PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux

15Mar/115

Carl Zeiss 2.8/25 Biogon T* Review

The 25mm Biogon is a wide-angle lens of a simple type that is currently specific to the M system. This imparts the lens its small size, simple distortions and excellent performance. In more ways than one this Biogon sits halfway between the 25mm Distagon ZF and 24mm Elmarit-M.

The 25mm Biogon is an example of the design relaxation philosophy of Carl Zeiss applied to the same concepts behind the 24mm Elmarit ASPH. The design of the Biogon leans on a larger number of simpler, spherical elements to deliver a performance that is roughly equivalent to that of the Elmarit at all but the widest aperture. Anecdotally this design employs a very rare triplet group, a trait it shares with the 50mm C-Sonnar and virtually no other lenses.

Immediately after I sold my 24mm Elmarit-M ASPH, I became interested in this lower-cost replacement and the usability improvements I saw in it. I contacted Roger at LensRentals.Com and he kindly agreed to send me a copy to write this evaluation. The lens I received was in great condition as usual, my own lenses don’t stay in this good condition for long.

Operation

The 2.8/25mm Biogon is unexpectedly larger and longer than both the 2/35mm Biogon and 2.8/24mm Elmarit-M. In the absolute it remains a small lens however, and it obstructs only a small portion of the viewfinder on the M9 camera. The hood for this lens (not tested) is quite a bit slimmer than the one for the Elmarit-M so the final comparison might come close to even.

The aperture ring is one of the strongest points for ZM lenses, and this lens is no different. The implementation on the 25mm Biogon is thicker and feels even more positive than the ZM lenses previously tested here.

Manual focus with this Biogon is extremely easy over the entire range that is coupled to the rangefinder. For me, the ribbed focus ring was a notable usability improvement over the focusing tab of the Elmarit-M. The key fact is that the same grip on the lens works equally well at infinity and the closest focus point, extreme wrist flexibility is not required with this lens.

The 25mm Biogon can focus closer as well, outside the Leica rangefinder’s capabilities. Despite the Leica lenses’ hard stops at 0.7m, and to my great surprise, the M9 camera is coupled for focus down to around 0.6m. This lens goes 10cm further, down to 0.5m, only using your eyes for rangefinder.

This lens shifts forward as a whole when focused closer than infinity; it does not implement floating elements.

Drawing

The drawings of the 25mm Biogon ZM are reminiscent of those of the middling 25mm Distagon ZF – it’s true, and don’t panic. The Biogon performs substantially better than its bulkier sister, but astigmatism and related halation artifacts impact its usefulness at full aperture and one stop down. The net result is that this Biogon is a fantastic performer, but reservedly so until smaller apertures.

At the full aperture of f/2.8 the 25mm ZM renders very fine detail at high contrast along the axis. The outer regions render fine detail, but not very fine detail, at medium contrast with a decent amount of light fall-off. The overall performance at this aperture would be very good already were it not marred by halation at high contrast edges situated near (but not in) the focal plane. These often-colored artifacts take on a look similar to that of other astigmatic wide-angle lenses we have seen recently (35mm ZM, 25mm ZF, 28mm ZF).

One stop down to f/4 brings small improvements in terms of resolving power, the magnitude of aberrations is slightly less and peripheral illumination and contrast improve. With the second stop down to f/5.6 the lens now really stretches its legs and delivers its peak performance where micro-contrast is concerned, over the whole frame. Halation is still not completely gone at this aperture but practical photographers will agree this aperture is very good in this respect.

It is with the third stop down to f/8 that the Biogon’s drawing becomes essentially flawless on the M9’s sensor, but now with a tad less micro-contrast than seen at f/5.6. At this aperture the Biogon is an extremely powerful lens for the snapshot style of photography, saturating the high-resolution sensor of the M9 with minimal fuss and zero artifacts.

The 25mm Biogon is very resistant to veiling glare, but is a bit more prone to flare spots than other M-system wide-angle lenses tested to date. When shot against the Sun, the Biogon adds a short string of red artifacts of odd shapes (again, probably due to astigmatism).

Conclusion

The 25mm Biogon easily eclipses its DSLR siblings but falls short of matching the optical prowess of its closest Leica competitor. Nevertheless the Biogon delivers improvements on that lens’ few flaws, including its price. This lens is a good match for the M9 camera, and for the upcoming crop of professional mirrorless cameras.

Would I recommend this lens to other photographers? Yes. However I am most keen to see the 2.8/21mm Biogon ZM for myself.

Samples


Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Difficult to compare to DSLR lenses, since 25mm Distagon is a dud, which Zeiss has announced they want to redesign. Canon 24mm tilt shift is mind blowingly sharp though, probably the best wide angle lens for 35mm cameras ever made, though…

    • Mind-blowingly sharp at f/3.5 or at f/8?

      The DPR tests for that lens show that the corners don’t really deliver until f/8 even with neutral shift. Certainly the 12mm circle looks excellent at f/3.5 but those corners take a long time to come in. As they do for most lenses, obviously…

      In the f/5.6 – f/8 range the Biogon is also mind-blowingly sharp everywhere in the frame, as I mentioned in the review above.

      I doubt it’s possible on the M9 to do anything but tie with the 25mm Biogon @ f/5.6 – f/8. For all the shortcomings that come with the lack of AA filter on the KAF18500, lack of resolving power is really not one of them, so I expect the best any other lens (from any system) could do is tie with the Biogon @ f/5.6 – f/8.

      • Canon TS-E is now tested on photozone.de on 5D Mark 2, confirming my experience:

        Wide open it is “exceeding the limits of the camera sensor”. As I said, best wide angle lens ever made.

        • Hi

          maybe I am reading the old canon review, but the article says

          ‘The image center is already exceedingly sharp at f/3.5 and basically hitting and probably exceeding the limits of the camera sensor’

          It says probably exceeding!!

          Maybe you could guide me to the correct article or are you misquoting? I am not trying to criticise your post but is a lot better when factual. And as you said, the worlds best wide angle lens ever made. Is that your personal opinion or is that fact?

  2. @Me:
    The 25mm Distagon a dud? Maybe against test charts. In real life it is an amazingly good and sharp lens with a beautiful rendering of reality. It really is one of my favorite lenses. I use it on the APS-C D300 though so that could make some difference.

    Did you use the lens yourself?


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