Portrait lenses compared: from 75 to 105mm

Trying to summarize my experience with these 75-105mm lenses:

  1. Contax Zeiss Planar 85/1.4
  2. Contax Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8
  3. Contax Zeiss Sonnar 100/3.5
  4. CZJ Biometar 80/2.8 (alu)
  5. CZJ Biometar 80/2.8 (P6)
  6. CZJ Biotar 75/1.5
  7. CZJ Pancolar MC 80/1.8
  8. CZJ Prakticar 80/1.8
  9. CZJ Tessar 75/2.8
  10. Helios 40-2 85/1.5
  11. Jupiter-9 85/2
  12. MC Jupiter-9 85/2
  13. Kaleinar-5N 100/2.8
  14. Meyer Primoplan 75/1.9
  15. Meyer Primoplan 80/1.9
  16. Meyer Telefogar 90/3.5
  17. Meyer Trioplan 100/2.8
  18. Mitakon/Syzygx/Camdiox 85/2
  19. Nikkor 85/1.8 ('K' version)
  20. Nikkor 85/2 (Ai, Ai-S)
  21. Nikkor 105/2.5 (Sonnar design, white nose)
  22. Nikkor 105/2.5 (Gauss design)
  23. Nikon Series E 100/2.8
  24. Rolleinar and Voigtlaender AR 85/2.8 (QBM)
  25. Rolleinar 105/2.8
  26. SMC Pentax K 85/1.8
  27. S-M-C Takumar 85/1.8
  28. Super-Takumar 105/2.5
  29. Samyang 85/1.4
  30. Vivitar 85/1.8
  31. MC Volna-3, Arsat-C 85/2.8 85/2.8 (P6 mount)
  1. Contax CZ Planar 85/1.4

    Need I say more? Soft(ish) wide open, it's perfect for portrait shots. Stopped down to 2.8 or smaller, becomes one of the sharpest lenses on the planet. Perfect Planar bokeh, perfect colors, perfect contrast. One of my favorite portrait lenses.

  2. Contax Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8

    Currently my favorite portrait lens, this one is small, light, super-sharp and uber-contrasty at all (and I mean – all) apertures. Its contrast is simply amazing – I have not seen another lens with such a high contrast. Extremely pleasing Sonnar rendering at f/2.8 and f/4 (I rarely shoot at other apertures). Can't praise it high enough. Highly recommended. Note: different versions of this lens exist; I’ve seen AEG, MMJ and MMG. The MMG version, when used with a thin (silver) C/Y adapter, hits the mirror of 5DmkII. A thicker, more precisely made adapter rectifies the issue.

  3. Contax Zeiss Sonnar 100/3.5

    Less common than the 85mm Sonnar, this lens shares most of the great optical properties of the 85mm version. Unfortunately, this lens was too slow to my liking, and rather difficult to focus correctly, so I only used it a few times and sold quickly.

  4. CZJ Biometar 80/2.8 (alu)

    A bit uncommon, but quite sharp lens. My copy still waits for more testing…

  5. CZJ Biometar 80/2.8 (P6)

    Sharp and contrasty lens, but bokeh isn't as smooth as on the faster lenses. Anyway, it's the best price/performance lens if sharpness matters and speed doesn't.

  6. CZJ Biotar 75/1.5

    One of the most expensive M42 lenses; I think only M42 version of Macro APO Lanthar would go for higher price on eBay I'm not sure, if optical quality corresponds with current price, but price aside the lens is good. I'd say it shares many characteristics with Helios 40, but sharpness at f/1.5 is better. But both of them have significant difference between borders and centre.

    I think Biotars are prized just because of its price. It sounds strange, but the price is rising significantly and this lens isn't bad investment. It's not easy to find a copy with optics in really good condition. It's often affected by cleaning marks or fungus (these old coating layers were quite soft).

  7. CZJ Pancolar MC 80/1.8

    I'd say this is the best choice for versatile and sharp M42 80mm lens. It's contrasty, it has the best wide-opened performance of all f/1.5-f/2 M42 portrait lenses. Center is close to Biotar, but borders are much sharper. Great colours (MC) + great bokeh. It also isn't as risky as the early post-war lenses, because its coating is much harder, so cleaning marks are not an issue. For me it's the best post-war Jena lens.

  8. CZJ Prakticar 80/1.8

    The only short portrait lens in Praktica bayonet (PB) mount. Optically identical to Pancolar 80/1.8, but has a different mechanical construction. The obvious difference is its Praktica bayonet mount. Adapters exist allowing to mount it on Canon EOS, although a slight modification is required in order to let this lens mount on full-frame EOS (shortening aperture actuation pin and filing the plastic protective baffle). After that, it becomes a perfect portrait lens. PB/EOS adapters do not allow full infinity focusing on Canon EOS (maximum focusing distance for this lens becomes approx. 20m on a Canon), but at that distance it clears the mirror just fine. Adjusting infinity position is also possible (but not very easy to do); however, at actual infinity, the rear element meets with the mirror (Canon EOS 5DmkII), so I left it alone. Due to all this, the Practicar sells for significantly less compared to the optically identical Pancolar 80/1.8.

  9. CZJ Tessar 75/2.8

    This lens was used on B or C exaktas. It's nice collectors item, but it has low contrast (no coating), so it isn't suitable for general usage.

  10. Helios 40-2 85/1.5

    A bit skittish lens. A lot of patience is needed, results are very variable. Sometimes the crazy bokeh and softness works, sometimes not. It's simply a bit longer model of Biotar with more optical aberrations.

  11. Jupiter-9 85/2

    A bit risky choice, many copies are lemons (significant soft glow visible even on downsampled image or/and uneven sharpness). Good copy can be better than Helios-40. The older model, the lower chance to get a lemon. Jupiter has perfectly smooth bokeh if the background isn't busy (lights or distracting background creates bokeh full of circles)

  12. MC Jupiter-9 85/2

    Oh well… Lots of aberrations wide open, quite harsh background rendering at f/2. However, by f/2.8 it's super sharp and has extremely nice, vintage rendering – I just love shooting J-9 at f/2.8 and f/4! Does not work against the sun, and not the best choice for shooting in the shadow. Give it good lighting conditions, stop to f/2.8-5.6, and you'll get pleasing pictures with smooth rendering and vintage look.

  13. Kaleinar-5N 100/2.8

    Surprisingly, it's sharp at all apertures straight from wide open. Contrast is high enough to be practical, yet the image turns into a hazy rainbow when pointed against the sun. Fit it with a deep hood (forget the built-in one) and avoid shooting into the sun, and you'll have an inexpensive and surprisingly good 100mm lens. Bokeh is similar to Rolleinar 85/2.8.

    (This is NOT a copy of Nikon Series E 100/2.8 – I have optical diagrams of both lenses; the Kaleinar is very different, and has one more lens element than the Nikon.)

  14. Meyer Primoplan 75/1.9

    This lens is rare, it's softer than Biotar, but as all Primoplans it has lovely bokeh. My copy isn't in good optical condition; old Meyer coating is even softer than CZJ T-layers and layers on inner surfaces aren't hardened, so even a harder brush can damage than (many users don't have this information and despite they are trying to make optical performance better, they damage the lens…). Maybe M42 Primoplan 75/1.9 in good condition is the only lens, which has comparable price to Biotars. But Primoplans are more rare. I have no idea why, because their original price was almost half when compared to Biotars and according to some old articles they had really good value for the money (it was even way cheaper than standard f/1.9-f/2 lenses). I'd like to know, why it is so rare now.

  15. Meyer Primoplan 80/1.9

    Another Primoplan in this focal length (originally medium format lens). Always uncoated (maybe one surface has some early form of coating)… anyway, contrast isn't bad, character and sharpness is identical to other Primoplan lenses – unique bokeh, a bit soft wide-opened and extremely low CA. Primoplans are the only fast lenses in this list, which doesn't show almost any sign of CA in bokeh.

  16. Meyer Telefogar 90/3.5

    This lens is common in altix mount, but a bit rare in M42 or exacta mount. It uses simplified Sonnar formula (like Sonnars 135/4 and 135/3.5), but isn't as sharp. Good for retro effect.

  17. Meyer Trioplan 100/2.8

    3-in-1 lens. Soft + retro effect at f/2.8 (+ bokeh full of circles), smooth bokeh at f/4, quite sharp rendering at f/5.6. Good for close-up, too. Just like many Meyer early post-war lenses, even this one has very low CA.

  18. MC Mitakon 85/2 (also known as Syzygx and Camdiox)

    A modern Chinese design, this double-Gauss lens features a 6/6 construction. Nice colors, lower contrast, resolution not quite up to standards set by other lenses. Extreme field curvature on full 35mm frame allows for creative DoF effects, but technically, this is an optically undercorrected lens. Build quality sub-par compared to anything bar modern Ukrainian lenses.

  19. Nikkor 85/1.8 ('K' version)

    A rare find. Optical construction similar to CZJ 80/1.8 and, notably, Helios-40. Beautiful colors, nice rendering, slightly swirly bokeh, uniform sharpness across the frame. Sharp and contrasty straight from wide open (unlike its successor, Nikkor 85/2). The only drawback is the diaphragm that consists of 6 straight blades; most K-version lenses had 7 curved blades, producing more even OOF rendering. A much better lens than its successor.

  20. Nikkor 85/2 (Ai, Ai-S)

    Quite common on eBay. I had 3 samples, all similar; one slightly better than others, but still consistent regarding wide open performance. Wide open, it has a lot of spherical aberrations, making the image lack in contrast and micro-contrast while (mostly) retaining spatial resolution. In theory, this is good for portraits; in practice, I prefer either 105/2.5 (Sonnar and Gauss are both great) or 85/1.8. Bokeh is quite ugly wide open but becomes very smooth at f/2.8. Interestingly, this lens behaves very much like a perfect copy of MC Jupiter-9!

  21. Nikkor 105/2.5 (Sonnar design, white nose)

    A classic design. This is a single-coated lens, but contrast is surprisingly great even if shooting in the shadow or against the sun. Sharp from wide open. Common versions have 6 straight aperture blades; I was able to snatch a 9-blade version, and it gives superb rendering at all apertures. Bokeh slightly swirly at corners – very Sonnar!

  22. Nikkor 105/2.5 (Gauss design)

    Slightly 'better' than the lens it replaces. My favorite versions are 'K' and Ai 'cause they have rounded 7-bladed apertures (Ai-S has 7 straight blades). Perfect for portraits. Nice 3D rendering. Bokeh smoother than of the Sonnar-type. Technically, this is the better lens. However, I prefer the older Sonnar-type to it.

  23. Nikon Series E 100/2.8

    A very nice, Ernostar-derived design. Although single-coated, this lens delivers sharp and contrasty images with great resistance to flare. It only loses contrast when shot straight into the sun; a much better performance compared to budget Pentax series such as Takumar Bayonet 135/2.5.

    Compared to Kaleinar-5N, this lens has much better flare resistance (the Kaleinar shows all sorts of rainbows when the sun is in the frame), is built better (the Kaleinar has more plastic parts than this lens, and has vague tolerances), and is slightly sharper. Kaleinar gives a bit more contrast, slightly better colors, and offers a bit smoother rendering.

  24. Rolleinar and Voigtlaender AR 85/2.8 (QBM)

    Rolleinar and Voigtlaender AR (note the AR designation) are the same lens. Optical design similar to Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8 with extremely similar sharpness and contrast (read: super-high contrast and great sharpness), with colors being the same or better than the Sonnar. Bokeh is slightly edgier than Sonnar's. Can be had for ridiculously low prices! Easily adapts to EOS (w/o infinity with cheap QBM-EOS adapter – I couldn't care less). Rounded, 6-bladed aperture (same as Sonnar).

  25. Rolleinar 105/2.8 (QBM)

    Rolleinar 105/2.8 optical construction is similar to the 85mm lens. Performance is very similar, too, with great colors, contrast and resolution from wide open. I liked this lens better than the Zeiss version (Sonnar 100/3.5 in C/Y mount) due to its faster maximum aperture (and easier focusing). This is one of the better 105mm lenses for sure.

  26. SMC Pentax K 85/1.8

    Everything said about its S-M-C Takumar sibling applies to this lens, although my sample of Pentax 85/1.8 is sharper than the copy of the Takumar I’ve tried (and sold… they go for insane money these days). Build quality may not seem as impressive as the Tak’s, but works just as good (the Takumar focuses smoother though… might be my copy again). Superb colors and contrast when stopped down slightly; lower contrast (but high spatial resolution) wide open.

  27. S-M-C Takumar 85/1.8

    Contrasty lens, it is able to produce quite 3D-looking results (I'm not very good in this discipline, but you can find very interesting pictures taken by this lens). But… I expected a bit sharper results at f/1.8. In absolute scale the sharpness is good, but Pancolar is visibly better. I'm looking forward to this spring and summer, I'll give more chances to this lens. I think it has potential – the S-M-C coating is more effective, than CZJ MC coating – it doesn't create almost any ghosting when shooting wide-opened in contrasty situations.

  28. Super-Takumar 105/2.5

    A disappointment. Renders similarly to Nikkor 85/2, although not as sharp. Tried two copies; both were soft and showed low contrast wide open, hardly improved stopped down. Should cost less than used samples sell for. I rarely sell lenses, especially of the Takumar range, but sold this one.

  29. Samyang 85/1.4

    I wrote about it before. Sharp from wide open, it does not improve when stopped down; no super-sharpness at f/4-8 like in the CZ Planar. Perfect for portraits though. Little to no CA. Good (but not extremely high) contrast. Neutral colors. Very smooth bokeh – some think it's too smooth (read: boring). I grab this lens when I need to shoot in the dark: it's sharper than CZ Planar 85/1.4 wide open. In my opinion, this lens represents the best value for money among all lenses reviewed.

  30. Vivitar 85/1.8

    This lens is underrated. It isn't very common, it has unclean history and origin, but it's the cheapest 85/1.8 lens – very sharp stopped down, a bit softer than 1st grade lenses wide-opened, but still good. It has nice bokeh, round aperture, T/T2 mount (adaptable to many systems)… Very good price/performance.

  31. Arsat-C 85/2.8, MC Volna-3 85/2.8 (P6 mount)

    A Biometar clone. Sharp from wide open, typical Planar rendering, nice colors. Don't try it against the sun, it turns the image into a hazy rainbow. Contrast on the lower side, but still good.

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