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Carl Zeiss 58mm F2 Biotar T

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6 76,551 Wed September 20, 2017
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83% of reviewers $115.00 8.17
Carl Zeiss 58mm F2  Biotar T

58mm biotars were manufactured in the DDR after WWII from 1946 to 1960. There are a number of variants, for example the aperture had a different number of blades: 17,12,10, 8; and there are both black and silver bodies. This is the classic Double-Gauss lens with 6 elements in 4 groups.
Can also be found in exacta bayonet.

Focal length: 58mm
Aperture range: 2 - 22
Nr. of aperture blades: varies
Filter size: 49mm
Min. focusing distance: 0.5 m
Special feature: T (transparent) coating
Focus: manual
Mount: M42 screw mount
Mount Type: M42 Screwmount
Price History:

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New Member

Registered: March, 2017
Posts: 1
Lens Review Date: September 20, 2017 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $170.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: sharpness,bokeh,color.
Cons: very old and hard to find nice one with cosmetic.
Sharpness: 10    Aberrations: 8    Bokeh: 10    Handling: 7    Value: 4    Camera Used: SONY a65, NEX-6
Site Supporter

Registered: November, 2010
Location: California
Posts: 2,223

2 users found this helpful
Lens Review Date: February 28, 2016 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $180.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Sharp wide open and stopped down.
Cons: Hard to find a clean copy
Sharpness: 10    Aberrations: 8    Bokeh: 10    Handling: 10    Value: 9    Camera Used: K-3   

I have the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58/2 10-blade sliver version. Pretty much the only one you can get in relative good shape. My copy is preset and for some reason it stops down to f5.6 only. I do not want to mess with it. I use it mostly wide open. The glass has bubbles and dust, but it does not affect the shots. I find this lens nice, even though, I can get some better bokehs with the Helios 44-3, and the Meyer Optics Primoplan 58/1.9. However, there is something to it that makes you want it. My copy came with a label ring on top of the original label (of which the serial number and Jena had been scratched down - still readable) that just said Zeiss Jena 58/2 and there is a symbol. it is very weird. Some people say that the original German lenses were defaced and the Russians put their own label to make it look like they have made the lens. If that is the case, I am lucky I got a German made, not a Russian made. In any case, here are some shots taken with this wonderful lens.

CZeissJenaBiotar58mmf2-K3-UnaMandarina1 by Palenquero Photography, on Flickr

Wide Open by Palenquero Photography, on Flickr

CZeissJenaBiotar58mmf2-K3-PeachBloss by Palenquero Photography, on Flickr

For comparison, I have included a shot taken with the Helios 44-3:

Peach Blossom by Palenquero Photography, on Flickr
Site Supporter

Registered: July, 2012
Posts: 928

4 users found this helpful
Lens Review Date: March 16, 2015 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $150.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Small, sharp, 17 blades for exceptional bokeh
Cons: Sticky focusing ring, colours, 0.9m MFD, expensive, hard to find one without air bubbles or scratched glass
Sharpness: 10    Aberrations: 8    Bokeh: 10    Handling: 6    Value: 7    Camera Used: K-3   

Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar, 58/2, 17 blades

This review is for a 17-bladed, M42 screw-mount, black Biotar T, manufactured around 1950, according to this list of serial numbers. It has a MFD of 0.9m. Most Biotar 58/2's have 10 blades, or sometimes 13 blades, and most have a MFD of 0.5m.

A photo of the lens and its "sons", a Helios 44-2 and Helios 44 zebra is shown below. As you can see, the Biotar is considerably smaller - quite a surprise when it arrived. It has a preset (no stops) aperture ring at the front that opens and closes all those tiny little blades in the most exquisite manner. Less good is the focus ring. It's tough to turn, but I was expecting this - it's a common problem of the lubricant used, apparently. Sometimes, I've unscrewed the lens from its adaptor trying to change the focal length.

An 'expected surprise': air bubbles in the glass. If you worry about dust inside your lens, then these bubbles may tip you over the edge. Equally, given the old age of these versions, its normal to find the front glass has scratches....certainly the fifty or so lenses for sale I looked at before buying mine had at least a few micro scratches, and sometimes loads of scratches. However, neither the bubbles nor small scratches appear to show on the images taken by the lens. Just think of the bubbles as a sign of exceptionally high quality glass.

Optically, the lens is a gem. It is reasonably sharp wide open and very sharp stopped down. Contrary to some reports of swirly bokeh, my lens does not produce swirly bokeh like the 8-bladed Helios 44-2. It does swirl a bit in the right conditions, but not as much as the Helios. The beauty of 17-blades, of course, is that the oof rendering stopped down is really excellent, without bokehgones. For longer-distance photos, the Biotar is infinitely better than my Helios 44-2. It's interesting to see the original bakelite hood - it's impressive/large, and the lens benefits from a hood.

Colour rendition is quite muted, like the Helios. But once off the camera, the images can be PP'd easily to boost colour vibrancy. While the 0.9m minimum focus distance is not great (versus 0.5m for later Biotars/Helios; the difference is really noticeable), the lens works very well with extension tubes for closer focusing. Focusing the Biotar is challenging beyond (say) f5.6; the viewfinder image goes quite dark/cloudy. However, the aperture ring is so smooth, I simply focus wide open and then close down.

Would I recommend this particular version? A qualified yes. If you are a collector or big fan of Zeiss, or you just happen to want a lens with such a fabulous collection of blades (that's me!), then yes. It's a fine lens. If you like using your Helios 44-2, and are just curious to find out what the real deal is like....then I wouldn't bother. There's no need to buy the Zeiss, unless you have money to burn. I was very lucky to find a good copy at $150 at the end of 2014; they seem to go for around $250 (2014/5). The lesser-bladed versions are cheaper, but I have no idea how they compare. The Helios 44-2 is a remarkable lens, with extra swirls, for a fraction of that price.'s not nearly so sexy as the Biotar! I for one, am a proud owner of this famous lens.

I've posted some more photos from/of the lens here:

Biotar air bubbles

Smoothy bokeh

Sharp and vibrant when processed...

Veteran Member

Registered: October, 2010
Location: Hong Kong
Posts: 327
Lens Review Date: March 20, 2012 I can recommend this lens: No | Price: $25.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: owning a piece of history
Cons: colours, many other alternatives out there

interesting lens, i had no idea what i purchased as it was so cheap and random, but regardless i found the sharpness not bad overall, colours were not very appealing to me as it seems kind of cold (may appeal to others)

obviously there are more modern designs out there and faster 50's but hey if you get it for a cheap price it might look good on your mantlepiece

had a play with it a few times only but really in terms of practicality, speed and colors there are many other 50's out there

my recommendation is "no" based on this fact, but if you find one for a cheap price and have lots of time you might consider it, otherwise it just looks like an interesting lens on a mantlepiece
Senior Member

Registered: December, 2009
Location: East Yorkshire
Posts: 120
Lens Review Date: June 11, 2010 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: None indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Surprisingly good for its age. Great nostalgia value.
Cons: Lens flare, stiff focusing due to age.

I have this lens with a Pentacon FM that I inherited from a relative who purchased it in 1957. I have never used it on digital but have obtained consistently good results with film.
It is much slower to use than lenses that appeared just a few years later. This is not a bad thing as it makes you consider your shots more. A surprisingly sharp lens and is good even wide open. Some people may think it produces images that are a bit too cold as compared to modern lenses. It does suffer from lens flare that I put down to the early lens coatings not being that good, but this is solved to the greater extent by a lens hood. My copy is now a bit stiff to focus, but then again it is over 50 years old.
To really appreciate this lens use it on a 1950's Pentacon camera, all the controls are a little bit odd and nothing is automatic and this lens makes perfect sense. When this lens was made East Germany was still making serious photographic equipment and not the cheap and cheerful stuff made in the 70,s and 80,s that were all about getting hold of foreign exchange to prop up a failing economy.
Veteran Member

Registered: April, 2008
Location: Berlin, Germany
Posts: 1,381

6 users found this helpful
Lens Review Date: July 10, 2009 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $50.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: History in hand, good build, full open usability, portraits
Cons: Age can lead to stiff focus, subdued cool colors out of the box

Used on cameras: Pentax K100D (APS-C 6MPix)

Similar lenses used: SMC Takumar 1.8/55, Helios 44M-2..7

This lens is a classic design which has prevailed til today in f/2 55/58mm designs. It is said to have been copied in the soviet Helios 44xxx series lens.

This is most probably the exact lens scheme of the reviewed lens (here in Exakta-mount)

My copy is the same as the above-pictured Biotar, 1Q with a red T and serial 4xxx (that makes it a 1956 model according to Rick Oleson). The Biotar will give you good resolution right from f/2. The bokeh is neutral imo and quite pleasing.

Like with so many lenses from that era, the Biotar will bring out colors in a subdued and cool way. That is to say, you will not get eye-popping colors out of the box. However, those colors are still there and there are some ways to bring them out like you want to. I have ended up with a good-quality Skylight 1B (warming UV) filter which stays put on the lens no matter what (would take it off in low light though). This will bring you the color shift you would apply in PostProcess most of the time. There is the possibility that such a filter enhances contrast also (given different contrast performances through the color spectrum). One more pre-PP method of giving the lens more pop is to expose to the right as far as possible. That's to say by trying to end up with a bright (but not blown-out) picture, you can easily apply some shades in PP and there's your extra pop without too much grain. That way I have gotten real good results from that lens on a K100D.

Although I did not shoot portraits with this particular lens, I assume that it is a good portrait lens. I derive this from my experiences with the Helios 44xxxx series lenses. Here we have the obvious comparison lens for the Biotar, the various copies from different factories in the former soviet union.

Different models and factory logos: Mother Biotar and her soviet daughters (all @f/4)

I would say that those lenses behave quite similar. Obviously you have coating differences and also a different number of aperture blades (there is even another Biotar version with even more blades). Other than that, I'd say you will get a good portrait lens with any of them.

Regarding macro capibilities I just am not competent enough to judge this lens. Given the 0.5m min. focus it seems not to be a dedicated macro though. In terms of sample variation there could be more variation with the soviet lenses. I have seen yet one other Biotar, which had the same optical quality imo and I would expect little copy variation in the original Biotar (see below chapters for more).

CZJ Biotar at f/2 no crop no PP on K100D + Skylight 1B filter

Mechanics: My reviewed sample has a smooth focussing ring all through the focus range and a very easy to turn aperture. This is absolutely amazing given the 50+ years of its life. However, I have seen another sample of the Biotar from the same age (a little younger even), which showed some more of what you'd expect from such an ancient lens, such as a hard turning focussing ring. Disassembly seems quite difficult. I still have a disass. PDF which I partly translated for a german guy who disassembled the Biotar. He was really scared, it's got a double helicoid and you'd better know how it came apart to have a chance to get it back working. Using the lens via adapter on the PK-mount was easy, it sits a tad over the adapters' diameter and will lock by screwing firmly onto the cameras bayonet flange. Nice. Apart from all that you are still getting an all-metal precision instrument from the post-war Zeiss factory.

Optics: That second sample of the Biotar also did not have the red 'T' marking on it (which would be the original Zeiss Tessar coating), however the coating looked exactly like the other '1Q' red 'T' sample, a blueish coating front and back. This partly explains the cool colors this lens will deliver. Both samples I have seen did not have dust in them, nor any signs of element separation or fungus. The Biotar does not have an infrared marking on the lens scale.

Handling: This is one of the reasons why many people feel attracted to the lens and rejected at the same time. The look and feel is obviously from another era. Focussing should be smooth but can be a little hard on your lens copy. It could be that by using it for some time, the focus will become smoother (specially in warmer climate). The focus throw is nearly one full turn, which makes for good finefocussing. The aperture is the classic preset aperture. A pull-and-turn ring sits below the aperture scale and you preset the aperture with that ring. Once done, you will have a stepless open-close aperture via turning that front ring to the preset aperture value. This is not too bad, you are getting a multi-blade aperture that is always working properly.

Exposure variations:
This lens does not touch the camera contacts on the K100D. It will take 1.7 to 2.0 +EV to get good exposures (incl. the Skylight 1B filter). As 2.0 is already the maximum possible on the K100D, owners of cameras with a greater EV-latitude might have more possibilities to get the right exposure in any conditions.

Rating/score: I'd give this lens an 8 rating for optical performance. Given the limitations of the age of this lens, you have a real good chance to have some fun with it. Using it with the mentioned Skylight 1B filter and a decent lenshood you have an all-purpose lens with good portrait capabilities. I have found this lens to be really usable at f/2 also. I did not weigh into the score the climbing market price and obvious mechanical problems from a 50 year old lens which do not necessarily occur.

Conclusion: Great nostalghia lens and probably my very best 'white metal' lens of that era. The obvious question is whether this lens is worth the extra money compared to the Helios44xxx models. As far as I have seen, the Biotar might indeed be a tad better at full open - other than that any of those Helios lenses will probably be just as good as the Biotar, excluding soviet copy variation in the different models and factories.

General info:

Pictures from this lens:

Best, Georg (the other)
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