LENSES, MUCH like cameras, continue to evolve, and we’re always seeing technical upgrades that are designed to speed up the autofocus performance or maybe add something extra on the image stabilisation front. That’s of great value to the modern professional, of course, but there’s also a place in this day and age for out-and-out quality, both in terms of construction and optical performance.
Here is a German brand that can lay claim to being the oldest lens maker in the world, and whose products have been hand crafted in Japan since 1999. When the world’s first camera was released in 1839, Voigtlander set out to produce the first mathematically calculated precision Petzval portrait photographic lens – at f/3.6, the fastest lens on the planet at that time – followed by the world’s first all-metal Daguerreotype camera, while also bringing out photographic plate cameras shortly afterwards. That kind of heritage is simply mind blowing, and it helps to explain why the brand is held in such incredibly high regard by professionals around the world to this day.
In terms of what it offers, quite simply the Voigtlander line-up is there to do a professional job, and the moment you pick one of the lenses up you’re aware immediately of the quality of the product. Their all-metal construction ensures that they feel solid and substantial, though not over-heavy.
Traditional in appearance, they also adhere to old-school values, being designed to be manual focus, with a heavily ridged casing to ensure a good grip for the operator. Anathema perhaps to a good photographer born and raised on AF, but when you have
experienced the silky-smooth movement of the focusing mechanism you start to get a feel for why the brand has stuck to its core values.
And there is much to recommend the manual approach, with those who regularly work in this way finding that they have full control of where the focus in their frame is going to fall, particularly important should you be looking to work close-in using a wide aperture to create sumptuous areas of creamy bokeh, something Voigtlander lenses excel at. Technology has its place, of course, but professionals should never discount traditional methods for particular shooting situations.
The aperture ring Voigtlander lenses feature is also an exquisite piece of engineering, with click stops provided at quarter f-stop intervals to ensure the finest of adjustments. Once again, it’s the smoothness of operation that’s such a delight, and it’s clear these lenses are made to be around for the long term, and won’t be outdated by the next piece of cutting-edge technology.
Naturally, all of this would count for little if the optical quality wasn’t at a similarly high level, but of course it is, and the crisp, sharp and contrast-filled results that the Voigtlander range is renowned for is there for all to see. And for those who are looking for ultra-fast lenses that allow depth-of-field to be reduced to an absolute minimum, there are some absolute gems in the line-up, in the shape of the legendary Nokton lenses, which can open up to a jaw-dropping f/0.95 if required. While modern cameras might offer ISO levels that virtually allow you to shoot in the dark, there’s still nothing around that can quite match the unmistakable look, and feel, of a quality lens that’s being used wide open.
All of which helps to explain why Voigtlander lenses are so highly regarded by the likes of Leica users, who enjoy pairing their similarly iconic and traditional quality camera bodies with lenses that share the same values. Invest in a lens that’s this well put together and you’re essentially acquiring kit that will hold its value and potentially last you for a substantial part of your entire career. It’s very much the way things used to be, and it’s a testament to a product that’s the antithesis of the throwaway society.
One of those who is a long-time user of Voigtlander lenses in a professional situation is Stu Culley, who regularly covers everything from school photography through to weddings, architecture and product photography. Stu has been a regular user of Voigtlander lenses since 2000, and he’s been with the brand long term because he appreciates the reliability they offer and the quality of the results they allow him to achieve.
“These are lenses that are really built to last,” he says. “The attention to detail is outstanding: inside, for example, there’s a mixture of brass and aluminium parts, and different metals have been used because this then means that they won’t wear at the same rate or in the same way, building in longevity.
“My regular lens is a 40mm f/2, which is a joy to use and it’s the perfect focal length for so many things. The build quality is excellent and Voigtlander lenses also deliver incredible optical quality. I took a shot using my 20mm once which went on to be used on a 48-sheet poster, and the file was totally up to the job.
“The reliability of the lenses is also off the scale. I recently did a job in a school where the camera and lens were locked down, and I just shot with it all day without any trouble at all. I’ve also got a 20mm, 28mm and a 58mm, with the latter being the perfect long shot portrait lens. It lets me knock out the background if I want, but doesn’t have too much of the feel of a telephoto. The Voigtlander lenses are also very kind on people’s skin, since the results they deliver are based on resolution and not contrast.”
While he adores the vintage style of his Voigtlander lenses, Stu is also a pragmatist, as every professional surely has to be, and because of this he also has fast AF lenses tucked away in his gadget bag for occasions when they’re needed. “It’s just a question of what might best on a particular shoot,” he says. “If I’m at a wedding, for example, where things tend to be hectic, then AF can be a real advantage. But if I’m shooting interiors, or maybe I’m working on a product shot, then I’m not likely to need AF in the same way.
“I love the chance to work with such beautiful precision engineered products. I suppose the analogy would be that it’s a little like owning a watch: you could buy one that’s budget battery-operated, which will keep brilliant time and be cheap enough to replace every couple of years, or you could go for something like an Omega or a Rolex, that might not even keep quite as good time, but which are with you for the long term and are just such a beautiful thing to be using.”
Voigtlander lenses are imported into the UK by Flaghead and are sold through Robert White, and they’re available in Micro Four Third, Leica, Nikon/Canon (including Z Mount) and Sony fit, in focal lengths ranging from 10to 90mm. Check out the Robert White or Voigtlander websites for a full run down of the wide range of lenses that are available.
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