Cosina Voigtlander – A prime choice?

Cosina Voigtlander – A prime choice?

This represents another blog installment on my adventures in Micro 4/3 photography as defined by the Olympus E-P2.

My last post discarded the Leica M8 as a digital platform for my collection of rangefinder glass. You may not agree with my conclusions, and I am sure that I will be seen as a heretic by some Leicaphiles, but as I noted in that article, it’s just simply horses for courses. My mileage varies from theirs. A camera is only a platform (and in the E-P2’s case a superb digital one) on which to mount the image-forming lens. This brings me to the subject of today’s rant – Leica mount lenses for micro 4/3 photography. Today let’s look at Voigtlander.

Voigtlander is just about the oldest name in photography. It used to be an independent maker, then was swallowed by by the giant Zeiss Ikon, then closed down on about 1973. Rollei bought the rights, and made some special glass out in Singapore using Voigtlander designs. Things went bad again, and the name was bought eventually by RingPhoto, another German concern. Cosina licensed the name in about 1999, and started out making teh brilliant Bessa line of filem rangefinders with LTM screw and M bayonet mounts. Glass was also a part of the equation, and some absolutely brilliant designs soon followed, many at least as as good as Leica can make. I love them.

My rangefinder glass prime lens collection is presently as follows (some owned, some borrowed), featuring 3 excellent Voigtlander lenses:

Make

Model

Focal Length

Aperture

Mount

Notes

Voigtlander(on loan to me)

Heliar

15mm

f4.5

screw Tiny, sharp, but slow. No coupled rangefinder on a film body
Voigtlander

Snapshot Skopar

25mm

f4

screw Tiny, sharp, but slow. No coupled rangefinder on a film body
Voigtlander

Ultron

28mm

f2

M bayonet Fantastic. Sharp, excellent contrast
Canon

Serenar

50mm

f1.9

screw,collapsible mount Small. Low contrast, a bit soft but nice for portraits.  Be careful when collapsing the lens on the camera…
Canon

Canon

50mm

f1.2

screw Not as sharp as modern glass @ f1.2 but who cares? Very sharp when stopped down, perfect bokeh.
Leica

Summicron

50mm

f2

M bayonet Perfection, but 1 ½ stops slower than the Canon can mean wobbly pictures in low light
Leica

Summicronmm

50mm

f2 screw
Canon

Serenar

135mm

f4

screw Old, slow, soft, incredibly heavy

From this modest collection, my favourites that get used most are as follows in no particular order:

  • Cosina Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f2:

This lens approximates the field of view of a 56mm on an uncropped body. This may seem a bit long for a “standard” lens, but history provides a parallel – there were many SLRs delivered in the 1960s and 70s with 55mm focal length lenses as standard. My M42 screw mount lens collection includes a 55mm Takumar, a 55mm Chinon Tomioka, and a 58mm Russian Helios. This modern M mount lens is excellent as a walk-around lens for candids, and provides great sharpness and contrast, as well as a bit of extra speed when needed. I just wish it was faster as I am addicted to really supersonic speed glass.

The build quality is terrific, and in my opinion it is on a par with Leica or Zeiss glass in terms of sharpness, contrast and other characteristics. It is really well balanced and on my el-cheapo M-to-M43 adapter it fits as though the body and it were designed for each other. I just love this lens. 5 / 5

  • Canon 50mm f1.2:

A 100mm telephoto equivalent, with massive speed. See my earlier posts to understand what this antique but still relevant beauty can deliver in low light. Remember that it really needs a hood. I have the studidly costly original vented Canon hood which stays at home as it can easily fall off, and I use a cut-down metal tubular hood picked up at a trash sale for a dollar instead. I love this lens. 6 / 5 (Yes, six stars, it’s worth every one)

  • Olympus D. Zuiko 17mm f2.8:

I am slipping in a modern true M4/3 mount lens. For me, this is a terrific moderate wide angle lens (34mm equivalent) in a tiny pancake body, offering electronic (read automatic) options for focus and aperture. A lot of people believe that the M4/3 Panasonic 20mm f1.7 cousin is better, and it probably is – it is certainly faster by one and a half stops, but it is a longer – a 40mm equivalent –  and that is getting dangerously close to normal lens territory at double the price of the Oly pancake. A nice little snapshot gem. 4 / 5

Of the others, the 15mm and 25mm slow lenses from Cosina Voigtlander are brilliant performers, fast, sharp and everything I need in bright light. They are tiny, and offer specific accessory viewfinders if you want to put them on a camera. Their only drawbacks are the speed – f4 and slower can be a bind in dull light.

They have another issue for anyone who also has a Leica screw mount camera to use them on – they lack rangefinder coupling mechanisms, so its guess-the-distance only by scale focusing methods. They also have accessory viewfinders that you need to use to see the field coverage as they are both significantly wider lenses than a typical film rangefinder body’s viewfinder can handle. If you lose a finder they are expensive to replace.

The Canon Serenar screw mount lenses are both old. I believe both are from about 1949. Both are coated, and the 50mm is built on a collapsible mount, à la mode of the old Leitz Elmar of similar vintage. This lens isn’t a fantastic performer compared to a modern prime, but it does have a nice character that can deliver stunning portraits on M4/3 as long as there isn’t a flaring light source in the picture. The 135mm is probably a Zeiss Sonnar copy going on the weight, and is pretty soft, of low contrast and because of its sheer mass is hard to hold steady on the small Olympus body. On the other hand, it is a beautiful piece of engineering, and was delivered in a smart leather case complete with a tiny Canon 135mm accessory finder that amazingly hasn’t been lost. Remember, this pair is in old age already, being around and in use for about 62 years. On this basis alone they are just fantastic.

You will have your own favourites. Remember, your mileage may vary.

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