We’re on the winding road heading away from the ferry. Both kids get a bit carsick and we pull over for them to get some fresh air. The view out into the quiet woods underscores how we’re finally out of town.
– Leica M Typ 262
The Voigtländer 28/3.5 Color Skopar is a very compact, well made wide-angle lens. It uses the Leica Thread Mount and can be mounted on tons of cameras as a result.
While the on-paper specs aren’t the most exciting, it looks like a very sensible wide-angle choice for a small kit.
However the lens is out of production and has become increasingly hard to track down on the used market (and more expensive as a result). So beyond sussing out the key characteristics I think the main question to figure out over the course of this review is if it’s worth pursuing this lens – or – if other, easier to find, options make more sense.
Before we dive into the details, these are the key points to cover.
The Skopar was introduced by Voigtländer in 2002 as a more compact alternative to the faster 28/1.9 already in their lineup. It’s still the smallest lens that’s been offered by Voigtländer and among the lightest.
The lens was reportedly not very popular though. It didn’t sell particularly well and was discontinued in 2007. As a result it’s not the most common lens on the used market.
As far as I can tell the lens was unchanged for the duration of its production run. It was available in both black paint and silver chrome finishes.
The lens is multi-coated and uses a 7 element design with exclusively spherical surfaces. It probably started out as a symmetrical layout, slightly modified to arrive at this spec. Similar arrangements can be seen in many of Voigtländer’s other compact wide angles. The design seems to be the basis of the one used for the 25/4 for instance, and they share quite a few traits as a result.
It’s generously equipped with a 10-bladed diaphragm. This gives sun stars a nice look.
The Skopar 28 can be mounted on a huge range of cameras, like this 1930’s Leica II.
The Skopar is built on top of the older screw mount standard (known as LTM) rather than the more common bayonet M-mount used by Leica ever since the 1950’s.
A simple adapter gives full compatibility with M-mount cameras.
The benefit of the LTM mount is that it also allows for the lens to be mounted on LTM cameras, of which there are lots, something not possible with an M-mount lens. Most mirrorless cameras also happily accepts the lens with a simple adapter.
LTM cameras generally only support coupled focusing down to 1m, but the Skopar offers coupling all the way down to the 0.7m M-mount minimum. A nice bonus for people who mainly aim to use it on more recent cameras (though this also means it’s easy to accidentally focus closer than intended on LTM cameras).
Unlike a few other wide angles by Voigtländer there isn’t a corresponding M-mount version of the design* – it has only been released in this version.
* The 15/4.5, 21/4 and 25/4 and 35/2.5 were for instance all released as LTM lenses first and then reissued with updated ergonomics for M-mount later.
Leica M Typ 262
The Skopar is strikingly compact. Very few lenses for the 35mm format are smaller.
It’s quite heavy for its size though, even by rangefinder lens standards.
The lens housing is made mostly out of brass, a denser material than the more commonly used aluminium, making for a heavier than expected lens.
This material choice gets some people quite excited. It’s supposedly more durable than aluminium and many prefer the way it wears over time. Older lenses were often made of brass and the Skopar can look more at home on older cameras than most modern lenses.
Beyond the choice of materials the styling also lends the Skopar a classic feel. It doesn’t resemble a Leica lens quite as clearly as the Skopar 50 mimics the first version Leica 35/2, but it still comes across as a lens that could’ve just as well been designed in the 1930’s.
Beyond looking nice the Skopar also feels great. All the control points are solid without play and beautifully machined.
Focus travel is smooth throughout the range and the aperture setting changes with smooth but distinct clicks. It’s among the very best feeling lenses I’ve used.
The Skopar 28 is exceptionally small and well made. Note the yellow metal on the front mount that hints at the underlying material – brass. In this image you can also make out the clear and usable markings (aside from the imperial scale which is painted in a dark red that’s all but invisible in this photo, just like often in real life).
Markings are engraved and painted in Helvetica Neue Condensed. I’ve never felt Helvetica sitting as quite the right choice on a lens and with the way the Skopar looks overall it comes across as a somewhat anachronistic pick. Still it’s very functional and doesn’t cause issue in use.
Despite the small size of the lens it still fits all the scales you’d expect – aperture, focusing (metric and imperial) as well as depth of field. The imperial scale is painted in a subdued shade of red, slightly hard to read in low light. All other markings are painted white, easy to read in any light.
There are some concessions due to the size of the lens. The type size is on the smaller end and the depth of field scale markers are partially on the front rather than the top of the lens. The trade offs are sensible though and everything is still legible.
The Skopar 28 without hood, with hood, with the slip-on cap, with pinch cap.
The lens comes with a slim, screw-in hood (the same as the Skopar 50). It’s not the most effective solution but looks nice and keeps down the overall size.
There’s an optional, rectangular, hood available for purchase but I’ve not picked it up. While probably more effective it’s far bigger and takes away some of the appeal with the Skopar.
The cap for my lens was misplaced when I bought it, but as far as I can tell the lens comes with the same slip on one as the Skopar 50. I’ve mostly been using it with a pinch cap as that fits really nicely into the screw in hood.
Leica M Typ 262 / M4-P
The Skopar offers solid, though not quite perfect, handling.
It balances well on most cameras and never blocks any noticeable part of the viewfinder on the Leica cameras I’ve tried it on.
One of few concession caused partly by the lens’s small size is that the focusing arrangement feels slightly suboptimal.
Now I say partly because several of Voigtländer’s other lenses of a similar size have just about perfect focusing controls to my tastes. For instance the 25/4, 35/2.5 and 50/2.5 all offer concave focus tabs that are comfortable and easy to manipulate quickly and accurately.
On the Skopar 28 focus is set using a protruding lever instead. It’s not as comfortable an arrangement as a proper tab. You sort of need to pinch the lever to move it, compared to simply resting your finger on a tab. It feels a little dainty.
I can work slightly faster with a proper tab as a result. A normal focus ring would’ve been another option – a little more comfortable and easier to get a hold of.
Still, the lever is fairly easy to get used to and quickly gets out of your way. Like with a focus tab it’s also possible to focus by feel to a great extent, once you spend some time with it.
The focus throw is fairly short at just a hair over 90° – leading to a responsive feel and well beyond good enough accuracy (a wide and slow lens like the 28 Skopar is quite forgiving in terms of focus precision).
The resistance is just right for it to feel smooth to change but still hold a preset distance reasonably well (useful for zone focusing).
The key ergonomic features can be spotted in the first image above. Note the protruding focusing lever and the narrow but nicely ribbed aperture dial.
Compared to a lens with a proper focus tab, like for instance the Skopar 50 on the left in the second image, the Skopar 28 handles slightly less comfortably.
As mentioned, if you’re using the lens on an older camera it’s pretty easy to accidentally focus closer than the 1m minimum focus distance generally supported by these cameras.
As the Skopar 28 is pretty forgiving in terms of focusing accuracy it’s easy enough to guess a correct enough distance when focusing closely, but you need to pay attention to what you’re doing to a greater extent than if the MFD of the camera and lens matches.
Personally I tend to use the lens more frequently on more recent cameras and here it’s great to have access to the full focusing range.
The aperture is set using the finely ribbed front ring. While rather narrow, the ring protrudes a bit from the tapered lens housing making it easy enough to grab onto. The ribbing also allows for solid grip under most conditions.
Since the lens is so small the aperture ring is inevitably quite close to the focus lever, but for the most part it doesn’t feel overly cramped.
Full stops are marked with click stops for full and half stop settings. Detents are firm enough that it’s easy to count click when changing settings. I also haven’t had any problems with the setting changing inadvertently (one of few frustrations I had with the Skopar 25).
Overall then, it’s certainly a well handling lens. Particularly considering its size.
The performance of the Skopar 28 is pretty impressive considering its size and spec.
It doesn’t quite reach the same outstanding levels of definition as top-tier lenses in its range and the output can come across as ever so slightly pedestrian. In my opinion that’s not such a bad thing though, something I’ll circle back to.
On axis resolution is very good already wide open. Sharpness holds well through the mid-field, but drops towards the edges and corners are less distinct, though not awfully so. Aside from close scrutiny the full frame looks reasonably sharp already wide open.
Contrast is well balanced – high but not extreme. Benchmark lenses give slightly higher contrast at the high to mid frequencies, but in many situations the Skopar ends up feeling more harmonious.
Contrast is also quite even throughout the frame. There’s a nice sense of clarity to the rendition as a result, without images coming across as harsh.
Stopping down increases definition throughout the frame and the output starts to look rather impressive. Compared to top-tier lenses a slightly smaller aperture is needed for perfectly crisp definition across the field – f/5.6 looks quite good but f/8 is needed to get truly crisp results across the frame. This is easily a stop, if not two, behind benchmarks in the range.
Let’s take a closer look at this image from earlier – a challenging scene with fine detail across the frame. So a good candidate for closer scrutiny, even if a few crops will never tell the full story. Shot wide open or close to it on the Leica M Typ 262.
As you can tell from the first crop, from the center, definition is really quite excellent here. Everything from the metal structure, the leaves and thin branches are reproduced cleanly.
The second crop, from the extreme corner, shows that resolution and contrast is noticably lower here (depth of field isn’t a factor in this example). Fortunately most of the frame, aside from the outer ~10% or so, looks closer to the first crop rather than the second. Stopping down brings up performance in the outer regions, though not quite as quickly as with top-tier lenses.
The color rendition out of the Skopar is modern and vivid. Close shades don’t separate quite as cleanly as with top-tier options, but it’s still a solid showing.
As expected out of a wide and somewhat slow lens you’re rarely going to see tons of bokeh using the Skopar. If you shoot at close range and at wide aperture settings you can still get a fair bit of separation, but beyond that most of what’s in frame will also be in focus.
When bokeh does show up it tends to look reasonably unobjectionable under most conditions. Blur discs have quite clear outlines though, so under high contrast conditions things can start to look messy. There’s a bit of mechanical vignetting that can add a bit of busyness in out of focus areas in the frame periphery.
Transitions are quite gentle with a smooth roll off of definition rather than a rapid drop. Images still have a natural sense of depth, but planes of focus aren’t separated quite as cleanly as with a lens with quicker transitions. The Skopar is fairly forgiving in terms of focus accuracy as a result though, and a good candidate for zone focus use.
The transition zone is also fairly smooth, which helps the impression.
Shallow depth of field isn’t the point of this lens, but you can still get some separation shooting at closer range. Blur discs are quite well defined so you’ll regularly have quite a bit of texture in the bokeh and things can look a little messy in challenging cases. Transitions are gradual and there’s a gentle sense of depth rather than clinically separated planes.
The Skopar 28 is well corrected for most aberrations.
Vignetting is quite pronounced wide open and sticks around a bit even stopping down. This is very easy to correct for though.
It’s generally quite resilient against flare and only rather extreme situations provoke a bit of ghosting.
On digital sensors there can be some ray angle induced issues like color shifts and corner smearing. This is particularly bad on cameras with thicker filter stacks and the output tends to be subpar on these cameras. On digital Leica cameras the filter stack is thinner, but a slight deterioration can still be seen compared to the performance on film as well as slight color shifts. It’s not enough to worry about in most cases though.
The Skopar 28 is a well corrected lens overall. On digital you can see some detrimental effects due to its compact design though. For instance color shifts as seen in the first example (the purple shading at the top of the frame). This is easily remedied by using an appropriate profile in Leica cameras, or by profiling the lens in post processing.
Flare is generally well controlled, but under specific circumstances a bit of ghosting can be observed. Contrast can also drop under the most extreme situations.
The evaluation above holds true regardless of medium. However certain traits can come across differently depending on the medium. That said I do think the Skopar 28 feels unusually well balanced and works well regardless of medium.
Wide angle images shot on digital can occasionally look a little harsh and artificial to my eye (particularly ones with very high contrast across all frequencies). The well balanced contrast characteristics of the Skopar 28 allows it to mostly avoid this. There’s a pleasant roundness to the quite sharp overall rendition of detail that results in an appealing signature.
While the Skopar 28 feels well balanced on digital it comes across as even more so on film. Here the outer edges display slightly higher definition at wider aperture settings. The high global contrast combined with the nicer highlight roll off on film makes images look very natural and pleasant.
The high global contrast combined with the balanced characteristics at higher frequencies yields very nice looking monochrome images out of the Skopar 28. Negatives look punchy without feeling overcooked and post process conversions display natural looking gradations already with minimal work.
The Skopar 28 has an appealing signature. The technical aspects are on a high, often close to outstanding, level. Aesthetically it comes across as unusually well balanced.
It offers very pleasant contrast characteristics that leaves a transparent and slightly rounder impression than the extreme sense of definition that can be observed in contemporary benchmarks. It’s a matter of taste what sort of look you prefer, but to me the Skopar tends to come across as less harsh and clinical than some of the higher spec alternatives.
To my tastes the Skopar 28 offers a very pleasant rendering. It’s transparent but relaxed in a way that puts emphasis on the image content rather than the technical aspects. I quite like how true to life this quick shot of my kid comes across.
Overall then it’s a sort of rendering that rarely surprises you. Somewhat pedestrian, as mentioned. Scenes and subjects tend to be captured faithfully and without surprises, for better or worse. It’s rarely overwhelmingly impressive. But I personally like that I can put a lot of trust in the lens. The output is naturalistic, predictable and dependable and it allows me, forces me even, to concentrate on content rather than technicalities.
The Skopar 28 is pretty good at getting out of your way in use. The small size and solid handling makes it easy to get along with in the field.
The focal length is rather forgiving compared to something even wider and there are appropriate frame lines in many M cameras. Most thread-mount cameras require an external finder though.
The most significant limitation you run in to is that the Skopar is a somewhat slow lens. Since it’s fairly wide it’s easier to handhold at slow shutter speeds, so you can still get away with shooting it even in less than ideal light (particularly on modern digital cameras). However as soon as the light starts to get low you’ll have a hard time getting enough light through the lens.
Depending on how you want to use the lens, this limitation can become a major hurdle or just a minor nitpick. The bigger question then, is how it fits into your kit.
Depending on how you’re setting up your kit, the Skopar might make a good or poor fit.
Some people want lenses to shoot in any sort of situation they might come across. For that the Skopar can feel a little too slow and restricting as a result.
Personally I tend to think about how lenses complement each other. Already with a two lens kit I think the Skopar is an interesting choice. If you complement it with something well suited for shooting in low light you have a small and flexible kit. My preference would be a fast 50 which I feel is a focal length that goes really well together with a 28. Such a compact kit would offer pretty much everything you’d ever need for making fantastic looking images under a wide set of circumstances.
I’ve gravitated towards shooting a 50 as my main lens for the past few years. Usually a reasonably fast one. And then the limitations presented by the Skopar 28 aren’t too problematic, with its strengths shining more brightly instead. So it feels like just about the perfect complement for the occasions when I get an itch to shoot with a wide angle lens.
I’ve admittedly been increasingly less keen on shooting wide lately though. And perhaps the Skopar 28 isn’t the ideal lens to rekindle my inspiration for a wider focal length. Something with a bit more “magic” (for a lack of a better word) would probably make me feel more excited. That’s fine though, I’ve realized that my tastes in focal lengths comes and goes a bit, no need for pressure. For my current wants having a small, easy to bring and high performance 28 at my disposal still feels great, even if it doesn’t necessarily thrill me in and of itself.
In use the Skopar 28 makes for a fabulous wide angle choice for a small kit. It’s a viable choice for use on a huge range of cameras. Here it’s mounted on the Leica M4-P, a wonderful combination in practice.
I’ve had the Skopar 28 for around a year and a half at this point. I’ve had a go with the lens on a few different cameras during my time with it and here are some observations on the various combinations.
A part of the reason I initially wanted to have a go with the Skopar 28 was to shoot it on this old screw mount camera. I had enjoyed the experience of using the Voigtländer 28/1.9 on the camera, but felt like it was far too large to make for a good match on it. In this regard the Skopar 28 makes for a much better choice – the resulting combination is tiny for what it offers. Having so solid performance in such a small, well balanced package feels really compelling. The lens also looks and feels really at home on the camera.
Since the Barnack cameras are built around the 50mm focal length you do need to add an external finder for composing though, bringing the size up a bit. Focusing and composing using two different finders is a little less transparent than when shooting it on an M camera. As the Skopar is quite forgiving in terms of zone focusing you can still find ways to work quickly though.
Personally I quite enjoyed the experience of shooting this combination, however over time I felt like the slight size penalty of using an M instead was worthwhile to get the integrated finder. So despite enjoying my time with the setup I’ll probably stick to using the Leica II with 50mm lenses for the most part.
I find this a wonderful combination in use. The balance and handling is swell. Focusing and composing through the finder is quick and transparent without any viewfinder blockage (though it can be a little hard to see the peripheries of the 28mm frame wearing glasses). The performance is solid and the output feels particularly well balanced on film. You do end up a bit limited in low light situations, but other than that it’s among my favorite wide angle combinations I’ve shot.
This is an incredibly capable combination given its size. The handling is very pleasant and the lens really gets out of your way in use. The rendering is appealing and performance is solid (though you do need to stop down a slight bit more to get the full frame crisp, compared to when shooting on film). There is a bit of color shift at the frame edges, but most of the included wide angle profiles mostly eliminate the issue. For critical applications a bespoke profile used for correction in the post process stage could be worthwhile though. As the camera offers fairly clean results at higher ISO settings you can get away with shooting the lens in rather low light.
A compact wide angle rangefinder lens is bound to have ray angle induced issues on cameras with a thicker filter stack, such as the A7. So it’s pretty unsurprising to see quite a bit of smearing towards the frame periphery when shooting the Skopar 28 on the A7. You also need to stop down significantly for it to clear up. There’s a slight bit of color shift too, but not as bad as expected. As you get pretty solid high ISO performance and the possibility to focus super close if you use an adapter equipped with a helicoid it can still be fun to use the combination. In terms of practicality a native option makes more sense though.
Leica M Typ 262 / M4-P
As always – what other lenses are worth considering depends on your preferences. To me the options below are the ones that feel most relevant.
The biggest watershed is likely going to be what camera you’re planning to use it on.
If you’re looking for something to use mainly or even just occasionally on an LTM camera, you need to go for an LTM lens. Remember – LTM lenses can be mounted on M cameras, while the opposite isn’t possible.
In this scenario there aren’t too many 28mm options available. Fewer still measure up to the performance offered by the Skopar.
This is probably your best bet for an LTM 28 with modern performance, other than the Skopar. Also found under the Kobalux moniker it’s a lens that was produced by a tiny Japanese company from 1981 to 2002. There are a reasonable number of copies around and while it’s not exactly easy to get a hold of it’s certainly not as rare as a few of the other options. Prices have stayed reasonable as a result. The lens was made in a few different versions with mainly ergonomic differences. There’s for instance an iteration with a focus tab that looks to handle a bit better than the Skopar. In terms of performance it seems to behave reasonably well, offering a contemporary looking rendering for the most part. Still the Skopar is visibly sharper and with a greater deal of clarity to the output, from the samples I’ve seen.
The easiest 28mm option to find for LTM cameras is probably a Canon or Nikon lens. There were a few versions available from either brand. They’re all far older and less refined designs than the Skopar and they have noticeably lower performance with a more vintage looking output as a result. Ergonomics also look to be more fiddly across the board with these lenses.
This is a limited edition rehoused lens off of the Minolta TC–1 compact camera. It looks to offer very pleasant handling and performance on par with the Skopar. Since it was available only as a limited production run it’s quite rare on the used market and very expensive as a result.
Like the Minolta above this is a limited edition rehoused lens, this time from the iconic Ricoh GR compact camera. Once again it’s quite rare and fetches a pretty penny as a result. If you manage to find one it seems like a really nice lens though – the ergonomics look perfect and the performance solid. It’s also slightly faster than the Skopar, making it a little less limiting in low light. One caveat is that I’ve seen reports of it being occasionally developing haze between some of the cemented elements, which is then almost impossible to get rid of – something to keep an eye on if you’re looking for one to buy.
I’ve not shot this version of the Skopar 25, but quite like the M-mount iteration (see notes below). Optically this 25 is closely related to the 28 and offers broadly similar performance. However it’s not rangefinder coupled (i.e. scale focus only) and the build quality is reportedly not as nice. So overall I feel like the 28 has a pretty clear edge. Still as a cheaper and easier to find lens it could make for a pretty good stand-in for the 28.
This lens by Voigtländer is a pretty easy recommendation. It’s really fast, well made and very reasonably priced on the used market. Performance is solid, though I prefer the rendering out of the Skopar. To me it also feels a little too big for use on the generally very compact LTM camera, though the larger size means that it offers better handling than the Skopar.
Read my full review of the 28/1.9
If you’re ok with forgoing the option to mount the lens on an LTM camera there are a good number of additional options available.
I’ve not had the chance to shoot this lens, but it seems great. It’s almost as small as the Skopar but lighter and a bit faster, so a little less limiting in lower light. It has better ergonomics, practically perfect to my tastes. Performance is slightly better than with the Skopar. To my eye the output from the Leica can look a little harsh at times, with the Voigtländer offering a more balanced rendering (though neither is quite up to the Leica 28/2). So the choice mainly comes down to what sort of rendering you prefer and whether you’re planning to use the lens on an LTM camera or not. The fact that the Skopar is around half the price of the Leica also factors in of course.
This faster lens, also by Voigtländer, is another easy recommendation. I’ve not spent a lot of time with it, but handling one briefly I came away rather impressed. It’s really fast, handles well and offers improved performance over the f/1.9 version. Add to that a very reasonable price and you’ve got a really compelling package. The Skopar is much more compact though and I prefer the slightly higher level of clarity in the Skopar’s rendering.
This little lens is a pretty good substitute if you have a hard time tracking down the Skopar 28. The two lenses share quite a bit of DNA and in some ways I even prefer the 25 – mainly in that the ergonomics are a little more comfortable. The 25 is a hair larger than the 28 but lighter since it’s made out of aluminium rather than brass. Personally I feel like the angle of view difference between the lenses is so small that I can use them interchangeably, but I know others feel differently. There are 28mm frame lines available in a lot more cameras though, making accurate compositions easier. Optically the two lenses share a similar design and the output is very comparable as a result. In terms of rendering the results are very similar, though the 28 has a tad higher contrast and clarity – I prefer it slightly as a result. The 25 is a good deal cheaper and easier to find though, so if you’re not planning on using the lens on an LTM camera it’s hard to argue that the 28 is a superior choice.
Read my full review of the 25/4
It’s been a while since I used this lens, but I did use it extensively for some time. It’s a swell piece of glass. It’s pretty small with solid ergonomics. The field flatness and across the frame consistency isn’t quite up to the incredible Zeiss ZM 25, but it’s still a top tier performer. It has punchier color and higher contrast than the Skopar, though the output can occasionally look a little harsh. Personally I prefer the ergonomics of the Skopar slightly as well as its smaller size. My copy of the ZM 28 was also a bit of a train wreck in terms of build quality – the Skopar is put together much more nicely.
Leica M Typ 262
On paper the Skopar 28 might not be the most exciting lens. It’s a bit slow, none of the specs are too impressive and the look of the output doesn’t really stand out.
That’s sort of missing the point though. It’s not a lens that seems to have been conceived for the sake of flash. Instead it comes across as sensible – a solid and reliable tool for someone who understands their needs.
We head for a late afternoon swim. The sun moves lower in the sky and the wind drops to the gentlest breeze. The Skopar 28 is perfect for capturing the tranquil scene.
It probably doesn’t make sense as your main or only lens. It won’t do everything a bigger and faster lens will. But as a piece of even a very small kit it becomes really appealing. Particularly if you want something to use on an LTM camera (if that’s not a priority I do think some of the alternatives are easier to recommend).
Within realistic bounds the Skopar 28 punches way above what’s suggested by its diminutive size. It’s very nicely built and handles well on most cameras. The performance is solid with an unusually well balanced rendering.
In some ways it feels a little overpriced for what it is, on the current used market. But with all its positive traits I can see why demand for it has been on the rise. It’s undoubtably a bit of a niche option, since it comes with a good number of caveats, but if it’s a good fit for your needs there’s little else quite like it.
Personally I’m not sure I’d rate the Skopar 28 as my favorite wide-angle lens I’ve ever shot. But it’s not far off, and for my current wants I find it just about perfect.
Photos in this review were taken using the Leica M Typ 262 or Leica M4-P. Photos of the lens were made using the Sony A7. Exif-data is intact. Open any image in a new window for a closer look.