Biogon 21 vs. Leica 21

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by vidom, Jan 17, 2006.

  1. I find it interesting that according to Erwin Puts the new Zeiss
    Biogon 21 outperforms the Elmarit Asph. There's a historic dimension
    to this as the original Biogon 4.5/21 is said to outperform every 21
    SA ever offered by Leitz, maybe even the pre-asph Elmarit.

    So how much truth is in this - (as I have one) I know that the old
    Contax Biogon 21 is a fine lens, but can anyone who has acutally
    used this and any of the Leica 21s side by side confirm any of these
    lenses superiority by comparison?
  2. Peter, I am a big Zeiss fan, but what Erwin says is the Zeiss Biogon "delivers at least the same overall performance as the Leica Elmarit." He does not say the lens is superior, but goes on to state that since its price is much lower, it represents a better value. He then further states the performance of the Zeiss 21mm warrants a somewhat wider perspective on lens design. Here's his take: "Zeiss demonstrates that it is possible to improve on first-class lenses while using conventional designs and without elevating the cost to astronomical heights. Leica has lived for a long period in an ivory tower, supported by a loyal following of collectors who were more interested in the safety of their investments than in the quality of the images that could be produced with Leica equipment. The digital tsunami has at last reached the parapet of the Leica fortress and it is evident that Leica must become a more market-oriented company. Leica claims to offer an unique mixture of traditional values and modern technology for its products. You do not get market share in the current photographic world without a sensible price-performance relation and here Zeiss is beginning to lead the way, at least in matters optical."
  3. "The digital tsunami has at last reached the parapet of the Leica fortress . . ."

    Wow. I'm speechless.
  4. Zeiss is well positioned, as a lens maker, to respond whatever way the market goes. Digital or analog...the cameras will need lenses and Zeiss has determined to be there. It is a sound strategy. They continue to play to their strengths. They don't have to, as Kodak has done, 'bet the farm' on the new digital technology.

    Everybody is getting on the digital 'bandwagon'. Many people see it as a way of making fast $$ by taking advantage of people who are caught up in the 'excitement' over digital.

    I remember going into one of my local camera stores here in Toronto was selling a simple shooting table for about Can$350. One week I went in to see a new label on the old table "DIGITAL shooting table $995.00" Just by adding the magic word 'digital' they could triple the price...and I bet they got it too!

    Then there was the guy who started selling "digital pinholes"...not pinhole cameras...they were just a sheet of foil with a pinHOLE...I guess it was specifically engineered for digital!

    But, to get back on topic, if you can get a good lens for less money, great.
  5. Anthony,

    What an absurd, racist rant.

    You should be ashamed.
  6. Dear Peter,

    Over the last 25 years I've had 6 21mm lenses:

    21/4 Nikkor (stolen in India)

    21/4.5 Biogon (sold when I bought the Elmarit-M)

    21/2.8 pre-aspheric Elmarit-M (stolen in Moscow)

    21/4.5 Biogon (to replace Elmarit-M -- recently sold because I also had Kobalux & Voigtlander -- the old Biogon is a superb lens but no real advantage over either)

    21/2.8 Kobalux (still have it)

    21/4 Voigtlander (still have it)

    And I'm just returning

    21/2.8 Biogon (loaned for test)

    Quite honestly, ANY of them is a better lens than I am photographer -- and the same is true of 90-99 per cent (maybe more) of other photographers too.

    Admittedly I've not tried the Leica aspherics but you'd need to be a serious 21mm addict to notice a significant difference. If I could afford it the Leica aspheric would be top of the list, followed by the f/2.8 Biogon, but as it is...

    I also have the 38/4.5 Biogon on an Alpa and it's gorgeous.


    Roger ( -- and AP every week)
  7. I'm now shooting R8/9 with 28-90 Asph and 70-180 APO. I love this stuff.

    But when I reflect on the large Contax SLR kit that was stolen, the 2 Zeiss lenses I really miss are the 100 f2 and (ta-da!) the Biogon 21 f2.8.

    Closet thing is the Elmarit 19 which I have tested an liked a lot (keeping the Zeiss 21 in mind during the test) but there was no way I could afford the 19.

    As a dysfunctional Leica R convert, all I can say is that - for the money - the Biogon 21 (G-Series or for the SLR - doesn't matter)is the 600-pound gorilla in it's market niche.

    Bob in Seattle.
  8. I'm with Roger Hicks: "Quite honestly, ANY of them is a better lens than I am photographer -- and the same is true of 90-99 per cent (maybe more) of other photographers too." I love the 21mm Elmarit Asph but I have no other point of comparison.
  9. Bob, The Contax 21mm SLR lens is a Distagon not a Biogon lens.
  10. Roger Hicks,

    With all those stolen lenses, I suggest that you invest in a 9mm.
  11. Yeah, like he can carry a 9 w/him when he travels to Russia & India.
  12. Why the heck not?!
  13. Ah, I see what the 'Nam vet has suggested.
  14. I think the lens on my Holga is better than I am.
  15. The best 21 I've used is the 20mm 1:3.5 Nikkor ais. It's almost immune to flare & light & quick to focus. Cost of a used one in Mint condition, app. $275.00 Team it up with a Nikon F3 HP ($400-$600 in Mint condition) & you've got some combo. IMHO.
  16. Paul, Have you seen Peter's 21mm Biogon shots (classic camera forum)? Stunning stuff.
  17. No, Vivek, I'll look. In the meantime, here's another 20mm Nikkor shot. I love this little lens!
  18. The Mamiya 43mm (which I own) is an exact copy of the original Zeiss Biogon made for 4X5 (the 10-element version). The lesser version is the 38mm F/4.5 on the Hasselblad SWC, which is also the one that's attached to the Alpa.

    Mamaiya was able to make an exact copy because the patent on that lens expired (50 years).

    So it really is the very best, and at a cheap price. That's why I don't have a 21mm Leica. Like Peter A., I bought a Mamiya 7II body to use the lens instead.
  19. Dear Kerry,

    You may have a point there, but the airlines tend to get awkward about it. Actually I think I'd probably use my 1930s .45 National Match, inherited from my late father-in-law.

    The thefts aren't as bad as they sound. The 21 Nikkor (and a 65/8 Super Angulon) were in India (Old Delhi railway station) in 1984 or thereabouts, and the 21 Elmarit-M in '92 or thereabouts (Supermodel contest Moscow). That's 3 lenses in almost 40 years of photography. Both were sneak thefts, not muggings, so a 9mm wouldn't have helped. I just hope I'm not due another one...


  20. Stuart - I am sorry if you are upset by what I said but criticism is valueless without facts. I obtain mine from a retired lens designer.
    What are yours ?
  21. Dear Anthony,

    Perhaps the clue is in the word 'retired'. I'm not sure that a currently employed lens designer would say quite the same, nor that he would phrase it in quite the same way. Then again, the only current lens designers I know are at Zeiss, so they might be biased too!


  22. Incidentally, there's one of my oldest Biogon-on-Leica shots (20+ years) in the free Black and White module in the Photo School at -- the Canon racing car, about the 3rd picture down.

  23. Wasn't the Biogon designed by Ludwig Bertele in the 1930s? Of course the USSR produced its
    own copy in the 50s at Krasnogorsky. <p>
    In any case, I can't see any relevance to the racial stereotyping here; most of the Zeiss lenses
    might be made in Japan, but they were designed in Germany.
  24. Paul, interesting question. Bertele did develop a modification of his Sonnar in the 1930's, whic he called the Biogon, but it was not the Biogon which we know & love today. The now familiar Biogon design was a later development post-WW II, coincidentally also developed by Bertele but not until 1951 when Bertele was no longer employed by Zeiss but did this project under contract. The lens was developed because Zeiss was in need of an extreme wide angle lens for the Contax & Hasselblad cameras.

  25. Roger, You are good. Not a surprise. The pioneer is Roosinov.
    I will paste a web link here (quotations from excellent sources by our reliable Michael Briggs) for everyone. Kingslake's and Sidney Ray's books are very useful books.

    Regards, Vivek.
  26. Just for clarification: The above post refers to the origins of the Biogon design. Also, the Michael Briggs referred to is the LF forum moderator and not the spooky visitor to this forum.
  27. This is the pre-war 2.8/35 Biogon:
    Compare with the post-war Oberkochen version:
    I see a lot of resemblance. The 2nd lens is clearly derived from the first. The biggest difference is the rear element which was developed into a thinner cemented pair while still keeping the negative-positive profile.
    "The postwar Oberkochen 35mm, f/2.8 Biogon is similar to the Jena lens, save that the rear element is substantially smaller and the thickness is about 8mm less. The lens was now of a seven-element construction."
    -- Barringer and Small, Zeiss Compendium
  28. Dear Vivek,

    Thanks for the reference. I should have looked at Cox, too, but it'll probably be more interesting to check the Vade Mecum. You have Neill Wright's Vade Mecum, I take it?

    Incidentally, I can't resist boasting here. In The Oxford Companion to The Photograph (Oxford University Press, 2005) there are a few of my entries alongside the Gods, such as yes, Sidney Ray. I know I am not in his class, not by a long chalk, but what a privilege to be on the same pages!


  29. Alexander, you are correct that the later post-WW II example you showed is a further development of the earlier pre-war Biogon. However, these are triplets, derived from the Sonnar & have absolutely nothing to do with the modern Biogon, which was developed in 1951 for Zeiss by Bertele and which is a cymmetrical design with a completely different look.

    I don't have your ability to post these scans, but the modern examples are hardly different than Bertele's original design. You can find the cut-aways for these designs at, or, or at
  30. Misspelling - Correction: above it should read Symmetrical, not Cymmetrical. Sorry.

  31. Mr. Hicks, I will look into getting the Oxford companion you mention along with the Vade Mecum that Dan Fromm has been urging me to get, all the time.

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