I’m always on the lookout for an ultrawide lens. I consider them to be an essential part of my travel camera kit. When traveling, you’re almost guaranteed to encounter a building, structure or landscape you find interesting, and with subjects like those, simply moving back isn’t usually an option. Another thing I enjoy is photographing interiors, and another thing ultrawides were born for.
In my search, the closest I’ve come to ideal is this lens in this review, the Voigtlander 15mm for Sony E-Mount. This is originally a lens designed for Leica M-Mount rangefinder type cameras, but it adapted reasonably well to full frame Sony E-mount cameras. Only problem was that those Leica versions weren’t ideally suited to the high resolution sensors in the A7R cameras, and we saw some strange colours, smearing and other effects in the corners.
This version is made for Sony E-mount, and Voigtlander says that the optics are optimized for full
frame mirrorless as well. In practice, it looks like exactly that! This is one of the sharpest lenses in the center I’ve seen, and the corners are decent to excellent. Voigtlander’s glass and coatings are absolutely top-of-the-line, and the pictures resemble those from my best Zeiss lenses. Amazing contrast, micro-contrast, colour, and exceptional resistance to flare for an ultrawide.
In fact, everything about the lens feels superb. It is diminutive, and weighs just 300 g, but its solid metal, Made-in-Japan construction is satisfying to hold, and even better is the butter-smooth dampening of the focus ring.
Oh, did I forget to mention that this is not an autofocus lens? Believe it or not, I forgot right up until the moment I wrote this. That’s because autofocus is totally unnecessary for this lens. For anything outdoors, I just set the focus to 2 m (at f/8) and shoot away… everything is perfectly sharp. Indoors, anywhere between 1 m and 2 m gets it done. And this lens is small enough, that I can fit it into a tiny space above another lens in my Ona bag, where no other lens could ever fit. What’s icing on the cake is the fact that it can accept regular filters, making it perfect for landscapes and even video.
You’re saying ok, yeah, so it’s a good lens, its small, built well, optically great. But still, why this one? Well, here are the reasons I disqualified the other options. Of course, these are my reasons and opinions, you may or may not share them.
The Sony 16-35mm f/4 – Great colours and contrast, not so sharp at anything other than 16mm, not sharp wide open, pretty heavy, big and somewhat expensive for what is essentially a 16mm f/5.6 prime.
The Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D – Interesting lens, but expensive for what is almost a no-name brand (with probably poor resale value), large, heavy, not actually zero distortion as the name would suggest.
The Laowa 10-18mm f/4 – A very interesting lens to me! The widest zoom lens you can get, genuinely 10mm at its widest. But filters are essential to me, and you can’t have filters on the front of a 10mm lens, so Laowa put a filter on the back. Great! Except you can’t rotate it without taking the lens off, basically making this useless. Also, while manual focus is acceptable at 15mm and wider, not so much at 18mm.
The Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 – Another lens that checks so many boxes. Zeiss lenses are amazing, and this one is no exception. Sharp, colourful, contrasty, lightweight, and even f/2.8 (and sharp at it, too). The issue here is that it’s 18mm. Not 15, not even 16. That’s enough of a difference when we’re talking about ultra wides, that it might prevent you from accomplishing your task, such as being able to photograph a building, and having enough room to straighten it in post.
The Samyang/Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 MF – Really big, really heavy, extremely poor coatings, plane of focus is wonky, incurable mustache distortion, terrible contrast, terrible sharpness, flat colour. Not worth it even at the used prices of $200 USD.
The Samyang/Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 AF – A completely different optical design from the MF above, this one has so-so sharpness and contrast, but still big, heavy, and actually somewhat expensive for what it is.
The Samyang/Rokinon 18mm f/2.8 – This is new, and one of Samyang’s best efforts to date. It’s acce
ptable in sharpness, contrast and colour, very lightweight, and very cheap. If it were wider than 18mm it would be a no-brainer. For many people, this lens will check a lot of boxes.
The Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master – Perhaps one of the least compromised lens options out there. Optically excellent. Bright, at 2.8. Just barely wide enough at 16mm. For an ultra premium 2.8 zoom, not crazy heavy, but still heavy and big. Priced at a number that is like a high end body, not a lens, though. I don’t exclusively shoot ultrawide, and I actually don’t care to have the zoom (I’d rather use a 24/1.4 or 35/1.8 than this zoom at those focal lengths), so I can’t justify the price.
The Sony 12-24mm f/4 – While this lens is somewhat big and heavy at about the same as the 16-35/4, this is far wider than that, so its acceptable. Quality is superb. What holds me back here is no filter threads, so I’d have to use a very elaborate setup, which turns me away.
The Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 – With a 2.8 aperture, this is pretty bright for an ultrawide zoom, and exceptionally light and compact to boot. Price is very good, quality is also very good. In fact, it’s overall very close to
the Sony 16-35/2.8 G Master, at a fraction of the weight, size and price. But I wish they hadn’t compromised on the 17mm wide end. I’m looking for an ultrawide, not an ultrawide-ish.
That leads me to arrive at the conclusion that this Voigtlander is still the best ultrawide for me at the moment, and it might be for you as well. It’s wide enough, small and light enough, has absolutely superb quality, takes filters and is priced really well.