Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm f/1.5 – The Legendary “King of Bokeh”

Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm f/1.5 – The Legendary “King of Bokeh”

2400 1600 Cheyenne Morrison

I’ve been shooting all sorts of classic lenses for many years, but for a long time I sought one legendary portrait lens above them all, the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm f/1.5. Zeiss originally dubbed this lens the “Night Lens” for its ability to shoot in low light situations. Others have affectionately called it The Big B, The King of Bokeh, and The Vortex King for its ability to render swirling whirlpools in the out-of-focus areas behind a subject. Whatever you call it, it’s a special lens.

After several years of dreaming and months of actively looking to buy, I’ve finally managed to get my hands on one. During that long hunt I spent months researching the lens and speaking to as many experts as I could, and here I’ve compiled a detailed history of the lens that’s become my photographic muse.

The Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm f/1.5 has become renowned for swirly bokeh, center sharpness, and its ability to produce the famous and so-called “3D Pop,” whereby an object centered in the image seems to almost burst out from the background. But it’s not a one trick pony like some other cult lenses.

Yes, we can make the swirly bokeh that many photographers seem to obsess over, but this lens can also do so much more. Move closer to our subject and find the right background and we get out-of-focus areas that look like a Monet oil painting, just dripping with smooth, creamy bokeh.

What’s a Biotar

The Biotar lens formula was first created for Carl Zeiss by the famous lens designer Willy Merté in 1927, and was originally made for movie cameras. It boasted a Double Gauss design with six elements in four groups, offering an improvement of the Triplet or Tessar designs which aim for higher performance. The field correction and the speed are increased in comparison with more simple designs. Essentially an improvement on the Planar design from 1896, it abandoned the strict symmetry approach for the radii of curvature of the surfaces and the refractive indices of the glass materials, and therefore achieved additional correction parameters. This asymmetry means that the front three-part lens group was larger overall than the group behind the diaphragm. Furthermore, the two outer collecting lenses are each of a larger diameter than the two inner lens pairs.

Merté continued developing and experimenting with his Biotar lens design for years, and in 1938 the lens was reconfigured as a 35mm lens for the Kine Exakta camera. Creating such a fast lens prior to World War II was one of the greatest feats in the history of optics, especially true considering it was designed and built without the use of computers. All optical calculations were done by hand by teams of optical technicians. Virtually all of today’s fast lenses with a medium field angle (50-100mm focal length with 35mm SLR cameras) are successors to the Biotar design, a worthy testament to the skills of Merté.

[Product photos in this article were supplied by our writer Cheyenne Morrison, as well as Marek Fiser, and Westlicht Auctions, and are gratefully published here with permission]

A Legend in the Making

The Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm F/1.5 was introduced in 1939 in a manual aperture model for cinematography, then released as a 35mm format lens for the famed Kine Exacta or “Night Exacta.” It was initially promoted as an available-light lens for sport shooting, reportage, and theatre photography. It was also a technical marvel. This, as can be guessed, did not come cheap.

When the first Biotar 75mm F/1.5 debuted, it cost the equivalent of two-months-worth of a German engineer’s salary. Due to its high price and limited availability it remained a dream lens for amateur photographers and was used solely by professionals or those lucky enough to have deep pockets. It also launched in a turbulent time.

Remember that by 1939 the world had just suffered through the Great Depression. It was also the year that World War II began – not an auspicious time to release anything of extreme high cost. Following the war, it was released again, but post war politics and the partition of Germany led to its demise despite its amazing lineage and unique attributes.

When the lens was released, the word bokeh was unknown. The term wouldn’t become common parlance for another forty years, and the Biotar 75mm F/1.5’s renaissance as a bokeh lens only gained traction with the relatively recent increased interest in adapting classic lenses to digital cameras. At this point, photographers (like me) who had grown stale with the bland rendering of modern lenses rediscovered this classic portrait lens from the 1930s and gave it a whole new lease on life. You may think I’m a bit obsessed, and I would agree with you; but rightfully so, just look at the amazing images it’s capable of producing.

To think of this lens, imagine it as a 1930s German sports car that was given a facelift and new bodywork in the 1950s. It’s the kind of car that collectors lust after. The kind of car only seen at concourses and luxury auctions. The Biotar 75mm f/1.5 is Pure German engineering mastery that produces rich images dripping with color, contrast, center sharpness and world-famous bokeh. And unlike that expensive German sports car, we can treat this lens as an everyday user and it will work just as good as the day it rolled off the production line.

Competition at Home and Abroad

The Biotar was the fastest portrait lens in the world until 1943 when Leitz released their Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Summarex 85mm F/1.5, most likely designed for the German military. It was a complicated design of seven elements in six groups, but with an early lens coating that was prone to flaring it was nowhere near as good as Zeiss’ lens and its “T” Coating. The competing Summarex was also quite heavy at 700g versus the 500g Biotar.

During the Post War period it became a matter of prestige for German lens designers to create a fast telephoto or portrait lens. Examples include the Meyer-Optik Görlitz Primoplan 75mm f/1.9, Schneider-Kreuznach’s 80mm f/2 Xenon, the Enna-Werke Ennaston-Lithagon 85mm f/1.5, and the famed Carl Zeiss Jena 85mm f/2 Sonnar in Contax mount.

By the 1950s the Japanese were seriously challenging the Germans, illustrated in 1951 when Asahi Kogaku released the Takumar 83mm f/1.9, and Canon released their Serenar 85mm f/1.5. Then in 1953 Nikon released their Nippon Kogaku K.K. (Nikon) Nikkor-S.C 85mm f/1.5.

However, no other lens has reached the status of the 75mm Biotar amongst users and collectors. It should be noted that nearly all these lenses were designed for rangefinder cameras, while the Zeiss Biotar 75mm (except for 225 copies in Contax RF mount) was designed and produced for SLR cameras. This means that it’s far easier to adapt the Biotar 75mm to modern digital cameras.

Different Versions

Following World War II, production resumed despite bomb damage to the factories in Dresden. Around this same period, Carl Zeiss Jena released the world’s first pentaprism SLR camera, the Contax S. This camera was also the first camera to use what is now known as the M42 screw mount (alternatively called the Universal Screw Mount or Pentax mount). It was the very first 35mm eye-level single lens reflex with a glass prism finder and interchangeable lenses, debuting an astounding nine years before the Nikon F, Canonflex, and other eye-level SLRs with interchangeable lenses and focal-plane shutters. Zeiss quickly designed a version of their famous Biotar for this new camera’s new mount.

The first Biotar lenses for the Contax S are known as Version Two of the 75mm f/1.5, and these were produced between 1946 and 1952. Among the many different versions of this lens, these are highly sought after and reputed to be of the highest optical quality of all versions of the 75mm Biotar. Primarily this is because the lens elements were produced using the high-refractive lanthanum-containing Schott glass that only Zeiss had access to. These lenses also have twelve aperture blades instead of the ten blades found in Version three.

Sadly, the partition of Germany placed the Jena factory where the 75mm Biotar was produced in the Soviet Sector, which later became the D.D.R. or East Germany. At first there was cooperation between Zeiss Oberkochen in the West, and Carl Zeiss Jena in the East, but eventually Zeiss Oberkochen filed a court case to prevent the use of the pre-war Zeiss trade names. This dispute and the growing animosity between the USA and the Soviets made it difficult for the Biotar to be sold and marketed in the West, and production ceased in 1967. The Gauss models designed at Carl Zeiss Oberkochen never used the Biotar name, but kept the older Planar brand name for historical and political reasons.

The 75mm Biotar f/1.5 by Carl Zeiss Jena was first released in 1939 for use with the Ihagee Kine-Exakta camera. In the Kine-Exakta brochure of 1949 it is referred to as the Biotar 1:1,5 but the designation of the lens changed multiple times over the years, for a variety of reasons. During the trademark dispute between Zeiss Oberkochen (West) and Carl Zeiss Jena (East) after World War II it was referred to variously as B 1.5/75mm, or the 75mm Objektiv B/BV (B or BV were abbreviations for Blendenvorwahl, meaning preset aperture).

Version 1 – Commonly called the Thin Version, sometimes called The Missile (1939-45) Serial number range 2,000,000s

The first version stands out immediately to possess a small and compact barrel, (one centimetre less in length than the next version), a weight of 380g and a front lens of 55mm. The minimum focus, with distance scale expressed only in meters, is located at 90cm. However, the front graphics, with the fascinating design of the depth-of-field scale, make it immediately unmistakable.

The diaphragm, perfectly circular, closes up to f/22. One amazing attribute of this lens is that it has eighteen aperture blades, thus being capable of creating a circular lens opening continuously from f1.5 to f22. This version and version two had manual aperture selection. Only rare examples manufactured during the War have the “T” coating, and were almost invariably manufactured for the military.

Version 2 – Commonly called the Thin or Slim Version (1946 – 1952) Serial number range 3,100,000 – 3,777,000

This version retains the chromed steel body and eighteen aperture blades of Version One, but with the added “T” coating. These are reputed to be the best lenses in terms of optical quality. The lens ring changed from 7.5cm to 75mm in 1950. All have the “T” coating.

The second version of the Biotar was now closing up to f/16, had a front lens of 55mm in diameter, a solid barrel with a grooved focus ring, a double distance scale, a minimum focus at 0.8 meters, and a weight of 500g. The pre-selection ring is located in the front panel above the diaphragm ring. The focal length is expressed as 75/1.5, (ie. in millimeters), the red T is no longer displayed, while the DDR symbol of a quality product is present and the Germany engraving at the base of the barrel, absent in the first version.

Version 3 – Commonly called The Fat Version, sometimes called Q1 Version (1952 – 1967) Serial number range 3,777,000 – 8,275,578

The third version of the Biotar had a front lens of 55mm in diameter, a solid barrel with a heavily knurled or scalloped focus ring, a double distance scale, a minimum focus at 0.8 meters, and a weight of 500g. Although Version Three predominantly had ten aperture blades, the earliest preset models produced in M42 mount for the Contax S camera came with twelve aperture blades.

The Fat Version was commonly used for x-ray and copy machines, so they can focus as close as the Thin Version, or closer, just by adjusting infinity to closer than infinity so that close focus is as close as needed. This version is occasionally called the Q1 Version because it bears the Q1 symbol which stood for Qualität 1. The Q1 symbol was a “Warenprüfanstalt” Quality Mark granted by the Office of standardization, metrology and product testing (ASMW) of the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik DDR (commonly called East Germany).

The last known example was serial number 8,275,578, produced in Exakta mount in 1967. However, the 1969 catalogue for the Exacta VX 1000 still shows the lens for sale, so the factory must still have had stock on hand even after production ceased.

Modern Version – Oprema Jena Biotar 1.5/75

Recently Dr. Stefan Immes resurrected the long unused company name Meyer-Optik Görlitz with the goal of recreating classic lenses. The venture was a collaboration between Immes, André de Winter, a renowned former Leica lens designer, Wolf Dieter Prenzel, a leading expert in modernizing classic lenses, and the Japanese lens maker, Tokina.

In 2017 they established another company, Oprema Jena, which offered a modern version of the 75mm Biotar, the Oprema Jena Biotar 1.5/75. In 2018, a press statement from the company sadly informed us that Dr. Immes had been grievously injured in a car accident and that the company went into liquidation. I have no figures for how many versions of this lens were produced, but the company website is still online, and the video above gives a nice overview of the lens.

Production Numbers

From 1939 to 1967 only 16,827 lenses were produced through the three versions, across six different mounts. The rarest examples were made in coupled Leica screw mount and Contax rangefinder mounts, and they sell for very high prices due to their value to collectors, but optically they are no different to examples in other mounts.

Optically the M42 and Exa Mount Version Two lenses with twelve aperture blades are reputed to be best, although I have seen side by side comparisons and the difference is minimal.

Production numbers in descending order of units produced, years of production, and serial numbers where available in various mounts follow.

Exakta; 1939; 10,300 units from serial no. 2,529,100 (initial lot)

Contax S/M42; 1949; 4,600 units

Praktina; 1953; 1,250 units, only in the pre-selection version

Praktica; 1953, 450 units

Contax rangefinder; 1950; 225 units, starting from serial no. 3,467,751

Leica Thread Mount; 1950; Only 3 units, serial nos. 3467786, 3320814, and 3467786

In his book Non-Leitz LTM Lenses: A 39mm Diversitythe author Marc James Small states that there were only two known units produced of the 75mm Biotar in Leica Thread Mount. However, researching past auctions and current sales I have discovered three.

Practical Use in 2019

History, rarity, collectability, technical details and superlatives aside, what is the Biotar 75mm F/1.5 like to use? To start, it’s pretty hefty. The Version Three that I own weighs in at 450 grams (that’s 16 oz, or 1 lb.), and at 75mm in physical length (three inches) it’s the same size as the Leica Noctilux (albeit at two-thirds the weight). It does weigh more than my average 50mm lenses, but I like the weight. It feels solid and steady when shooting portraits by hand. The large knurled focus ring, which is distinctive of the 1950s German silver lens that I love, makes focusing a joy, and the focus is dampened perfectly, smooth and easy to use.  

Also as mentioned, the lens is famous for having “3D Pop” and beautiful bokeh, but that isn’t its only attribute. Unlike modern super-sharp lenses that highlight every pore of the skin, the Biotar 75mm is much more forgiving in portraits, and the softness when shot wide open creates images reminiscent of portraits from the Golden Age Hollywood.

There are many bokeh lenses that are one trick ponies. These are used often for shooting portraits in low light to create a swirling background or total universal blur. But the Biotar 75 is capable of producing several types of images.

[Model credits: top, Miquela Spence; middle, Heaven Arici; bottom, Tim Field. Photos by Cheyenne Morrison]

At close distances, one to two meters, it can make classic portraits with background out-of-focus areas that resemble a Monet oil painting. These show just a hint of swirl, the attached photo of Tim at a waterfall best exhibits this look which reminds me of the rendition of my Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon. However, step back a bit and shoot the subject at five meters and position the background so that dappled light shines through trees behind the subject and we get incredible rendition of the swirly bokeh effect that has made lenses like the 58mm Biotar and the Helios 44 so renowned. 

The Biotar 75mm is often compared with the Soviet Helios 40-2, and while that lens’ optical design is commonly reputed to be based on our Biotar 75mm, the Helios 40-2 weighs almost twice as much. At 870g, it doesn’t have the anywhere near the beautiful color rendition, superb glow wide open, or center sharpness of the Biotar 75mm.

A very unique characteristic of the Biotar 75mm that I have learned since buying the lens is that the bokeh is completely different depending on whether I’m exposing a digital sensor or film. The accompanying black & whites images in the article (including the lead image) were shot on digital, and kindly supplied by Tomek Sliwinski. His magnificent photos show just how radically different the bokeh presents when using the Biotar 75mm on a digital camera. Bokeh is very pronounced, with hard edged bokeh balls as opposed to the images that I have shot on film where the bokeh is much softer.

I know that the bokeh balls trend is a matter of taste; many people love the look, and a slew of companies are even recreating vintage lenses to cater to this taste. But there are just as many people who hate that look and find it to be a distraction. As the critics rightly point out, the whole point of a portrait is to highlight the subject, not to emphasize the out-of-focus area. I prefer the images produced with the Biotar 75mm on film. But I also love the shots on digital. It’s merely a matter of preference, and I would correlate that to the analogue versus digital debate; both are good, there is no right or wrong, it’s down to whichever you prefer.   

[The photo below was shot by Marek Fiser and published here with permission.]

The lens can be mounted on Sony A, Pentax K, Nikon F, and Canon EF mount cameras with glass-less mechanical adapters. The M42 mount does not hit the mirror when using a Canon 5D, although I cannot vouch for other cameras. If you are intending to use the Biotar 75mm on a digital camera I’d advise you to do research your own individual application. Know that the M42 version is easier to adapt, but that it also commands a premium price.

Pricing and Buyer’s Guide 

As mentioned, when the Biotar 75mm was released it cost the equivalent of two months of an Engineer’s salary. When Version Three was released in 1952 the price was $450 US dollars, but levels of demand were so high that you had to pay a deposit and wait months for the lens to arrive. $450 US dollars in 1953 is the equivalent to $4,234.26 in 2019.

The fact that the Biotar 75mm was the pinnacle of lens design for many postwar camera systems meant that vintage camera collectors were already paying a premium for the lens even before its renaissance as a classic portrait lens for modern day photographers. Over the last few years the cost has risen from $500 US dollars to at least $1,000 for an average lens in good working condition. The really sought after lens is the postwar Version Two with chromed steel body and eighteen aperture blades. These are selling from $1,500 to $3,000. 

That’s an expensive, old lens, and I was admittedly put off by the price. But after much searching and persistence, I managed to get my lens for $750 US dollars, which is still a good chunk of change. But remember that the Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4, a lens that offers the same thin depth-of-field and its own beautiful rendition, sells for roughly $7,000 to $7,500 US dollars. A working Biotar 75mm in good optical condition is a fraction of that, and a worthwhile investment for a portrait photographer, as prices will only continue to rise in coming years. It’s also an important piece of photographic history, and a lens worth owning (and shooting) today.

Find your own Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm F/1.5 on eBay

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Cheyenne Morrison

In today’s digitally obsessed world I've chosen to return to old-school analogue photography, vintage cameras, classic manual focus lenses, and expired film. This combination of elements results in images that cannot be created digitally.

All stories by:Cheyenne Morrison
  • Good article! Though, I hate to be the person that points out that the Great Depression started in 1929, not 1939.

    It really is a stunning lens, it’s even fun to say (Biotar! Like some kind of bioengineered dinosaur!). I think you’re right that modern lenses are almost too sharp. That’s good for some applications, but not others. Character counts more than specs, and a lot of modern lenses (not all) are technical wonders that are very boring.

    • You’re right. I caught this after publishing and have corrected the article. Apologies!

      • You could also argue that the Weimar republic ended in 1933 and that bij 1939 Hitler had a firm grip on Germany for at least four years. In 1939 Germany was teady for war, not really recovering from the Weimar republic anymore IMO…

  • I would disagree with your summary of the Summarex. Yes it is quite heavy and somewhat prone to flare but a lot of its reputation for this are due to condensation of the essential lubricant from the 20 blade (yes really 20 blades) diaphragm on the glass surfaces either side of it. Also it is essential to use the correct lens hood. Once the fogging is cleaned and the diaphragm lubricant replaced with modern non-evaporating silicone grease, the performance improves a lot. For a 1938 design, the Summarex is a remarkable performer, with excellent contrast, even when used wide open, as it often is. Like the Biotar, the Summarex has lovely bokeh, if not quite as nice as the Leica 5cm/f1.5 Summarit, whose bokeh can look like a Monet painting. The Summarex has a reasonably flat focus field and is certainly less curved than the Biotar. For me the huge advantage is the mount. Mine is coupled LTM, which means I can use it on every Leica I have from a 1931 Leica 1C Standard, to modern digital cameras like my Leica SL and CL. On my RF equipped Leicas, I can use it RF coupled from my 1934 Model III to my 2014 M240. I was however, going to put a new Biotar on order and it is very sad, what happened to the company, after the death of Dr. Immes. There were a few rumours about the company’s financial stability, before his accident and folks were wondering if they were being over-ambitious for the size of the subscribed capital.


  • Thanks for this detailed report and historical background about this lens, seems like a fantastic lens to shoot with! 2 little remarks about what you wrote: “Remember that 1939 was the start of the Great Depression”, I think this is a typo, as the great depression started at the end of 1929 in the US and touched european countries as soon as the beginning of the 1930’s…
    And about the Oprema Jena resurrection of the Biotar, you write that Dr. Immes was killed in a car accident, but everything I could read from the official statements of Net SE/Meyer Görlitz/Oprema was that he was severly injured in a car accident, but not killed… where did you found the info he was killed? And apparently the, insolvency of Net SE was more linked to the fact that they launched too many new kickstarter projects for financing the previous lens projects and couldn’t follow up anymore… I was lucky to get my Trioplan 35mm lens just before the insolvency, but as I hadalso backed the Oprema Jena lens, I think I’ll never get it, neither any refunding of my investment…

    • Hi Stephane, Thanks for commenting. You’re right, of course. The text should have read that by 1939, the world had just passed through the Great Depression. I’ve corrected this mistake. As for Dr. Immes, I believe you’re correct. The press statement issued by the company did only cite grievous injury.

  • Sadly, the “bokeh” fanatics have priced many a lens beyond the price that photographers who would like to use a lens for its other characteristics, can justify spending. For me, personally, the first two portrait images are exactly what I hate about the so-called “bokeh kings”. The “bokeh” is so messy that I find it hard to look at them. The “bokeh” is competing with the subject matter, and if all portraits look like this, what will set them apart? I prefer a lens that doesn’t draw too much attention to its out of focus background rendition, and in this respect the film images are far superior. So, on this basis, is the lens better suited to film use? Yes, is my verdict.

  • Thanks for the great and expertly researched article. I really enjoyed reading it. However, you state that “The second version of the Biotar was now closing up to f/16, … a double distance scale”. My version II model #3169958 is closing up to f/22 and has a distance scale engraved in meters only.

    • Cheyenne Morrison January 31, 2019 at 5:10 pm

      Hello Martin, that statement is based on research by the Italian lens expert Pierpaolo Ghisetti on Marco Cavina’s site, and accords with most lenses I have seen. However with all three versions there were variations and changes. This is the original article, which is in Italian, use Google Translate. Pierpaolo Ghisetti (01/08/2012)

      • Hi Cheyenne, After reading the Italian article twice, I’ve found that the author is denoting the 2 postwar models as version 1 and 2. Which means, that your version 2 is actually his model 1. This also accords with the images, posted in his article and my comment of January 31st. You may want to check this article again and maybe correct yours. Cheers

  • the images this lens seems to produce are so wild looking. I want to something like this lens out for sure. Great article!!!

  • Will this lens be suitable for Pentax 645Z and, if it is, what would be its effective focal length for the Pentax?

    • Cheyenne Morrison March 18, 2019 at 7:12 pm

      Nitin, it’s designed for 35mm so you can possibly use for a Contax but it would likely have terrible vignetting. However, if price is no object Carl Zeiss Jena made an 80mm f/2 lens for medium format which gives the same look, but on medium format. Sadly it’s super-rare and collectible, but for the look it’s worth it I think.

  • next time, you can write contarex

  • Good work Cheyenne !

    • Cheyenne Morrison March 18, 2019 at 7:14 pm

      Thanks Eric, I may not have as many lenses as you (turning green with envy), but I have my Biotar and after a two year hunt, it was worth it.

  • Great report, thanks for all of the hard work in researching this lens. In 1969 I took my 1949 version 2 with me to NY City, and a professional photographer there told me it was the greatest lens ever made, and gave me many examples to prove his point. Everything I have learned since then, both from studying optics and from using this work of expert craftsmanship has only proven him to be absolutely right.

    • Cheyenne Morrison March 18, 2019 at 7:16 pm

      Thanks for that story Kevin. Yes the version two with chromed steel and 18 blades is stunning, I just didn’t have spare kidney to be able to buy one, so have the Fat version. Treasure that lens, it will only keep going up in price.

  • Fantastic article. The picture for Version 2 seems to go beyond f16. Just look at the very picture posted here. This matches the comment by Martin (which reflects on his version) and it’s strange it matches the very picture used here to depict v2. Possibly, they switched to F16 before they moved to version 3.

  • Hello there, what a delightful read! However, I got a little confused with the best version of the 75mm. Is optical quality differ from the bokeh quality? From the article, it mentioned that version two with 18 blades aperture is Optically the best. However, later on the article mentioned that the best optical version has 12 blades aperture (which would have been the fat version 3, according to the article)? Besides, aside the optical quality, is 18 blades version has the strongest or best swirl bokeh over the 12 blade ones? How big the differences are interns of bokeh effect and optical quality between all three versions? Many thanks!

    • Cheyenne Morrison May 20, 2019 at 10:36 am

      Optical quality and bokeh are different, in fact good bokeh often results from a poorer quality lens design. The bokeh on the version are almost the same at f/1.5 because it’s full open aperture, with 18 blades bokeh will be better on the version 2 at lower apertures because of the more circular aperture. Strangely the glass, design and build of the Version 2 are better than Version 3, probably because it was a slow seller and to reduce costs. However, from side by side tests the difference is marginal on film, and only slightly discernible on digital.

  • Excellent article, full of great info and in the replies also! I have owned The Night Exakta version 2 Biotar 7.5cm F:1.5 since, I bought the James Upton Exakta collection in 1995. Mine is the RED T chromed version , 18 blades and no preset feature. It was in my collection since 95 and only in the last month did I dust it off and mount to my Sony A7r full frame mirrorless camera. It’s nose heavy, BUT: so excellent. So smooth after all these years, with some minor lube pin point spots. I guess I will always treasure this lens!

  • “In his book Non-Leitz LTM Lenses: A 39mm Diversity, the author Marc James Small states that there were only two known units produced of the 75mm Biotar in Leica Thread Mount. However, researching past auctions and current sales I have discovered three.” Correct. I’m the guy who discovered the third one, and after I informed MJS about it in an online forum he agreed that the total production should be revised. Considering the unlikely way I acquired mine (I bought it for $20 out of a “junk box” at a used-camera sale in Omaha, Nebraska!) I can’t help wondering if there might be other undiscovered ones floating around. Sadly, the barrel and metalwork on mine were in terrible shape (typical for Eastern Zone Zeiss lenses) and I couldn’t afford to send it to a specialist for rehab, so after I learned it was a rarity I sold it for a non-crazy price to a Zeiss expert who was able to have it fully restored.

    I did use it while I owned it, though — on a Leica M4P, which conveniently had a 75mm viewfinder frameline — and I have to say I think a lot of its “legendary” reputation is overstated. At f/1.5 through f/2.8 it was usably sharp (although hazy and low in contrast) only in the central 1/3 of the frame, and contrary to the article and the Oprema hype there was nothing special about the out-of-focus areas. I was using it mostly for theater photography and portraits, and like a lot of ultra-speed lenses of the ’40s and ’50s it was a bit frustrating: sometimes it would produce an image that was pretty and interesting, but at least as often the result would be mushy and unpleasant. Overall I would say it was no better optically than, say, the 85mm f/1.5 Canon rangefinder lens I still own… its real advantage over the Summarex, Canon, and Nikkor 85/1.5s was its considerably handier size and less viewfinder blockage.

  • Is there any reason to suspect radioactive lens coatings were used on the the Biotar 58mm or 75mm?

  • Hi, Cheyenne. I was checking some details, since I just acquired a pre-war T red mark copy and stumbled upon another LTM mount type-2 model that you can add to your listing. Currently still on e-bay: no. 3321124. It would seem authentic.

  • Another one here, which is listed on ebay since a long time due to its astronomical price: no. 2759504.

  • The photograph above “Practical Use in 2019” is photographed by Carl Zeiss Pancolar 55 f1.4 lens, according to both bokeh and Swiatlografia.

    • Cheyenne Morrison April 19, 2020 at 8:32 am

      Pavel I obtained permission to publish the images and checked they were all correct with Swiatlografia; so as far as I know that was taken with the 75mm Biotar, but I appreciate your contribution.

  • Sir:
    Have you ever reviewed the Exacta VX1000 w/Aus Jena 50mm/F2? My father purchased this first camera for me in 1972, and I still have it, in mint condition, with various attachments, waist level finder, bellows,and extra penta prisms. I had it cleaned and lubricated by an Exacta afficionado technician at a NYC camera shop in the late 1980’s and was interested in any history you may have regarding this well-made piece of photographic history. Thank you.

    • I did already review the 58mm Biotar, but not the lens you mention. So many lenses, so little time and my reviews take weeks, sometimes months of research to compile.

  • I have the “jena b” (East german) version 3 for exacta mount and it is an amazing and unique lens. But mine is black colored which I have not seen in any picture online. Does anyone has any info about that particular color?

  • Nice Article. I have just purchased two lenses from a guy in Poland who goes by Bokeh Factory. Here is his facebook description and sample . He found me a really mint version 3. He’s putting it in a Nikon mount for me with an element that allows for infinity focus. I also purchased a “Freestyler” 80mm 2.8, which he sells under $300. It’s a medium format lens on a rubber bellows that allows for focus tilt. I don’t have my lenses in hand yet but he was recommended by a friend and he has been a great source of info on all things vintage lens. He thinks the only truly interesting lenses are the German Carl Zeiss Biotar 50 1.5 & 75 1.5. He does sell a bunch of other lenses and will send you a price list if you ask. I have no affiliation with him, just trying to connect like minded photographers with a source of these beautiful lenses.

  • Zenit resurrected the Helios 40-2 a couple of years ago (although I don’t even know if there’s any substantial difference compared to the old one).
    I wonder how does it compare to the Biotar, considering it’s 400$ vs 2000$

    • Cheyenne Morrison January 4, 2021 at 1:12 am

      I will leave the comparison to an expert who has used both lenses …

      Ilya Arte (Ilya Artemiev)

      I had three years of “Helios 40-2” manufactured by KMZ of 2014, bought new.

      Differences of CZJ Biotar 75mm from G40:

      1) Biotar is sharper in the center
      2) Colors from Biotar are much nicer
      3) Twists Biotar a little differently
      4) Biotar has softer bokeh
      5) Biotar is lighter by a third and less by a third than G40
      6) my Biotar everything is spinning perfectly gently, the G40 was spinning with effort

      The main thing when I took Biotar, I realized that his drawing was different , much more pleasant.

      After buying Biotar, I sold the G40 on Avito for a penny, in my eyes it lost all value – just the not very successful Soviet clone of the legendary German portrait painter.

      I regret that I did not buy the CZJ Biotar 75mm f / 1.5 in 2014. Then on ebaye it was possible to find for $ 800, now I have not seen cheaper $ 1000 in good condition. I’m talking about the version of the m42, in excellent condition, with a red “T”. Versions with an exakta, without a red “T”, constructors, or with mushrooms, of course, can be found cheaper. The most expensive version of the pre-war, narrow design and m39 – a price tag of more than $ 3000.

      Comparisons with G40 are from the field “my fifty kopecks Helios 44 shoots no worse than your Summicron”. Compare the clone with the original is meaningless. Biotar is a legend that rises in price every year, G40 is what you know. Biotar 75 are eternal values, like the discontinued Leica M lenses, which also become more expensive every year.

  • Hi, i was wondering wat is the best camera to adapt to biotar 75mm to? thanks

  • Thanks for the great review! Based on your info, I just bought Version 3, SN 6224727, which would put it around 1959-1960 from a production standpoint. Looking to see how it performs to my new Voigtlander 1.8 Heliar Classic.

  • Thanks for such a wonderful review of my favorite portrait lens. My late father bought this lens (Version 3) and other Jena lenses for his Pentax camera in the early 60s. It was his favorite portrait lens and he took great care of it. In the 80s when I had to take wedding photos for friends, I always borrowed this lens. After moving on to the Nikon system and the change from film to digital, I had always wanted to adapt this lens but was worried about damaging the rear lens element. I was excited when Nikon introduced the Z mount and discovered that I can now adapt the Biotar 75/1.5. I ended up buying both the Z50 and Z5 and had been enjoying shooting with this vintage lens.

    I posted some of the pictures at my Flickr site:

    Thanks again for your excellent article.

    Ken C

  • Versions of the Biotar 1.5/75 mm and corresponding Serial Nrs. given in your article are somehow misleading. I found a “fat” version 3 with red T AND the East German top Quality grade sign engraved and serial # 3725630. Produced, according to the Thiele Zeiss production book vol. III, in 1954. Production of version 3 probably started well before Serial # 3.770.000. It’s very unlikely that Zeiss Jena manufactured the two versions simultaneously in the same range of Serial Nrs.

    • P.S. to my last :
      I found a “slim” (version 2) with serial # 3321000 recently, produced in 1949 according to Thiele. Still 18 aperture blades and closing down to f/22.
      That’s supporting Martin’s and Federico’s earlier comment that Zeiss probably switched to f/16 with later produced versions 2. There are also reports, that several 1.5/75 Biotars with Contax RF mounts surfaced, which were originally produced with M42 mount. After inquiries at Zeiss and with Thiele personally confirmed, that a number of M 42 copies, originally produced in Jena were remounted to Contax RF in Oberkochen. Also, that this could be executed technically only with M 42 mounts. So there might be more than 225 Contax RF units, and with other serial Nrs. than starting from serial no. 3,467,751 in the market.

  • For what it’s worth, mine SN # 3333251, was dated by the Carl Zeiss museum in Jena as 1948, but they were not absolutely certain. It goes to f22,and is marked 7.5cm instead of 75mm. It doesn’t really matter to me, it is still the best damn lens I’ve ever shot.

  • There was a “slim” version copy in the market recently with a SN #3945251 and, according to Thiele’s Zeiss production catalogue produced in 1954 by Zeiss Jena in original Contax RF mount. 18 aperture blades and f/22. Zeiss Jena must have produced at least some copies of the “slim” version simultaneously with the “fat” version after 1952 and with higher SN than #3 777 000.

    • Cheyenne Morrison April 3, 2022 at 7:37 pm

      Hello Roland, the article isn’t meant to be a scholarly reference, but an introduction for lens enthusiasts. To do a real in depth article I would really need access to the Zeiss Jena archives in person as they are so difficult to use online. I am sure there are all sorts of weird and unusual copies floating around. I’d really love to get my hands on the 10cm f/2 version for medium format.

  • Roland Bischoff April 4, 2022 at 3:09 am

    Hello Cheyenne,
    access to the Zeiss archives is easy now as the two companies, Jena and Oberkochen have united their archive files in Jena.
    Head of the archives is a certain Dr. Wimmer and he is very supportive.
    But for the documentation of lens production you don’t need to go there in person. The books of H.-J Kuc: “Auf den Spuren der Contax”, 2 Vol. (2nd edition!) and the production catalogues of Thiele are results of extensive research and you won’t find more in the original sources.
    Good luck for the 10 cm f/2. I have never seen one of these in recent years. Best regards

    • Cheyenne Morrison July 24, 2022 at 7:25 pm

      Thanks for the update Roland, of course not speaking German and being in Australia I am at a big disadvantage for research. However, I am not a scholar, these articles are more for broader education about the lenses than becoming references for collectors.

  • First image is amazing. I love monochrome.

  • I am writing from Germany. The Meyer Görlitz Domiron 2.0/50mm is also very interesting and rare to find. It makes a beautiful bubble bokeh. However, it was only produced for two years and consequently there are only a few lenses of it.

  • I would really appreciate some guidance on this one:
    I have a Carl Meyer Speed 75mm f:1.5 that I cannot distinguish from the Biotar fat version 3- 10 blade iris, dual distance markings, 58mm filter ring. I understand that this was a product of Burke and James, but again, identical to the CZ Biotar.
    2 problems: Focus very tight, I’m sure it needs disassembly and relube.
    More concerning: It started out in life with an Exakta 35mm mount, but someone ground off the mounting ridges and now it’s smooth and circular.
    So I could sell it at auction as is to the highest bidder, or attempt to get it all repaired.
    Glass is beautiful BTW, and iris works fine.
    Thanks in advance!

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Cheyenne Morrison

In today’s digitally obsessed world I've chosen to return to old-school analogue photography, vintage cameras, classic manual focus lenses, and expired film. This combination of elements results in images that cannot be created digitally.

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