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Understanding Voigtländer Lenses

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

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.

Our latest ground breaking lens with a grounding aspherical element making it the most advanced lens in the world today

Our new APO-LANTHAR 50mm F2 Asph E-mount Lens

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.

Sample from MACRO APO-LANTHAR 110mm F2.5 Asph E-mount Lens courtesy Mystic Focus

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.

Sample from HELIAR 40mm F2.8 Asph Sony E-mount courtesy Mystic Focus

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

© Cosina Co.,Ltd.

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