Lens review: The Voigtlander Color-Skopar 28/2.8 AI-P SLII

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The small, light Nikon D600 got me thinking about full frame as a viable alternative for a lightweight travel kit again – the D700 and f1.4 primes was smaller than a D3 and pro zooms, but certainly nowhere near as convenient as Micro Four Thirds. Of course, M4/3 doesn’t give you anywhere near the same control over depth of field, and you lose out at least a stop or more in high ISO performance. The OM-D might give you back a couple of stops of hand-holdability thanks to its excellent stabilizer, but there’s nothing you can do about depth of field control short of using the manual focus Voigtlander f0.95 lenses – they certainly fit the bill, but they’re also large, heavy and somewhat defeat the point of a small, light body.

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Shadows

This is where the pancake primes and full frame come in: a D600 body and two primes make for a very light but also very competent travel kit. And if you shoot film, it makes even more sense. (And naturally, being a 28mm lens, I was curious to try it out.) The 28/2.8 has ridden shotgun in my waist pouch when I go out with the F2T and 58/1.2 Noct; sometimes you just need something wider, and it’s a handy option to have without paying too high a weight/ size penalty.

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Untitled

The lens is just 24.5mm long (in Nikon F guise; it’s also available in EF mount, which is slightly larger as it has to accommodate the electronic diaphragm components) and weighs a scant 180g; it actually feels reasonably hefty as the entire lens is metal – probably anodized aluminium – and is very well constructed. It’s actually so short that it’s tricky to mount without turning the focusing or aperture rings, as the only portion of the lens that doesn’t rotate is the tiny 3mm wide section in the middle that holds the depth of field scale and index mark. It would have been great to have a locking button on the aperture ring like the ZF.2 lenses, but I suppose Cosina reserves that function for its more expensive siblings.

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Urban monk

Being an AI-P spec lens, the 28/2.8 has a chip to communicate aperture and distance information to the camera; you set the lens to f22 on a Nikon body and control the aperture using the command dials as normal. It will mount and provide full metering and electronic compatibility on any Nikon body. Focusing is manual, of course; would have been nice if there was a way to AF couple the lens – a built-in motor would probably have been impossible, but screwdriver focus might have been within feasible limits. That said, you always have the built-in rangefinder and in-focus confirmation dot (or beep on Canons) to help with determining focus, and the manual focus action is nicely damped and perfectly weighted – they certainly got the feel right with this lens. Since the lens is relatively slow and wide, it isn’t always easy to judge focus by the viewfinder alone – and Nikon’s modern focusing screens don’t help much, either. Most of the time, I could get achieve focus with the viewfinder alone, but on the edges it helps to use the dot: the lens suffers from moderate field curvature.

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Shifty

The 28/2.8 is a 6-group, 7-element design; Voigtlander does not provide a block diagram or any details about the optical design, but from the way it performs and the fact that it can focus as close as 22cm from the sensor plane – yielding surprisingly high magnification – I suspect that the lens is a retrofocal but non-telecentric design to achieve this. As mentioned earlier, it displays moderate field curvature, some coma at the edges and chromatic aberration until f8 or so. (I tested the lens on the Nikon D600.) There’s also a tiny bit of purple bleeding at high contrast edges.

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Through the looking glass

Sharpness is not a problem: the center is excellent at all apertures, with the border and edges lagging until about f5.6 or so; this is partially due to field curvature, and partially due to coma. Note that if you’re going to use wide apertures with this lens, you will need to use focus assist over the subject – not center focus and recompose. Edge sharpness is not too bad, but the corners never get critically sharp due to radial coma/ smearing; you always feel that things have been ‘stretched out’ a little. No problem; just make sure your subjects are within the central portion of the image circle.

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Umbrellas

Not having a huge number of elements, color rendition and contrast are excellent; images are rendered with a slightly warm hue, high saturation and macrocontrast. Microcontrast still isn’t as fine as the Zeiss lenses, but it’s certainly on par with Nikon’s regular AF offerings. This would be a good lens for low contrast scenes, but care must be taken if you’re shooting around noon in the tropics – you’re going to get things blocking up to black or overexposing if you don’t pay attention to your blinking highlights warning. It makes a rather good lens for black and white work, too.

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The morning after the night before

I consider myself a bit of a 28mm aficionado; perhaps fetishist is a better word. I find that it’s the widest I can go and still maintain a relatively natural look to the images without the usual wideangle geometric distortion; I feel that the focal length also matches my instinctive field of view quite well. This means that in my time I’ve owned and shot with a huge number of 28mm lenses and 28mm equivalents; the two I currently own – the Nikon AFS 28/1.8G and Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon are reviewed on their respective links, too. Aside from that, I’ve also got the Zeiss ZM 2.8/28 Biogon for my Leica M9-P, the 28/1.8 equivalent on the RX100, the iPhone 4, and an Olympus 15/8 body cap.

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Texture

So the natural question would be where does the Voigtlander 28/2.8 fit in – both in the grand hierarchy of 28mm lenses, as well as as a tool; I actually think it has a pretty well-defined niche. The Nikon 28/1.8 G is large but light, has autofocus and pretty good optics; the Zeiss 2/28 Distagon has stellar optics and a unique pictorial rendering, but is manual focus and surprisingly heavy for its size. Both have roughly the same maximum aperture and T stop. The Voigtlander is a tiny slip of a lens that’s capable of excellent results in the center, and decent results at the edges – these optical characteristics suggest it would serve as a good documentary lens (there is some distortion of straight lines which rules it out for architecture), but moreover an option where you a) need something light and small, and b) are unlikely to run out of light – though relatively low light work is still possible thanks to the high-ISO abilities of the current batch of full frame cameras. In short: this is a great lightweight travel lens, especially if paired with something a bit longer – perhaps the 40/2 or 45/2.8P. Now, if only somebody would make a decent focusing screen for the D600…MT

A big thank you to Eric Goh at Fotoman Marketing, the Malaysian distributor for Voigtlander lenses for the extended loan of the review sample.

The lens is available here from B&H in Canon and Nikon mounts.

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Comments

  1. Konstantinos Anastasiou says:

    Dear Ming,

    Great review! I’ve just purchased the 28mm on Nikon mount and I realized that the focus ring stiffens up a little bit on the close focus range, is this normal? Thank you very much.

  2. Ming, nice review and great pictures! Just curious to know how this lens compares against the 28mm lenses of Ricoh GR and Nikon Coolpix A. Since you have used all of them, what are your thoughts?

  3. Larry Miller says:

    Back in February/2013, I commented about having the Nikkor 28/F2. After comparing it to the Voigt on the same shots, I must say the Voigt hangs in there with the Nikkor F2 when the Voigt is shot at F8. That’s normally the F stop I use on landscapes. I was pleasantly surprised and more than willing to shed the weight of the F2. However, I would never sell the F2. She’s too good….

  4. Damn. That’s another lens I have to buy. :-P
    Wonderful pictures!

  5. Hi Ming

    What is the rendering like on this lens and the 40 f/2? Everyone talks of the 3D pop of Zeiss lenses. Is this similar? I have a FM3a and D90 (keen to get a D700 at some point), really like the idea of a lightweight pancake lens for walking around.

    Thanks Sean

    • Haven’t used the 40/2 so I can’t say. This doesn’t render like a Zeiss at all; it has smooth microcontrast rather than the heightened microcontrast of the Zeiss lenses. You’re probably better off with the 45/2.8 AI-P if you can find one.

  6. Hmm, thinking this or the elusive (for the right price) 45mm AI-P, though if this thing fringes all the same as the other modern designs, perhaps I’ll stick to my 24mm Sigma and wait for the right deal on the 45mm.

    Definitely good review man!

  7. Larry Miller says:

    I’ve been shooting Nikkors since the ’60s. Just ordered this lens and the 40 F2 Ultron. I figured it was time to lighten the load. I, like you really enjoy the 28mm field of view. And like Johnny Dahlen, I have the Nikkor F2 as well. A real sweet lens, but a bit hefty. Looking forward to using this 2.8. Great information on this lens Ming.

  8. Great review.. but the one thing I would have loved to see is a few pictures in different angles on the D600 with the Voigtlander mounted, thus showing the overall size..

  9. I don’t recall seeing you mention the Nikkor 28/2 Ai(s) in your blog? I also like the 28mm focal length and enjoy the Nikkor tremendously. I haven’t compared it to the Zeiss, though.

  10. Ming,

    Are there any mFT lenses that are close to the below description?

    “Not having a huge number of elements, color rendition and contrast are excellent; images are rendered with a slightly warm hue, high saturation and macrocontrast.”

    Best Wishes – Eric

    • The Panasonic 20/1.7 and Olympus 17/1.8 aren’t bad, but neither is warm or particularly high on microcontrast. The 60/2.8 is high on all counts but goes for color purity rather than warmth. The Voigtlander 17/0.95 and 25/0.95 are warm but not particularly sharp or microcontrasty. So I suppose the answer is probably no…

  11. Hi Ming, thanks for this review! Since this lens was announced I’ve been waiting for reviews of it to appear, and yours seems to be the first (at least the first one that’s freely available to all).

  12. Thanks for the great review and pictures. I’m very tempted to get the 28mm now. I own the Voigtländer 40mm f/2 and can highly recommend it too. It is a small lens with a very solid build and a very nice focus ring.

  13. As always, great photography Ming. Since this article started with a comparison of the D600 to m4/3, it would be nice to see some photos of the D600 with this compact lens next to maybe the OM-D or EPM2 with the Lumix 14 2.5 (or other pancake lens) to grasp difference in size of a “lightweight travel kit”.
    I know you’re not big on pixel-peeping and silly comparisons (same here), but it’d be cool to also have a couple of side by side shots of the same scene with both cameras. With your skills you can specifically show where the FF advantage is, and who will notice it.

    Thank you for all the informative articles. You have one of the most useful photography sites I’ve found.

  14. Excellent review, and superb pictures; my favorite is “Shifty,” personally.

    I’d love to see this lens compared to the Nikkor 2.8 AIS, which is also small, relatively light, and has excellent contrast/color rendition. If I lived closer I’d lend you my copy…

    • Thank you. AIS glass isn’t easy to get hold of here – you used to see tons of it for sale in second hand stores, but in the last few years it all seems to have disappeared – I wonder where it went? Haven’t used the 2.8 but I did like the 3.5; admittedly that was on a much lower-resolution sensor.

    • Larry Miller says:

      I’m not sure there would be a fair comparison of this lens to the Nikkor 28 F2.8 AIS. The reason I say this is that the Nikkor is great for closeup to mid-distances. After mid-distance, it’s not very sharp. It was just designed that way. Now the 28 F2 is a whole different story. Ultra sharp from close to infinity. I haven’t see the pictures yet from my new Voigtlander but I hope it comes close to sharpness as 28 F2 is. We’ll see…

  15. Interesting review of a lens I had considered buying. Actually, I have just got a Nikon 28mm 2.8 AIS and I have to say this too is a pretty impressive lens – very little distortion and good resolution – in my view a small high quality jewel of a lens.

    • Primes with modest speeds and relatively simple optical designs tend to perform quite well.

      • Thanks Ming – actually the 28mm 2.8 AIS is not a simple design. It uses 8 elements including a floating element and focuses down to 7 inches! There is hardly any distortion and is very sharp even wide open. Tony

        • 8 elements is simple compared to the modern asphericals which can use more elements – the 28/1.8 G is a 11/9 design, for instance. Other lenses like the 24/1.4 and ZF 21/2.8 are even worse – 12/10 and 16/13(!) respectively.

          The Voigtlander 28 lacks floating elements and still manages to focus very close, but performance declines noticeably at the near end of the range.

      • I understand, thanks. You may be interested in a pic I have just taken with the 28mm AIS and posted on your flickr group. It’s not art but does show some of the AIS lens strengths – http://www.flickr.com/photos/85524876@N07/8253772457/in/photostream/lightbox/ Thanks again for a great review & website. Tony

  16. Good review – How much is this going for? If it’s near the price of the 28/1.8G you would really have to value the size to justify it.

  17. Thank you for the Wonderful Review and Wonderful Pictures Ming! – Eric

  18. Terrific sample pictures (don’t show in flickr though).

  19. shooter325 says:

    how does the 4/3 ZD 25mm/f2.8 compare? hehe

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The small, light Nikon D600 got me thinking about full frame as a viable alternative for a lightweight travel kit again – the D700 and f1.4 primes was smaller than a D3 and pro zooms, but certainly…  [...]

  2. [...] The small, light Nikon D600 got me thinking about full frame as a viable alternative for a lightweight travel kit again – the D700 and f1.4 primes was smaller than a D3 and pro zooms, but certainly nowhere near as convenient as Micro Four Thirds. Of course, M4/3 doesn’t give you anywhere near the same control over depth of field, and you lose out at least a stop or more in high ISO performance. The OM-D might give you back a couple of stops of hand-holdability thanks to its excellent stabilizer, but there’s nothing you can do about depth of field control short of using the manual focus Voigtlander f0.95 lenses – they certainly fit the bill, but they’re also large, heavy and somewhat defeat the point of a small, light body.  [...]

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