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