Friday, December 31, 2021

Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2 - The King of Character!

 My first stint with Zeiss lenses was way back in 2015 when I bought Zeiss Distagon 28mm f/2. That is one of my favorite lenses in my bag (rather the dry cabinet!). I have written a few blogs where the images were made from that lens. You can find those blogs HERE.  

Post the Distagon 28, although I wanted to buy a few more Zeiss lenses but couldn't. In 2019, when I started to study various vintage lenses there was one lens that many photographers and vintage/manual focus lens forums prominently talked about. It was Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2

This lens was in production between 1936 till 1960, although the design dates back all the way to the 1920s.

The lens that I am using was produced somewhere in 1950 or 1951! (Uff!! Even my parents were not born then!). How do I know when the lens was produced? The serial number! The age of most of the vintage lenses can be found using their serial numbers. For example, THIS LINK has all the data of the serial numbers of Carl Zeiss lenses and when they were produced. 

Now coming to the performance of the lens - absolutely brilliant! For the lens of its age, it still performs marvelously! Below is the list of my observations in an easy-to-read form!

- Distinct character in the out of focus area! Very 'Biotar like' :-)

- Unique Swirl in the outer edges of the frame. You would either love it or hate it. I am the former kind!

- Sharp rendering of the object in focus. 

- Produces images with rich, vivid, and warm colors 

- The 17 blades aperture makes sure that the out of focus is creamy and highlights are very circular even at low apertures

- Not a great performer when you shoot against strong light, a common trait in most of the vintage lenses, due to the poor quality (as compared to today) coating on the lens. But one can use this quality to get low-contrast images that produce some wonderful black-and-white results.

    (Notice the Swirl in the outer edge of the frame. As said, you will either love it or hate it!:-))

(Notice the shapes of the highlights in the out-of-focus region. This was due to the high aperture blades retaining circular shape at all apertures) 

This lens inspired a new breed of lenses in some other part of the world - Russia! The Helios-44 series, which is fairly known in the photography community now is said to be the direct copy of the Biotar design but because that lens was in production a few decades more than the original Biotar, the later versions of the Helios-44, say Helios-44-4 and Helios-44-7 perform much better in optical characteristics like flare and sharpness, due to the advancement of technology. But they all attribute their existence to the original legend - Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2.   

There is plenty of literature online about this lens and its history. I don't want to reinvent the wheel in this matter. Out of all those THIS ARTICLE gives the best idea about its history, its various versions, and different characteristics of those versions.  

All the images in this blog (except the image of the lens itself) are shot with Biotar-58. I just love its rendition! What is a rendition? That is something worth writing a whole different blog for itself! Perhaps sometime soon?!   



Sunday, October 3, 2021

Some Gold from the Old!

Since mid-2019 I have been spending time understanding some of the legendary lenses of the past era! By past, I mean from around 1950s. It is a fascinating journey in the world of the evolution of optics and from where we stand today if we take a look back, not many would know and appreciate this evolution to the fullest. 

I don't seem to remember how it all started for me. But what I certainly remember are those moments when I was just awestruck by some of the images I saw that were made from some of the legendary lenses of the past! 

It is widely talked about and almost a cliche that the old lenses have a 'character' that the modern, razor-sharp lenses lack! But I always wondered what is this 'character' that everyone talks or writes about! As I went deeper into the realm of the post-world-war German and Soviet lenses I could see what the other people are talking about! It was certainly something that I had not seen or experienced before! 

Since then I have started to collect some of those lenses from various parts of the world! How I collected them is a fascinating story in itself, which perhaps maybe for another day. I have collected is the right expression, at this moment since I have hardly used all of them extensively on the field. Beyond some test shots and some window/walking photography, I hardly went to any serious shoot in a while. So I think the time has come to put them to good use. I am planning to start a series of blogs where I try to write my experience with each of these lenses with some meaningful images to go along with. This way, I will be having self-inflicted pressure to use a particular lens for a few days or weeks to make some serious photography. 

Thanks to my wife Sahana for making some beautiful images of the lenses :-)!


Sunday, August 2, 2020

My Unlock 1.0 !!

The world is trying come back to normal (by accepting the reality and exercising caution) and here I am, trying to come back to my space where I had shared my thoughts, views and experiences over many years and had gone silent for close to four years! 

Lot has happened in that time. We completed our maiden feature length documentary on the untamed river in the Western Ghats - Aghanashini in 2017 and the subsequent two years had gone in attending various film festivals and screening events at various places. 

During the course of these four years there were few instances when I had thought of coming back to this space to share few thoughts but somehow the drive was not strong enough to make me sit and give words to those thoughts. 

In 2020, when I was thinking to coming back to normalcy, by normalcy I mean continue shooting and expressing through images, the world was struck with an event of the century and everything has come to a literal standstill. 

It has been about five months since I had gone out for shooting. The windows of my home and some vegetation around my apartment have become my canvas and occasionally I try to find some frames in them.

Last year I had spent some time in reading and understanding about vintage lenses. Believe me, it is a fascinating world! More about it on some other day perhaps. In that quest of learning about them, I bought a few very old lenses and started using them in my photography. Their subtle rendering is very different compared to the clinically sharp modern lenses and I was awestruck by their usefulness even in these modern times and by some of their performances on the modern day high resolution cameras. 

I am just waiting desperately for my next shoot in the wild, which as per the current scenario, is nowhere in sight for next several months.

No cheers,

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Chitradurga ~ Part -2 : The Essence

In my previous post I had mentioned about some experiments I did on my visit to Chitradurga fort. The first experiment was explained in that post. Second one is here.

While the first experiment was about feeling and making images of the moments that are frozen in time and space, the second one was about trying to capture the essence of the place through a finite set of images. When I say 'essence' that means the definitive quality that defines the place / structure.

Chitradurga fort is popularly known as "Elu Suttina Kote" in Kannada. This means a fort with seven circular walls. This fort is built in such a way that to completely enter inside one has to come through these massive circular (well, not exactly circular but a kind of maze shaped) entrances. The aim was to hold the enemy in this area as much as possible and prevent them entering inside the fort.

So when you are walking inside you constantly come across these huge walls all along. Once you cross the seventh entrance and walk few steps then the whole area opens up like a huge stadium. You will find tons of photographs on internet about how the whole area looks. I dont have any intentions to share the 'me too' kind of images here.

What I was trying to create was a set of images that could explain or make the viewer feel why the fort was called so.

Since the subject and the focus was minimal (just walls, entrances and nothing else), I tried to portray them in the minimal way wherever possible and some may be little complex. Nothing much to be said. Have a look.

Do you feel the same way I felt?
Why do you really need to?

Do I care about it?
Why do I care about it?


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Chitradurga ~ Part -1 : Through the moments

Chitradurga fort is a treasure trove for anyone who wants to do some serious photography. The amount of opportunity that it provides in terms of making several types of images is simply mind boggling. This place was in my wish list to visit since long. Finally it happened few months back. It was a short visit. We were there for about an hour or two. For the scale of that place two hours is nothing. What you see in those two hours is just like a trailer! To see the movie in its entirety one has to spend at least couple of days. A week is even better!

During that quick visit I tried to make few images. I was not interested in making conventional images of that place. I had seen them in plenty. I was in a mood to do couple of experiments. First -  I was thinking if I can show that place through a set of moments, perhaps a set of fleeting moments, moments frozen into frames in space and time.  Second - in my next post! :)

During many discussions with various eminent and contemporary photographers there was always this question as to - What is it that defines photography in its uniqueness? What is it which is unique to photography but not to other form of visual art? 

It is the ability to arrest a fleeting moment that has no past and future but still exists in space and time. Making a pre-visualised photographs is a different story and that in the distant horizon comes close to the process of painting but still maintaining a thin boundary between the two. But in my view this is not the uniqueness of the medium of photography.. Uniqueness is defined by the  former argument. Latter is just another way of expression.

Here is a small write-up by Nirlep Singh written in CNP forum where he has beautifully explained this process in detail. To this day I keep visiting this article over and over again.

"An absurdity called a photograph"

Off late I have been trying to push myself into this realm. Throwing myself into the situation where I forcefully forget that I have a camera in my hand and try to flow through the experience of the place and in the flow make some images whenever I 'feel' like making one, not deliberately, with no urgency, with no pre-visualisation. I am just being in the moment and let my instinct do the photography. I am enjoying it. I am enjoying the way mind gets opened up with no constraints of any sorts. Earlier I was hesitant to take out my camera in public and point the lens towards strangers around me. It was probably because of the thought that 'What would they think about me? - Will it cause discomfort to them? - Am I breaching their privacy? -  Do they think that I am showing off? - and all other absurd questions'. I was rarely shooting street or urban photographs when there is crowd around and I attribute these questions to the lack of such experience. But off late I am not surrendering myself to that feeling and trying to break away from it. Hence you can see some of my urban and street photography posts in the recent past and that will continue.

Second experiment in the next post!


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Gujri

It has been more than 10 years since I had visited that place and that was the first time. Vaguely I was remembering the gullies and the arrangements of the items that were placed then. Some weeks back suddenly decided to pay my second visit. This time with my camera!


I was making an image of a teenage boy from the window of his shop. His back was facing the window and he was oblivious to my presence. As I clicked few images a person passes by in front of the shop and tells to the boy -

" Abe, peeche mudke pose to de... tera photu aane wala hai!"

Boy:  "Abe! Kaun hai tu? Photu kyon kheech raha hai?"
me:   " Mein koi reporter nahin hun. Showk ke liye photo kheechta hun. Dont worry!"
Boy: " Deekha sare photo"

I showed.

Boy: " Delete kar usey"
me:   "Saare? Kuch to rakhun?"
Boy: "Han. Saare."

and he went off, not even bothering to see if I have deleted all or only few!


"Bhai sahab. Aapka ek photo le sakta hun? Ussi pose mein"
"han han. Le lo"

I made some images.

"Reporter ho?"
"Nahin. Sirf photographer hun. Showk ka. Yaane ki Hobby photographer."
"Achcha achcha. Mera naam hain Hazi Jamsheed aur mein pehelwaan hun"
"Wah! kya bath hai!"
"Han. Pehelwaan jamsheed kehke bhi bulate hain. Aur mein National level ha kushti player raha tha. Mere videos YouTube mein hai. Dekh lena."
"Zaroor. Aap kitne saal se yahan pe hein?"
"Hum to 1958 mein paida hue the aur tab se yahin pe hai!"
"Tab se yahi karte aa rahe hai?"
"Han. Yahan pe ye business to 1940 se bhi pehle se hai! Bahut purana dhanda hai. Aap ka naam kya hai?"
"Ashwini Kumar"
"Achcha Ashwani aap kahin pe ye photo bhej rahe ho?"
"Mera ek blog hai. Wahan pe mein kuch likh ke photos daalta hun. Jo bhi cheez interesting lagey, woh blog karta hun"

"Achcha. Dekho Ashwani bahar ke log aur kuch media ke log iss jagah ko chor bazar wagaira wagaira kehke paper, TV mein daaley the. Lekin hakikat waisey nahin hai. Hum yeh cheezon ko neelami se leke aate hain. Auction karke. Yey insurance companies jo hoti hein aur ye banks aur police ye sabhi jo unke paas purane gaadi ya phir poori useless tareeke se tooti hui gaadi ko auction karte hain. Hum log uss auction mein jaake, bidding ke zariye unhe khareedke, un gaadiyon mein jo bhi usable parts hote hein unhe yahan pe bechte hain. Yahan ka koi bhi maal chori karke nahin aya hai. Mein sirf apne dukaan ki baat nahin kar raha. Iss poori area mein kahin bhi chori kia hua maal bechte nahin hai. Agar koi chori ka maal ata hai to hum turant police ko inform karte hain and jo banda ussey bech raha hai uski dukaan 3 mahine tak bandh kar diya jaata hai aur 5000 fine barvaya jaata hai, yahan ke association ke paas. Humara association bahut strong hai iss mamle mein."

"Achcha! Yeh jaanke khushi hui"
"Han Ashwani. Phir bhi log kabhi kabaar bahar jaake iss area ko badnaam kar dete hein. Hume bahut dard hota hai sunke."
"I can understand"
"Tum chai peeyoge? Oi munna do chai de. Mehmaan hai humaare!"
"Arrey arrey. iski kya jaroorat hai?"
"Arrey yar. Chai hi to pila raha hun. Ek din mere ghar ayitega, shaandaar khana khilaunga"
"hahaha. zaroor kisi din"

I drank tea. Made some more images.

"Achcha pehelwaanji. Mein thoda aage bhi jaata hun. Logon se milta hun. Aapse milke khushi hui."
"Achcha Ashwani. Chalo phir. Mera YouTube mein video dekhna mat bhoolna. Chalo. Phir se milte hain. Mere liye uss Eshwar se dua karna."
"Zaroor. Phir milenge."


I was making some wide angle images by standing along the main road.

Sound from some where. Not sure from where.
"Ooi...Kya photu nikaal raha hai?"
"Kuch nahin bhaai saab. Sirf eisey hi kheech raha tha"

I walked for few steps.
A man was sitting on his bullet, which was not having its rear wheel.
"What are you doing?"
"Just making some images of the place"
"Simply. I am a hobby photographer. I kind of liked the place. Become curious and hence made few images."
"Show them to me."

I showed.

"What would you do with these pictures?"
"I have a blog. I post them there."
"Are people here OK with you taking pictures?"
"That is the problem which I am facing now!"

Someone ushered from the background -
"Bhaai saab. Ye photographers humaari photu leke bahar foreign mein lakhon rupiyon ke liye beechte hein. Aur humein yahan kuch bhi nahin milta."

I smiled.

The man was standing for his rear tyre to arrive. It arrived and I was sure that he was a client at that place. His tone was very dominating and intimidating in the beginning. Later he was better.

"Why do you think these guys dont allow you to take the pictures?"
"I am trying to figure that out. Not very sure."
"Because all these are chori ka maal"
"Hmm!. I heard some other story few minutes back."
"Everyone has a story to tell!"
 I smiled.
"Need to see whom to believe."
"Carry on."


At a shop of shock absorbers. There was a young man selling.

"Bhai sahab. Aapka ek photo ley sakta hun?"
"Photo? Kitna rupay dega?"
"Hahaha. Chaliye ek dosa khilake ek chai pila doonga. Mujhe bhi bhook lag raha hai."
Smiles and says -
"Aajkal chai kaun peeta hai. Beer peete hein beer."
I smiled.

Two men from the shop in front -
"Kiske liye photu le rahe ho bhai saab?"
"Showk ka photographer hun ji. Hobby hai mera."

"Poor Indians kehke to nahin dalo ge na?"

I smiled.