Monday, April 13, 2015

Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 III lens on a Leica M -- a Hands-on Review

Let's get this out of the way first: This is a $749 super-wide lens with a Leica M mount. That is an extremely low price for any Leica optics -- something I took into account for this review. At this price I expect there to be some compromises, but, if the lens performance comes anywhere close to excellent, and any aberrations are easily corrected in post-processing,  I will consider this a really good buy.

Let's see how it performed.

One of the compromises in keeping the lens cost down is to have a slow aperture of f/4.5. Sure, I would prefer it to be f/2.8, but then the cost would be much higher, and this is a lens type where I want to work stopped down under normal shooting circumstances. The depth-of-field is extreme so f/8 or f/11 make a good choice for landscape or architectural photography. Let's face it, this is not a lens where anyone is aiming to achieve good bokeh effects.

So, yes, I found f/4.5 to be perfectly comfortable as a maximum aperture, but found myself preferring to use the lens at f/5.6 and f/8 and even f/11 where its performance improved considerably.

The Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 III has an angle of view of 110°, a close-focus range of 20" (50cm), and accepts 58mm filters. It is manual focus and weighs just 8.07 ounces (247g), and has an aperture range of f/4.5-22. It comes with a Leica M bayonet mount.

The new version III is easily distinguished for the former version II by its size. It is a much larger lens, which helped to lift the lens elements further away from the sensor to alleviate the color distortions along the horizontal edges of prior models. The large, knurled focusing ring makes it much easier to manually focus the lens. My review of the earlier version II lens can be found here.

With this new version III of the 15mm lens Voigtlander managed to clean up most of the distortions that plagued earlier lenses when used with digital cameras. Vignetting is present, but that is to be expected and is easily corrected in post-processing. There is slight barrel distortion, but that, too, is easily corrected. The lens is quite sharp overall, but does display some slight corner softness -- not enough to be really matter in most situations.

The two images below show a before and after correction of an image taken at f/8, which is where I would probably used this lens. Full res versions of the files are available with links below the photos.

The corrections I applied in Photoshop were:

          Vignetting:  Amount = +47 and Midpoint = 33
          Distortion:  +3

Once I determined the setting to my liking, I saved them as a preset to apply any time in the future when I use this lens. It couldn't be any simpler.

There is some coma in the extreme corners of the frame. 

On the left is an image taken at f/8 with the Voigtlander 15mm. It shows the vignetting and some slight barrel distortion. On the right the same image with corrections applied in Photoshop. Click here to download a high res copy of the original image.  Click here to download a high res copy of the corrected image. 

There are no apologies need for the sharpness of the lens. It is quite good for a super-wide focal length. The corners,which are extremely important areas to consider for shooting landscape and architecture, have minimal softness at wider apertures, but tend to come under control at f/8. The performance in this area is much better than most lenses I have tested in this focal range. 

Excessive vignetting can be a problem, not because it can't be corrected later, but because having to open the darker areas can add noise to those areas. Brightening a dark area in post-processing has the same effect as boosting the ISO. The results can be particularity disturbing in night photography. When using a lens having a heavy vignette, I find it safer to open the exposure a bit to compensate for a dark, vignetted area. This diminishes the noise problems, and it is not a problem bringing the central part of the image back down to a normal tone.

Most lenses will vignette. and super-wides more than most. A Leica M has built-in corrections for its own lenses, but not for third party lenses. I tried setting the camera lens selection to other, older Leica lenses, but the corrections were so slight that it wasn't worth the effort. I now use the Voigtlander on automatic lens choice and deal with it later in Photoshop. Once you have the workflow, the process is quick and easy.

There is also a free program available for fixing the vignetting and discoloring in the corners of wide angle lenses, or any focal length for that matter.  It is called Cornerfix, and was originally created for correcting the edges on a Leica M8. It now works for any camera. I've tried it. Once you calculate the correction setting for your particular lens/camera combo, you can save it and quickly apply the setting to any future image quickly and simply. 

This image is a very large panoramic composite of three photos taken with the Voigtlander 15mm III and assembled in Photoshop. 
I am excited to have the Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 III as a new, permanent addition to my Leica kit. The only comparable alternatives -- the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 or the Leica 16-18-21 f/4 -- are considerably more expensive, and the Voigtlander has no trouble keeping up with them for image quality.

Later this week I will also be testing this lens on a Sony A7II and will do a follow-up report on the experience.

Below are some sample image with links to download high res files so you can judge the lens performance for yourself.

Click here to download a high res version of this image.

Click here to download a high res version of this image.

Click here to download a high res version of this image.

For this image I chose a hyperfocal focus point towards the front of the scene. Even at f/8 everything is in focus.    Click here to download a high res version of this image.
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The Voigtlander 15mm f/4 lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon

1 comment :

  1. Looking forward to your review using a Sony A7II