Sony A7r + Voigtlander 20mm f/3.5 Color Skopar SL II

There are posts all over the internet with people testing m-mount lenses with the Sony A7r. Many of the wide-angles seem to have serious vignetting and / or a magenta colour cast in the corners and at the sides. As ever most of these posts seem to ignore the more viable and mostly trouble-free alternatives, 35mm lenses designed for SLR or DSLR cameras. Nikon and Canon for example have a large selection of old and new prime lenses which will work well with the A7r and are also relatively small and light and in many cases relatively inexpensive as well. But no, everybody somehow wants to turn the A7r into some kind of Leica alternative, no matter how much the evidence shows that it is pretty much unsuitable for wide(ish) m-mount lenses, unless that is you have £4,290 to spend on the Leica 16/18/21 Tri-Elmar!

The Voigtlander 20mm f/3.5 Color Skopar SL II is a small, beautifully made wide-angle prime that works really well on the A7r. In terms of appearance and construction it's actually very m-mountish looking anyway and is part of a small but select range of manual focus primes that Voigtlander make for Nikon and Canon (D)SLR's. I've written many times about these and they are still pretty much a 'secret'. The 20mm is a great lens on a 35mm / 'full-frame' sensor camera or indeed APS-C or m4/3. I've had two in the past. The first I used on a Nikon D3X and the second mainly on my Sony NEX-7, however only in APS-C crop mode. I was looking around the web a few days ago as I was considering a second hand one of these since they cost around £475 new here in the UK and are only available from one  specialist dealer currently. However much to my surprise I found that Amazon UK had three of them new in stock and were selling them for just under £370 each. So I ordered one and it arrived a couple of days ago. I got out to use it on Friday.

There is some vignetting wide open, but this is what might be descibed as 'normal' corner shading and I encountered the same on my D3X.

It's easily fixed either by using the vignetting removal slider in Adobe ACR or lens correction in Photoshop.

 There is also some green / magenta CA which again can be removed with a preset in lens correction or by ticking the remove CA box in Adobe ACR when processing the raw file.

This takes seconds to do, if as I do you have these set up on presets.

There is no magenta cast or colour smearing and removing the vignetting doesn't degrade the image, as using software like CornerFix does on many m-mount lens files.

The lens however doesn't have particularly pleasant bokeh wide open.

What I ended up with was very sharp wide-angle images from my A7r. At f/8, the aperture I used the most, the images are really very good indeed. Because of the lens design, it's also possible to use the hyperfocal distance or zone focusing easily and accurately and because it's a manual focus lens, infinity is infinity, so getting correct focus on subjects in the distance is easy. For many of these shots I used f/8 and set the infinity mark just beyond f/3.5 and everything was in focus from about five feet in front of me to infinity. Ideal for landscape work. f/11 and f/16 would increase this and as it's a lens designed for film and 35mm cameras these apertures are better than they tend to be on lenses designed for digital. 

So with a few very quick and easy adjustments I got a really high quality file, with less of the problems that many m-mount wide-angle lenses exhibit. Plus the lens looks very much at home on the camera. I've always been a great fan of these lenses and it's going to take some will power not to buy the 28mm f/2.8 (Very small) 40mm f/2 and 58mm f/1.4. There used to be a 90mm f/3.5, which I also used to own, but Voigtlander don't make it anymore and in a comparison test with my Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5 Apo-Lanthar the m-mount lens was slightly sharper. Which is why I sold my SL II lens. 

How long Voigtlander will continue to make these lenses, who knows. I can't imagine that they are big sellers, though the lack of decent A7 / A7r primes might mean that they see a small incease in popularity. 

If you are at all interested in this lens, at this moment in time Amazon UK still have two left at just under £370. As I said this is just over £100 less than the usual price in the UK. It's also a cheaper price than anything from the far east I could find on ebay. I can't imagine that Amazon will be getting more in and as I indicated I'm incredibly surprised they have these ones anyway.

A really nice, useful lens with excellent image quality. Not fast certainly, but a great landscape lens that can take advantage of the quality of the A7r sensor and is light and small and on Amazon currently a decent price. I should also mention that it's all metal and beautifully crafted. It also feels incredibly robust and if you like the feel of metal old-school lenses like this on your cameras you'll love this one. It's also worth pointing out again that for a 35mm / 'Full-Frame' lens for that sensor format it is very small, even when used with an adapter. Manual focus of course so no AF motor, and a fairly slow maximum aperture enable it to be hardly much larger than a pancake. The focusing ring and the aperture click stops, if you want to use the ring, are typically Voigtlander which means they are very good indeed. I do feel as if I'm using something made to an exacting standard that hasn't come from a mass production assembly line and that always means that I will be inclined to like it. 

So if you are looking for a quality wide-angle alternative for an A7r or A7 then I would suggest you could consider one of these. Though to be honest, how on earth you would get to check one out I cannot say. I know of only one shop in the UK that has them on the shelf. Other countries might have more in stock however.

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