The Biotar

The 58mm post war Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar

This lens sold for around $120 in the mid 1950s which is about $1,000 in today’s dollars. Slightly longer than a normal 50mm with a maximum aperture of f/2, they can usually be found in Exakta mount for under $150.

Taken with a 61 year old 58mm f/2 Carl Zeiss Jena Bio­tar on an Olym­pus E-PL2. 1/50 sec 200 ISO. RAW file processed in Photomatix. Try getting this close to a wild bird with an autofocus lens.

Taken with a 61 year old 58mm f/2 Carl Zeiss Jena Bio­tar on an Olym­pus E-PL2. 1/50 sec 200 ISO. RAW file processed in Photomatix. Try getting this close to a wild bird with an autofocus lens.

Using a 58mm Exakta mount Biotar on my Canon 5D Mark II, I photographed a lottery stand from 4 meters away.

Taken with a 58mm f/2 Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar on a 5DII. 1/500 second at ISO 250.

Taken with a 58mm f/2 Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar on a 5DII. 1/500 second at ISO 250.

Here’s a close-up view of the same image.

Taken with a 58mm f/2 Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar on a 5DII. 1/500 second at ISO 250.

Taken with a 58mm f/2 Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar on a 5DII. 1/500 second at ISO 250.

Biotars are fun to experiment with and will work on an EF mount camera with the right adapter. RAW images will need to be tweaked in Photomatix or Adobe Camera Raw to look their best.

Video with a pre-war 5.8 cm Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar

A few words about the pre-war Biotar used for this video

The pre-war Carl Zeiss Jena 5.8 cm f/2 Biotar serial number 2009108 was made in 1937 according to published reports. Lenses numbered 1,930,150 – 2,219,775 were made in 1937, two years after Kodachrome and one year after Agfacolor Neu were introduced.

During the 1930s, if your lens had an air bubble in the glass it was an excellent lens. This Biotar has two and it was made for the Exakta. The lens is sharp where it needs to be and beautifully out of focus in the background.

Air bubbles in the glass were once a characteristic of an excellent lens. It also has some damage to the coating on the front element.

Air bubbles in the glass were once a characteristic of an excellent lens. Some of the coating is missing from the front element.

A "pristine" lens has no internal dust. Because light difracts around objects, the sensor doesn't see the dirt.

Because light difracts around objects, the sensor doesn’t see the dirt.