This review is currently under construction.
I was looking for a travel lens for my Sony A7. Usually I only use it with my Leica prime lenses, but that did not seem all that attractive for the hiking trip in the mountains that I was about to embark on. I did not want to be the guy everyone had to wait for because I was busy changing lenses instead of taking quick snapshots.
Sure, a zoom lens does indeed sound more attractive when you need your camera at hand, ready to shoot anytime and at different angles. The biggest downside of zooms in general is that they are either rather slow or very heavy. It seems impossible to build a compact zoom lens that spans from a moderate wide angle to a moderate telephoto lens and that is as fast as F 2.8 or even better F2.0 at the same time. If produced at all, this lens would be as heavy as a brick. But as a portrait lens, a 4.0 just doesn’t cut it. This would never be my lens of first choice unless I use it for traveling.
Okay, so how does this lens fare as a travel lens? Let’s look at the image quality first.
I made large prints of these two photos and the quality turned out okay. I am not excited about it, but it’s not terrible either. For a versatile travel lens, I could live with it. But there is one issue that, for me at least, makes this lens utterly useless as a camera for hiking trips and that is its size. It is way too bulky to carry around in a fanny pack. Now as a fashion choice, a fanny pack may be questionable anyway and is not my usual go-to item in terms of accessories. But when hiking in a group, having the camera in the backpack is a sure bet that you will only take a fraction of the photos you would otherwise have taken. Taking any photos at all is pretty frustrating when you have to take off your backpack, and by the time you’re done with stowing away the camera, everyone else is probably a few hundred meters ahead already. Do that a few times and the next time you see your friends will be at a place where they took a break. But by the time you have rushed there, they are ready to leave again, all the while complaining that they had to wait for you. And you didn’t even get a break.
So that was unpleasant and I would not want to use a camera setup of this size again during a mountaineering trip. Now what would be better? I found that in the mountains, almost all the photos I took with the A7 and this lens were with the widest angle possible, i.e. at 24mm. Some of the photos would have turned out better had I used an even wider angle.
So next time, I think, I only want to take a wide angle prime with 24mm or less. Zeiss is rumored to have a few additional lenses in the works, and I think I would enjoy a 21mm lens specifically made for this camera. But maybe that’s not even necessary. The Nikon 3.5/21 is supposed to work really well with this camera / lens mount.
The Voigtländer lenses, on the other hand, are supposed to have more issues towards the edges of the sensor. If you think about it, that’s not surprising at all. These Voigländer lenses are made for the Leica M camera family where the back of the lens can come really close to the film plane. For film, this is okay as for the silver ions it does not matter at which angle rays of light hit the surface. For a digital sensor, that’s a completely different story. And here’s where the Nikon lens shines with its retro-focus design.
A focal length of 21mm in theory means that the distance between the lens and the focal plane is 21mm too. But in an SLR (single-lens reflex) like the Nikon, that’s not possible because 21mm ahead of the focal plane, you will find the mirror. The solution (found decades ago) is to construct a lens that, despite a shorter focal length, projects the resulting image on a film plane that is further away. This distance is called Flange Focal Distance and for the Nikon F mount, it is 46.5mm. Inevitably, the rays of light exiting the lens towards the sensor / film plane are much closer to parallel compared to the Leica M construction. The closer to a 90° angle they are, the better the image quality towards the edges will be.
Not a terrible lens, well built and with decent optical performance, but I still decided to send it back. That had less to do with the lens itself and more with my personal style of photography. Your mileage may vary and I have no doubts that this lens can take great photos. Check out the reviews on Amazon to learn more about this lens: