Voigtländer 20/3.5 impressions

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by oskar_ojala, Apr 26, 2009.

  1. I thought I'd post some impressions of the Voigtländer 20/3.5, given that it's new and there aren't so many reviews yet available. In order for this not to turn into a one man show, I'll keep it brief. I tried this lens on my Nikon D300, but hope to get the chance to try it on FX.
    Mechanics: This is a *very* small lens, best comparable with some slow 50 mm lenses. The mechanics are very good, the focusing is smooth and has a nice slightly soft rubber ring that protrudes and the aperture adjustment is smooth. No complaints here. Focuses to 0.2 m (about 8"). The focus scale seems to be reasonably accurate, so zone focusing can actually be used. Filter size is 52 mm, fitting in nicely with older MF lenses.

    Sharpness&resolution: Good in center, a bit worse in corners. Clearly performs best when stopped down slightly. Doesn't have the crispness of a normal lens, but then this lens is quite wide and compared to other wide angles it performs well.

    Vignetting: little at f3.5, none when stopped down. It's a full frame lens and it shows. Vignetting on FX is much more obvious, but I will still have to do test shots with a FX camera.

    Distortion: a clear barrel distortion, but fixable in post processing. Nothing unexpected for a 20 mm lens (although I miss shooting with biogons which had no distortion...)

    Bokeh: can exhibit some double lines, but most of the time my shots have looked good. I probably need to try this aspect in a bit more detail. The aperture is fairly round, though, which comes in handy.

    Flare&ghosting: excellent. I got some ghosts when shooting into backlit scenes with a filter on, but none without filter, so it's clear that a filter may in some circumstances interact badly with the lens. But other than that I haven't seen any flare or ghosting problems and I've done quite many backlit shots.

    Fringing&CA: haven't seen it, although I shoot with CA removal on. Still, looks quite promising in this area. I would need to test this more strictly, though.

    Infrared: Extreme edges are not completely sharp, but still the performance is pretty good for a wide angle. Unsurprisingly, visible light and IR do not focus at the same spot, but the focus compensation is not so large.

    Conclusion: A nice, hih quality, small manual focus lens that takes nearly no space in the bag. Good for shooting stopped down if corners need to be sharp. Performance when shooting against the light is great. The alternatives are mainly the Zeiss 21/2.8 (three times the size, three times the price), the Nikkor 14-24/2.8 (big, expensive and takes no filters) and some old or new Nikkor 20 mm lens. Only the older Nikkor 20 mm are really apple to apple comparisons in terms of price and size and I haven't used them.

  2. A second sample illustrating against the light shooting (and also some distortion)
  3. Thanks. I have their 70/2.5 and 125 macro and really like it . How is the Voigtlander 20 compared to say one of Nikon's better 1x-xx zoom (ie: 16-85 or 18-70) at 20 on a D300?
  4. Well I sold my 18-70 last year since I felt that the quality wasn't good enough on my D300 and wanted to force myself to use primes if necessary (and needed money for new lenses), so I can't compare directly. I have a friend who might have a kit zoom, but in any case wouldn't get to try that in at least a week anyway. And not planning to buy more DX lenses.
    Excuses aside, I can try to compare it based on my long experience with the 18-70. The 18-70 will vignette much more, it has somewhat more obvious distortion (now I hope photozone won't prove me wrong here...) and it is much more prone to flare, ghosting and CA. A resolution comparison is too difficult, but the Voigtländer is for sure not worse.
    I'll probably get to try the Voigländer on a D700 tomorrow...let's see...
  5. Thanks for the report, Oskar. You're right, not much information yet.
    I have the 14-24 2.8 but am still interested in getting this 20mm for my D700. For example, I'm thinking of crashing waves, blowing sand with the lens low and close---time for a UV filter!
    Curious to see what you find out tomorrow.
  6. So, where can you buy this lens and how much is the currrent price?
  7. Tried it a bit on a D700 and compared with a Zeiss 18/3.5, courtesy of Ilkka Nissilä. The D700 pics were left to him (we didn't have a computer with us), but he reported that the center was sharp at f4 but the corners soft, while at f8 corners were good. So my take is that if you plan to shoot stopped down and want very good (but not the ultimate) quality then the Voigtländer is a good choice. My assumption is that especially at larger apertures and on the edges, the Zeiss 21/2.8 would be the king, but I haven't tried it.
    I will note though that it is hard to describe the physical impression of the 20/3.5 in words. First, it's small, very small. Second, the mechanics are very nice; the focusing is just right and there's no slack to be found anywhere on the lens. Some people might not care about this, but it's a pretty nice aspect :)
    As for buying, I bought from http://www.fotomundus24.de/shop/ which had it in stock and delivered promptly (they have their own section for Voigtländer). http://robertwhite.co.uk/ also carries it as does http://www.cameraquest.com/ in the US. Voigtländer also has a list of distributors on their site. I paid 409 euros + shipping, which I consider an entirely reasonable price for this lens.
  8. Was the Zeiss that much better to justify the differential in price? And could you compare those two lenses since I have not seen them comparred anywhere.
  9. Unfortunately I managed to misfocus the Zeiss sufficiently that it's it's best to do a reshoot before drawing final conclusions about image quality. The Zeiss seemed to better resist flare at high-contrast edges and maintain sharpness to the edges at f/4; but by f/8 it seemed there wasn't any significant difference in image quality.
    I was impressed by the handling and size of the Voigtländer. If I were buying a superwide again, I would probably choose it over the Zeiss offerings due to the difference in price and size. If wide aperture performance is a top priority, and size and price are not, then probably it's better to get the 21mm ZF or the 14-24/2.8 Nikkor.
  10. other than boasting of its german technology (and maybe price), i find nothing fantastic in the voigtlander 20mm f/3.5. i'd go for the nikkor 12-24mm. maybe more money, but at least you get the versatility of a zoom. but then again, each one has his own preference.
    and the bottom line is we like trying out stuff and have fun experimenting with them. that's the beauty of this hobby.
  11. The Voigtländer draws the whole FX image nicely at f/8 (and possibly also at f/5.6, didn't test), it's dimensions are 63x28.8mm, the 12-24 DX Nikkor's 82.5 x 90mm. In terms of volume, the Voigtländer is approximately 80% smaller. It's also almost 58% lighter than the 12-24. These characteristics are, to me, fantastic.
  12. The 12-24/4 is not a full frame lens, which I think D700 users might care about. Also, it's being kicked badly by the much cheaper Tokina 11-16/2.8 which is pretty razor sharp in the center. But the Tokina too is huge compared to the Voigtländer. As for the 14-24/2.8, I stated that a comparison will essentially be apples to oranges, due to difference in size, weight, price and potential application.
    As Ilkka said, the Zeiss test is probably better to do again, but I'm pretty safe in saying that the Voigtländer offers better value. The Voigtländer seems to suffer from internal flare at largish apertures, which reduces contrast at edges, but as expected this vanishes when stopped down. OTOH I'll probably have to put it through some hard flare and ghosting tests, since it seems to be good at that.
  13. Retest results for FX: here are 100% crops of the centers of the images at f/4, f/5.6, and f/8:
  14. Voigtländer center at f/4
  15. Zeiss center at f/5.6:
  16. Voigtländer center at f/5.6:
  17. Zeiss center at f/8:
  18. Voigtländer center at f/8:
  19. As you can see from the above crops with 12 MP FX cameras, the center image quality is quite similar. I will proceed to see what happens at the 20mm edge of the frame (the 18mm shot was taken at the same camera position, hence it is not quite at the edge of the 18mm frame):
  20. Voigtländer edge at f/4:
  21. Zeiss near edge at f/5.6:
  22. Voigtländer edge at f/5.6
  23. Zeiss near edge at f/8
  24. Voigtländer edge at f/8
  25. There seems to be a slight exposure difference between the frames which may be a result of a slight change in lighting.
    The 12 MP FX (D700) results seem to suggest that center performance is similar with both lenses (f/4, f/5.6, and f/8). Near the edge of the frame, at f/4 and f/5.6, the Voitländer exhibits slightly softer images and internal flare at high contrast boundaries such as the border between the roof and the sky (not shown) or the lamp shown in these crops. The Zeiss images have crisp boudaries at high contrast edges. By f/8 the Voigtländer is much closer to the Zeiss than at wider apertures.
    My summary, for the 12 MP FX user the advantages of the Zeiss are 1) better edge sharpness, 2) resistance to internal flare at wide apertures, while the Voigtländer is 1) more compact, 2) less expensive and yet by f/8 essentially equal in image quality. Resistance to bright light sources in the frame was not tested here. I think the Voigtländer has less vignetting at f/4 than the Zeiss though I did not measure it.
    Disclaimer: test-to-test variability and human error cannot be excluded. The edge behaviour was similar in our first test (of the same subject) but the center of the Zeiss image was misfocused by yours truly so it was not fair to compare. Here the focus is closer to correct.
  26. Correction: There is a ghost in the Zeiss images (the sun was shining from the left and although not directly in the image area, caused a ghost which is visible at f/8 but very slight at f/4 (intermediate at f/5.6). There was no ghost that we could find in the Voigtländer images (but the angle of view is slightly smaller).
  27. Ghost at f/8.
  28. And finally, the whole 18mm image (f/5.6).
  29. The image quality results on DX (on D300) from the same test are more in the hair splitting category. The Zeiss might have a slight advantage at f4, while the Voigtländer might have a very slight advantage at f8, but nothing really to make a big deal out of. Interestingly, the Zeiss' image kept getting brighter all the way to f8, while the Voigtländer images were indistinguishable in terms of exposure at f5.6 and f8. The Voigtländer images were also a bit brighter than when stopped down, so the Zeiss seems to suffer more from vignetting and the actual speed might be lower.
    The ghost on the Zeiss was clearly visible in the FX frame, but not that annoying (probably because the red ghost blends in with the red brick). The Voigtländer had no ghosts or flare and it had no hood, while the Zeiss had the supplied hood.
    BTW, the image above is some kind of testament of what a good camera and a good lens can achieve these days in a fairly compact and versatile package. The scene doesn't even look that good in real life :)
    I have also tried a bit to get some ghosting or flare on the Voigtländer and have succeeded only once, with a rather faint ghost against a dark background when the sun was just outside the frame. Clearly this is exceptional performance and few lenses are this good. Bear in mind though that the Voigtländer can generate ghosts when used with a filter; it's not as bad as with the 50/1.2, but something to keep in mind.

    So I think that my original assessment stands, that is that the Voigtländer has good size, price, flare and ghosting resistance and stopped down performance. Performance wide open is good but not great and there is some barrel distortion. Infrared quality is good, but it is prone to flare in IR photography. I have not yet gathered much experience of using the Voigtländer on close-ups.
  30. I too own the new Voigtlander 20mm and shoot it on a Nikon D300. I sold my Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS to purchase this new Voigtlander. I am glad that I did. I never really cared much for that Nikkor and in the end, rarely used it. Owning the Voigtlander has gotten me again liking 20mm lenses. I also owned two copies of the Nikkor 17 - 35mm zoom and used them for many years (mostly on Fuji S3 bodies). I really liked that lens and it's images, but I didn't care for it's size (being a nature photographer who carries stuff up and down hills). I'd say that the Voigtlander's images compare favorably to the Nikkor 17-35mm at 20mm, with the Voigtlander having more saturated/vibrant colors and the zoom having more acurate colors. Using an old film analogy, I'd say the Voigtlander 20mm looked like Fuji Velvia and the Nikkor 17-35mm like Kodak Ektachrome .
  31. Hi
    I got interested in the Skopar as a lightweight lens for D300. I have read a few accounts of inconsistent exposure with this lens. Some problem with the aperture physically or a software bug I dont know. Did any one of you owners notice this with your samples ?
    I also feel somehow the lens hasnt become as popular as i expected from the interest it got around its launch time. Perhaps some bad copies discouraged the crowd.

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