#969. 25 Biogon, or 35 Distagon? Oh. How about the X100V?

By Paul Perton | Opinion

Feb 21

Is this a review? Nope.

Statement of the obvious? Nope.

I’m deep in a personal preference fight with myself. I have to stop and take stock; Zeiss’ 25mm Biogon, or the 35 Distagon. Which is more likely to be my lens of choice as I wander the streets?

Zeiss 25mm f2.8 Biogon
Zeiss 25mm f2.8 Biogon
Zeiss 25mm f2.8 Biogon
Zeiss 25mm f2.8 Biogon
Zeiss 25mm f2.8 Biogon
Zeiss 25mm f2.8 Biogon
Zeiss 25mm f2.8 Biogon
Zeiss 25mm f2.8 Biogon

Most people would forgive me choosing my most recent purchase; the Distagon. It’s quite big compared to Nikon, or Leica’s 35s, but packs a great rendering punch. On an APS-C body, it’s a delight to use; fast to (manually) focus, accurate and best of all, lives up to my expectations with regard to its film-like rendering characteristics.

Of course, it has a 50mm equivalence which can limit its use on the streets, especially when I want just a little more in my viewfinder.

You’ve doubtless read elsewhere on these pages how I came to buy the 25mm Biogon and use it for several years as a go-to solution to shooting with a Sony NEX-7. Today, the -7 sits in a cupboard, its rubber cladding long ago peeled off, refusing my many efforts to re-adhere it. Not so the exquisite 25mm Biogon – enter Fuji’s X-Pro. 

Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Distagon
Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Distagon
Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Distagon
Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Distagon
Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Distagon
Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Distagon

The X-Pros are an ideal mate for the Biogon and its natural 35mm field of view. I’ve shot with both the -1 and -2 and if I’ve time out there, the -1 is definitely my favourite.

So, which lens? The Biogon. It’s got an ideal angle of view and even with its f2.8 aperture, can be zone focussed for optimum performance on the street. It’s sharp, can render the most fantastic detail and has delivered some really pleasing images over the years.

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OT

I’ve been a Linn audio system user for more than two decades, but often found that the requirements of time and space for dedicated listening were more than I could manage. More recently I dug out my three decade old Naim 42/110 pre/power amp kit, had it serviced and ran it into a pair of very satisfying small Tannoy bookshelf speakers in my office. For years, that sufficed very nicely.

I did want a bit more spacial listening though, so a couple of years ago. The Tannoys gave way to a pair of Klipsch’ large bookshelf speakers and what a positive change those bigger cabinets, drivers and ribbon tweeters made. Audio happiness.

Being semi-based in a small(ish) flat London for a while now, I’ve been hankering for a similarly sized, listenable sound system. On arriving, I heard and bought a Naim Cube, which sounds great, but didn’t give me the auditory happiness I sought. It now resides in our small lounge and sounds surprisingly good, but is still bounded by both space and the wishes/needs of my family/housemates.

I’d bought the Naim rather than a Devialet, or an Apple HomeKit. I didn’t opt for the former because it is laughably expensive and at the time, hard to audition. More recently, I was wandering the hi-fi department in Harrods one afternoon and found one to listen to. Great sound, but the twin bass units wobbling out of the sides of the all plastic cabinet put me in mind of an insane jelly – hardly a reassuring image for even semi-serious listening.

I eschewed the HomeKit because it is inevitable that Apple will either update of discontinue the system soon and I’ll want to go and burn boss-man Tim Cooke’s home down for outdating my brand new speaker(s).

So, while in South Africa recently, contentedly listening to the aforementioned Naim/Klipsch set-up, I discovered any number of rave reviews of KEF’s tiny LSX. Despite their extraordinary cost, they sound incredibly good for 4” drive units, barely a metre apart. Great stereo image and precision. I broke a lifetime rule and bought them unheard. I’m glad I did.

KEF’s LSX

Buy them that is.

As I’m writing, Blossom Dearie is sitting on my lap, breathing the lyric to “Bye bye country boy” into my ears, accompanied by a pianist hiding just behind my 27” monitor. The drummer and bass player are there too, their perceptual location tightly defined by these tiny KEF masterpieces.

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It’s been a period of re-thinking for me being here, back in the first world. Living in South Africa I long felt that we lagged the real world a bit, with our technologies and attitudes maybe a year or so behind Europe and elsewhere.

Well, that’s not true. Not even nearly.

When we have power – not very often, it seems – we still watch the shockingly poor and expensive DStv satellite TV system, sighing about its shortcomings and only having the state broadcaster, SABC (don’t ask) or a contractlually hamstrung Netflix as alternatives.

Ditto so much else, our access to high bandwidth Internet is severely limited by the availability of radio spectrum and thus streaming of any kind is limited by the wet string South Africa is forced to use. Why? Because the government is still arguing about who makes the baksheesh from the set top boxes the terrestrial/digital changeover will require. Once that’s in place, all the terrestrial bandwidth will become available.

We’re only four years behind our own self imposed deadline…

So, streaming services like Spotify are for the wealthy few who can pay usurious rates for bandwidth. In London, our 70mb/sec broadband is free from such limitations and Sky, Netflix and Amazon Prime work a treat.

So does Spotify.

It took me months of frustration to get anything worthwhile from Spotify, but now it’s begun to understand my quirky musical listening tastes and to quote the local vernacular, I’m well pleased.

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Hey! This is a photography blog!

Yeah, I know, but it is nice to go OT once in a while.

This week, Fuji announced the X-100V, the fifth go-round in the X-100 range, bringing a new sensor, some body mods, new controls and most importantly for me, a new 23mm f2 lens.

I keep my X100F on my desk, well within reaching distance and it’s almost always in my bag when I set off for anywhere. There’s not much it can’t do and its few weaknesses have never worried me. So, when Fuji announced the V this week, I’ll admit to feeling distinctly ho-hum about upgrading.

Fuji X100F
Fuji X100F
Fuji X100F
Fuji X100F
Fuji X100F
Fuji X100F
Fuji X100F
Fuji X100F
Fuji X100F
Fuji X100F
Fuji X100F – Panorama

Then I read a couple of early hands-on reviews and suddenly, I could feel a GAS attack starting. My usual first response is to go and look at what I’ve already got – in this case, a Lightroom Collection that groups all my X100F images together.

Good pictures, bad pictures, all beautifully rendered, many temporarily forgotten. Even more I mentally associate with other cameras; realising just how good the X100F has been (and still is) taking me quite by surprise.

It’s a very chilly 3C outside this morning, but the need to grab the F, go out and shoot is almost inescapable.

 

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  • Patrick says:

    The choice between the 25mm and 35mm, for me, is not that difficult…..with my emphasis for a more all-purpose focal length lens. Then, the extra 2 stops of the F1.4 is also a plus.

    Your soft spot for the X100(s), the prevailing F, now the V, is quite obvious. My bet is, Paul, that you will soon upgrade to the V.

    Great photos ! Thanks for sharing.

    • Paul Perton says:

      Well, not quite Partick. The day I finished writing this piece, the X-100F’s viewfinder went u/s. Took it to Wex in Whitechapel and ten days later, I’m still waiting for the repair quote. That alone might put a spurt in the 100V buy – if it were already available.

  • Lad Sessions says:

    You have an incredible gift for portraying small bits of our world and rendering them beautiful (not to detract at all from the great landscapes!). Your tussles with gear seem insignificant in comparison: you can make lovely with whatever you have in your hands. Thank you, and keep them coming!

    • Paul Perton says:

      Thanks Lad. I’m increasingly finding the photographs I take fall into exactly that category and the fact that you’ve summed it up so well is more than a tick of encouragement. On that basis, there ought to be more to come. Cheers.

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    WAAAAAAAY back, when I was first able to add w/angles and tele lenses to my armory, 35mm was as wide as you could go – and was “difficult”, because of the effects it had on perspectives.

    These days, anything from 24mm up seems to be easier than those lenses were. So your choice would more likely be on the basis of things like weight – max aperture (I’d find the Biogon a little slow) – and what you’re trying to get into the frame (obviously). Instead of changing lenses, you change camera bodies – to round your focal length out to 50mm? While the Biogon on an FF body is 21mm. OK – you happy, me happy! 🙂

    All the photos look good, regardless of which lens you used, so it doesn’t matter – whatever you want to use on the day!

    You HiFi is a personal thing. A lot like choosing pianos. Or, indeed, choosing what music you want to play. And these days, there’s a great deal more to choose from.

    My HiFi store tried to talk me into replacing my ageing speakers some years back. Mine a old-school and heavy as, so after I struggled to get them into the car and over to their shop, we road tested mine against everything they could suggest – then they got a bit desperate, and started throwing EVERYTHING at mine. In the end, they gave up, told me mine were just fine, and helped me get them back into the car.

    So I guess this is another case of “you happy, me happy”, Paul. 🙂

    Likewise with TV – Netflix (they tell me) offers a huge range of films – those listed in the catalogue you view onscreen, but tons more if you going into “search” – and so many you’d never run out. I can more than fill my watching time, by recording things I’d like to see, from the “free to air” TV channels we have here – and never actually catch up & view all of them. Other people watch TV for hours a day, and can practically recite the entire sound track of each movie they watch.

    And finally, your Fuji? Fuji has a stellar role in photographic history. I’m glad yours brings so much pleasure into your life. With all the profits of doom & gloom out there, telling us each week that sales are tanking & watch out for bankruptcies, it’s a bit worrying how all these brands can survive. And survive they must, if we are to have choices!

  • Frederick Hartman says:

    I enjoyed reading your discussion regarding two of my favorite lenses. As soon as I finished, I replaced the 35mm distagon with the 25mm biogon and emailed a copy Blossoms little Jazz bird to a struggling artist searching for inspiration from the jazz world. Thanks

  • Great article and images Paul. I was very much taken by the images from the “F”.

    • Paul Perton says:

      Thanks Dallas. It’s very easy to underestimate what an extraordinary job Fuji has done in packaging so much camera into a pocketable do-it-all. I’m off to Japan in November (with a couple of the other Susans) and increasingly thinking making it a of a single camera trip. I guess you can work out what camera I’ll take.

  • John Birkhead says:

    Truly wonderful article and images. Thank you.

    Funny. I received an X100F today, sec9nd hand from eBay. I had an S or T some time back, but I wasn’t ready for it. Your pictures inspire me and I am looking for a lot of use from the X100F.

    Again, great post. Thank you.

  • philberphoto says:

    Lad says it so well, I am content to second -or is it third?- his comment. Many lovely pics here, some very lovely indeed.
    But, since you talk about gear, the differences in IQ are clear IMHO. The Fuji comes last, with lovely colours and not much else in favor. In particular, the images seem to me quite flat. The Biogon demonstrates why Zeiss are famous for micro-contrast, with a clearly etched rendering. The Distagon is in a class by itself, with the best of the 2 others plus gobsmacking 3D and pure class.
    Does that mean you should take it above all else (physical package, focal length, etc..)? Only you can answer that, and you just did. More power to your index finger!

    • Paul Perton says:

      Thanks Philippe. Between the Zeiss lenses there’s not much to choose in rendering terms. The Fuji might lag a little in that department, but in overall use, I would probably choose its utility at least as often as a body/lens, quite possibly more.

  • immodoc says:

    Hi, thank you for your review I enjoyed (especially because it agrees with my experiences).

    I use the 25mm ZEISS Biogon mostly on my Leica M9, and it appears to be equal in performance to
    my Leica Elmarit 2,8/24 asph and my Leica Elmar-M 23,8/24 asph.

    The ZEISS Distagon is my best 35mm M Mount lens in a portfolio of 5 (Leica Summicron 2/35 v4,
    Leica Summarit 2,5/35, ZEISS Biogon 2/35, VOIGTLÄNDER Nokton v1 1,2/35 asph)

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