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Introduction

Carl Zeiss introduced its new Zeiss Ikon camera and a matching set of ZM lenses in 2004. Biogon T* 35mm f/2 was one of the four original lenses introduced at the launch of Zeiss Ikon system. The lens traces its roots to the Contax version of Biogon 35mm f/2.8, manufactured by both Carl Zeiss Oberkochen as well as Carl Zeiss Jena (although, while both East and West copies carried same name, designs were drastically different, with the Jena version having a large, protruding rear element making the lens incompatible with earlier versions of Contax rangefinder cameras). Biogon 35/2 is currently being manufactured by Cosina in Japan and costs ~US$1,000 new (after a ~$150 price increase in 2009), while used copies in good quality go for ~US$800.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 9 elements in 6 groups. The build quality is superb, with all metal lens barrel, knurled metal focusing ring and aperture ring. The focusing ring is well damped and is pretty smooth to rotate. The lens is 'reasonably' small (I say reasonably because it is smaller than your typical SLR lens, but is certainly larger than its slightly slower C Biogon version and its main competitors - Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 ASPH and Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4). Biogon measures 52 x 68mm (2.04 x 2.67in) and weighs 240g (8.46oz). The aperture ring moves in 1.3 f-stop increments with the min aperture at f/22. The minimum focusing distance is 70cm. The lens accepts 43mm screw-on type filters.



Biogon 35/2 can be used on all film and digital M mount cameras, including Leica M8/M9 and Epson RD-1. It can also be used on Micro Four Thirds as well as Sony NEX camera systems, using readily available third party adapters. When used on M8 with it's APS-H type sensor, the EFOV of the lens is ~46mm, while when used on APS-C type Sony NEX its EFOV is ~52mm. Within the scope of this review, Biogon 35/2 was tested on Leica M8.

Summary
Lens Composition 9 elements in 6 groups
Angular Field 64 degrees
Minimum Focus 70cm/2.29ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2-f/22, manual
Filter Size 43mm
Lens Hood Metal (optional
Weight 240g/8.46oz
Dimensions 52x68mm/2.04x2.67"
Lens Case N/A

 

 

Handling

If you're like me, and still are using Leica M8 (or M8.2), then Carl Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2 ZM is going to be a candidate for a 'staple' lens for you - because of it's EFOV of ~47mm, it is my most frequently used lens right now (Planar 50/2 comes close second). But even if you're lucky M9 owner or even if you're shooting one of the classic film cameras, chances are pretty high that a 35mm lens will find its way into your camera bag. The question is which one? For years, Carl Zeiss has been considered the #2 in the modern rangefinder world. This is despite  the fact that the company has delivered more innovation in the optical world than pretty much any other company out there! While many Leicafilles would be quick to point to facts like outsourced manufacturing and non-cutting edge lens designs (i.e. footprint, lack of aspherical glasses etc.), I think Zeiss is a pragmatic company and simply decided to target different segment of users - users who can't or don't want to spend obscene abounts of money on a lens and who would be happy with 90%-95% of the capabilities of the thrice more expensive glass offered by Leica. And Biogon 35/2 follows this concept very closely. What is puzzling, however, is why did Zeiss decide to offer two 35mm Biogons? In addition to the 35/2 version, the company is offering 35/2.8 variant. The price difference is not that significant (~US$150) to think that the slower version is targeted for price-conscious users, like Leica's Summarit lineup. The 35/2.8 Biogon seems to be following the original Contax Biogon design, while the 35/2 Biogon is an updated, more complex formula. I have not had the opportunity to own or test Biogon 35/2.8, so the answer to this question, unfortunately, will have to wait for the moment.

ISO 160, 1/500, f/2, 35mm

Biogon brings up 24/35mm frame lines when mounted on Leica M8/M9. The lens is fairly compact and barely protrudes into the frames - without its lens hood, Biogon blocks ~3% of the frame when focused down to 70cm and barely touches the frame at infinity. The lens hood blocks another ~5% of the frame.

Like with all Zeiss ZM lenses, Biogon sports a dedicated, engraved DOF scale, which allows users to preset the lens for faster use. The DOF scale has markings for all main f-stop levels and presetting the lens to f/22 woulf effectively give the user a focusing range from 90cm to the infinity. The focusing ring of the lens has the right amount of damping, making it smooth to operate but without any play. The ring rotates for ~90 degrees when going from the infinity to the closeup, with slightly longer thrust around MFD and is typical for this class of lenses. One of the more annoying properties of the Biogon is its rather unual filter size - 43mm filters are not very typical in the rangefinder world, with 39mm and 46mm sizes being the norm. This means that you would end up buying a new set of UV/IR filters specifically for the use with Biogon or use a 43-46  step up ring (as a side note, Biogon 35/2.8 as well as C Sonnar 50/1.5 also have 43mm filter threads). But the.bottom line is that the overall ergonomics and build quality of the lens are superb - riliving Leica's and far superior to most modern mainstream SLR lenses out there.

Biogon 35/2 is fully compatible with all M mount cameras of the past and present, however, the lens is not coded for Leica M8/M9, hence you would need to deal with various artifacts produced by M8/M9 either in post-processing (which is what I do) or figure out how to code the lens and hope that the camera's built-in firmware will correct the artifacts for you automatically. You can, in theory' use a sharpie marker to pain the codes that would be recognized by M8/M9, but because Biogon's mount ring does not have a groove, the markings will eventually smear from friction against the camera. You can try machining down the mount or even replace the entire mount (there are numerous 'after-market' options available, and Carl Zeiss offers mount replacement for ~EU100), but I can't recommend either of these options, since I have never tried them and don't know how well the camera's firmware corrects various artifacts. Or, just shoot in B&W and forget this whole hoopla about cyan drift, 'magenta blacks' etc.