15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5
Convinced that I needed a wide angled option for my M9 kit I opted for the 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5 Aspherical. Unbelievably the Mk-1 version of this lens still sells for under US$500.00, comes complete with the 15mm Viewfinder and is available in Silver & Black.
I’m not a huge fan of overly technical reviews, that said, I will read them if I’m seriously considering a particular lens. In truth I would much prefer to read the thoughts and experiences of a photographer, what is often referred to as a “user report”, especially one accompanied by images. With this in mind I have attempted to create a post that is exactly that, in essence, a post I would read myself.
This will be my most in depth post on a lens since I began using the Leica M9, it will detail my opinions and what I have learnt about this lens when used with both the Leica M9 and M6.
I’ve said previously on this website and others that I am a big fan of Voigtlander lenses, the 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5 Asph does nothing to diminish that opinion. In this section I will give a brief point by point note on the key aspects of this lens, at the foot of this article I will post links to various other sources of technical information that I would recommend you read.
This lens comes in LTM/M39 mount, in short that means you will require an LTM/M39 – M Mount adaptor in order to shoot it on the M9, M6 or any other M mount Leica.
Adaptors are available for between $20-70 on ebay. From experience I would choose very carefully as some of the cheaper offerings are not machined accurately and subsequently the fit to the M9 will be less than satisfactory. You can get a sound version (Here), another benefit of this adaptor is the ability to add 6-Bit coding, thats going to be very useful…. As you’ll be looking through the 15mm finder the adaptor you choose is not technically important, however for reasons I mention below I think it is best to select either the 35-135mm frame line version or 28-90mm version.
For those familiar with the Leica M9 it will come as no surprise to learn that what you see through this viewfinder is not what you get…..on the horizontal axis, to the left and right you will capture a little more than appears in the finder, Vertically I will often allow a little more space above the subject, only experience will make you comfortable with this. The closer you are to your subject the more exaggerated these adjustments become. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not quite at the silly stage where your viewing something completely different through the finder but it’s frustrating all the same.
Another tip is to keep your eye looking straight ahead, I realise this sounds obvious but the view through the finder is expansive, it’s quite easy and tempting for your eye to roam and with that you begin to see more than will appear in frame. As there are no frame lines in the finder I found it difficult at times to get my shots level, especially when holding the camera in portrait orientation, using the 28mm or 35mm frame lines in the M9 finder to level your shot works well with a little practice.
I guess it’s important to know that this lens is not rangefinder coupled, now the thought of zone focusing may make some a little uncomfortable but it’s really no big deal so don’t be put off. With the aperture set to f/4.5 and the focus ring to 2m your depth of field will range from just under 1m to infinity. The lens performs so well at f/4.5 you could shoot like this and never adjust anything again….Stop down to f/8 and your depth of field is an incredible .5m to infinity. If this is simply too much for you then the Mk 2 version of this lens which is optically identical is rangefinder coupled and subsequently more expensive. Your biggest problem, if thats the right way to look at it is remembering to check the focus ring has not been moved between shots, this is quite easily done.
Unfortunately there is no easy way to attach a filter to this lens, unlike it’s successor the Mk 2. Whilst it’s not easy that does not mean there aren’t ways around this. Hopefully I will look to add a couple of long exposures taken with this lens and an ND filter at a later date.
Lens Technical Details - Courtesy of Voigtlander.com
On the Leica M9
15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5 Asph on the Leica M9
This lens looks beautiful on your Leica M, although it will come as no surprise to learn that this alone will not give you better shots…….Voigtlander incorporated a built-in “Petal” style hood to this lens over which goes the push on cap. Incredibly light, it adds a mere 105g to the weight of the camera, so small that regardless of what you already have in your camera bag it will still fit in it, somewhere……
Bridge Dynamic – Leica M9 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar
f/4.5 ISO 160 1/1000 Sec
Bridge Dynamic has been selected by the Editors as a Leica Fotografie International (LFI) Master Shot.
Dynamic compositions are what this wide angle lens is all about. Although I think it took me five attempts to get this shot looking the way I wanted due to the inaccuracies of the 15mm Viewfinder. This bridge is an old favourite of mine, I think this may be the sixth shot I have squeezed out of it, I suppose that is proof if it were needed that its sometimes worth returning to previously photographed locations.
Architectural Strength – Leica M9 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar
f/4.5 ISO 160 1/1000 Sec
Architectural Strength has been selected by the Editors as aLeica Fotografie International (LFI) Master Shot.
The real strength of this lens is architectural imagery, it loves lines, angles and beautiful geometry. The lens exhibits no visible distortion and is sharp to the corners at all apertures. This is great news, unfortunately for me there is a real lack of architectural subject matter here, I intend on visiting Auckland soon with this lens to put it through its paces.
Awakenings - Leica M9 - 15mm Super Wide Heliar
f/4.5 ISO 80 1/500 Sec
Awakenings has been selected by the Editors as aLeica Fotografie International (LFI) Master Shot.
Street Possibilities – Leica M9 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar
f/5.6 ISO 400 1/4000 Sec
I have to say I’ve only shot briefly with this lens on the streets but I think there is potential and I will perhaps do a separate post on the subject if I can get a good range of images. Generally I would shoot a lot of my street photography wide open or at large apertures. With this lens there is no bokeh so you’ve lost that element of creativity, however what you gain is the ability to capture dynamism in the background. Employing zone focusing and shooting from the hip is something I’ve not previously done with the M9, indeed I have not done it since the departure of my X100. I’m not saying the image posted here is a great one, however I think it show’s just enough potential to delve a little deeper.
And now the bad news….
Now unfortunately it’s not all great news when it comes to this lens. A google search for “15mm Voigtlander & Leica M9? would be enough to put many off this combination, with talk of excessive vignetting and cyan/magenta coluor shift. Whilst the lens is clearly another example of fine engineering and value for money from Voigtlander, if your intending to use it with the M9 or M8/8.2 there is going to be a bit of a learning curve, one aspect of that will be correcting the vignetting and colour shift…..thankfully there is a solution to this.
That solution comes in the form of a third party piece of software called Cornerfix, this was developed by the very talented Sandy McGuffog (Chromasoft).
As great as the Cornerfix software is, it has proved confusing to many so I will address the various stages as part of this post as they are fundamental to using this lens with the digital M Cameras.
Step 1. Create a Lens
I would say that each lens is unique, so with this in mind you really want to be creating a Cornerfix profile specific to your lens. I did come across some links on a forum to profiles available for download but I would avoid the temptation to use these and create your own profile for optimum results.
You may or may not usually bother with 6-bit coding of your lenses, with the 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar coding is going to be very important so with that in mind now is the time to set your lens code in camera. It occurred to me to experiment with the following lens codes on the M9 whilst creating my Cornerfix profile, the results were of course slightly different for each one.
21mm f/2.8 Elmarit 11134
16-18-21mm f/4 WATE
I concluded that the 21mm f/2.8 Elmarit 6-bit code should be used when creating your Cornerfix profile, in the main because there appeared to be less to correct when using this profile. I should add that its clear from various sources that people have enjoyed success with other coding methods, this is just my personal preference. Right here is where your going to appreciate buying the 6-bit coded adapter, code it as the 21mm f2.8 Elmarit 11134 and just leave the adaptor on your lens. I change lenses quite often and even doing this post there were a couple of occasions where I forgot to manually code the lens, this is incredibly frustrating when it happens. Lens Codes are available (HERE)
In order to create your profile as I did you will need a piece of White A3 Card which you will tape to a rigid board, just slightly over the corners. I then placed the board against an external wall of the house. The key here is getting the lighting right, don’t be surprised if you have to attempt this several times in order to get a satisfactory result. I did this in the afternoon, out of direct sunlight, you may need to adjust the EV as the camera will attempt to underexpose the white. I set the lens to f/8, don’t worry about the focus or if it pleases you set it to infinity. Your going to need to hold the camera close enough to the white card to ensure it fills the frame. Be sure to avoid casting shadows and avoid including the taped corners. You may save yourself some time here by taking several shots and adjusting the the EV between each one.
Next you will need to upload your images in the usual way, in my case I use Aperture 3. The M9 appears to gather dust on the sensor quite easily, despite all the precautionary measures I employ when changing lenses, it was clear on viewing my images that several dust spots were visible, take a moment to correct these if they are evident in your image.
You should have an image that looks something like the white one below. Slight vignetting is evident as is the Cyan and Magenta colour shift. If your image doesn’t look like this and has a cool blue tone to it like the one below then don’t despair, this will still give you a satisfactory result. After the Cornerfix treatment you will just need to adjust the White Balance.
Step 2. Create a Cornerfix Lens Profile
Export your finished profile image as a .DNG file.
In the main menu select File->Open->”Your Profile Name.DNG”this will load your image in to the left hand pane of the corner fix software.
With .DNG file loaded in to Cornerfix from the main menu selectLens Profile->Create Profile, it may take a moment to complete the conversion. You should now be looking at your original image in the left hand pane and a “Flat” or corrected image in the right hand pane.
Once more from the main menu selectLens Profile->Save As. Suitably amend the name of your .cpf profile, the default location is the Cornerfix directory. When you are happy, hit save to complete the creation of your profile.
There is scope to tweak your profile image before conversion to the .cpf file, this can be done through the main menu Cornerfix->Preferences. I will not go in to detail here as you should be able to achieve a profile without deviating from the default settings.
Step 3. Image Conversion
Your now ready to convert your images, before we do that though lets take a look at an image straight out of the camera taken with the 21mm f/2.8 Elmarit 11134 profile. It’s clearly not perfect but I think it justifies the use of this profile.
You will recall that in order to open an image in Cornerfix your file needs to be in .DNG format, in my instance I export the image above as a Master from Aperture 3 to a Temp directory on my Desktop.
To avoid any confusion close down Cornerfix and re-open.
In Cornerfix go to the main menu and selectFile->Open->”Your Image.DNG”
Now select the Lens Profile you made previously, go to Lens Profile->Open->your.cpf profile
If you’ve followed the procedure correctly you should be looking at something like this. It’s quite noticeable that the out of camera image, which is the image on the left in the screen grab below appears much worse than it actually is when uploaded to Cornerfix. The now corrected image is on the right below, its still a little difficult to see how effective your conversion has been at this stage.
5. Now save your corrected file, in the main menu select File->Save As, Cornerfix will automatically use your existing file name and add the suffix _CF, this will allow you to distinguish the file from the original. Save in the Temp directory on your Desktop as a .DNG file and then Import to your editing software, in my case Aperture 3.
Here is the converted image after some further adjustment to White Balance and Saturation in Aperture 3. Obviously at this stage you will process to your own taste.
Cornerfix Converted Image – Leica M9 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5
Cornerfix Converted Image (21mm f/2.8 Elmarit_CF Profile) – Leica M9 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5
Why the bad news isn’t that bad at all….
Yes, there is still a positive, a proverbial silver lining to the Cornerfix issue. If like me you shoot a lot of B&W then you don’t need to worry about Cornerfix at all, yes thats right. Here is a B&W conversion of the original “out of the camera image” taken with the 21mm f/2.8 Elmarit 11134 profile. The image has been further edited in Aperture 3 following the conversion to B&W.
21mm f/2.8 Elmarit 11134 profile B&W Conversion
In order to further highlight this take a look at the two images below. The same Master Image, one with Cornerfix, the other without. Both converted identically to B&W. You can see clearly that whilst there are minimal differences in the images they could easily be dealt with in post processing thus removing the Cornerfix step from your workflow.
A quick word on Flare
Visible Flare 100% Crop – Leica M9 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5
Don't panic...there is nothing untoward to report here, I did ultimately manage to get the lens to flare by shooting almost directly in to the sun, it's evident on the image above, this is a 100% crop of the Donna Maria image below. Obviously I was deliberately trying to create lens flare, however I did have to wait until I'd uploaded the image on to the mac before I could see it as it was not evident on the M9 LCD.
Donna Maria - Leica M9 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5
f/4.5 ISO 80 1/750 Sec
Here is the full "Donna Maria" image, whilst the image contained evidence of flare, once converted to B&W the image is now useable. I have done further post processing on this image beyond the conversion to B&W.
On the Leica M6
15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5 Asph on the Leica M6
If you shoot film then there is no bad news at all, this lens works superbly on the Leica M6, and other M’s. The issues that effect the digital M’s are just not relevant when it comes to film. Much to my wife’s despair I have photographed a lot of my camera and lens combo’s, I absolutely love this image of the M6 and 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5…..just beautiful!!!
When I look at these images I don’t compare them to their digital counterparts, I don’t think you should do that. You either like film or you don’t, for me there is a mystique and nostalgia to it that I find very appealing.
Lake View – Leica M6 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar
f/5.6 Kodak Gold 200 1/1000 Sec
Lake View – Leica M6 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar
f/5.6 Kodak Gold 200 1/1000 Sec B&W Conversion
Film Heaven or Film Hell has been selected by the Editors as a Leica Fotografie International (LFI) Master Shot
Mount View - Leica M6 - 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar
f/4.5 Kodak Gold 200 1/1000 Sec (Taken at the same time as the digital image)
Euycalyptus Grove - Leica M6 - 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar
f/5.6 Kodak Gold 200 1/1000 Sec B&W Conversion
The Good and the Bad
Price – Just exceptional value for money
A complete lack of any distortion
Light weight and compact
Additional workflow with Cornerfix on Digital M's
Can’t attach filters easily
I decided against adding the viewfinder issues as a negative, I figure if your using the M9 you already accept this.
In terms of this lens on the Digital M's I'd be lying if I said the Cornerfix issue wasn't a pain, but really it's only the profile creation element that can be tricky. Once you've mastered that you really do have yourself one fantastic lens. I'll rephrase that, one fantastic cheap lens.......this lens is such a great performer, if the Cornerfix software wasn't available I would still have it and just use it for B&W work. If I think about using this lens in terms of Workflow it really doesn't concern me, I have a basic workflow that I follow, but beyond that I tend to deviate here and there dependent on the merits of a specific image, so its not an issue to me. With the film M's there's nothing really to add, you get a superb lens that has only one minor weakness, the ability to fit a filter, again not a deal breaker.
A Final Thought
Of course there are alternatives to this lens, you could really splash the cash and go with the Leica Wide Angle Tri-Elmar (WATE) or the Zeiss Distagon 15mm f/2.8. I have no doubt these lenses are both wonderful, however they are also many times the cost of the 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar and if like me you only occasionally need a wide angled lens then really they just aren’t an option at all.