The Voigtländer SL 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro is a highly-sought-after macro lens by connoisseurs who desire the very best in lens-rendering characteristics (color, zero chromatic aberration, “3D-effect,” etc.). The brand, Voigtländer, is an iconic name in photography, first beginning production in Vienna in 1756, thereby making it in the oldest name in photographic history.
Unfortunately, despite its revered quality, the Voigtländer SL 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro hasn’t been in production for over 15 years. Where it gets interesting is in learning that this lens is not a true Voigtländer product at all; instead, the Japanese company, Cosina, leased the rights to the Voigtländer name (which it has been using since 1999). So the Voigtländer SL 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro is actually a Japanese lens, not an Austrian lens. But it gets even more interesting 🙂
Despite its fine quality, the Voigtländer SL 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro lens was only produced in very limited numbers by Cosina, from 2001-2002, after which the company stopped production before this lens became widely-known by photographers outside of Japan. Keep in mind that Cosina is actually the manufacturer of every Zeiss lens made right now (including the venerated Otus series), so that ought to put a perspective on things 😉
In fact, legend has it the true reason that Cosina (operating as Voigtländer) ceased making the 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar macro lenses was because Cosina was simultaneously producing the Zeiss macro lens—and the Zeiss 100mm macro specifics fell short of what Cosina’s Voigtländer 125mm APO macro was able to do, on almost every level! The two lenses shared a similar (all metal) construction, shape, and feel. Yet, while the Zeiss is known for exceptional resolution and bokeh, its Makro-Planar T* 100mm lens (now, Milvus) only produce a 1:2 magnification, and its chromatic aberration/color-correction are substandard. By comparison, the Voigtländer SL 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro lens produces a true 1:1 magnification, comparable resolution, even creamier bokeh than the Zeiss, with the added bonus of almost zero chromatic aberration, producing an almost 3D-effect to its images 😎
Because of the conflict of interest, and because the “legendary” Zeiss Makro-Planar lens fell short of the Voigtländer SL 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar, legend has it that industry giant Zeiss demanded that Cosina stop producing a lens that was better than what Zeiss was able to produce. Consequently, despite being an impeccable lens in its own right, the Voigtländer SL 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro lens was discontinued after only 2 years of production 🙁
Therefore, the Voigtländer SL 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro lens has become a collector’s item for lens connoisseurs, both because of its exceptional quality as well as because it is a very rare lens with a rich history behind it. I write all this because I am very happy to have been able to pick up a mint-condition copy of this lens, from a Japanese photographer who had kept it virtually unused since it was first purchased nearly 15 years ago.
The Voigtländer SL 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro lens is totally different from every other “modern” macro lens to which I am used and have grown accustomed. For one thing, the lens is made completely of metal and glass (no cheap plastic on this fine specimen!). For another, it is also a 100% MF lens (no auto-focus); every lens adjustment has to be done by hand. But what smooth, exquisite quality of operation!
- The focus throw of this lens is 630° (compared to 150° to 270° of modern lenses with AF).
While this exaggerated focus-turning might not be optimal some types for field use, if you have a moving subject, the flipside to this is, when you want to do a studio stack , or take an image (or stack) of a motionless subject in the field, there simply is no other macro lens that compares either in quality of output or in smoothness and precision of operation.
In closing, I hope to be able to share some photographs that do justice to the quality of this lens. For the reader who’s interested in doing some further research, here are some other online reviews of the classic, vintage Voigtländer SL 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro:
- Photozone Review
- SLR Lens Review
- Sample Pics
- Michael Erlewine Macro Lens eBook
- Clash of the Titan Macros
If the reader is interested in obtaining a copy, they can be found on Ebay by vintage retailers and private persons.
So get one if you can 😎