Voigtlander 65mm f/2 Macro Lens Review

bythom voigtlander 65mm angle.jpg

What is It?

The Voigtlander 65mm f/2 is a full frame macro lens that uses a traditional APO-Lanthar style optical design. APO refers to apochromat, which is design to better correct where each spectrum of light focuses (e.g. together, as opposed to at slightly different focal planes). Lanther dates back to just after World War II, when a lanthanum oxide type of glass began to be used.

Optically, the Voigtlander 65mm f/2 is somewhat unique, having a concave front element that passes to an aspherical element. Five of those first 10 elements in the lens are all special dispersion glass, which is probably the "lanther" aspect of the design. Overall, we have 10 elements in 8 groups, so not as much glass as we see in some recent prime lenses.

While the lens is labeled as macro, the maximum magnification is 1:2, not 1:1. Magnifications are marked at 1:2, 1:3, 1:4, 1:5, and 1:10, however they are very hard to read as they're done in a dark red on black lettering. Closest focus distance is 12" (.31m), and working distance to the front of the lens is 6.7" (.17m). Focus is manual, by way of a ring towards the rear of the lens. Note that the lens extends 1.5" (3.8cm) as you focus closer, and the focus ring rotates about 280° to do so. You have a great deal of focus discretion in this lens. 

Apertures are controlled by a front click-stopped ring, and the aperture diaphragm is 10 blades. Because the lens is "chipped," aperture is seen and recorded by the camera as you turn the ring. Also because of the electronic coupling, EXIF data is written correctly, three-axis sensor-based VR is available, and the focus confirmations work when using this lens.

As usual with Cosina's lenses, the Voigtlander 65mm f/2 features traditional metal build, and comes in at 21.8 ounces (618g). It's also a bit larger than you'd expect for a 65mm lens, at 3.5" (89mm) long and 3.1" (78mm) in diameter. Speaking of diameter, the front filter threads are 67mm. 

The Voigtlander 65mm f/2 is made in Japan, comes with a metal screw-in lens hood, and sells for US$950.

Voigtlander's site for the lens

Source of reviewed copy: long term loaner from B&H.

How's it Handle?

 The build quality and hand (feel) of the 65mm f/2 is as you'd expect from Cosina: exceptionally high quality. There's absolutely no mistaking the focus ring from the aperture ring. The aperture ring has clear (1/3 stop) click points. The focus ring has a very smooth rotation through almost 280° from near to infinity focus. The etchings (other than the magnification ratio) on the lens are remarkably readable; someone has paid attention to how easy it is to read small numbers and lettering.

How's it Perform?

Focus: Videographers should know that you'll get very large amounts of focus breathing on this lens. Virtually any focus pull you might want to make will show focal length change. 

Sharpness: The published MTF charts for the lens had me ready to start complaining. Fortunately, things are better in real life than I expected. Let's start at moderate to long distance. At reasonable distance the center is a solid very good+ wide open; I'm tempted to write excellent-. Things fall down to just very good- in the DX corners. The corners are good- wide open. The center gets to a very clear excellent by f/2.8. The DX boundaries hit a really nice very good+ by f/4.  You have to go all the way to f/5.6 to get the corners into very good- territory, though. With care, you can get really nice edge-to-edge results from this lens. 

Close in, the lens tells a slightly different story. Virtually all of those descriptions I just used I'd drop down one notch (e.g. very good+ becomes very good). If you're doing macro work with flat objects, the corners are going to require you to stop down considerably, right up to diffraction limits. 

I've noted quite a few reviews of this lens—the Sony version has been available for some time—that seem to acclaim it as edge-to-edge sharp. Some use hyperbole in their sharpness descriptions. It's a very good lens in what it can resolve, let's don't doubt that, but the corners are just not as strong as the center. 

The lens has virtually no coma, and seems very well corrected for spherical aberration. 

Linear Distortion: Not enough linear distortion to mention or correct, really. I had to not just look, but measure, to find a minimal barrel distortion. A very nice aspect of the lens.

Chromatic Aberration: APO means none, right? No. The primary offender is something that is in pretty much all fast primes: longitudinal CA. High contrast edges will go purple or green outside of the focal plane. Lateral CA, however, is not present in a level worth measuring on this lens, which is what I'd expect with an APO design.

Vignetting: About three stops wide open. This is again a fairly central-focused image circle, so you'll see significant vignetting on the long axis borders as well as in the corners. Things don't drop down to what I call ignorable until somewhere between f/4 and f/5.6. Of all the lens' attributes, vignetting will be the one you probably react to first and foremost.

Bokeh: I see a bright outer ring with some inner onion skin, but neither are decidedly obvious. Again, we have cats eye out past the DX boundary. The out of focus characteristics are generally really good, with no obvious busy-ness as you move from focus plane to the out of focus areas. Indeed, the largely out of focus areas have a bit of bokeh smoothness to them. Note, however, in the above test, the circular vents on the drive behind the subject have gotten a distinctly diamond shape to them when they're out of focus. Overall, I like the bokeh, but it's not without some obvious "changes" to the character of the out of focus area.

Flare: As with the other Voigtlander I'm reviewing, the big issue with in-frame light sources is veiling flare. Moreover, you can produce significant ghosts, sometimes with colored rings, on this lens in extreme light situations. But again, the sometimes ghosting isn't the bad news, it's the lower contrast due to veiling flare.

Final Words

I wanted to like this lens more than I did. Cosina has been making really solid lenses for decades, and macro lenses are still somewhat an issue for Z-mount users. Unfortunately, the Voigtlander 65mm f/2 has a few things working against it.

First, the 65mm focal length. The Nikon 55/60mm macros were really mostly designed for copy stand use in the film era, and the short working distance at these focal lengths tends to mean that it's mostly useful for tabletop type work. You'll have some difficulty cramming light onto the subject with no big gap between the front element and your subject (hint: take the lens hood off; the front element of the reviewed lens is highly recessed from the filter rings, so there's already a fair amount of front element shading going on without the hood)

But it's actually the 50mm f/2.8 MC that is the biggest argument against the Voigtlander 65mm f/2: while neither lens is dead-on sharp from center to edge (e.g. good for flat field copying), the Nikkor seems to hold its own in terms of sharpness, but comes in with autofocus and at a lower price, size, and weight. If you read the sharpness sections of my reviews for the 65mm f/2 and the 50mm f/2.8, you'll find that my descriptions are very close to the same. The Voigtlander does have the advantage of being a stop faster in achieving basically similar performance, though. Don't discount that.

I was tempted to write that the Voigtlander 65mm f/2 was an interesting and useful choice for DX body users, but I'm just not feeling the significant gain over the 50mm f/2.8 MC other than that one stop. Sure, the 65mm f/2 is just a much better build quality, but it's also far heavier. On the other hand, the really long throw from minimum to maximum focus distance on the Voigtlander means that you can precisely dial in very small focal plane differences. The gains over the 50mm f/2.8 MC are good things, but are they worth the extra US$200? Only you can answer that question (and remember, you give up autofocus). 

Testing the Voigtlander 65mm f/2 made me appreciate the Nikon 50mm f/2.8 MC a bit more. But I didn't recommend that lens, so being consistent I'm also not providing a recommendation for the Voigtlander. That's not to say you shouldn't buy them. Generally my recommended rating means that you're not going to really find a significant fault with a lens. You might with these two short macro lenses, thus no direct recommendation. You'll have to sort this out on your own.

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