Last Updated on 01/27/2023 by Mark Beckenbach
Modern camera lenses lack the soul of the classics. Yes, most are sharp and colorful, and many are weather-sealed. But, they often minimize the flare that adds character. The Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro is the lens for the photographer who wants to bring back that classic soul, without giving up on modern sharpness. One look at the exterior of this lens, and it’s clear it pays homage to film SLR lenses.
Available in Sony E-Mount, the Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 brings a classic feel to modern mirrorless bodies. Yet, it does so without smudging sharpness. That’s a recipe for success on a system known for its technical achievements. Sadly, the lens doesn’t retain the modern weather-sealing that keeps dust and light rain out. But, the blend of sharpness and character may be enough for some photographers to overlook that.
Table of Contents
The Big Picture
The Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 almost finds the perfect balance between classic and modern. It looks fantastic with a classically-inspired metal build. And, of course, the photos ooze character, bokeh, and sharpness. Electronic contacts make shooting a bit easier, despite the lack of an autofocus motor.
That balance is almost perfect; there are just a few things that bothered me about this lens. The first of which is that it’s not weather-sealed and so dust can cause issues. The second is that the lens changes length as it focuses, so composition also changes slightly because the lens is moving.
The mix of sharpness and character with a classic build makes the 110 my favorite out of the three Voigtlander lenses I’ve tried so far. But, the lack of weather-sealing and internal focus dampens the excitement a bit. Therefore, I’m giving the Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 four out of five stars.
- Beautiful metal build
- Classic look and feel
- Plenty of bokeh (though not quite round)
- Flare that’s full of character
- Still very sharp, even toward the edges
- Has electronic contact with the camera
- Not internal focusing (lens changes length as it focuses)
- Not weather sealed
- Manual focus only
The Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 may look like a classic lens, but it was specifically designed for Sony’s E Mount cameras. The design of this lens focuses on minimizing aberration and creating detailed 1:1 reproductions.
The Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 Macro has a very classic exterior. It looks more like the lens on my garage-sale find Pentax K1000 than a lens made for a modern Sony body. That classic look comes in part from a metal build, which makes the lens a hefty 1.7 pounds. About four inches long when stored, the lens changes length as it focuses, with two more sections unfolding from the front. At its minimum focus distance, it’s around twice as long as when focused to infinity.
Closest to the mount, just before the barrel widens, is a narrow aperture ring. The ring clicks nicely from f2.5 to f22. Its narrow size makes it a bit harder to find at first, but adjusting the aperture becomes second nature with some use.
Most of the lens barrel is occupied by the focus ring. A smaller section of that barrel has a patterned texture to it. A depth of field scale is etched into the barrel, the small size showing just how narrow the depth of field is on a 110mm full frame lens.
At the front of the lens, the APO-Lanthar name is etched into the top of the barrel, with the full lens name at the front. It accepts 58mm filters.
Part of this lens’ classic look is the metal build. That’s going to help the lens withstand bumps and scrapes. This lens is probably going to look just as beautiful and classy after years of use.
But, while the metal build looks tough on the outside, there’s nothing to prevent dust from building up inside. The lens isn’t weather-sealed. That’s concerning particularly with the way that the lens expands in three pieces. Getting dust in here could be problematic. So, it’s not a lens I would bring to the beach on a windy day.
While testing this lens, I experienced a weird glitch with in-body stabilization. The camera vibrated for several seconds, feeling similar to shooting with my smartphone and having a call come in while on silent mode. Our research indicated there was likely an issue with the lens communicating with the camera’s in-body stabilization. We theorized that either adjusting the stabilization settings specific to the lens’ focal length instead of the automatic setting or cleaning the electronic contacts would fix the issue. After manually setting the image stabilization system to 105mm (a 110mm setting wasn’t available), I didn’t experience the issue again. And after around an hour without another issue, I cleaned the lens contacts just to be sure.
The Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 is manual focus only. And, as a 110mm full-frame lens, the depth of field is pretty narrow. Thankfully, the lens has electronic contacts with the camera, allowing metadata to be saved and the focus peaking and magnification to be automatically triggered when turning the focus ring. Focusing the lens does take some patience and trial and error, but with focus peaking or magnification, it isn’t terribly difficult.
That macro in the name isn’t a misnomer; this lens has a 1:1 reproduction ratio. It can focus from about 1.1 feet from the lens, but the lens changes length as it focuses. When I wanted that true 1:1, I found it easiest to turn the lens to the closest focus point, then physically move the camera until the subject is in focus.
Ease of Use
Because the length of the lens changes as the focus changes, there is a small change in composition as the lens focuses. That can make it tricky if there are distractions on the edges of the frame. You may have to move in closer after focusing. This then, of course, means re-focusing.
Using the Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 wasn’t as easy as using the Voigtlander 10mm f5.6 I recently tested simply because the 110mm has a narrower margin for error. The 110mm, the f2.5, the macro capabilities, and the full-frame sensor on the camera body work together to create a pretty narrow depth of field. Shooting wide open, you can breathe wrong and end up out of focus. Thankfully, you can still get soft backgrounds when stepping the aperture down, especially when shooting at a 1:1 ratio.
Manual focus lenses are never as simple to use as autofocus lenses. The depth of field makes this particular lens a bit more challenging. However, if there is one type of lens I would buy as a manual focus lens it’s a macro. Unless you’re photographing bugs, most macro subjects aren’t going anywhere while you take the time to focus. In many scenarios when up close, manual focus can be more precise than selecting an autofocus point.
The last few manual focus lenses I tested for Sony E Mount were high on character and low on technical perfection. But, the Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 seamlessly blends character with sharpness. The lens captures plenty of bokeh and beautiful flare, yet edges are sharp and chromatic aberration is hard to find. The Sony system tends to swing pretty hard toward technical accuracy. But, the Voigtlander 110mm brings a refreshing splash of character without destroying the sharpness that often draws photographers to Sony in the first place.
The Voigtlander doesn’t need to be shot wide-open to create bokeh. The 1:1 macro capabilities, 110mm focal length, and full frame sensor create so much bokeh that, even at f11, close-up shots will have soft backgrounds. This is the sort of lens that will often create solid color backgrounds. I spent a lot of time at f5.6, which is a happy medium of soft backgrounds yet focus that is easy to achieve.
While the backgrounds melt like ice cream on a Texas sidewalk, points of light aren’t perfectly round. There are plenty of aperture blades, but the edges are flat, not rounded. That creates a bokeh that’s decagon shaped. The bokeh balls are more rounded towards the center, more cat-eyed at the edges. If a majority of the background is bokeh balls, that effect makes the background appear to swirl a bit.
With this lens, colors span the gamut between true-to-life to softer hues. If you shoot with the narrowest depth of field, the colors feel soft as do the backgrounds. Flare will lighten those colors, but not in an extreme way. A quick fix with the dehaze slider can create consistency between images with flare and images without.
Most of my shots didn’t have detectable chromatic aberration. I did find some occasional purple fringing around the strongest flares. But, these were hard to detect when viewed at 100 percent. The more common problem was a purple flare that affected the tone of the whole image. This is just something to keep in mind: adjusting the angle of the lens slightly can instead grab a more favorable flare.
Character is built in part from that strong bokeh. And shooting toward the light will add even more. The lens gets some nice ghosting dots and rainbow flare when directed toward the sun. Small adjustments allow the flare to go from rainbows to purple and soft. When I shot this lens in a humid greenhouse, the flare looked almost as if it were created with a soft focus filter. Outside that humid environment, flare became more like soft blooms than starburst streaks. The Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 also didn’t create a distracting amount of vignetting or barrel distortion.
I can usually tell right away when manual focus lenses aren’t sharp at the edges because focus peaking will fail to pick up subjects at the edges. That’s not the case here. I think even photographers typically accustomed to Sony’s high-end lenses are going to be happy here. The photo of the cactus above was shot at f2.5. Yet, the spikes present in the focal plane are very sharp in both senses of the word.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy It?
If you want character without sacrificing sharpness and don’t mind taking time to manually focus or occasionally clean your sensor and lens contacts, then buy this lens. The Voigtlander creates beautiful macro images, looks great, and is a joy to use.
If you want to take macro photos on the beach or in the desert, keep looking for something that’s weather-sealed. The external focusing design is going to make the Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 more susceptible to dust.
Lensrentals lists the following specifications for the Voigtlander 110mm f2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro:
- Angle of View: 22.6°
- Aperture Blades: 10
- Autofocus: Manual Focus Only
- Brand: Voigtlander
- Compatibility: Full Frame
- Diameter: 3.1”
- Filter Size: 58.0mm
- Focal Length: 110.0-110.0
- Focus Type: Manual Focus
- Groups/Elements: 12/14
- Hood Included: Yes
- Image Stabilization: No
- Item Type: Lens
- Length: 3.9”
- Lens Type: Telephoto and Macro
- Macro Reproduction Ratio: 1:1
- Max Aperture: 2.5
- Maximum Magnification: 1x
- Minimum Aperture: 22.0
- Minimum Focusing Distance: 1.1 feet
- Mount: Sony E
- Weight: 1.7 lbs.
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