A little sample from the recently-acquired Voigtländer Color Skopar 21/4.
The Communist years in Central Europe were a dark time. Much of the evidence is gone now, or at least concealed beneath the surface, but the architecture of that period remains a prominent reminder. Modernist sculpture and brutalist architecture combine to offer a stark contrast to the relatively ornate 19th Century buildings that still predominate.
It’s not pretty, but it does have a certain nostalgic charm to those who are old enough to remember the Cold War, conjuring up visions of countless movie scenes and evening news clips. One has to wonder how it is seen by those who had an altogether more intimate relationship with dictatorship.
In the later years of the Cold War the stylized forms of early 20th Century modernism gave way to the more prosaic shapes we see scattered throughout cities around the world today. The ever-greater connections between cultures have served to make the world increasingly uniform, plummeting in a downward spiral toward mind-numbing dullness. But at least it’s shiny….
Angular forms repeated endlessly in glass and concrete are mesmerizing in their own way, lulling those surrounded by them into a stupor of sensory deprivation – given the nature of totalitarian government, perhaps this was not accidental. And yet all the poured concrete in the world cannot fully block out the light.
We interrupt the actual photography for a little gear talk.
Having had a bug in my head about getting a very wide angle LTM lens for a while, and inevitably trolling eBay as a result, I managed to secure a nice silver Voigtländer 21 f/4 with the matching viewfinder for a reasonable price. It is somehow missing the small original lens hood, but other than that it’s in good shape.
The range of Cosina Voigtländer rangefinder lenses is pretty well-known at this point – they are well-made modern lenses available at prices far lower than the few competitors they have left, and have proven quite popular as a result. A comparable Leica lens would have required an extra zero on the end of the price.
My early experiments with this lens confirm my instinct that there is something particularly interesting about the wide angle point-of-view. In researching wides I read something that suggested that the 21mm focal length is similar to the human field of vision; it’s not quite that wide in practice, but it does mimic the sensation of seeing a scene with your own eyes rather than seeing a photo of it.
Of course, there are trade-offs. Everything is going to be relatively tiny unless you’re on top of it, so you have to be careful to compose carefully when such detail matters. There’s some distortion at the corners, so again, composition is important. Thankfully the viewfinder is quite bright and easy to use, and pretty faithfully shows the image as it will appear on film. In lieu of the missing hood, I attached a 39-40.5 step-up ring, which I hoped would also allow me to utilize my collection of 40.5 filters – unfortunately, adding a filter causes fairly pronounced vignetting, so it’s not a very good option. I’ll keep the ring in place as a protective measure.
In spite of its small size, it’s a very easy lens to use. The aperture has positive half-stop clicks. There’s a nice focusing tab, but you rarely need it, as the depth-of-field is enormous; at f/8, for example, DOF ranges from 3ft to infinity. It’s pretty wide for street photography, but I certainly won’t need to worry much about getting the zone focusing right.
Working effectively with this focal length will take some practice. It’s considerably different than the 35mm that was previously my widest RF lens. It’s certainly not suitable for everything, but it works in situations where longer lenses would fail to adequately capture the scene.
So there it is, the newest addition to the LTM RF kit. We now return you to your irregularly scheduled photography posts, already in progress.