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

Sony Nex 7 dust reduction system

Tate Modern gallery, London

I don’t know what is the tech behind Sony dust reduction system, but it does work amazingly well.

I bought my Nex 7 second hand, now a few months ago. I cleaned the sensor when I received the camera, without even checking if it was something necessary to do. I haven’t had to clean it once since then. Not even once!

And in the meantime I changed lots of lenses lots of times – if not for anything else to evaluate how each of my lenses performed on the new camera; and after that, naturally, to take lots and lots of pictures because I ended up enjoying the Nex 7 very much.

Why I switched from Canon to Sony

Why I switched from Canon to Sony: an update

Nor was I always changing lenses in a clean room, quite the opposite. Ninety-nine per cent of the times this happens in the woods, or on a beach, or under the snow falling, often with strong winds blowing and me trying to repair the camera exposed sensor with my body.

Remember: this is a mirrorless, so obviously the sensor does not enjoy the protection of a mirror nor the one of a shutter, because the shutter default position on a mirrorless is open. Dust resistance was the one point I was sure a mirrorless was inferior to a DSLR; boy was I wrong!

Actually I should have known better, because my Sony Nex 3, that I bought to experiment with the mirrorless idea to see if it was something I liked, proved to be extremely dust resistant as well; but in that case the difference in megapixels with the Canon could have made a difference, albeit a small one.

As a comparison against the Nex 7: with the same kind and degree of usage I had to clean the sensor of my Canon 5D Mark II pretty much every other week, or even more often. And all the same, usually during some of my best shooting sessions, a few ugly blobs used to appear out of the blue. Not small specks of dusts (there were plenty of them too) visible only at 100%, but ugly big nasty things clearly visible on the camera Lcd without magnification…

So kudos to Sony.

Open letter to Fuji and Sony: a wish list for my next camera

Fuji X100
Dear Fuji and Sony,

why this letter is addressed only to you two, and not to Canon and Nikon as well? After all they are bigger and older, so in a better position to make my wishes come true. Well, unless I’m missing something here these two haven’t presented a really innovative camera for years, happy to rest on their laurels. In the meanwhile, you Fuji and Sony both have revolutionized the way we use a camera (THANK YOU!!!).

But sure, if Canon and Nikon would like to wake up and join us that would be extremely nice: the more the merrier, as they say. I sure hope they will not embarrass themselves with halfhearted attempts like the Nikon V & J series, the Df or the Canon Eos-M. I shot for years with cameras of both brands, and these pathetic flops make me sad.

Nikon J1

Courtesy of Nikon press release

 

This wish list is not just about a new camera, but instead it is meant to put in evidence a bunch of characteristics that all together would render pretty much useless for me to buy a new one. You know, like in the film good old days, when you used to own a camera for at the very least a few years, if not for life as long as it worked fine.

Now, I can almost hear the marketing guys laughing. But think for a moment. The photography market is reaching (has reached?) a saturation point, and the newest generations use camera-phones instead of compact cameras anyway. Nobody will continue to buy a new camera every two years in this economy (and sorry to break this to you, but this is a structural crisis, so it is gonna last quite a bit). You should start using the market strategy of the makers of inkjet printers: living on accessories. In their case we are talking of ink; in yours of lenses, storage media & services, cases, bags, etc.

Moreover, a lot of camera makers in the film days where able to make a living just fine even if the people back then didn’t buy a new Hasselblad or Leica every other year. So it is feasible.

Now, the list. This is obviously the result of a mix a bit of personal tastes and heavily influenced by the kind of photography I shoot (landscapes and portraits, mostly), so take it with a grain of salt. A sport photographer, for example, will have really really different wishes. But, again, this is what different camera models are for.

Another difference compared to other similar lists is that is based on technologies already available, so no big spendings in R&D would be needed. So, let’s cut to the chase.

Contax G1

 

THE LIST

 

Sensor

  • More than 50 Megapixel, so we would be able to shoot square (cropping) at 36 Megapixel
  • Sensor-based stabilization, IBIS-like
  • Preferably full-frame, for the field of view. Aps-c if sensor based stabilization cannot be implemented of a full-frame sized one
  • Foveon-like (bigger pixels than a Bayer one; less color interpolation)
  • With high dynamic range (Sony A7r levels or better)

By the way, I can count on the fingers of a single hand the times I used anything higher than 100 Iso, so stop trying to make us see in the dark! You won this battle years ago.

 

Body

  • Mirrorless (obviously), small form factor
  • Viewfinder on the left side (Fuji X100 / Sony Nex 7); no bulges
  • Electronic viewfinder with split-image to focus manual focus lenses (Fuji X-T1) and electronic level (Fuji X100 / Sony Nex 7)
  • Electronic, completely silent shutter (Fuji X100 / Sony A7s)
  • Base and left side shaped so to be able to be locked on a standard Arca-style tripod clamp without additional quick-release plates (a man can dream…)

Sony Nex 3

Battery and charger

  • A normal lithium battery, but with a charger that uses the new tech (that has just been patented) capable to charge it in 30 seconds up to 90% of capacity
  • The charger has to come with a car lighter adapter (c’mon, it costs maybe 30 cents…)

 

Modes & any other business

  • P – A – S – M only, if possible on a dedicated dial. Please, please, please: no b***s**t modes
  • Bracketing on at least 5 stops, usable in conjunction with the self-release
  • The possibility of storing and applying to raw as well user-defined profiles for specific lenses (like Cornerfix), directly in camera
  • And just one last thing: please put a photographer to supervise the work of the engineers!!!

I really hope that one of you will make me happy. Like I said, the technology for all that is here already so it should not be difficult, and judging by the amount of landscape and portrait photographers out there there should be definitely a huge market for a similar camera. So: finger crossed!

 

P.s.: feel free to use the picture of the Contax G1 top as a template for the new camera command dials!