I mentioned it when I reviewed Voigtländer’s excellent 40mm f/1.2: Voigtländer has been killing it of late. Cosina has managed to take a brand that had been dormant for a while, and resurrect it with a wide variety of unique manual focus lenses for both Leica M mount and now Sony E-Mount. Today’s reviewed lens, the Voigtländer 21mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar, joins a Voigtländer lineup for Sony mirrorless cameras that now totals 8 released lenses (9 if you include the rather unique 40mm f/2.8 that has a dedicated M-E adapter), with two more on the way later this spring.
Voigtländer has had a 21mm Color-Skopar in their lineup for years and years, and more recent iterations have become known for excellent image quality in a very small package. The new Sony E-mount version of the 21mm Color-Skopar is a refined design that improves on their previous 21mm f/4 for Leica M. The Voigtländer 21mm has a retail price of just $699, which is less than half the price of its closest competition, the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8. That Zeiss lens was the best overall wide-angle lens I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. While I didn’t expect the Color-Skopar to match or exceed the Loxia, could the Voigtländer approach that level of performance in a smaller and cheaper package?
If you haven’t read my reviews before, I do not generally perform resolution tests or make charts to track quality measures. I take a real world approach to my reviews and evaluate how a lens or camera handles and works for me in regular use.
Construction and Handling
The Voigtländer 21mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar shares the same design language as all the other E-mount Voigtländer lenses. The lens has a completely metal body, finished in a satin black finish with a fairly broad scalloped focus ring and knurled aperture ring at the front of the lens. The 21mm f/3.5 is a very small lens, at just over 1.5 inches long, and the same diameter as the lens mount. While fairly dense for its size due to the metal and glass construction, the 21mm f/3.5 is also a fairly svelte 230g. In both size and weight, it’s a considerably smaller package when compared to the Loxia 21mm f/2.8, which is nearly double the length and nearly double the weight, at 2.8 inches long and 394g.
The lens is a great option for those times you want a quality wide-angle lens in the smallest possible package. You don’t sacrifice build quality to achieve that size either, as the Voigtländer 21mm is extremely solidly constructed, with no flex or looseness anywhere on the lens body. The focus ring is extremely well damped and buttery smooth to operate. The aperture ring at the front of the lens is very thin, but operates with wonderfully tactile clicks at each 1/3 stop change in aperture from f/3.5 to the minimum aperture of f/22.
The 21mm f/3.5 comes with a small metal lens hood that provides a bit of shading of the front element, and perhaps more importantly, a bit of protection for the front element. It’s a screw-in type hood, but the inner ring near the lens is the same diameter as the filter threads, allowing the same lens cap to fit inside the hood. As the hood is roughly the same length as the lens cap, there is almost zero increase in size when keeping the hood affixed in storage. While I tend to leave the metal hood for my 40mm f/1.2 at home, I keep the hood attached to the 21mm f/3.5.
Like all of the Voigtländer E-mount lenses, the 21mm f/3.5 is an all-manual affair, with manual focus and aperture, but has lens contacts that electronically transfer information to the camera body. This allows for auto-magnification of the focus point (provided you have your camera set up to do so), as well as transmission of distance data, allowing for the full 5-axis image stabilization using the in-body stabilizers on Sony bodies that have them. While manual focus may not be for everyone, I really enjoy using high quality manual focus glass. Ultra-wides in particular are quite easy to use with manual focus, and the same is true for this 21mm.