Voigtlander SL 125mm f/2.5 Macro APO Lanthar Lens Test Review

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The Voigtlander (Voigtländer), pronounced fohgt-len-der, APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 lens was produced as part of a limited edition series of high-end SLR lenses produced in Japan by Cosina starting in 2001.  When the APO-Lanthar 125s were available new, they could be bought for about $600 - $750 new, I owned 125 and 180 APO-Lanthars in 2003, selling them a couple of years later for a nice profit. Today in 2017 the APO-Lanthar 125 sells for $1,200 to $1,800 USD with asking prices up to $2,000 to $3,000 on Ebay.  These prices prove that the lens still enjoys a cult following, this lens has to one of the most legendary macro lenses in modern history. Does the performance of the lens, match its legendary status? 

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The build quality of the this lens is excellent, and thanks to an outer metal shell and a very smooth and very well damped focus ring, the lens is a pleasure to use. Each one of these lenses has a focus helicoid that is lapped by a master craftsman for super smooth and precision movement. Lapping is process where the two helicoid barrels are worked together with an abrasive between them for the ultimate closeness-of-fit. The lens uses a very sturdy duo cam focus design and it extends substantially when focusing towards very close distances. The overall mechanical design identical to the Zeiss ZF lens line which are also manufactured by Cosina.

Voigtländer was founded in 1756, in Austria, and is probably the oldest camera brand name. Since then the company has had a few new owners, like Schering, Zeiss and Rollei. Later the name disappeared, until the late 1990s, when Cosina licensed the name rights for the SL series, which sold almost unnoticed by consumers, and did not become popular until years later. The overall design of the APO-Lanthar, is very close to the classic Zeiss ZF, ZF2, ZE, ZK, and ZM lenses, which are also manufactured by Cosina in Japan. 

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TECHNICAL DETAILS

Type: manual focus macro lens Focal length: 125mm at infinity   Aperture: 9 blades

Magnification range: 1X - infinity

Coverage: Full frame  Working distance: Good. 

Chromatic Aberration Correction: Overall the APO-Lanthar is about as good as you can get in a consumer market lens.  

Lens mount: Nikon Ai-S mount Filter threads: 58mm  Coverage: Full frame. 

Optical design: 11 elements in 9 groups including 2 ED elements 

Manual helical focusing direction: Nikon style direction  

Cost: The cost of the APO-Lanthar 125 was has increased over the years, when the lens was available new, the retail price in Japan was 95,000 yen or $740 USD, today it can sell for 2X that price. Boxed lenses on Ebay can sell for over $2000. You should be able to find a nice clean APO-Lanthar 125 for about $1700-1800 USD.

Production Numbers: 2001, less than 10,000 units.

Accessories: Screw in lens cap, square lens hood, and dedicated rubber cap for the hood.

Image quality: Considering that this lens design is almost 20 years old, and uses only 2 ED elements, the image quality is very impressive. It is one of the sharpest and well corrected lenses I have ever used.

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RATING

What I like about the lens
High end sharpness holds up on a modern 45MP sensor.
The 9 blade, round iris.
The APO-Lanthar's square lens hood is great, complete with bayonet mount, and crinkle paint.
The aperture ring is so precise, it's pretty easy to set quarter stops, in between the factory half-stops.
APO-Lanthars on the used market are in excellent shape, since almost all are in the hands of collectors, not photographers.

Things that I dislike about the lens
Price on the used market.
The legendary reputation of the lens keeps prices up on Ebay.

Things I am disappointed with
No tripod mount

Things I don't need
The retro chrome style cues don't belong on a serious professional tool, personally I would have preferred a boring flat black barrel.

Sharpness Test

A highly detailed, high-contrast test target like the wafer used here, will tend to reveal sharpness differences and chromatic aberration much more strongly than a real-world image.

Test setup notes

-The Nikon D850 camera was vertically mounted on a Nikon MM-11 stand for this test.
-For each lens and each aperture setting focus was bracketed and the sharpest image was chosen at 100% view in photoshop.
-Manual mode was used at ISO 64.
-To avoid any sharpness loss due to vibration a Nikon SB-R200 flash was used at 1/16th to 1/2 power. -The flash remained in place for the entire test to avoid changes in light angle, the flash was mounted on a flash bracket bolted to an optical breadboard.
-RAW NEF files were processed in Photoshop CC with all noise reduction and lens correction turned off, all settings were zeroed out and the same white balance setting used for all the images.
-All crops are shown here at 100% actual pixel view. 
-All of the test result images are single frames.
-To avoid focus shifts with aperture changes, 10-15 shots were made at 40 micron steps at each aperture.
-The sharpest images were chosen at 100% actual pixel magnification, cropped and saved in Photoshop.
-Although the sharpest aperture is shown, each lens was shot in full stops from wide open down to f/8 or f/11.
-Results of the other apertures will be posted on the individual lens pages (coming soon).

The target is a silicon wafer shot at 1X, the un-cropped full frame image is below with the crop target areas highlighted in blue. 

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100% pixel view crops of the center, edge, and far corner.
Clicking on each image will open a new window with a full-size version of the crop.

APO-Lanthar 125mm center crop at f/2.5

APO-Lanthar 125mm center crop at f/4

APO-Lanthar 125mm center crop at f/5.6

APO-Lanthar 125mm center crop at f/8

APO-Lanthar 125mm edge crop at f/2.5

APO-Lanthar 125mm corner crop at f/2.5

APO-Lanthar 125mm edge crop at f/4

APO-Lanthar 125mm corner crop at f/4

APO-Lanthar 125mm edge crop at f/5.6

APO-Lanthar 125mm corner crop at f/5.6

APO-Lanthar 125mm edge crop at f/8

APO-Lanthar 125mm corner crop at f/8

Longitudinal chromatic aberration test

LoCAs are purple and green fringing seen in the out of focus areas in front of and behind the focus point of an image.  LoCAs are common and extremely difficult to correct, so chances almost all of your lenses will have at least a trace, you just never noticed. 

Test Setup
D810 camera was mounted on a Newport PRC-3 rail carrier and Arca Swiss style quick release clamp and moved back and forth to accommodate the different focal length lenses set at 1X. The Newport PRL dovetail rail system was bolted to a Thorlabs aluminum breadboard with a printed target set at 30 degrees on a tilt head. A single Nikon SB-R200 flash and the tilt head remained in place during the test.

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Center crop area at 100% actual pixel view. Click on the image below to open a new window with a full-size version of the test result comparison.

The Voigtländer cleans up by f/4 but so does the Sigma 150. Overall the Sigma is just slightly cleaner wide open but it can be hard to see.

Lateral chromatic aberration 1X test
CAs are the purple and green fringing you can see in the corners of an image, around hard edges, that result in softening of the image in the edges and corners. Lateral chromatic aberration or lateral CAs don't affect the center of the image at all, but has an increasing effect further away from the center. Most photographers don't even notice the actual purple fringing since its corrected automatically in camera or in RAW file conversion. In some cases the automatic correction cannot be disabled in RAW conversion. See the CA test page for more info: https://www.closeuphotography.com/ca-test/

Test Setup
D810 camera was mounted on a Newport PRC-3 rail carrier and Arca Swiss style quick release clamp and moved back and forth to accommodate the different focal length lenses set at 1X. The Newport PRL dovetail rail system was bolted to a Thorlabs aluminum breadboard. The laser printed test target was taped to a Newport 460P XYX micrometer controlled setup. A single Nikon SB-R200 flash was used for lighting and was bolted to an articulating flash arm.

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Un-cropped 1X full frame CA test image showing the crop area highlighted in blue.

The images below were cropped 200% pixel view in Photoshop CC.

200% magnification view of the APO-Lanthar 125mm lens at f/2.8

200% magnification view of the Sigma 150mm OS APO lens at f/2.8

200% magnification view of the Sigma 180mm APO lens at f/2.8

Out of these 3 lenses, the 125 APO-Lanthar, the Sigma 150 and the Sigma 180, the Voigtländer is right in the middle for lateral CA correction.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 125 is another excellent lens made by Cosina. Its a shame that these lenses are no longer available, the APO-Lanthar SL series was  discontinued when Cosina started to manufacture the Zeiss lenses in the same facility, in fact the SL lenses look very similar to classic Zeiss ZF series and the build quality is basically identical.

Voigtlander lenses are renown the quality of the bokeh, or out-of-focus background blur, and this lens is the best of them all. The build quality of the APO-Lanthar 125 is excellent and it is a pleasure to use the lens. The APO-Lanthars never had the mainstream appeal that a Nikon or Canon macro lens has due to the lack of AF and in lens stabilization but for those that appreciate the classic handling and quality of this type of lens than I would recommend getting your hands on one.

Links for more Information on the Voigtländer APO-Lanthar:

http://www.cosina.co.jp/seihin/voigtlander/english/reason/index.html

http://www.photozone.de/Reviews/267-voigtlander-sl-125mm-f25-apo-lanthar-test-report--review

http://slrlensreview.com/web/reviews/voigtlander/voigtlander-macro/367-voigtlander-apo-lanthar-macro-125mm-f25-sl-lens-review