The Team’s favorite lenses – October 2017 Edition

Half a year has passed and much has changed, not only in our camera bags. With David from Australia we have a new author (as you may have noticed already), who will support us, so that we can cover more lenses and other interesting topics.

David’s favorites

Hard to know what a favourite lens is. Is it the workhorse that gets use all the time? Is it that exotic piece that just occasionally gets used, but is thrilling and irreplaceable when it is? I guess any of these. My list will just contain three optics that I find to be very special in different ways.  Of course that’s not the same thing as three I’d necessarily recommend together as a kit.

Voigtländer Macro Apo-Lanthar 2/65

This is not a lens I’ve reviewed: Phillip reviewed it here, and that was one of the reasons I purchased it. A manual focus lens, fast but not that fast, an unusual focal length, and macro but, well, not all that macro – it focuses only to 1:2. So why is it on my list?

Simply it’s the finest production lens for the 135 format that I’ve ever used, and possibly the finest ever. It’s incredibly sharp wide open – enough so I can see aliasing at f2 on a 42 MP sensor! One stop down and it’s even better, and the corners have gone from being great to being super great. This brings with it creative possibilities: when f2 is so sharp, you can create images with a remarkably sharp subject set against a nicely blurred backdrop.

But sharpness is not even its big party trick. That’s colour correction. It has less LoCA and spherochromatism than any optic I’ve used. Those nice backgrounds seem to be full of light and space because they are so clean: the white highlights are, well, white, and it’s surprising what that can add to the image. Add to that lovely sunstars and excellent performance against the light.

It’s not even absurdly expensive. A definite pick!

Zeiss Batis Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f2.8

This one is very expensive. But it’s also, along with the CV above, the most optically perfect lens you can buy for the E mount. It cost almost double, but given how much more difficult apochromatic correction is at this focal length, and that it’s got autofocus and OSS that plays very nicely with the IBIS to give overall great stabilisation on bodies with IBIS, and good stabilisation on other bodies, I don’t think it’s overpriced. I reviewed it here; and I sometimes wonder now whether my tone wasn’t enthusiastic enough. The lens is wonderful. It’sa opened up a new kind of photography for me – fast aperture telephoto travel photography. I would never take an f2.8 telezoom with me. I’d never take a super fast prime with me (2/135, 2/200 or 2.8/300). But this lens is light and compact enough to go with me, and provides a different perspective on things. Of course if you do travel with a telezoom, you might not want or need it. Of if you are prepared to tote around your 2/135 then you’ve got more speed, and the best of them are very close in quality to the Batis. If you can’t justify the cost, don’t panic, there are decent legacy lenses out there. But if you do want a 2.8/135, and if you can pay the price without too much sacrifice, don’t hesitate.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* 35-70mm f3.4

I thought long and hard about what my last favourite should be; and I choose an excellent lens that is not in quite the same league for optical perfection and wide aperture performance as the last two. But it’s a lens that is just so extremely useful for a certain kind of photographer. That photographer is the serious landscape photographer that likes to go bushwalking (that’s Australian for multi-day hiking) and takes their images typically on a tripod at the beginning of the day or late in the day. And that’s because this old zoom lens for the Contax system (you will need an adapter for use on Sony) is not very large, but provides prime like performance at every setting between 35 and 70. At its widest aperture it’s not the equal of modern fast zooms like the 24-70 GM (though it is very useful at wide apertures for images with a central or even midfield subject). But stopped down to f8 where landscapers are to found working most of the time, it’s the equal of the best modern zooms and the best classic primes, and just a little less sharp and contrasty than the best modern  primes.

All this in an inexpensive and relatively light package. You have to put up with a push-pull zooming action, though.  You get to have a moderate amount of focal length flexibility without the weight that you might need for more food or water, and without having to change lenses, all in a lightweight package.

  • Voigtländer Nokton 1.2/40 Aspherical – I plan to review this as soon as we can get a sample from the Cosina distributor. It’ll be an interesting task. If this lens has a decent sized usable patch wide open and is sharp stopped down, it’ll be very tempting. But if it needs f2 before the central image quality is really nice, then’ll we’ll be wishing it was a more compact f2 lens to start with. Wait and see!
  • Helios 44-2 2/58 (with some comparisons to Zeiss Biotar T 2/58) With the Zeiss Biotar being remade for hipsters at huge cost, it’s time to look at the inexpensive Russian remake that you can get for fifty bucks or less. The 44-2 is the most famous of these: let’s see how it performs! I’ll also compare it to the original CZJ Biotar T to see if it really does render the same way.
  • Peak Design anchor links – Bastian and I are both long term users of these little gadgets, and we’ll be showing you the many things you can do with them. We feel that so many accessory reviews are based on a weekend of use after the parcel arrives on a Friday. But we all know things that seem cool for a week or two, can end up in the gear cupboard never to be seen again. It’s only after long term use that we can know whether something really fits into a workflow.

Phillip’s favorites

Voigtlander 2/65 APO: I think David has summarized its qualities very well. The label OTUS-like quality has been misused often in my eyes. To me it means that a lens is corrected for any aberration to such a degree that aberrations will be visible only in the most extreme scenarios. So it makes no sense to call the LoCA ridden FE55 a mini-Otus. Currently there is only a hand full of lenses below 200mm across all mounts which reach this level of correction and most of them are 135mm lenses. The Voigtlander 2/65 is certainly one of these rare birds and I found it to be a joy to handle as well.

  

 

Voigtlander Ultron 35 1.7 VM

Noting has changed here, the CV35 is still one of my favorites because it manages to combine the rare feed of very good performance and truly small size and because it is the best 35mm lens I know.

Sony FE 2.8/90 G

It took me some time until I learned to appreciate the FE90. The first copy I bought was severely decentered which isn’t unusual for this lens. When I bought my second copy I found the focus mechanism to have a too steep transmission and I was a bit wowed by the Voigtlander 2/65 but since I started to use the Sony on a more regular basis it has certainly grown on me. It isn’t quite as well corrected for CA as the CV65 but it comes close and it is very sharp to the corners from f/2.8 at any distance. At the same time bokeh is very smooth and the stabilizer gives me an additional one or two stops over the a7II’s integrated stabilizer.

Personally I can only afford the FE90 or the CV65 so I will sell the FE90 when I am done with the review but until then I will continue to enjoy it. It is one of Sony’s finest lenses and makes for a good three-lens-kit whereas with the CV65 I would most often end with 4 lenses.

New Lenses

I have a rather long list of lenses which I have used for a while now and which I would like to review but I find too little time to actually finish as many reviews as I would like. Here is a list of them with very brief impressions

  • Canon nFD 2.8/300 L – A monster of a lens but I have been very pleased by the results so far, very good sharpness and even better CA correction than it’s little brother. If it wasn’t so heavy.
  • Canon FD 2/35 – I think it is the most attractive legacy fast 35 but still it has quite few limitations.
  • Zeiss C/Y 1.7/50 – It is one of the sharper classic normal lenses but I think it is overrated since it isn’t that much sharper and inferior in other ways.
  • Beroflex 8/500: A very cheap non-mirror lens from the 70’s which once was tested well in a German magazine where it was named “Wundertüte”. I just bought it because I was curious how well deserved that title was and I haven’t used it yet.

Jannik’s favorites

As you all know, I am currently taking a look over the fence to the Fuji camp and put all my spare time into the finalization of the article. The central question is what could make me switch the system or actually what are the reasons for me to keep my A7II (or the A7III in the future).

The biggest reason that prevents me from ditching my Sony camera instantly can be found on the lens side of the Sony FE system. This is actually the most beautiful aspect while the cameras still have their flaws when it comes to usability and design.

Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21

The Loxia 2.8/21  is in my pocket for almost two years now and it is still my favorite lens. I love its size, contrast, sharpness, flare resistance, bokeh and most of all the sun stars. This lens also inspired me to to reach for a full 10 stroke sun star lens kit, which I have almost finished (only 35mm missing).

Voigtländer Ultra Wide-Heliar 5.6/12 III E*

This is a lens that grew on me. I knew from the beginning that the 12mm focal length in combination with the aperture will be a sun star machine. What let me down in the first images was the lower sharpness towards the edges compared to my Loxia 2.8/21. After seeing the real world results, this wasn’t a big issue anymore. Actually, I took many of my recent favorite images with this lens. The best thing about it is the tiny size, I just take it with me and don’t think twice about such an exotic focal length.

Voigtländer Macro Apo-Lanthar 2/65

I can’t add much to Phillips and Davids statements, but let me repeat that it is a blessing to use an optic like this. Like the Loxia 2.8/21, I just love to take the lens out and see how the final images look like.  It inspires me and it doesn’t get in my way, even in the worst conditions. Furthermore, I think that this lens is a bargain for what it does and for its great build quality, even at the full retail price.

New Gear

  • Contax 100-300* – The best manual telezoom lens in my opinion. It is still competing with the best modern designs when it comes to resolution.
  • The search for a new camera series will contine, you will be surprised 🙂

Bastian’s favorites

Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D FE

scotland vm cv 35mm 1.7 sony a7rii a7rm2 review
Sony A7rII | Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D | f/8.0
laowa 15mm 2.0 fe venus optics review coma astro astrophotography milkyway milky way
Sony A7s | Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D | f/2.0

This is a lens I have been waiting for since I first heard of it. The last weeks I have been using a review sample and it proved to be one of the most versatile lenses I have used so far. It let’s you get really close for wide angle macro shots with smooth bokeh, makes astrophotography easier because you can actually see something through the viewfinder and is sharp and contrasty for architecture and landscape shots.
And if that isn’t enough look at the size of that lens! Less than half the price, weight and size of the only real competitor, the Sigma Art 14mm 1.8. Only slightly bigger and heavier than the Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 III but more than two stops faster.
Electronic contacts would have been nice, but this certainly can’t spoil the game for me. Personally I would have also greatly preferred to see 10 straight aperture blades in this lens to match the rendering of my other lenses.

Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7 Ultron + 5m PCX filter

scotland vm cv 35mm 1.7 sony a7rii a7rm2 review
Sony A7rII | Voigtlander 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX OptoSigma
Sony A7s | Voigtlander 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX OptoSigma | panorama from 4 shots
Sony A7s | Voigtlander 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX OptoSigma | panorama from 4 shots

Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 or Voigtlander 35mm 1.7? This question I was asking myself last time. After having thoroughly used both I settled for the Voigtlander lens because it is smaller and offers better off center sharpness wide open.
The 5m PCX filter really makes this lens shine on the Sony FE cameras, so much I am now even using this lens for astrophotography panorama shots or handhold (if using a tripod is not an option) for cityscapes .

Voigtlander SL 180mm 4.0 APO Lanthar

voigtlander 180mm 4.0 apo lanthar sl sony a7 a7rii a7r2 a7rm2 review tele 200mm sharpness bokeh
Sony A7rII | Voigtlander SL 180mm 4.0 APO Lanthar | f/5.6
voigtlander 180mm 4.0 apo lanthar sl sony a7 a7rii a7r2 a7rm2 review tele 200mm sharpness bokeh
Sony A7rII | Voigtlander SL 180mm 4.0 APO Lanthar | f/4.0

This rare lens has proved to be more useful than I would have expected myself. In the past I haven’t been the biggest fan of tele lenses because most of them were either to bulky (e.g. Nikon Ai-S 180mm 2.8 ED) and/or optically not good enough for me (e.g. Leica-R 180mm 4.0) and on top of that had bad minimum focus distances.
With the Voigtlander SL 180mm 4.0 APO Lanthar this is a whole different story: with adapter it is about as big and heavy as the Loxia 85mm 2.4, features a real APO design without even the slightest hint of longitudinal chromatic aberrations and offers a maximum magnification of 1:4 without any extenders or close up lenses.
So in the last 6 months this lens gave me many great shots, as – unlike the other tele lenses before – this one could almost always be found in my bag.
There are just 2 caveats: there haven’t been enough made and therefore the used prices are ridiculously high (considering the non existent alternatives I could still justity the price though) and contrast is not as high as recent Zeiss Loxia or Voigtlander E-mount lenses.
I still hope we will see an E-mount reincarnation of this lens to give more people the chance to use it!

New lenses / Upcoming articles:

  • Canon EF 200mm 1.8 L – As a Nikon user I was shooting with the Nikon AF-S 200mm 2.0 VR but unfortunately adapting Nikon glass to Sony E-mount cameras still isn’t working so well. On top of that I always wanted to try this one out…
  • Olympus OM Zuiko 180mm 2.0 – Finding one of these took me quite a lot of time, but I finally tracked one down in a finnish camera store. This is definetly the most portable lens in this class at “only” 1700g, so let us see how it stacks up against the Canon mentioned above.
  • Jupiter-11 135mm 4.0 – My Jupiter reviews proved to be quite popular so far (especially the one covering the Jupiter-9 85mm 2.0) so I will also have a look at this very affordable lens.
  • Peak Design anchor links – As an early adopter of these little things I will be adding to David’s article.

Later:

  • Sigma 150mm 2.8 HSM (non OS) macro – one of my workhorse lenses which I use for almost all of my product shots here, but also a lens I usually don’t take out because it is big, heavy and not so comfortable to use without a tripod
    (yes, this text was already in the last article from this series…)
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The Team

The team, that are three gearheads Bastian, Jannik and Phillip from Germany who all like to use manual lenses.

25 thoughts on “The Team’s favorite lenses – October 2017 Edition”

  1. Great write up guys! They’re all interesting choices.

    David the Helios 44-2 is an amazing lens. It’s one of my go to lenses, the other is the Otus 55mm. They render images at the opposite ends on the spectrum regarding Bokeh but usable sharpness is much better than you would imagine. It obviously would depend on the specific lens (have 3 Helios’) and I’m sure shooting tests would revel massive discrepancies but in the real world (of portraits) I’m often amazed at the results from the Helios 44-2.

    The Helios 44-2 works wonders on skin not because it’s lacking in contrast but rather it can flatten the range for certain exposures. It’s a lot like a Cooke lens in cinematography, it has a slight warmth to it and results in smother skin with out losing lots of sharpness.

    The thing you will first notice is that you photos look like they have been Instagramed without using any filters, you have to adjust your post processing. This ‘style’ can also be a positive depending on the look your going for.

    I work in the film industry and the Otus literally is like a mini Arri/Zeiss Master Prime. The Helios has the rendering and the look of older Panavision Anamorphic or Cooke lenses. So much so that I made a oval aperture ring and put it in a Helios 44-2 to give me oval Bokeh. If you want a reference of these lenses the original Blade Runner was shot on Panavision Anamorphic lenses and the sequel is shot on Arri/Zeiss Master Primes. Note the difference in sharpness will also be related to the film stock used vs the digital film of an Arri Alexa. The Helios 44-2 is great for higher contrast lighting ratios and the back lighting of people.

    The bokeh for both these lenses is great for filming. I love the Helios 44-2 soap bubbles because if I want perfect I’ll grab the Otus. Also changing subject distance can mitigate the bubbles.

    Another thing I like about the Helios 44-2 is that I can put it on my camera and take it to the beach to photograph my kids. I’m also in Australia so we go to the beach a lot in summer. If the sand ruinous my Helios I can just buy another, thats something I am unable to afford with my works Otus.

    Thanks to all of you for you hard work on this site!

  2. Always good to have this team as a lens touchstone!

    When you get into the Peak Design anchor links, check out the Peak Design Capture Clip as well. That is indispensable gear for me, as a lens-changer. It’s like a shelf where I can put a camera while I’m messing about in the bag, or where I can put one camera while grabbing another without having to go in and out of the bag.

  3. Hi Guys!
    I really enjoy reading your blog and visit it very often!
    I was considering to buy the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f2, but two of you put the Voigtlander 35mm 1.7 as one of their favorite lenses and that made me think.
    Could you maybe help me out – why do you prefer the voigtlander?

    Thank you in advance!

    1. The others, who have listed the CV 35 will no doubt say why.
      I have the Loxia 35 and have no plans to get the CV, fantastic though it is.
      I think the CV 35 is the better lens (with front lens correction filter) as an allround 35. It’s better at wide apertures than the Loxia. Better at f1.7 than Loxia at f2.
      But if you have a two lens solution — one for bokeh and wide apertures, one for landscape – I’d go with the Loxia, marginally. it seems to have just a touch more contrast of a kind that you can’t quite manage in post when it’s stopped down. I am a huge fan of the FE 1.4/35 for portraits (gorgeous bokeh, despite the occasional onion ring and LoCA). And eye AF is grea for people But it’s bigger than I want for landscape, and doesn’t have nice sunstars. So for me it’s FE + Lox. But, as I said, if you want only one manual 35, the CV+front lens is the go.

      1. I have been doing some comparison of 35mm lenses for landscape at far infinity, Samyang AF 35mm f2.8,Minolta md 35mm f2.8,Contax Zeiss 35mm f2.8(CY),Leica r 35mm f2.8 iii and Sony FE Zeiss 35mm f1.4. The best of them all for landscape was Sony FE 35mm f1.4, it seems to be very well corrected lens and is very sharp. I didnt buy it for landscaping, but that lens seems to bee the perfect choise if Image quality is your priority, but the downside is the weight of 630g.

    2. My guess is because it’s a sharper lens, especially when used with the front end filter that Bastian linked to. But the Loxia is still a good lens and has very sharp center wide open and performs well when stopped down. You get the bonus of not having to deal with adapters or filters as well. I don’t think the Loxia is a bad buy though I’d probably try to find a good condition used copy to save a few hundred $. I saved over $300 when buying my Loxia 50 by buying it used and it was in brand new condition.

        1. The Ultron has very nice bokeh. I hope Voigtlander makes an e-mount version eventually, I’m just not sure I want to spend the money on the lens, helicoid adapter and the front filter. I will probably just get by with FE 28mm F2 (or my Minolta 35mm F2.8 if I’m really feeling 35mm) until something I really like comes along in 35mm for e-mount. It’s too bad the Loxia 35 isn’t as good as the 21, I’d buy it in a heartbeat then. It’s a tad overpriced for the results IMO. I’ve seen a couple used copies at a price I’d consider but they always go quickly.

          1. As Cosina has just released the 40mm 1.2 and is about to release the 35mm 1.4 classic I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath for an E-mount remake of the 35mm 1.7.
            Furthermore: looking at the 40mm 1.2 I am not even sure an E-mount remake would be better than the M-mount version + PCX filter.

        2. I am tempted by the Ultron, but I am spoiled by EXIF recording and the Loxia 35 is pretty much faultless as a landscape lens.

  4. Interesting how many of these favorites are my favorites as well – the Laowa 15/2, the Loxia 21, the CV65.

    I would only add to this list the Sony 100 STF (best bokeh of any lens, ever), and might add the 70-400 and the Batis 135 once I buy them, if they are as good as promised.

  5. Hi guys!
    I just received the CV 35 1.7 as a birthday gift 😀
    I am wondering… Can you point at the right place for me to buy The 5m PCX filter?
    Thank you!

      1. Thank you!

        I am in NYC, does that help?
        To be clear – the lens is the Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f/1.7, I feel like I made a mistake calling it CV 35mm, or did I?

          1. Great, and one more question… okay, a couple of them. 🙂
            Do I buy this lens and it comes mounted from them or is there any assembly necessary?

            And, would you say its a must have or can I get by without it?

          2. I don’t know what your applications for this lens are and what your demands are like.
            You can have a look at this with/without filter comparison:
            https://www.flickr.com/photos/140854680@N04/32534945762/in/dateposted-public/
            I surely won’t be using the lens without filter on a Sony camera ever again.

            I further recommend reading this article.

            As I received this question more than once I decided to provide a step-by-step instruction for mounting that filter:
            https://www.flickr.com/photos/140854680@N04/albums/72157688154540524/with/37798332872/

          3. It will be interesting when Voigtlander brings out their E mount version of these lens how much they will fix it and how much of the magic will be vanished – if any.

            Part of me is hesitating buy one of the Ultron/Nocton because I want the same image quality like M mount, and I don’t want to hassle with filters. On the other hand, part of the magic comes from the pop they create through field curvature. If they fix that the magic is partly gone.

  6. If David is going to review the Helios 44 lenses, he should also have a look at later versions of that lens, like the Helios 44M-7. They render completely different vs. the Helios 44-2. It’s certainly up to taste which one you prefer. I like the increased sharpness and higher contrast of the newer ones much more. Also handling and build quality.

    I bought the cheapest Helios years ago on classifieds which turned out to be a Helios 44M-4. And I really love its rendering for both portraits and landscape, color and monochrome. Last year, I bought the Helios 44M-2 for better bokeh (due number of blades). But it turns out it’s not really better but different, it’s very soft, flares like hell, very low contrast, and the handling with the pre-set aperture and clickless aperture is not my cup of tea. I’m now aiming for a 44M-7 with again increased sharpness and better coatings.

    I just want to make you aware of the differences. When people talk about “the” Helios and a Biotar copy, they seem to be not aware that there is not one Helios but many and they differ in rendering like completely different lenses. And because you may not like one, it doesn’t mean you don’t like the other too.

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