Tuesday, May 5, 2020


By Heinz Richter

One of the best reasons to use a Leica are the Leica lenses.  But they all come at a premium price.  It should come as no surprise that many are looking for alternatives without entering too much of a compromise.  As of late a popular approach has been to resurrect some of the famous lenses of yesterday.

One such company was Meyer Optik Goerlitz.  They had planned to issue a new version of the Biotar under the Oprema label, based on the original design.  Unfortunately, the company did not succeed and the new Biotar appeares to have been not much more than a dream.

At the end of 2018, OPC Optics, an entirely different company based in Bad Kreuznach, Germany acquired the trademark rights to Meyer-Optik and its lens designs.  It is the hope of many that this well established company will continue the work on a new version of the Biotar.  They appear to be well on the way.  Already they offer new versions of the Primoplan and Trioplan lenses.  Unlike their predecessors who used relabled lenses made in Russia or the Ukraine, these lenses are made in Germany and OPC Optics is providing their own financing.

The Biotar is a six element gauss type optical system 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 f/1.5 reached legendary status. The Biotar 75 f/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 swirly 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 f/2.0 contrast goes up dramatically and at f/5.6 to f/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. 

The Biotar 75 is legendary but it was the goal of the redesigned lens to maintain the exact Biotar characteristics while carefully improving the mechanical aspects and making it feasible for modern camera equipment and different mounts. The main goal of the development was to ensure the lenses ability to produce crystal sharp images at the center of the image 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.

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 were of course made from steel and with a special anti-reflective coating.

optical construction of the Biotar 75mm

New version of the Biotar as it looked like 
under the now defunct Oprema label

The design of the new Biotar did result in a few prototypes to be made.  Let’s hope that OPC Optics  will find a way to produce this lens.

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  1. Many question were regarding if this lens will be available with the Leica M mount?

    1. The Oprema version was. As of now, a new version from OPC is not manufactured, however, since the new design existed already from the defunct Meir Optic, it is assumed that this version will be available from OPC. To offer it with the Leica M mount would make the most sense because that would also allow the lens to be used with SL mount lenses (via adapter) without having to make two different version just for Leica.