VOIGTLANDER SUPER-WIDE HELIAR 15MM IN-DEPTH REVIEW ON THE HASSELBLAD X1D
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THE NEVER-ENDING QUEST FOR WIDE: VOIGTLANDER SUPER-WIDE HELIAR 15MM ON X1D IN-DEPTH REVIEW!
The Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III is one of the widest options for the X1D system: read in this Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III in-depth review my thoughts about it!
Doing a Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III in-depth review on the Hasselblad X1D might seem an odd thing to do. After all, we are talking about an ultra-wide lens in Leica-M mount, something that might sound like a far cry from a medium format lens. The thing is, for me landscape photography means interpreting the landscape in front of me through my cameras & lenses, and I find wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses to be great tools for that. Hasselblad with their XCD 21mm offers the widest native lens of any medium format system, which was part of my reasoning to go with the X1D versus the competition. However, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm is still “only” a 17mm FOV equivalent lens, and I’d love to have the option to go wider, if I can.
Laowa produces a 17mm medium format lens, with a FOV equivalent of about 13mm, covering a 113 degrees angle of view. Sadly, though, this lens is only available for the FujiFilm GFX system as I write this Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III in-depth review.
When I used the Leica SL, I loved my little, ultra-sharp Voigtlander 15mm version III; true, the lens came with a built-in lens hood that made it impossible to use 100mm square filters with it, but this is a problem I quickly solved by performing a little surgery on it (see SURGERY ON THE VOIGTLANDER SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15MM III).
Having the lens around, even if I had little hopes about the image circle being large enough to cover a medium format sensor, when I got the Hasselblad X1D I decided to give it a try. I bought a Novoflex HAX/LEM adapter to use Leica-M mount lenses on the X1D, and off I went.
Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with Voigtlander or Hasselblad 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.
As always, please keep in mind that this, just like all my reviews, is a review made under the point of view of a Fine Art Landscape Photographer. If your genre of photography is different, my findings might not apply to you and your work.
I couldn’t start this review without extending once more my thanks to the people at NEWOLDCAMERA in Milan, and to Ryuichi Watanabe in particular, for their help in getting this lens to me. I highly recommend NewOldCamera, both for new and second-hand gear. Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with NewOldCamera in any way.
Let’s get started now and see in this Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III in-depth review how this lens performed!
BUILD, SIZE AND WEIGHT
The Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III is built like a tank, and its all-metal body feels extremely solid, without any rattles or play. As with any good old M-mount lens, on the lens’ barrel you’ll find both a mechanical, manual-focus ring and a mechanical aperture ring with very clear half-stop clicks. The lens features a 58mm filter thread, and a built-in lens hood (whatever sense having both at the same time makes!).
As most Leica-M mount lenses, from Leica or otherwise, the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III is not officially weather sealed, but tolerances are so tight that I never had a problem using the lens in inclement weather (including snowstorms, rain and sandstorms). That said, I wouldn’t trust leaving the camera & lens off in a storm unprotected for too long a time.
With its 64,8mm width and 55mm height, weighing at 235 gr (after surgery, and including the Novoflex adapter), my Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III is very small and light, and is by far the smallest and lightest lens in my bag.
For reference, the Laowa 17mm for the Fuij GFX system is 88 x 124,5mm, weighs 829 gr and has an 86mm filter thread, and the Canon 17mm TS-E, which will cover the whole sensor as well, is 88,9 x 106,9mm, weighs 820 gr and has no filter thread, requiring a special adapter to use 100mm filters. However, both these lenses cover the full image circle of the X1D medium format system, while the Voigtlander does not.
USE OF FILTERS
The Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III’s 58mm filter thread will let you use 58mm round filters, but it won’t allow you to use the 100mm square filters that I love, and that are pretty much standard fare for most landscape photographers. If you only use the odd ND filter, you won’t need to do anything: the Voigtlander 15mm will be very happy to let you use it without any problem. However, if you want to use 100mm square filters, then you’ll need to get rid of the built-in hood (see above) or move a step up in filter size to 150mm, using a special filter holder made for this lens.
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.
IN USE: FOCUSING AND DIAPHRAGM
Focussing the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III on the Hasselblad X1D is extremely easy. For maximum accuracy, I’d recommend you use the lens wide-open when focussing, and step down to your shooting aperture later. Once you opened the diaphragm to f/4.5, you can easily focus using the lens’ perfectly smooth and well-damped focus ring. Pushing the “star” button on the X1D’s back (the middle one) will activate image magnification, making achieving perfect focus extremely easy. Of course, when in image magnification mode you can move your focus point around, and I do that via the front and back wheels while keeping my eye on the EVF. More, since the lens features a distance scale, you can focus using that as well. Note that if you’ll use depth of field to make sure everything is in focus in your near-far compositions, you’ll need to consider one stop more of depth of field to what you see on the lens’ aperture ring, to compensate for the larger sensor size.
Aperture on the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III is controlled via the aperture ring on the lens, which works just perfectly, clicking precisely in place. Note that since there is no electronic communication between the camera and the lens, there is no way for the camera to record your chosen aperture in the image’s EXIF. If you want to keep track of your aperture, you’ll need to do that yourself, like in the good old film days.
FIELD OF VIEW
On a so-called full frame camera, the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III will cover an angle of view of 110 degrees. On the medium format Hasselblad X1D’s sensor, thanks to the 0,78x crop factor, this should be equivalent to a 11,7mm lens. As mentioned above, however, the lens in this Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III in-depth review unfortunately won’t cover the whole Hasselblad X1D’s sensor as a native XCD lens will. That said, while the lens will create some hard vignette on the X1D, it’ll still cover a large enough image circle to make it a very interesting proposition if you are looking for a wider companion to your Hasselblad XCD 21mm, or for a wider alternative to it.
To give you an idea of what to expect in terms of coverage, below you’ll find a full image – hard vignette included – with overlays of what I think are pretty much the maximum usable coverages for 1:1, 5:4, 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 2:1 crops, as well as the resulting image sizes & resolution after cropping (click on the image to enlarge):
As you can see, there is still enough real estate and resolution left in your images to make the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III interesting if you are looking for a lens wider than the native Hasselblad XCD 21mm. If you go for the square image ratio that so many Hasselblad photographers are used to and love, you won’t lose any resolution. Choosing a different image ratio, you will lose a bit of resolution compared to a native XCD lens. See below, regular X1D crops first, Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III crops second:
– 1:1. No difference, both will be 38,4 Mp;
– 5:4. 48 vs 36,9 Mp;
– 4:3. 51,2 vs 36,7 Mp;
– 3:2. 45,6 vs 36 Mp;
– 16:9. 38,4 vs 32,5 Mp;
– 2:1. 34,2 vs 30,4 Mp.
As you can see, the difference will become smaller as you get farther away from 4:3, where of course the native lenses have the larger advantage. Still, even going for a 4:3 crop you’ll end up with a very respectable 36,7 Mp.
About angle of view, in my approximation, considering a 4:3 crop, the lens will cover the FOV equivalent of a 14mm full frame lens, considering both the 0,78x medium format crop factor and the “real estate” lost to vignette. Compared to the 17mm FOV equivalent of the Hasselblad XCD 21mm, this is still a very good coverage, albeit coming with a small penalty in resolution.
SHARPNESS AT INFINITY
Methodology: using my usual “real world” test scene, I manually focussed on the trees on the far ridge in the middle of the frame using the maximum focus area magnification for precise focus, with the lens wide open. I then prepared 900 x 600 px, 100% crops of the center, bottom left corner and mid-right side of the frame at full-stop apertures ranging from wide open to f/22. My Hasselblad X1D II had Firmware 1.1.0 installed.
Let’s start looking at the full scene first, to see how much coverage the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III will give you in the real world, considering a 4:3 crop (once getting rid of the vignette). The red rectangles show you where the crops have been taken from (click on the image to enlarge):
Let’s now examine the crops in detail, starting with the center of the frame (click on the images to enlarge):
The Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III is amazingly sharp in the center of the frame. The lens starts razor sharp wide open and stays that way until f/11. At apertures of f/16 and smaller, the lens starts suffering from diffraction. Perfect.
Let’s now examine the bottom left corner (click on the images to enlarge):
In the corner, the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III also offers an extremely impressive performance. Again, the lens starts practically razor sharp wide open, and stays that way until f/11. Apertures smaller than f/16 start suffering from diffraction. Again, perfect.
Finally, let’s check the mid-right side of the frame (click on the images to enlarge):
Having seen what this lens can do in the center and in the corner, its mid-right performance is no surprise. The Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III is again razor-sharp from wide-open to f/11. Again, apertures smaller than f/16 start suffering from diffraction.
SHARPNESS AT CLOSE FOCUSING DISTANCE AND BOKEH
To examine sharpness at close focusing distance, as well as to see how the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III draws out-of-focus areas, I focused on the Phillips screw right under the mailbox’s red flag in the lower right corner of the frame. Together with the full frame image I included 900 x 600px, 100% crops taken at the point of focus, to check out sharpness, and center crops to see what happens in out-of-focus areas at infinity.
Let’s see the full image first, again to see how much coverage the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III will give you in the real world, considering a 4:3 crop (once getting rid of the vignette). The red rectangles show you where the crops have been taken from (click on the image to enlarge):
Let’s now examine sharpness at the point of focus (click on the images to enlarge):
Wide open the performance of the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III close-up is extremely good. The lens starts a hair off being razor sharp wide-open, becoming razor sharp at f/5.6 and staying like that up to f/11. As expected, apertures smaller than f/16 start suffering from diffraction.
Let’s see now how the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III renders out-of-focus areas at far distances in the center of the frame (click on the images to enlarge):
While a 15mm lens on medium format wouldn’t definitely be my first choice for bokeh, the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III is a very good performer when it comes to its out-of-focus behaviour. The lens draws smoothly but never becomes mushy, rendering defined but soft shapes. This is really a beautiful bokeh for such an ultra-wide-angle lens.
The Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III sharpness performance on the medium format X1D is, in a word, spectacular. It would be for any lens, but it is even more impressive considering that this is not a lens made for medium format, that we are using the extreme corners of its image circle, and that it’s such a small, light and – why not – relatively inexpensive lens.
At infinity, the lens in this Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III in-depth review showed an impressive performance: the lens is pretty much razor sharp all over the frame at any aperture, until diffraction kicks in. At its closest focussing distances, the lens is razor sharp in the corners starting at f/5.6 and until diffraction kicks in, and it draws beautifully. There’s not much more we could ask for!
VIGNETTE AND COLOUR RENDITION
The Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III, given its smaller-than-medium-format image circle, features some hard vignette that you should take into consideration when framing your shots. Once you cropped into the usable field of view of the lens, however, there is only a very soft and pleasant vignette left, that goes away almost completely stopping down. Applying Adobe Camera Raw’s dedicated lens profile you can easily fix what little vignette there is, modulating it to taste. Please note that I often add back some soft vignetting to my images at a later stage in post-processing anyway.
Colour rendition is beautiful to my eye, albeit perhaps a bit colder than Hasselblad XCD lenses, something you’ll have to keep in mind when mixing shots taken with this lens with shots taken with XCD lenses in your portfolio. Applying the camera standard colour profile gives me a wonderful starting point for my post-processing work.
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. Adobe Camera Raw’s Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III profile has been applied. Let’s see the results (click on the image to enlarge):
As you can see, the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III with its lens profile applied is completely distortion-free.
FLARE AND CHROMATIC ABERRATIONS
As customary for my lens tests, during this Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III in-depth review’s flare test I didn’t use a lens hood – in fact, I completely removed it from the lens, as mentioned above. In the test image below, I included the sun in the frame, keeping in it close to the image’s corner. As customary, I included a crop of the area surrounding the sun to check for contrast and chromatic aberrations (click on the images to enlarge):
As you can see, the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III shows very high contrast and resistance to flare, with very few “ghost” images and no CA, even in high-contrast areas and shooting into the sun. However, when using this lens on a medium format camera and therefore cropping far into the corners, you might see some purple fringing affecting just those very far corners. In my real-world use of the lens I noticed it at times, but it’s something easy enough to remove shall you want to do so, and I think that this is a small trade-off to pay in exchange for the wider angle of view that would otherwise be impossible to obtain on the Hasselblad X1D – yet, at least.
A non-native, ultra-wide-angle option for the Hasselblad X1D, the lens in this Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III in-depth review proved to be an amazing performer, all caveats coming from adapting a full frame lens to medium format considered, and a beautifully drawing lens.
Technically speaking, the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III is nearly perfect. At infinity, the lens is effectively diffraction-limited: it’s razor-sharp all over the frame at any aperture up to f/16, letting you choose your aperture according to your depth-of-field requirements with perfect results all the time. This remains true at close focussing distances, unless you need to shoot wide open down into the corner; if you don’t, stopping down half a stop to f/5.6 will make the lens perfectly sharp. In the classic landscape aperture range of f/8 – f/16, the lens is just razor sharp all over the frame. The lens shows exceptional macro and micro-contrast and flare resistance for such a wide lens, showing just a little purple fringing in the far corners. With its Adobe Camera Raw lens profile applied, the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III is perfectly distortion-free and practically vignette-free, once you crop out the hard vignette.
Artistically speaking, this lens opens up possibilities to Hasselblad X1D photographers that no other lens will currently offer, and it does so in style, in a small, light and very affordable package.
A MUST-HAVE LENS? THOUGHTS ON THE FOCAL LENGTH
As always, the answer depends on your style of shooting and on whether you enjoy the view of the world that only ultra-wide-angle lenses can provide. If you do, and if you shoot either Hasselblad X1D or FujiFilm GFX, this is certainly a lens to consider: for the price, and at pretty much any price, this lens is truly hard to beat.
Personally, I love the possibilities for interpretation that this lens offers me. Since I already had it, and since it practically takes no room in my bag, for me it’s a no brainer: the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III has a permanent place in my bag.
As always, the photographs are what counts the most. Before saying goodbye, enjoy a few images created with the Hasselblad X1D and the Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III around the world (click on the images to enlarge):
Thanks for reading this Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar 15mm v. III in-depth 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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