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 It was originally made in VM-Mount for M-Mount cameras.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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