Updated: Feb 6
Voigtländer range of beautiful manual focus prime lenses is extensive & exquisite. The oldest lens maker in the world from Germany, now passionately hand crafted in Japan since 1999 by Cosina. They offer a variety of high-end camera lenses, with exceptional image quality, crafted with timeless designs, names & form factor that have been perfected over centuries. Most of them have either become iconic or are synonymous with reference grade lenses of all times. Quite understandably, many of our customers express their desire to own all of our lenses as its an epitome of class, perfection & precision engineering. Each one of them tell their own unique story in their own beautiful way, capturing life moments with such finesse & soul. You can also read a brief history of Voigtländer here & here.
This post aims at helping those who really want to understand the legacy & philosophy behind these lenses or rather, de-mystify Voigtländer's vivid collection. This will also help in understanding how they are classified, named or what do they really signify especially when you are trying to choose between your preferred type of lenses which could be drastically different from each other. Without delving deep, this post can also be treated as a starting point of your Voigtländer journey while also getting some directions on using them in their most optimum way.
First of all, all Voigtländer lenses are beautiful high-end precision optics that have their own unique character, deliver exceptional micro-contrast, known for its signature rendering, superb ergonomics with top build quality & durability. They are made of highest quality of glass which lays the foundation for its exceptional performance. The fanatical approach to achieving very high refractive indexes of not just the individual glass elements but also as a set when all elements are grouped together is simply extraordinary. All lenses are measured & passed only when they meet those tight tolerances to ensure precise life long operation and consistency. Besides, the entire in-house process of glass formation and coatings is carried out in such a way that they exhibit no wear for years together, regardless of how rigorously the lens is used. As a manual focus prime lens, the glass elements are directly coupled to the focusing ring, which provides precise focusing control and bring an exquisite feel while doing so.
Secondly, the lenses are made to meet or exceed the highest standards of the best lenses ever produced. There are four main reasons for that -
everything is made from scratch in Cosina's own factories in Japan. All lenses are 100% made in Japan by Cosina
we benchmark and control the selection & quality of materials to be used and even make our own tools to exacting standards
conduct academic driven research & development, work with the best photographers on the field
have an unmatched reputation of having the highest quality standards in the industry
What is the overall basis followed to classify the lenses?
1. Optical Design - representing the lens family first
When you browse through the entire collection, you will find that we make lenses for 7 (seven) camera mount systems today. Four of them are in Full Frame Format, i.e. for the Leica M-mount (LM / VM), Sony E-mount (SE), Nikon F-mount (NF) and the old Leica Thread or Screw mount a.k.a L39. Two are in APS-C Format for the FujiFilm X system and the Nikon Z mount. The seventh one is in Micro Four Thirds-mount (MFT) Format for cinematographers. Lens are then further categorized under the following family of lenses that indicates their aperture ratio or rather "speed" in general, however, they are also technically unique in their optical design –
SUPER NOKTON - represents ultra-fast lenses with speed upto 0.8
NOKTON – represents super-fast lenses with speed from 0.95 to 1.5
ULTRON – represents very fast lenses with speed from 1.7 & 2
COLOR-SKOPAR – fast lenses with speed from 2.5 to 3.5
APO-LANTHAR / SKOPAR – apochromatic lenses are designed to achieve acute axial correction by getting all 3 colors i.e. RGB corrected to remove aberrations, fringing etc. Additionally, the design is optimized to ensure minimal deviation of the colors across the entire aperture range. APO lenses have extremely low dispersion exhibiting lowest possible diffraction that makes bordering lines between two colors very distinct & sharp. With Macro & Close up shots in mid-tele distances, such correction is a boon. The Skopar lenses denote the speed of the APO lens
HELIAR – is a simple, yet a very clever grouping of glass elements in a lens specially designed for portrait & landscape photography. Usually they are 5 or 6 elements in 3 groups. We always feel that all Heliar lenses are special & must never be missed in your selection criteria
All these designs have their respective construction parameters & a pre-defined grouping / assortment of glass elements, some of them are over 200 years old & have been in production ever since, of course with subsequent improvisations & modifications over the years. No design is better over the other, because they all fulfil their respective categories that complement a shooting scenario & lighting conditions. Like we say, every Voigtlander lens is an individual who has its own purpose!
2. Glass Coatings - representing a lens overall transmissibility
All Voigtländer glass elements are skilfully multi-coated, with an exception of four specific models available only in the VM-mount i.e. the Nokton Classic 35mm F1.4 II, Nokton Classic 40mm F1.4, and the Nokton Vintage Line 50mm F1.5 version 2 that are offered in both multi (MC) and single-coated variants (SC is engraved on the front name ring of the lens barrel) and a fourth lens, the Heliar Classic 50mm F1.5 that comes only as single-coated. The single coating does not alter with the overall micro-contrast of these lenses, color saturation or sharpness as the refractive index of the glass used is already very high. The single coated lenses are preferred by those who either use Leica M monochrome (all digital sensors are inherently monochrome minus the Bayer filter on top) or those who adapt this lens with other brand of mirrorless bodies for shooting in B&W as the blacks & whites are naturally well saturated in these lenses. Since the refractive index of the element is not reduced because there is only 1 layer of the coat as opposed to multi-layered ones where the refractive index of each subsequent coat must be lower than the previous one, the transmissibility of light is highest in single coated lenses hence they give much better contrast. This also reduces deviation off the light from its original axis thereby allowing the dynamic range of a digital sensor to be fully exploited. The single coated lenses can also add flares naturally when held against a light source at certain angles of course. Unless you know how to create them on field, this is typically going to be quite hard to add in to your images using any post-processing tool. Depending on how the fall off or depth of field is optimized, these lenses can deliver classic smooth color rendering (like in Nokton Classic 35mm F1.4II SC or Heliar Classic 50mm F1.5 SC), the most natural color & skin tones, not to be confused with those so called old washed out images that may have been poorly developed with used chemicals? In fact, our own observations side by side suggests that the classic SC lenses can saturate more colors on a digital sensor due to its inherent higher light transmission ability over MC lenses.
A sample image of Ganesha shot on Heliar Classic 50mm F1.5 SC lens, courtesy Mystic Focus
Pictures below from Cosina's glass coating factories
With digital cameras today, it all depends upon whether you rely on your preset in-camera JPEG conversion settings, or want to work your way up with RAW image processing. Neither lens will disappoint in any scenario.
3. Barrel Design - represents the overall form factor, exterior & ergonomics of the lens
Each Barrel Design further comes in 3 different styles –
a. Classic – these are extremely compact, all-metal barrel, traditional rangefinder lens bodies that are lightweight and offer great value for money. The bayonet & petal hoods in some of these variants further adds to their beauty and provide great stray light & damage protection. A notable attribute with these classic lenses is that with their time tested design, they do not have to use the expensive Aspherical Glass elements, which keeps the cost of the lens drastically low making it far more accessible, but at the same time, provide dreamy, colorful, sharp & beautiful images. Best way to start your Voigtländer journey especially when you need a top of the line everyday walk around lens, offering exceptional image quality, meets most of your shooting requirements and works in all conditions.
b. Vintage Line – these gorgeous, silver black metal lens barrels reminiscent of 1950s & 1970s are spectacular for being extremely light weight, offering great ergonomics, quality of images & uniqueness in design. From using highly polished heavy brass metal to our new super lightweight aircraft grade material that offers exceptional rigidity. These are our jewels, pride & joy and no denial they are one of the most sought-after collectible lenses in the world. For example, our new Nokton Vintage Line 75mm F1.5 Lens weighs only 350 gms and considered now as the gold standard for portraiture work. Additionally, the M-mount Vintage Line series i.e. Color-Skopar 28mm F2 version 2 and Ultron 35mm F2 are offered in two barrel stylings - Type I (1950s) has the retro black & chrome ring accents with a chrome focusing knob and the Type II (1970s) come either in all Black or all Silver color barrel with a resting tab for focusing. These lenses have set such high bars in lens design & manufacturing processes that they will remain undisputed forever. If you are a high profile candid photographer known for your out-of-the-box work, or a hobbyist or even a collector, just go for these. (Left - Right - NOKTON Vintage Line 75mm F1.5 Asph M-mount Lens, Type I ULTRON Vintage Line 35mm F2 Asph M-mount Lens)
c. Modern – these are modern day looking rangefinder lenses that complement the new age digital camera bodies. They are compact, sturdy, have great contouring, offers features such as click-less aperture for videography, APO & macro lenses, electronic connection for Sony E mount & AIS for Nikon F mount bodies, Still Editions, etc. These lenses are a workhorse for pro & RAW shooters as they all have Aspherical Glass Elements, providing minimal spherical / chromatic aberrations & purple fringing (for those pixel maniacs) and are a no brainer when you are not sure where to begin your Voigtländer journey. Like we tag our Classic (e.g. Nokton Classic 40mm F1.4 SC) or Vintage Line (e.g. Nokton Vintage Line 75mm F1.5 Aspheric) series lenses, we don't specifically tag our Modern lenses. Unless tagged as Classic or Vintage Line, lenses that have "Aspheric" or "Asph" (e.g. Nokton 40mm F1.2 Aspheric) are your Modern barrel design lenses.
Please refer to the chart below for a quick overview of the barrel design options that are available within each one of the 4 lens mounts.
-------Bonus Q&A session –-----
Q - I see that there is almost twice the price difference between your Nokton 35mm F1.2 III and Nokton Classic 35mm F1.4 II lenses when both are almost equally fast. Why?
A – That’s because the Nokton 35mm F1.2 III is a Modern lens with two Aspherical Glass Elements & has 12 aperture blades whereas the Nokton Classic 35mm F1.4 II is a Classic design lens with no Aspherical Glass Elements & 10 aperture blades. Isn't that amazing that you can still own a high-end super fast lens at a very reasonable cost!
Q – Does that mean the Nokton 35mm F1.2 III will take sharper images with more contrast and saturation?
A – No. The Nokton 35mm F1.2 III is designed to remove spherical & chromatic aberrations, remove purple fringing and be more technically corrected than the Nokton Classic 35mm F1.4 II however, it does not mean that the Classic lenses are flawed or will exhibit any of these artifacts in your images prominently (see the picture below). Its a different design altogether so we wouldn't even compare them together in the first place. Only when you do deep pixel inspection side-by-side is when some of it can become noticeable but, people love them the way they are as-is because end of the day its the Image Quality that matters. They are equally rich in micro-contrast & sharpness when compared to the 35mm F1.2 III. But most importantly, the Classic Lenses provide dreamy images in low light conditions or indirectly lit subjects – say for example, just when the sun is about to rise, after sunset, overcast with cloud, or indoor with artificial lighting, the Classic lenses are perfect then. In broad daylight, their rendering is also excellent, but becomes a bit more subjective and if you are the one who prefers technically correct images then you have to use the 35mm F1.2 III. Photography is all about lighting. The idea is that when you have a specific lighting condition, you should have the right lens that will render exceptional images without you having to sit and work that up afterwards in photoshop. Lens designers & photographers knew it even 100 years ago that there is no one lens design that fits all lighting conditions. Likewise, even though the 35mm F1.2 III will take exceptional images during broad daylight, its rendering may appear to be too technically correct & subjective in situations where you’ll see the 35mm F1.4 II excels.
Q. How would you compare the Modern Lenses to the Vintage Line series then?
A. The Vintage Line is no different to the Modern or Classic line in terms of Image Quality other than that it uses special materials to be light weight, employs simpler & clever grouping of glass elements and ergonomics that breaks engineering design barriers. The Vintage line adds the same old 1950’s look & feel to your powerful digital camera and offers exceptional handling experience through unique shapes & form factor. Just like it is with the Modern or Classic line, depending upon the optical design aspect, the lenses will excel in their respective lighting conditions.
Q. So which lens would you recommend starting with?
A. Well, we recommend all our lenses, provided you have the creative ideas of using them to their utmost performance under the most apt lighting conditions :-). The best way of going about selecting your first Voigtländer lens is to decide the focal length of your choice and narrow down on the options based on your budget. Honestly you cannot go wrong with either of them.
Q. We have found people complaining of having bad copies of Voigtländer lenses. Do I have to be worried?
A. That's an untrue & unverified claim. There are three things to always keep in mind -
a. Quality - if there are broken manufacturing processes, it can result in a poorly manufactured lens and that can possibly go wrong with any brand or make. Further, it has an inherent issue with its design itself or, it probably did not undergo a stringent quality check that may lead to a mechanical failure sooner than anticipated. In either case, the manufacturers & distributors are aware of these problems. Fortunately, our lenses do not suffer from any such issues as they have been in production & perfected over 100+ years already. Thanks to the advancement in production techniques all lenses are perfectly calibrated / tested on expensive computerised equipment so there is no variation at all. Besides, they are produced in limited quantities, so no room there for any piece to miss its stringent quality check before leaving the factory. Given its long history, the modern production lenses have not suffered from a bad copy situation, especially where they had to be even recalled either because of a design or a quality issue or where the distributors had to pre-empt it with replacements or free servicing. When you see some of our lenses are in their version II or III, these are improvised versions of our already very popular lenses that further push design & manufacturing barriers by use of better tools, materials and techniques as they become available.
b. Rangefinder calibration - on the other hand, people who use rangefinder cameras at some point have to accept the harsh truth that their rangefinder will go out of calibration no matter what they do to take care of it. Most people ignore this fact and start blaming the lens. Even today, it's not surprising to find that certain lenses of certain make are totally fine but some others are not on one body but the same pattern reverses completely when they are tried on another body. Yes, it is that strange if you call it. Most rangefinder coupling systems do not go below 0.7m so if your new lens is designed to say go to 0.5m in their minimum focusing distance, the rangefinder will loose its coupling and won't focus. Again, people only get to know about it the hard way. It's neither an issue with the lens nor the system itself because the system is designed to be like that - to give an entirely different shooting experience. Every system comes with its very own set of shortcomings / trade-off that one has to be aware of but, its not suggesting in anyway that rangefinders don't let you take good pictures. That's why they still exist. Back in the days people kept re-calibrating their camera as per the lens they used with it because there was no perfect calibration point that would work with all lenses and unfortunately that situation has only marginally improved with modern rangefinder cameras too. The same lens again surprisingly works well when adapted (properly) to a modern mirrorless system or returns from the service center claiming they didnt find anything wrong with the lens. How is that? It is such a fallacy that people choose to alter a factory calibrated lens with a local repair shop instead of the rangefinder itself - back in the years it was a roaring business for service centers and nobody ever complained. Enter SLR & mirrorless for the same reason!
c. Adapting - when it comes to adaptation, we recommend people to use only high-quality precision engineered adapters if they intend to adapt the lens to a non-native body. At the outset, an adapter may appear to be a very simple metal ring after all, but we have demonstrated experiences of how a good-looking bad adapter can turn a genuinely good lens into a bad copy. Since adapters are unsuspecting, the poor lens is always blamed. Not everything thick & made of metal warrants good quality if it isn’t precision engineered, so please keep that in mind that when you intend to adapt a lens, your primary focus should always be the adapter itself. Please visit our Adapters page to learn more intricate details about them.
Summary - if you are investing into an exceptionally crafted lens, that is always going to be your strongest link in the entire chain. Work your way up by ruling out every unsuspecting link in the chain before you conclude that the lens indeed has some issue with it. Try to recreate by changing other links in the chain and see if the problem is persistent.
Q. I have a camera which has poor low light sensitivity. I am interested in the fast Modern lenses but they are too expensive and I don’t know if your fast Classic lenses will give me those colorful images I want?
A. We have explained the differences between our Modern & Classic lenses earlier in this article. If budget is a concern, Classic Lenses will serve the purpose just right. On a separate note, we have seen that by using a very fast lens with a camera that has poor low light sensitivity does not really help in all situations. Now, consider a situation, where you have a 35mm F1.4 II lens and you want to use that to shoot a family picture inside a room where you cannot stand more than 8-9 feet away from them. At 400 ISO & F1.4, you are already at a shutter speed of say 1/15 in order to keep the exposure at 0. But, since you are not shooting from infinity distance, you will not have the entire frame in focus at F1.4. To compensate & bring the entire frame in focus so that everybody comes in focus too, you reduce your aperture to say F5.6. But, your ISO then goes up drastically and since you cannot go past 800 as then the image will become too noisy, you limit it down to 800. But doing so, the shutter speed goes further down to say ¼ or even ½. At this shutter speed, shooting subjects (people) that may not be completely still will result in ghosting effect which means a tripod will become necessary. So, unless you want to take close-ups and have shallow depth of field or want to have nice pleasing bokeh in your images, it does not really make great sense to always invest in fast lenses. Understand that a fast lens is not a direct substitute for compensating the poor low light sensitivity of your camera’s sensor unless you always want to shoot at infinity in low light.
-------End of session ----------
Key Takeaways, Summary, Conclusion….
Your investments in Voigtländer lenses are secured for life as they are built for perfection. There is a lens in Voigtländer for every lighting condition. There is a lens in Voigtländer for every demanding situation. The lenses offer a myriad of options that sets it apart from the rest and continues to help photographers turn their vivid imaginations into reality.
All Voigtländer Camera Lenses, Lens accessories, Lens Hoods, Meters, Finders and all of the intricate parts are made in the same factories owned by Cosina, thereby making our products 100% made in Japan. No outsourced manufacturing or 3rd party assembly. We are the only camera lens maker in the world who makes over 200 different varieties of glasses from dust, with extremely high refractive indexes. The entire process from start to finish is carried out meticulously. We carve our own metal parts, barrels, rings using complex cutting & engraving technologies. This painful process not only turns them into beautiful functional parts, but also makes our lenses so unique & special. So when we say we make best lenses for Sony E cameras, best lenses for Nikon F mount cameras, best lenses for MFT mount cameras & best lenses for FujFilm, we are stating proven facts.