Yes, I do make a habit of looking into dumpsters. You never know where you will find something interesting.
After a couple of months on the shelf, I picked up the Biogon again this week. A couple of observations:
- The focusing tab on the CV did indeed turn out to be addictive, but only for 35mm lenses. When I’m using the 50 Hex, my fingers naturally find the ring, but going to the Biogon, my fingers start searching for the tab. During my time with the CV a bit of muscle memory must have built up between the 35mm focal length and the focusing tab; eyes see 35mm frame lines, fingers go looking for tab. This wouldn’t be a problem if the Biogon also had a tab. Instead, it’s got something more like a nub, which my fingers don’t interpret as tab at all, but rather as something entirely unrelated to focusing. Stupid brain.
- Before we leave the subject of focusing tabs for more interesting topics, it occurs to me that tabs in place of knurled rings make using the camera one handed nearly impossible. I can’t reach the tab with my right pinky no matter what I do, but on lenses that have them I can often reach and get enough purchase on the knurled focus ring with my index finger if I stretch, which greatly facilitates shooting without setting down your drink.
- In another quirk of visual muscle memory, I find that knowing the Biogon is mounted changes the kind of pictures I shoot. With the Biogon on the camera – and I know it’s on the camera because my fingers can’t find the f$%*ing tab – I’m much more likely to square up all the straight lines in the photo. With the CV on the camera, I immediately step to off angle. This cockeyed approach is self-defense against the CV’s incredible barrel distortion; this lens can turn a federalist style post office into a Gehry. I’m not sure what this means for my style long term, but it’s got me thinking about the slightly askew compositions of fellow stills member akikana. I’m finding I have deeper appreciation for his compositions as a result.
- Looking back through the blog, I’ve remembered that the small size of the CV was one of the reasons I plunked down the $600 for it. What I hadn’t expected was that this small size would become so integral to my appreciation of the lens. The CV really isn’t that much smaller than the Biogon, but the difference in size is enough to change the handling and carrying of the camera for the better. When Zeiss announced the more compact C Biogon, I snorted derisively just once before dismissing it altogether. Now I know better. Compact size can compensate for a variety of other shortcomings in a lens. Leica might be on to the same thing with the new Summarits.
- Build quality: The CV is just better built than the Biogon, which is funny since the same company builds both lenses. My Biogon has a bit of wobble in the lens barrel and doesn’t mount quite as snuggly as the CV or any of my Hexanons. No big deal, but interesting.
What does all this mean for my future with these two lenses? It’s too soon to tell for sure, but the Biogon has gone back on the shelf for the time being. From a practical perspective, it’s a far superior lens. It’s sharper, more resistant to flare, has less distortion etc etc etc, but the CV just has more character and is more fun to use, and in the end, that’s what it’s all about.
The Biogon usually handles flare better than this. Perhaps there was a big, greasy fingerprint on it this day. Keep your optics clean.
Hexar RF, XM Biogon 35, Efke 400 @ 250, Tmax Dev
Efke 400 Pulled to 250
In my continuing investigations of Efke 400, I shot a couple of rolls at 250 and developed them in Tmax Developer diluted 1+5 at 70 degrees for 5 minutes with 10 seconds agitation every minute. This seems about right for the film speed, but I was kind of surprised to see very little difference in either grain or tonality from shooting at the box speed. There’s nothing wrong with Efke 400 rated at 250, but at least in Tmax Developer, there doesn’t seem to be anything gained from the loss of speed.
Hexar RF, ZM Biogon 35, Efke 400 @ 250, Tmax Dev
Ekfe 400 Grain Pecularities
One of the things I’ve noticed about Efke 400 is the interesting grain structure. It isn’t that Efke 400 is particularly grainy, but the structure of the grain is kind of unique. Notice in both of the posted pictures that the evident grain isn’t limited to little white speckly bits. There’s some black in there too. HP5, which has a similar amount of grain, shows its grain mostly as little white bits. I’m not sure what that means, but after only a few rolls, I feel like I can already distinguish an Efke shot from something shot on another film quite easily, something which isn’t entirely possible with other 400 speed films. This would seem to make Efke a good choice for someone wanting a unique look.
Unrelated Optical Note
I didn’t expect the shot of the spiderweb to amount to much, but the Biogon’s excellent flare control allowed it to capture a really difficult subject. I’m always impressed by this lens.
Quick Optical Note: For the last 9 months I’ve been alternating back and forth between using the ZM Biogon 35 and the 50 Hexanon. I’ll stick one on the camera and leave it there for a month or two or three, and then, when my mood changes, switch to the other. One of the interesting outcomes of this is the cycle of surprise – as in “Wow, that lens is really good” – that comes when switching back to the other one. After going through this a couple of times, I’m fairly comfortable with saying that the Biogon is the better of the two. Both are excellent, but the Biogon just seems more consistently snappy and three dimensional. Despite my preference for the 50mm focal length, if I had to choose one lens, I think it would have to be the Biogon. Of course, with the long contrasty days of summer coming on, the slightly duller Hexanon may retake the lead.
In July of 06 I went to Tokyo on a much needed vacation from teaching English to Korean preschoolers. After mentioning to Guy that I wanted to look for a copy of the elusive Konica Hexanon 35, Guy was kind enough to show me around to a bunch of camera shops. Down in the basement of Map Camera, I found the sought after Hexanon, but also a slightly used and much cheaper ZM Biogon 35 F2. Economy won the day, and I walked out the door with Biogon and no regrets. I’ve used my Biogon 35 almost every day since. Here’s my 20 roll report.
- Build quality & Handling: The lens feels very sturdy. It mounts securely. I’ve not noticed any wear on the finish, and mines been bouncing around in coat pockets etc for 5 months.Focussing is smooth. Aperture detents provide good feedback. It’s a little larger than many 35 f2 RF lenses, both in depth and width, but it’s still small enough that I sometime have problems with my fingers getting in front of it.
- Sharpness: Altough there are at least two reviews online that state this lens is too soft wide open, I’ve not found this to be true. For handheld work, there’s no practical difference in sharpness between F2 and F4. On a tripod, with a totally motionless subject, I’m sure that it’s softer at f2 than at f8, but when I use f2, its usually because I’m handholding at 1/15 or 1/30. There’s plenty of resolution at f2 for that kind of work. And yes, the field is nearly entirely flat and it is sharp all the way out to the corners.
- Contrast: At F2 the lens is slightly less contrasty than at F4, although it’s nothing you can’t change in printing or in Photosop. In really contrasty light, shoot it at F2 and you don’t have to worry so much about over juiced highlights.
- Highlight Rendition: For my uses, if I don’t have to adjust my developing, I figure the highlight rendition is pretty neutral. I’ve not made any adjustments for this lens.
- Flare: Flare is extremely well handled. I don’t have a hood for mine, but I’ve seen some mild veiling flare only twice. Also, on one occasion, with the setting sun pouring in through a nearby window, I did manage to get some gnarly flare, but it was kind of an interesting effect.
- Bokeh: I like it. This lens is smooth and sharp at the same time in an uncommon way. I’ve never seen anything that is exactly like it. I think part of it has to do with just how sharp it really is wide open.
- Gut Reaction: This is an amazingly competent lens, and one that is hard not to like after you shoot with it for a while. It’s got a quiet personality, but there’s very little it can’t do. That corner to corner sharpness and the soft transition between in and out of focus give it a very realistic rendition even wide open without seeming overly harsh. It’s not a lens that’s going to overwhelm the other choices you make as a photographer, but it is one that will give you a lot of raw material to work with.
Zeiss VS Leica
Konica and Voigtlander have both shown that the hardest part of building a better M mount lens or camera than Leica is getting anyone to believe you. The Hexar was dogged from day one with reports of questionable reliability and incompatibility with Leica lenses. By extension, the lenses are often still viewed as suspect. The Voigtlander gear has had it’s reliability impugned from day one as well, although it’s apparently OK to buy one of their fun lenses – like the super wides or snapshot lenses – as long as you have your Cron V4 on hand for the serious stuff. Of course, since Cosina also makes the Zeiss Ikon gear, the reliablity and quality of construction of the ZM stuff must therefore be suspect as well. Or so the forumers would have you believe. The Biogon is the only piece of ZM gear that I’ve used for any amount of time, but if it is any indication, the rest of the Zeiss Ikon line must be superb. But, alas, it isn’t made by Leica. Oh well.
So is the Biogon as good as a Leica lens? I don’t know. Define good. Good like the overly contrasty snaggle tooth bokeh of the Asph Cron 35? Good like the also overly contrasty, highlights pushed to heavens, show me every zit sharpness of the 35 Lux Asph? Or good like the no sharpness except in the center oops my my aperture ring no longer has detents Cron V4? No, it’s not good like any of those.
Zeiss promotional literature calls the Biogon “The Powerful All-Rounder.” Unlike a lot of marketing copy, that appellation lies very close to the truth. It would be hard to choose a better lens for travel or the desolation of desert island.