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