Voigtlander 40mm F2 Ultron SL IIS Review (Ai-S)

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Richard Murdey
Richard Murdey Senior Member • Posts: 2,821
Voigtlander 40mm F2 Ultron SL IIS Review (Ai-S)
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Cosina recently updated the 40mm Ultron as the SL IIS, styled to look like a vintage F-mount Nikkor:

How you feel about this lens pretty much comes down to how you respond to it's appearance. (I have the silver barrel one.)

Physical overview:

The SL IIS is a wider and longer lens than the older versions, which were true "pancakes". I've always preferred a small "regular sized" prime to a pancake design because a) the front element is properly recessed and protected, b) the control rings are easier to grip and c) there's enough of the lens body which is not given up to control rings to grip when changing lenses. The latest Ultron is about the size of the Nikkor-H 28/3.5 or Nikkor-H 50/2, aka about as small as a lens can get without actually being a pancake. The build quality is very high, the touch of the focus and aperture rings soft and precise.

The SL IIS lens is Ai-P, it will meter and the aperture can be electronically controlled by the camera or, for dSLRs with the Ai coupler, the lens ring. As a third party lens in-camera lens corrections are unavailable however.

The 9 aperture blades are curved, the iris is almost perfectly circular at all apertures, an improvement from previous iterations. The aperture ring is now full-stop detents, like Ai Nikkors not 1/2 stop as previous. I'm a fan. If you want finer control, use the in-camera dial. The numbers and ticks are engraved. The blue, yellow, green color for the aperture numerals and matching DOF scale sets the heart a-flutter.

Optical performance and rendering:

The modern trend in lens design is for maximum performance at all apertures, corner-to-corner. This leads to large and expensive lenses. The Ultron 40/2 is neither large nor particularly expensive. Performance scales accordingly.

On DX: 60mm eff. There is some value to this focal length as a short portrait lens, for half-body type shots and the like, but I found the crop field of view too tight to be generally useful longterm. Though optically the performance is better than on FF due to the excellent sharpness and minimal vignetting in the APSC crop region, and there is some pleasant bokeh, I see no good reason to invest in the Ultron - you might as well use the 50/1.8 G or a manual focus 50mm if you want MF.

On FX: 40mm splits the difference between 35mm and 50mm. It's not wide but not not-wide, but I think it works best as an "extended view" standard prime. As such it's a pretty boring focal length for landscapes and snapshots, and the flat and busy OOF rendering (aspherical donuts, etc) does it no favors focused near infinity.

And to address the elephant in the room, vignetting on FF is atrocious wide open, significant at f/2.8, and pretty much flavors the entire use experience. If you aren't cool with working with it, instead of against it, for your photography, stay clear of this lens. Barrel distortion is surprisingly low however, much like a 50mm in that respect, so there's that as compensation.

Where the Ultron excels is intimacy. Get close, focus down, open up. Plenty of contrast and sharpness, wonderful soft OOF areas, plenty of pop. Good flare and ghosting resistance. At F2 reasonable in low light though in my opinion F4 is what the lens is really about and where it all comes together.

At $500, should you buy this lens? There are many competitive alternatives: the older version of the same lens, the Nikon 45/2.8P, the new 35/1.8G, any number of 35/2.

As a practical, general-purpose optic I'd recommend the 35/1.8G. Better performance for the same price, and the convenience of AF.

Among all the rest though, and considering that I've tried most of them, if you are happy with manual focus and appreciate that lenses are about "taste" as much as "performance", then this latest Ultron is the top pick, short of the more expensive Zeiss 35/2. It's the particular mix that makes it compelling: small size, no ergonomic quirks, no build issues, electronic convenience, nostalgic value, unique attribute of 40mm FL and F2 max aperture, strong vignetting, low distortion, high contrast, high sharpness, modern coating, and pungent, memorable rendering.

Five stars, not because it's perfect, but because I wouldn't want it any other way than how it is now.

 Richard Murdey's gear list:Richard Murdey's gear list
Nikon D750 Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2,8/21 Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2,8/25 Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1,4/50 +7 more
Voigtlander 40mm F2 Ultron SL II
Prime lens • Canon EF, Nikon F (FX), Pentax KAF
Announced: Nov 2, 2007
Richard Murdey's score
5.0
Average community score
3.8
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