The Team’s favorite lenses – May 2018 Edition

Half a year has passed and much has changed, not only in our camera bags. This is our second “Team’s Favourites” since David from Australia joined us. How time flies!

David’s favorites

In deciding what to mention this time, I have gone partly by usage. The ones that have made the most pictures I like since last time, for whatever reason. And where there’s a tie, I’ll favour something I didn’t list last time to provide more variety for you! So don’t think that I don’t still love the three lenses in last year’s edition!

Voigtländer Nokton 1.2/40

This is a lens with a slightly mixed reputation. Many people are raving about it: the best standard lens you can get. Others are complaining about some issues (axial colour, field curvature, focus shift as you stop down) and don’t like it at all. I love the lens, but it’s unrealistic to imagine that an f1.2 lens of this size – tiny by f1.2 standards – could be flawless. It would be bigger than an Otus if were! After all Otuses are only f1.4.

So what do you get? Excellent performance stopped down, with lovely sunstars and good contrast and flare resistance (the last amazing given it’s f1.2). You get decent central performance wide open at distances more than a metre or so, much better than classic f1.2 lenses. You get the thinnest available DOF for a lens of this angle of view: which is very nice, because it’s a focal length which repays thin DOF in images, and one where it’s hard to achieve thin DOF technically. So you get multiple lenses in one. If you can be bothered using a two element achromatic close up lens, you can massively enhance the wide open close distance quality. You need to focus at f4 for f4 and smaller apertures, and you need to pay a bit of attention to field curvature.You also need to watch out for situations in which the corner bokeh can get a little nervous  (but in many situations the bokeh is glorious). But if you are happy with all that, you get an wonderful lens, capable of many different and interesting looks.

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

This one is very expensive. But it’s one of the most optically perfect lenses you can buy for the E mount. Its price is high, though deals have started to appear. But given how 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’s 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.

 Zeiss Loxia Distagon T* 35mm f2.0

This is a lens I’ve had for a fairly long time, and didn’t myself review. But looking at the images I’ve taken with it lately, it must surely be a favourite, even it isn’t exotic.

It’s a lens that is thought of as the weakest of the Loxia lenses. In some ways that is fair. It’s certainly the most uneven. You have to like spherical aberration and bokeh oddities to use it at f2 (though there are times when that looks OK). But stopped down it has a certain brilliance – a kind of bright contrast – that not even the cv 1.7/35 Ultron, which is probably a better all-purpose solution, possesses. ‘Brilliance’ is the kind of unscientific wine-buff language that could easily be the result of unconscious bias. But it is, for sure, very sharp and contrasty stopped down. Add to that the fact that is beautifully made like all Loxias, and a joy to use, and there’s no doubt that it’s more of a favourite than some higher performing lenses. Of course I eagerly anticipate even finer 35mm lenses. It’s such a bread-and-butter focal length that it’s odd that there are even better lenses at more obscure focal lengths.

Coming Soon

  • Voigtländer  Apo Lanthar 110mm f2.4 I plan to review this lens as soon as it’s available. I hopeful of getting a very early sample. It may prove an even better short tele macro than the remarkable FE 90. Or it might be that the extending design, while optically sound, proves a nuisance in the field.
  • Loxia 25 versus Batis 25 – We are providing very thorough coverage of the new Loxia 25. Of course for site focussed (even if not exclusively) on manual lenses for FE mount the Loxia series is very important. After Phillip’s review and Bastian’s comparison with Loxia 21, I will compare it with the autofocus Batis 25 to see what you lose and what you gain.

Phillip’s favorites

As anticipated I found a lot less time for photography in the last months but I am enough of a gearhead that I got to use a few new lenses.

Voigtlander 2/65 APO: Nothing has changed at the top of my list. It was my most used lens in the last few months.

Loxia 2.4/25: I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing that lens. my only issue is that I can justify a Loxia 21 and a 25 so I still haven’t decided which one I will get in the end. I think as a single lens the 25 would work better for me but within a kit the 21 makes more sense.

Voigtlander 1.2/40: I bought one to potentially replace my dear CV 1.7/35 and gain the comfort of a native lens as well as some speed. I haven’t used it a lot so far so but I think that it will replace the CV35 for me even though that is a better lens in some regards and close enough in others.

New Lenses

I don’t have a long list of lenses which are waiting for a review at the moment.

Canon nFD 4/200 (IF) – A very compact and affordable lens. It has quite a lot of CA but at the same time it is pretty sharp with decent bokeh so it works well for most of my applications.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar 2.8/90A very kind reader of the blog modified my copy for me so that it now has a real focus helicoid and focuses down to 50 cm. It is an excellent example of a very small lens with very good image quality and I use it pretty often.

Jannik’s favorites

Jannik didn’t find the time to write about his favorite lenses because of work. But we can report that he has sold his Nikon D750 and replaced it with a Sony a7III and is very happy about that decision.

Bastian’s favorites

Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8

zeiss loxia 21mm 2.8 hallstatt hallstadt halstadt austria city snow snowy winter
Sony A7rII | Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8 | f/8.0
puente vasco de gama bridge portugal lisbon lissabon lisboa
Sony A7rII | Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8 | f/11

Since the day I bought it this has become my favorite lens for landscape and architecture. The focal length is perfect for these applications and in terms of image quality it is really top notch. Best thing: it is super compact as well.

Zeiss Loxia 85mm 2.4

zeiss loxia lake bled portrait 85mm 2.4
Sony A7rII | Zeiss Loxia 85mm 2.4 | f/2.4
zeiss loxia lake bled portrait 85mm 2.4
Sony A7rII | Zeiss Loxia 85mm 2.4 | f/5.6 | panorama from 5 shots

This is still an underrated lens, probably as there are many faster and cheaper 85mm lenses available. I usually use it for landscape and architecture with stitched panoramas, but the bokeh is really clean which is quite rare among 85mm lenses.

MS-Optics Aporis 135mm 2.4 Fluorit MC

saxony switzerland sächsische schweiz lilienssteinkiefer
Sony A7rII | MS-Optics Aporis 135mm 2.4 | f/2.4 | panorama from 5 shots
hong kong portrait butcher asia wet market
Sony A7rII | MS-Optics Aporis 135mm 2.4 | f/2.4

The Aporis is not as well corrected as e.g. the Loxias or even the Canon EF 135mm 2.0 L (except for loCA), still I find myself putting it in my bag quite often. The small size and weight are just too convenient to pass on and image quality is a clear step up from the older legacy 135mm lenses. Add to that pretty nice bokeh (which can be adjusted to taste)  and you know why this has become my favorite pick when I only take two lenses or want to travel light and need a longer lens.

New lenses / Upcoming articles:

  • Loxia 25mm 2.4 – Got the chance to use our review sample for two weeks but will stick with the Loxia 21mm 2.8.
  • Voigtlander 40mm 1.2 Nokton E – Got the chance to use Phillip’s sample for two weeks, but for landscape/architecture I like the VM 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX more and for portraiture I like the Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 more, so I will pass on the 40mm.
  • Carl Zeiss Visionar 109mm 1.6 – A projector lens which has been modified with a helicoid. Big aperture for low price, but no diaphragm and really bad flare resistance.
  • Pocket Pano Vario – A lightweight and compact multi row panorama setup. From the first look this seems to be really well made, but I want to use it a bit more in the field before writing a review.

Later:

  • Sigma 105mm 1.4 Art – With the bigger than necessary front element this might show considerably less cat’s eyes than comparable lenses, or at least I hope so.
  • 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, still didn’t write a review of this one…)
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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

38 thoughts on “The Team’s favorite lenses – May 2018 Edition”

  1. Always happy to see your blog been updated! In terms of new lenses, I wonder if any of you guys has the new tamron 28-75 2.8? That is one compact lens that attracts so many attention these days. If you guys could review it, that would be brilliant. Thanks again for your blog, very imformative!!

    1. Jannik has it preordered and I consider it so there is a good chance that you will se a review. Since we are both faced with pretty demanding jobs at the moment I won’t promise that it will be very timely.

      1. Really looking forward to your test on that zoom~ BTW, Sigma FE Primes have been released these days, I guess you guys are not interested, are you?

        1. Those are the same as the old EF-mount lenses coupled with MC-11, can’t understand why people are so excited.
          14mm 1.8: I would not get because of Laowa 15mm 2.0
          20mm 1.4 / 24mm 1.4: might make sense if you need a lens like that (a true mirrorless version should be smaller and/or better, GM 24mm 1.4 is already rumored)
          35mm 1.4: might make sense as unlike the Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA the Sigmas often leave the factory well centered and it is not really bigger than the Zony
          50mm 1.4: if you are looking for a 50mm 1.4 for astrostitching get it
          70mm 2.8 macro: might be nice for people who rely on AF for their macro work
          85mm 1.4: I would not get because of FE 85mm 1.4 GM
          105mm 1.4: might be interesting if it has next to no mechanical vignetting, I am curious to try it out
          135mm 1.8: seems to be a fine lens
          500mm 4.0: that is the one that would make real sense because there is no competition, but has not yet been announced for FE

          12-24mm 4.0: maybe better flare resistance than the Sony? If not hard pass (= get the Sony 12-24mm 4.0).
          14-24mm 2.8: too big for my taste (would rather get the GM 16-35mm 2.8)
          24-35mm 2.0: odd lens, too big for my taste
          24-105mm 4.0: corners at 24mm sucked big time on my sample, huge and heavy, get the native one
          100-400mm 5-6.3: too slow
          150-600mm 5-6.3: for those who need it might be interesting

  2. Hi, I would have liked to buy the voigtlander 40mm f1.2, but, because of the too high price, I settled for vm 40mm f1.4. I hope to see a review of this lens too.
    Best regards.
    Antonio

    1. Not very likely I’m afraid because none of us currently owns it. I had one years ago. It’s very small, but the contrast and resolution are very low outside the centre used on Sony until f8 where it was OK. But of course if you like the look, it gives you speed in a tiny package, and resolution and contrast aren’t everything in images.

  3. Interesting to see someone rave about the 35mm lox. It gets trashed on line for it’s bokeh which is hard to deny, but the color and contrast is brilliant. I really don’t see much diff. To the 50 which oddly gets praised instead. I’d love to interview the designers and ask about what were they’re priorities with these designs. I’d imagine stopped down work.

    1. Did I rave? It’s true I love it, but am very aware of it’s shortcomings! I’m pretty sure it should be possible to make a lens as good or better stopped down and stellar wide open to. To be honest, the ZM 1.4/35 is as good as the Loxia stopped down according to reliable reports and better at wider apertures (though with some issues that have stopped me parting with the big bucks). I await the perfect 35. But this articles was not about perfect lenses, or the best ones, but favourite ones – so I chose based what I’ve actually used.

  4. Very interesting insights. I enjoyed the read. It seems Zeiss and Voigtländer dominate the camera bags of you guys. What happened to all of that Minolta lenses? What’s about that perfect Olympus OM 100mm F2? Is it that old legacy lenses of Leica, Canon, Konica or Fuji can not keep up with modern lenses? I’m just curious. On the other hand I’m still waiting of a Voigtländer 35mm F1.2 review in comparison to the new 40mm F1.2. So I’m a CV and Zeiss fan myself. 😉

    1. Well, I am no longer a student so my budget has grown quite a bit and paying significantly more for modest improvements in performance doesn’t seem like such a foolish idea anymore. With modern manual lenses you get what I liked so much about legacy lenses (the handling) with the benefits of modern optical design like very efficient coatings and yes, also better sharpness. At times I still like to take out my legacy lenses like the Minolta MC 1.2/58 but more often I appreciate the advantages of modern lenses.

      1. Great article as usual, thanks to all the team!
        On my part I would be able to afford Zeiss or CV lenses. What I like with legacy lenses is being able to shoot film with the same set, so when I travel and I have space, I pack my A7 II, a Canon F1 and 3 canon lenses. I Know it’s a bit heavy, that the performance is not as nice as my Sony. Still I love being able to switch!

  5. Really nice post. I hope it’s a continuing series. I just received the CV 40/1.2 and it’s already my favorite lens. 40mm focal length is a perfect every day compromise and the rendering is lovely. Surprisingly sharp and contrasty at f1.2.

  6. This article came at the right time for me. Phillip, I also like to shoot intimate landscapes. I check your Flickr page to see what lenses you are currently using. Your choice to go for native glass was welcome as it reflects my thinking. I am somewhat tentative and it was nice to have confirmation from a far better photographer than I am who also understands the technology. Guys, thank you for this site. I love all the reviews and articles.

  7. Interesting summary, thanks for that.

    Just curious. Did you guys notice for yourself that there is now no single Sony lens left in your fovourites?

    1. I didn’t even notice.
      But with the GM 85mm 1.4 I may now have finally found a Sony lens I actually like and that is in fact better than the competition, not just more expensive.

  8. Would you guys please share what your typical (or untypical) kit consists of? Which lenses do you pair for which situations? How many lenses do you choose?

    I assume you don’t take a 35 and 40 mm with you at the same time. I also know your light hiking kit article. But what else.

      1. I see. I have the RX1R for that reason. But for longer trips and vacation, I reach out for an interchangeable lens camera for different perspectives.

    1. I try not to use more than 3 lenses but sometimes I end up with 4.
      For landscape or travel I usually bring Loxia 21mm 2.8, Voigtlander 35mm 1.7 +5m PCX and Loxia 85mm 2.4. I may add 10mm 5.6 (city), 15mm 2.0 (astro) or a compact panoadapter and I carry a 16mm extension tube for the 85mm.
      I sometimes use Aporis 135mm 2.4 instead of the Loxia 85mm 2.4 when I think I may need more subject separation.

      More often than not I have to switch one or two lenses in that kit for lenses I want/need to review 🙂

      For portrait/reportage/concerts/weddings I use 2 cameras. One with 35mm 1.7 and the other one with 135mm 2.0 (just been replaced by GM 85mm 1.4). If I need wider than 35 (rarely happens) I use the 21mm 2.8. I also bring 180mm 2.0 or 200mm 1.8 for some special shots.

      1. Thank you for your detailed answer, Bastian.

        So, it’s a 3-4 lens kit for you. It’s very similar to mine: 21, 35 or 50 depending on how I want to travel, and 85 mm. Just recently I (re)discovered the joy of shooting with longer lenses (150-200 mm). It’s a different, more graphical perspective.

        For some occasion I also used a 4 lens kit but ended up just using 3 of them or one of them very rarely. So I keep my kit as compact as possible and enjoy being more invisible and agile.

    2. It’s really hard to generalize.
      A road trip in Australia which is all holiday I might take half a dozen lenses. Last one of those I took a Samyang fisheye, batis 17, Lox 21, FE 55, batis 85 and Apo Lanthar 180.

      But road trips are rare, overseas travel I take at most four or fewer if I don’t expect much chance to shoot. Last big trip was Batis 17, Loxia 35, FE 55 and Batis 135.

      Last local trip not by car was just three: Loxia 21, FE 55 and FE90G.

      But these are not standard, when Impack I think about where WIm going, and sometimes just pack something Imhavent used lately.

      Walking around places I know well and will always get back to, like Sydney where I live and work and the NSW Southern Highlands where I also spend time, I generally just take one lens that suits my mood.

  9. 50mm?
    For me that’s the walk around lens I do like the most. Why do you guys leaf it out of your box? Is there a reason?
    And I also want to know what you think of the quality of the Voigtlander lenses, and how to get it repaired?

    1. For my part I can say there is still no 50mm lens that I really like.
      They are either too big, too slow, need to be stopped down a lot for decent sharpness, bokeh not good enough or several of those.

      Getting Voigtlander lenses repaired is kinda shit, unless you live in or close to Japan.
      Every lens has to go back to Cosina in Japan to be repaired.
      From Germany took a good 2 months to get it repaired.

  10. I’ve got a question for Bastian. I believe your most recent pick for astrophotography is the Laowa 15 in lieu of the Batis 18. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on the Laowa 12 in the native FE mount? Have you used it? I saw the adapted review from a couple of years ago and am wondering why you haven’t jumped on the Laowa 12/? It seems like it would be right up your alley. I’m about to buy a lens purely for astro and would like to know I am getting the very best one currently available. Thanks for your time.

    1. The Laowa 12mm 2.8 is available for E-mount but it is not exactly a native lens,
      it is the same DSLR lens with built in adapter tube, see this picture.
      So we are speaking of the same lens I already reviewed here.
      It is a good lens but I prefer the 15mm 2.0 for: being one stop faster, being much smaller, having a standard 72mm filter thread.

      1. Thanks for the response. And to confirm…you would take that (Lakes 15), without hesitation over the Batis 18? I believe that is my only other hang up. Again, purely for Astro. Thanks Bastian.

  11. Interesting to see the different favorites of each of you. That Loxia 21/2.8 really seems to be the perfect wide (but not too wide) angle lens for the system.
    For landscape my favorites are the Loxia 50/2 and Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5. For images where bokeh is important I really like the Minolta 50/2. Since a few weeks I also own a Helios 44-2 but bokeh is too busy for my taste. Stopped down a bit, things get much better though…
    I’m already looking forward to the next review, thank you guys!

  12. Since Jannik has the a7iii now, are we going to see a review or a comparison between Janniks and Davids cameras?????
    Loved the fav list as well guys

  13. Hey Phillip and the team! I just have a short question. Which 200mm f/4 do you recommend regarding image quality and weight. You just mentioned the Canon nFD 200 f/4 in this article. The Minolta MC 200 f/4 also got some nice words from you in the past but I actually never found a review of it. Or should I consider a complete different one? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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