In the Field: Voigtländer COLOR-SKOPAR 21mm f3.5 ASPH for Sony E-Mount

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One of the first lenses I purchased after switching from DSLRs to mirrorless cameras was a Voigtländer COLOR-SKOPAR 21mm f/4 P, a manual-focus Leica M-mount lens that, dollar-for-dollar, is one of the smallest, lightest, and sharpest "pancake" ultra wide-angle lenses for full-frame cameras. The lens isn’t terribly fast, it’s prone to vignetting, and when used on digital cameras under 36MP, it’s also prone to color smearing. Nevertheless, it was a constant companion on many photo excursions. When the lens was updated in the guise of the Voigtländer COLOR-SKOPAR 21mm f/3.5 Aspherical lens for Sony E-mount cameras, I signed on to review Voigtländer ’s newest ultrawide.

Photographs © Allan Weitz, 2019

As with many wide-angle lenses, the new Voigtländer 21mm f/3.5 F/3.5 ASPH can make ordinary objects appear monumental by simply getting in close and focusing tightly on your subject. In the case of Voigtländer’s 21mm f/3.5 ASPH, close focusing is a tight as 7.9" from your subject.

Although they share the COLOR-SKOPAR nameplate, the new lens is larger (2.5 x 1.6") and heavier (8.1 oz) than its M-mount predecessor (2.2 x 1" and 4.8 oz). The new E-mount lens is faster (f/3.5 vs f/4) and it contains 9 elements in 8 groups (including aspherical and low-dispersion lens elements), compared to 8 elements in 6 groups in the M-mount version. The new E-mount lens is sharper across the entire viewing field with nary a trace of color smear that was common to earlier-generation M-mount ultrawides. Both lenses take photographs that are really nice. The new one takes even nicer photographs.

You like sun stars? You’re going to love this lens. A 10-bladed aperture guarantees well-defined star-like specular highlights, which start flaring up with a few clicks down on the aperture ring.

Photographs taken wide open display noticeable vignetting toward the edges of the frame, and even after stopping the lens down, trace amounts of darkened corners remain. I do not mind a degree of vignetting when shooting with wide-angle lenses and, when it is an issue, I find it relatively easy to correct any vignetting issues post-capture.

Generally, I found the bokeh produced by this lens to be smooth and natural looking, though in a few instances, the background blur was a bit on the “nervous” side, but again, bokeh preferences are purely subjective.

Like most Voigtländer-branded lenses (manufactured by Cosina, in Japan), the COLOR-SKOPAR 21mm f/3.5 ASPH is built very well. It has solid, all-metal construction with smooth (and tight) focus travel. Even the third-stop indent clicks of the lens’s easy-to-access aperture ring are precise, well defined, and for those of a certain mindset—satisfying to inner analog sectors of our souls.

The many food carts and construction zones in midtown Manhattan make for some fun image juxtapositioning—easy to come up with when shooting lenses with wider fields of view.

Included with each lens is a shallow lens shade that, due to its narrow depth, does a so-so job of protecting the front lens element against protruding fingers and airborne schmutz. The shade is also similarly so-so at preventing lens flair, but short of using a bulkier “tulip" shade, it’s still better than no shade at all. However, I screwed the shade onto the lens when I first started using it and haven’t given it much though since. A 52mm lens cap is also included and it stays in place equally well, regardless of whether the shade is in place.

Lenses with 90°angles of view (and wider) are optimal choices if you plan on photographing tightly confined cityscapes.

Summary

Voigtländer ’s COLOR-SKOPAR 21mm f/3.5 for Sony E-mount cameras is one of the better manual focus ultra-wide-angle lenses on the market. It’s built extremely well, it takes sharp, color-correct imagery, is priced fairly, and is just the right size and weight for travel and daytripping. Are there better, i.e., sharper, better-corrected manual-focus 21mm lenses available for Sony E-mount cameras? Yes, there are, but they cost about twice the price. Like I said up front, the Voigtländer COLOR-SKOPAR 21mm f/3.5 is, dollar-for-dollar, one of the best ultra-wide lenses out there for Sony E-mount cameras.

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