Voigtlander 110mm F2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro Review

December 15, 2021

Voigtlander 110mm F2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro mounted to a Sony A7R IV. The red, green, and blue slashes on the barrel designate its apochromatic design.
Voigtlander 110mm F2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro mounted to a Sony A7R IV. The red, green, and blue slashes on the barrel designate its apochromatic design.

I recently started using a Voigtlander 110mm F2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro in Sony E-mount for a number of digitization projects in conjunction with the Sony A7R IV. I have heard many positive things about the Voigtlander 65mm F2 APO-Lanthar Macro, so when I found out that a 110mm version was announced, my interest was piqued.

As is the case with many lens reviews, there is zero information out there about using this lens in an art reproduction environment, so hopefully this article begins to fill the void.

This is a fully manual focus lens with click-stop apertures every 1/3 stop and electronic contacts to transfer EXIF data like focal length and aperture. A few things intrigued me about this glass.

It is a longer focal length reproduction lens

Just because you can get close to a subject to achieve a desired magnification, it doesn’t mean that you should. A longer focal length lens (i.e. 110mm) allows us to pull the camera back further from the subject than we could with a shorter focal length lens (i.e. 50mm) while retaining the same field of view/magnification. This is due to the fact that the angle of view of the 110mm lens (38º) is narrower than that of the 50mm lens (47º).

In a reprographic environment, the lights are positioned equidistant from the subject and generally at an angle of illumination of 30º. We want to make sure that the lights do not fall within the lens’s family of angles—if they do, they will create undesirable specular reflections on the artwork that will surely obfuscate important details . A camera using the 50mm lens creates a wider family of angles and therefore “sees” the reflection of the lights in the object surface more easily and at a wider range of focus distances than the 110mm lens would.

Diagram showing the Family of Angles in Light—Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter & Paul Fuqua. Disregard the outdated example of setting lights at a 45º angle from the subject plane.Diagram depicting the Family of Angles in Light—Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter & Paul Fuqua. Disregard the outdated example of setting lights at a 45º angle from the subject plane.

A longer focal length, within reason, is generally a great choice for cultural heritage photography because it aids in achieving uniform illumination (due to the aforementioned family of angles example) and reduces distortion (assuming the optics are good, that’s another story). However it’s important to note that a longer focal length is not always most practical. On the copy stand that I use, a Tarsia Technical Industries (TTI) Reprographic Workstation 4060 (40 x 60 inch platform), the motorized column that carries the camera is attached to the base and has limited vertical travel. Using the Voigtlander 110mm, at the top of the column the maximum field of view is 14.4 x 21.6 inches at 440ppi. With our other lens, the Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART, the maximum field of view is 23 x 34.5 inches at 275ppi.

TTI 4060, Sony A7R IV, Voigtlander 110mm F2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro

This is a set from a project where I photographed small, framed photographs. I lit the frames from one direction through diffusion and used bounce to fill in the shadows cast on the photograph by the depth of the frame.

The lens has an apochromatic design

An apochromatic lens (usually designated by the manufacturer with the prefix “APO”) is one that is designed to bring three wavelengths of light into focus at the same plane. In digital photography, these are red, blue, and green. Most lenses are only designed to bring two wavelengths of light into focus at the same plane (red and blue), which causes green light to be slightly mis-focused and cause the chromatic aberration that many of us refer to as “purple fringing.” The Voitlander 110mm F2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro is therefore positioned as an extremely capable reproduction lens, and image analyses via Golden Thread software from my own testing back this claim up.

1:1 magnification and floating elements

I am planning for an upcoming project where I will digitize 8,000 frames from over 200 rolls of 35mm cellulose nitrate film. I will be digitizing the film with a digital camera rather than use a flatbed scanner, drum scanner, or a “simulated” drum scanner (like an Imacon/Hasselblad Flextight). The topic of digitizing film with a camera vs scanner is one that deserves its own blog post. In short, not only is the camera-based method significantly faster than using a scanner…more importantly it is significantly safer for the film from a material handling perspective. Cellulose nitrate film is known to shrink as it ages and is consequently prone to becoming cockled and warped. It would be unthinkable to snap the film flat inside an Epson film holder or place this film in the Imacon film carrier and let it pass through the automated radial-shaped feeder, flexing as it moves past the line sensor.

Thankfully the film I will be working with is in very good condition for its age: it’s perfectly flat and doesn’t show any signs of warping. It will be placed between glass with very small spacers to hold the film nearly flat while relieving any pressure on the film base or emulsion. Afterward, it will be placed on a light box and photographed frame by frame.

The Voigtlander 110mm is one of the few lenses out there with a native Sony E-mount that allows for 1:1 magnification without the use of extension tubes. 1:1 magnification means that at the image of the object projected onto the sensor through the lens is the same exact size as it exists in real life. Since the A7RIV is a full frame, 24mm x 36mm sensor, the capture resolution of the film will be identical to the sensor resolution because the exposed film frame is also 24mm x 36mm. At 1:1, the capture resolution is equal to the sensor resolution.

Some quick math to calculate capture resolution

3.6cm/2.54cm/in = 1.42in | A7RIV pixel count (long edge): 9504px | 9504px/1.42in = 6,690px/in (sensor/capture resolution)

6600ppi far exceeds the spatial resolution requirements for FADGI 4-star (4000ppi). Even 4,000ppi far exceeds the resolution of many films from the 19th and 20th centuries (as found in this study by Don Williams, Michael Stelmach, and Steven Puglia). The Voigtlander 110mm APO-Lanthar absolutely punches above its weight for its cost and being designed to cover only sensors as large as 24mm x 36mm. It certainly rivals medium format lenses that I’ve used in the past for film digitization, such as the Schneider Kreuznach 120mm F4 Macro. I have yet to photograph and analyze film targets with the Voigtlander, but I hope to do so in the future.

The Voigtlander 110mm has three floating optical groups that move according to focus distance. Simply put, floating elements allow a lens to perform well at all focus distances, but especially at close focus/high magnification while also correcting chromatic aberrations.

A Kodachrome transparency of the author’s family from his personal collection, photographed at ~6,000ppi.

A 100% crop. Note the smooth, yet defined rendering of the dye clouds. No oversharpening here (looking at you, Flextight).

To objectively evaluate the lens for reflective originals, I photographed an Image Science Associates Device Level Target (DLT) and processed the image using Golden Thread NXT, an image analysis software. The DLT has 12 neutral patches, 18 color patches, 16 illuminance uniformity patches, and slanted-edge targets in the center and each corner to measure the spatial frequency response of both horizontal and vertical axes. The camera was positioned at a distance to achieve a spatial resolution of 600ppi and I performed an aperture sweep through the most practical apertures in 1/3 stop increments: f/5.6, f/6.3, f/7.1, f/8, f/9, f/10, f/11. Other settings/equipment used and calibrations performed included:

  • Camera aligned using a Versalab Parallel laser alignment tool and an IR-cut filter over the lens
  • ISO 100 to minimize noise
  • Shutter speed was set to max sync speed (1/125) to prevent ambient light contamination
  • Profoto D4 pack with Profoto Acute/D4 heads and Chimera strip softboxes.
  • Exposure was adjusted by increasing the power on the pack as I transitioned from larger to smaller apertures.
  • Lens cast corrections (LCCs) were made at each aperture to correct for vignetting
  • Focus position was constant throughout the aperture sweep.
  • Minimal sharpening applied to the RAW files in Capture One: Amount = 20, Radius = 1px, Threshold = 0
  • Create a custom ICC profile for the sensor/lens/lighting combination

The first image in the slideshow below shows the DLT and LCC for each aperture, plus the Color Checker SG used to make the input profile. The second image contains crops at 100% from the center of the DLT showing the converging parabolic lines meant to judge the optical resolution of the image. As the aperture increases past about f/8, the image starts to get increasingly, visibly blurry. This behavior is expected and is due to diffraction.

The sampling efficiency (SE) and spatial frequency response (SFR) graphs illustrate a gradual loss in resolving power starting at f/5.6 with the center of the image circle being exceptionally sharp. That being said, as the aperture is stopped down, the sharpness across the field becomes much more homogenous. This indicates that f/7.1 seems to be the most practical aperture for every day use if you want to keep software sharpening to a minimum because the SE is over 90% for each color channel/luminosity and the sharpness is fairly homogenous across the frame, although the center does still stay a bit sharper at this aperture. It is possible that f/8 or f/9 could be a better choice for homogenous focus, but the overall image would not be quite as sharp as it is at f/9. Although f/5.6 may be extremely sharp in the center, in applications where the entire field of view is utilized (such as filling the frame with a single object or when photographing an oversize object in multiple tiles to be stitched), homogenous focus is generally more desirable than a razor sharp center and visibly less sharp corners/edges.

Overall, I am thoroughly impressed by the Voigtlander 110mm F2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro lens. It will be an invaluable tool in our kit for future digitization efforts—both for reflective and transmissive originals.

Feel free to send me any questions, I’m always happy to chat.