This lens is not really a lens that one would use on a DSLR. It was used on Agfa Standard cameras between 1926-31 to shoot on 6×9 film. I have deactivated the internal shutter and adapted the lens to EOS-mount by fixing it to a tube taken from an Olympus-mount SUN 135mm lens (with removed internal elements) and an OM-EOS-adapter. In order to achieve infinity focus (and not beyond!) I had to add a 12mm OM macro tube. This construction perhaps looks a bit strange but it works.
I have found the old medium format lens at the Solms Camera Show near “Leica-City” Wetzlar that I have attended regularly for some years now. Since I know that those old lenses can create very interesting images and effects when used with a sensor (more about this here), I wanted to try this Agfa on my EOS cams. Well, how does it perform? About as I have expected.
This lens does not have the extreme resolution of a modern top-class prime but since only a very small part of th original image circle is used, the lens performs similarly throughout the whole frame when used on a DSLR, esp. when use on the 300D I took the photos on this post with. There is no loss towards the corners whatsoever.
Contrast and saturation are reduced compared to a modern lens and since there is not coating on the elements it is easy to generate flare which again reduces image contrast. A low saturation is not a bad thing, unless you want those Japanese style images that hum with colours and low contrast can be adjusted easily in post-processing. Under an overcast sky or in shadows this lens does not reproduce deep blacks and bright whites, a behaviour that suddenly changes as soon as the sun comes out. Then you get high contrast, but – as said before – you have keep an eye on possible flare.
The Anastigmat renders out-of-focus areas nicely but has problems with bokeh highlights which sometimes seem to be of doughnut shape. Areas in focus are pretty nice and definitely sharp enough for general use.
OK, here it starts…
This week I will shoot with the Zeiss Biotar 2/58, a lens that I just have converted to EOS mount using a LeicaR-EOS-adapter, some superglue and EasyTac. It worked well. Please, don’t hit me for transferring this lens into the digital age! 😉 I have hardly shot with the Exakta Varex that had this lens mounted.
It’s a very nice lens. My Flickr contact Alf Sigaro shows the lens diagram. It’s a 6 element design but my copy does not have the famous T-coating, so reflections can be a problem when the lens is used wide open and with some light from the side. For the same reason there are some coma effects and halos visible towards the edge of the image frame. A good hood helps, though. I use a vented hood for a rangefinder Summicron or one of these classic conical ones.
Distortion is nicely low and the bokeh is very interesting, really “characteristic” I’d say. It’s one of those lenses that seem to have their own “personality” which you need to understand in order to use properly. The close-up functionality of this lens is not that good, it only focuses down to about 90cm; you could, fo course, always work with close-up lenses or other additional equipment. This Biotar is not made for all scenarios and certainly not suitable to produce that neutral style of modern AF lenses, but if you find an approach to this lens, it can give you some fascinating shots.
This lens is nicely built and provides a pleasant feeling of solidity – quite typical for the “early” Carl Zeiss Jena lenses. The Biotar 2/58 series was built between 1946 and 1960 in different versions. My copy offers apertures from f/2 to f/22, some copies only go to f/16 (which is not really a problem, is it?). Haptics are great, there is just one problematic issue: with some lenses the focus ring does not turn smoothly any more which is due to a stiff volution. My copy also suffers a little from that, but it’s not too bad, it’s still well usable.
Since the EXA mount gets into the way of the EOS 5D mirror, I shoot this lens on a crop (1.6x) DSLR. My 40D is mainly “reserved” for my AF lenses, so the EOS 300D will be the “weapon of choice”.
This Biotar doesn’t go where my Leica Summicron 2/50 resides at: the top. But it is a fine lens, capable of producing nicely rendered and very special images, if you know how to use it. And it really shines on smaller, e.g. APS-sized sensors.