Voigtlander Heliar 15mm f/4.5 III: Friend of film and digital.

Normally when you want a wide lens, you shop for, compare, choose and buy a wide lens. In photography, it behooves one to slow down a bit and consider all things. What things? Glad you asked.

  • First off super wide lenses, with their deep depth of field, do not necessarily need AF. At anything f/8 and beyond most everything is going to be in focus.
  • Bullet above opens things up for adapting film lenses on a mirrorless body. With current full frame systems, which now number 3 and perhaps soon 4, you can preserve that 35mm field of view.

I adapt most all of my film lenses regardless of system. With perks like focus peaking and IBIS (sorry Canon) this makes this a simple way to expand your digital lens lineup. My personal preference is to adapt mirrorless (rangefinder) film camera lenses like Leica M and Contax G. Why? Glad you asked.

Flange focal distance. With no mirror box to contend with, like digital mirrorless cameras, film mirrorless/rangefinder cameras have much shorter flange focal distances. This means much thinner adapters. Combine this with many film rangefinder lenses being smaller than SLR lenses this makes for a smaller lens dealie.

Two things I highly recommend if you plan to shoot native film mount and adapted digital:

  1. Digital side: Close focus adapters. Functionally this could be done for any mount I suppose, but adapters like this are available from a few brands for M mounts. Brings macro performance to near any lens. Like a demi extension tube. You can spend as much as or more than some lenses for one. I chose this one for $39 and so far it has done just fine.

    Works well on my 50mm and even better here. Here is the close focus distance without the adapter extended first and with it extended fully in the second shot.

  2. Film side: I have winged it with a less wide lens on a rangefinder with decent results before. But at 15mm I highly recommend a viewfinder. Other than framing it is also the only way I am able to keep my hands, feet, shadow, person and things next to me out of shots.

So what have I to say for this lens? It is great. Super wide lenses can seem very limiting, but this lens does not seem to limit at all.

Pluses:

  • Sharp wide open in the center.
  • No distortion I can find.
  • Unlike earlier Voigtlander 15mm variants this lens performs just fine on digital. No magenta or smeared corners. Sharp across the lens when stopped down a bit.
  • While not as compact as the earlier variants it is very small compared to similarly spec’d lenses. Much smaller than the Laowa 15mm I sold when purchasing this.
  • Versatile. Unlike the Laowa I can use this on my Bessa R2 also. Unlike the Sony E Mount variant of this same lens I can add macro capabilities with the close focus adapter. WIll gladly trade the chip focus assists for the added functionality.
  • Build quality and aesthetics. While the Laowa’s build is every bit as sturdy it’s look is decidedly industrial compared to the Voigtlander.
  • Value.
    • Film: There is no better super wide M mount lens available at any price. And this one costs far less than any of the closest options.
    • Digital: I prefer this to any of the super wide digital options. Most AF lenses in this range are eye-watering price wise. There is a similarly priced Rokinon AF lens, but this is more compact. A $100 less expensive than the Sony E mount variant of this same lens.
  • Great colors.
  • Odd for a wide angle, but great bokeh when employing the close focus adapter on digital.
  • Will stop myself here.

Minuses:

  • Eh. I’ve got nothing.

Film sample set below. Here is an ongoing gallery that will include both film and digital.

Happy shooting.

-ELW