Introduction

Voigtlander APO-Lanthar Macro 125mm f/2.5 is not the most well known name among Canon, Nikon, Olympus etc. users. Cosina, which owns the Voigtlander brand and has been manufacturing lenses under this name for Leica M and screw mount systems, also released a limited number of luxury SLR lenses (under SL product line) for Nikon F, Contax/Yashica, Pentax KA, Pentax M42, Sony/Minolta MD, Canon FD and Olympus OM mounts. The APO-Lanthar 125mm is the only lens that Voigtlander released in Canon EF mount. Cosina recently discontinued the SL product line to concentrate on the Leica M and Carl Zeiss ZF lenses, but a few last copies are still available for purchase directly from select resellers in Japan.

The build quality of  Voigtlander APO-Lanthar Macro 125mm f/2.5 is superb - metal barrel, metal mount, metal focus ring, even the front lens cap and lens shade are metal! The lens feels solid and sturdy with no shaking or wobbling inside (the lens looks and feels a lot like newer generation Zeiss ZF lenses). The lens construction consists of 11 elements in 9 groups and includes two Extra-low Dispersion glass elements. The minimum focusing distance is 38cm (14.9in) where the lens gives a 1:1 magnification. The smallest aperture is f/22 and filter size is 58mm. On APS-C type dSLRs like Canon Digital Rebel XTi which was used for testing, the field of view is equivalent to that of a 200mm lens on a full-frame camera.

The lens is not the most compact or light macro I have seen - it measures 88x76cm (34.6x29.9in) and weighs 690g (1.52lb), but the barrel extends when focusing towards macro, almost doubling the overall length. And since the lens is not weather or dust sealed, the extending dual cam mechanism would probably cause more dust inside the cams over time (at least compared to a lens with a true inner focus format). Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 Macro sports fully manual focusing (yep, no AF mechanism), but no manual aperture control so the aperture has to be set from the camera. The focus ring is very smooth, but it takes almost two full 360 degree turns to go from infinity focus to macro - Cosina clearly favored precision over speed here.

Image

The factory box includes Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.8 lens, front and rear lens caps, square metal lens hood and resin hood cap, manual and warranty card (both in Japanese ;)  As mentioned above, Cosina  discontinued  the SL product line, including  APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.5. If you're lucky, you might be able to find a new sample from one of the last production runs either on eBay or directly from a reseller in Japan, however, the EF mount was relatively rare even when Cosina was manufacturing the lens, so finding a new copy would be pretty hard these days. Other mounts might still be available at authorized Voigtlander US resellers (as of April 2007). I've seen (new) copies of the lens for sale on eBay at about US$600, which makes Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 Macro one of the more expensive non-L prime macro lenses for Canon mount.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 11 elements in 9 groups
Angular Field ~20 degrees
Minimum Focus 38cm/14.9in
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2.5-f/22, camera-controlled
Filter Size 58mm
Lens Hood Square metal (included)
Weight 690g/1.52lb
Dimensions 88x76mm/3.4x2.9"
Lens Case None

 

Field Tests

Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 is not your typical EF mount EOS lens. For starters, it's a manual focus lens, which is quite a rarity in Canon's EF/EF-S mount world. The lens is actually fully coupled with Canon's EF mount, meaning that the lens has electronic contacts at the base of the mount that transfer lens information back to the camera. Moreover, the lens also implements an electronic aperture control - yes, this is a pretty unusual combination to have a fully electronic aperture control and a fully manual focusing. Well, the most obvious implication of this is that you will have to rely on your eyesight to focus the lens. The camera will still retain the AF confirmation, so this should simplify the focusing a little bit. The second implication is that the lens does not have a traditional DOF scale - no aperture ring, no DOF scale, hence you will not beable to rely on hyperfocal focusing method.

Like most manual focus lenses, Voigtlander APO Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 Macro SL sports a pretty precise focusing system, maybe even an overkill for some users - you will end up rotating the focusing ring almost two full 360 degree turns to go from the infinity to the minimum focusing distance! As you can imagine, this could be a major advantage if you're shooting still objects, but try focusing quickly to catch a moving target like an insect...

Putting aside these somewhat unusual characteristics, the lens demonstrated a pretty solid and fairly consistent performance in the field. Image quality remained adequately sharp across the picture frame and throughout the tested aperture range. At least if there were any differences, they were not easily noticeable visually. There did not seem to be any significant difference in image quality between images taken with APS-C and FF cameras, which is obviously a very positive sign.

 

ISO 400, 1/125, f/2.5, 125mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 400, 1/125, f/2.5, 125mm (Canon 5D)

 

When shot with wide open aperture, Voigtlander APO Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 SL Macro produced well rounded out of focus highlights with an occasional harshly lit edges - a signature of lenses with some over-correction for spherical aberration. Contrast transitions in OOF areas were pretty smooth, creating a nice feel and overall separation between the fore/background and the object of the focus. There was also no sign of double-eding around background and foreground OOF objects.

 

Vignetting @ f/2.5 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (125mm)
Vignetting @ f/2.5 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (125mm)

 

The lens showed moderate amount of vignetting at f/2.5 on a full frame Canon 5D, which is somewhat surprising for a moderately long telephoto. Vignetting remained present at f/2.8 and to a lesser degree at f/4, with f/5.6 finally being complete free of the artifact. And on APS-C camera the lens showed basically no vignetting throughout the tested aperture range.

On the positive side, Voigtlander APO Lanthar 124mm f/2.5 Macro showed very decent handling of flare. The two images below demonstrate the degree of this artifact with a direct light source positioned near the picture frame. The sun was hitting the lens at ~50 degrees. As can be seen from the samples, at wider apertures flare resulted in a slightly reduced contrast across the entire picture frame. Not very helpful, but quite common among most lenses. Lower apertures showed even better handling with practically no impact on the image quality.

 

Left: ISO 100, 1/640, f/2.5 Right: ISO 100, 1/60, f/8
Left: ISO 100, 1/640, f/2.5 Right: ISO 100, 1/60, f/8

As expected from a medium telephoto lens, Voigtlander APO-Lanthar did not show any noticeable distortion. Color handling was quite good, with colors remaining sufficiently saturated across the aperture range. Images carried good amount of contrast and detail from f/2.5 all the way through f/11, creating rich and life-like textures.

 

ISO 100, 1/2500, f/2.5, 125mm (100% crop)
ISO 100, 1/2500, f/2.5, 125mm (100% crop)

 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for both types of cameras.

 

Canon APS-C: The lens showed very solid performance in the lab. More importantly, the performance remained very even across the entire picture frame, with both center, as well as border image quality remaining on a consistently high level. Ultimately, this is what you want to see in any lens and Voigtlander APO-Lanthar is one of the better behaving lenses here. The lens is capable of delivering outstanding 16in prints pretty much across the entire aperture range and decent 24in prints at f/8. Conclusion? Performance-wise, this is clearly one of the better medium telephoto lenses on the market (or used to be, since it's no longer in production). Oh, and 1:1 macro should certainly sweeten the package.

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 125mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 125mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 125mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 125mm

Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 Macro was virtually free of chromatic aberration - Cosina seems to have learned how to develop lens designs with well controlled CA, which is probably not surprising since the company has been manufacturing lenses for Carl Zeiss for some time now and had the opportunity to apply German-inspired quality control into their manufacturing processes. CA in the center never exceeds ~0.2px, while CA around borders never exceeds ~0.5px, even at the widest apertures. Clearly, this is not going to be a  major issue for photographers.

 

Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 125mm
Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 125mm

 

Here are 100% crops, taken with an APS-C type Canon Digital Rebel XTi, comparing images taken at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 125mm (100% crop): f/2.5 vs f/8
Image borders @ 125mm (100% crop): f/2.5 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: Voigtlander APO Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 Macro continued to show very consistent performance even on a full frame Canon 5D. Image performance remained consistently high in the center throughout the tested aperture range, with border image performance not falling far behind. Border quality actually remains pretty even across the aperture range, while center image quality shows slight improvement around f/5.6-f/8. Conclusion? Very solid performance throughout the aperture range with practically no weaknesses when it comes down to image resolution. Not bad, not bad at all...

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 125mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 125mm

 

The lens showed minimal amount of CA on a full frame camera, with center CA averaging ~0.2px across the aperture range and border CA averaging ~0.3px also across the aperture range. CA? What CA?

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 125mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 125mm

 

Here are 100% crops, taken with a FF type Canon 5D, comparing images taken at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 125mm (100% crop): f/2.5 vs f/8
Image borders @ 125mm (100% crop): f/2.5 vs f/8

Alternatives

Well, there are plenty of macro lenses available on the market these days. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM (review) is one such lens. A perennial favorite on more then one web forum, the lens performs really well and does not cost a fortune like it's bigger L brethren, the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM (review). Both Canon lenses sport ring-type USM auto-focus along with the fully manual focusing, making them more versatile then APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.5. Both Canon 100mm and 180mm are true inner focus design lenses, which many might consider as yet another advantage. However, while the build quality of the L lens is pretty decent it still lacks the craftsmanship of Voigtlander's macro lens. This is even more so with Canon's 100mm macro lens which sports consumer-grade finish and cheapo plastic barrel. Of course there are other choices available and you might want to consider Tokina's AT-X PRO-D AF 100mm f/2.8 (review) macro lens or one of Sigma's four medium telephoto macro lenses: 70mm f/2.8 EX DG, 105mm f/2.8 EX DG, 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM and 180mm EX DG IF HSM.

 

Recommendation

Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 is a fantastic lens for non-mainstream photographers. Why non-mainstream users? Simply because it lacks an AF system, which will make it significantly appealing to quite a few photographers. Plus, the lens is quickly becoming a collector's item, with used copies now selling at 2x premium over the original list price (when the lens was still available at retailers). Don't take this wrong here - the image quality of this lens is superb from the widest to the smallest aperture, the build quality is as good as with any high-end lens from Leica or Carl Zeiss and the amount of harmful artifacts is kept to the minimum. Add a life-size 1:1 macro and you have a winner on your hand, assuming of course that you can deal with manual focusing, and assuming you can find a copy of the lens.