Review: Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4,5

Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm

First of all: please note that I don’t currently own a full-frame camera (hello Sony? Still waiting for that 50 Mpxl, Nex7 form-factor camera…), so this lens has been tested only on (and specifically bought for) an Aps-c Sony Nex 7.

That said, from the full-resolution images I saw online shot on the A7r it looks still a pretty good glass, just with not-so-exceptional borders.

Second: there are actually two versions of this lens, and old one (the one reviewed here) and a newer model that you can spot instantly because it is bigger and with a front ring to mount filters.

Optically they are exactly the same; the only differences, above the aforementioned possibility to mount filters, are that the new lens is rangefinder coupled (important if you ever want to use it on a Leica) and has natively a Leica-M flange, instead of the Leica screw m39 of the older model (not a big deal, adapters are good and cheap).

The different flange may still be a matter of preferences, though: the new model does not require an adapter for use on modern (post 1950) and digital Leica M cameras. The older model, on the other hand, is more of a jolly that you can use on a modern or digital Leica M with a cheap adapter or directly on an old Leica / Canon etc. screw-mount camera. All depends by the kind of gear you already own or plan to buy one day.

Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar: river in black and white

The review

Mechanically this lens is an absolute jewel, almost Leica-quality like, and in my book the archetype based on which all other lenses for mirrorless or rangefinder systems should be designed.

It is unbelievably tiny. You cannot understand simply from looking at the pictures how small it is. I can toss it in a pocket and forget about it, much like my car key.

But at the same time the controls (focus and aperture) are well spaced and easy to grip; wearing heavy sky gloves as well, just with a bit of more trouble. More, the aperture ring clicks positively in each position, almost silky smooth.

However, all this mechanical prowess would mean nothing if the lens should not deliver optically.

The good news is this little one really packs a punch!

Keeping in mind that I’m using it on a Aps-c camera, albeit a really taxing one, it is very sharp up to the extreme borders. Normally with a lens this short (even if on an Aps-c it is really just the equivalent of a 22-24mm) on film you wouldn’t even bother to focus, not even at full aperture. That’s the reason why Voigtlander decided to forfeit a rangefinder coupling with this lens back in the days, to cut costs.

But on digital, and especially on a taxing 24 Megapixels sensor, even at f/8 you can still easily tell when your subject is not perfectly in focus.

Oh, by the way: this minuscule lens is so sharp that at the center it tops the chart at f/5.6, and at f/8 you can already witness quite clearly the effects of diffraction!

If you’re not so sure this is a lens for you, keep in mind that lured by the new model many people is avoiding buying the first one, so you can find one for ridiculously low prices.

If, on the other hand, you plan to use it on a film camera, especially for landscape and b/w films, grab the new one because the filter ring will definitely come in handy.

The only problem with this lens is the extensive magenta / purple coloration at the borders if used on some cameras, like for example the Nex 7. If you shoot in b/w it doesn’t matter, obviously. And if you shoot in color it is easily correctable anyway using the Lightroom Flat Field free plugin (you can get it at the AdobeLabs) or the also free CornerFix. So no big deal in my book, but I’ve lowered the rating half a point just because of that.

Rating: ★★★★½ on Aps-c

Review: Leica Summicron-C & Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f/2

Leica Summicron-C 40mm f/2

This is the classic Cinderella lens, and I use the singular instead of the plural because the Summicron-C and the Minolta M-Rokkor really are the same lens, optically speaking, even if some people state (but I think they are wrong) that the former has only a single layer anti-reflection treatment while the Minolta has a multi-layer one.

It was born as an economic way to enter the Leica world, to mate with the Leica CL and Minolta CLE cameras.

But it was doomed to become a princess…

Leica Summicron-C 40mm f/2

Now it is one of the biggest “bang for the bucks” lens ever, because at around 200 / 250 € street you can obtain almost the same quality of the Summicron 35mm f/2, that costs three / four times as much.

The main (light) difference between the Summicron-C 40mm f/2 and the Summicron 35mm f/2 is in the bokeh department, in which the 35mm excels whilst the 40mm is only so so.

Like I said before the Summicron-C and the M-Rokkor are the same lens, the only true differences being the filter ring diameter (39,5mmx0,5mm on the Leica, a non-standard step; 40,5mm on the Minolta) and the resistance of the focus ring, much stronger in the Leica; personally I much prefer the smoother feel of the Minolta.

The Leica frame lines are notoriously conservative, so when mounted on a film Leica the 40mm covers pretty much the field indicated by the 50mm frame lines; for this reason many people, including myself, modify the coupling flange of the lens filing it lightly, just the necessary amount to engage the 50mm frame line instead of the 35mm one.

And for the lucky owners of a Leica M8 the 40mm will became an excellent 50mm, because the smaller than 35mm sensor and its multiplication factor of 1,33x.

Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f/2

Sharpness-wise it’s a Leica designs, so what can you possibly aspect?

It’s scary sharp all over the field from f/2 on, from the center to the extreme borders.

Once (in that occasion it was an M-Rokkor) I compared it against a Nikon 35mm f/2 Ai, a great lens that I appreciated a lot…till then; the poor Nikon came back from the review literally humiliated!

In conclusion: one of the best lenses ever.

Rating: ★★★★★ on film

Rating: ★★★★★ on digital (Sony Nex 7)

Review: Leica M4-P

Leica M4-P

This one was my first Leica, and even if I eventually ended up selling it I regretted the decision right from day one.

The body of the features of the Leica M4-P are practically the same of the newest M6 model, with the exception of the lack of the exposure meter.

While the absence of the meter may appear quite uncomfortable, in stable light it ended up making my pictures better and not worse.

Because I finally stopped looking at the meter and fiddling with times and apertures to compensate or something, and instead I started sticking to one shutter / aperture combination that a single reading on an external meter (or the experience, some time after) gave me.

And “magically” my pictures got better, and yes: I shooted dia with it and not color negatives.

Leica M4-P

Sure, if the light is changing fast you will end taking in and out of your pocket an external exposure meter…

So, given that the price is not so drastically different from its younger sister, the M6, I will advice to look for one of them.

But if you find a real deal on a M4-P and you think you can learn how to guess the exposure (takes a little time, but it’s not that difficult) then buy it in a snap!

Rating: ★★★★½

Review: Minolta M-Rokkor 28mm f/2,8 for Leica M

Minolta M-Rokkor 28mm f/2,8

A little, sweet lens, the most overlooked of the entire Leica (well, Minolta…) M catalog probably because of its “bubble-related” problem.

Bubbles? Yes.

There are many theories about the causes, but this lens has almost in every case developed some strange bubbles in the glass.

Some people think that is depends from the lens cement, others blame the internal black paint.

After using this lens, frankly, I don’t care anymore.

And yes, also my lens has a severe dose of bubbles.

Minolta M-Rokkor 28mm f/2,8 for Leica - bubbles

But they are almost not influent in the actual shooting.

Only in some severe backlit shot maybe they contributed to produce a certain amount of flare.

Or maybe it was just the anti reflection treatment that was incapable of dealing which so much light going trough the glass. I don’t really know.

Minolta M-Rokkor on Leica M6

What do I know, instead, is that this lens:

1) it is Leica-sharp (I’ve seen even a comparison with a 2nd generation Elmarit, and the Elmarit lost it);

2) it has wonderful Leica-colors;

3) it has a fair price on the used market (from 150 to 300 €, depending on how much bubbles the lens has and on your luck).

For me all this is more than enough to buy one…

Rating: ★★★★☆ on film

Rating: ★★★★½ on digital (Sony Nex 7 & A7r)

Review: Leica M6

Leica M6

In a previous post (the one regarding the Canon Eos 1n) I asked if it still makes sense nowadays to use a 35mm camera.

The Leica M6 (and for what matter almost every Leica Ms) demonstrate that actually yes, it still makes sense.

The M6 is at the same time a fairly specialized camera and a multifunction tool.

And no, I’m not suggesting to use it as an hammer, even if the toughness of the construction may make you think of trying.

The presence of the rangefinder pose a limit for using the Leica for close-up or tele pictures, but at the same time this makes it extremely well suited for reportage work.

And it’s a great tool, given the marvelous quality of the Leica lenses, for landscape photography if you are an hiker that likes to travel light.

Sure, is not autofocus.

But with a little practice focus a rangefinder is quite easy and way too faster than focusing an SRL.

And you could use the hyperfocal technique.

I must confess: I ended up selling my first M, an M4p, and regretting ever since the decision until I stumbled upon an M6.

And at some point probably I will spring the money for an M8, that performance-price wise I think is one of the best digital camera out there (but I haven’t tried one by myself yet…).

The Ms share a unique attribute, in common with few other cameras like the Hasselblad 500 series, that is the almost zen experience in using them, without noise, beeping and whirs to watch out.

Just framing and shooting.

And frankly, even if I were to hate this camera (and at the contrary, I love it), the lenses that it mounts are so wonderful that they are worth the eventual troubles.

Like every thing marked as Leica is pricey (from 600 to 1200€ street, depending on sub-models and conditions), but it is worth every penny if you are a rangefinder-guy and / or if you will give it enough time to get used to.

Rating: ★★★★★