Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f/2 ASPH

Voigtlander 35mm f/2 ASPH

The Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f/2 ASPH joins a family of 35mm focal length that is considered the most versatile focal length for any camera system and I’ve talked about this in depth in one of my reviews. It’s a great middle ground for general, street, travel photography and anything in-between due to its balanced field of view. It has a “wide” (but not too wide) field of view to capture your context with just enough distance and pull, while maintaining its composure relatively well when it comes to distortion. This “middle of the road” focal length make it an ideal choice for most people as the only focal length they really need, which explains why the 35mm had become ubiquitous as the “do it all” lens.

This new-ish lens by Voigtlander hits all the spots mentioned earlier, but it enters murky waters. This particular segment is challenging for most manufacturers as they have one major obstacle to overcome, which is the benchmark for all 35mm lenses: the Leica Summicron.

In this review, we will go over what might be Voigtlander’s most promising proposition and see if it has what it takes to take on the great lens of power.

Introduction

When the Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f/2 ASPH was released in 2019, there was a lot hype surrounding this lens as people saw this as the second coming of an affordable 35mm f/2 lens since the Zeiss Biogon. A lens, they hoped, to compete against the Leica Summicron 35mm. Things were looking good as the lens had a more affordable starting price tag of $799.99 USD, therefore it wasn’t surprising that it quickly gained traction and popularity within the Leica community. This price point allowed Voigtlander to position itself comfortably cheaper than the Carl-Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2, and thousands cheaper than a new Summicron. This was more than enough of a reason for people to get excited and when initial reviews were released, people were shocked how well the lens punched above its weight.

People took notice and money was thrown at computer screens.

Competition is always good right?

voigtlander ultron 35m f/2 asph
Classical yet sharp with amazing transitions. The bokeh is a little busy though.

“…they’ve also managed to create the smallest 35mm f/2 lens currently in production.”

Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f/2 ASPH

Competing in this sacred segment may seem like an uphill challenge for the Voigtlander, but fortunately for them, its competitors had left a wide berth for improvement where the little Ultron could stand on its own. By choosing to position their new lens as the cheaper alternative without compromising image quality, they were able to squeeze in as a viable alternative to its other German (and Chinese) counterparts.

The 35mm f/2 Segment

The cheapest option: 7Artisans 35mm f/2

  • Image Quality: Excellent
    • Render Type: Modern
  • Build Quality: Good – need manual adjustments
  • Ergonomics: Good
  • Price: $289.00 USD
  • Made in China

The budget option: Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f/2 ASPH

  • Image Quality: Excellent
    • Render Type: Classical tones and modern sharpness
  • Build Quality: Excellent
  • Ergonomics: Good
  • Price: $799.99 USD
  • Made in Japan

The premium option: Carl-Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2

  • Image Quality: Excellent but soft corners wide open at f/2
    • Render Type: Modern tones and cooler colors.
  • Build Quality: Excellent
  • Ergonomics: Ok
  • Price: $1141.99 USD
  • Made in Japan

The top shelf option: Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH

  • Image Quality: Excellent
    • Render Type: Classical tones and modern sharpness.
  • Build Quality: Excellent
  • Ergonomics: Excellent
  • Price: $1999.99 USD+ (Used)
  • Made in Germany

From the list of lenses above, Voigtlander’s only real rival would be its sister lens, the Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2, which is also manufactured by the same company that assembles the Voigtlanders: Cosina. Despite their manufacturing similarities and build quality, their differences lie in their characters as the Zeiss had quirks of its own.

For example, while the more expensive Zeiss 35mm is a sharp lens, its corners were known to be muddy wide open and surprisingly not up to par with its slower (albeit excellent) brother, the C-Biogon 35mm f/2.8 ASPH. There is also the controversial “issue” that Zeiss lenses tend to render cool and clinical compared to the Voigtlander and even Leica, but this is a subjective matter as there are people that like the way the Zeiss draws images.

voigtlander ultron 35m f/2 asph
Very sharp | f/4.8 / 1/4000 / ISO 200
voigtlander ultron 35m f/2 asph
Sunset | f/3.4 / 1/4000 / ISO 200
voigtlander 35mm f/2 asph
Photo Credit: Stephen Gandy (CameraQuest)

“…keeping some of the quirks that hipsters like to call, ‘character’.”

Build & Design

During its original development, Voigtlander’s goal of the Ultron 35mm f/2 was to create a vintage looking lens that nods back to the 1950s when lenses were tiny and lightweight. They definitely achieved that and then some when they also added a modern aspherical element to bring the optical quality to 21st century standards, but maintaining some of the quirks that hipsters call, “character”. The aesthetics of the lens body may not be for everyone, and the chrome parts give off a retro Cadillac vibe, especially for those that prefer a more stealth look like the Summicron. Personally, I’m not be a fan of the design.

I am, however, impressed with its overall size and weight when I first held it in my hands.

This is truly a tiny and featherlight lens.

While the body is lightweight and compact at a mere 6 ounces, its packed tightly with an aspherical element as part of its 8 elements and 5 groups, which gives the lens more of a modern look with improved sharpness. Not only is this lens Summicron level sharp, but they’ve also retained the image quality that Voigtlander lenses are known for: classical rendering with a bit of softness added to it. It’s as if the lens designers went into Lightroom and just turned down the clarity level just a little bit. Not only do they squeeze out every optical performance in such a tiny lens, but they’ve also managed to create the smallest 35mm f/2 lens currently in production.

voigtlander 35mm f/2 asph
Photo Credit: Stephen Gandy (CameraQuest)

Welterweight Champ

Don’t let the size fool you as the lens is solidly built with an all aluminum construction, packed with glass, will surprise people with its $800 price tag ($700 new during Voigtlander’s sales). This is a very solid and durable lens. What most people don’t know is that the front filter ring and the focusing helicoid is made entirely from brass, similar to the Summicron. Another cool reason why the front filter ring is brass is that if you want to install a UV filter onto the lens, the brass mount prevents a softer metal like aluminum (common for cheap UV filters) from getting stuck. A Cosina* trademark that is consistent with all Voigtlander and Zeiss lenses. I personally recommend B+W Nano MRC 007 filters as they’re made of brass as well.

Nothing on this lens feels flimsy or cheap and if I had to compare the lens build quality to a Leica lens, it would be the slower, but lightweight Summarit-M 35mm and the Zeiss C-Biogon 35mm f/2.8. Both extremely well built and solid lenses.

  • Weight: 6 ounces
  • Minimum Focus Distance (MFD): 0.58m
  • Build: Aluminum
voigtlander ultron 35m f/2 asph
Flare resistant and fantastic micro-contrast

“…the Ultron as the lens itself is as modern as they come with a hint of classical rendering.”

Mechanically, it’s not as refined as the Summicron, or even the cheaper Summarit lenses, but they’re on par with the rest of the Zeiss lenses as they’re both assembled in the same factory, built to the same standards.

However, not everything is perfect and if I had to nitpick about a few things…

  1. The focus tab is a small tiny pin, which is easy to miss due to its minuscule size. One of the few compromises to fit that “vintage” aesthetic that Voigtlander was going for. More form than function.
  2. The silver finish on the aperture and focus rings showed some moderate wear pretty quickly and I don’t believe it’s coated with anything to protect the paint.
  3. The LH-12 Lens Hood is very expensive and adds to the length of the lens significantly. I don’t recommend picking one up unless you’re very particular about it.
@cosmotographer
Fantastic rendering | f/4 / 1/125 / ISO 200

“…modern as they come with a hint of classical rendering.”

Image Quality

Regardless of the high build quality mentioned earlier, the most important factor of a lens is its image quality and rest assured, this lens exceeds all expectations for this price point.

voigtlander ultron 35m f/2 asph
Beautiful rendering and micro-contrast | f/2 / 1/4000 / ISO 200

“It’s as if the lens designers went into Lightroom and just turned down the clarity level just a little bit.”

The images have a certain look to them and the way the images are rendered with this lens is typical Voigtlander: sharp, neutral colors, subtle micro-contrast and classical bokeh.

What was most surprising to me was how the images kind of remind me of the Leica Summicron 35mm ASPH that I reviewed here. The sharpness is on par but you will hear people on the internet saying that it’s sharper than the Summicron. It’s a possibility and the performance of this lens does show its merits, but side by side, any differences are immaterial in practical uses.

Stop pixel peeping. It’s a $700 lens.

The micro-contrast is also very good, but falls a little short to the Summicron, but overall  renders very similarly to the Leica. To be completely frank, I can honestly say that the Ultron is optically equal to the Summicron for the most part and for any shortfalls, it’s so small that it doesn’t matter.

What can be said, is that based on image quality alone, this lens beats out the Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2.

voigtlander ultron 35m f/2 asph
RAW | Another flare shot | f/5.6 / 1/4000 / ISO 200

User Experience

The handling of this lens is close to perfect, but the focusing knob is something that people have to get used to, especially if you’re used to the crescent shaped tabs like on the Summicron or the Nokton 35mm f/1.4. This is the only handling issue I have with this lens as the focusing knob is easy to miss when you’re about to take a photo. There is a good chance that you’ll forget where you left the focus if you had to take your hands off the camera. Otherwise, the focus throws are extremely smooth and fast, but accuracy can suffer due to the focusing knob. I’m definitely not a fan of this.

The aperture controls are set by two subtle, yet protruding metal tabs with machined serrations, where the user can easily manipulate the aperture just solely on feel thanks to its positive detents. I actually prefer the stiffer clicks on both Voigtlander and Zeiss aperture rings over Leica’s offering.

That being said, I wouldn’t consider this lens a handling demon like the Summicron or the Summarit for those quick focus hits.

In Summary

I would be lying to you if I said that I didn’t have my own prejudices towards this lens when it was first announced for the Leica M mount. This was not because I didn’t like Voigtlander (on the contrary), but because I didn’t believe there was a sub-$1000 lens that could match the Summicron’s superlative glass and user experience. This bias from my previous experiences with Voigtlander lenses set a low standard for me, because while Voigtlander made great lenses, they also came with a lot of compromises. What Voigtlander had accomplished this time, was that they were able to build one of the best 35mm f/2 lens you can buy and it demands your attention.

*Cosina is the parent company of Voigtlander and manufactures Zeiss ZM line of lenses for the Leica M mount in their factory in Japan.

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Product photos used with permission by Stephen Gandy at CameraQuest

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