Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II review

The Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II is an old-school rangefinder lens, but can modern sensors handle it?

Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II
(Image: © Rod Lawton)

Digital Camera World Verdict

The Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II is a simpler, older design that may not deliver consistent edge to edge performance but does offer excellent center sharpness, terrific contrast and a very appealing analog ‘look’. The controls are beautiful, if a tiny bit cramped, but the distance scale’s ‘infinity’ setting was out, perhaps because we were using it via an adapter. We also found that while our Sony A7 II’s sensor handled this lens perfectly, the sensors in our EOS RP and EOS R8 could not cope with what we presume to be fairly high angles of incidence from this particular lens design. Overall, a terrific little lens when used on the right camera and with the right mindset.

Pros

  • +

    Super-compact

  • +

    Smooth focusing

  • +

    Distance scale with DOF markings

  • +

    Excellent center sharpness

  • +

    Great contrast and ‘look’

Cons

  • -

    Soft-ish edges, especially on the right

  • -

    Some vignetting

  • -

    Not good with our Canon cameras

  • -

    Inaccurate focus scale

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The Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II is a Leica M-mount rangefinder lens that can also be used on a host of mirrorless cameras via inexpensive ‘dumb’ mount adaptors. It was tested on a Sony A7 II and a Canon EOS R8, and the results were very different – more on that later!

The Voigtländer name is well known in photography, and Voigtländer lenses are now made by Cosina in Japan. They are not budget lenses. They are high-quality optics made for modern cameras. This one comes in a Leica M mount and would make a great lower-cost alternative to Leica lenses for fans of the red dot.

But the narrower lens mount and slightly longer flange distance of the M mount means you can get adaptors for today’s mirrorless bodies. We used adaptors from Urth. This 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II is a fully manual lens with no electronic connections, so it doesn’t need complex lens adaptors and works in just the same way on a mirrorless body as it would on a rangefinder.

The f/2.5 maximum aperture might seem a handicap, but how often do you need anything faster? Where the Color Skopar excels is its small size, the quality of its controls, and its manual focus and depth of field control – though there is one niggle to be aware of here.

It's not likely to make it onto our list of the best Sony lenses because it's both specialized and an acquired taste, but if you're looking for the best 35mm lenses with a real retro vibe, then it's right up there.

Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar: specifications

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Focal Length35mm
Aperturef/2.5 - f/22
Lens Construction7 elements in 5 groups
Aperture Blades10
Closest Focusing Distance0.7m
Focus SystemManual
OISNo
Filter Size39mm
Diameter x Length55 x23mm
Weight134g

Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar: price and availability

At the time of writing, the Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II is on sale for around $429 / £398, which makes it rather cheaper than own-brand 35mm f/1.8 lenses but also, of course, rather slower in maximum aperture. It’s certainly not a cheap lens, but it does cost less than regular 35mm primes and is substantially smaller. It seems pretty widely available in the US, but while it's carried by many UK retailers, it may not always be in stock.

Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar: design and handling

This is such a compact lens that it’s almost a little fiddly to handle. The manual aperture ring is at the front of the lens, whereas on most digital lenses, or those that have aperture rings, it’s closer to the camera body. The Voigtländer’s focus ring is where your fingers might be expecting to find the aperture ring, so it does need a little acclimatization. 

The aperture ring is perhaps a little light but has very positive click stops in half-stop increments – not the one-third stops of modern systems – while the focus ring is beautifully smooth and has a focus lever on the base. It is rangefinder coupled for use on genuine rangefinder-focused cameras, but this coupling is redundant when used on mirrorless cameras.

It is wonderful to have a long focus travel and a detailed focus scale, together with depth of field index marks for apertures from f/4 to f/22, as these make hyperfocal focusing and zone focusing a breeze. These are forgotten arts well worth rediscovering in the modern era.

Hard to believe it's a full frame lens, isn't it? The Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II is tiny. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

But there is a problem. We did not test this lens on a Leica rangefinder body which is, perhaps, what it is mainly designed for, but using three different adaptors on two different bodies we did find a discrepancy between the infinity mark and infinity focus. You can’t just turn the focus ring to its hard stop at infinity and expect the lens to be focused at infinity. In practice, ‘real’ infinity is somewhere between the infinity and 5m marks.

Whether you blame lens adapters or the lens, if you intend using the Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II on a mirrorless camera, you should check the focus using the EVF or rear screen, ideally with magnification, or make allowances for any discrepancy in the distance scale.

Unusually, the Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II has the aperture ring at the front and the focus ring nearest the camera. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar: performance

This is a relatively simple lens in optical terms, but its performance proved surprisingly good. There is some softening of detail at the edges, even after stopping down, and our sample was a little softer on the right side than the left, which could be annoying.

But while there is some visible vignetting, you might want to leave it in because it’s part of this lens’s very interesting character and can often improve the picture. We were expecting some chromatic aberration and perhaps distortion, but there’s precious little of either.

That was using a Sony A7 II body. We also tried this lens on a Canon EOS R8, this time via a Leica M to Canon RF adapter, and got a very different outcome. 

Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar does have slight vignetting, but much of the time it adds to the 'look'. The center sharpness here is pretty spectacular. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

The Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar is a little softer at the edges, but it's not unfixable. This has been through Capture One, which can add a progressive edge sharpening effect. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

The Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar is great for zone focussing and figuring out hyperfocal distances on the fly. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

F/2.5 doesn't sound very fast, but when you get up close the depth of field is very shallow, and here the Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar has produced a kind of swirling Petzval effect in the grass. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

This is an image shot with the Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar via an adapter on our Canon EOS R8 body. The color shifts at the edges make it unusable on this camera – we had no such issues on our Sony A7 II. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

One of the issues with vintage lens designs is that they were originally made for film, which is very tolerant of high angles of incidence where the image strikes the edges of the frame. It turns out our EOS R8’s sensor is not. Towards the edges of the frame it produced a strong magenta shift that effectively makes the images from this lens unusable for color work – though you might get away with it if you use the Voigtländer on an APS-C Canon RF mount camera.

We didn’t expect to see a difference like that between two full frame mirrorless cameras. On this showing, we would certainly try out other older lens designs on a Sony body (and have done), but we won’t rush to repeat this experiment with the Canon.

So there are some drawbacks and pitfalls with this lens, and it can take a little while to get the hang of it and get the most from it.

But it’s worth it. The edge definition might not be great and there is some moderate corner shading, but the center sharpness is pretty spectacular, and the relatively simple optics give a level of contrast and punchiness you don’t normally see with a modern lens. If you want to recreate the look of old transparency film, maybe you should forget about so-called film simulations but look at what lenses like this do instead.

The Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar has a rear element which protrudes quite a long way into the camera body. There's no danger of this fouling on the sensor, but it does produce a more acute angle for the light rays, and the Canon EOS RP and EOS R8 we tried did not like this at all. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar: verdict

The Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II is about as different as you can get to a modern digital lens, though for photographers who started out in film it will also be a reminder about how simple and effective lenses used to be.

You can zone focus perfectly well with this lens, though do check and make allowances for any discrepancies in the distance scale if you’re using it with an adapter. It’s also capable of extremely sharp results if you focus precisely – though this takes a little more time and effort than autofocus, so this is not exactly a point and shoot lens.

What this lens lacks in edge to edge sharpness it makes up for with superb centre sharpness, high contrast and a character that you don’t really see with modern lenses. With the Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II, the handling and the look of the images are everything.

(Image credit: Rod Lawton)

Should I buy the Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar P-Type II?

✅ Buy it if...

  • You want a characterful analog look
  • You want a compact pancake lens
  • You want old-school manual controls

⛔️ Don't buy it if...

  • You want clinical edge to edge sharpness
  • You have little patience for manual focusing
  • You have a Canon EOS R8 (or RP – we tried that too)

Voigtländer 35 mm/1:2.5 Color Skopar: alternatives

Sony FE 40mm f/2.5 G

The closest alternative for Sony users is the Sony FE 40mm f/2.5 G. It’s barely any larger than the Voigtländer, it too has an aperture ring (also de-clickable, by the way), and offers both autofocus and more consistent optical performance. It is about 50% more expensive, though. 

Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T*

Another alternative is the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T*, but this is a little slower, a lot more expensive and doesn’t have an aperture ring. It’s an older lens whose appeal is definitely waning.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.8

Or there’s the regular ‘vanilla’ Sony FE 35mm f/1.8, which is an f-stop faster than the Voigtländer, but also larger and a lot more expensive – and lacks an aperture ring. Frankly, though, the only thing this lens has in common with the Voigtländer is its focal length; otherwise they are like chalk and cheese.

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Rod Lawton
Contributor

Rod is an independent photography journalist and editor, and a long-standing Digital Camera World contributor, having previously worked as DCW's Group Reviews editor. Before that he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar, as well as contributing to many other publications. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more. Rod has his own camera gear blog at fotovolo.com but also writes about photo-editing applications and techniques at lifeafterphotoshop.com