Voigtländer 21mm f/4
Voigtländer 21mm f/4 P for Leica M (39mm filters, 4.667 oz/132.15g), twice life-size. enlarge. This is the newest version, a dedicated bayonet lens, not the older screw-mount version. I'd get this new lens at these links to it at Adorama or B&H. It helps me keep adding to this site when you get yours from these links, thanks!
Oak, Carmel Valley, California. enlarge. Minolta CLE with this Voigtlander 21mm f/4 M with 39mm B+W 81A filter, Leica 12 008 21mm finder, Fuji Velvia 50 as processed and scanned at NCPS, probably around f/11 at 1/125 in manual mode, having metered without the sun shining in my lens. details.
Example Photo Gallery: Monterey (June 2009).
WARNING: Although wonderful on film, this lens is awful on the LEICA M9 because its rear nodal point is too close to the sensor.
The left and right sides take on weird color shifts.
This Voigtländer lens is optimized for film, not for digital.
This is the best 21mm lens available for Leica cameras for serious nature, landscape and architectural shooting.
Focus and metering work perfectly with every Leica and similar camera.
This lens has no weak points, unless you're buying it as jewelry, rather than to use to make pictures. Real men don't buy jewelry for themselves, and women have better taste, so I see no reason not to get this lens unless you just don't like 21mm lenses.
If you're a journalist shooting in the dark, you might prefer the $6,000 Leica 21mm f/1.4, but it's a huge thing that doesn't really want to work with filters and obscures much of the finder image.
This Voigtländer 21mm lens is the best 21mm lens ever made for Leica cameras, regardless of price.
In this Voigtländer lens, the spirit of Oskar Barnack has been revived. This lens is tiny, and works at least as well optically as anything ever sold by Leica.
Rangefinder focus and TTL metering work perfectly.
It is as sharp, and sometimes sharper, than the $4,300 Leica 21mm f/2.8 ASPH to which I compared it directly.
How can this be? Probably because this Voigtländer lens is only f/4, which is far easier to design and manufacture than trying to push things with the modern f/2.8 ASPH lens from Leica, which has to be much bigger and much more expensive just to retain the same optical quality. It costs a lot in many ways to add just one stop of lens speed.
Now before you Leica boys have heart attacks (or simply stop reading), go do as I did and get one of each of these lenses in your hot little hands at the same time and go shoot them head-to-head, with a scientifically valid target, like the view at infinity from atop a mountain on a very clear day. Look at the film yourself.
If you do your tests correctly, which is to vary only one aspect (the lens) and nothing else, you'll see what I did: this Voigtländer lens is as good as the Leica lens, and sharper in the center at larger apertures!
Shoot serious film, like Fuji Velvia 50, not color print film. When I ran my head-to-head tests, I had a Leica 21mm f/2.8 ASPH (current model) and Leica 21mm f/4 Super-Angulon (1959) against which to compare this Cosina lens.
Not only is this inexpensive ($400) Voigtländer lens at least as good optically, it is far smaller and lighter than the ponderously large lenses Leica makes today.
This tiny 4-3/4 oz (130g) lens takes Leica's standard 39mm filters, and most importantly, does not block the view of a 21mm viewfinder. Leica's own lenses are so overgrown today that they intrude into the bottom of the view of any of the various 21mm finders.
Leica's 21mm lenses made since 1963 have lost the dream, while this tiny lens breathes new life into the original spirit of Oskar Barnack's Leica camera.
Leica's own 21mm lenses have grown too far away from the original vision for the Leica camera, which is to provide large prints from the smallest possible camera. If Oskar Barnack wanted to carry larger lenses, he would have shot larger formats of film. That is not Leica.
Leica makes nice lenses if you want jewelry, but their 21mm f/2.8 and 21mm f/1.4 lenses weigh too much and take the wrong size filters compared to this superior Voigtländer lens.
This Voigtländer 21mm lens is made in Japan by Cosina, the same company that made lenses for Vivitar in the 1970s and makes Zeiss' lenses today. Cosina also makes the Nikon FM-10 for Nikon.
Presuming you have a standard 106 DPI monitor, this is its actual size, which is only an inch (2.5cm) long:
Voigtländer 21/4 P, actual size. enlarge.
All of the illustrations in this review have been enlarged as not to look so silly on the page.
I'm shooting and testing these lenses on full-frame digital and film.
Full frame digital? Easy! I have my lab scan everything as they run my film, so I already have every shot backed up at high-resolution (50MB) on DVD when I pick up my film. They do this cheaply enough that I have everything scanned as I have it processed. They're more than happy to do your film, too, by mail.
I load these DVDs into my system faster than fiddling with memory cards, and I'm done, at far higher resolution than if I wasted my time with an M8.
This P version of this Voigtländer lens ships without a 21mm finder, so you'll have to buy or supply your own.
For most of us, we'll need to provide our own external 21mm finder.
My favorite 21mm finder is Leica's old plastic 12 008 finder. Heck, with the $3,900 I just saved you from not buying the Leica 21mm, you can afford a nice Leica or Zeiss finder.
There are three versions of this Voigtländer lens.
All three use the same optics in various mounts.
You have to buy a $60 bayonet adapter to use it on modern Leica cameras (1954 - today), but it also comes included with a 21mm viewfinder and will also work on Leicas made from about 1925-1954 without any adaptor.
If you need to buy a viewfinder, it's cheaper to buy this finder-included version and a $60 adapter than to buy the 21mm f/4P and a separate $130 finder.
I prefer Leica's own finders, so getting an extra Cosina finder doesn't help me. This first screw-mount version lacks the excellent finger-focus tab of the 21/4P.
This was special version made for Nikon's 1950's bayonet mount, as in the Nikon SP rangefinder camera.
It only fit Nikon's 1950s rangefinder cameras. Voigtländer discontinued this version, making it an instant classic.
It takes today's 43mm x 0.75mm filters. 1950s 43mm filters, and Nikon's old 43mm-threaded lenses, took 43mm filters with an 0.5mm thread pitch, so watch it.
It weighs 5.040 oz. (142.85g) with the plastic focus ring. It focuses to 0.9m.
There is a second 48 x 0.5mm thread to take a vestigial hood. Today's 48 x 0.75mm filters often cross-thread, but if you get them on, they will probably jam and never come off.
There is loads clearance with either size filter. In fact, you almost can use two stacked filters of either size with minimal vignetting.
This new version, introduced in 2007, comes with no viewfinder and is dedicated to the Leica M bayonet mount.
It only comes in black and adds an excellent metal finger focus tab.
This is the version I am reviewing here.
Specifications with commentary top
Cosina calls this the Voigtländer Color-Skopar 21mm f/4 P.
"P" has been said to stand for Pancake, or more simply, Pee.
Color-Skopar is an old trademark dug up from the 1950s for a totally different lens.
Actual (Design) Focal Length: 21.6mm.
Compared to the Leica 21mm lenses when doing head-to-head comparisons, it has a very slightly longer focal length, 1.44% longer.
Since Leica specifies 21.3mm as their design focal length, my measurements (cross-frame) put the precise focal length of this lens at 21.6mm.
No big deal; this $400 Cosina lens matches the $6,000 Leica 21mm f/1.4's design focal length of 21.6mm, and it doesn't matter unless you're doing photogrammetry.
35mm equivalent: 21mm. Duh, this is a full-frame 35mm lens.
Digital Equivalent: 21mm. Duh, I shoot full-frame have all my film scanned direct to digital.
Digital Resolution: 25MP when shot on film.
(less on lesser formats.)
8 elements in 6 groups.
10 straight blades.
Voigtländer 21mm f/4 at f/5.6, 2.5x life-size. enlarge.
Stops down to f/22. (The Leica lenses only stop down to f/16.)
This is the standard Leica filter size. It matches the 1959 21mm f/4 Super Angulon, and today's 28mm f/2.8 ASPH, 35mm f/2 ASPH, the 50mm f/2 of all years, and yesterday's 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit-M and all 135mm f/4.5 and f/4 lenses made from 1933 though 1995.
Leica is 39mm.
Be careful; 39mm filters use a 0.5mm thread pitch. If you buy crappy accessories, often the junk from Bower or India is cut with the coarser and incorrect 0.75mm pitch from larger filters. Stick with Hoya and B+W and you'll have no problems.
With this Cosina (Voigtländer) lens, I can pop a few 39mm filters in my wallet and head out for a month of shooting. The 39mm filters fit all my lenses from 21mm through 135mm.
This is the Leica vision, not the oversized 55mm filters of the 21mm f/2.8 ASPH which would require more sets of filters for different lenses.
Marked: 1.75 feet and 0.5 meters.
No Leica's rangefinder couples this close. When you get closer than the coupling range of your rangefinder, you guess and set it on the scale.
The 21 4 P comes with a tiny metal screw-over hood.
The hood looks like a filter without its glass, except that the hood has a female thread which looks to be about 41 x 0.5mm.
The hood screws over the front of the lens.
The hood doesn't do much; in fact, if you have a filter on the lens, the hood shields less than the filter does.
Length: 25.4mm extension from flange, no hood, measured at infinity.
Length: 31.1mm extension from flange, with hood, measured at infinity.
Diameter: 55.00mm, measured, exclusive of focus tab and red plastic dot.
Naked lens, no caps: 4.667 oz. (132.15g), measured.
Lens with hood, no caps: 4.797 oz. (136.0g), measured.
Lens, hood and caps: 5.470 oz. (155.1g), measured.
Hood alone: 0.135 oz. (3.85g), measured.
Black: BA211P (Bayonet version shown and reviewed here).
Screw-Mount Silver: BA211A.
Screw-Mount Black: BA211B.
Nikon SC mount for SP: UPC code 530076 230019.
2009, March, USA: $400 new.
This Voigtländer 21mm f/4 works as well or better than the Leica lenses, and is a fraction of the size, weight and price.
Read on if you want, or just go get one and start shooting.
The aperture ring is two knurled tabs.
They are easy to find and move by feel, just like Leica lenses.
Like Leica's very smallest lenses, these are two tabs and not complete rings. They are easy to move just the same, although you have to find the right spot for your finger since they don't go all around the lens.
There are half-stop clicks.
Spacing is a little closer than Leica lenses, and becomes a little closer towards f/22.
There is never anything out of focus with a 21mm f/4 lens, so bokeh doesn't mean anything here.
I can't see any coma (corner smearing of bright points of light).
I didn't push it, so maybe it will or won't have any on really bright points of light in the corners at f/4, but from my shooting, it wasn't there.
Depth-of-field is almost unlimited.
The depth-of-field scale is calculated the same as Leica's, for a traditional 0.03mm circle of confusion.
My M7 agreed exactly as I tried every half-stop.
This shows a well-made lens.
It's not important when using TTL exposure meters, as with most modern cameras, but is important if you're using an external meter.
Distortion is very minor barrel (outward bulging). I can't see it unless I hold a ruler up to very large prints.
For critical use, use +0.4 to +1.5 in Photoshop's Lens Distortion Tool.
This Voigtländer has the best ergonomics of any 21mm lens for the Leica, ever.
Focus is as smooth, and almost as easy to turn. One fingertip is all it takes.
The diaphragm is also easy to set; you use a fingertip to move the tab as seen on the left (or its brother unseen below the right).
If you add points for not blocking the viewfinder as Leica's current 21mm lenses do, I prefer the ergonomics of this tiny lens to anything from Leica.
Leica's original 21mm f/4 Super Angulon also takes small, standard 39mm filters, but it weighs twice as much, is very difficult to see and set the apertures and doesn't work at all with TTL metering.
The only weird thing about slumming it with this non-Leica Voigtländer 21mm is that its focus tab feels and works very differently than Leica lenses. Unlike shooting Leica lenses which feel the same as one another, it's a little weird as you swap between brands with this Voigtländer while shooting.
The worst thing I can say about this superb lens is that it's so tiny that there is no good place to hold it while attaching and removing it from a camera. All there is is the tiny depth-of-field scale to grab, and it's a lot smaller than you think when you see the really small size of this lens.
Wide lenses for large format and rangefinder cameras always have falloff. These darker corners serve a critical artistic purpose in directing the viewers' attention towards the subject, and away from the frame edges.
Wide open at f/4, this Voigtländer 21mm has a little more falloff than the Leica 21mm f/2.8 ASPH stopped down one stop to f/4, an otherwise, falloff is the same as the Leica lenses.
Any 39mm filter works great.
Forget stacking two 39mm filters. For instance, a Leitz 39mm rotating polarizer and 39mm 81A B+W filter lead to hideous vignetting, but it serves you right; polarizers shouldn't be used on ultrawide lenses anyway.
My graduated ND is a 58mm I use with a 39mm -> 58mm adapter ring, so I should have no problem using one 39mm filter on the lens and the 'grad on the adapter ring.
On a Leica M7
On a Minolta CLE
This is a tiny lens, so you'll never see any of it in your viewfinder.
Leica's current 21mm lenses are so big enough that they block viewfinders, but not this tiny Voigtländer
Ironically, Voigtländer's own R4M and R4A cameras, whose internal finders are designed to cover 21mm lenses, aren't as good for shooting this lens because their finders are closer to the lens than on a Leica camera, so you can get some cut-off.
Ideally, shoot this Voigtländer lens on a Leica camera, or a regular Voigtländer Bessa, with an external finder. You'll get cut-off with the wide-finder Voigtländers.
With the $3,900 I just saved you from buying the Leica 21mm f/2.8 ASPH, you can buy a used Leica body, no problem.
This Voigtländer lens is made by Cosina, the same people who've been making lenses for Vivitar since the 1970s and for Zeiss today.
You'll see the same weak triangular knurling everywhere.
It's all metal and well made. It's no Leica lens, but it's no plastic puck either.
Hood: Spun anodized aluminum.
Front Cap: Great snap-on plastic.
Barrel: Anodized aluminum.
Focus Ring: Anodized aluminum.
Focus Tab: Yes, shaped very much like Leica's!
Aperture Ring: Anodized aluminum.
Focus Helicoids: Brass.
Other Internals: Metal.
Mount: Dull chromed brass.
Mounting Index Dot: Small red plastic ball, just like Leica, but smaller.
Markings: Engraved and filled with paint.
Made in: Japan
The Voigtländer 21/4 P is sharp. It's just as sharp as the $4,300 Leica 21mm f/2.8 ASPH against which I compared it head-to-head!
Leica never claimed its 21mm lenses to be anything great. Mine are OK, but not as sharp as longer focal lengths. As Leica's Puts points out (pages 20-21), the "21mm lenses are softer, they lack the overall clarity and crisp reproduction of very fine details."
Voigtländer started with a clean slate when designing this lens, and since they weren't burdened with trying to meet the fast f/2.8 speed, made a better lens.
All by itself, the Voigtländer 21/4 is super sharp in the center, even at f/4. It's a little bit less sharp in the corners, but not by much.
At f/4, the Voigtländer 21mm f/4 P is as sharp as the Leica 21mm f/2.8 ASPH, as seen at 36x magnification split-screen (36 x 48" prints). I can't see any significant difference.
At f/4 and f/5.6, the Voigtländer is a little sharper than the Leica ASPH in the center, while the last few millimeters of the corners are a little sharper in the Leica 21mm ASPH. For most uses at f/4 and f/5.6, the Voigtländer might be sharper overall.
If you're screwing with the M8, you're only using the center, and thus the Voigtländer would likely be superior. I haven't tried the M8.
The Voigtländer and the Leica 21mm ASPH are much sharper than Leica's original 21mm f/4 Super Angulon at f/4 and f/5.6. The sample of Super Angulon to which I compared these is from 1959.
At f/8, the Voigtländer's corners have sharpened up, so the Voigtländer is as sharp in the corners at f/8 as the Leica 21mm f/2.8 ASPH, but wait — the center of the Voigtländer is still a tiny bit sharper than the Leica ASPH!
At f/8, the Voigtländer is a little sharper than the Leica, but not by enough to see except with a direct split-screen 36x comparison.
At f/8, the 1959 Super Angulon is getting sharper, so it's almost as good as the other two. At f/8, the only way I can tell the 1959 Super Angulon from the others is with a direct split-screen; I could never tell them apart by looking at images one at a time.
Lenses are like this: differences exist at the large apertures, but by f/8, everything is usually about as sharp as everything else unless you've got a really bad lens.
Diffraction limits everything. Al these lenses look alike at smaller apertures.
The 10-bladed diaphragm should beget 10-pointed sunstars.
Since f/22, and only f/22, is round, f/22 probably won't create any sunstars, so try not smaller than f/16 for the strongest sunstars.
Forget the hood if you're using a filter. Any 39mm filter blocks more than the hood does.
Consider using the hood only if you shoot bare.
Compared to Other 21mm Lenses top
This Voigtländer is the tiniest, best 21mm there is for Leica. Leica's only 21mm lens that took 39mm filters was the 1950's 21mm f/4 Super-Angulon, but you can't meter through it and its still bigger and heavier.
I've covered comparisons to Leica exhaustively above.
See Leica 21mm Lens Comparisons for detailed tables comparing nine different Contax, Leica, Voigtländer and Zeiss 21mm lenses.
Unless you need faster than f/4, this Voigtländer is the lens, regardless of price.
It wins not only on price, but on optics, size and ease-of-use.
I haven't tried the Zeiss ZM lenses yet, but they take larger 46mm filters. I prefer the 39mm filters; but if you're a 46mm kind of guy, the Zeiss ZM lenses deserve a very long look. I'll be testing them eventually.
I'd use 39mm Leica brand UV filters 13131 for color print film, but why would anyone shoot color print film in a Leica?
Many thanks to Ralph Starkweather for his help getting me this lens to review.
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