Voigtländer Color Skopar 21mm f3.5 VM review


It seems that i always end up reviewing non-Leica lenses for the Leica M mount. Maybe that is because i think that these kind of reviews are more exciting. When you want the best no compromise lenses for your M the native Leica lenses are the gold standard. They are that good and you can hardly find anything wrong with them.

The more interesting question, i think, is how good are the alternatives. They all are less expensive and that is a good thing to begin with. The lens i would like to write about today is the Voigtländer 21mm f3.5 color skopar that was just released for Leica M.

Mind you, there is also the Sony E mount version available which was released earlier. While that version seems to have the same optical formula (9 lenses in 8 groups, one aspherical element) results may still vary.

There also exists a 21mm f4 color skopar (still available today) which was never designed for digital and produced a color cast not visible when shooting film. This 21mm f3.5 was made for digital so lets find out how it fares.

Design and build quality

This lens is from Cosina’s vintage line and its appearance really reminds me of lenses from the past. It is a full metal construction. The chrome parts are a bit too shiny for my taste but other than that i really like the way it looks and feels in the hand. The lens is tiny. It weights in at 180g and measures only 30mm in length. It also takes common 39mm filters.

The focus ring runs smooth as does the aperture ring. Each aperture clicks firmly into place and stays where you put it (f3.5 to f22 in half stops). There is no de-click option for the M mount version.

The lens features a focus tab to help finding perfect focus. The minimum focus distance is 0.5m.

Markings are engraved on the full metal body and filled with color. There is even a dof scale. That one is harder to read though.

Overall build quality is very good and on par with other recent offerings from Cosina Voigtländer. The lens cap really is the only thing that feels cheap but it does the job and won’t fall of easily.

The retro style lens hood (LH-11) is not included in the box. It is also full metal and reminds me of the one that comes with the latest Leica 28 Summaron lens. Because of it’s size it blocks the viewfinder quite a bit. Most people probably prefer to use an external viewfinder or live view anyhow, so this will not bother them. With some practice it is still possible to guess the frame with very good results just by using the optical viewfinder.

The 21mm Color Skopar (old and new) is not a fast lens but it makes up for that with its compact size and the ability to take screw on filters.

Optical quality

Even though this is called a f 3.5 lens the actual light that hits the sensor suggests, that is more like a f 4 lens (like its predecessor). Wide open there is some vignetting. At f5.6 it is less pronounced but even at f11 there is still some left.

The sharpness and contrast is already very good at f 3.5. In between f 4 and f 11 the images have the most resolution. In real life you can hardly tell a difference but the optimum sharpness is reached at f 8. While the center sharpness is always on a impressively high level, the borders are not as sharp but only the extreme corners suffer so much that it becomes obvious. About 95% of the image has great sharpness no matter what aperture.

Diffraction kicks in at f 16 and i would not use f 22 when highest resolution is important.

Contrast is on a high level right at f 3.5 and does not improve much when stopping the lens down. I would say its about perfect. To much contrast is not what you want from a lens. Micro contrast is also on a high level especially in the center of the image which creates an impressive perception of sharpness, depth and detail.

It becomes very clear, that this glass is made for use on digital cameras when you compare the colors that it produces with its predecessor. First of there is no visible color cast and you dont need to set a lens profile in the camera. The lens works perfectly fine without any profile that might take care of optical imperfections, except vignetting.

Colors are just beautiful and more in line with what you would get from a Leica lens. That is probably the biggest achievement. But not only that, the out of focus parts are also looking very organic and the is no harshness that would disturb. Not that there is much out focus with a 21mm lens. With its minimum focus of 0.5m you dont get much bokeh but the little there is looks very good.

Distortion is on a low level. If you need straight lines (e.g. for your architecture shots) you get them. In the lab you will find that there is a tiny bit of barrel distortion almost unrecognizable in real world images. Chromatic abberations are on a low level as well.

The ten aperture blades create nice looking sun stars.

Negatives ? Well, sharpness in the extreme corners of the frame could be better as i have mentioned and the lens hood might look cool, but also blocks the view thrue the viewfinder. Other than that there is little to critcize. The vignetting should not bother you too much (and can be corrected in post of course). The lens is not your best choice if you need to shoot in low light situations (t-stop around f 4) but other than that its a fine glass.


Voigtländer always produced high quality lenses. Most of them worked perfectly with film, sharpness seldom was an issue. Color and overall rendering (harsh busy bokeh) has been more of a let down. But it seems Cosina has been focused to improve especially in these areas and they have been successful, not only with this new 21mm lens but also other recent offerings (see the fantastic 50mm f3.5 lens for example).

Color cast is not an issue on a Leica M, instead colors are very pleasing and more in line with Leicas own offerings which is great. The out of focus areas are soft and non disturbing and the transition is smooth creating very natural looking images. Yes, there is a little loss of resolution in the extreme borders of the frame (and i mean extreme borders) but in real world use that is no big deal. I really dig this tiny lens and i will keep it for my personal work.

Price: 799,- Euro or 799,- US dollar. Lens hood (LH-11) not included (99,- Euro or 99,- US dollar)

Voigtländer VM 35mm f1.7 Ultron asph. review (for Leica M)


Image Property of Voigtländer

In the end of 2014 i did a review of the Zeiss 35mm ZM Distagon and it turned out that this was a great lens. Now, about 9 months later, i have the chance to write about another alternative for the M mount.

Ultron 5

Open day at the DLR near Cologne – click on all images for best quality (one click large, two clicks 100%)


It took me quite a while before i first tested a non Leica lens on my M. There was little reason because i was always happy with Leica. Shure these lenses are pretty expensive but you get what you pay for and they hold up in value very well. Still there are good and more reasonable priced alternatives out there on the market.

While Zeiss was always known for quality glass with its own optical character Voigtländer seemed to be a bit behind, both in terms of build and optical performance. But like in the car industry times are changing and new products from less renowned companies surprise us. So after hearing good things about the new Voigtländer Ultron i thought it would be time to give it a try.


Exposed aero engine, CV 35 Ultron asph. at f 6.8 – nice 3D pop

Build quality

Note that i can only speak about the chrome version of the lens which is made out of brass. There also exists a black version that is made of aluminum. I went for the chrome one because i thought it would look cool on my M and i loved how the latest edition of the 50mm Nokton looks like. In fact the Nokton and this lens are very comparable in look and feel.

The chrome version of the Ultron is noticable heavier (330g) than its black sibling (238g). Both are well made but maybe not on par with Leica glass (or Zeiss for that matter). The aperture ring is solid and smooth at the same time although the focus ring feels a bit harsh in comparison. There is nothing wrong with it, it is just how it feels to me after shooting Leica lenses almost exclusively. The filter thread has a size of 43mm which is uncommon for Leica mount. The lens is quite small with a length of 50.6mm and comes shipped with a (screw on) metal lens hood. It feels very dense and solid in the hands and works just fine.


 Tail fin, CV 35 Ultron asph. at f 5.6 – nice color and tonality

Optical quality

Now the question is how well compares the 980 US dollar Voigtländer lens to the rivals from Zeiss and Leica ?

The new Voigtländer starts with a 1.7 aperture and wide open it is very compareable to the fantastic Zeiss in terms of sharpness. Overall performance is improved when stopping down and from 2.8 on it is as sharp as it gets, even on pixel level and even in the corners of the frame. Micro contrast is also on a high level but i usually like to add a bit clarity in post.

Colors look very true to life with this Voigtländer lens. I had my problems in the past with lenses from that company but this one is on a new level. Even better than the 50mm Nokton 1.5 asph. (which was already a step forward). The lens shows no visible focus shift also. Well done.


Imperial troopers with hostige, CV 35 Ultron asph. at f 1.7 – sharp even wide open

The lens has a good flare resistance when you shoot against the sun. At small apertures and in very contrasty scenes you can find color fringing occasionally. In most shooting situations you will see none. With its ten aperture blades it easily creates nice looking sunstars not only at f 16. The overall rendition is very organic with just the right contrast. Bokeh is also pleasing for a 35mm lens.


DLR facility, CV 35 Ultron asph. at f 6.8 – sharp from corner to corner

At f 1.7 there is visible vignetting. That is expected. It goes away when you stop the lens down. In actual photography it will not be an issue but when you shoot white walls this lens shows also a minor magenta color cast in the corners of the frame. I coded the lens as a 35mm Summicron asph. and it helped (see images below).


White wall, CV 35 Ultron asph. at f 1.7 – Image 1 uncoded, uncorrected,  Image 2 coded, corrected in LR              

If you are sensible to distortion and want straight lines right out of the box, here is good news. Distortion is on a very low level and the little there is can easily be fixed in LR if you want perfection.

The bottom line

The Voigtländer VM 35mm f1.7 Ultron asph. is a strong performer. It is sharp, has good color and contrast, a nice bokeh and handles nicely. It is not a f 1.4 lens like its more expensive competitors but that does not matter much to me. With its compact size it feels very balanced on a Leica M and it also does not block the view finder much. It comes with a lens hood and a three years warranty (in Europe) for a very reasonable price. What is not to like ? Highly recommended.

Ultron 6

Landing gear, CV 35 Ultron asph. at f 1.7 – another example of a shot taken wide open

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Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM Review (on Leica M9)

I was lucky to get the chance to test the all new Zeiss Distagon 35mm f1.4 ZM for a couple of days. While it is not officially released, it will be available pretty soon and it is eagerly awaited. Mind you, the images shown here are not made with any aesthetic claim in mind. They are just examples to show the optical characteristics. These from RAW converted JPG’s have either none or only minor adjustments in post. I also express my personal opinions here solely. Your experience might be different. With that out of the way, lets get started…

Leica M9 and Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM - click on image to enlarge
Leica M9 and Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM – click on image to enlarge


I have to admit that i love the rendering of Leica lenses on my M9 camera and i never owned or even shot a Zeiss lens before. I even decided against an upgrade to the M type 240 because of its cmos sensor and the more modern look this camera produces. But the hype for this new lens model is tremendous and so i was very excited to see how i would like it. Leica lenses are famous for their optical quality. They are almost flawless in actual use and very well build. They render images with great detail, nice color and contrast. Especially some older Leica glass adds some kind of glow that many people love. Pictures also appear to be very vibrant with great transition from focus to out of focus parts. But Leica lenses are also famous for being pricey, especially when it is fast glass. The latest Leica 35mm Summilux with its floating elements costs 4200 Euro. This Zeiss alternative is expected to cost around 2000 Euro. That is not even half the money. So how good is it ?

Build quality

The Zeiss lens weighs 381g (13.4oz) and is 87mm long with a 49mm filter thread. This is larger and heavier than the Leica counterpart which weighs 328g and is 48mm long with a 46mm filter thread (both with no lens hood). When you mount the lens onto your M9 (or M240) it gets front heavy but in the hands this is not a problem at all. You will also see some finder blockage, even without a lens hood. It is not too bad though and it did not bother me after a few frames. Build quality is top notch. The Lens is made in Japan. Only metal, glass and paint. The filter thread is made of shiny metal which i personally dont like that much. You may think different. I wished i had the lens hood that you screw onto it but it was not available yet. The lens will not ship with a lens hood. You will have to buy it seperately.

When you set your aperture you will notice the nice feel of the aperture ring. It runs smooth and each aperture (in third stops) is confirmed with a solid click. No harshness in the focus ring also. There is no focus tab like on many Leica lenses but the ring is fluted to grip on. It is actually a joy to focus the lens. The way from close focus (0.7m) to infinity is just right. Long enough to be precise and short enough for fast action (like from 5pm to 8pm on a clock). While Zeiss claims you can’t focus closer than 0.7m you can go beyond that point and my M9 focusses perfectly to 0.6m. Very nice. The lens also features a internal focus mechanism which is also nice and should help to protect the glass from dust and other nasty stuff getting inside. What i noticed is that i liked the lens cap better than what i know from my Leica lenses. You put it on and when you give it a litte push, it clicks onto the lens and will not fall off accidentally. While Leica has its FLE to eliminate possible focus shift i cant tell you what this Zeiss has instead, but i can tell you that i did not notice any focus shift. Perfect focus at all apertures and distances.

Optical quality

Sharpness is not much of an issue nowadays. This new Zeiss lens is no exception. But where other glass tends to get soft wide open or at the corners of the frame this Zeiss delivers. It has great sharpness right at f1.4. There is only a little improvement compared to f4 where the lens has its optimal sharpness. Even extreme corners are sharp wide open. In the lab you will find that it gets better stopping down to f4 but again the difference is negligible.

Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM at f4 - click on image to enlarge, click twice for 100%
Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM at f4 – click on image to enlarge, click twice for 100%

Color and contrast are on a very high level also at f1.4. Again it will improve only a bit stopped down. Very impressive. Diffraction is visible at f16 where the image gets softer.

Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM at f16 - click on image to enlarge, click twice for 100%
Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM at f16 – click on image to enlarge, click twice for 100%

Speaking of color and contrast i would say that this Zeiss is on the higher contrast side and colors are vivid. The images are slightly on the cold side on my M9 but that is something you can easily adjust to your liking in post.

ZeissDistagon 35 1.4 ZM at f5.6 - click on image to enlarge, click twice for 100%
ZeissDistagon 35 1.4 ZM at f5.6 – click on image to enlarge, click twice for 100%

The lens vignetts heavily at f1.4 which is expected. This is also easily corrected in post. You can set the lens profile in camera manually to match the Leica Summilux asph and vignetting is almost gone completely. That is what i did. Other things are not corrected this way but there is not much to correct anyhow. I saw no strong distortion or other optical flaws like chromatic abberations that needed a fix. Again very impressive.

Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM  at f1.4 - click on image to enlarge, click twice for 100%
Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM at f1.4 – click on image to enlarge, click twice for 100%

Even though we are talking about a wide angle lens, bokeh is easily created. Of course you dont get that totally blown away backgrounds, but it’s there and it helps to isolate your subject. I found the bokeh to be good but not great. The transition has not quite the same depth as i saw it in the 35 Summilux and while it is far from being busy it does not seem to have the same creaminess the Summilux delivers. Still the Distagon has great pop and 3d ness which Zeiss lenses are famous for.

Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM at f1.4 - click on image to enlarge, click again for 100%
Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 ZM at f1.4 – click on image to enlarge, click again for 100%

The bottom line

The Zeiss Distagon ZM 35mm f1.4 impressed me. It has high contrast and sharpness that matches or exceeds its rival, the Leica Summilux FLE on these points. Wether you like the higher contrast or not is a different story though. Build and handling is great, especially focussing was a breeze. You get some finder blockage but in real use it did not bother me at all. Mind you this is with no lens hood attached. Size and weight are not a problem also, at least for me. The Summilux is still noticeable smaller and lighter and has less finder blockage. Rendering is different also. While i prefer the bokeh coming from the Summilux, this Zeiss is not far behind and the differences in color are more a matter of taste than a matter of quality. This new Zeiss has a lot to offer and even might be your first choice, especially for the money. I can highly recommend it.

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