Steve Cushing Impresionist Fine Art Photography

Steve Cushing Impresionist Fine Art Photography

Embracing imperfection, recording emotions, one impression at a time…

1958 Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58 mm f2

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The Lens details of a series of images taken by Steve Cushing on mirrorless camera.

Fitting is a EXA bayonet mount with a 44mm Flange Distance - this lens will fit and achieve focus to infinity mirrorless cameras and on DSLRs. Available in other mounts too.


Carl Zeiss was born in Weimar on 11 September 1816. He built microscopes in Jena from 1846 onward.

The correct way to pronounce "Jenna" is to make it sound like "Yenna" in English.

The history of Zeiss mirrors German history and all of its highs and lows. It was founded as a business in 1846. World War I, the global financial crisis and World War II were years of ups and downs.

Carl Zeiss Jena had become a Social-Democratic bulwark. From 1933 and through World War II Carl Zeiss supported the Nazi regime as did most major German industries. About 1937 the atmosphere at Dresden changed (something was coming) and civilian projects were put on low priority, and military items, such as gunsights, bombsights, etc were being pushed. The prototypes were kept in the lower (second) basement level and all further work was done by the devoted staff on their own time, usually during the lunch periods.

When World War II began in September 1939 there was an air of invincibility in Germany, and in keeping with traditional practice, Zeiss products proudly borne the makers trademark and city of origin of the product. Forced foreign labourers (Fremdarbeiter) were brought to work at Carl Zeiss Jena manufacturing facilities.

Hubert Merwin was Director of the design department of Zeiss-Ikon Dresden from 1932-1945 and Zeiss-Ikon Stuttgart from 1945-1949. When Mr. Nerwin joined Zeiss, the first CONTAX camera (later designated as Contax I) was already in production. Zeiss made numerous improvements in the camera design many of them affecting the external appearance. The camerastore-owners complained to Zeiss Ikon, that the frequent changes harmed the sales. Mr. Nerwin estimated, that during the course of two years, there were design changes (external and/or internal) about every three months; naturally, some of those changes were minute, and not necessarily discernible by the dealer/customer. In 1933 it was decreed, that no more external changes should be made on the Contax I. All the improved concepts being developed, were to be incorporated in the forthcoming CONTAX II, then on the design boards.

This explains the various Contax I versions, while the Contax II and the subsequently released Contax III, seemed to be completely uniform in appearance. Actually, the Contax II and III also contained internal changes—but by decree, none of these changes were to be detectable by the dealer/customer, judging external appearance.

Around 1936-1937, when the Contax RF cameras well established, the idea of a reflex finder camera was explored by the design group- The concept was to produce a reflex camera body, that could use the external bayonet lenses of the Contax RF cameras (85 mm focal length and longer).

In 1945 the U.S. Third Army advance, and on April 13 the regimental combat team 80th Division cleared Jena where they found the Carl Zeiss factory complex. It had sustained what they described as "surprisingly little effective bomb damage"

After the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII, in compliance with the Yalta agreements the U.S.military forces departed. In June or early July the Russian military forces occupied Jena and the remainder of what became East Germany (German Democratic Republic). Russians 'appropriated' the original optical equipment and designs from Carl Zeiss factory in Jena. Carl Zeiss know-how was one of the most prized possessions of the post-war era and helped accelerate innovation in the USSR's optical industry, After the war ended, the Contax RF model dies were taken by the Russians to Kiev, along with certain drafted Zeiss staff, to replace the lost or missing dies and production tools. By one year later, the Russians had evacuated much of the remaining technical and management staff and about 92% of the Carl Zeiss Jena manufacturing facilities to the east. But the Russian fear of possible further conflict with the western allies rendered moving any production capability into a more defensible Russian province a sensible strategic step.

The Zeiss staff remaining at Dresden, then decided to proceed with the production of the Contax SLR model; because of the departure of the Contax dies, the Zeiss staff decided to change the lens mount and use a 42mm screw-in mount, and chose to use a horizontally moving, cloth focal piano shutter, because the tooling for a cloth shutter was much Simpler, and quicker. The postwar Dresden Contax SLR was produced under the direction of Mr. Winzenburg, who took over the design group after Nerwin left for Stuttgart where they assembled assorted prototypes, machine tools, dies, hand tools and trucked in to Berlin-Zellendorf. Production resumed in September 1945. It took the Stuttgart team seven weeks to return to Stuttgart with American military assistance) because of Russian intransigence.

So after WWII, there were suddenly two Zeiss-Ikon companies, one in East and the other in West Germany. The "Zeiss Stiftung von Jena" established at Heidenheim with the "Opton-Optische Werstatte Oberkochen GmbH" factory at Oberkochen on the banks of the Kocher River near Stuttgart. The Schott Glass Works subsidiary was located at Mainz.

The West German branch, in Stuttgart, developed an all-new line of rangefinder cameras using the Contax bayonet lens mount, and launched the Contax IIa in 1950. Meanwhile, the East German group completed work on an all-new SLR camera that had been in development since the beginning of the War. This camera was introduced at the 1948 Leipzig Fair as the Contax S. The Contax S was the originator of the M42 lens mount, which was immediately adopted by KW as they reintroduced the prewar Praktiflex as the Praktica with the new mount. In addition to introducing the M42 mount, the Contax S also gave us the first eye-level pentaprism viewfinder, and it was also the first optical viewfinder system to provide (with the standard 58/2.0 lens attached) a 1:1 magnification in the finder. Zeiss was reformed in West Germany and became Zeiss Icon, Early 1970's tensions between the two firms between the two firms peaked (as they did between East and West) with each of both companies claiming the exclusive rights to the patents, trademarks and traditions of "Carl Zeiss". This culminated in a series of legal battles around the globe, among these was one resolved by U.S. Supreme Court granting rights to the name "Zeiss" to the West German Zeiss firm. Many trademark disputes followed with the part that was left in East Germany. Stuttgart became the Wests company's domicile.

Zeiss Ikon merged in the mid 1960s with Voigtländer, another important German manufacturer, and one that had been controlled by the Zeiss Foundation since 1956. Zeiss Ikon ceased the production of cameras in 1972. This was a great shock for the entire German camera industry. Parts of the Zeiss Ikon product line then went to Rollei, and part of the know-how was used to revive the Contax name in collaboration with the Japanese maker Yashica.

This Lens

Like many lenses, the Biotar 58mm has a long genealogy. This ancestry stretches as far back as the 1920s, a time when several lens manufacturers were attempting to improve the Carl Zeiss Planar design that originally debuted in 1896.

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.

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 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.

By 1939 the world had just suffered through the Great Depression and World War II began – not an auspicious time to release anything that cost the equivalent of two-months-worth of a German engineer’s salary. 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.

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. When the lens was released, the word bokeh was unknown. 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.

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 Biotar 75mm f/1.5 produces rich images dripping with colour, contrast, center sharpness and world-famous bokeh

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. This camera was the first camera to use the M42 screw mount (alternatively called the Universal Screw Mount or Pentax mount).

The first Biotar lenses in M42 are known as Version Two of the 75mm f/1.5, and these were produced between 1946 and 1952. These lenses are commonly called the Thin or Slim Version and have serial number range 3,100,000 – 3,777,000 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 or eighteen aperture blades used in version one instead of the ten blades found in Version three.

Version 3 – Commonly called The Fat Version, sometimes called Q1 Version (1952 – 1967) Serial number range 3,777,000 – 8,275,578. Although Version Three predominantly had ten aperture blades, the earliest preset models produced in M42 came with twelve aperture blades.

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.

Modern Version – Oprema Jena Biotar 1.5/75

A few years ago due to the lenses popularity 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.

The lens reviewed here

There are lots of wonderful classic lenses on this site, some of them are very collectable but for a long time I sought after one legendary lens above all the others, the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm f/1.5. Zeiss originally named this lens the “Night Lens” for its ability to shoot in low light situations. Many photographers affectionately call 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 very, very special lens and fetches a very high price that is rising all the time. From 1939 to 1967 only 16,827 lenses were produced through the three versions, across six different mounts. This lens is an investment in more ways than one, but most of all it is a piece of photographic history.

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 you get wonderful out-of-focus areas that look like a Monet oil painting, covered in smooth, creamy bokeh.

bokeh, bokeh, bokeh
build quality
superb portraiture lens

Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm f1.5 is a big and heavy lens with unusual focal length. It’s a classic Biotar formula. As most of the lenses from that time it’s very easy to disassemble, clean and re-lubricate.

Carl Zeiss Jena 75mm f1.5 is the bigger brother of Biotar 58mm f2.0.


Biotar 75, especially the second and third versions, are a bit bulky. That’s simply the price you will have to pay to have a very fast vintage prime lens. The f1.5 has a lot of glass. The lens weighs in at a rather serious half kilogram. It might not be the perfect traveling companion.


If you want the joys of this lens but don’t want to break the bank, here are some alternatives: the soviet made Helios 40-2 85mm f1.5 is based on exactly the same lens formula. The Helios did not use the same high-end materials as Carl Zeiss so the overall feel and quality will not be on par but you won’t need to take out a mortgage to buy one. If you want to be even sneakier and are only interested to shoot at f1.5: check out the Cyclop 1 H 3T. It’s a soviet army nightvision that uses the Biotar 75 lens formula. Luckily these were made in M42 mount (but without aperture blades).


Optically, the lens is a perfect and fun. All-in-all the Biotar 75 is a legendary lens. The price tag is obviously off putting but when you consider this if you own an old version in good condition the price will only go in one direction: up. So it might even be a worthy investment.

If you don’t mind the slightly longer focal length and weight, then Biotar 75mm 1.5 can serve as an all-in-one lens. Magical art when shoot open, perfectly sharp when closed down.

For general information on lens design and lens elements go to the homepage HERE


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