Michael H. Cothran
> That's the sort of logic I was coming up with as well. I dearly > love the 903, but there are numerous advantages to a 40mm on my > 501CM ( or a 553/ELX I picked up awhile back), not the least of > while is using the metered prism! I figure I can sell the 903 on > ebay, buy a 40mm, and still have enough left over to buy a couple > of monolights I have been sorely thinking about.

One thing is allways remarkable when the SWC comes up.
Subjects like architecture etc.

Please not that the SWC also allows use as a Leica range finder like camera. Hyperfocal, aperture at 5.6 and sharp pictures from 2m till infinity.

I use it quite often like that in crowds and at parties, up to 800 ISO no flash, with amazing results.