Oh hey there lil' feller, you sure are pretty.
Voigtlander/Cosina really knocked it out of the park with the Voigtlander Color-Skopar 21mm f/3.5 Aspherical Lens. It sparked my curiosity when it was first announced alongside the Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f/2 Aspherical Lens, and their respective LH-11 and LH-12 hoods in 2018. Select initial photos of the lenses and few sample shots were available at first. Just looking at them, you can tell those little chromed-brass beauties would just feel great in hand, and the initial test pics looked promising enough to keep that curiosity ignited.
This charming little lens fell on my lap when I least expected it to. I was looking to add a small, light and high-performance wide angle lens to my arsenal for a over a year, and after trying the 21 SEM, Elmarit-M 28 f/2.8 ASPH, 28 Ultron F2 and many, many more, I casually bumped into this lens when placing an order for the Elmarit-M 28 f/2.8 ASPH at Camtec. I wasn't sure this lens was just going to tickle the itch that the 28 Elmarit left me with. But to my surprise, I loved it! It wasn't anything like my Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 Super Wide Heliar III, it was flat, predictable and classic (none of that crazy egg shaped head business I get from my Super-Wide Heliar). I could pretend to shoot past someone within feet from me and get them in frame, what a change from aiming right at the person next to you with a 35mm.
The flare resistance, the rendering, colors; it is the "perfect" balance of modern and classic. Reminiscent of all the good things I loved about the Summaron-M 28 f/5.6, sans being 5.6, and of course it's not being a 28mm. The contrast is neutral, its got punch, but not enough for you to lose any detail in shadows or blacks. It does have that newer Voigtlander color signature, cooler tones than Zeiss, less micro contrast than Leica, and a sort-of blueish-plastic feel in harsher lighting; byproduct of the lower contrast? It shines in black and white, but the saturation will make you want to use it in either application. Oh, and it's sharp, but not overly sharp: think 50 Lux ASPH wide open or a Mandler Summicron at f2. However, this lens is calibrated for digital use, so this guy is sharp all the way to the edges. And oddly enough, I find the extremes sharper on my Sony bodies than on my M10 (overcompensating for that filter stack?).
In use, this lens is a wildcard in a very good way. I haven't regularly shot wider than 35mm (with the exception of the bland Sony 28 f2) in 8 years, so I had no idea what to expect past the honeymoon phase. But 6 months later, this small lens has seen almost more action than my other M lenses. It's such a practical, and realistic focal length. And to my surprise, the shallow dof is a welcome sight. 21mm and a maximum aperture of f3.5 it is no speed demon, but there is a fair amount of subject separation to be had when desired.
The lens is delightfully tiny and unobtrusive, the focusing is Leica smooth and precise, with a good amount of resistance. The aperture ring is clicky and responsive, more than any of my other M lenses. I'm a big fan of the focusing knob "stick" on the lower end of the lens, it makes single handed focusing easy and reassuring, you need not look down at the lens often to confirm your focus, simply slide it to one extreme and readjust.10 Aperture blades gives you defined sunstars at the first click (half stops @f4). Being 21mm means you can use this lens at a fairly lower shutter speed, I use it confidently at 1/15 in low light.
Metadata and lens profiles:
The following images samples for using the built in profiles on a Leica M10. First is when opting for 21 f2.8 ASPH 11135/11897, the Second is the 21 f/2.8 11134 profile and the third is uncorrected.
The first ASPH profile creates a magenta cast over the extreme edges, while the second seems to add a slight cyan cast. Uncoded, makes the image cooler and shows the lenses natural vignette. If I were to use any built in profile it would be the NON-ASPH. There seems to be no other visible changes in distortion and it rids the lens of any vignette.
Chromatic aberrations aren't really noticeable, backlit scenes can have some but they're negligible. There are worse offenders out there.
As of February 2020, Adobe Raw 12.2 supports the lens profile. Here you can see the very minimal distortion and the vignette.
The wide-angle-rangefinder-experience wouldn't be complete without all the extras!
The optional LH-11 hood is very handy at preventing any fingers from slipping into the frame, which happens quite often when trying to grab a quick shot. It's surprisingly light and really well built, and it hides the chrome lens' reflections when facing a subject (all that chrome lined up is very shiny). The only drawbacks are that it does create some finder blockage, nothing exaggerated, and that it wont take any filter thicker than a Leica 13131 or 13030, my B+W XS-PRO MRC NANO Polarizing filter just won't fit. If you don't like the hood, don't bother with it, the flare resistance of this lens is superb... just watch out for your fingers!
My M10 and M2 definitely don't have 21mm frame-lines, and so an optional finder is crucial when you need to frame a shot. Mind you, on the M10 I find that chimping, liveview and framing with the extremes of the finder line up nicely with 21mm, whereas the M2 doesn't even have 28mm lines so you're stuck guessing even more. Welcome the SBKOO 12002 L 21mm Finder, classic uncoated Leica glass and solid brass make for a lovely vintage addition to the set. It fits in nice and snug on the M2, on the M10, a few knocks and it's halfway off the hot shoe: some friendly gaffers tape does the trick, but it's not a handsome solution.
In short, this lens is just fun. It's the only lens in my arsenal that I haven't pixel peeped to death ultimately ruining the lens for myself, because it's never pushed me to do so. Its sharp throughout the range, and if I ever find the extreme edges soft, I remind myself that it's a tiny "classic" lens. It's a joy, and for that, it has earned a place in my heart faster than I expected it to. It's smooth focusing, haptics and tiny size and weight make for an engaging and rewarding daily shooter. It made me forget about getting a 28mm (for now), and it fully emerges you into that whole mystical "Leica experience".
-Price (in Leicaland)
-Small Size, I can fit it and a camera in a jacket or sweater pocket.
-Sharp (stopping down only improves the corners but the extremes at infinity never really get as sharp as the centre)
-High pride of ownership and great build quality
The not so good:
-weaker performance in extreme edges (only on digital M's)
-Sharp, but not Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH sharp
-No metadata on digital M's if you want peak performance (coding the lens as a 21 f/2.8 11134 or 21 f2.8 ASPH 11135/11897 will give you metadata readout but slight corner casts).
I bought and still own this lens and so much more gear from camtec, cannot recommend their services enough.