MONTERREY–I am a big fan of older wide-angle Voigtlander lenses on the Leica M9 Monochrome. There is something in the combination of that sensor and those optics that, to my eye, create a particular visual magic. It is well known that these older wide lenses have color-shifts on digital Leicas with color sensors (and I am not overly fond of the results from these lenses on my M-P 240 even when converted to black and white). Images converted from the CCD sensor of a standard M9 might well be better but I don’t much care for them from the CMOS sensor of the M-P 240. When, however, I discovered how incredible images looked from the combination of the M9 Monochrome and the 15mm f/4.5 Super-Wide Heliar, I began looking for a wide, but not so wide as 15mm, lens. It was then that I discovered the 25mm Snapshot Skopar. I was initially looking for a 21mm, open to a 28mm, and the more I read about the unique nature of this no-longer-produced 25mm optic, the more I decided it was the one I was looking for. I found a good deal on a like-new silver one complete with hood and viewfinder, had it shipped to India, and before I ever took a photo my monochrome went down with the notorious sensor issue common to that camera. Fast forward a year or two returning to the USA, a long repair on the Monochrome, another move, and I am finally getting to spend some time with this tiny little gem of a lens.
As far as I know, this lens is unique. It is no longer produced but I would love to see a new edition of it put into production. The Snapshot Skopar is a 25mm, f/4 lens made by Cosina Voigtlander. It is tiny and weighs next to nothing. The lens is not rangefinder coupled and framing is done through a hot shoe mounted accessory viewfinder. What makes it unique and gives it its unique name is the focusing mechanism. Unlike a regular uncoupled, scale-focus lens, the Snapshot Skopar has a small lever on the focus ring and specific-distance click stops. The 25mm wide-angle focal length combined with a small aperture makes this lens specifically designed to be used in hyper focal mode. The lens is marked in feet and meters but the click stops are at .7 meters, 1 meter, 1.5 meters, 3 meters, and infinity. The lens can be set in between the click stops as well. There is no hyper focal scale but, because of the mechanical operation of the lens, it isn’t needed. You estimate the distance and click it to whatever is closest. Given the f/4 aperture, this isn’t a low light lens. It is designed, with intention, to be used for street photography. With a lens like this mounted on a rangefinder, you can have the fastest and most responsive of all cameras for working the streets. With focus already set and the camera in Aperture Priority, literally all one does is point and shoot, frame and shoot: a snap and a shot. Snapshot.
The lens is built of metal in Japan but does feel slightly delicate (although I have had no problems with it and have taken it on a few trips). It is, perhaps, a special lens that needs a little special handling. I like it so much I want to buy another one in black. I personally love the way these wide lenses render on the Leica monochrome. I think it would also be a perfect lens to take out on a screwmount rangefinder such as a Leica IIIf. I think the images are very clean, very lifelike, and with a unique, subtle, and distinct character. They are very sharp and I would love to try a Voigtlander 21mm, a 28mm, and someday the original 12mm. I am not, all in all, terribly fond of the rendering of modern Voigtlander 50mm lenses and I was never quite happy with the 35mm f/2.5 Color Skopar I had (although, in truth, I love many of the images I took with it, loved its tiny size, its lovely color signature, miss using it, and think perhaps really my only problem with it is that it wasn’t the lens I really wanted to begin with.)
The 25mm f/4 Snapshot Skopar takes some practice and I need to work with it more to put into memory the distances for quicker use on the street. That being said, I only failed at a few shots due to missing focus. It is a very forgiving lens and one I look forward to using much more. Due to its size and weight there is little reason not to have it in my camera bag as part of the Monochrome’s permanent infrastructure.