Interview with Dr. Stefan Immes on the new Opema Jena Biotar lenses with rangefinder coupling

Dr. Stefan Immes, who revived the Meyer Optik brand of German lenses three years ago, has launched a new lens company called Opema Jena, which for its first project is bringing back the Biotar 75/f1.5, a lens originally produced by Carl Zeiss. Oprema launched a Kickstarter campaign for the Biotar last week. Very soon they will announce a new Oprema Jena Biotar 58 f/2 lens that will also be available for Leica M mount with rangefinder coupling:

Update: the new Biotar 58 f/2 lens for Leica M will initially not have a rangefinder coupling on Kickstarter but it will have it later when it goes to serial production.

What makes this lens exciting for Leica users is that, unlike other lenses that Immes has produced at Meyer Optik, the new Biotar will have rangefinder coupling. We talked to Immes about how this new project came about:

Question: Help us clear up the confusion. What exactly is the difference between Meyer Optik and Oprema?

Immes: Both brands are under the same “umbrella” of net SE, the corporate parent which I run in Koblenz, Germany. But apart from that, they are two independent operations. Meyer Optik is focused on resurrecting the old Meyer Optik lenses and building up its production in Germany.

This new venture is actually a collaboration between myself, André de Winter, a renowned former Leica lens designer, Wolf Dieter Prenzel, a leading expert in modernizing classic lenses, and the Japanese lens maker, Tokina.

Oprema Jena will concentrate on bringing back some of the all-time legends that were produced in Jena, Germany before and after the second world war. Production of the Oprema Biotar will be handled by Tokina in Japan. Overseeing the production of the lenses takes a lot of resources and we did not want to overstretch Meyer’s capabilities, so it was important to keep the production of the two companies separate.

Dr. Stefan Immes

Question: While Meyer Optik lenses have been offered with Leica-M mounts, rangefinder coupling has not been available. What is it about the Biotar project that makes rangefinder coupling more feasible? Will Meyer Optik eventually follow suit with rangefinder coupling or is this only something you plan to do with Oprema?

Immes: The focal length of 75 mm is perfect for the rangefinder. It’s also has a historical tie-in because there are some very rare versions of the Biotar with the old Leica screw mount. So, it seemed like a logical choice. Furthermore, because we are working with André, we can be sure that it will be precise and correct.

Question: From a design standpoint, how similar will the original Zeiss Biotar be to this modern version? Will it just share a name or will it have some of the characteristics of the original lens?

Immes: It is important that we differentiate between the optical or image performance and the mechanical design. As far as the image quality or characteristics are concerned, we are striving to be as close as possible to the original. We went through a very detailed process of analyzing the lens in a scientific manner, as well in a more subjective way together with photographers and evaluating literature. Based on these findings, Wolf Dieter designed the optical specs and we tested the outcome. It took a few rounds but now we are very happy that we can say the old Biotar and the new one will be hard to tell apart from looking at the outcome i.e. the images produced.

As far as the mechanical elements or the outer design is concerned, we went a new way. First, we wanted this lens to be modern in regard to the materials and mechanical design used but at the same time have a certain retro touch so that you could tell from the distance that this was not your everyday lens. Also, to be quite honest, the shape of the original Biotar with its "belly" in the middle is not necessarily something we wanted to continue. We wanted a cleaner look. I think when you look at the design, we did a fairly good job. However, some details might change when it comes to serial production.

Question: How did your collaboration with André come about and what is his role is in this project?

Immes: We got in touch with André quite a while ago and he has already been doing some work on the Meyer side. As you know, at Meyer we are working on some very high-end lenses. Together with André, we are designing a line of state of the art lenses for Meyer. We are taking it step-by-step as these lenses are a challenge because of the high-quality materials needed and the painstakingly precise production process, but by 2018 and 2019 we are expecting to be introducing one lens after the other.

Having been working with André it seemed like a logical step to ask him to help design the Biotar. Wolf Dieter Prenzel and André are a perfect team. One is known for his ability to redesign and reengineer historical lenses in a very respectful and sensitive manner -- a true art. The other, André, has a fantastic reputation for his design of the overall lens. He designs the lens around the optical specifications and parameters set by Dr. Prenzel. I can say that his lenses are real beauties. Not only what you see but also the design of all the elements inside are just perfect. There is no question that the new Biotar will be a legend again.

Question: How will Oprema and Meyer Optik lenses differ?

Immes: Meyer has been known for lenses with a lot of bokeh. You can also characterize them as soft focus. They are particularly well suited for portrait and landscape photography of a somewhat dreamy style.  At times, soft focus techniques have been unjustly dismissed as “unphotographic,” when, in fact, no other graphic design tools are even remotely capable of achieving this kind of magic, with a wealth of delicate halftones.

Meyer is also in the process of interpreting some older lenses and developing high-end lenses with the newest glasses and aspherical technology. So, there will be the classic designs and the high-tech lenses that push the limits of physical possibilities.

The Oprema lenses will go another direction. We want to identify some of the best lenses of all time that have been neglected by their founders but deserve to be restored. This is, of course,  a very personal but also a fun mission. Some fantastic tools for the modern-day photographer should not be forgotten and we intend to bring them back. There’s no question it will be in small quantities but it will be worth it.

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  • fjfjjj

    What is “the Meyer Optik brand of German lenses”? This isn’t made in Germany.

    • Les

      re: Almost nobody is “modernizing classic lenses”

      You must not have been paying attention. We’ve seen everything from brass-barrelled Rapid Rectilinears to re-issued Leica 28/5.6’s in the past few years. Even Nikon got in on the action with an all-new “Noct-Nikkor”. There’s a company in Japan faithfully copying Contax-Yashica SLR lenses (kinoshita-optical). A good chunk of the Voigtlander line-up consists of tributes to classic designs.

      Many of these lenses used NLA glass types (because of lead or sometimes mild radioactivity), so it’s not as easy as looking-up the patent documents and having the lenses ground to spec.

  • If the focus indeed is backward, this is a problem.

    • Ric Ricard

      What are you referencing?

      • I was referring to a comment, that upon second look appears to be wrong. The focus direction is correct, but the aperture ring appears to be backward to M lenses.

        • True, the aperture ring turns anti-clockwise on M lenses…

          • Let’s hope they address this issue before production for the M version.

          • More like a quibble than a bummer, Fujifilm XF lenses have this clockwise aperture ring as well but it’s not that hard to get used to, only when you’re switching between normal M lenses and this ugly duckling…

          • But isn’t that the thing? If you’re using M lenses in an M system, idiosyncrasies like this are dissonant. If you use Fuji lenses in a Fuji system, their hardware interfaces should work in concert. But combine the two and that concert breaks.

          • I see where you’re coming from, mate.

            Just saying even if they don’t change that in the production model it shouldn’t be a big enough problem to deter people from considering it since it’s not on its own an ergonomic disaster. The lack of focusing tab of any kind will probably be more annoying.

        • Ric Ricard

          Having the aperture ring “backward” is super annoying and if they are designing this lens with Leica users in mind, that wasn’t a good decision. The only saving grace perhaps is that on a lens like this you’d most likely leave it wide open all the time.

  • eric

    The lens design looks really cool. I like the barrel look with ribbed tabs.

  • padam

    These weren’t designed to be rangefinder lenses in the first place, quite a bit of field curvature, focusing and recomposing can be troublesome, so I’m not sure how useful it is to be rangefinder coupled instead of being cheaper.

  • mitchellhartman

    so we are putting out lenses out of two companies, one puts out soft focus lenses but will be making very sharp lenses in the future, In the meantime we have some older formulas we designed new housings for and are making them in Japan and putting out through our secondary company All will have Leica M mounts yet not all will be coupled to the rangefinder (hmmmmm why not just put a Leica TL mount on it? ) , yup think I got it…

  • MarkEwanchuk

    How is it mounting to the SL without an adapter?

  • So nice…

  • raziel28

    looks weird on the sl…

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