SURGERY ON THE VOIGTLANDER SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15MM III
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A GREAT LENS WITH AN EVEN BIGGER HANDICAP, THAT CAN HAPPILY BE FIXED WITH A LITTLE WORK: READ ALL ABOUT SURGERY ON THE VOIGTLANDER SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15MM III!
I never thought that one day I’d take a hacksaw to a lens, much less that I’d be doing surgery on the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm III! But hey, Voigtlander decided that a built-in lens hood was a fantastic idea to add to their Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 version III, and I disagreed. Sometimes, such radical disagreements can only be solved with drastic measures!
After testing the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 III against the Leica Tri-Elmar 16-18-21mm, I liked it so much for my landscape work that I decided to keep it. Next step, I started looking for a way to use my favourite 100mm square filters on it.
After almost 5 years working with Formatt-Hitech filters as a Brand Ambassador & Featured Artist (09.2016-05.2021), I am now looking for new filters to help me create my Fine Art landscape photographs. I am currently testing various options, and will update you as soon as I’ll have found the best, highest quality solution for my work.
After looking everywhere on the net for some ready-made solutions, I had to face the harsh truth: there were none. Thus, I started looking for ways to remove the built-in hood; after some more researching I found a photographer whom, back in 2015, did what I have just done today.
Let’s say that I got inspired, if you can call “inspiration” the urge of taking a hacksaw to a lens! Seriously though, since his results looked pretty good, I decided to give it a try. The Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm III is too good a lens for us landscape photographers to be left unfiltered! I simply couldn’t help it: I was a man on a mission, and I wouldn’t stop until I succeeded.
True, it was a bit nerve-wracking to think that I was going to saw pieces off a new lens, worth quite a chunk of cash. To calm myself down, I kept thinking that at least I wasn’t going to hack a Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 worth 5.000 euro! Before telling you how I did it, a serious disclaimer and a bit of advice, if I may. Here it is: Don’t do it unless you know what you are doing.
Or, better, let me at least be clear: taking a hacksaw to a lens will definitely void the lens’ warranty. If you aren’t careful, you’ll risk damaging the lens. More importantly, if you aren’t handy with tools you also risk hurting yourself in the process. Finally, this post is not meant as a suggestion to do something as crazy as I did, and I am in no way suggesting that you should go around the house looking for ways to chop off parts of your lenses. Basically, if you want to give it a try, you are on your own: there is no way I am taking responsibility for that.
With that out of the way, let the fun begin!
Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with Voigtlander 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.
What did I use:
– A hacksaw for metal, fine-toothed;
– Two flat files, one coarse, one fine-cut;
– 3 or 4 round felts of the type that goes under chairs, about 3 cm wide;
– Scotch-tape, preferably paper;
– Plastic stretch film, the kind you use in the kitchen;
– Elastic band, one;
– Sand paper, coarse and fine;
– A vacuum cleaner;
– A cleaning brush;
– Metal paint, black (I used satin enamel, for interiors and exteriors);
– A painting brush, flat.
Extra points: a vise, to help keeping the lens steady while filing it. While the procedure can be done without it as well, a vise certainly helps.
1. First of all, I needed to make sure that no metal dust or filings would get into the lens’ mechanism, or in contact with the lens’ glass surfaces. To do so, I glued a felt disc to a thin cardboard and taped it inside the filter ring to protect the front element of the lens. I choose paper scotch-tape because it’s very easy to take off and it leaves no residues. After that, I wrapped the lens in abundant plastic stretch film, using the elastic band to squeeze it tight just above the aperture ring.
2. Once I was reasonably sure that a. no metal dust or filings would get into the lens, and b. the lens’ front element was well protected against possible accidents, I grabbed my hacksaw and set off cutting the built-in lens hood’s four fins. I took care to leave a couple of millimetres out of each fin, to file them down later precisely and smoothly. During the sawing, I regularly used my vacuum cleaner to clean the filings and metal dust, trying to keep my workspace as clean as possible.
3. Once I cut all four fins off, I put the lens in the vise and started filing down the fins’ remains, starting with the coarse flat file first, followed by the fine-cut one. This actually took much longer than the sawing itself! Again, I vacuum cleaned the lens and my workspace at regular intervals, to keep things as clean as possible.
4. Once I was done with the filing, I used sandpaper to smooth the surface down and get it ready for painting.
5. To paint the lens’ ring I used black paint, obviously; my choice went on satin enamel, suitable for interiors and exteriors, so that the occasional rain wouldn’t do the lens any harm. More, I used paint with built-in primer to save time; I applied two coats of paint at a day interval, and the result seems durable enough. Time will tell.
6. Following my first field test with the lens, I decided to paint black the writings on the inner ring, which reflected on the filters and were visible in my images at very long exposures.
As you can see, the paint job is not fantastic, a brush will not do as good a job as spray paint; however, I didn’t want to risk using spray paint even if the lens was all packed up.
That’s it! The procedure went smoothly, without any problems or accidents, and even though I am obviously biased I think that the results are fantastic. I can finally easily attach my usual 100mm filter adapter to the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm III and use it like any other lens in my bag. Brilliant. Bias aside, this honestly looks like the lens Voigtlander should have produced in the first place. I still haven’t figured out Voigtlander’s rationale to use a built-in lens hood on this lens.
Below you’ll find a visual guide to the procedure (click on the images to enlarge):
Here you’ll find images of the lens after the surgery, together with a couple of ugly shots taken with a 1.5 Grad ND filter on it, angled about 45 degrees just to show that the adapter works just fine and that it doesn’t vignette (click on the images to enlarge):
I am pretty handy with tools and I always enjoyed doing manual work, model building and the like. So, despite being a bit worried that something could go wrong, I have to admit that besides being pushed by the motivation of using filters on this wonderful little lens I also had a lot of fun in doing the procedure.
That said, I really hope that Voigtlander will soon release a version IV of the Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 without the not-so-intelligent built-in hood: we aren’t all willing to take a hacksaw to our prized lenses! In the meantime, for the brave of heart and sure of hands, it’s good to know that there is a way to use your favourite square filters on the Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 III.
If you are curious about where I got my inspiration, click HERE.
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