The wind howls. Gusts are so strong it’s even hard to stand up straight. I watch the seagulls call out as they soar above, but all I hear is the rushing air. We’re not getting off the island anytime soon.
The charcoal sea has thrown all sorts of debris onto land. A pallet on the cliffs catches my eye. There’s rain coming. About time to head indoors. I grab my camera from the bag, quickly set exposure, focus, compose and shoot, wind the shutter and put it back in the bag. I lean into the wind and start to make my way back home.
The Voigtländer 25/4 Color Skopar is a simple little lens that’s immensely enjoyable to shoot. It’s tiny and cheap, handles well and has image quality beyond what its size and price suggests.
This wide angle lens has an asymmetrical design with 7 spherical elements. The front element is slightly concave. As all M-mount lenses, it’s manual focus only. It has a tiny effective aperture of 6.25mm at f/4.
Produced by Voigtländer in Japan, there have been two versions of the lens – one for LTM and one for M-mount. Both versions are now discontinued but the more recent M-mount version remains in stock in many places as of the publishing of this review, though it’s sure to sell out before long. There are some ergonomic differences between the two versions but they are optically identical*.
* Though more up to date coatings might give the edge in image quality to the M-mount version.
There’s also a close sibling – a 21/4 with almost identical specifications beyond focal length.
The lens is unusual for M-mount in that it focuses down to 0.5m. Limitations in the M-mount design prevents rangefinder coupling at closer than 0.7m, the more common minimum focus distance for M-mount lenses, so shooting closer than that requires relying on scale focusing.
The lens brings up the 35mm framelines in most Leica M cameras. A bit of an odd choice as 28mm is a closer fit. More on this later though.
The 25 Skopar viewed from the front and rear. Samples shot on Leica M4-P
One of the most obvious traits of this lens is its size – it’s positively tiny! It’s almost identical to its sibling the 35/2.5 Color Skopar, but measuring them the 25 is fractionally larger. Still it’s noticeably smaller than most M-mount lenses, even Leica’s smallest lens – the Summicron-C 40.
Markings are engraved in Helvetica and painted white. The imperial scale is painted red, resulting in poor visibility in lower light. The focus scale is adequately detailed and there’s a clear and usable depth of field scale. The full aperture stops are marked with corresponding numbers, half stops are unmarked.
As usual for Voigtländer M-mount lenses it’s very well made. It’s practically nothing but metal and glass and the construction feels solid and durable. The casing and control points is made from anodized aluminum – a tough material, but scuff marks can show with heavy use. The focusing tab is painted plastic and focusing helicoid is brass. The lens has a black front ring threaded on both sides – inside threads for mounting filters and exterior ones for the included hood. A nicer solution than the chromed front ring of many other Voigtländer and Zeiss ZM lenses as it’s less conspicuous and causes less reflections if shooting through glass.
The aperture has ten blades resulting in highlight stars with ten points.
The mechanics feel great, if slightly less refined than most Leica lenses and not quite at the same standard as the best Voigtländer ones either. I still expect that with proper care the lens will work great for decades to come.
Despite the all metal construction it remains a very light lens thanks to its small size. It virtually disappears on whatever camera it’s mounted on. It feels liberating to shoot something so small and light. Most M-mount cameras become a bit front heavy even with moderately sized lenses. With the Skopar mounted the balance remains centered and the overall handling of the camera is relaxed.
The lens is exceptionally well made considering the price. It even features a ten bladed aperture, uncommon even in much more expensive lenses.
Next to another lens it's clear how small the Skopar is. Here with the Leica Summicron 28/2 that's two stops faster but also very small for its specifications.
The included hood is also very compact. It extends exactly as much as the lens cap resulting in a very unobtrusive addition.
A tiny screw in hood is included. Elegantly it only extends as much as the lens cap and consequently doesn’t get in the way or add to the size of the lens when being carried.
Thanks to this I’ve left it permanently attached which makes it hard to say anything about its effectiveness or lack thereof. I’ll get back to the performance but as flare is uncommon I’d say that the package works reasonably well considering the size.
Another advantage of having the little hood is that it helps keep stray fingers away from the lens and out of the frame – something that can be a problem with very small wide angle lenses.
The lens cap is pretty good – a round pinch style cap in plastic with Voigtländer logo that tends to stay put more reliably than the for instance ones supplied with the Zeiss ZM lenses.
Despite the small size of the lens the ergonomics are very good. Controls are easy to find and manipulate and their design let you tell what they’re set to by feel.
Two nitpicks makes it fall short of the excellence of the 35 Skopar, despite being physically almost identical.
The comfortable focusing tab and protruding aperture dial handles are clearly visible here.
The lens has a focusing tab that’s comfortably contoured. The focusing throw is pretty short at around 90° which means that focusing is quite fast. The accuracy is more than adequate for the focal length. Focus travel feels smooth but a little more gritty compared to modern Leica lenses. It’s still consistent in feel regardless of position and direction of travel, something that’s not always the case with the ZM lenses for instance.
A big advantage of having a focus tab is that you learn to set and tell the distance by feeling the position of the tab. However this requires working up a bit of muscle memory and if you often switch between lenses you can get a bit thrown off. Fortunately most tabbed M-mount lenses behave similar enough in this regard that you can generally move between them and focus quickly straight away.
The Skopar 25 on the other hand, unfortunately deviates from the common focus throw by enough that at least for me it was a little harder to adjust to. The cause of the issue is pretty simple – as the lens shares the same start point, end point and around 90° throw of most other lenses, the fact that the start point is at 0.5m instead of 0.7 makes the ratio across the entire travel off. It’s especially noticeable at midrange distances where I’ve focused quite a bit slower than usual before adjusting*.
* To quantify this – when most of my lenses with tabs/nubs are set to the 6-o’clock position they are focused somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 meters. The 25 Skopar on the other hand lands well under 1m with the same setting.
Depending on how many lenses you use, how frequently you switch between them and whether or not those lenses also have tabs this might be a smaller or bigger issue. Now this is definitely at the nitpick level, rather than a major issue, and I found that I adjusted quickly once I did some committed shooting with it.
Despite the small size of the lens there are very readable markings including a depth of field scale.
Aperture is set with the two handles protruding from the aperture ring. The handles let you tell aperture by feel but with the disadvantage of being a bit harder to find than a wider ring.
Aperture is set in half stop increments. Like on Leica lenses every full stop is marked with the corresponding f-number while intermediate positions are unmarked.
Unfortunately the resistance of the aperture ring is far too loose and often moves inadvertently*.
* It could be an issue with copy variation, but as I’ve seen it brought up in other reviews of the lens it looks to be a common problem and worth bringing up.
The setting is changed pretty much whenever I take the camera out to make a shot. At rare times I even change it accidentally while focusing.
It’s so common that I feel the need to remember to check the aperture setting before each shot, something I don’t with any of my other lenses. This is probably my biggest frustration with the lens and it does make it feel a bit less transparent in handling than its 35mm sibling.
Still the overall impression is a positive one and the lens comes off as a pleasant one to handle.
Thanks to the modest speed of the lens it manages to deliver impressive performance overall, despite its tiny size and low price.
It has a very transparent signature and only some minor issues reveal its simpler nature.
Wide open contrast and resolution is impressive on axis and the better part of the frame. There’s a clear drop towards the edges and the outer 20% lack some clarity. This is even visible when viewing the entire frame and the overall impression suffers slightly. Global and mid level contrast is high but micro contrast lag slightly.
Stopping down to f/5.6 improves the performance in the outer zones but f/8 is needed for even performance all the way to the edges. By now it looks quite impressive across almost the entire frame. Optimal performance is reached at f/11 which improves the edges and corners further but with a slight dulling of detail in the center due to diffraction.
My copy shows slight decentering with the right side having weaker performance than the left one. A common problem, but more rare on higher end lenses. A copy without this issue probably sees slight improvement of the right edges and corners, but also a small loss on the left side resulting in more similar resolution.
Center crop at f/4
Edge crop at f/4
Edge crop at f/8
The resolution on axis is impressive already wide open. There's less definition along the edges before stopping down. See separate crops. Also note subtle colour shifts – this sample is completely uncorrected. Leica M9
Note – My copy is slightly decentered and the crop is from the poorly performing side of the frame. The left edge is about a stop better than the right.
Edge and corner performance is better by around half a stop on film. Leica M4-P – f/8
The colour signature is modern and saturated. Compared to benchmark lenses it can lack a bit of subtlety and close tones can blend together. The overall palette remains appealing.
Despite being a very wide and quite slow lens some separation is still visible. Shooting wide open and at closer distance (though not necessarily limited to just the closest focus) depth of field is shallow enough to give the image defined planes and a little bit of bokeh can even be seen.
It’s limited in application and even something slightly longer or faster gives you far more options in this regard but it can still give an attractive impression.
Bokeh, when visible, is fair. Out of focus discs have reasonably gentle edges and while there’s always a bit of texturing there’s generally no double lines or other distracting issues.
Stopping down slightly practically removes all hints of separation. If you really dive in you can see the bokeh improve further, but at that point it’s completely academic.
Transitions are rather gentle leaving the lens quite forgiving for zone focusing.
At modest distances there's some separation visible. Bokeh is surprisingly fair. See additional bokeh samples throughout the article. Leica M4-P – f/4
The Skopar is quite resilient to flare. Only some minor issues crop up in challenging conditions. When the sun is in or just outside the frame some ghosting can be observed. At times a more significant part of the frame is affected. Still it’s a solid showing with rare surprises – few lenses do significantly better. Sunstars also tend to look quite nice with ten points stopped down.
There’s quite a bit of vignetting that also stubbornly remains stopping down. I’d guess it’s just over a stop and a half wide open and around a stop at smaller apertures.
Slight barrel distortion is present but it’s hard to detect in practice.
There’s pronounced focus breathing. This can make the lens less ideal for video use but isn’t an issue for stills and only visible when used with live view.
When shot on a digital camera, and depending on the camera it’s mounted on some ray angle issues can be seen. Mainly colour shifts, but also smearing. See the In Use section for a breakdown for the cameras I’ve tested it on.
Flare resistance is very good. The most pronounced issues appear when the sun is just outside the frame like in this example. Still, aside from the visible ghosting contrast remains high throughout most of the frame. A larger hood would help here, though I´m fine with the tradeoff. Whenever the sun is in the frame performance is better. Leica M4-P
The evaluation above is valid regardless of capture medium, but nuances exist and since digital is more revealing in many cases that’s the primary medium for analysis. On film the rendering of course carries over but the subtleties can be perceived slightly different.
Overall the Skopar does quite well on film, even slightly better than digital in some respects. Edge and corner resolution is about half a stop better than on the M9 and there are obviously no colour shift.
The Skopar does well on colour film. Sometimes separation between similar shades of colour lacks subtlety but the overall rendering still gives a very balanced impression.
The strengths of the Skopar might shine even brighter in B&W. The high clarity and contrast across the frame gives a pleasant impression. Any lack of tonal separation between similar shades of colour is obviously not an issue.
I've shot the Skopar more on film than on digital and I prefer it slightly on film, but it does well regardless of medium. Leica M4-P
The 25 Skopar has impressive performance overall. The signature is modern and transparent with few distracting traits.
There are several pleasant surprises such as the good resistance to flare, low distortion and even somewhat useable separation. Stopped down the overall clarity and rendition of detail across the frame can stand tall next to most any lens.
The only slight letdown is a somewhat distracting lack of bite in the outer zones at wider apertures. Compared to benchmark lenses it’s also not quite as refined and lacks some subtlety, but the impression is still one of high optical quality.
I’ve had the Skopar for just over half a year as I write this, which is a little shorter than I generally like to have a lens before reviewing it. Still, as I’ve shot it intensely during these months I feel I’ve put it through its paces well enough to give it a fair evaluation.
I’m not sure yet if the Skopar has earned a permanent spot among my lenses, but that’s rather down to the rest of my setup than anything to do with the Skopar. If anything it’s made me rethink my perceived needs and demonstrated once again how nice it is to shoot compact and well behaved lenses. Sometimes even nicer than something objectively better but larger and heavier.
Overall I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Skopar and have really enjoyed the little lens. The combination of very small size, good handling and appealing image quality makes for an endearing package.
One of the hurdles I worried about before getting the lens was how it would be like to shoot the focal length on the cameras I have. Of all M-mount cameras available only one of Voigtländer’s own Bessas and the Leica M8 offer framelines for 24/25mm lenses. As the cameras I shoot lack corresponding framelines I wondered if accuracy of framing would simply be too poor to accept.
However this proved to be a complete non issue to me, but it might depend a bit on your perspective on framelines. I’ve always viewed the rangefinder framelines as a guide rather than something that gives you an absolute representation of framing. An accurate guide for the most part, but never expecting it to be completely perfect. Now some people might have a different view on this, but with this viewpoint shooting a lens that lacks the exact right frame lines isn’t really an issue.
As someone who’ve shot 40mm lenses by both Leica & Voigtländer using 35mm framelines extensively this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but it was still something I was a bit unsure of getting the lens. Especially now that I shoot film almost exclusively. But using the 28mm framelines as a stand-in has proven completely fine with just a little bit of compensation for the wider field of view.
In practice then – when shooting the 25mm Skopar I mentally approach framing in one of two ways. I either use the 28mm framelines as a guide but put key elements very close, or even on the edge of the framelines and rely on the extra angle of view to provide a bit of breathing room for the subject. Alternatively I disregard the framelines all together and instead try to use the entire viewfinder area as my guide, relying on the 90mm framelines as a reference for keeping things level (this is a bit harder wearing glasses though). Still I’ve found both these approaches to work well.
Now the only problem with this is that like most 24/25mm lenses the Skopar brings up the 35mm framelines in the finder of the Leica M cameras. I’m not sure why this choice was made as bringing up the 28mm ones would’ve been a closer approximation. Maybe it’s to push people towards getting external viewfinders with higher accuracy instead of relying on the 28mm ones and becoming frustrated. Or maybe some other motivation’s behind the decision. I’m not sure, but there are simple workarounds at any rate. Either by simply pushing the frameline preview lever to bring up the 28mm ones before each shot, or by blocking the lever in the right position with e.g. a piece of cardboard.
A comparison between the view through the finder and 28mm framelines on the M9 and the captured image. The hood of the lens can be seen through the viewfinder.
Shooting the Skopar was the first time for me using a 24/25mm rangefinder lens. I’ve shot a few SLR 24:s, but as that’s such a different shooting experience I feel it doesn’t quite compare.
I’ve been really enjoying shooting 28mm lenses for the past few years, I like that it’s distinctly wide without going overboard and feeling like a special effect lens. But I know a few rangefinder photographers that swear by 25mm lenses over 28mm ones and I was interested to have a go myself to see how I’d like it.
I found shooting at 25 a very enjoyable experience. It’s visibly wider than 28, but it’s not so wide that you need to rethink your approach like you do with for a super wide like the 15/4.5. It still feels like a practical focal length to use, but with a slightly more dramatic presence compared to longer lenses. To me it quickly became transparent and a natural focal length to shoot.
A hurdle of the little Skopar that has more practical implications is the f/4 aperture. And probably more than anything else, your view on this is going to dictate weather the Skopar is a good choice for you.
As long as it’s light out this rather slow maximum aperture of course doesn’t pose any problems. But as the sun sets or when shooting indoors it does become challenging to get enough light through the lens.
I personally find that I’m able to get usable images in most light that I find appealing. As the lens is so wide it’s possible to handhold at fairly slow speeds. Still I would be more comfortable with an f/2.8 lens in this focal length, and preferably even f2.
On the other hand the slower aperture allows it to be a lot smaller. Comparing it to the 28 Summicron makes the tradeoffs clear. Now I still love the Summicron and it’s optically superior, but when out and about I enjoy the lower weight of Skopar.
There are a lot of different approaches to assembling a kit of lenses to shoot. Some approach it wanting a single lens that can do it all, others might want a separate lens for every situation that might arise. While the Skopar might not make the ideal do-it-all lens due to the slower aperture, it can definitely make up a big part of a competent kit.
During this summer I shot with the Skopar and a 50 exclusively. I’m quite partial to two lens setups like this. A pairing can really let each lens shine without overloading you. I can definitely imagine several good pairings including the Skopar that I’d be happy to shoot for months or even years on end without feel the kit lacking.
So this was quite a long winded way to get to the actual bottom line on this – the Skopar is a little limited in its light gathering but not to the point that it’s unusable or even impractical most of the time, and as a piece of even a small kit that might not really matter much anyways.
Even in moderatly low light it’s possible to get nice images. Leica M4-P – f/4 – 1/20th
I’ve already touched on this feature previously in the review, but so far not said much about its use. Well that’s because it’s rarely come up in my use. Mostly because of my preference in perspective.
The dramatic and exaggerated perspective resulting from shooting a wide angle lens at close distance can certainly be interesting. The closer you get the more drastic the exaggeration and the less natural the rendition. In some cases this unnatural quality can be quite appealing, but personally I feel that the effect can often become distracting.
So in my personal use I generally find that I like to shoot the Skopar at distances comfortably above the normal 0.7m MFD and have never had a situation arise where I’ve felt the 0.5m focus distance a significant advantage. But to someone with different tastes this feature might hold a lot of appeal.
That said I have made a few images at the closest focus distance, mostly for testing the capability. As far as guessing the focus distance it’s been surprisingly easy. Starting at 0.7m, where the rangefinder stops moving, and then moving a little bit closer works well. Obviously depth of field is fairly forgiving, but I’ve still had pretty much perfect results the times I’ve tried it. Performance is also quite impressive without the deterioration you can sometimes see at close distances.
Two frames made at closer distances. The first one testing the MFD of 0.5m. The second one shooting normally at around 1m.
I’ve put the Skopar through its paces on a few different cameras. Read on to find my specific experience with each.
Great. The tiny lens almost disappears on the camera. The balance is very neutral and the ergonomics work well. The lens can hardly be seen through the finder and doesn’t distract from framing, even with the hood mounted. Image quality is wonderful, especially stopped down. The modest aperture means it’s not the ideal lens for use in low light.
Great. The lens almost disappears mounted on the M9. The balance is very neutral and there’s no distracting blocking of the viewfinder, even with the hood. Resolution is very good but there are some ray angle induced colour shifts. None of the built in profiles remove the shifts fully, but it’s trivial to do using one of the post process tools available. I’m not totally sold on the colour signature of this combo. The average high ISO of the M9 and the slow maximum aperture limits usability in low light.
Poor. Balances well and is ergonomically fantastic on the A7. However there’s significant smearing due to ray angle issues and even stopping down to f/11 results aren’t quite perfect. At closer distances the results can be more appealing. The good performance at high ISO somewhat offsets the slower aperture of the lens.
While there’s a number of other 24/25mm lenses available for the M-mount, the Skopar is very close to unique. It’s far smaller and cheaper than the other options but can still come very close in actual output quality. Depending on whether you’re considering a 24/25 specifically or a compact wide angle in general different options might appeal. Below are some of the alternatives that appeal most to me.
While slightly longer this lens is otherwise similar to the Skopar. Small size, reasonable price, nice ergonomics and good performance makes this look like an appealing option. Made by a small manufacturer in Japan during the 1980’s and 90’s the lens is somewhat rare. It’s also sold under other names, Kobalux being the most common one. I’ve not shot this lens but have had my eye on it for a while. They pop up online fairly regularly.
While Leica produces a number of 24mm lenses the one lens in their offering I feel comes closest to the Skopar is the aspherical version of the 28/2.8. While slightly longer and a stop faster it’s only very slightly bigger and heavier than the Skopar. It looks to have perfect ergonomics and is likely very well made. It also seems to perform noticeably better, especially at wider apertures. It’s biggest drawback against the Skopar is a significantly higher price.
While the Summicron is pretty much the polar opposite from the Skopar, and even a different focal length, it’s the closest specced lens I’ve reviewed so far. It’s interesting to compare the two lenses because the tradeoffs with each become very clear. The Summicron performs better in pretty much every way and is faster by two full stops. However it’s also significantly larger, heavier and more expensive than the Skopar.
My full review of the Summicron 28
While far wider the 15/4.5 shares a number of appealing traits with the Skopar. Among them the small size, reasonable price and very good ergonomics. Is optically even better than the Skopar. However I personally find the angle of view too extreme for everyday use and thus prefer the Skopar.
My full review of the Voigtländer 15/4.5
This lens is an interesting alternative. Almost identical to the 25 except for the focal length. It’s mostly a matter of taste which is more preferable. Depending on the rest of your kit the 21 might be a more logical choice even though it’s wide enough to make it impractical to use without an external finder on most M-mount cameras.
This lens from Zeiss might be the most appealing option if one’s set on a 24/25mm lens. While more expensive it’s not excessively priced. It’s somewhat larger but still a manageable size, and the gains in performance are apparent. I’ve only tried the ZM 25 briefly but have shot its 28mm sibling extensively. The 28 is one of the best performing lenses I’ve used and from all accounts the 25 comes out ahead, looking like one of the best wide angle lenses available for M-mount. The full stop of extra light gathering over the Skopar means it’s usable in more challenging conditions. While I generally prefer tabs to the nubbed ring on the ZM lenses the minor ergonomic nitpick I have with the Skopar means that neither is ergonomically preferable over the other. Overall the Zeiss looks to win on performance and light gathering, while the Skopar is more portable and affordable.
The Skopar is a pleasant surprise in many ways. Perhaps the thing I take away most from shooting it is how fun it is to use. The focal length is both dynamic and practical and the handling is quite enjoyable despite the diminutive size of the lens.
If you expect it to do everything a larger and higher specced lens does you might come away disappointed. There are a few giveaways in the performance that signal its simpler design, and the modest aperture can leave you struggling as the sun sets.
However when size and weight are a priority or preference it’s an excellent choice. As a lens that can tag along when you’re doing other things, or as a wider addition in a small kit. It gets out of your way when you’re not using it but can still deliver when you do. Working around its issues you’d be hard pressed to find much to complain about.
All photos in this review were taken by me, using Leica M4-P & M9. Film used was Fuji Superia 400 or Kodak Portra 400, scanned on the Plustek 8200i. Exif-data is intact. Open any image in a new window for a closer look.