Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens for Leica M mount review

General

Ever since Voigtlander announced their Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM full frame lens for Leica M mount ($529), I was curious to try it out and when I had the opportunity to shoot with it for a few days, I jumped right to it.

This lens uses a unique historical design to match some of the earliest Voigtlander lenses from the 19th century. The lens design has been on the market for a long time. Several different versions exist in Leica thread mount (LTM) and Nikon S mount. I believe that initially the lens came with the Bessa R2S Nikon S-mount rangefinder as a special edition and many people just used it with adapters on Leica M mount cameras. The new version of the lens is the first to be available in Leica M mount and is not collapsible - there was also a collapsable version in the past:


The Heliar design is engraved on the side of the lens:



The Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens has a "shiny" silver (not matte) all-metal body and it is sometimes hard to read the really tiny font on the aperture and focusing ring. Because of its shiny surface, the lens often reflects the light like a mirror which makes it even harder to read the aperture and distance numbers:


Rotating front element: by moving the focusing ring of the Voigtlander 50mm f/3.5 VM lens, the aperture ring moves as well and it may end up on the bottom side of the lens where you cannot see the aperture values. When shooting the lens, you have to get in the habit of moving the focusing ring back to default position in order to be able to see the aperture without having to turn the camera upside down. Here is what I mean:



When using the lens I had an issue where instead of the focusing ring I often grabbed the ring right next to the mount - not a big deal, but it takes some time to get used to:

click for larger view, the font is blurry because of website compressions

Otherwise the lens is light (7.4oz/209g) and very sharp. The maximum aperture of f/3.5 makes is easy to focus on a rangefinder (the depth of field of a 50mm f/3.5 lens at 10 meters is almost 2.5 meters).

The Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens has a simple 5 elements in 3 groups Heliar classic optical design which provides very sharp and color accurate images. The minimum focusing distance is 0.7m/2.3ft. The lens has de-clicked manual aperture ring and a 10-blade diaphragm.

The lens comes with a screw-in metal hood and a metal front lens cap:


Here is a picture of the box:


Next is a picture of the lens obstruction in the viewfinder of a Leica M10 camera:


Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens size comparison with the Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M Asph and the Handevision IBERIT 50mm f/2.4 lenses:

Technical specifications

Focal Length 50mm
Aperture f/3.5 to f/22
Camera Mount Type Voigtlander VM bayonet; compatible with all M-mount cameras and adapters
Angle of View 46°
Minimum Focus Distance 2.3' / 70 cm
Optical Design 5 elements in 3 groups
Focus Manual
Diaphragm Blades 10
Filter Thread 27 mm
Dimensions 2.0 x 1.7" / 52.0 x 43.2 mm
Weight 7.4 oz / 209 g

Colors

Next is a quick color comparison of the Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM with the almost $4,000 Leica M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH lens:

Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens sample

Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens sample

Leica M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH sample

Leica M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH sample

Focus shift, barrel distortion, lens flare, ghosting, purple fringing

In the short time I was using the lens I did not notice any signs of focus shift, barrel distortion, lens flare, ghosting or purple fringing:

100% crop

Vignetting

Some vignetting can be seen at f/3.5 and f/5.6 (lens detection/correction off):

f/3.5

f/3.5

f/5.6

f/5.6

f/8

f/8

f/11

f/11

Bokeh

Here are a few wide open (f/3.5) sample photos:

Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens review

Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens review

Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens review

Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens review

Sample photos

Sample photos of the lens can be found on flickr (the jpg files are straight from the camera, taken with Leica M9 and M10, no correction or post processing):

Voigtlander Heliar Vintage Line 50mm f/3.5 VM lens review

Conclusion

Cons (what I don't like):

  • Focusing scale only in meters
  • Small font on the aperture and focusing ring, DOF scale
  • Clickless aperture (for some this might be a plus)
  • 27mm filter thread

Pro (what I like):

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  • EnPassant

    Considering the modest aperture that Iberit lens is huge!
    I guess they choose to make all lenses in the line with similar size to be able to use the same parts for more than one lens and thereby save production costs.

    Nice review by the way!
    While I am okay with the oldish look for such a vintage lens design I don’t understand why they didn’t update the mechanics of the Heliar lens to modern standards? I thought a rotating front element on a prime was a thing of the past.

    • MdB

      There is also the case that the Iberits are all consistent in design and from memory all use the same filter size etc. Many would see that as a positive.

      I like my CV’s but they are all very different shapes and sizes.

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