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Voigtländer Color Skopar 21mm f3.5 VM review

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Hanoi at night

Introduction

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 is made for digital and shows no such problem. But lets get into the details…

Corner sharpness is not an issue

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 also tiny. It weights in at 180g and measures only 30mm in length. It also takes filters (common 39m size) unlike the 21mm Ultron for example.

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, so this might not bother you. With some practice it is still possible to guess the frame with very good results just by using the optical viewfinder.

Again good sharpness through out the frame

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 filters (other than the 21mm Ultron f 1.8).


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.

Vignetting on Leica M10, uncoded.

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.

Natural looking images without any color cast even uncoded.

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.

It also seems that there is not much distortion going. 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.

Vivid color and good micro contrast

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.

Conclusion

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, 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)



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

35mm_f1_7_ultron

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%)

Introduction

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.

Ultron_3

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.

Ultron_4

 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.

Ultron_1

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.

Ultron_2

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).

Ultron_Coding

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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