src="http://www.mirrorlessons.com/wp-content/themes/mirrorlessons Using Voigtlander Lenses on Sony A7r II – 12mm f/5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar & 21mm f/1.8 Ultron
MirrorLessons
Lens Reviews

Date: 22/09/2015 | By: Mathieu

Voigtländer VM lenses on the Sony A7r II, Chapter I: 12mm f/5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar and 21mm f/1.8 Ultron

E-M1, 1/6, f/ 4/1, ISO 320

Voigtländer VM lenses on the Sony A7r II, Chapter I: 12mm f/5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar and 21mm f/1.8 Ultron

When the original A7 and A7r were released in December 2013, one of the most popular topics was the use of adapted lenses including old SLR, Leica and third party M glass. Adapting M glass to Sony’s full-frame sensor, especially the shorter focal lengths, proved quite challenging. Since Sony’s sensors have a thicker cover glass, the light rays that come from the lens and pass through the cover can produce astigmatism (details on the edges of your image appearing blurred), colour shift and chromatic aberration. The severity of the results depends on the specific lens.

Our Sony A7r II coverage:

  1. First Impressions (Sony’s press event)
  2. Lantern Parade (Low-light image gallery)
  3. Bird Photography (with the Sigma 150-600mm EF mount)
  4. Zeiss Milvus (Sample images)
  5. Voigtländer VM lenses (12mm f/5.6 & 21mm f/1.835mm f/1.7)
  6. Complete Autofocus Test (FE, A, EF lenses)
  7. Compressed vs uncompressed RAW
  8. A7r II vs A7s II comparison (with ergonomics/ease of use)
  9. Complete Image Quality test and final conclusion

When I originally tested some Voigtländer M lenses on the Sony A7, I came across several of the issues mentioned above, in addition to discovering that the wrong adapter could also increase vignetting, among other things. Things weren’t any better on the A7r. Since the sensor inside the A7r II is brand new, I was curious to see if I would get better results with the new flagship full-frame camera.

Why Voigtlander and not Leica M lenses you might ask?

Well, because I find Voigtländer lenses interesting for various reasons including the more affordable price in comparison to Leica lenses. Of course Leica lenses are known to be among the best but they can be very expensive even second-hand. Actually, M lenses are the only lenses that tend to gain value over time instead of losing it.

Voigtländer also has some interesting focal lengths in his catalog including extreme wide angle lenses and very fast primes. M lenses in general also tend to be small and compact which is a nice plus for the A7 bodies.

Update: on October 9th 2015, Voigtländer announced new lenses with the native Sony E-mount. Find out more here.

Voigtlander 12mm 5.6 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 1/400, f/8, ISO 100 – 12mm Super Wide Heliar
a7r ii Voigtländer 21mm ultron
A7r II, 1/3200, f/8, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron


Prelude: Things to know and accept

I always start to use these kinds of products by acknowledging the following: when I adapt a lens that has not been designed for the camera I’m using, I am ready to accept some compromises. The VM lenses are designed for M-mount cameras and actually many of them were designed for film, not digital. Therefore I won’t look for perfect optical quality from these lenses but rather acceptable image quality. The goal is to understand if the investment is worth your while compared to other alternatives on the market.

VM lenses are all made of metal and have classic mechanical rings for the aperture and focusing. They lack electronic contacts so no exif data will be transmitted about the focal length or aperture. What I usually do to remember which aperture I used is to press the movie record button for a few seconds and record it with my voice (make sure to enable the button at all times and not just in movie mode).  Later on, I can add that information to the metadata in Lightroom. I also try to keep the same aperture as long as possible for a series of shots or only switch between two values like 1.8 and 8 so that they are easily distinguible.

The second generation of A7 cameras include sensor stabilisation. If you manually input the focal length into the Steadyshot menu, you will get more accurate results. Bear in mind that because of the lack of any electronic communication between the lens and the camera, 3 axis stabilisation will be used instead of 5.

Thanks to the UK distributor Flaghead Photographic Limited, I had the chance to test several of these VM lenses to find out which ones are worth using with the new 42MP sensor. In this first chapter, I tested the 12mm Ultra Wide Heliar and the 21mm f/1.8 Ultron. For both lenses, I used the Voigtländer VM Adapter Version II. This second version was designed to be used with the A7 series and fixes a few issues with specific lenses (you can find the list here).

a7r ii Voigtländer lens


Ultra Wide Heliar 12mm f/5.6 (Version II)

Main Specs
  • Focal length: 12mm
  • Maximum aperture: 5.6
  • Minimum aperture: 22
  • Number of aperture blades: 9
  • Angle of view: 121°
  • Closest focusing distance: 50cm
  • Lens configuration:10 elements / 8 groups
  • Special elements: 1 Aspherical element
  • Optical Image Stabilizer: None
  • Dimensions: φ74.6 Ø, 42.5 mm
  • Filter diamater: 67mm
  • Weight: 230g

a7r ii Voigtländer lens

The 12mm f/5.6 is a very compact lens that provides one of the widest angles of view you can find for a full-frame sensor. In fact, only the recent Canon 11-24mm f/4 beats it on the wide end. The lens features 10 elements in 8 groups with an aspherical element on the rear. The aperture ring is found on the front and turns in 1/2 Ev steps. The focus ring is harder to access but you probably won’t need it that often. Given the extreme wide angle and the slow aperture, everything is more or less always in focus. (Indeed, I won’t even mention shallow depth of field here.) Of course it is always better to ensure optimal sharpness by setting the focus ring correctly, either to infinity or by using the distance scale. The only downside from a design point of view is that the metal hood is integrated and not detachable. This can be annoying if you want to use square filters like the Lee Seven5 series.

Before showing you the good and bad sides of this lens, I’d like to start off by saying that it is a difficult focal length to use. Being so wide, I often found it difficult to get the exact composition I wanted because lots of unwanted elements entered the frame at the corners. 12mm also means lots of perspective distortion which is not always pleasant. It is a very specific lens that can work well in some situations but can also be too much in others.

Voigtlander 12mm 5.6 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 1/200, f/5.6, ISO 100 – 12mm Super Wide Heliar – HDR

The best sharpness at the centre is found between f/5.6 and f/11 before diffraction starts to appear. At the edges, the performance decreases and the best result is at f/8. Basically this means that you have one aperture (f/8) where you can achieve the best optical performance. At the extreme corners, there is a loss in detail, astigmatism and some chromatic aberration. The latter can be corrected in post-production. Overall I find that the lens performs well at the centre with the A7r II sensor but lacks a little bit of resolution.

Voigtlander 12mm 5.6 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 1/40, f/8, ISO 100 – 12mm Super Wide Heliar
Click on the image to open the full res size.
Voigtlander 12mm 5.6 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 1/50, f/8, ISO 100 – 12mm Super Wide Heliar
Click on the image to open the full res size.
Voigtlander 12mm 5.6 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 1/200, f/8, ISO 100 – 12mm Super Wide Heliar
Click on the image to open the full res size.

Vignetting is also very much present at all apertures. You can minimise it by using the lens profile in Lightroom and then adjusting the percentage (I found 50 or 60 to be ideal). You can also find some slight colour shift (toward the green tints mainly) when trying to eliminate vignetting. The lens also shows some barrel distortion but here again it can be corrected. Below you can see a before/after example shot at f/8.

Colour rendering is not bad either although I noticed more than once the tendency toward a slightly colder rendering and some blue tint dominance. However in most cases it can be easily adjusted by working with the Raw file.

sony a7r ii Voigtlander 12mm 5.6
A7r II, 1/125, f/8, ISO 100 – 12mm Ultra Wide Heliar – HDR
sony a7r ii Voigtlander 12mm 5.6
A7r II, 1/60, f/8, ISO 100 – 12mm Ultra Wide Heliar – HDR

The lens doesn’t present any particular flare issues – overall they are well-contained. As I mentioned, with the A7 mark II series you can also take advantage of the sensor stabilisation. As you might know already, the shorter your focal length, the more success you’ll have at keeping your image sharp at slow shutter speeds. With the 12mm, I actually managed to get acceptable results down to 1 second (with a few attempts of course).

sony a7r ii Voigtlander 12mm 5.6
A7r II, 1s, f/16, ISO 50 – 12mm Ultra Wide Heliar – Hand Held


Ultron 21mm f/1.8

Main Specs
  • Focal length: 21mm
  • Maximum aperture: 1.8
  • Minimum aperture: 22
  • Number of aperture blades: 10
  • Angle of view: 91°
  • Closest focusing distance: 50cm
  • Lens configuration: 13 elements / 11 groups
  • Special elements: 1 Aspherical element
  • Optical Image Stabilizer: None
  • Dimensions: φ69 Ø, 78.4 mm
  • Filter diamater: 58mm
  • Weight: 412g

a7r ii Voigtländer lens

The Ultron 21mm is heavier and larger but given the very fast aperture, it can only be expected. It still balances well on the A7 body and I still consider it a small lens although the weight is noticeable. Like the 12mm, the aperture ring turns in 1/2 Ev steps. The mechanical focus ring is nice and precise to use and the distance scale is accurate. Here as well we have a non-removable metal hood, the only negative point about this lens.

When shooting at the fastest aperture, you might need to take advantage of the MF assist options. I often find focus peaking not precise enough so I tend to use focus magnification more. I wish that you could see only a portion of the screen rather than on the whole frame, like on Panasonic cameras. That way you wouldn’t lose sight of your composition.

a7r ii Voigtländer 21mm ultron
A7r II, 1/5000, f/1.8, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron

The 21mm f/1.8 is a lens that managed to surprised me more than once during my two weeks with it. First of all sharpness is really superb from 1.8. It peaks between f/4 and f/11. Diffraction only really appears at f/22 but the image is still usable. At the corners, the best sharpness is found between f/5.6 and f/11. The extreme corners can show some slight astigmatism and chromatic aberration but overall I find the optical performance really good. There is some barrel distortion here as well but it is very well controlled even without post-production. Vignetting is acceptable and easy to remove.

a7r ii Voigtländer 21mm ultron
A7r II, 1/30, f/2.8, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron
Click on the image to open the full res version.
a7r ii Voigtländer 21mm ultron
A7r II, 1/20, f/5.6, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron
Click on the image to open the full res version.
a7r ii Voigtländer 21mm ultron
A7r II, 1/640, f/8, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron
Click on the image to open the full res version.

A fast aperture at that short a focal length also lends itself to some interesting compositions with shallow depth of field. Even at close distances, the sharpness at 1.8 is good at the centre and the bokeh can be pleasant if you focus close. At 1.8 the bokeh will have a slight “swirly” effect while it is more consistent at 2.8.

a7r ii Voigtlander 21mm 1.8
A7r II, 1/1000, f/1.8, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron
a7r ii Voigtlander 21mm 1.8
A7r II, 1/200, f/1.8, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron
Click on the image to open the full res version.
a7r ii Voigtlander 21mm 1.8
A7r II, 1/200, f/2.8, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron
Click on the image to open the full res version.

With a person in your frame, the capacity of the lens to separate him or her from the background is not bad as long as you keep the subject close enough. I like the overall contrast, colour, and shallow depth of field rendering this lens can give to your image. It is definitely a little bit soft but it also gives the images a less digital look with softer tones.

a7r ii Voigtlander 21mm 1.8
A7r II, 1/800, f/1.8, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron

Like the 12mm, I found the flare resistance quite surprising. With closed apertures you get the classic star flare but it is not too invasive. At 1.8 you can have some veiling flare.

Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 a7r ii
A7r II, 1/20, f/11, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron
Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 a7r ii
A7r II, 1/6400, f/1.8, ISO 80 – 21mm Ultron

The most difficult test was when I took the combo out to shoot the Milky Way. 21mm with a 1.8 aperture definitely suits astrophotography on paper and I have to say that overall the lens is excellent for this genre as well. There is some coma aberration in the corners and depending on your tolerance you might find it invasive. Personally I really like the results. The images below are the result of two exposures merged together in Photoshop, one for the foreground and one for the sky.

Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 a7r ii
A7r II, 10s, f/2, ISO 3200 – 21mm Ultron
Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 10s, f/2, ISO 3200 – 21mm Ultron
Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 10s, f/2, ISO 5000 – 21mm Ultron
Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 10s, f/2, ISO 5000 – 21mm Ultron
Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 10s, f/2, ISO 3200 – 21mm Ultron

With the A7r II and internal stabilisation, I managed to get good results down to 1/2s. Considering that the camera is using only 3-axes, I find the performance quite satisfying.

Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 1/2, f/2.8, ISO 3200 – 21mm Ultron – Hand held

For video use: 4K footage samples

I also took some 4K video shots with the two lenses to see how they would perform on the A7r II. The perspective distortion of the 12mm is definitely more noticeable especially when panning. (After all, we are talking about a lens with an angle of view of 121°.) Vignetting is less severe than with stills but it’s there and a little bit more difficult to get rid of. You can also notice some slight colour shift at the edges. However the 12mm does offer a unique perspective and given its small size you can use it in low and tight corners.

The 21mm definitely delivers for video too. Its fast aperture is once again an interesting aspect and can work well even when shooting in Super 35mm (APS-C) mode. Below you can see a quick video I compiled featuring shots recorded with the two Voigtländer lenses.

 


Conclusion

I will test more lenses later on so hopefully you will have a complete round-up of how the VM lenses perform on the A7r mark II or more generally, on the second generation of A7 cameras. Regarding the two lenses reviewed in this article, I would definitely consider the 21mm if you are looking for a fast wide angle lens. Sharpness is excellent at the centre and the loss at the edges/corners is acceptable in my opinion. If you can accept some coma aberration, it can be an excellent companion for astrophotography too.

thumb-up What I like about the 21mm f/1.8 Ultron

  • Excellent sharpness at the centre and at 1.8
  • Nice bokeh when focusing close
  • Excellent flare resistance
  • Minimum distortion

thumb-down What I don’t like about the 21mm f/1.8 Ultron

  • Sharpness at the corners decreases
  • Coma aberration in astro-photographs
  • Non-removable hood
Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 sony a7r ii
A7r II, 1/50, f/8, ISO 100 – 21mm Ultron

The 12mm f/5.6 is a more difficult focal length to handle. I wouldn’t buy it for my personal use mainly because 12mm is too wide for my taste. I do think it passed the A7r II test but it is not perfect. If you are very sensitive to sharpness and details in the corners, this is not the lens for you. I find it suits landscape photography better than architecture, as the amount of distortion and lack of sharpness at the corners is less problematic. I would be more inclined to buy the 15mm, and hopefully that will be the next lens on the list that I can test.

thumb-up What I like about the 12mm f/5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar

  • Good sharpness at the centre
  • Small and compact
  • Good resistance to flare

thumb-down What I don’t like about the 12mm f/5.6 Super Wide Heliar

  • Astigmatism and CA in the corners
  • Lots of vignetting
  • Non-removable hood
Voigtlander VM lenses
A7r II, 1/200, f/5.6, ISO 100 – 12mm Super Wide Heliar – HDR

Our Sony A7r II coverage:

  1. First Impressions (Sony’s press event)
  2. Lantern Parade (Low-light image gallery)
  3. Bird Photography (with the Sigma 150-600mm EF mount)
  4. Zeiss Milvus (Sample images)
  5. Voigtländer VM lenses (12mm f/5.6 & 21mm f/1.835mm f/1.7)
  6. Complete Autofocus Test (FE, A, EF lenses)
  7. Compressed vs uncompressed RAW
  8. A7r II vs A7s II comparison (with ergonomics/ease of use)
  9. Complete Image Quality test and final conclusion

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About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Cinq1

    Yes, i am aware of that! Leica going into mirrorless camera with AF. XWait and see, but once again, i guess it might be very expensive again.

    I would love to start in a month or two to buy the Leica Q. For my wedding work, i will bring the Q, the W100T, i will miss a good 50mm maybe.
    Then, in 2 years time, for my 40 years, i will start a new collection with my first M body, and lenses :-)

    Let’s hope.

    Wuld be great to make a french channel of your youtube work. Many photographers don’t speak english, and some thing pro, and funny, a bit like in digitalrev tv, would be great in France i think. :-)

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Well Leica should announce something interesting very soon according to rumors 😉

  • Cinq1

    Well, i like what Sony is doing, but in the same time, it does scare me a bit.
    A7R II seems very good, but i will wait for A9 maybe.
    I have a friend working for Sony, so i had the RX1 for 2 weeks, i have fuji X100T, the Leica Q, i had it for 5 days.

    I guess i want to enter Leica’s world now. It’s ok with type of photography. î love 24-28-35mm.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I live in the UK, but I am half french.
    If you prefer to work manually then yes I would say that the A7 II is enough and you still get the sensor stabilisation which can be very useful.

    Do you already own all these cameras with the fixed lens (RX1, etc.)?

  • Cinq1

    i had the first A7, but i try to stop buying first generation of new camera :-) except Leica :-)

    At the end of the day, i wonder if i go Sony, and go full manual, maybe the A7 II is enought !?!

    And in my work, i am trying now to work only with camera with fixed lenc, like X100T, RX1 RXAR, Leica Q.

    Dur dur de choisir.

    By the way, fantastic website.

    You are in france if i am right ?

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I know it is not easy, but if you can try the camera in a store at least you can get more concrete impressions about it. The two Batis are great lenses by the way :)

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    De rien! 😉
    Let me know how do you find the Sony after trying it.

  • Cinq1

    i think of getting then the A7R II, with the Batis 25mm and the 85mm, or with Voigtlander 21, 50 F1.1
    Hard to make up my choice :-)

  • Cinq1

    Mathieu, merci beaucoup :-)

    I am gonna try to get my hands on a A7R II, should not be too hard !

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    The Q is excellent and I am sure it could work very well for weddings but you would be confined to one focal length only. I can see it more useful as a second camera. The A7r II would give you more versatility. As for manual focus, the A7r II EVF is excellent and with some practice you could do well. You also have the options of focus peaking, magnification and the tilting LCD screen can help as well. But with the Sony, you will need at least 4 batteries because battery life decreases rapidly. I am sure you can find a camera store in Paris where you can try the A7r II as well.

  • Cinq1

    Just a bit scared to miss focus on manual !

  • Cinq1

    I am a bit lost, i tried the wondefull leica Q this week end, thanks to Leica Stroe Paris. I just love it.
    I left photo industry few years ago, and now i am back in it, and start to have some demand for wedding and other things. I am in love with 20-35mm focal. Would you recon to get the A7R II over the leica ? and i love to Voigtlander lenses.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    The ring on the 21mm is smooth and precise, I like it. The one on the 12mm is a little bit harder and less comfortable to use because it is smaller. But with the 12mm you will use it less.

  • Cinq1

    how is the manual focus ? not too hard ?

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Apparently some Rokinon 14mm have that decentered issue. You will get soft corners with the Ultron as well and some coma aberration too (you can see that my milky way shots).

  • james

    Thanks! I’m not completely sold on the 14mm for astrophotography (softness in the corners – I think I have a decentered copy) so maybe the ultron 21mm would serve as a good astrophotography replacement (in addition to nice indoor wide-angle, since the 16-35 f/4 can be pretty dark inside)

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Perhaps you could start with one only and wait to see if you really need something else. I recently tested the 28mm f/2 (review will be out soon) and for its price/size, it’s an excellent choice. It can easily become one of those lenses you carry and use all the time also because the 28mm is a convenient focal length (even if not my favourite personally). So that would be my first advice since you already have another wide angle lens (14).

    The 16-35 is a very good lens if you need something more versatile and I can definitely recommend it for landscape/architecture.

    The 21mm Ultron should be considered if you are really keen on that focal length and like the particular look that lens can give you, which means that you are also ready to accept some of its flaws. If it just to buy another a wide angle prime, then I would wait 😉

  • james

    If you had to choose between the 21mm f/1.8 and the Sony 28mm f/2, which would you pick? I’m trying to “build” a wide/normal-wide collection, and I’m trying to decide whether to get the 16-35mm f/4, the CV 21mm f/1.8, or the Sony 28mm f/2. Ideally, I’d get the 16-35mm + one of those primes, but I’m not really sure at the moment which to get. I already have the Rokinon 14mm 2.8 which I use for astrophotography. Just not sure if having a zoom + 3 prime lenses all below 35mm is wise 😛 ANy input/advice based on your testing/usage of these lenses/focal lengths? Thanks!

  • 3D-Kraft

    In fact the corner sharpness decrease of the CV Ultron 21/1.8 is more a field curvature issue.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Yes they replace these cameras too quickly. I really hope that Sony will slow down now that the mark II cameras are all announced. The 15mm version III is supposed to be better. I tried the version II on the original A7 and there were lots of colour shift. The images on your blog look definitely better.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Thanks Tyson. I will try more of these, personally I am very curious about the 15mm :)

  • Henrik Fessler

    Thx for the article! Having the “outdated” A7 (man, these product cycles are too short (-; ) I’d also opt to get the latest version of the 15mm. Even as the hood is not detachable, you can still have th 58mm filter thread (not seen too often with UWA lenses). And it doesn’t suffer from corner color shifts and smearing … here’s my own test on the 15mm (in comparison with the Voigtländer 20mm Pancake and the old Tokina 17mm), hope it’s ok to post the link here:
    http://www.mopswerk.de/voigtlander-15mm-super-wide-heliar-iii-test/

  • Tyson Robichaud

    Great article, Mat! I’ve been hovering on the fence whether to invest further for the a series, or sell it off… I’d not seen much on either of these lenses before, and as your results show, they’re two very compelling options for the alpha series!

    All my best,

    Tyson

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