Based on a 58-year-old design, the Voigtländer 90/3.5 Apo-Lanthar SL II Close Focus lens is worth looking at.
In the past two decades, Cosina has been transformed by its CEO, Kobayashi Hirofumi, from a little-known business making components, cameras and lenses for own brands such as Vivitar, as well as its own multi-fit manual and AF Cosinon lenses, into a leading supplier of alternative niche market products.
It still makes a line of independent own-name SLR-fitting and CCTV optics, but it is perhaps best known now for its range of Voigtländer-branded miniature and medium-format rangefinder cameras and lenses and, more lately, its range of manual focus alternative objectives designed for Nikon, Canon and Pentax K mounts.
The company also recently joined the Micro Four Thirds consortium, launching a range of lens adapters enabling Voigtländer and thousands of other branded lenses to be used with the compact digital format.
Looking back through BJP's lens reviews of the brand published over the past four years, I have not found an instance where image quality raised any concern; indeed, in one case, I was so impressed by the performance of a Nokton 58mm f/1.4 SL II, I bought the review sample, which I'd never done before.
As seen in my review of the Leica Summilux-M f/1.4 35mm ASPH, matching the sensor of a digital capture camera to the right glass is critical when the aim is to extract the best possible result.
Note, I have not said the remit here is about the latest glass, just that it needs to be the right stuff.
Interestingly, and as far as it is possible to ascertain anything of value from images posted on the internet, a large-format Voigtländer Heliar f/4.5 10.5cm fitted to a Canon EOS 350D, or Taylor, Taylor & Hobson Series II Cooke Anastigmat 5.5-inch f/4.5 (1917) on the same camera model, exhibited extraordinarily high performance.
It's the kind of example that, when seen, stops you in your tracks and brings home the point that not much that is new is necessarily better than what came before.
But occasionally, there are gems. The latest Cosina Voigtländer Apo-Lanthar 90mm F/3.5 SL II Close Focus lens is one such. It comes in Canon EF and Nikon AIs mounts, and is databus chipped, enabling mode function and EXIF compatibility with DSLRs.
The original German Voigtländer company first developed the Apo-Lanthar and launched it with appropriate focal lengths in 1952 for medium to large-format cameras.
Sadly for the company, while the lens was appreciated by the few who needed it, the greater number of enthusiasts for the company's 35mm products wanted fast, large maximum-aperture lenses.
In one way, it was the beginning of the end for Voigtländer, which was ultimately taken over by Zeiss, allowing a few short years of continued trading before CZ finally pulled the plug.
A company called Ringfoto GmbH & Co Alfo Marketing GmbH acquired the rights to the Voigtländer name and all its subsidiary trade and service marks.
In 1997, a smart licensing move by Cosina enabled the Japanese company to begin branding and marketing a new generation of 35mm format lens designs manufactured with Leica screw or bayonet mounts. It was just what the rangefinder market needed, threatened as it was by the looming shadow of digital.
Among some of the early offerings from Cosina was an Apo-Lanthar 90mm f/3.5 of six elements in five groups, with the second element made of extraordinary dispersion glass instead of the lanthanum type used in the original 1952 design.
The new lens copied the red, green and blue identifying rings of the earlier model on its front barrel section and came with a 10-bladed diaphragm. However, its closest focus distance was only 1m, whereas the SL II addition for reflex cameras reviewed here manages half as much again and comes down to 0.32m when the supplied close-up lens is fitted.
With a minimum aperture of f/22 and a nine-bladed diaphragm, the Apo-Lanthar SL II certainly ups the ante. Cosina doesn't call it a macro lens because, to get that higher repro level, the supplied 52mm screw-in hood reducer has to be used with a 39mm close-up dioptre element. When it's fitted, repro ratio at 1:1.8 is nearly doubled at the close focus distance.
The cone-shaped hood used without the adapter makes this unit feel very compact. Mechanical performance is excellent with a smooth and precise focus throw - if long - from close-up to infinity. The all-metal-barrelled construction weighs 320g with a hard-wearing, black-anodised finish.
Fitted with the special cone-shaped hood adapter and its supplementary close focus dioptre element, reproduction ratio is hiked to 1:1.8 at which point details become more interesting, if a little soft at the edges when exposures are made at maximum aperture. At f/5.6-8.0, a high level of sharpness kicks in. © Jonathan Eastland.
As with the 58mm Nokton, when used in conjunction with a Nikon sensor set to RGB capture, image colour rendering is warmer than with Nikon glass.
So it is with the Apo-Lanthar, obtaining a superb palette rendering, excellent levels of apparent sharpness for objects in the close-to-medium-distance range, combined with a high level of unfringed brilliant demarcation between light and dark separations. At infinity.
On full frame, closest focus distance of 1m obtains a reproduction ratio of 1:3.5; frame reduction factoring for APS-C (DX) of 1.5 obtains a larger apparent scale. Small details across the plane of focus show excellent sharpness and resolution with the lens wide open. © Jonathan Eastland.
I have other lenses in a similar focal length bracket that perform as well or better, but the differences are marginal. The extra facility offered by the Apo-Lanthar's close focus ability opens up a whole new vista of subjects I would have otherwise mostly ignored; and that facility might well persuade me to add it
to the armoury.
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