Voigtländer now offers the third iteration of its 15mm Super-wide Heliar aspherical f/4.5 VM. The 15mm focal length is not typically used on the M-system. In fact, you might think it’s impossible to use a 15mm lens on a system not developed for wide-angle lenses. I therefore said to myself, why not take on the challenge and experiment with my photo gear? Here’s how my experiment panned out.
Regular Macfilos readers might recall Jörg-Peter Rau’s review of an earlier, basically adapted screw-mount version of this lens as part of his M-Files series. That model lacked rangefinder coupling. The subject of this article is the latest, rangefinder-coupled M-Mount version. Has Voiglander managed to handle the challenges of producing a high-performing super-wide-angle piece of kit?
Overview of the Voigtländer 15mm Super-wide Heliar
The lens possesses an enormous angle of view of 110°. It weighs 247g and has an overall length of 55.2mm. The lens hood is fixed. It carries filters of 58mm, which because of the fixed hood, will be fiddly to insert.
Optically, it has 11 lenses in 9 groups. As always, the close focusing distance with the rangefinder is 70cm, using Live View it can be focused down to 50cm. The initial aperture is f/4.5.
According to Cosina (the manufacturer of Voigtländer lenses), version III is better colour-corrected at the frame’s edges than its predecessors. I was unable to make a direct comparison in this respect due to the lack of another version. But, you can see how problematic previous versions were from Jörg-Peter Rau’s brief look at an early screw-mount version. Unfortunately, the lens was plagued by an uncorrectable colour-cast.
With the above-mentioned angle of view of 110°, the current version belongs to the category of super wide-angle lenses. The initial aperture of f/4.5 may not seem spectacular. But even wide-open, its depth of field almost stretches from lens-front to infinity. Stopped down, there is no almost about it.
My first impressions
Due to the aforementioned large depth of field, focusing with a rangefinder such as the Leica M10 is almost superfluous. Nevertheless, the focus ring is easy to move and has a pleasantly defined resistance. Since the edge of the rangefinder on an M corresponds to the 28mm angle of view, you need either an optical or digital attachment, or Live View, to compose the image. I dare say that with some practice you can even do without the latter. It takes using the frame lines in the rangefinder and memorizing where to put them, compared to the Live View.
The open aperture of 4.5 suggests that you won’t achieve exceptional 3D pops or a stunning bokeh. This is indeed the case. Given the small size of the lens, this is only to be expected.
A focal length of 15mm is problematic in terms of distortion and edge blur anyway. I don’t know what such a lens, perfectly corrected, would look like at f/1.4. I imagine it would be three times the size of the M10 and therefore simply impractical. And its likely price does not bear thinking about.
At f/4.5 this lens is sharp enough for me, right to the edge. Those inclined to pixel-peeping may, of course, disagree.
This is an ultra-wide lens. There must be distortion at the edges.
The name says aspherical, implying that spherical aberrations of different wavelengths are corrected as far as possible. Any remaining aberration should manifest itself as coma. But, since the initial aperture is 4.5, coma is not likely to be that much of an issue.
Are there any Voigtländer lenses that do not have 10 aperture blades? This one has 10, as usual, and typical of all Voigtländers, produces effective sun stars when pointed at the sun.
Yes, this lens vignettes. And yes, it does it beyond f/4.5. At f/16, visible diffraction sets in, but the vignette is gone. And then it doesn’t matter any more.
There is a correction profile for the Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar III in Lightroom. As always, it has the disadvantage that it tries to correct the vignetting. To achieve this, the edges of the image are sometimes raised by more than 2EV. This results in unwanted noise. I only use the profile if there are lines in the centre of the image that appear distorted. At most, I set the vignetting correction to 25%.
Using the Leica M10, the rule of thumb is t=1/f. This means that shutter speeds of 1/15s do not require a tripod. This worked for me. Speeds of 1/8s or longer resulted in somewhat blurry images.
The fifteenth of a second compensates for a large part of the “apparent” lack of light. This doesn’t come entirely for free; moving objects or people will suffer from acute “motion blur”.
If it fits the context of the picture, I’m fine with it. Like death, some things are inevitable.
You have to get involved with this lens. If you are not into a super-wide angle, you won’t enjoy it. Controlling the edges of the image will drive you crazy.
I enjoyed the 21mm Color Skopar. The Super Wide Heliar is way beyond that.
I dedicated a great weekend in Berlin my wife and I had recently to the use of this lens. I only changed to my 50mm Cron, when it was time to take photos of our grandchild.
But… if you want to avoid close-ups of people appearing as if they have been hit by a bus, or come close to the event horizon of a black hole, you should place them towards the centre of the frame.
When it comes to street photography, I have to get out of my comfort zone and get much, much closer. This lens will certainly give some rather unusual street images featuring people.
Architecture photography with the Voigtländer 15mm super-wide
Of course, that’s one genre for which these lenses are built. With rectilinear imaging, they offer countless opportunities to bring entire buildings into one picture. If you have an eye for lines, you literally see images all over the place.
Perspective correction might be needed in post-production, though. If that’s not wanted, I recommend the use of a tilt-shift lens.
I have tried to achieve the perfect symmetry of scenes. However, this is not without its challenges and sometimes requires numerous attempts. I used the Live View and its guidelines for orientation. Let’s put it this way; I was successful, sometimes.
Architecture also includes interiors. Take it to the Mall of Berlin or a large church. Take a spare battery with you too.
Colour rendering on the M10
After the photos at the Mall of Berlin and the KaDeWe department store, I was thrilled with the colours. This may have been due to the skilful lighting in the buildings; it’s undeniable that they are professionally illuminated. I would describe the impression as warm but crisp.
Thanks to my carelessness, the M10 had selected the profile for the old Leitz 50mm. This could have been the reason, although all images were in RAW aka DNG, and therefore adjustable, anyway.
Landscape photography with the Voigtländer 15mm super-wide
Landscape photography with a 15mm lens is not undemanding.
You want to capture everything? The photo quickly “drowns” in information. On the other hand, it is difficult to create a usable foreground with an angle of view of 110°. It’s easy to end up with a lot of “nothing” in the foreground.
Astrophotography with the Voigtländer 15mm super-wide
I made my first attempt at astrophotography on an evening with a full moon. That meant it wasn’t completely dark.
My subject was to be Orion, which is visible from the mountain above Grünstadt in the evenings during February. The moon was already 20° above the horizon and shone into the picture from the east. The foreground is full of Winter “nothing”. There is a stately walnut tree on the left and two older wind turbines on the right. Towards the south, you can make out a few red lights from masts standing on the edge of the Haardt. A full moon reduces the number of visible stars considerably (NELM, naked-eye limiting magnitude). I had set the white balance to 4,000K in Lightroom.
The handling of the Voigtländer is very uncomplicated, as is typical of manual lenses: focus at infinity, aperture at f/4.5 (wow). I set the M10 to ISO 1600 and ISO 800. The exposure time at 1600 can be selected up to 32s; at 800 it is a maximum of 60s.
I created one image as a composite, foreground 60s, stars 24s. To me, the foreground is unnaturally bright, too bright in fact.
Both 24s and 32s exposure worked as long as Orion was in the centre of the frame. If you move it to the edge, star trails are already apparent at 24s.
For pixel peepers, yes, the lens has coma in the corners. I am happy to accept this as long as I can avoid using 100% of the image. If you plan to make a large print of such a scene, use a different setup, including a star tracker.
I could capture enough light in 32s is to compensate for the initial aperture of 4.5. Why 32s? These are the limits of the adjustable long exposure on the M10 at ISO 800 and ISO 1600.
Hopefully, there will be better opportunities to go “star hunting” with this lens in future.
Alternatives to the Voigtländer 15mm super-wide
Leica Super Elmar 18mm f/3.8. As far as I know, this is only available second-hand. I found one for €2,250.
Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZM, a one of a kind lens, approx. €3,500 (review planned in The M Files)
Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm f/4, discontinued, approx €1,000, review in The M Files
Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21 f/4 ASPH. €5,350, review on Macfilos
I paid a stunning €514 for a used, Super Wide Heliar 15mm f/4.5. The recommended new price is €749. And, it came in a pretty good shape, looking just like a new one.
Let everyone decide for themselves what suits them best. I am quite satisfied with the Voigtländer.
The Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15mm f/4.5 VM is an astonishing lens on the Leica M10. Fascinating images can be created due to the extreme focal length. I’d say images, that are unexpected, that don’t follow “mainstream” content.
I put it in my bag to photograph the staircase of the old Point Loma Lighthouse on our tour to San Diego in March because I knew 21mm would not snatch the image I had in mind. It’s definitely not as versatile as a 35 or 50mm lens. As Claus Sassenburg puts it: “It’s a one-trick pony.”
The initial aperture is certainly a disadvantage. On the other hand, it makes this fine piece of kit smaller and easier to handle. In addition, this design avoids aberrations that would otherwise require considerable effort to control.
The pricing makes it easy for me to give a clear recommendation to get a copy and experiment with it.
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