Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8
Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8 ULTRON (LEICA M mount, 58mm filters, 14.6 oz./412g, about $1,249). enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially these directly to it at Adorama, at Amazon or at eBay (see How to Win at eBay) when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep reviewing these specialized lenses when you get yours through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere. Thanks for your support! Ken.
This Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8 lens fits LEICA M cameras, and it's a much better performer than I expected. It has less distortion than any other 21mm LEICA or LEICA-mount lens I've tested, and it's sharp, making it a great choice for any kind of photography, even if you don't need its super speed for low-light.
It's almost as sharp as LEICA's 21mm f/3.4 ASPH and previous 21mm f/2.8 ASPH lenses, meaning this Voigtlander lens is still much sharper than any SLR zoom, and more than sharp enough for any purpose to which anyone who buys this lens will put it.
This 21mm f/1.8 surprisingly has very little distortion – less than LEICA's own current 21mm lenses!
You'll never see any sharpness difference between this Voigtlander and LEICA's 21mm lenses in real pictures, and if brick walls are your thing, you will see the lack of distortion in this Voigtlander lens compared to the stronger distortion in LEICA's 21mm lenses.
I have not yet tested the LEICA SUMMILUX-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH. The LEICA 21/1.4 is almost a stop faster, but at $7,000, is two-and a half stops (5.6 times) more expensive, as well as an ergonomically foolish lens needing VIII filters intended mostly for playboys. Based on my test of the very similar LEICA SUMMILUX-M 24mm f/1.4 ASPH, I predict that the LEICA 21mm f/1.4 has much worse distortion and probably is only about as sharp as this Voigtlander lens. The 24mm f/1.4 is loaded with distortion, and its curved field makes it much less sharp (by LEICA standards) than slower lenses for many uses. I'd rather have this very practical (58mm filters) Voigtlander 21/1.8 than the crazy LEICA 21/1.4. I actually own the far more practical LEICA 21/3.4 ASPH, which replaced my 21/2.8 ASPH, which are slightly sharper than any of these super-speed lenses.
This Voigtlander 21/1.8 is pretty handy; it works well on a LEICA and it's fast, too. I'm more impressed with this lens than I expected it to be.
Luckily for use on the LEICA M9, this Voigtlander 21 1.8 performs marvelously when set manually to the LEICA 21mm f/2.8 11 134 profile. When set this way there is minimal corner falloff or color shift. Even without a profile, it works pretty well on an M9.
The 21/1.8's biggest flaw for pixel-counters is that it has some lateral color fringes (secondary lateral chromatic aberration), visible if you look for this sort of thing when shot digitally, but otherwise it's invisible for normal use. By comparison, for those of you who demand the best, LEICA's current 21mm f/3.4 ASPH and the previous 21mm f/2.8 ASPH have no lateral color; perfection incarnate as we expect from LEICA.
For normal photography and especially for 35mm photography, the optics of this fast ultrawide are superb – so long as you're not comparing to LEICA lenses under the microscope.
Voigtländer 21/1.8. enlarge.
Full-frame 24 x 36mm coverage.
On all these cameras you'll need to provide your own 21mm finder.
On the LEICA M240 you'll have no way to invoke a lens correction profile unless you color black and white dots for "6-bit code" into the recess of the lens mount. Honestly, if you can afford a depreciating asset like a LEICA M240, you should be smart enough not to buy cheap lenses like this in the first place.
Of course the sillier people will use adapters to put this lens on smaller-format cameras like NEX or Fuji or micro 4/3, which makes no sense at all compared to using an 18-55mm or 14-45mm zoom for these cameras that would have optics as good, as well as full exposure automation, autofocus, EXIF data and automatic diaphragm operation.
13 elements in 11 groups.
One aspherical element.
Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8 at f/5.6. enlarge.
10 straight blades.
Stops down to f/22.
Straight sides from f/1.8 to f/19, perfectly circular at f/22.
Close Focus top
0.5 meters (1.5 feet or 18 inches).
(Most camera's rangefinders won't couple this closely even if the lens does.)
Angle of View top
91º diagonally on 24x36mm.
Capped Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8.
Voigtländer includes a plastic rear M cap (complete with LEICA's three classic nubs for removing and attaching screw-mount adapters to M cameras), and a plastic 58mm pinch-type front cap.
A felt-lined metal slipover cap would be nice, but I still prefer the 58mm cap.
69.00 mm diameter by 78.76 mm extension from flange (92mm overall), measured.
Voigtländer specifies 69mm (2.72") diameter by 78.4mm (3.09") extension from flange (92mm (3.62") overall).
14.550 oz. (412.45g), measured.
Voigtländer specifies 14.5 oz. (412g).
None; the protective metal "petals" are more to protect the front element.
They are permanently attached.
Made in top
Photokina, September 2012.
Price, USA top
September 2012 - March 2013: $1,249 (1,149 €).
Scope of Delivery top
You get the lens with caps in a plastic bag inside two white custom-molded expanded polystyrene foam pieces, with a folded sheet of instructions outside.
The Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8 is an optically swell, great-handling ultrafast ultrawide lens for LEICA-mount cameras.
This Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8 is almost as sharp as, and has less distortion than the LEICA SUPER-ELMAR-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH.
Bokeh, the character of out of focus backgrounds, not simply how far out of focus they are, is excellent.
It's difficult to get anything out of focus in the first place with a 21mm lens, but if you can, the backgrounds are soft and undistracting.
Color rendition seems a little bit greener than the LEICA SUPER-ELMAR-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH to which I compared it directly.
The calibration is right-on: the meter in my M9 tracks each half-stop click perfectly throughout the entire range.
The Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8 has no visible distortion. Brick walls look like brick walls, without the bulging often seen with LEICA's 21mm lenses used the same way.
For more critical photogrammetric use, use this coefficient in Photoshop's lens distortion filter.
© 2013 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.
Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8. enlarge.
Ergonomics are wonderful.
Focus is silky-smooth and has no play. It feels just like LEICA's newest lenses, and is even a bit smoother than LEICA's newest lenses with floating elements.
There is no focus tab; just a good-sized fluted metal ring.
The aperture ring's ridged grip is more slippery than LEICA's ribbing.
The red footage numbers are almost invisible. I shoot my product shots with boosted saturation which makes these red numbers much easier to read here than they are in actual use.
The front petals that parade as a hood are well-finished, with skillfully radiused edges that feel perfect.
I can read the aperture ring right off the lens in the bottom of my slightly blocked finder!
The lens is a bit fat at its base, so it can be more difficult to reach a LEICA's finder preview lever.
Falloff is surprisingly mild. Shot on an M9 with the LEICA 21mm f/2.8 11 134 profile, there is no visible falloff at any aperture.
With no profile, it's still surprisingly good, with only mild falloff at f/1.8 which is gone by f/2.8.
I've made this more obvious by shooting a gray field and presenting these against a gray background:
Let's now look at these plate shots in color to see what color shifts might be seen on the M9. You won't see these on 35mm film; they relate to the screwy way electronic image sensors react to light rays hitting them at odd angles on the sides.
Voigtländer uses a non-standard (for LEICA) 58mm filter thread. Nothing from LEICA matches this, so this means you'll need to add a second set of 58mm filters to your Leica setup just for this lens.
What appears to be a lens hood doesn't detach, so you have to work your fingers in at the sides to remove and attach filters. If one gets stuck, good luck getting a good enough grip on it to remove it.
Rotating split grads could be a problem: how will you grab the rear of the two-part rotating ring assembly to remove it?
Don't use polarizers on ultrawide lenses; they don't work well because of the angles involved — unless you want weird, dark bands across your skies.
View through LEICA 12 008 finder.
There is some finder blockage at the bottom.
In actual use, it isn't that bad. It's a lot less bad the the fundamental defect of rangefinder cameras that prevents us from being able to compose through-the-lens!
As a bonus, I can read the aperture ring right off the lens in the bottom of my finder! It's f/5.6 as shown above.
Shot into the sun at f/11. bigger.
Even shot into the sun, and with a multicoated filter on the front, I saw no flare and no ghosts – even on my digital LEICA M9!
This is excellent performance.
Focus is easy, smooth and precise.
It's also super-accurate as expected with any ultrawide lens on a rangefinder camera.
Lateral color fringes are this Voigtländer 21/1.8's biggest optical flaw.
You'll never see the color fringes from this Voigtlander lens in real use, but if you like to look for these sorts of defects, you will see slight magenta/green secondary lateral chromatic aberration.
The Boss' Big White Boat at f/11. Full-resolution.
Rear, Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8. enlarge.
This Voigtländer is very well made; just as well made as the Zeiss lenses made in the same factory.
Honestly, it feels just as good as LEICA lenses even if I don't prefer the styling. I'll bet that in 30 years, these Japanese lenses will have less internal fog and still have viable lubrication, while LEICA lenses will need internal cleaning and relubrication!
Barrels, aperture and focus rings
Black anodized aluminum.
Engraved and filled with paint.
Engraved into back of mating surface of lens mount.
Red index dot
The more you know about photography, the more you know that lens sharpness doesn't matter. Sharp lenses aren't related to making sharp photos.
This said, it's less sharp in the corners than LEICA's slower 21mm lenses, but so what; it's still much sharper and less distorted than SLR zooms like the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L II.
Here's the good part: it's still very sharp even wide-open at f/1.8! It doesn't get much softer – if at all – at f/1.8, so it's game-on to open it up anytime you need f/1.8, without any fear of it getting softer.
There is no spherochromatism.
Spherochromatism, incorrectly called "color bokeh" by laymen, is when out-of-focus highlights take on color fringes.
The 21/1.8's out-of-focus highlights, even at f/1.8, are always neutral. Hooray!
With its straight 10-bladed diaphragm, the Voigtländer 21/1.8 should make perfect 10-pointed sunstars on brilliant points of light.
While the lateral color and slightly less sharpness won't impress LEICA shooters, this lens' lack of distortion, high speed and great handling should make it a favorite for real shooters.
Now let's compare to ZEISS ZM. For the same price, the ZEISS lenses have superior optics, but lack the extra stop of speed:
This Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8 is a much better lens than I expected. For actual shooting, it works great, with lower distortion than I get from my LEICA lenses, and it works great on my LEICA M9 with or without a lens profile.
No, it's not quite as sharp if I'm splitting pixels as LEICA's or ZEISS' lenses, but if you're considering it for full-frame digital, go for it. For 35mm film it will be even better, since the slight lateral color won't ever be seen, and the additional speed will be very handy. For non-LEICA cameras, this is a superb lens.
Never get this lens of you really want the real LEICA lens instead for your LEICA camera. Unlike cameras, lens prices only appreciate. Buy a LEICA lens today, and if you dislike it, you'll be able to sell it in the future for a profit. See also Smart Money: Lens or Camera?
If money matters (it shouldn't; never deny yourself the lenses you really want), consider also the optically superior – but slower – ZEISS 21mm f/2.8 ZM , which also works splendidly on the LEICA M9 and takes more system-compatible 46mm filters, for a little less money.
Don't use this on anything less than full 24x36mm format. For smaller-format cameras, use lenses designed for them; adapting this lens to an NEX or whatever is a waste of this lens. As I showed at my NEX 5N review, the standard crappy zoom that comes with it is about as good as the state-of-the-art LEICA 35mm f/1.4 ASPH floating-element, when used on the NEX. This lens isn't as good as the LEICA 35/1.4, and most 18-55 zooms are better than the Sony 18-55mm I compared there. Optics aside, having full electronic communication with your camera will let you get much better pictures with the lens intended for use with your small-format digital than putting up with the trouble of adapting this lens to it.
If you've found helpful the time, effort and expense I bear to research and share this all here for free, this website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially these directly to it at Adorama, at Amazon or at eBay (see How to Win at eBay) when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep reviewing these specialized lenses when you get yours through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere.
Thanks for your support!
I'd use a 58mm Nikon NC filter all the time for protection.
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