Once you’ve been down the road of owning a bunch of prime lenses, you’re more likely to revel in the more obscure and specialist versions available. Common, highly touted, and pin-sharp primes are one thing, but there’s also an eagerness to find the lenses that produce their own individual character and look.
One such lens is the Voigtländer APO-LANTHAR 50mm f/2, (which has no relation to German beer or a character from the Highlander movie). Instead, it is a high-quality 50mm prime, built specifically for the Sony platform.
The Voigtländer will not be for everybody, especially being only available to Sony users and due to its relative price point. But by the end of this article, if you buy into its manual workings and top-level performance, you will have the details of a secret blend from a very versatile lens that can provide exceptional results.
As the Voigtländer APO-LANTHAR 50mm f/2 comes from one of the longest-running camera companies in the world, it’s very old school in both looks and design. The outer shell has a completely metal design, with both a manual aperture and focus ring. This, along with an etched-into-the-lens distance scale and aperture markings, contributes to the old school aesthetic.
The old way of making a knurled focusing ring makes sense for easy gripping, due to its very smooth turning circle and easy-to-hit focus. The lens is also lightweight, coming in at only 364g.
Although the lens barrel has an all-metal construction, there are no weather-sealing gaskets, which is something we have come to expect from high-end lenses. The manual aperture ring is truly analog, working even when the lens is detached from the camera in third-of-a-stop increments.
One advantage here is the higher-than-normal, 12-blade aperture. The blades are straight rather than curved, which should allow for more rounded highlight balls and defined sun stars.
Other characteristics of this lens are the optical design of 10 elements in eight groups, with a reasonably fast f/2 aperture. The optical arrangement also consists of five partial dispersion and two aspherical elements, wrapped around a floating element system.
The Voigtländer APO-LANTHAR 50mm f/2 in Use
The APO bit of the name is one of the secrets why the Voigtländer is up there as a high-quality 50mm prime. This shortening stands for Apochromatic, which essentially gives better correction to the likes of chromatic aberration, being able to see three color wavelengths. This translates to higher contrast levels and image detail, with little to no color fringing.
How does this translate into the real world? Images straight off-camera are produced with a rich rendition of clarity, contrast, and color which almost look like they have had a touch of filmic color grading before they hit your eyes. The Voigtländer APO-LANTHAR 50mm f/2 does, however, display some light falloff in the corners, which can be corrected in post-editing.
When it comes to sharpness levels, most high-quality primes these days deliver exceptional performance. But the individual character of a lens is a big selling point.
However, it’s still worth mentioning the overall clarity, with the Voigtländer performing extremely well with the aperture wide open at f/2 right across the frame. At f/2, images are extremely sharp with stopping down only needed to bring in more detail across the depth of field. There is a slight increase in contrast and definition by f/4, but only when you need the most razor-sharp output.
Some would say that with a APO lens, there is more contrast and sharpness than is needed when it comes to bokeh. However, there are no complaints with how colors transition, with the lens producing excellent background blur where it counts. The Voigtländer APO-LANTHAR 50mm f/2 also has good resistance to flaring, even when the sun is directly in shot.
The manual focusing side of things is easier to hit target than initially expected. This means, for areas like landscapes, this lens is a clear winner. But for areas such as environmental portraits, autofocus and Eye AF were very much missed. Although it’s a good job that the final image results more than make up for things.
Voigtländer Edges Out ZEISS
If you’re already eyeing up a high-quality 50mm prime lens for the Sony platform, then an alternative is the ZEISS Loxia 50mm f/2. The ZEISS comes in slightly cheaper than the Voigtländer, with the same manual features, light weight of 320g, and excellent optics. The Loxia is a very worthy lens, but the Voigtländer edges slightly forward in overall sharpness and final image reproduction. The Loxia may have slightly better bokeh rendition than the Voigtländer, being less contrasty, but this is also a very subjective area.
|Voigtländer APO-LANTHAR 50mm f/2||ZEISS Loxia 50mm f/2|
|Min. focusing Distance||45cm||45cm|
Voigtländer APO-LANTHAR 50mm f/2: It’s All in How You Use It
The Voigtländer is clearly an amazing 50mm lens for Sony, which is very reminiscent of the best stuff you can get from ZEISS. The colors and contrast have a special quality which definitely justifies the price point. The lens delivers an equal level of sharpness throughout the aperture range.
The aperture on the Voigtländer may not go as wide as other prime lenses, but it is still a very capable low-light lens. Plus, the amount of smooth bokeh the lens can provide is plenty enough for most applications. For most users who are deciding upon a high-quality 50mm prime, the justification of ownership really comes down to the end use.
If you sorely miss autofocus and need a more gun and run solution, then there are very capable autofocus lenses available for the Sony platform. However, if you consider this lens has many of the qualities of ZEISS Otus 55mm f/1.4, which is also manual focusing, the Voigtländer doesn’t have the same high price tag and will definitely live as long as Connor MacLeod.