Dienstag, 7. Februar 2017

Voigtländer Color-Skopar 21mm f/4.0 - a small dark gem


Yes, the lens is not particularly fast and 21 mm is a not really great on a full frame camera.   But this German masterpiece of optical technology is so small and cute (yes, yes I know the part is from Asia, but the name reminds so of the good old times). Even with adapters still more compact than all possible native lenses for E-mount. Okay, I think there are still a few pancakes. But optically and mechanically they can not keep up. Alone the touch feeling is fantastic, the lens feels heavy and yet very compact, everything moves smoothly, precisely and without any problems. The aperture ring has two tabs like the native Leica-objectives- it is a pleasure to set the right distance. 
Now I am already in the rave, we do not want to exaggerate. Sure, there is better, just because the Voigtländer does not have an autofocus. And even with the initial aperture 4.0 is not really bright.
With an APS-C camera, like the Sony a6x00, you get with the small Voigtländer 21mm a perfect combination for all daily requirements.
Converted to the format of a full frame camera, 21mm correspond to about 32mm. A perfect focal length for reports, street, and even portraits. The unpleasant part to the end: the lens is quite expensive. Not as expensive as modern lenses from Zeiss or Leica, but not really cheap. 
The manufacturer's suggested retail price is 499, - Euro, the street price for new goods is not much below. When used, you have to pay - depending on the condition - between 250 and 300 euros.  Is the purchase worthwhile if you get the more powerful Sigma 19mm f/2.8 ART for only 160, - Euro?  Or the Sony Pancake 20mm f/2.8 from 285,- Euro? Honestly, not really. What makes the small Voigtländer so unique and interesting? 

Sony NEX-5R with VL 21mm f/4.0 at f/8.0, 10s, ISO 100

Well, with all his weaknesses, the photos have a distinctive character.  Just take a look at the pictures at the end of the review and decide for yourself if you like them.
I personally like not only the warm colors, the strong contrast also with open aperture, but also the brilliant sharpness of the lens. Not least also the magnificent light stars, which are already from aperture 5.6 on each picture with a light source to be found.

Let's start with the usual statistics:

Lens-type: prime lens with 21mm focal length
Smallest aperture: f/22
Optical design: 8 lenses in 6 groups, multicoated
Image angle: 91°
Number of shutter blades: 10
Minimum focus distance: 0,5 m (1,75 feet)
Maximum diameter: 55 mm
Overall length: 25,4 mm
Mount: Leica-M mount (older copies also have a M39 mount)
Weight: 136 gr. (4,7 oz.)
Filter size: 39 mm
Color: black
Type of lens hood: LH-1 (must be purchased separately)




The current version has been produced since 2007, the predecessor had a M39 mount and was only single coating.  Since 1999, Cosina has taken over the original German trade name "Voigtländer" and continues to develop lenses and cameras after the end of patent protection.
The name-suffix "Color-Skopar" is mostly used for lenses which are comparatively low in light, like Color Skopar 35mm f/2.5 (Leica-M mount) or Color Skopar 20mm f/3.5 (for Canon EF and Nikon F mount). 
Let's get to the picture quality.
The Voigtländer is excellent sharp in the center, even at f/4. It's a little bit less sharp in the corners, but not by much.  From aperture 5.6 upwards, the lens is razor-sharp to the corners. Due to the low focal length, you can also hold very long exposures by hand. I can easily get 1/8s without problems. The good thing is: at aperture 8 everything is from one meter distance to infinity sharp.
The picture contrast and the resolution are extraordinary, the colors very warm. If you shoot in Jpeg you have in the normal case in Photoshop only little after-work.

Sony NEX-5R with VL 21mm f/4.0 at f/8.0, 1/250s, ISO 100

It is extremely difficult to achieve a bokeh with this lens. Especially because of the great minimum distance of 0.5 meters to the motif. Add to this the weak initial light intensity of f / 4.0. I've been experimenting for a long time until I've made a half-sensible bokeh with this photo. As you can see, it is not particularly creamy, but rather wary.

Sony a6000 with VL 21mm f/4.0 at f/4.0, 1/8s, ISO 100 (100% crop)

With backlighting the Voigtländer has only little problems, the flares are hardly disturbing and rather a component of the picture composition. This can be seen quite well at this night scene.

Sony NEX-3N with VL 21mm f/4.0 at f/8.0, 15s, ISO 100

Sony NEX-3N with VL 21mm f/4.0 at f/11.0, 30s, ISO 100

An important thing I do not want to undercut: The lens shows on some cameras, especially on older Sony-NEX, magenta vignettes. Depending on the type of camera is quite violent. This is especially noticeable on my NEX-3N and my NEX-5R. On the full frame camera, like the Sony a7, these discolorations show only minimally, as one sees at these pictures.  The vignettes can be quickly removed with a click in Lightroom. Or you use apps, like Cornerfix, but only works with the DNG image format.

Sony a7 with VL 21mm f/4.0 at f/4.0, 1/60s, ISO 100
Sony a7 with VL 21mm f/4.0 at f/4.0, 1/60s, ISO 100

Now what can be said to summarize this lens? It is too expensive, it has no autofocus and actually there are enough alternatives at cheaper prices. On the other hand, it is particularly wide-angled and extremely sharp in the city, especially in the countryside. Due to its compactness, it fits with every camera in every jacket pocket and can always be there. 

I think everyone should decide for himself whether he is willing to pay so much money.

Here are some pictures that have emerged in recent years: