Lenses

Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar Review

Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar

The Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar fits into a category of lenses I own that I can’t quite entirely rationalise. It’s a lens that I only use once or twice a year, but despite this I can’t part with it. Whilst some of my reasons for keeping it feel quite legitimate, a good few of my reasonings aren’t entirely rational! I shall start with the less rational, and work up from there…

I’ve had my Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 for years. I bought it on one of those incredibly rare occasions when a you stumble across a bargain on eBay. The seller had taken some awful photos of it; they were mostly out of focus and from so far away it was hard to determine anything useful. As such I won it for quite a small amount of money – espcially relative to what I see them go for today. This is actually the first reason I can’t find myself willing to part with it. These sorts of bargains don’t come along that often!

The fact that I got a bargain aside, the way the Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 looks is probably the most irrational justification for my desire to keep it… but, just look at the thing…

This lens – unlike a some of the other smaller Voigtlander lenses from the same era – is made of brass. But let’s not dwell too much on that – this sort of kit-fancy is just daft, right…? There really is a lot more to a lens than its aesthetics when married to a stunningly brassed 1932 Leica Model E Standard and Voigtlander 28/35 mini-finder… …. ……

The rarity factor

The Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 also now seems to be quite hard to come by, and with this rarity – at least according to a certain U.S. dealer/forum owner – is also seeming to be gaining a little bit of a cult status. Apparently it wasn’t that popular when it was available to buy new, but has consistently gained in popularity since it went out of production. I’ve no idea how one might fully quantify such a statement – especially as there are very few reviews of this lens published online – but one thing is for sure, very few of these lenses appear on eBay, and those that do appear seem to be going up in value. To my mind this makes the lens even harder to part with. If I regret selling it, my chances of finding another one without losing money are quite slim.

Handling and design

Anyway, in a bid to drift closer to the more rational reasons why I can’t sell my Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5, I’m going to (properly) start this review with some thoughts about how it handles. I can imagine that looking at it without the experience of using it you might find yourself concerned that it will fall short somewhat in this department? Actually this isn’t the case at all. Despite its small size, it’s a really nice lens to use in almost all regards.

Yes, it’s fair to say that the little focusing pin isn’t as perfectly comfortable to use as a good indented focusing tab, but it still works very nicely. I do much prefer a proper focus tab, but I can make do with this instead just fine! The aperture control is also very easily grabbed. All in all, it doesn’t feel fussy to use at all – which I’ve always thought is quite an achievement for such a small lens.

Despite its size – and possibly to do with the fact that it’s made of brass – it’s not too light either. Unfortunately, it’s slightly too light to balance an m-body properly so can suffer the tilting back/looking up issue when attached to a camera hanging from a neck strap. But mounted on a Barnack Leica it feels very nice indeed. In fact, as you can probably tell by the pictures within this post, mounting it on a Barnack is pretty much standard for me.

The only design flaw (if you could call it such a thing) is that the hood screws to the outer part of the front of the lens. To be fair this is quiet an elegant solution to the problem of fitting the hood to the lens. Like most lenses, it allows a filter to be attached within the hood using the thread inside the front of the lens. My issue is, when you remove the hood it leaves the thread exposed which just looks a little ugly. A little ring to screw on in place of the hood would be a nice addition, I think. Though to be honest, it’s such a small lens, keeping the hood mounted all the time doesn’t really do any harm, and likely helps control flare etc anyway.

Image qualities

Everything I have so far mentioned aside, actually its the image quality that really impacts on my desire to keep it! The Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 undoubtedly fits into the category of lenses that most frequently and specifically fit my personal image quality preferences. It’s true that once in a while I like to wonder down a path of vintage low contrast lenses, but ultimately the look I most prefer in my images is derived from using high contrast optics.

Cornwall - Day 4

The Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar is without doubt a high contrast optic. It’s never really jumped out at me as being exceptionally high resolving – though it might well be – I just think it is fair to say that the perceptible sharpness is more readily defined by its high contrast. Which – is to repeat myself slightly – is just the sort of look I like from a lens! To my eye, it’s this type of rendering that creates images that have a really nice three-dimensional look when looking at an image from a normal viewing distance.

Cornwall 2015 - Last Day

Cornwall 2015 - Day 5

I’d also rate it highly when it comes to colour rendition. To my eye, it’s quite neutral, but perhaps because of the high contrast colours seem to pop. I don’t have to tweak much at all post scan to get the rich pallet of colours that I preference in my photography. Interestingly, I’ve found it to be similar in both colour and contrast to the 50mm f/3.5 Heliar I recently shot with – though I’d argue it’s perhaps not quite as high resolution.

Wilces Cider

Kings

Flare, distortions and vignetting.

The Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar is also similar to the Heliar in the fact that it doesn’t really flare – this might be a by product of the fact that I always shoot with the lens hood in place I suppose (as I did with the Heliar), but I actually I’ve only managed to get it to flare a couple of times, and that’s when shooting it directly into the sun.

Wilces Cider

Cornwall 2015 - day 3

It’s also basically lacking in distortion – or at least I’ve never spotted any in my results.

Cornwall 2015 - Last Day

Where it definitely departs in character from the Heliar is in the fact that it’s a lot more susceptible to Vignetting when shot wide open. Though as I must have said a million times on this blog by now, whether or not this is an issue will come down to your personal preferences. I quite like it. It’s also very different to the Heliar in terms of its transiation to out of focus – but I will come to that in a mo…

Autumn lake

Cornwall - Day 4

Shooting on the a digital Leica

The vignetting is as usual slightly greater with a digital sensor. It also suffers with a touch of colour shift into the corners when shot on an M9 without a lens profile selected. I discovered this when I got back of my holidays in 2016 (just after I bought my M9). I shot all holiday without selecting a profile, then had to attempt to remove this shift in post process. For the most part – as you can see in these images – I just left it in. I knew I’d get around to reviewing it eventually and decided the images would come in handy… that and removing it is too much of a faff for me…

Devon with the M9

Devon with the M9

These days I set it on one or another of the wide angle lens profiles. Most of them seem to get rid of the colour shift, and some get rid of the vignetting too. Which of them will suit you will no doubt come down to your own preferences. My tip is to experiment!

Depth of field

The last thing I want to talk about before I conclude is what I’ve found to be a nice broad depth of field at any given aperture. I noticed this when comparing it to the Zeiss 28mm Biogon. The Biogon seems to have a more narrow depth of field. Now, you’re going to have to trust me in this one, because I can’t be bothered to take a set of boring test shots. But, using the depth of field scale on the Voigtlander I’ve noticed the fall off in focus to be less. So for example, with the Voigtlander if you set it to f/8 at 3m so the distant f/8 mark is by the infinity symbol, you’ll get pretty much sharp results to infinity. With the Biogon, the fall of in focus is much greater; infinity looks noticeably softer.

Interestingly, this is I think what makes the Biogon such a great 28mm for contextual portraiture. Focus on your subject, and you can get a greater sense of background separation. The Voigtlander on the other hand falls of in depth of focus much slower and therefore makes it arguably better for subject matter where the goal is to have as much in focus as possible.

Fit for my purpose

I’ve read a lot of comments on forums from people referring to this lens as not being ideal for landscape work. Specifically, I’ve read a lot of comments that talk about how it being high contrast makes it less ideal.

Cornwall 2015 - day 3

I guess this just comes from a place of preference, as for me, I find it ideal for landscaping. For a start, it’s f/3.5 aperture takes it out of the equation for any particular lower light photography, but more importantly, I just love the look I get. The richness of colours and high contrast just work for me, and the vignette when shot wide brings more to the party than it takes away for my tastes.

Additionally to this, there’s the advantage that comes from broader sense of depth of field at any given aperture. With focus falling off so slowly, even when shot wide open you can get a really nice landscape image by focusing on the middle-near distance. This next shot is possibly the favourite I’ve shot with this lens.

Cornwall 2015 - day 3

It was quite low light so I shot it wide open and focused on quite close to ensure detail in the near rocks. If you click on the image and go through to the high resolution version on Flickr, you’ll find what basically amounts to a out of focus horizon. But, thanks to the very gradual fall off of focus, it looks very natural. If I’d shot this with the Biogon, I’d bet the image would have been at least a little more characterised by a sense of shallower depth of field.

Just for reference, I’d argue that no landscape image should be perfectly sharp to infinity anyway, it just looks forced to my eye, but that’s perhaps a conversation for another time. The point is here, this lens can be shot quite easily at f/3.5 even for work where a broader depth of field is required. This of course makes my desire to shoot this lens on my Leica Standard a little less shallow, so to speak. The Standard lacks a rangefinder, but shooting this lens by means of the focus scale alone is particularly easy… See, I told you that not all my reasons for keeping it were irrational!

Cornwall holiday 2015

Skip to the end

As I said at the beginning of this review, I only shoot the Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar a few times a year. It’s this fact that makes me most often wonder about how I can rationalise keeping it. But, when push comes to shove and I think about actually parting with it, in the end I always give in to the thought processes I have shared within this review. In simple terms, I have a lens that I got for a bargain price, that would be hard to buy again if I sold it and regretted it. It also looks and works perfectly on my Barnack Leicas, is really suitable for the sort of subject matter I like shooting with it, and has image qualities that I like for that subject matter. Whilst some of this is a little irrational, in combination I hope you can see why I really struggle to part with my Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    November 26, 2017 at 10:29 am

    I think you should keep it not only for the points you make above but it looks great on that Barnack Leica.
    The images are really nice too, Very pleasant colour rendering.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 26, 2017 at 11:27 am

      Cheers, Jeremy!

  • Reply
    karellen
    November 26, 2017 at 11:22 am

    At a certain point anyone should learn that even the irrational can and should be rationalized or at least taken in account. A lot of times when I decided something based on purely rational reasons I regretted them, and this is especially true in photographic equipment! As an example rational thinking alone would push us towards huge zooms, that on paper could do everything and with amazing quality, but at the end of the day it also leads you to return home bored and with boring pictures (at least for me!).
    Anyway for landscape photography the higher the contrast the lens can give, the better! It’s not that a low contrast lens will give you more information on shadows, but quite the contrary: it puts on the whole frame a veil of scattered light that have no information, and that masks the true information on shadows. Anyway you already knew that, as you have seen the pictures and thought they were good! (You see? That’s the irrational being rational!)

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 26, 2017 at 11:26 am

      Yeah, I’m completely with you on higher contrast optics for … well, actually all photography in my case… but yeah, it makes a lot of sense for landscape work to me…
      I get what you mean about rational vs. irrational – I only shoot primes too 😉

  • Reply
    Douglas Gottlieb
    November 26, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Wonderful post and images as always. And yeah. Just look at that little beauty paired with the Standard. Sell it? Never! If they were mine, I doubt I could put them down, much less sell it! 🙂

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 26, 2017 at 12:08 pm

      Cheers, Douglas! 🙂

  • Reply
    Callum Ross
    November 26, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Do the Skopar and Biogon have a DoF scale calculated for a different circle of confusion perhaps? Regarding the review itself, I usually hate the 28mm focal length but I love your pictures here, especially the last three landscapes.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 26, 2017 at 1:57 pm

      No, both CoC is the standard 0.03mm – focus to 3m at f/8 and the distant f/8 mark sits by infinity. The difference will be in the optical formula – possibly something to do with how well corrected the lens is for spherical aberrations, but we are a little past the edge of my understanding of optics to be on firm ground with that idea… The Biogon does fall off to out of focus quicker though – I noticed this when I wrote the Biogon review, but for one reason or another (I can’t remember) I didn’t include it… I even asked Zeiss about it, but got a slightly patronising and fairly useless response that just described CoC and didn’t even mention the difference I had found with my CV lens.

      • Reply
        karellen
        November 26, 2017 at 5:00 pm

        In my opinion the truth is that the depth of field is not dependent on the f/stop number and focal length, but on the pupil size. What happens is that secondly there is a correlation between pupil and f/stop, but this correlation is not the same for each lens design. What I mean is that geometrically a 28mm set at f/8 should have a pupil of 28mm / 8 = 3.5 mm of diameter, but it may happen that on a simple and small lens design you are around this size, while for a retrofocus design with a huge number of lenses and corrections you may end in a larger pupil for the same f/stop, thus giving you less depth of field. I am not 100% sure, but my bet is that if you set both the zeiss and the voigtlander at f/8, and you place a light behind them, the biogon may have a larger pupil!
        Another weird thing that may happen and that I noticed on my voigtlander 35/1.4 is that with that lens at f/2 I get a more blurry background than at 1.4! What happens is that the mechanical vignetting (that thing that makes what should supposedly be light circles becomes light rugby balls) at the widest aperture kicks in giving you more depth of field as you go towards the edges! Probably also the focus plane is not the flattest anyway…

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          November 27, 2017 at 9:14 am

          Interesting – I suspect, actually, it’s a combination of things that only someone with a significantly greater understanding of all these things would be able to fathom. That being said, this sounds like a very viable contributory factor!

  • Reply
    George Appletree
    November 26, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Yes, actually all can be rationalized, except what it cannot. One of those exceptions is photography; some photographs are good not because they have good contrast or pretty composition. Lovely, lol

  • Reply
    Tom Roth
    November 26, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    In September, I had the pleasure of using one of these on a friend’s M6. We were both in his brother’s wedding and passed it back and forth during the course of the weekend’s activities. I then had the bonus pleasure of running four rolls of the weekend’s negatives through my LS-600. In doing so, the images from the Voigtlander really jumped out at me as something special (we were also shooting with a Canon 35 f2 and a 50 whose identity escapes me). I agree completely that they have a three-dimensional feel to them and render colors in a beautifully pleasing and real (but not perfectly real) way. To me, it produces images with “intangibles” akin to (please forgive the comparison) how the [former] Top Gear guys describe vehicles they like; they might enjoy a 1983 VW Golf every bit as much as a modern Ferrari because of the way it makes them feel. By my own definition, intangibles are factors that are entirely quantifiable, which I simply have no interest in actually quantifying, as that would somehow detract from their effect in the first place. I feel the same way about the Voigtlander as I do the Tessar 40mm f3.5 on my Rollei 35. I look at the images from my Rollei 35 more than any others, which I suppose has become a self-perpetuating phenomenon, as I increasingly use the Rollei 35 more than anything else. And if you don’t look at your images, what good are they.

    That’s enough philosophical waffling about lenses for me on this Sunday morning. Back to work… For the record, my vote is also firmly in the “keep it” column.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 27, 2017 at 9:12 am

      Haha, thanks Tom – you make some very good points! I have only ever heard good things about the rollei tessar, but have only ever shot the sonnar…

  • Reply
    Jose
    November 26, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    This lens seems to have identical build and similar character to my CV 75mm f2.5, but a bit higher in contrast. It’s got the same brassing and brass hood with the threads on the outside though, and also seems to be fairly uncommon. It came with the Bessa I got and I ended up liking that it was a compromise between portrait and normal focal lengths. Combined with a 35mm it makes a great compact walkaround or travel set up. Would also probably pair nicely with the 28mm lol.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 27, 2017 at 9:10 am

      I keep thinking to try one of the longer voigtlander lenses … I used to have the 75 2.5 and the 90 – but it was before I got my eye in, so to speak, so I can’t remember their optical qualities

  • Reply
    Mike Hinkleman
    November 26, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    I would never part with it. I have ‘tried’ to acquire one for years even though 28 is not my favorite focal length.

    This lens is special and renders like no other except possibly the komura 28 which apparently was done or associated to the vc 28 designer. This lens and especially the ‘soft’ vc 50 were not considered too good (throw in the 35/1.4 – Rockwell detested it). They had small prod runs. Try and find one.

    Let me know if you decide to part with the 28.

    M

  • Reply
    Ian Ronketti
    November 26, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    “..and has image qualities that I like for that subject matter.” That is probably the best reason for keeping this lens, or any other piece of photographic hardware for that matter. Nice article and great shots Hamish as ever. Keep up the good work

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 27, 2017 at 9:08 am

      Quite. Sometimes I wonder if a lot of the words I type are superfluous 😉
      Cheers,
      Hamish

  • Reply
    carlostaiwan
    November 27, 2017 at 8:41 am

    I have been wanting to buy this lens for ages, but I can’t justify ($$$) changing my Nikkor 28mm f2.8 Ai (not Ai-s), maybe one day I will be able to have both! Do you think they are comparable?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 27, 2017 at 9:07 am

      I would imagine the Voigtlander lens to be somewhat more contrasty – I haven’t shot an AI Nikon for a while, but my most recently sold 135 ais was lower contrast than this

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    November 27, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Hi Hamish,
    Now you’ve done it again – dangled a lens out there that I haven’t considered. I’m been doing some searching and reading on the M-Rokkor 28mm f.28 for my CL. Now you come and drop this into my lap to consider…
    I’m not quite sure what to make of the DOF comment. I know nothing about these subtle differences, but would I be too far off to make this statement: the Voigtlander might display characteristics of an older lens formula, with the added element of [modern] higher contrast?
    Don’t get rid of it; you’ll need it for a job or personal project, and you’ll regret selling it and then repurchasing it. Been there, done that.
    Anyway, thanks again for a actual user’s review.
    Dan

  • Reply
    Rollin Banderob
    November 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    I’m looking to sell my copy of this lens – Black, both lens caps, rear cap, hood, LTM to M adapter and in excellent condition. PM me if interested. Prefer to sell in States at this point.

  • Reply
    KJ Vogelius
    November 28, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Great write up and beautiful photos too. I especially love that coastal shot.

    I’ve been sorely tempted by this lens, especially since I just recently picked up a nice Leica II.

    How do you feel it compares to the Minolta you picked up?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 28, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      Cheers, KJ!
      The Minolta colours are much cooler – to me it’s much better suited to black & white – it also has a lot more of a vignette. The minolta is nicer to use too!
      Rollin who commented that he is selling one is a good guy – let me know if you want to be put in touch 😉

  • Reply
    Adam Laws
    November 28, 2017 at 11:00 pm

    That must be one of the most beautiful lens/camera set-ups I’ve seen. So much so I fear I have dribbled on my keyboard. Not only is the lens beautiful it has a wonderful rendering, the second from last image is superb.

  • Reply
    ScottP
    December 6, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Oh my. I have one of these, and I remember it as an inexpensive lens. I recall I bought it along with the 21 and 25mm Voigtlanders all in one go from CameraQuest, so it can’t have been much.
    I’ve almost sold it more than once, and then not, for reasons much the same as yours. I DID sell the 25mm; found it kind of flat and muzzy. Still have the 21mm, despite owning more than one lens in this focal length, which I rarely use.
    In any case, I just went and looked at eBay, and these are actually selling for from $360 to over $500, which I’m quite sure is more than I paid for them new.
    Seems the values of all Leica-mountable lenses are being dragged upward, both by the ludicrous prices of new Leica lenses, and by the new lease on life given them by mirrorless digital cameras.

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