Voigtländer 28mm f/1.9
Voigtländer 28mm f/1.9 (46mm filters, 261g). enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to this lens used at eBay because this lens is no longer made (see How to Win at eBay) when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep reviewing these specialized lenses when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.
Cheapskate replacement for the Leica 28mm f/2 ASPH for journalism, and any place where you absolutely need f/1.9 instead of f/2.8.
Oddly, this 28mm f/2 works better on a Leitz Minolta CLE than on most Leica cameras. There is less finder blockage and the system weighs less!
The Leica 28mm f/2.8 is a better lens in most ways, unless you absolutely need f/1.9. For nature, landscape and most general photography, get the 28mm f/2.8 instead, especially because even if you don't mind the price, size and weight of the 28mm f/2, the 28mm f/1.9 blocks a large part of your viewfinder while the 28mm f/2.8 doesn't.
This is an inexpensive alternative to the Leica 28mm f/2 ASPH. It costs much less, but it's bigger, heavier and, if you're looking closely, optically inferior.
This Voigtländer lens obscures much of the lower right of your 28mm viewfinder, just like the Leica 28mm f/2 ASPH. I can't handle not seeing the bottom right corner of my compositions, so I prefer the smaller Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH instead.
It doesn't feel or handle as well as a real Leica lens.
For photographers, this 28mm f/1.9 lens is fine. It will not suffice for the Leica man, because either of the current Leica 28mm lenses are slightly sharper in the corners at large apertures, and the Voigtländer lens has more distortion, even if it's very hard to see.
If you're a true Leica man, you wouldn't be reading this page. If you're a photographer who wants a lens 95% as good as a Leica lens for one-tenth the price, read on.
This lens comes in screw-mount only. You buy an adapter to use it on modern bayonet Leica and other cameras.
f/1.9 vs. f/2
f/1.9 is only one-seventh of a stop faster than f/2.
With the usual additional light falloff in the corners wide-open, I'd use f/1.9 the same as f/2 when using an external light meter.
Don't pay any extra for f/1.9 thinking it's any faster than f/2. The numbers exaggerate the real difference, which is negligible.
Everything you read here is with the lens and a Leica M adapter ring for Leica M bayonet mount cameras. The lens ships in screw mount, so you need to buy an adapter ring to fit it to your camera.
I'm shooting and testing these lenses on full-frame digital and film.
Presuming you have a standard 106 DPI monitor, this is its actual size, which is only two inches (5cm) long:
Voigtländer 28/1.9, actual size. enlarge.
All of the illustrations in this review have been enlarged as not to look so silly on the page.
2000 - 2008
This f/1.9 lens was introduced in 2000 and made through 2008.
A newer (untested) Voigtländer 28mm f/2 was announced in 2008.
The new f/2 Voigtländer lens adds a finger tab for focusing, and is dedicated to the Leica M mount.
The 28mm f/1.9, tested here, requires a screw-mount adapter to work.
Specifications with commentary top
Cosina calls this the Voigtländer Ultron 28mm f/1.9 Aspherical.
Ultron is an old name dug up from the 1950s.
Focal Length top
Focal Length: 28mm.
35mm equivalent: 28mm. Duh, this is a full-frame 35mm lens.
Digital Equivalent: 28mm. Duh, I shoot full-frame have all my film scanned direct to digital.
Digital Resolution: 25MP when shot on film.
Angle of View (full-frame 35mm) top
(less on lesser formats.)
9 elements in 7 groups.
One aspherical surface.
10 straight blades.
Voigtländer 28mm f/1.9 at f/5.6, 2.5x life-size. enlarge.
Stops down to f/22. (The Leica lenses only stop down to f/16.)
Half-stop clicks, except no click between f/16 and f/22, and a click at f/1.9 and at f/2.
F/22 is circular, while all the other settings have straight sides.
Filter Thread top
46mm is larger than Leica's standard 39mm, but it is the same as the Contax G system, the Zeiss 21mm lenses and Leica's larger lenses which include the Leica 28mm f/2, Leica 35mm f/1.4, 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M, 135mm f/4 Tele-Elmarit-M and others.
Close Focus top
Marked: 2.5 feet and 0.7 meters.
Actual measured: 27" or 69cm.
Comes with a metal cinch-on hood.
Length: 48.34mm extension from flange, measured at infinity.
Diameter: 55.0mm, measured. No focus tab and no red dot to protrude further, as do Leica lenses.
Naked lens, no caps (including M adapter): 9.207 oz. (261.0g), measured.
Lens with hood, no caps: 9.987 oz (280.6g), measured.
Hood alone: 0.690 oz. (19.6g), measured.
2009, March, USA: $450 new (if you can find them), and $300 used.
Voigtländer 28mm f/1.9. enlarge.
This Voigtländer 28mm f/1.9 isn't as quite sharp as the Leica 28mm lenses in the corners at large apertures, distorts more and doesn't handle or feel as well, but so what: for $450 it way outperforms the Leica lenses if you're considering price.
If you're a true Leica man, don't even consider this lens. If you're a photographer, I doubt I could see any of its negative shortcomings in actual photography.
My biggest complaint in use wouldn't be its optics, but it's inferior feel to the Leica lenses.
Although I can exaggerate optical limitations in testing, I doubt I would ever notice anything in actual photography. What would bug me is the bigger lens blocking more of my viewfinder.
Aperture Ring top
The aperture ring is smaller and slipperier than Leica lenses.
It's also stiffer, so instead of blind fingertip control as you get with Leica lenses, you have to use two fingers, and stop and look at the lens to set it.
Its spacing is uneven: smaller apertures (f/22) are closer together than larger apertures (f/1.9).
There is rarely anything out of focus, so bokeh has little meaning here.
I can't see anything out of the ordinary with this 28mm f/1.9.
I can't see any coma (corner smearing of bright points of light).
I didn't push it, so maybe it will or won't have any on really bright points of light in the corners at f/1.9, but from my shooting, it wasn't there.
There is some softening in the far corners, but no obvious coma.
Depth-of-field is deep.
You can shoot at f/1.9 and have lots in focus, unlike with a 50mm lens, where nothing would be in focus.
This is normal for 28mm lenses.
Diaphragm Linearity top
My M7 agreed exactly as I tried every half-stop, and the full-stop between f/16 and f/22.
This shows a well-made lens.
It's not important when using TTL exposure meters, as with most modern cameras, but is important if you're using an external meter.
Distortion is very minor barrel (outward bulging).
For critical use, use +0.5 in Photoshop's Lens Distortion Tool.
I doubt any of these three lenses has enough to worry about, especially compared to SLR and zoom lenses.
Voigtländer 28/1.9, actual size. enlarge.
Ergonomics are much worse than Leica lenses because the two rings aren't as easy and sure to grip.
There is no focus lever. Instead, you have to use two firm fingers to focus. This is slower, and can be more precise.
Unlike Leica's superior continuous focus knurls, your fingers have to find just the right spot on top, or in, the knurls of the Voigtländer. Thankfully the knurls aren't as sharp as they are on older Leica lenses; the Voigtländer.'s knurls are much softer.
The aperture ring is also weaker feeling and more damped than Leica lenses, so it also takes two fingers instead of two. The uneven spacing between apertures bugs me.
There is no "28" marked on the barrel.
Falloff (darkened corners)
Falloff is moderate at f/1.9, much less at f/2.8, and gone for practical purposes by f/4.
The Voigtländer 28mm f/1.9 has less falloff than any of the Leica 28mm lenses.
I like the artistic falloff of the Leica lenses towards the corners. This helps keep the viewer's attention focused inside the photo, and keep his eyes from wandering off.
Your preferences may vary; with this Voigtländer lens, you need to do more edge burning when printing.
On a Leica M7
On a Minolta CLE
On a Voigtländer Wide-Angle Camera (21mm finder)
This is a big lens, so big that your viewfinder will see the lens in the lower right corner.
As a careful shooter, this drive me crazy, but the pro journalist who loaned me this Voigtländer 28 1.9 lens to test never notices: he shoots too fast and knows what's going on as he shoots.
Mechanics and Construction top
Rear, Voigtländer 28/1.9. enlarge.
This Voigtländer lens is made by Cosina, the same people who've been making lenses for Vivitar since the 1970s and for Zeiss today.
You'll see the same weak triangular knurling everywhere.
It's all metal and well made. It's no Leica lens, but it's no plastic puck either.
Hood: Crinkle-coat metal. Cinch friction coupling.
Front Cap: Push-on metal, felt lined.
Barrel: Anodized aluminum.
Focus Ring: Anodized aluminum.
Focus Tab: None.
Aperture Ring: Anodized aluminum.
Focus Helicoids: I don't know.
Other Internals: Metal.
Mount: Dull chromed brass.
Mounting Index Dot: None.
Markings: Engraved and filled with paint.
Made in: Japan.
The Voigtländer 28/1.9 is obviously less sharp than the Leica lenses at large apertures under the microscope, but I doubt even I could see any difference in real photographs worth making.
I see no differences in the center.
I do see obvious differences viewed side-by-side at 36x from Fuji Velvia (36 x 48" prints) when looking in the corners at f/1.9 and f/2.8, but these differences are gone by f/4, where the Voigtländer sharpens up in the corners.
At f/4, I can't see any significant sharpness differences between this Voigtländer and the Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH and Leica 28mm f/2 ASPH lenses, and I made same-shot side-by-side comparisons. If you compare lenses by shooting on different days, you'll never see any difference.
The 10-bladed diaphragm should beget 10-pointed sunstars.
Since f/22, and only f/22, is round, f/22 probably won't create any sunstars, so try not smaller than f/16 for the strongest sunstars.
Be careful aligning the hood. You easily can put it on crooked.
Because this is a screw-mount lens, you often won't get perfect rotational alignment. The focus and aperture indices may or may not line up perfectly at the top of the lens when mounted on a camera.
Because of this, and unlike real Leica lenses, the Voigtländer hood has no key to ensure it stays correctly aligned.
You must always pay close attention to aligning the hood when cinching down the hood's friction clutch. At first I didn't realize this, and was shooting with a crooked hood!
Use on the Minolta CLE
This 28mm f/1.9 works even better on the Leitz Minolta CLE than it does on a Leica, because the finder of the CLE is farther away from the lens than on other Leica cameras, so there is less finder blockage.
The CL has a great 28mm finder frame.
When this lens is mounted on the CLE, if you use a 28/90mm adapter, you'll see both the bold 28mm finder frame as well as the dimmer 90mm finder frame. Ignore the 90mm frame, which you have to do all the time on modern Leica cameras anyway.
Instead of a 28/90mm adapter, use a 35/135mm adapter, and you'll see only the 28mm frame on the CLE! You can't pull this trick with the new dedicated M-mount Voigtländer 28mm f/2, so for use on the CLE, I'd stick with this older f/1.9 lens.
On the CLE, there is only a small amount of blockage with no hood at infinity. At close focus distance with no hood, blockage is worse, but still not that bad.
Even with the hood, the finder blockage isn't as bad as shooting this on an M7 or other similar Leica.
If I wanted to shoot this lens, I'd shoot it on a CLE without the hood and be happy. Metering, focus and everything works great, and a CLE with this lens weighs less than the 28mm f/2.8 on an M7: 655g total versus 805g!
Use on the Wide Voigtländer
The wide Voigtländer's finder is even closer to the lens than it is on the Leica cameras.
Finder blockage on the wide Voigtländer (whichever one has the integral 21mm finder) is as bad as on the other the Leica M cameras.
Compared to Leica 28mm Lenses top
Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH, Leica 28mm f/2 ASPH and Voigtländer 28/1.9. enlarge.
As far as specifications go, the Voigtlander 28 1.9 is similar to the Leica 28mm f/2, which sells for ten times as much.
The biggest difference is ergonomics: the Leica lenses focus much faster and easily because they have single-fingertip tabs, while one needs to use two fingers to grab the Voigtländer lens to focus.
Likewise, the Leica lenses have big, well-spaced diaphragm rings, while this Voigtländer lens has a smaller, weaker aperture ring with stiffer motion that asks for two fingers, not one, to adjust. The Voigtländer lens has uneven spacing between stops, and skips the half-stop click between f/11 and f/16.
Either Leica lens is clearly the better lens for the Leica man, but if you worry about lens prices, the Voigtländer wins on price.
I wouldn't worry about the slightly inferior sharpness or distortion of this Voigtländer lens. It's still better than anything you can get for any Nikon, rangefinder or SLR.
When I see a stranger with a Leica lens, I first figure the guy is going to be a camera dweeb. When I come across a guy with a Voigtländer lens, he most often is a very avid and talented photographer.
Remember, I was loaned this lens by the full-time career photographer who owns it.
Want a big, fast, moderately wide lens for your Leica, Minolta, Voigtländer or similar camera?
Don't have $1,000 for a new or used Leica lens?
Consider this lens, and also wait for me to try the newer Voigtländer 28mm f/2 lens, which may have far better ergonomics than this older f/1.9 lens.
Acknowledgment: Many thanks to Ralph Starkweather for his help getting me this lens to review.
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