The Voigtländer 90mm f/3.5 APO-Lanthar LTM lens was released in 2001. It came in black and silver versions. At the time this lens was released, I was recovering from an alpaca breeding accident. Voigtlander, caring little about my injury, was releasing a family of lenses for their new Bessa line of cameras. The 90mm f/3.5 APO-Lanthar LTM was a member of this new line of lenses.
If you are thinking about purchasing one of these lenses, chances are that you are probably also searching other websites. If so, you are bound to come across Casual Photophile (1) and their review of this lens. At the time of writing, it is one of the few other solid reviews of this lens I could find. In that review they mentioned that they got Ex+++++’d (2) by an eBay seller. Their lens had the epizooties and needed to go for a CLA. My lens was in a similar shape although I didn’t get EX++++++’d. Rather, the seller warned me ahead of time that there was dust and haze. I don’t understand enough about lenses to understand why these lenses, which aren’t all that old, are prone to dust, haze, and the epizooties. My lens is currently out for CLA so fingers crossed it can be cured of its disease. If you do decide to buy one of these lenses, consider factoring in the cost of a CLA.
The Lanthar in APO-Lanthar refers to lanthanum which is a rare earth element that has been used in camera lenses for decades. Adding lanthanum to the lens is said to minimize chromatic aberrations, increase sharpness, and improve overall resolution. The barrel of this lens and the other Voigtlander lanthar lenses is adorned with red, green, and blue colored stripes. The colors are to remind you that these lenses are “fully corrected for the three main colour bands of the spectrum(3).” In my world, the colors remind me of painful memories of the jumpy ball pit at McDonald’s. What I would have given to grow up in a pandemic so I didn’t have to pretend I was having fun in the jumpy ball pit with the other kids. #moreD&Dlessjumpyball
Anyway, Voigtlander has been putting these RGB racing stripes on their Apo-Lanthar lenses for decades. I get it. Tradition. Throwback Thursday. Whatever. Perhaps it is time to stop. I am man enough to know that I am at least moderately superficial and old enough to own it. If you are reading this, please also be honest with yourself. Unless you inherited your grandfather’s Leica and you just happen to need a 90mm lens so you can revisit those dog days of summer down South when you and your grandfather used to walk down by the creek at sunset to skip rocks your hound dog named Buck, chances are you are a bit superficial too. Embrace it. You like nice stuff. No judgment. Buying a nice lens for a rangefinder is 100% OK.
If I am correct, you are like me, you are at least moderately superficial, and you like nice stuff, putting RGB racing stripes on an otherwise perfectly designed lens is a crime against humanity. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of stripes on a lens is pretty cool. Black stripes would be cool. Pink stripes would be sick. Conversely, Greg Brady blue, Coca-Cola red, and astroturf green stripes are worse than The Toxic Avenger Part 2. Given the technicolor atrocity on the barrel of this lens, I think it is reasonable that I interrupt this post to pen a letter to the Voigtlander marketing department.
“Dear Voigtander marketing department:
I am writing you about your APO-Lanthar lenses. Please stop with the RGB racing stripes. We don’t need colors on the barrel of the lens to remind us of what is going on inside the lens. Nike doesn’t have a picture of a shoe in their logo but everyone somehow still knows Nike makes shoes. Google doesn’t have the word search in their name but somehow we know what to do when we see the search box. Voigtlander, you don’t need to be this literal. You already put the word Lanthar on the lens. Isn’t that enough? Do we really need jumpy ball color racing stripes?
This is an ongoing gripe I have with you guys. Your lenses are often exceptional but the package is often weird. How can any respectable Leica owner show up at a hipster coffee shop, be seen on Tokyo Camera style, or even show their face at a Beers and Cameras meetup sporting racing stripes? If you ever see me in public with this lens, don’t be surprised if the racing stripes are black. I am currently looking into ways I can paint away the horror.
Thank you for your time.
Wait,….paint them? That means the lens stays and you can stop reading the review. Right? Busted. Maybe. Keep reading.
Table of Contents
On Garden Gnomes and Parked Cars
When I started the website I didn’t foresee the 90mm lenses being so boring with regards to usability. They are all similar and just as fine as one another as far as I am concerned. Given that they are larger than lenses of other focal lengths, they are also inherently less fiddly. You don’t need a focusing tab or anything else that would separate the usability of one 90m lens from another. Honestly, I don’t really have anything to comment about on with regard to the useability of this lens. It works and it doesn’t get in the way.
It may be of interest to note that that the screw-in lens hood is robust and pairs nicely with the lens. With the hood on, it is a little larger than I would Ike but it still falls within my upper limit size criteria that it must stand up straight in my camera bag with the hood on. Again, nothing really to discuss here regarding the size or form factor.
If you are wondering about why I haven’t commented on the f/3.5 aperture, You didn’t read my review of the 90mm f/4 Minolta M-Rokkor lens. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that f/3.5 is equal to f/4. If you can accept that, the short story is that I use my 90mm lenses for closeups and to compress the background for distance shots. At distance, there is no bokeh advantage of f/2.8 lens over and f/4. Closeup, I don’t understand how anyone can focus a rangefinder at less than f/3.5-4 because you have such a shallow depth of field. In my experience, the rangefinder is a suboptimal tool to use to focus 90mm lenses that close. I am 100% prepared to defend that math for a digital Leica. If, however…
- You are adapting this lens to a digital body (Leica SL, Panasonic S1, etc) your math might different because with the right body (e.g. NOT a Sony A7III, A7III or any previous Sony model) it can be easier to obtain critical focus with a 90mm manual focus lens. I already know what you are thinking but please do not use the EVO 2020 for this.
- You are shooting film, your math might also be different. f/2.8 might be worthwhile just in case you have a roll of 100 loaded up and you go inside. Moreover, film is more forgiving with regards to nailing focus. You might be OK. For me, I wouldn’t waste the film. Too tricky.
Does it have SOUL?
In the early 90’s there was a movie named Rudy about a small, dyslexic, kid who overcame a bazillion obstacles to fulfill his dream of playing football at Notre Dame. It is one of those dripping with honey, moral of the story, movies that tricks you into believing that you that you should never give up because miracles happen…almost gets you to cry…and then you smack yourself back to reality and say, “What am I doing here? That S*&%% never really happens in real life. Miracles don’t happen to me.” If that is what you think, au contraire, mon frère. That S*&%% really does happen. I have the Voigtlander 90mm APO-Lanthar f3.5 LTM lens to prove it.
Sometimes I think Voigtländer is the Rudy of the camera lens world. They are always right up there, sometimes they get a play or two, but there are so many obstacles to overcome. Unlike Rudy, sometimes the obstacles they are overcoming are of their own making. Racing stripes on a lens barrel so we know what they already wrote on the front of the lens, ill-conceived marketing around the word Classic, weirdly shaped lenses like that 50mm 3.5 VM Heliar pyramid lens with the lens diagram on the barrel, etc. etc. etc. Every once in a while, however, Voigtlander’s inner Rudy shines bright, the Voigtlander SOUL bubbles up to the surface and they get to play ball with the big boys. That is the case with this lens.
Call me a sucker but I tend to give underdogs a few points of SOUL just for trying. It is like Base + Fog with underdogs and SOUL. This lens has a fine baseline of SOUL but other than that, it is really a pure modern lens. Therefore, as with all pure modern lenses, if you are looking for SOUL you are looking in the wrong place. I can’t wax poetic about how it is dripping with 70’s charm or anything like that. It is sharp. The lanthanum is apparently doing its job cranking out colors that are true to life and not supersaturated or dull. It is a good thing like Martha Stewart used to be a good thing before she went to jail but after she got in with Snoop Dog.
Can I be honest for a second? Lens reviews like this one are not objective. There is no way for me (or anyone else) to take our brain, foibles, past experiences, and prejudices out of the equation. I am not even sure we should. Part of photography is gear and sometimes the gear, in and of itself, motivates us to get out there and use it. If you need a red dot to signal to the world that you are the man because your iPhone, moleskin, and other accouterments didn’t go far enough you should go for a lens with a red dot. This lens doesn’t signal anything to the world except that you have a lens with racing stripes on it. You won’t get any street cred brownie points. Nobody will talk to you about it. My prejudice is that I don’t care too much what the street thinks but I do get warm fuzzies inside when I find a diamond in the rough that is as inexpensive as this lens but is as good as a lens that is 4x the price. That type of discovery must trigger some dopamine or something in my brain because when I use this lens I get a major dopamine hit. Because of my prejudice it is possible that I like this lens better than maybe I should. The underdog gets me every time and that is probably influencing this review. Please keep that in mind.
Even with the dust and minor haze in my lens, the flare resistance of this lens is very strong. Artistic or unwanted flares are a non-issue if you are flare averse. If, however, you are looking for a lens that flares this is not your lens.
So did I keep it?
I don’t like silver lenses. I don’t like racing stripes. I am currently looking into how I can black out the racing stripes because I can’t bear to look at them any longer. My success in painting the racing stripes may very well be the deciding factor if I keep this lens or not. There are so many good options in the 90mm category, it is coming down to splitting hairs and minor differences like racing stripes. To see whether or not I kept the lens, you don’t need to wait to see how my arts and crafts escapades turn out. All you need to do is sign up for my Leica Lenses for Normal People: The Recommended List and see how I compare and contrast the lenses I test, find out which lenses I kept and which ones I didn’t, and find our which lenses I recommend to my family and friends. If you find that I didn’t save you some time or money with your research, there is even a money-back guarantee. You have nothing to lose.
- One of my top 10 websites of all time. #fanboy
- That is most certainly a verb. To be EX+++++’d means that you bought something that any normal person would have said, it is in OK shape but I am not giving specifics because I don’t want you sending it back because I know it really isn’t all that perfect or I would have just said so.” To a Japanese seller, EX+++++ is somehow better than EX++++ but worse than Mint -. Something is getting lost in translation with all of these plus signs I am afraid.
- Reference: https://www.arnecroell.com/voigtlaender.pdf