The Voigtlander 15mm Heliar Lens Review – Leica M Mount Super Wide
NOTE: This is one of my 1st reviews that was ported over here from my old now defunct iWeb site, so it may be a bit rough around the edges :)
WARNING! There will be a lot of images posted here in this Voigtlander 15 Heliar review. I believe strongly in REAL WORLD results with camera gear and this is how I judge the lenses and bodies. You will not see charts or scientific tests, just real world use and opinion!
When I first bought the Leica M8 was excited but at the same time a bit bummed. The one wide angle lens I really wanted was the WIDE ANGLE TRI-ELMAR (or WATE). It was a triple focal length lens that included 16-18 and 21mm. It came with a HUGE, AND I MEAN HUGE Viewfinder that looked like a monster tumor when attached to the beautiful M8. But, the quality of the WATE is the best I have ever seen in a wide angle. For any camera system. Period.
The one problem with the Leica WATE was its perfection. Yes, you heard me right. That perfection made the price a cool $5,000. WAY out of my reach financially for a lens.
I went for months trying, but I never did win the lottery. Damn! I decided to just give up my dream for the Leica Wide Angle Tri Elmar, and go on a search for a wide angle lens for the M8 that would not send me to the poor house, or one that would result in a butt kicking from the wife!
I remembered when I shot with a Leica M7. I had a small little wide angle that performed like a champ, and it was CHEAP! That lens was the Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15 F4.5. A 15mm, TEENY-TINY lens that comes in a screw mount, not an M mount. What does this mean? Well, for $400 of so you get a 15mm lens that is super light weight, and with the help of an adapter, you can attach it to any “M” mount camera. The Adapter sells for about $60, so for $460 you get a 15mm wide that acts like a 21mm on the M8! YES!
I knew there was no way this would get me to WATE territory, and it is F4.5 instead of F4 like the WATE, but for a fraction of the price (you can buy 10 of these for the price of one WATE) I wondered how it would perform. I ended up buying one from B&H photo. I paid for 2nd day air and it did, in fact, arrive in 2 days. I started shooting it, and I was frustrated right off the bat. I hate when things do not go smoothly!
I remembered when I shot this lens on my M7 I was rewarded with crisp, in focus shots but my first shots with the M8, it was another story entirely. Read on..
The Leica M8 with the 15mm Heliar at f/5.6
FOUR STRIKES: PROBLEMS WITH THE 15 HELIAR AND THE M8
When I received the lens and adapter from B&H, I immediately attached them and went out for a walk. After reviewing the shots later I realized something was wrong. All of my shots were out of focus. Soon, I figured it all out and found four issues with this lens when using it on the Leica M8. I will talk a bit about each of them.
Problem #1: THE HELIAR IS NOT RANGEFINDER COUPLED, MEANING YOU CAN NOT FOCUS THIS LENS WITH THE RANGEFINDER PATCH.
Now, I already knew this as I had one before, but what worked on the M7 for me was to set the lens aperture at F5.6 or F8 and then focus the lens to infinity. This gave me point & shoot capability on the M7 and everything was in focus. With the lens being so wide, the Depth of Field is h u g e. But on the M8, things seem to work a bit different.
With the crop factor of the M8, the lens can no longer be set on F8 and infinity as your shots will not be as crisp as they should be. After some research and trial and error with about 200 shots, I found if you set the lens to F5.6 and set the infinity mark on the barrel to F4.5 you will then have a Point and Shoot M8. Or F8 and F5.6. Problem #1 solved.
Problem #2: THE M8 NEEDS AN IR FILTER ON EVERY LENS TO AVOID THE MAGENTA ISSUE (see my m8 review here) BUT THERE IS NO WAY TO ATTACH ONE!
Ok, Ok. Yes, this may be a problem, but for most problems in life there is always a solution. First, you will need a 39mm IR filter. I happened to have one on hand so I found a way to install it where it is snug and secure. Here is how:
Flip the filter upside down. If you attach the filter right side up, the lens will touch the filter and we do not want that! Now get some electrical tape, cut off a small 1/2” piece and roll it up. With the filter upside down, stick this piece of tape to the side of the filter and inert onto the top of the lens. For me, this worked perfect, and I now have a IR filter that fits snug and will not fall out. There are other less Neanderthal ways to do this, but this was a quick fix. There are also adapters you can buy to attach a filter to this lens. Problem #2 solved!
Problem #3: Uh Oh. THIS LENS IN NOT CODED FOR THE M8, AND BY USING THE IR FILTER YOU WILL GET UGLY CYAN CORNERS IN MOST IMAGES.
Yes, this has been a HUGE problem for me. I found an easy work-around for it though, and will let you in on my super special secret to fix it 100%. Ready? All you have to do is convert your image to Black and White! No more “CYAN DRIFT”! Woo Hoo!
Seriously, kidding aside, this is an issue and while there is a fix, I have not yet done it but I plan to do so. For a little more, you can buy a MUCH better adapter that is already coded for the M8. This will get rid of your CYAN drift issue. E-mail me if interested in the contact info for the guy that sells them, or you can just google “milich adapter”. One other alternative is to shoot without an IR filter. So, Problem #3 is also solved!
Problem #4 – HEY!?!? HOW DO I FRAME MY PICTURE WHEN THE M8 HAS NO 21MM VIEWFINDER?
Well, this is another issue. The lens comes with a 15mm viewfinder that attaches to your cameras hot-shoe. This worked well on the full frame M7, but since the M8 has a crop factor of 1.33, this lens is now a 21mm lens. The 15mm finder is much too wide, and the M8 only goes as wide as 24mm. Well, have no fear, Voigtlander is here!
You can buy a 21mm Viewfinder for this lens that will attach to the top of your M8. Only problem is that it will set you back another $150 or so. With that, problem #4 is solved. Your total cost for a *perfect* 15mm Heliar M8 lens solution is now up to $660.
Brandon at the Downtown Window – 15 at f/5.6 – this has also been cropped
SO FOUR FRIGGIN’ STRIKES OUT OF THE GATE. TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD!
This may sound like a negative write up so far, but keep reading. Remember, this lens costs $400 for a BRAND NEW lens. It can be purchased in silver or black, and all you have to do to have a true wide angle on the M8 is purchase an “M” adapter, and optionally, a 21mm Viewfinder. I would recommend either coding the Voigtlander adapter or buying one that is already coded. This way, for $500-$600 total you get a lens that in the Leica world would cost you $5000. Now that is a savings. To top it off, It looks gorgeous on the M8!
So, at this point you have to be wondering about the quality this lens can put out. Is it worth all of the hassle with adapters, IR filters and Viewfinders? In this write up I will provide you with a few FULL size images to download. This way you can judge sharpness, detail, and color all for yourself. EVERY image you will see here was shot at F5.6 and with an IR filter attached but my lens was NOT CODED so you will see the CYAN corners in many of my images. I also did not use ANY viewfinder at all!
So, without any further ado, here are a few images you can check out. In these three samples you can clearly see the CYAN “drift” towards the edges of the frame. To avoid this, you either need to have either a coded adapter, shoot without an IR filter, or convert to B&W.
Even with the Cyan corners, you can see the 15 Super Wide Heliar is pretty sharp and renders images in a very pleasing way on the M8. If my lens was coded, and I shot with the 21mm Viewfinder, they would be even better.
HOW ABOUT FOCUSING? IS IT EASY?
As I have already stated, this lens is NOT rangefinder coupled. This means you can not look through the viewfinder of the M8 and focus. Nothing will happen if you try. There are also no frame-lines in the M8 viewfinder wide enough to even frame your image. BUT I have found a sure fire, foolproof way to shoot with this lens. It can turn your M8 in to a true POINT AND SHOOT camera just by setting the aperture to F5.6 and the infinity marker on the barrel to 4.5. With this setting, anything more than a couple of feet or so in front of you will be in sharp focus.
I took a small drive to Chicago recently and tried my hand at some sneaky, from the hip street shooting. I had the M8 around my neck and as I walked I just snapped the shutter when I saw an interesting person or scene. I never raised the camera and I just hoped to get something in the frame that was worth looking at. Here are a couple of the images from that experiment, just click for larger versions:
Shooting from the hip at f/5.6 – zone focusing
As you can see, this worked out well. The lens is so wide, you can just aim and shoot at almost anything and get some interesting results. When I took these, it was raining and my M8 was getting kind of wet. I was a bit nervous but had no problems or issues. Also, the shot of the girl with the Umbrella is cropped so this is why you do not see the CYAN corners.
One very cool thing about this lens is its size. It is SO small and light, it makes the M8 feel that much lighter. I like how I can just aim and shoot. No focusing, and in my case, so far, no viewfinder. If I took a shot that did not line up right, I adjusted and snapped again. After 2-3 tries it was fine. Still, I will end up buying the 21mm VF as soon as I can swing it.
So far in this write up I have talked about the negative issues with this lens while using it on the Leica M8. Keep in mind, this lens can be used on film cameras, such as an M7, without ANY of these issues. The cyan, IR, and even focusing issues are all related to the M8. Once you work out these issues, you have one hell of a wide angle lens for a sweet price. I will be picking up a coded adapter ASAP as I can already tell from my experience with the lens that it is as sharp as I could hope for, and I would not need more than this for my uses.
Sure, I would LOVE a W.A.T.E but there is just no way I can afford or justify $5,000 for a lens. If cost was no object, it would be a W.A.T.E or even the new Leica 18mm, BUT cost is an issue for me so this $400 jewel will be my ultra wide of choice.
Zeiss makes a 15mm which is also NOT Rangefinder coupled, nor is it coded. The price of the Zeiss is $4,000 but it is a 2.8 aperture lens, so you can get faster shutter speeds in low light. The 15 Heliar is considered slow at 4.5 but I will only be using it outdoors so it is not an issue. Plus, it can only really be focused accurately, and in a foolproof way, at 5.6 or F8. The images below were all shot at F5.6 with the M8 and 15Mm Heliar. Just click for larger versions.
Remember, I warned you! I have included a bunch of images here for you to look at and it does show one thing. The Voigltander 15mm Helair is one hell of a lens for the price.
Sure, on a Nikon you can get a sigma 10-20 or a Tokina 12-24 for $500 or so, and get AF. BUT neither is as sharp or small as the Heliar.
HOW ABOUT FLARE? BUILD QUALITY? QUIRKS?
Good news here. I noticed no flare. Well, let me correct myself. I did have ONE shot with MINIMAL flare, but I took care of it in Photoshop. The lens was pointed directly in the direction of the sun and the flare was MINIMAL. This lens has a built in petal type shade that is non removable (and also helps with slipping in an IR filter). I noticed NO purple fringing with this lens (unlike the 12-24 Tokina on my Niikon cameras) and its a sharp as can be at 5.6, and even a tad more so at F8.
The build quality is GREAT! Forget about those cheap, plastic lenses you may be used to with your digtal SLR’s. Even the “cheap” Voigtlander lenses for your Leica are built EXTREMELY well. It’s small, light, but SOLID. Not up to Leica build standards, but still very good. I have the silver version, and its absolutely beautiful when on the M8. It even has a metal lens hood with the Voigtlander logo on the front. I could find no flaws with the lens.
Even Vignetting was MINIMAL as the M8 has a cropped sensor. On full frame I did notice some slight vignetting but VERY minor.
After shooting with this lens for a few weeks, and having owned one previously, I can say that it is 100% worth the money if you are shooting an M8 and are craving a wide angle lens for minimal cash outlay. I can think of no other lens that will give you 21mm on the M8 for under $4k. For just $400 or so you can have a super wide 15mm lens that will feed your wide angle hunger with superb qaulity.
The size is small, the weight is light. The quality is SHARP and the ease of use is a 9 on the dummy scale of 1-10, with 10 being the easiest. With the Voigtlander 15mm Heliar attached, all you have to do is set the M8 to A mode, set the lens to F5.6, infinity mark to 4.5 and then point and shoot! It can be addicting and sometimes you can get some fun shots.
I highly recommend this lens for all M8 owners! You can even use it without the IR filter or coding but you will see the magenta/IR issue if shooting black fabrics. This is a great lens, at a great price. One every M8 owner should at least try. It just may spur a creativity streak in you!
I bought mine from B&H photo. This is where I buy all of my camera gear including cameras, lenses, memory cards, printers, computers, etc. They are the best in the business and you can check out more details on the Voigtlander 15mm Heliar directly on their web site. Just click here to go to their 15 Heliar Page! Also, the standard Voigtlander adapter is here.
UPDATE: 09/04/09 – Voigtlander has announced a new version of this lens and it is out now. The new version is rangefinder coupled so you can focus it in the viewfinder, it will allow you to screw on an IR filter as well! Price is a little higher though