Tuesday, August 15, 2017


A stop at some good friends during our vacation travels gave me access to a computer today to do some catching up.  Good timing, because it allows me to convey the resurrection of a great new lens, one that must be considered a valid alternative for Leica cameras.

An international team of engineers and manufacturers joined forces to return the famous Biotar 75/1.5.  It is probably the most legendary lens ever produced in Jena, Germany.

It is a six lens gauss type optical scheme whose design dates back to the year 1927 when famous lens designer Willi Merté developed his first Biotar which was designed for cinematography.  In the 1930th Merté continued to improve the Biotar lenses among which the 75mm/1.5 reached legendary status. The Biotar 75/1.5 was first introduced in 1938, sales began to pick up with a presentation at the Leipzig Spring Fair in 1940.

But due to second world war and to its high price at the time it remained a very special lens for the selected few. Until today it has become one of the most expensive vintage lenses easily selling for over a thousand dollars – if you get a usable one.

Even during its time in production it was an unfulfilled dream for most photographers as it took a two month salary for an average engineer of its time to buy this lens. Very few were actually produced but their quality was so outstanding that some are still in use today.

Its sharpness at the center in conjunction with a dramatic swirl bokeh is legendary. At open aperture the Biotar 75 is as sharp as can be in the center of the image and it renders the famous and sought after swirling bokeh to the side. The image gets an almost three dimensional complexion with the object stepping out in front of the viewer. The feel of the image is at the same time somewhat delicate which generates great contrast in available light situations with clear shadows and lights in the background.

The “swirly bokeh” is an outstanding feature of this lens. This means that out-of-focus highlights in the background are subdued and at the same time rendered in a circular fashion. You can see this effect clearly in the following image.  This specific feature of the lens creates an eye catching effect and the impact on the viewer is almost surrealistic.

Already at f2.0 contrast goes up dramatically and at f 5.6 to 8 the optimum sharpness is obtained. It is better than many so called modern high end lenses of today. The color correction of the lens is outstanding. There is no lateral chromatic aberration as it is almost apochromatic in its effect. Talking to photographers they start to rave about the lens and its abilities not only in portraiture photography but also for landscaping and nature.

The Biotar 75 was considered the fastest portrait lens of its time and not many faster ones have ben build over time. Due to its high price which would translate into something close to eight to ten thousand dollars today the lens was manufactured in relatively small numbers. But over time photographers around the world cherished the lens not only for portraiture but for so much more, especially fashion, sports, wedding, architecture and even macro. But see for yourselves.

The Biotar 75 is legendary but it was the goal to maintain the exact Biotar characteristics while carefully improving the mechanical aspects and making it feasible for modern camera equipment and different mounts. So at the center of the development was to ensure the lenses ability to produce crystal sharp images at the center of the picture with a dramatic but not overly aggressive swirling bokeh at open aperture and its crystal overall sharpness at f 5.6 or f 8.0. It took several iterations to reach this goal. 

Furthermore the design of the lens was slightly changed. The later versions of the Biotar had a somewhat different look and it was the goal to come closer to the early versions with a straighter silhouette than the later ones and a very fine surface with a silver shine like it used to be in the thirties of the last century.

The goal was not to create a “looks like a famous vintage lens” but to follow the legendary imaging abilities of the Biotar and gently change the mechanical design of the lens and reach a more modern but still classic design that pays respect to this legend.

By using modern glasses and hi-end coating some disadvantages of the earlier Biotar lenses due to reflections on the surfaces could be avoided while maintaining all advantages. The 15 aperture blades of the new Biotar support the creation of the swirly bokeh and are of course made from steel and with a special anti-reflective coating.

The lens will be available in the Leica M mount with rangefinder coupling. 

optical construction of the Biotar 75mm

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