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Which Voigtländer Lens to choose - classic, modern, APO or Heliar?

Updated: Apr 12


Voigtlander Nokton 40mm F1.2 Nikon Z-mount camera lens
Shot using Nokton 40mm F1.2 Aspheric Nikon Z camera © mokkun © Cosina

Sharpness is a bourgeois concept

.... Henry Cartier-Bresson


Even if you are an existing Voigtländer user, we urge you to first read our detailed article on Understanding Voigtländer Lenses. It is important that you know how the names & designs came about, though they are totally independent of each other, but there is always a pattern that makes understanding the overall philosophy better.


Whether to choose a classic or a modern or an APO lens is a very difficult question to answer indeed. This question baffles mostly those who are looking at our VM-mount catalogue to either use natively on a Leica M body, or even those who swap across different mirrorless bodies including Digital Medium Format camera bodies using adapters barring a few exceptions in our other mounts where similar curiosity arises. Hopefully, this post can simplify & make decision making a lot easier.


Shot with Nokton Vintage line 75mm F1.5 lens with X1D II 50C. In-camera JPEG. Image © MysticFocus

We will try to objectively explain what each one of these designs have to offer. If that resonates with what you have in your mind too, then this article has met its goal of providing those helpful pointers & directions. It is further important to mention that the commonality for all our lenses regardless of their design configuration is that they will give you the signature Voigtländer 3D rendering (or subject roundness), rich colours regardless of the coating, excellent micro-contrast and very balanced skin tones - this in itself is a major feat to have and you get that even with our most affordable lenses. The simple reason is that they all share the same glass elements with highest refractive index and coatings.


So no choice is good or bad - a price of the lens is not a measure of its image quality & performance either. As we have said it several times, all lenses have their own unique individual characteristics. This is what set them apart and this what one must always be looking for in a lens, regardless of its technical prowess.


Before biasing yourself based on ubiquitously ill conceived opinions such as -


  1. a classic lens is only good for film cameras because it lacks resolution X

  2. a classic lens will show excessive coma, aberrations & fringing with sensors that has AA filters X

  3. a single coated lens is low contrast, flares a lot & is not meant for coloured photography X

  4. An APO lens is the ultimate lens because it has all 3-axis correction X

  5. Only an APO lens will meet the high resolution spec of my 60MP camera sensor X

  6. A modern lens is the safer option because it has an aspherical element X

  7. A modern lens will have better coatings X

  8. A fast lens without floating element will not be sharp X

  9. A lens that is not sharp wide open is not great X

  10. What to expect from a cheap lens or if it is expensive then it has to be the best X

  11. And the gobbledygook continues.... 😊


None of the above is true.


You must first ask yourself the following questions - repeatedly, everyday, as many times as you could without filling yourself with anyone else's characterisation, biases, work or opinion -


  1. why am I into photography?

  2. what drives it for me?

  3. what governs it for me?

  4. what am I trying to achieve with it?

  5. where am I going with it?


Shot using Heliar 40mm F2.8 with VM-E close focus adapter on Sony A7. In-camera JPEG. Image © MysticFocus

Most of you have these answers and like us, they keep evolving too. You don't have to be an expert to know it or an expert if you know it.


Based on our experiences, we believe that photography can be broadly categorised into -


  1. Art &,

  2. Reality


Although both categories can overlap or subjugate one another based on your shooting style, but this would still keep the two fundamentally very different even if you vehemently experience both.


Art

You look at a scene, the light, the variables and it is telling you a story. You want to express that story by way of composing it all together. You just made a picture of that. If you've noted, the emphasis is entirely upon composing the scene as a work of art as a result of your vibrant imagination & skills.


Reality

You look at a scene and it is so pretty that you want to capture it in its true form. No artistic intervention required at all. Nature's beauty is everywhere isn't it! You just took a picture of that. As you've noted, the emphasis is upon capturing the scene as a reality which you identified as a piece of art but nature's own.


In either of the above two scenario, the characteristics of the lens used can have a profound impact on the results. Again, neither is good nor bad. So you are now back again on this quintessential question of how to know which lens is best suited for each or both?


A classic lens can present dramatic takes on images when shot during low light situations. You are an artist who is under a constant state of imagination. Say, early morning just before the sun rises, or evenings, indoors and cloudy - wherever there is an iota of lowest light possible. Our classic lenses awe-inspires you to take more & more pictures. Its aim is for you to make a picture and let the in-camera JPEG show all that magic in real time. The demeanour of delivering dreamy look to the images across any camera system is consistent with these lenses. For e.g., they are always a pick if we are heading for a late night coffee at a nearby cafe!


A modern lens elevates what the classic lens does and brings it into your mainstream broad daylight shoots. Where a classic lenses can saturate a bit more colour in strong light, the modern lenses with their axis correction control that aspect better and make rendering tonally more precise. Another important attribute is that strong light & shiny surfaces always are a threat for inducing weird fringing patterns in any lens in the world and since we don't believe in software induced post corrections, our modern lens rescue us from even those cameras that boasts of a thick irritating OLPF on their sensors.


An APO lens, invented & patented in 1953, is a reference because it is designed to meet the objectives of being a perfect lens on paper - specifications. This is its sole primary goal and the rest is upto the photographer & their skills. You need an APO lens because you need reality. It controls axis deviations for subjects too far away and provides better distinctive separation between contrasting subjects in the frame. When the agenda is to take perfect shots of the scene in its natural form, there are no better lenses designed to do that. With that said, it could also become counter-productive in situations (especially portraits) where the details end up showing flaws you wouldn't want to be seen. So, not for the faint hearted & not better than a classic or modern or Heliar if the goal is art & not reality.


A Heliar lens being over a 124 year old design, it has always remained a very special lens. It combines attributes of a classic & modern lens, without leaning too much on one or the other. But, it also brings its own unique flavour which always remain indescribable to us. The old scripture from Voigtländer described this design was made for taking special portraits. The word special indeed has remained profound even to this day. Its use in our super wide angle lenses brings exquisite character even into those landscape shots that we never find in any other lens in the market with such a FOV - again indescribable. Generally they are slow due to the nature of their design and complexity in making them (with an exception of Heliar classic 50mm F1.5 in Single Coat), this lens is thoroughly capable of taking your artistic imagination to the next level.


Ponder over

If you follow Voigtländer, you will notice that some focal lengths especially in the M-mount category has a variety of options making this decision all the more harder. For example, in 50mm alone, we have 3 different Nokton designs, 1 APO-Lanthar and then 2 Heliar in both modern & classic flavours. Why? As per our extensive experience with a variety of Voigtländer lenses, we can clearly say that each one of them show their magical character in specific lighting conditions. Whether outdoor or indoors, strong or low light, they all have it. We always urge customers to look at the images in the product listing page that is officially shot with that lens by Cosina, truly depicting its individuality. These images speak a lot for themselves as they clearly exhibit what to expect from that particular model. Do not look at other review / sample images on the internet if the goal is to know what to expect from this lens. It's not going to help.


Still confused? Talk to us. You cannot go wrong with any of these lenses. Do not over think, do not over analyse. Get yourself with one of these gems and set yourself on a journey that is truly a mesmerising one.

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