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Gear

Learn about new gear, camera bodies, and lenses. Look here to learn about the tools of the trade. Perfect for a buyer looking to compare equipment and weigh the pros and cons. All products listed in the articles will be linked to a reasonable retailer. 

Gear Review  Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 Super-Wide Heliar in Sony E-mount

Andrew Mohrer

After receiving an overwhelmingly positive response on my first lens review I decided to try another. Much respect to the photographers who have been pumping them out over the years. Knowing that trying to put together a review the right way would be a lot of work, I still underestimated how much time it would take.

The next step was deciding which lens to choose. Shooting with wide angle lenses was enjoyable over the past few weeks (21mm & 18mm). It opened my eyes to some new compositions and gave me a different perspective. The widest lens in my personal collection is the Zeiss 25mm f/2.

The Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III has been on my radar since its release. It was originally made in VM-Mount for M-Mount cameras. With the popularity of the Sony A7 series Voigtlander decided to make an E-Mount version. We all know you can adapt almost any lens on the Sony mirrorless cameras but I truly believe you get the best results with native lenses. You can avoid the additional cost and size you get when adding an adapter. 

I was impressed by the build quality when picking up the lens for the first time while mounting it to the A7rii. Initial impression was the 15mm is a solid well made compact lens. It features a built-in hood and being an E-Mount lens you won't lose your exif data.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/500 - Inside the New York Public Library.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/500 - Inside the New York Public Library.

I was excited to get out and start shooting immediately. This lens is no speed demon at f/4.5 but that's not such a concern during daylight hours. Natural light and fast lenses are a big part of what defines my style, so this was a big change of pace for me. More recently a lot of my street shots have been made during the late night hours using low light.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 8000 1/20 - Here is a perfect example of what you can do with 1/20 of a second and ISO 8000. Sure there is some motion and grain, but I love it!

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 8000 1/20 - Here is a perfect example of what you can do with 1/20 of a second and ISO 8000. Sure there is some motion and grain, but I love it!

A couple of years ago this lens wouldn't have been an option to be considered for any type of low light photography. It's still not the ideal lens for this type of work but with the amazing low light ability of the A7rii, shooting at higher ISO's doesn't look so bad. Combine that with the IBIS and you can shoot a night scene without much problem. 

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III ISO 6400 - 1/50 - Shooting at night in NYC hunting out light sources!

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III ISO 6400 - 1/50 - Shooting at night in NYC hunting out light sources!

Being the 3rd version of this lens, Voigtlander really perfected the design of the SUPER WIDE-HELIAR. The first two versions were known to suffer from color shifts and heavy vignetting. When adapted to the Sony mirrorless cameras, significant corner smearing was also evident. This third version of the lens is now available in the traditional VM-Mount and E-mount. Using the E-mount version on my Sony improves on these issues in a big way.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/125 - The new terminal for the 7 line, Hudson Yards 34th Street.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/125 - The new terminal for the 7 line, Hudson Yards 34th Street.

Another welcomed feature that you get when using the E-mount version of this lens is the added value of focus peaking. Like the Loxia line of lenses, once you rotate the focus ring it kicks in. I also notice a focusing scale that I don't remember seeing previously. 

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/160 - One of the many interesting room inside the New York Public Library.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/160 - One of the many interesting room inside the New York Public Library.

Shooting at 15mm is a whole new world to me, so much wider then the 21mm I Was using a couple weeks prior. I would call it somewhat of a specialty lens, but definitely nice to have in your bag of tricks. The distortion wasn't nearly as bad as I would have expected. The images posted in this review all had some degree of distortion correction in lightroom or photoshop. I'm running the latest versions and it's as simple as a click of a button.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/500 - A rare find, a completely empty NYC subway car!

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/500 - A rare find, a completely empty NYC subway car!

I've heard people say this lens isn't sharp in the corners. It's possible that they received bad copies because I would say this lens was sharp across the board. In fact the details where quite impressive when viewing the images at home. My first day out shooting with this little 15mm was underwhelming after checking my results. It was a bit of a learning curve on how to approach shooting at this focal length. As the week went on the keepers started racking up.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/100 - Chinatown streets at night are always interesting to me. You can feel the whole scene with the 15mm!

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/100 - Chinatown streets at night are always interesting to me. You can feel the whole scene with the 15mm!

You're not looking to do up-close portraits at 15mm. You're not going to be buying this lens for the bokeh. It's almost impossible to create any background blur at f/4.5 at this focal length. What you are looking for is detail and low distortion and manageable CA, and the Voigtlander comes through with these characteristics. I did notice the focus ring seemed to be slightly loose, possibly because the lens I was using was a demo.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/80 - A late night train ride. Love the lines in this one.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/80 - A late night train ride. Love the lines in this one.

Looking back at the pictures I made with this lens over the course of 3 weeks, it doesn't look like my ISO was ever set lower then 1600. Even during the day you have to really boost the ISO to get a suitable shutter speed. I do wish the lens was faster but of course this would change the design of the lens.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 6400 1/125 - Carnegie Hall in the background. Using the 15mm to create one of my classic street scenes.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 6400 1/125 - Carnegie Hall in the background. Using the 15mm to create one of my classic street scenes.

If you're looking for a compact super-wide angle lens for your Sony, look no further! Just be sure that the slow speed of this lens won't interfere with your style of photography. If you're doing landscape or architectural work I wouldn't see it being a problem. If you find yourself in more lowlight situations or doing astrophotography this may not be the best option. In that case you may want to check out the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8. It is also three times as expensive and twice the size and weight. You would also need an adapter to use it on your Sony. It is safe to say the optics are better but you have to weigh your options.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/80 - At 15mm it's amazing how much of this iconic scene at Grand Central you can fit in to the frame. 

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/80 - At 15mm it's amazing how much of this iconic scene at Grand Central you can fit in to the frame. 

In conclusion, after spending several weeks with the Voigtlander it began to grow on me. My results seemed to be getting better each day, I didn't want to give it back! It took some time adjusting to life at 15mm but it produced some beautiful shots in my opinion. I'll leave you with a couple more pictures. Hopefully they speak for themselves, enjoy...

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 1600 1/160 - You really need to push in close to get a shot like this!

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 1600 1/160 - You really need to push in close to get a shot like this!

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/50 - I have been wanting to take a shot of this 24 hour car wash in the Bronx for a while.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 3200 1/50 - I have been wanting to take a shot of this 24 hour car wash in the Bronx for a while.

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 6400 1/13 - This corner was way darker then it appears in this image. I used the slow shutter to my advantage and captured some motion and love the results. Yellow taxi's have given me endless inspiration over the years...

Sony A7Rii + Voigtlander SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm F4.5 III - ISO 6400 1/13 - This corner was way darker then it appears in this image. I used the slow shutter to my advantage and captured some motion and love the results. Yellow taxi's have given me endless inspiration over the years...

Special thanks to William Juseck and the good people over at Photo Village in NYC for lending me the lens. It was my first time visiting their showroom. If you're a Leica fan you should check them out. It's a beautiful place with a great selection of new and used gear, and they are an official distributor of Voigtlander lenses for North America.

See more from Andrew Mohrer at www.andrewmohrer.com

6 Months with the Leica APO Summicron-M 50mm

Stephen Cosh

By Stephen Cosh 

I’m a 50mm guy. For whatever reason, be it scientific or psychological, I just prefer shooting a 50mm over any other focal length. In my six or seven years of shooting Leica M bodies, I’ve owned pretty much all the modern Leica 50mm’s, a few of the classics and a few non-Leica brands.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/16, ISO 320

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/16, ISO 320

Until recently I thought that the Leica Summilux-M 50mm was without a doubt the best 50mm lens on the market. I’ve shot with it for four years and loved every minute of it. I’ve got to know the lens inside out and would have been happy shooting with it for the rest of my life.

However, when Leica announced the APO Summicron back in 2012 to much fanfare and exaltation, I decided to look into it. There were crazy claims flying about – some called it the best Leica lens ever made, some said it was even the best lens of all time, but it turned out I was going to have to wait a long time to find out how true these claims were.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 400

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 400

I put an order in for one with my local dealer and after waiting around six months, I started noticing articles on the internet pop up mentioning flare issues and that Leica were binning 9 out of 10 that they produced due to production complications. I really didn’t fancy forking out a fortune just to be a guinea pig, so I cancelled my order with my dealer and went back to being happy (more than happy) with my Summilux.

A few years went by and I just happened to be in the Leica Mayfair boutique in February and there were two APO’s in stock. I asked the shop manager if the flare and production issues had been sorted and he confirmed they had. The lens had actually dropped slightly in price as well and I decided to buy it there and then.

So now I’ve had the lens for a little over six months, shoot almost exclusively with it and thought it was about time I wrote up my findings.

 

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 25,000

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 25,000

I know the claims out there. I’ve heard it called “technically perfect” and “the best render of any lens ever”, but rather than be sensational about it, I’m just going to simply state that it is the best lens I’ve ever used. Not just the best 50mm lens. Not even just the best full frame lens (I shoot S lenses too), but the best lens I’ve used period.

Ok, so that is a big claim, especially when it doesn’t render nearly as good as a APO-Summicron-S 120mm, but for a blend of reasons, it is the best lens I have ever used.

Here’s why…

  1. I shoot black and white and primarily on a Monochrome Typ 246. The APO is perfectly matched to this sensor. It has resolving capabilities superior to any other Leica M lens and suits the high resolution, Bayer filter-free Monochrom sensor perfectly.
  2. It has much more contrast than any other Leica M lens and therefor tricks the eye into thinking the image is sharper.
  3. It “is” optically sharper than any other Leica M lens due to the aspherical design and modern apochromatic correction. When I say “optically sharper”, I mean it’s “way” sharper.
  4. Leica have been accused recently of producing lenses that render too clinically. The APO renders classically on the Monochrome sensor and the grain at high ISO’s is so film-like it’s actually welcome. On the M240 colour sensor, the colour rendering is so correct that very little processing is required and of course it shows very little to no chromatic aberration.
  5. The unique sharpness of this lens wide open produces a level of subject separation that I’ve never experienced on any other lens in any other format. You will have heard people talking about Leica’s 3D image quality, the APO is like 4D!
  6. The thing I loved about the 50mm Summilux was it’s creamy bokeh. The APO is not quite as creamy, but it’s every bit as charming and you don’t need the extra stop that the Summilux has to achieve it. At f/2, the APO renders a lovely, clean, swirl free bokeh.
  7. The build quality is worth mentioning too as Leica have raised the bar with this lens. It feels solid and exact. Leica’s build quality on any lens has never been in question, but the APO just feels better. The built in hood is genius!
  8. It’s highly useable. This might seem a strange thing to say about a lens, but when you are shooting moving subjects such as people in the street, short focus ring travel is essential. The APO’s focus ring travel is small and precise. The lens is also short and light. At under 50mm in length and weighing in at only 300g, it is noticeably smaller and lighter than the Summilux.
    (Qualification: The most unusable lens I have ever shot with is the Noctilux.)

So for the reasons above, I’ve fallen in love with this lens and it’s never off my mount.c

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320

The last thing to talk about is price. This is an expensive lens. At the time of writing it is £5200 / $8000 / €7150. A lot of money.

However, if you’re in the market for this lens, you’ve probably looked at or owned a 50mm Noctilux, which is dearer and trust me, nowhere near as useable, as sharp or as portable as the APO. You may also have looked at the 50mm Summilux which at the time of writing is about half the price of the APO. Is the APO twice as good as the Summilux? No, it’s not, but consider the compactness of the lens, it’s awesome sharpness and it’s ability to separate subjects like no other lens in existence and the spend becomes more convincing.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320

Image quality is subjective and open to differing opinions, but to reinforce my experience with the APO I’ve included a few unprocessed comparison shots between the APOand the Summilux below…

 

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 2500

Summilux-M 50mm, f/1.4, ISO 2500

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25,000

Summilux-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25,000

If you decide the APO Summicron-M is your next 50mm lens, let me know if you’re as delighted with it as I am.

See more from Stephen Cosh at 

www.stephencosh.co.uk and theleicameet.wordpress.com

 

Macro Photography–Leica M & Macro-Elmar-M 90mm and Leica T w 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T

Mikeual Perritt

Macro Photography has one [of several] definition by Wikipedia that states “…extreme close-up photography, usually of very small subjects, in which the size of the subject in the photograph is greater than life size….”  I do not consider it constrained to macro lenses.  Leica [and other manufacturers] have several lenses with exceptional resolution that allow photography at close ranges with resulting images of large size.  Within the Leica family the 1:2 reproduction ratio of the Macro-Elmar-M 90mm is optimum, but the 75mm APO-Summicron has a reproduction ratio of 1:7 at .7m distance and the 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T has a 1:7.5 ratio at 56mm [85mm equivalent for 35mm full frame] at .45m.  Any lens with exceptional resolution across most of the image will produce large images that are striking in detail and impressive to view. 

 The attached photographs and this article are based on my more recent use of the M (typ 240) with the Electronic View Finder EVF2 and 90 mm Macro-Elmar 90mm f/4 lens with macro-adapter.  My previous Leica and other camera/lens combinations have been a great learning experience over the years, but my current Leica equipment has provided the most rewarding results.  They have been best suited for my style of photography because the Leica equipment is significantly smaller and easier to handle and the resolution/contrast/color rendition of Leica lenses is exceptional.  The EVF and camera also allow magnification of 5x and 10x along with a focusing aid that indicates the contrast areas in focus–as my eyesight has not kept up with my aspirations in photography this is a most welcomed aid to capturing my best images. 

 My pursuit of flowers, bees, and butterflies!  Macro photography of these subjects began in San Antonio TX in 1994 when we purchased a house with an “English Garden.”  The first learning experience is that even though it had an English Garden, butterflies are not necessarily attracted to those blossoms, in spite of their convenience.  One needs to research any specific subject that you want to photograph.  In this case, what species of plants attract butterflies, which season of the year are they in bloom, and what time of the day is best [in addition to what time is the lighting optimal] come into play.  Wind is a significant factor–butterflies move with the plants and if you are seeking to photograph something different, like a Japanese cherry blossom where the very delicate petals of the blossom are constantly moving during the time of the year they blossom.  Nature does not always conform to your desired schedule–one needs patience and when the conditions are right, you must be prepared to take advantage.  Keep in mind most macro photography at close ranges means your depth of field is very shallow, even at f/4 or 5.6.  Stopping down diminishes the shutter speed or if the ISO is adjusted upward the detail will [at some point] start to diminish. 

 My most recent experience with macro–in August my wife Laura and I noted a striking black/yellow/white banded caterpillar on a milkweed she had planted the previous year.  It is supposed to attract butterflies and is a primary feeding plant for Monarchs.  We were able to identify it as a Monarch caterpillar having a feast–leaf by leaf as it munched its way across the milkweed.  Eventually we had 3 Monarch caterpillars, but nearing the end of their cycle of feasting two disappeared.  More research revealed they often crawl 20-30 feet away and find a safe place to attach before they go into the pupa (chrysalis) stage, but we were fortunate to have at least one remain on the plant.  Ever seen those nice butterfly photos that are almost perfect?  Quite often these may be taken by removing the pupae into a controlled environment for observation and control for photography.  It may be something to consider, but I preferred to let Mother Nature take its course and see what I could achieve photographing outside.  This proved to be most rewarding, especially the backgrounds in the photos.  Within the chrysalis you can see the metamorphosis take place. 

 These photos are sequential in the cycle of the Monarch, from caterpillar to pupa (chrysalis) to a butterfly. Photos were taken 20 Aug., 23 Aug., 23 Aug., 1 Sept., and the last 3 of the emerged butterfly on 2 Sept. 2015.

I was relatively lucky with the timing.  Early on the 2nd I went out to check the pupa and discovered the butterfly had just emerged.  The 4th photo taken is the one I selected, followed by quite a few more.  In the sequence only a few captured the butterfly with spread wings.  After it climbed to the top of the leaf and up the stem, again spreading its wings, I sensed it was about to depart and quickly took the last photo without benefit of accurate focusing.  By the time the shutter had operated it had flown off.  It left me a bit frustrated with the quick departure, but elated to have captured the event. 

Some other butterflies from our garden include the yellow and black Appalachian or Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the charcoal with blue and orange marked Spicebush Swallowtail.

 

 

Some examples of blossom photos and other insects were taken at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, just west of Wilmington, Delaware.  Such gardens provide greater opportunity for photographing flowers, various other plants and trees, and several of our flying friends if you do not have close access to a location that attracts them. 

The following images were taken at Longwood Gardens.  

The caterpillar, wasp, and orchid were taken with the Leica T with the 18-56mm Vario-Elmar.  The water lily was photographed with the 75mm APO-Summicron-M f/2. 

A few last photos within the macro range:  First is an image of cherry buds encased in ice.  As it is melting two drops of water are captured.  The aperture blades shape light reflections–I was shooting almost into the sun.  It shows the issue of dealing with light coming almost directly into the lens and a possibility to add a different element. 

The second image is a partial blossom from a Yashino Cherry Tree, which is the same species as the majority of the famous Japanese cherry trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington DC.  I took this photo in a mist/light rain.  It was a good lesson on dealing with wet conditions. 

The last photo is a bumblebee on the same milkweed where we discovered the Monarch caterpillar.  It bloomed earlier in the summer during mid July.  We never observed any butterflies during that time, but I did capture the bee and blossoms. 

One last thought–backgrounds in the photos.  It is important and often difficult to keep them from being a distraction or not allowing important small details to be seen.  Improving the depth of field to improve the macro photo works against the bokeh or having a blurred background to reduce distractions from the main subject, so it is important to pay attention to this aspect.  Often the adjacent subjects add the needed context to make the photo better, or make the setting appear natural.

 

If you have any comments or questions you may contact me at M@AtelierM.com.  Please use a subject with Blog Article or Macro Photography in the subject so I will not file your email in a place where they may not be retrieved. 

Mikeual Perritt [Michael] September 2015

Personal Background:  I am a retired architect now enjoying fine art and photography.  Photography was essential during school and in the profession.  It is now a significant activity in my life–an enjoyable one.  Besides architecture, with interest in [but not limited to] Jugendstil or Art Nouveau and Bauhaus influenced or the Neue Moderne, I also enjoy landscape, mechanical objects [from door knobs to steam locomotives] and certainly people.