Sometimes a lens catches your eye not because of its brilliant resolution or bokeh-inducing aperture but because of the unique features that it brings to the table. Today, I want to talk about the Voigtländer 35mm f/2.5 Color Skopar lens, which has some rather unique features of its own. Voigtländer has long been in the business of making affordable lenses for M-mount bodies and this lens is no exception. A good used copy can run well under $350 – a welcome number when the Zeiss equivalent can cost 2-3x more and the Leica equivalent costs several thousand dollars.
But is this lens worth it? What kind of quality can you be getting for a fraction of the price of equivalent lenses?
First off, the obvious – this lens is small – incredibly small. Mounted on a Leica M body, the lens only protrudes 2.2 cm (0.87 in) from the front of the camera while weighing a mere 4.7 oz (134 g)! This makes for a lovely package for those who like to travel light. Even when mounted on a Sony A7 with an adapter, it easily fit inside my jacket or backpack pocket while I was out and about testing this lens.
The body is completely made of metal, as you would expect with an M-mount rangefinder lens, and seems like it could withstand the usual knocks. It is hard to compare a lens’s build when the competition is Zeiss and Leica, but the Voigtländer is no slouch.
An irritating little side note is the lens cap that is included. It is a flimsy plastic thing that has a nasty habit of falling off at the slightest touch. I recommend spending some money on a nice UV filter or lens hood and just forgetting about the lens cap.
The focus throw is beautifully damped on my copy and has a travel of about 45 degrees. The focus tab (also built out of metal) is extremely easy to hold onto and a focus scale is included as with all manual focus lenses.
Of course being an m mount rangefinder lens, the minimum focus distance is only 0.7 meters. Voigtländer does make a close focusing adapter that allows you to focus much closer but it is rather pricey, being about the same price as the lens itself. Honestly, the limitation has not bothered me much as the 35mm focal length does not lend itself to close up photography in my opinion.
The aperture ring on this lens is a bit troublesome. While the rest of the body is tightly put together, the aperture ring will wobble if pushed in and out. It is a little thing, but once you realize the wobble is there, it is hard to forget. Some people have complained about the aperture ring being too loose and thus accidently knock it out of place while focusing. This is most definitely true. The ring moves with the slightest touch. In any case, I have just developed the habit of checking my aperture every once in a while during a shoot.
Before continuing, here is a quick rundown of the lens’s specifications. It has been designed with seven elements in five groups and has ten aperture blades, which Voigtländer claims will produce a pleasing out of focus effect. The filter thread is a standard 39mm. Filters are quite cheap at this size – even high quality ND filters will generally be under $70, with most around $30 or so.
But enough about the build – how does it actually perform in real life? The first thing to note is that it has a maximum aperture of f/2.5. This of course contributes to its diminutive size, but means that you will not be using this indoors without pushing your ISO up a bit. Obviously, the maximum aperture is a function of this lens’s low price point, so take it as you will. If you really want that large aperture, Voigtländer also makes their well-known 35mm f/1.4 lens, which has been reviewed endlessly around the internet. You will lose some of the compactness of the Color Skopar with the f/1.4 version and gain about 70 grams in weight however.
This can be a rather subjective topic in my opinion and people can and will endlessly discuss whether a lens has “good” or “bad” bokeh so I will keep it brief and let you decide for yourselves.
The bokeh balls are round wide open except around the edges where they naturally become a little “crushed”. Any out of focus light source (even indirect as can be seen in the above photograph) will turn into dozens of flickering bokeh balls when shot wide open. The balls do tend to have hard edges and can be distracting – although in my opinion they are quite beautiful. With complicated backgrounds, it will start to look at little nervous wide open in the corners. The top left and right corners of the following image show some of the nervousness that occasionally will accompany this lens.
This is where the lens blew me away. The Voigtländer lens is incredibly sharp wide open in the center and it only improves as you stop down. The images below are a crop of the last image taken with various apertures. (No sharpening was done in post with any of the images in this review.)
Open the full size image and you will see that there is extremely impressive resolution starting even at f/2.5. This was not something I was expecting with this lens. Take a look at the detail in the hair around the eye of the dog as well as the spines on the cactus in the next image.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the corners. From around f/2.5- f/4 the corners look smudged and dark. This is quite a common performance for rangefinder lenses on mirrorless cameras, especially when it comes to the wider focal lengths. Simply put, it’s caused by the shallow angle at which the light hits the sensor stack on the A7.
The lens exhibits surprisingly good resistance to flare. Even when shot directly into the sun, flare is minimal.
The following image was the worst example of flaring I could create and even this was only at a very precise angle with the sun. By moving the lens ever so slightly, the flare would completely disappear.
The most glaring issue, which I am sure many of you have already noticed in the previous images, is the vignetting. This lens vignettes like mad when shot wide open.
Even when stopped down a stop or two (or dare I say even three) it is still noticeable.
Is this a deal breaker? For some of you, probably yes. However, once again let me remind you of the relative price when compared to other rangefinder lenses. In practice, by f/5.6 the vignetting is completely unnoticeable. I typically shoot landscapes at f/8 with this lens, and by that point, the vignetting is completely gone.
Other things that I have noticed while using this lens:
There is some significant focus breathing that goes on when focusing. Once again, this is not a big deal when you consider the price point but it is something to keep in mind if you intend to shoot video with this lens.
Some people have reported the lens leaving a purple tint over their images. I am not one to shoot test charts for lenses so I can’t confirm this but I never noticed anything while using it.
I think Voigtländer accomplished something quite lovely with this lens. With the Leica Summarit 35mm f/2.4 lens costing around $2000, it is refreshing to see Voigtländer producing a solid lens for 1/7 the price. If you are able to live with the vignetting and poor corner performance wide open on mirrorless cameras, then this may be a great lens for you. Additionally, if you are just starting out with an M-mount body and looking to grab your first piece of glass without breaking the bank, I could not recommend this more.
Some additional film photographs
I didn’t use film for the review as I found it easier to demonstrate the main properties of the lens on digital. But for those looking for an idea of how well it performs with film here are several shots taken on my Leica M4-P.
As can be seen the issue with soft corners is not apparent, and the vignetting greatly reduced.
More of my photos can be found on my Instagram – theowiersema
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26 thoughts on “Voigtländer 35mm f/2.5 Color Skopar Review – by Theo Wiersema”
The point of little lenses is handling them. It seems ergonomically well built, other that the wobble you comment… difficult to imagine.
Quite a bit vignetting. Perhaps it works better with a cropped sensor
Thanks! The focus tab is a welcome addition when so many lenses nowadays don’t include it.
Thanks for taking the time to write & illustrate the lens review.
I’ve got this lens, purchased in January of 2015. At the time of purchase, I also got the dedicated lens shade and a 39mm UV B+W filter.
I was looking for a compact lens to use with my CL & M2 & 7.
I shoot B&W film and was so surprised with the results of this lens. I love it. I don’t have the wobble you described – perhaps Voigtlander fixed the problem?
My quibbles with the lens are minor: a tiny black aperture index line on the chrome ring; red numbering in the focus scale (hard to see in dim light) and, as you pointed out, a crappy lens cap.
I’ve shot wide open in dim light – I metered off a highlight and let the deep shadows go to black. For people who shoot film, and the 2.5 opening is troubling, just expose your 400 speed film @ E.I 800.
Good to hear the wobble did you knock affect you. Could have just been my copy I suppose. I’m glad you enjoy the lens as much as I do!
and what about the Skopar 50mm 2.5 ?
Thank for all,
I’ve never had the chance to test this lens. It does seem to fall into a very similar price range though. I’d be curious to see how it performs!
Nice review. One tech note for Hamish: It would be nice for the images to display at full res for Retina monitors, especially for a lens review. One hack is to force them to display at half the size uploaded. (Ex: Upload an image at 1500×1000 but set the img src to display the image at 750×500).
Love small 35 lenses. This lens has always tempted me but when it came time to buy I could not find one to rent or test. I’ve had a good track record with VC lenses, owning the 28/3.5 and 21/4. I could find a Zeiss 35/2.8 C-Biogon to test. That lens stunned me when it out performed my 35 ASPH Cron.
Looks like the 35 Skopar shines on film.
Did you note any focus shift on the Skopar? The C-Biogon has zero focus shift, where I’ve noted focus shift on the Leica ASPH Cron and the 35/2.4 Summarit.
I too have had a chance to use the zeiss 35mm f/2.8 and it is absolutely incredible. I did not notice any focus shift with the voigtlander 35 although with a maximum aperture of 2.5 and being 35mm, a slight shift might not be noticeable.
Just one thing, is that lens rangefinder and viewfinder coupled for Leica?, the Nokton 40 doesn’t couple the viewfinder.
Also I think there’s no Skopar 50, but 21.
By the way my experience with the Zeiss biogon 35 was not actually satisfactory, it’s optically excellent but the built is a disaster.
It brings up the 35mm frame lines properly.
That’s good thank you.
The skopar 50 does exist, out of
My daughter uses a Bessa-R fitted w/a 50mm f/2.5 color skopar. It’s a LTM lens.
The 35 f/2.5 is R/F coupled, and it brings up the 35mm frame lines on both my M2 & M7.
Thanks for the review. There is not so much information about this lens online. At least not much I have found.
I also have this lens to complement my 50mm ZM Sonar. I have to say I like them both very much, though the Sonar is my desert island lens.
But the color skopar is great as well for the size, price and image quality.
I use it exclusively on film though.
Some samples can be seen here: http://camerajunky.net/2016/06/12/gruner-see/
Thanks for this review, likewise I am amazed there are not more reviews of this excellent lens around. I have one for around a year now and I use with an M6 and mostly faster film (like tri-x). A friend loaned me his Leica Summicron 35mm asph and I was amazed to discover that, hand held, it was not easy to see the difference with this lens even at f2.8 ! For a faster lens, the Voigtlander 35/1.4 is nice but alas, there is the well-documented barrel distortion. Thanks ! And more film images please Hamish, I am worried by all this M9 stuff :-).
Thanks for review. I bought the Color Skopar as an affordable entry lens when I got my first M rangefinder, and ended up loving it.
Odd though, I’ve only used it on film and haven’t noticed any issue with vignetting. Perhaps it’s a digital-only problem, or more likely given you used an A7, a compatibility issue?
Most likely an issue with the a7. I noticed very little vignetting on the Leica film body.
Thanks for the review, but may I ask what camera did you use to shoot these images?
Also vignetting does look quite severe and is still clearly visible at f8.
Also above the dog pic it says open the full size image and yet I can’t find anywhere where I can actually see the full size.
Shoot most of the images with the Sony a7. There was much more vignetting on the Sony Camera compared to the film body.
I use this lovely little lens on my M9, its always attached, very small and compact, I never have the lens hood on it because it just does not look threatening without it, I did have a 35mm f2 Summicron but had to part with it because of money problems, this little gem stands up well, I lost my lens cap, I bought a cheap one off Amazon and its never come off, I have several digital cameras with various lenses, one full frame but my M9 and this lens is used more than all the others
I have one that has had a lot of use on my M9, it’s a fine lens and I have no complaints about the results, my lens cap kept coming off until I lost it, the replacement I bought stays put.
Hi! Tank you for the great review. At the moment I have the opportunity to buy either a Color Skopar or a Flektogon 35mm 2.4, but I do not know which of the two lenses is better. I would love to know if you had the opportunity to try these two lenses. And if so, what would your recommendation be? Thanks!
I also made a cool little hood for this Color Skopar 35mm
I know this is kind of an old post but it was one of the reasons I bought this lens. I have a leica M4-2 with this lens and a zeiss 50mm f2 planar. the color skopar blew me away on color film. the craziest part is I was using sorta low quality film. some kodak color plus 200. I feel like this lens has a huge difference on 35mm film. I also want to point out that this lens is super cheep for an M mount lens. I bought mine new.
Many thanks for the write up, I love unofficial reviews.
I wonder how well or not?, the L39 threaded version of this 50mm f2.5 Color-Skopar lens would register on a Zorki 3/4 body?, ie would it truly focus to ‘infinity’ as indicated on the lens barrel? Anyone tried this at all? Thanks.
I can’t imagine you would find too much of an issue
Any idea how this would work on a full frame digital sensor, like the SL2? If anyone has samples, it would be much appreciated.