The Voigtlander 50 f/1.5 Heliar Lens Review. The Dream Queen.
By Steve Huff
The Video Review
I have reviewed and used many of these types of lenses in the past including the Canon Dream Lens, The Noct Nikkor 58 1.2, and the Leica Noctilux varieties. None of those lenses offer up anything close to perfection and they all cost a pretty penny to acquire. They are also all unique and render differently that any other lenses in the world.
The Heliar 50 1.5 is what I call “The Dream Queen” as it has a gentler rendering than those lenses I mentioned above. This little Heliar would be a gorgeous lens for modeling shoots when you want a touch of softness or vintage flare and contrast. The backgrounds are also quite different from the others offering up a swirl of bokeh balls in some situations rather than a jumbles mess or all out blur.
Yes, Voigtlander has just released the 50mm f/1.5 Heliar Lens as of September 2021. This lens is just as unique as those lenses I mentioned above, and maybe even more usable. The nice part is that it is a new production lens, comes with a warranty and one can attain this beautiful piece of small glass for under $850. Not $8500, not $3500 but $850!
This lens offers up a dreamy smooth rendering that is oh so kind for portraits and beauty shots. It adds depth and something different to your images. This one was shot at f/1.5, wide open, where the beauty lies. Click it for larger version. It was shot on the Leica SL2-S in Monochrom mode and is right from camera.
I was excited to try this lens when it was announced as I always love small jewel like lenses that render in a special way. When my copy came in from CameraQuest I opened it up and attached it to my Leica SL2-S with the Leica M Adapter. What I noticed was that right out of the camera shots were looking mighty nice and they had a similar draw to that of the 50 1.2 Noctilux I recently reviewed. Noticed I said similar! No they are not the same at all really but both take you back to a time when photography was, dare I say, a bit more exciting and beautiful than it is today.
Here in 2021 we have billions of photos on the internet taken in almost every spot on the globe. There are millions of model shots with the same poses, looks and overdone processing. Every landscape has been done to death, and the kicker? I would guess that 99% of images we see today are shot with lenses that lean to “perfection” as camera companies have made us feel like we need that perfect look to be successful with our photography. In my opinion photography today is over saturated and has become a bit stale. I feel it needs to be livened up a bit.
Lenses such as the Voigtlander Heliar 50 f/1.5 can do just that. Even so, over use of any special effect lens can lead to all of your images looking the same so I suggest using a lens like this from time to time, slipping in an image or two to show you can mix it up a bit. I know anytime I use a lens like this I get asked “How did you do that”?!? It’s all in the way the lens renders bokeh and the subject really which add up to a complete image. With the Heliar 50 f/1.5 it rewards you with a surreal view of our reality.
Two with the 50 f/1.5 Heliar at f/1.5. This lens is designed for this “special effect” when shot wide open at f/1.5. This is the only way I would use this lens as even stopped down it is a little soft and classic but you lose out on all of the flaws and swirl ; )
We all have different tastes for sure. Some love that biting perfection and crispness to their images and others may like something in between. As for me, I would choose a unique lens and a simple camera any day of the week over a computer in camera form and a perfect lens that has little to no character or charm. Sure, I know, sometimes we need that biting sharpness and corner to corner detail for paying gigs and jobs but I also feel some who work as pros could stand out even more if they threw a lens like this in their bag and used it for select shots.
Side by Side with the $8500 Leica Noctilux f/1.2
I recently reviewed the Leica 50 f/1.2 Noctilux Re-Issue and even compared it to the old version from the 60’s. That lens is special indeed as it uses two aspherical elements and it brings with it one of the most surreal and dreamy renderings that exist today. But is it overdone and overcooked? Take a look below at these two images. One shot with the Noctilux and one with the Heliar.
The top image was shot with the Voigtlander 50 1.5 Heliar. The Second was with the Leica 50 f/1.2 Noctilux. Now the Noct has much more depth and is even more surreal, which is part of its charm and beauty. The Voigtlander offers up a different kind of beauty, not as swirly or blurred out. I love the ultra dreamy Noct rendering but the Voigtlander also has it’s charms and some may prefer the way it draws this scene. I feel the Voigtlander is more of an every day lens where the Noct would be more limited use (unless you stopped it down to f/2.8).
Both of these lenses are as dreamy and creamy as can be and offer you a chance to add surreal ethereal shots to your portfolio. The Leica costs $8500 while this Voigtlander is 10X less than that at $849. The Voigtlander Heliar 50 1.5 is also the fastest Heliar lens to ever be in production which is pretty cool. It’s small, light and with a jewel like build. It’s about an vintage as you can get in a new lens. In fact, if I had a time machine and took this lens back to 1966 any photographer I approached in that time would believe me that it was a new production lens (in 1966). It feels, looks and draws like a classic.
With more of these lenses on the market today and with so many seeking lenses out like the Noct Nikkor, the Leica Noctilux or the Canon Dream lens it gives me hope that more photographers out there are seeing the importance 0f beauty vs pixel peeping. This is not a lens one will pixel peep with, and for that I am thankful ; )
I found that this single coated lens excels in black and white shooting, and it works beautifully with the SL2-S in monochrome mode, right out of camera. I did not need to mess with RAW here, as the rendering was just beautiful out of the camera. I think the write up at CameraQuest says it best and mirrors my own thoughts on a lens like this:
“The HELIAR F1.5 is a special lens designed by Mr. Kobayashi’s optical design team to produce images like no other lens. To me the Classic Heliar is a classic Soft Focus lens, great for vintage image recreations, glamour, weddings, B/W Noir, unsual takes on reality. Add to that unusual out of focus bokeh.
Wide open the Voigtlander Heliar F1.5 uses coma and spherical abberation to provide a unique classic image signature that is impossible to achieve with modern highly corrected lenses. The F1.5 Heliar’s single lens coating instead of multi lens coating also makes possible classic Hollywood movie flare with back lighting or strong side lighting.
The best lenses are not about sharpness. The best lenses are about the BEST most BEAUTIFUL images. Such looks are not possible by post processing, they must be created by THE LENS.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but more than one photog has noticed noticed perfectly corrected lenses producing perfectly boring photos.
Not every subject demands maximum sharpness and saturation, some require a more delicate touch. The F1.5 Heliar optical formula is like a hand reaching back in time. This look cannot be obtained with modern lenses that seek “perfect” correction of all lens aberrations.
So far as I know, the new F1.5 Heliar is the fastest production Heliar lens ever to make it to the end of a production line!
Aiming for unique images standard modern lenses can not give, Voigtlander’s F1.5 Heliar design intentionally shows coma and spherical abberations wide open emphasized by its single lens coating, providing a unique wide open image signature.
The F1.5 Heliar becomes dual purpose by becoming sharp between F4 to F16. Another plus of this design is unusually beautiful bokeh.”
This lens comes with a metal lens hood, metal lens cap and would be right at home on an M10 or SL body.
This beautiful hunk of glass brings in those faults of the old vintage lenses. This adds to the unique look of your image. This lens can work well for supplemental weddings shots, dreamy portraits or when you want a little swirl and glow to your images. The lens is soft contrast lens in most lighting and may even flare a bit if you shoot it just right.
What makes me smile about this lens is that you do not have to spend $3500 and up for it. It’s all about that vintage mojo and vibe, and if that is something that appears to you then this is a lens worthy of adding to your collection.
It’s simple, it’s basic, it’s beautiful.
At $849 it’s hard to go wring with this lens if you value character, beauty and charm. It’s not for everyone though as not all will enjoy the extremely classic look. On the other hand, if you have been curious about those pricey and exotic vintage dream lenses, you may want to give this one a try and see what you think about it. It may just make you fall for those imperfections which you will not find in any other new production lens made today. It’s a lens for the heart.