Video Field Test: Legacy Lens | Voigtlander 12mm f/5.6 Aspherical (I)
I'm a sucker for ultracompact lenses. After years of using gargantuan DSLR and Cinema lenses, I suppose I long for lenses that give you a great look without having to have arms like Jason Momoa in order to carry them around all day.
I'm also always on the lookout for unique lenses that give a look that's hard to achieve elsewhere. This third-party M39 screw mount lens from Voigtländer does just that.
It's tiny, even when lengthened by the Novoflex adapter I used to put it on my Sony. It's incredibly lightweight but doesn't feel fragile. It also manages to give you a 12mm focal length without a fisheye effect. That's a 121-degree field of view. Yeah, it's wide. It manages to do this without being the size of a brick at the cost of a large aperture.
Yes, other manufacturers have lenses that go this wide. Sony even has two versions of a 12-24mm zoom for those who can't get enough of the wide angles. Their 12-24mm GM lens even opens up to f/2.8 but it's enormous.
Truth be told, the f/5.6 aperture doesn't seem to slow this tiny lens down much. When you're shooting at such wide angles, a shallow depth of field is going to be hard to achieve unless you're mere inches from your subject, even at f/2.8. If you're adapting to a modern-day camera with decent low-light performance, you'll likely be alright with the smaller f/5.6
Designed for screw-mount rangefinders, this version of the Voigtländer 12mm was originally packaged with an additional viewfinder to mount on top of the camera. Since the lens has no focus coupling, a typical rangefinder wouldn't really show you correct focus and I can't think of a rangefinder with 12-millimeter frame lines anyway.
However, like I mentioned earlier, focus shouldn't be a problem when you're taking in such wide views. Even wide open at f/5.6, everything from 1.5 feet to infinity is acceptably sharp. Stopping down to f/11 ensures that the entirety of the focus ring is sharp, even though that only gives you about another 6 inches of focal distance. In fact, the focus ring features click stops much like a typical aperture ring to let you know when you've hit hyperfocal distance at f/5.6 and f/11.
The small lens hood is detachable, although I'm not sure why you would remove it as it's never really in the way. The front element of the lens reaches just barely past the front of the housing so it's probably in your best interest to keep it on. That is unless you're lucky enough to find one of the rare 77mm screw-on filter adapters to replace it.
All that being said, it sure is fun to shoot with. Typically, I like longer lenses to be able to pick out details in a scene, but this lens allows you to truly take in everything, be that good or bad. It really shows its power indoors, and it's perfect for flying on a gimbal, taking photos or video for real estate or travel. If you do any client work for vacation rental companies or anything similar, this lens will easily pay for itself.
Visually, it's not likely to impress pixel peepers. There's significant vignetting and loss of sharpness as you get to the edges of the frame, but Voigtländer has improved these issues over the years. This is only the first version of their 12mm f/5.6 and as of the writing of this article, they've put out two revisions of the design, with updated mount options for E-mount and M-mount that reduce a lot of the corner smearing.
However, if you're looking for an affordable ultrawide that doesn't look like a 90's music video, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option. See how it looks on video below.