My Muse: The 15mm f/4.5 Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar III Lens Review

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My Muse: The 15mm f/4.5 Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar III Lens Review by Louis Ferreira (www.500px.com/LouisFerreira)

Since becoming serious about photography I have been interested in adding an affordable ultra-wide angle lens to my kit, but there weren't many options available for M mount that did not suffer from chromatic aberration and barrel distortion. The introduction of the new 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar III changes that because, for the first time on M mount, there is a readily available, rangefinder coupled, ultra-wide lens that does not suffer from color shift and it exhibits remarkably low levels of distortion.

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Before receiving the 15mm Voigtlander, the widest lens I owned for more than a month was a 28mm Leica Elmarit. I had a very hard time letting it go, but I couldn't justify keeping an expensive lens in my bag that primarily came out during trips to new cities. That being said, I have always found shooting wide to be creatively challenging and a kind of mind altering experience like no other for a photographer that largely uses 35-50mm prime lenses. It takes a little getting used to, but once you find a subject matter to shoot, the experience is not entirely dissimilar from picking up a camera for the first time.

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Voigtlander did a superb job redesigning this lens for full frame digital cameras. It is very small, light and the best Voigtlander lens I have ever handled. It isn't quite up there with Leica or Zeiss build quality, but the focus is silky smooth out of the box and the aperture clicks firmly into place, unlike some other Voigtlander lenses that have a little wiggle. I am not one to drone on about build quality, but this lens is exceptional for the price.

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If critical focus is important to you, then the M is the only real option for accurately focusing the new 15mm Voigtlander because it is almost impossible to use focus peaking with slow, ultra-wide lenses. Thankfully, the lens is rangefinder coupled and accurately calibrated on the copy I am reviewing, but I found myself zone focusing the lens the majority of the time for expedience so I could quickly stand where I needed to or shoot and move quickly when I was in less than safe parts of town.

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The zone focusing potential of the 15mm Voigtlander is pretty astounding for someone not used to a lens this wide. When zone focusing and shooting wide open at f4.5 0.8m-∞ is in acceptable focus, and is plenty for low light shooting; When light is abundant you should probably leave this lens at f8, because the full focal range of the lens from 0.5-∞ is in acceptable focus and there is no perceivable vignetting.

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Yet another aspect of shooting this wide that I found enjoyable was the ability to drop my shutter speed down to 1/8th of a second hand held at night and still get sharp photos. I have an exceptionally steady hand and was actually able to go even lower than that, but below 1/8th I shot continuous because it just felt wrong to shoot with that slow of a shutter speed. Thankfully, the M240 isn't a slouch in the ISO department so I was able to comfortably shoot at 3200 ISO all night long with this lens and, while you can always ask for more ISO performance, the ability to drop the shutter speed allowed me to capture some shots that I simply did not think possible.

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The 15mm Voigtlander can be surprisingly sharp when critically focused and the subject is close. Modern Voigtlanders seem to be developing a look and color signature that is uniquely their own on the M and I like it quite a bit. I don't think they will ever replace your regularly used Leica glass, but they certainly have been creating some modern lenses worth owning along side Leica glass.

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I would highly recommend this lens to anyone looking to shoot creatively wide or even professionally wide. Sure there are some other great options,  like the Leica Tri-Elmar WATE 16-18-21, that come in a little faster at f4 and are arguably more well corrected, but they come at a much higher price. If you rarely shoot wide like I do then, in my estimation, the 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar III is a better investment.

The 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar III is current in stock at B&H Photo.

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For more 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar III shots visit https://500px.com/LouisFerreira/sets/voigtlander-super-wide-heliar-15mm.

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  • Roelv1

    As a professional photographer I can say that this lens is indeed excellent! But I don’t agree what you write about the built quality, namely that it is not quite up with Leica or Zeiss. Perhaps it’s true with Leica, but certainly not with Zeiss. On the contrary! VC is better built. If I look at the IQ of modern VC lenses ( I also use the Ultron 21 1,8), I really do wander why one should spend so much extra money on Leica. Something Sean Reid and Steve Huff also suggested.

    • CHD

      At least Sean Reid is objective…but Steve Huff…really??? Steve will review the latest greatest Leica lens and love, love, love it and 3 months later review a Voigtlander lens and love, love, love it. Remember, Steve makes money everytime someone buys through one of the vendors who advertise on his site.

      • Roelv1

        Well, in that case limit your opinion on Reid, which gives the same result and conclusion as I wrote.

        • CHD

          I agree with you…just leave Steve Huff out of it…it’s kind of like referencing Ken Rockwell:)

    • Recent Voigtländer lenses are better than before, but if you compare similar lenses side by side, the Zeiss are less prone to play, have much nicer clicks to aperture settings, and generally better focus helicoids. Adding to that the quality of the engraving, etc., I’d put Zeiss over VM, but mainly in polish.

      There are poor lenses in every line up. VM lenses are nice to have but are in no way mechanically up to the competition.

      As for Leica, if you can’t recognise the brilliance of the small things such as font placement and choice, the smoother helicoids, the wide-narrow angle filter application, better helicoids, amazing resale value, etc., and so on, your post goes as is, unchecked.

      But there is a reason VM and ZM exist.

      • Roelv1

        You better read the tests of Voigtlander lenses on the point of built quality. I also showed my two VM lenses to my very experienced camera repair service ( 40 years),specialized in Leica, Zeiss en VM, who also coded the lenses. They said: excellent built. Better than Zeiss! By the way, I also do have 5 Leica lenses. The IQ of Voigtlander: in reviews the 21VM Ultron is considered as almost equal to the Leica 21 summilux. (95% ). One sixth of the price! Fortunately we now have a 15 from VM. Also excellent. Leica only has the Tri Elmar. Big, heavy and much more expensive. Sure, there is a reason for VM.

      • Roelv1

        VM mechanically in no way up to the competition?: I would strongly advice you to read Levidaleica and Sean Reid on for example the Ultron 21mm 1,8.

        • As stated above, I agree that every lens manufacturer has its poor lenses. Conversely, every manufacturer has its great lenses. The 21/1,8 may be Voight’s finest. Good on them.

          But I stand behind what I said: the precision manufacture required to make screw-in metal hoods: neither Zeiss (Cosina) nor Voight (Cosina) show it; they may not even be capable of it.

          As for Helicoids, again, while smooth against other makers, they are behind Leica for sure. I’ve used a bunch of quirky Zeiss lenses, so I’m not about to say they are better.

          And again: metal doesn’t mean quality. It means metal.

          • Roelv1

            One can buy screw in metal hoods from all kind of manufacturers, some at very low prices and still good! So very difficult it can’t be. I’ve shown a couple of Voightlander lenses to my professional repair service( for 30 years now) and they said that nowadays there’s no big difference anymore.

    • Having extensive professional experience with Leica, Zeiss and CV lenses on the M8, M9 and now the M240, I can honestly say the hierarchy of image quality goes in exactly that order. Of course, everyone’s needs are different and for many, the CV lenses are perfect for what they do, and there’s no shame in that. Being built in the same factory, the ZM and CV lenses have very similar build quality, but I do find the Zeiss lenses have smoother focusing and nicer feeling aperture rings, but the Zeiss lenses also tend to loosen up more over time than the CV lenses, which may or may not be a bad thing.

      • Roelv1

        It just depends on what one considers. The Ultron 21 1,8 is in some aspects better than the summilux 21, in other aspects not. But, most testers consider it as almost on par with that summilux at 1/6 of the price! As long as the build quality also is excellent why spend so much extra money for a Leica lens? This new 15 also is really good! By the way: Leica doesn’t have an ultra wide, apart from the Wate. And that Wate has a certain price. All in all, the quality of some CV lenses is more than enough.

        • The extra little bit of performance always costs the most! For me, it’s more how the lens draws, which isn’t something that can be measured by a tester. Most CV lenses leave me cold, and I particularly don’t like the colors you get from them, skewed more towards yellow/green.
          The WATE is expensive, yes, but you’re getting 3 lenses in 1, so the economy of it is not that difficult to justify, especially if those are focal lengths you use a lot. Personally I don’t use ultra-wides that much, and usually just rent them if I need them. I have used the 21 Summilux, and it’s a pretty spectacular lens. The WATE is great, but doesn’t really impose a “look” on an image, it’s pretty neutral, like most super/ultra wides, not a lot of character.

          The Zeiss 15 is spectacular as well, if you can deal with the corner shading problems. It does have a character and look of it’s own.

          • Roelv1

            In that case a lot of Leica lenses, known for their classic look (Mandler), must leave you cold too. The colors they give are also more yellow/green. I could not see any difference between the elmarit 21pre asph and the Ultron, whilst the Ultron is in every other aspect far superior. ( Speaking of character: testers conclude that CV lenses give more of it than modern Leica lenses which have a clinical look.) The Wate indeed gives three lenses in one, but it’s very slow at f 4,0 instead of the Ultron f 1,8. Again: when a lens is 95% in IQ as another one, at 1/6 of the price, and in some aspects even better, you must be a fool to buy that expensive one.

  • Guest

    Your camera is SO ugly with all that sh*t on it. Photographs are little better, but just a little.

    • Jebagi Erol Paker

      I bet you wear a Che Guevara tee-shirt and
      despise everything.

      • guest

        Of course

    • Photographers are concerned with how their images look, not their gear.

  • Alan Jett

    I am getting this lens what do you suggest the setting for it should be for the Leica M or will the camera auto do this please

    • I wouldn’t use a lens profile. The lens is already very well corrected. If I were to correct it I would do so after the fact because many of the wide profiles are designed to correct color shift in addition to distortion. A lot of the distorted perspectives you see in my photos are simply from the angle I took the photo. If you square the lens up the lens is about as good as it gets on M mount without a profile.

      Lightroom has profiles for the previous two versions of this lens so I am sure they will release an update to auto correct any errors in the third one if you do not want to go through the trouble of self correcting. The profile will only work correctly if you do not us an in camera profile so if your a Lightroom user there’s another good reason to not use an in camera profile on this lens.

      I left my camera on auto the whole time and just filled in the lens metadata later with lens tagger.

  • Gabriele Sartori

    I bought this lens before a recent trip to Italy, we were going to Pisa, Florence, Siena and I needed an Ultra-Wide. I never was so satisfy with a modestly priced lens. I also don’t see any quality difference with my Leica lenses. It is supersharp!

  • Klaus-Michael Böhme

    Yesterday I was able to pick up my lens and the performance is really impressive. Especially when considering the price.
    The only drawback: The Auto ISO setting the M240 does not work with this lens. The reason for this is unclear to me.

  • Alejandro Ilukewitsch

    Great review, I know it’s much better then version 2, but is it that much of a difference? I have the opportunity to get v2 for 300 euros less. Have you been able to compare them?

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