LEICA TRI-ELMAR 16-18-21MM VS VOIGTLANDER 15MM III REVIEW

Leica Tri-Elmar 16-18-21mm f/4 & Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm III

I MOVED TO THE LEICA SL SYSTEM TO EASILY USE EXTREME WIDE-ANGLE LENSES AS WELL, SO LET'S SEE HOW THEY WORK IN THIS LEICA TRI-ELMAR 16-18-21MM VS THE VOIGTLANDER SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15MM III REVIEW!

The idea for this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review originated when I moved from the Pentax 645z to the Leica SL system (click on A LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER IN-DEPTH LEICA SL REVIEW to read my review of the Leica SL). In fact, one of the main reasons to move was the ability of using extreme wide-angle lenses, something that medium format doesn’t let you do yet.

During my Workshops in Scotland, I used my Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH on the Leica SL with great results. However, I was also curious to see how the new and improved Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III would perform, so I got myself a new copy of it from my good friends at NEWOLDCAMERA in Milan (highly recommended!) and set out to compare the two.

Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with Leica, Voigtlander or NewOldCamera in any way. I am a professional photographer looking for the best equipment for my work, I buy all my gear with my hard-earned cash and I don’t get paid by anyone to write articles for my blog.

BUILD, SIZE AND WEIGHT
Let’s start this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review by comparing the lenses’ size and bulk. As you can see from the image on the right (click to enlarge), both lenses are very small and light.

The Voigtlander is a bit smaller overall, being 1.7cm shorter than the Leica and just 0.7cm wider (mostly due to its built-in lens hood). The Voigtlander is also about 90 gr lighter.Both lenses in this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review, while small, are built like the proverbial tank. Their all-metal bodies feel extremely solid, with no play or rattling sounds.

Both lenses have half-stop aperture rings with very precise clicks. The Voigtlander’s aperture ring feels a bit better dampened, but the lens is newer than the Leica so that may change with time and use.

The Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH’s focus ring is quite thin, and while it has a focusing tab it lacks grooves or anything else to distinguish it by touch from the rest of the lens barrel. The lens is rangefinder coupled until 0.7m (about 2.3 ft.) and then it uncouples and keeps focusing up to 0.5m. To get it to uncouple, you’ll have to overcome a point of resistance. During focusing, the ring feels perfectly dampened and smooth up to 0.7m but after passing the uncoupling point, its action becomes much rougher.

The Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III’s focus ring is larger than the Tri-Elmar’s and doesn’t have a tab. On the other hand, it features grooves allowing you to feel it immediately by touch. The lens also focuses as close as 0.5m, but while it is also rangefinder coupled only up to 0.7m, there aren’t any changes in focusing action all over the range.

During focusing, neither lens’ size changes, nor their filter ring turns. More, the Tri-Elmar stays the same size also when zooming.

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USE OF FILTERS
As a landscape photographer, being able to use my beloved 100mm Formatt-Hitech Firecrest square filters is of paramount importance for me when I choose a lens. In fact, I wouldn’t even consider a lens that wouldn’t let me use them, and the easier the solution to do so, the better.

Unfortunately, both lenses featured in this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review make it a bit difficult for us to use filters. Let’s see why.

The Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH has a screw-in lens hood, and no filter ring. To be able to use filters, you have to unscrew the lens hood and screw a 67 mm filter adapter in its place (part no. 14473). Your wallet will be about $100 US lighter, but you’ll be able to use filters with it as you please.

However, the adapter, being built for the Leica M, has two cut-out windows to let you see through it when you compose using a rangefinder. This, in turn, will create unwanted reflections when using filters, and more dramatically so when doing long exposures.

To use filters for landscape with the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH, I recommend you tape the openings with black tape to prevent this from happening.

Last, please note that most 100mm square filter holders out there will vignette using the Leica Tri-Elmar used at its 16mm focal length.

The Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III, on the other hand, features a built-in 58 mm filter thread. Quite incomprehensibly, though, Voigtlander decided to make the lens hood non-removable, making it impossible to use landscape-standard square filters with it.

There is a workaround, though, but it involves cutting off the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III’s built-in lens hood’s fins. I did it (see SURGERY ON THE VOIGTLANDER SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15MM III), but you may not be inclined to do the same to your lens. A built-in lens hood, Voigtlander, really? What were you thinking?

If you haven’t got your filters yet, get your kit on FORMATT-HITECH or FORMATT-HITECH USA at a 10% discount using code

VIERIB10

at checkout. Disclaimer: I am a Formatt-Hitech Signature Artist and Brand Ambassador.

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USING M LENSES ON THE LEICA SL
Both lenses in this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review are native M lenses. To use them on the Leica SL, you’ll need the Leica M-adapter T (part no. 18771).

Attaching the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH to the adapter, and the adapter to your camera, your Leica SL will automatically recognise the lens’ 6-bit code and let you select 16, 18 or 21mm from the related menu. Attaching the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III to the adapter, and the adapter to your camera, on the other hand won’t do anything automatically. While I’d definitely recommend not coding the lens as any Leica lens, you’ll have the option to do so in the Leica SL’s lens menu if you wish to do so.

For this article, I tested the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH at 16mm and coded it as such, while I left the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III uncoded.

Manually focusing such extreme wide-angle lenses is much easier and more precise with the Leica SL than using any Leica M’s rangefinder. A push of the Leica SL’s joystick will activate focus magnification, and you’ll be able to move your magnified area around the frame using the joystick itself for easy focusing. Once focused, a second click on the joystick or a half-press of the shutter will bring you back to full frame view. While it may sound complicated, this process will become second nature very fast and the results are perfect every time. Some may prefer to focus their lens wide open and stop it down before taking an image. While this is certainly preferable, if possible, I found that you can focus either lens directly at working apertures with very good results as well.

More, while you can focus both lenses only down to 0.7m on a Leica M, on the Leica SL you can focus them precisely as close as 0.5m. While the Tri-Elmar’s focus ring’s “roughing up when passing the 0.7m mark” solution might help you on a Leica M to understand that your rangefinder has been uncoupled, I find the Super Wide-Heliar III’s “stay smooth over the whole focus range” solution much better when working with the Leica SL.

SHARPNESS AT INFINITY
Internet reports suggest that the Leica M-adapter L adapter might be manufactured with a 0.09 mm tolerance, in order to enable all possible adapted lenses to focus to infinity. This is consistent with my findings, and unfortunately this might (and very likely will) make the infinity hard stop position of a “correct” lens wrong when using it on the Leica SL. If, as I do, you rely on muscle memory and on the infinity stop to focus your lenses, you might find this disturbing while working. To overcome this problem, for this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review I manually focused all images, without trusting the infinity hard stop of either lenses.

For your reference, after focusing them manually at infinity, the lenses’ actual focus rings indicated the 5m mark for the Leica Tri-Elmar, and very close to infinity for the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar III.

Methodology: both lenses were manually focused at infinity using the tree in the middle of the center red crop as my focus point, using the Leica SL’s focus magnification feature. I then took a series of pictures with each lens in aperture mode starting from wide open to f/16; finally, I prepared 900 x 600px, 100% crops of the three zones in red (center, lower left and mid right) to examine sharpness up close. Let’s see the full pictures first, wide open (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s now examine the centre series, starting with the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH at 16mm (click on the images to enlarge):

And now the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III (click on the images to enlarge):

As you can see, both lenses performed impressively in the center, showing amazing sharpness wide open. However, the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III is slightly sharper at infinity in the center than the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH. The Voigtlander stays equally sharp from f/4.5 to f/8, and after that diffraction kicks in softening the image. The Leica, on the other hand, shows very minor focus shift, getting slightly softer at f/5.6 and f/8, sharper again at f/11 (probably thanks to depth of field) and softer again at f/16 due to diffraction.

Let’s move to the mid-right side of the frame, again starting with the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH at 16mm (click on the images to enlarge):

And now the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III (click on the images to enlarge):

Both lenses in this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review put in a very impressive performance here. Again, the Voigtlander is sharper than the Leica wide-open, and it stays sharper until f/8. Best aperture for both here is f/8, where they are equally sharp, and after that diffraction kicks in softening the image equally for both lenses.

Let’s see what happens in the lower left corner, once more starting with the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH at 16mm (click on the images to enlarge):

And now the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III (click on the images to enlarge):

Wide-open, neither lens is really sharp into the corner. Stopping down helps things considerably: the Voigtlander becomes sharp into the extreme corner at f/11, while the Leica gets there at f/16, despite diffraction.

Overall, it is interesting to notice how in this infinity series the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III outperformed the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH at any aperture.

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SHARPNESS AT CLOSE FOCUS AND BOKEH
For this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review, I set my point of focus in a “difficult” area such as the corner of the frame, shooting the lens into the sun. Thus, together with sharpness at close distances we can examine flare resistance, chromatic aberrations in areas of strong contrast, and the rendition of out of focus areas as well (as much as you can get any, of course, with such slow and wide lenses). Let’s see the full pictures first, wide open (click on the images to enlarge):

Now, let’s look at 900 x 600px, 100% crops, starting with the point of focus, the Phillips screw right under the red flag. Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH at 16mm first (click on the images to enlarge):

And the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III (click on the images to enlarge):

Both lenses pulled off a great performance here, and both lenses are at their best at f/8. Stopping further down, sharpness starts to decline due to diffraction.

Let’s see now how both lenses behave on the mid left side of the frame, again starting with the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH at 16mm (click on the images to enlarge):

And the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III (click on the images to enlarge):

Both lenses behaved similarly here, reaching maximum sharpness at f/16 thanks to the help of depth of field. While ultra-wide-angle lenses wouldn’t be my first choice for bokeh, and while therefore I wouldn’t choose either of these lenses for their ability to isolate a subject via selective focus, both offer a pleasant rendition of out-of-focus areas stopping down along the aperture range.

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SHARPNESS CONCLUSIONS
OK, let’s try to drive this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review’s long sharpness test to a close. In short, I was very impressed and pleased to see how sharp both lenses are; even more so, considering their ultra-wide focal lengths.

At infinity, in order to make use of all the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH’s sharpness, you need to focus it manually on the Leica SL. Thankfully, this is very easy to do using the focus magnification features of the camera. If you’ll trust the lens’ infinity hard stop, on the other hand, you’ll be robbed of much of the lens’ sharpness. The Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III, on the other hand, suffers less from the Leica M-adapter T’s tolerances when focussed using its hard stop at infinity, and could be used that way if you preferred with a negligible penalty in resolution.

That said, however, no matter how you focus them, the Voigtlander is the sharper lens at infinity. Extremely sharp in the centre at all apertures, it performs better all over the frame. More, the Leica seems to suffer from a little bit of focus shift, while the Voigtlander does not.

At close focusing distances, on the other hand, both lenses are equally extremely sharp. I find drawing of either lens very pleasant, with the Voigtlander showing a smoother sharpening curve along the aperture series. Colour rendition of both lenses is very pleasant to my eye; as often happens, the Leica has slightly warmer colours than the Voigtlander, which some might prefer.

FLARE & CHROMATIC ABERRATIONS
As you can see in the full images at close focussing distance above, which were shot directly against the sun, both lenses showed remarkable flare resistance, and didn’t show any chromatic aberrations in areas of strong contrast at any aperture.

VIGNETTE AND COLOUR CAST
To test for vignette and colour cast, in this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review I shot a perfectly white wall evenly illuminated using my Elinchrom Quadra flashes. Let’s see the results, starting with the Voigtlander left uncoded (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s see now what happens using the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III’s lens profile in Adobe Camera Raw (click on the images to enlarge):

Finally, let’s see the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH, coded in-camera as Leica Tri-Elmar 16mm (click on the images to enlarge):

As you can see, the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III left uncorrected shows quite a bit of vignette wide open. Stopping it down to f/5.6 helps things quite a bit, and while there is a slight improvement at f/8, stopping the lens further doesn’t make much difference. As well, the lens shows an evident blue colour cast when left uncorrected. Using Adobe Camera Raw’s profile for this lens, however, fixes all vignette and colour cast problems with just a click of the mouse.

The Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH, on the other hand, while not showing any colour cast, even when coded using its in-camera profile, starts off with a tiny bit of vignette wide-open. Vignette then clears from f/5.6 onwards.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review, I didn’t code the Voigtlander in camera. One of my reasons for doing do is that I was curious to see if, left uncoded, the lens would show any “Italian flag” colour cast on the image’s sides as the older versions did. I am happy to report that it did not: Voigtlander fixed this issue, as promised. It did show some prominent vignette, though, and a little blue cast. Luckily, Adobe Camera Raw offers you an easy way to fix that, if you wish to do so, using the dedicated lens profile.

DISTORTION
To check for distortion, as always, I photographed my uninspiring but pretty useful garage door which, with its straight metal lines, provides me with a good test scene. For your convenience, to help you check for distortion easier I slightly increased contrast, added straight red lines in PP, turned the image horizontal and cut the frame in two, leaving just the top half of the frame (click on the images to enlarge):

Both lenses, when coded and profiled, are extremely well corrected and almost distortion-free, which is no mean feat for lenses so wide.

CONCLUSIONS
Leica SL users are very lucky when it comes to both lenses examined in this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review. Both lenses are optically great in perfectly built, very small and light packages. In short, these are the main differences between these lenses:

The Voigtlander 15mm Super Wide-Heliar III:
1. Is sharper at infinity all over the frame, both focused manually and using its hard stop;
2. Can be focused at infinity trusting its infinity hard stop using the Leica SL + Leica M-adapter T;
3. Is slightly smaller and lighter;
4. Has a filter ring, but to use square filters you have to hack the lens hood;
5. Focuses down to 0.5m seamlessly and smoothly;
6. Has a focus ring sculpted with grooves and easier to find by touch;
7. Outputs slightly cooler colours, which you might prefer.

The Leica 16-18-21mm Tri-Elmar:
1. Offers 3 focal lengths in one lens;
2. Must be focused manually on the Leica SL at infinity to show its potential;
3. Has no filter ring, but through an adapter you can use any filter without having to take a saw to it;
4. Focuses down to 0.5m, but focus action becomes rough (and unpleasant, in this reviewer’s opinion) after 0.7m;
5. Focus ring is nondescript and impossible to find by touch, but it features a focussing tab, which you may prefer;
6. Controls vignette better (however, the Voigtlander 15mm has an Adobe Camera Raw profile that fixes it perfectly, while the coding does not up to f/5.6);
7. Outputs slightly warmer colours, which you might prefer.

In every other aspect, both lenses performed equally well. I’d say that if you use circular filters (or once you hacked the lens hood!) the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III is the best lens for landscape, thanks to its extra sharpness at far distances, cooler colour rendition and easier to use focus ring & focus action, while the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH is better for people shooting, i.e. street or reportage work, thanks to its warmer colours.

Last but not least, a very important point to consider. B&H prices, July 16th, 2016 for these lenses are:

– The Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III costs $699,00 US
– The Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH costs $5.895,00 US

Both lenses are great, and both have their strength versus the other. But is the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH really worth 8.5 times the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III’s price? Only you can decide that, based on your needs and on the results above. For my work, the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III is the better lens, so I hacked its lens hood’s fins (see my SURGERY ON THE VOIGTLANDER SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15MM III to know how I did it) to be able to use my usual square filters with it and decided to keep it. The Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH will be for sale soon.

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Thanks for reading this Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH vs Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical III review, I hope you enjoyed it! Why don’t you share it with your friends, or drop me a comment to let me know how you feel about this?

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JOIN THE DISCUSSION

5 thoughts on “LEICA TRI-ELMAR 16-18-21MM VS VOIGTLANDER 15MM III REVIEW”

  1. Hi, I completely agree with you on the Voigtlander 15mm/4.5 lens. I bought that in HK with a B+W UV filter for HKD6000.00 and then I took the SL and this lens to Singapore to complete my “City Life Asia” project. The result of this lens at f/8 is really amazing. I coded that to the 16mm Tri-Elmar profile. I think Vignetting is well controlled in the camera. This is the link to bring up the Sugarsync Web gallery of this picture in Singapore:

    https://www.sugarsync.com/pf/D7078399_94586513_6362543

    Thanks, it is a wonderful comparison!

    Kingson
    Hong Kong & Singapore

    Reply
    • Hello Kingson,

      I am glad you found my review useful and agreed with my findings, thanks. I prefer to keep vignette uncorrected most of the times, and therefore I normally don’t code it.

      Best,

      Vieri

      Reply
  2. Thanks for your excellent review!

    I had the first version of the Voigtländer 15mm (as well as the 12mm), that worked quite well on the Leica M8, but on the Leica M9 it produced awkward color fringes, so I sold it again.

    On the M-P (240), I had the chance to test the Tri-Elmar. Its optical and build quality impressed me very much, but I finally opted to buy the 21mm Super-Elmar and the VM 15 III. I have been hesitating for a long time as there seem to be a lot of sample variations, so your review reassured me that it was the right choice for my purposes.

    It seems that the sensor of the Leica M10 has been improved for wide angle lenses. In an interview the developpers said that even Voigtländer lenses now deliver better image quality. On the Leica M10, the VM Super-Wide-Heliar III is now rangefinder-coupled until 0.6m and my first impressions with this combo are very positive. I manually coded the lens 11606 (it seems the 2.8/28mm profile works best, but perhaps there is even a better choice) to correct vignetting inside the camera and then choose the VM 15 III profile in Lightroom.

    Before cutting off the lens hood, you might perhaps consider the Bombo Laser 100 adapter
    http://bombophoto.com/shop/bombo-holder/av15-iii . I, however, don’t know how well it is built as I don’t have it – I hardly ever use filters on the Leica.

    Reply
    • Hello Wolfgang,

      thank you for your comment. Indeed the history of wide and ultra-wide angle with digital Leica M is long and not an easy one; the short flange distance makes it very difficult to get rid of colour casts, but with every new iteration of the M, with every new iteration of lens design and with improvements in lens profiles we are now at a point where using ultra-WA on the M is perfectly feasible.

      About correcting the lens, my suggestion is definitely NOT to use any in-camera correction for Voigtlander lenses, and apply Photoshop (or Lightroom) profiles instead. I found that using double profiles introduces all sort of problems, such as strange distortions, strange colour casts and the like.

      About cutting the lens hood, thank you for your suggestion but it’s too late, I already did it months ago :) You can see the result here:

      https://vieribottazzini.com/2016/08/surgery-voigtlander-super-wide-heliar-15mm-iii.html

      back then, I wasn’t aware of the Bombo adapters (perhaps they were not on the market yet, or not advertised). However, it is funny you mention them because I placed an order last week for the 10mm and 12mm v. III adapters, which are now waiting for me at the courier. I shall get them next Thursday, and will experiment with them during next month: if they work, I’ll make sure to write a review here, because being able to filter the 10mm and 12mm would be fundamental for my work.

      Thanks again, have a great weekend

      Vieri

      Reply
      • I forgot: one other reason for NOT using lens profiles in camera is that applying a profile later in PS gives you the chance of deciding whether to correct for vignetting or not, and in case for how much of it, which I find very useful versus having all vignette removed by default – at times I need vignette for expressive purposes, so taking it out and putting it back in doesn’t make much sense, and besides that, correcting for vignette often introduces noise and other artefacts (it is, in the end, an application of exposure compensation after the fact).

        Best,

        Vieri

        Reply

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