loire valley

Life begins at 40 - The Voigtlander 40mm f1.2 mid term test.

As anyone who's been reading this blog (all two of you..) on a semi-casual basis will know, I've been slowly slipping my toes into the world of manual focus lenses.

Firstly, it was a fun Olympus 50mm f1.8 with a converter, then I roadtested a lovely 35/50mm combo from Zeiss which were really nice too, but to be blunt I still needed something 'extra' - a lens to fit into my already pretty cracking Sony and Zeiss Batis AF line up that nothing else would.

Well, it finally arrived in the form of the Voigtlander 40mm f1.2. I'd been eyeing this one for a while being interested in both the in-between focal length - a bit less wide than the 35mm standard and nudging towards the supposed 50mm sweet spot - plus the really wide aperture which can see in the dark like a rabbit on turbo carrots.

What really pushed me over the edge was the excellent review by Chad Wadsworth which basically made me do the photography equivalent of the Fry 'Take my money!' meme.

So, late May - after a back order wait - it arrived. Initial signs weren't great as Voigtländer have some work to do with the rather cheapo packaging, but once inside I knew I had something with a bit of class. Unlike a lot of the usual suspects nowadays, the 40mm is weighty without being heavy and has no truck with your cheapo plastics - this is one piece of quality metal.

The Voigtlander 40mm f1.2

The Voigtlander 40mm f1.2

Now usually I'd get a lens on the Sony, get snapping and pop an early review up touts suite, but something about the 40mm told me to wait and get to know it. Glad I did, because in the couple of months since it's arrival i've been learning how to use it properly - e.g learn my distances, find the sweetspots, forget about the focusing and the get 'in the moment'

Because this isn't just your usual lens. As pointed out elsewhere, whilst the headline is the light gobbling f1.2 aperture, I haven't really used that setting too much apart from when light was low or at night - i've been mostly living between 1.4 and 3.4. To comment on the f1.2 in normal light - well, you get that dreamy look everyone goes mad for but you have to be bang on with your focusing at that aperture in normal conditions.

But no, the real star here is the 'analogue' nature of the output. An example of this was when switching between this lens and my Sony 55mm f1.8. Now, the Sony's a great lens no doubt, but it's super sharp - like sushi chef sharp - and while that's awesome, it's a very 'digital' look and the Voigtländer wins for creamy, old school vibes as a counter point - which means I can get two different looks at different focal lengths.

Analogue vibes.

Analogue vibes.

Now, when I say 'review' at the top of this post, what i'm really meaning is 'what real photos look like in the real world' - there's load of reviewers out there who do clever things and check for levels of chromatic aberration etc but my angle and acid test is very much - 'is this a great lens for everyday use and does it take a photograph that I love that I couldn't take with another lens?'

And the answer is simply, yes. Because after a bedding in period where i've run the 40mm through heatwave sunshine in the Loire to a chilly night on Exmouth beach front i'm now getting images back that look amazing, anologue and most importantly - real.

I'm not going to use it for sports, or when I need a long lens at a gig or an event, but for getting proper almost cinematic quality output it's the closest to the 'Leica look' that i'll ever be able to afford - it's probably best for your lifestyle and travel photography types although at a push it might do the business at a wedding gig.

I've also grown to love the 40mm length very quickly, and i'm now of the mind that this is the nearest you get to what your eye 'sees' over and above the much touted 50mm and somehow it just gets it 'right' - and when you do a bit of research you find that in film world Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Francis Ford Coppola would probably agree.

Issues? Not many. Throw is a little long and i get oddly annoyed at the lens cap not pinging into place easily, but these are minor quibbles.

A lens you can give a fig about.

A lens you can give a fig about.

So, it's with a mixture of happiness and relief that i give the Voigtländer 40mm f1.2 a big old thumbs up. Below are a selection of shots taken over the last few months at home and away to give you an idea of the sort of real life images you'll get out of the camera. There's obviously been a certain amount of post production magic attached, but to be honest the more i've got to use the lens the less post work i've done on the images coming out of it - much less than other lenses.

The only thing left to say about the Voigtländer is that when picking my lenses for a session out and about now it's the first in my camera bag, and to extend that pun for no other purposes than finding a title, it really does mean that life begins at 40.


Berkshire and beyond.

Various shots taken around Cookham, Wargrave and some more from Dorney Court, Ham House and Greys Court.

The Loire.

Shots taken in the Loire including Chambord, Blois and Clos Luce.


Shots taken in Paddington, Kensington and Soho.


Shots taken Sidmouth, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and A La Ronde National Trust.


Final note - I paid for the Voitglander out of my own hard earned and i'm not affliated in any way.

French Fried.

Ok, we know it's hot. Like real hot.

And when we've had scorching weather in the UK around the early 30's for weeks, it made complete sense for us to hit the road, jump on a ferry and head to an even hotter bit of Europe. Mad dogs etc.

Our destination this time was the lazy river running through the Loire Valley in the central section of France (down from Paris, across to the left a bit ok?)

With a 10-year-old in tow, a week's worth of vineyard visitations was sadly out of the question, so instead we did what lots of other Brits do - the 'Europcamp thing' - which to the uninitiated is rocking up to a mobile home affair (or for the brave, a tent) on a site with pool, bar, pizza etc. Our home for the week was Camping Château des Marais just outside Chambord. 

It's an 8+ hour drive - 2 to Dover from Maidenhead, then another 6 odd from Calais but you can shave a couple of hours off if you want to do toll roads and not be cheap arse like us. 


Riverside at Blois.

After that mammoth journey, the first day was a potter around one of the local towns - Blois. 

Funnily enough, for a town of its type in the Loire, Blois has a Chateau and a Cathedral (sarcasm), plus some lovely streets ripe for photography leading down to the river. Lovely place and we liked it so much, we visited twice!

Château de Chambord.

Day Two. With driving legs sufficiently recovered, we jumped back in the car for the short hop to our rather magnificent local French Renaissance big house - Château de Chambord.

Brimming with a history tied up with Sun King (who didn't stay there much... rich people eh?), it's a pretty magnificent building and beautifully kept up. One of the crowning glories is the stairwells, which depending on who you believe - and it's a bit vague - were designed or inspired by Leonardo da Vinci who lived in the region until his death.

Basically, it's an amazing place and a must see if you're in the vicinity.


Orléans and Vendôme.

Slowing down a tad, the next couple of days were spent popping to two more local towns (well, I say local - both around an hour each way from our base... France is big). The first was Orléans - yes, the Joan of Arc one - which again has a pretty awe-inspiring Cathedral and more excitingly, a branch of C&A just across from a lovely square with children playing in fountains.

Second on the list was the sadly mostly shut town of Vendôme. Well, i say mostly shut: we went on a Sunday which we forgot means everything really is shut as unlike the UK, the French actually do have some sort of day of rest. Still, another lovely town with great views from the castle.


Clos Lucé.

There's a lot of Leo in the Loire, and by that, I don't mean DiCaprio. As previously mentioned, Da Vinci entered French service in 1516, and was given use a rather nice manor house called Clos Lucé where he spent three years until he died. The house is now a reworked museum with not only recreated rooms, but actual working models of his inventions.

I felt the gardens, rather than the house was the main draw - not only are they wonderfully kept but they're peppered with inventions for kids (and adults) to play on, and lovely little touches like steam popping out of the little river flowing along the grounds. 

So, château visited, wine drunk, towns walked around, bike rides had and, for one of us, a lot of time spent in the pool, we snaked our way back via Rouen to the coast. We could have easily had another week in the Loire region as there's loads to see and the campsite style is great as a base - especially when it's as hot as it currently is. 

Perhaps next year we'll head a bit further south and try out a similar gig in the south of France. Global warming allowing.


Tech Corner:
The whole gang of Zeiss and Sony lenses from 25mm, through 35/55 to the 85mm got a runout but I really enjoyed playing with the Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 this time out too. I'll do a full review using all sorts of shots from that soon once i've got some semblance of mastery of it.