York and its surroundings have have taken on a definite yellow tinge of late. This is mainly due to the canola crops in the fields but soursob and yellow daisies are also to blame. It’s not a warm and inviting yellow but rather a green tinged acidic looking yellow. Nevertheless it sends the tourists wild and as you drive round you can see countless people standing in canola fields having their picture taken or taking a selfie even though many of the fields have signs up asking people not to. I don’t know when this became a trend – I can’t remember people doing this when I grew up in Kent and Sussex. Mind you back then it wasn’t canola it was oil seed rape. I think it’s probably got something to do with mobile phones and Instagram, but as somebody who has only just started an Instagram account I can’t be too certain of that so don’t quote me.
Oh did I mention I’ve now joined the 21st Century and got an Instagram account? I’m not really au fait with it yet. That’s probably because I don’t really like messing about with images on my phone – I’d rather do it my computer but Instagram won’t let you upload from a computer. If anyone knows of a way to load photos to instagram from a desktop please let me know.
It would be tempting to say that this picture is a metaphor for these COVID19 times, but actually that would be quite crass. While all the restriction have been in place I’ve been determined to have some creative output and this is part of it. Over the last week I’ve been making myself go out in the evening to photograph. To make things a little more interesting I decided to impose a restrictions on myself. In this case I would use a focal length that I don’t particularity like (50mm) and an old vintage lens on a digital camera.I’ve walked past this wreck many times with the dog and really not taken any notice of it. Well on this particular evening the local farmers had been burning off and the smoke in the air was creating a nice warm light as the setting sun shone through it. I thought that the rust of the car complemented the warm lighting.
I’ve been meaning to write a review of this lens for a long time – well over a year in fact – and it has proven difficult for a number of reasons which will become apparent as we proceed. In an ideal world all lenses would be wonderful for every possible use we put them to, and to be fair with modern lens their computer aided design makes this happen for the most part. Things get sketchy when we are dealing with older designs on modern digital cameras. High resolution digital imaging has placed a great deal of strain on lenses. With film only a few people had the time, ability, resources and inclination to examine the optical performance of lenses. This was largely the province of a few magazines (remember them?) and they would accompany a review with a couple of graphs which would reference the resolving capabilities with fine grains low ISO black and white films developed in special developers designed to minimise grain and maximise acutance. Now anyone can open up an image in Photoshop and zoom into 200% and see a lenses faults. This is why Canon, Nikon and independents such as Sigma are going through their catalogue of lenses and updating them, and this need for optical improvements explains why lenses are getting bigger, heavier and more expensive. Back to the matter at hand. The video below is the short version.
The Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Aspherical Super wide-Heliar to give its full name is really the antithesis of modern lens design. It is small, light, affordable and not heavily optically corrected. But having said that this is the lens that really put Cosina’s re-launch of the Voigtländer brand on the radar of photographers. I can remember when this lens first came out a friend of mine borrowed one and ran around madly shooting roll after roll of film with a silly look on his face enthusing about it wildly. Up until then the widest lens in Leica M mount was the Zeiss 15mm f8 Hologon of which only 225 were made and currently change hands for around the $10,000 USD for one in mint condition.
The Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 is now discontinued but can be obtained as new old stock for approximately $600 USD, or second-hand on Ebay for around the $400 USD mark at the time of writing.
Mount – Leica thread or L39
Angle of view – 110º
Lens construction – 8 elements in 6 groups with one aspherical element
Number of aperture blades – 10
Aperture range f4.5 – f22 in half click stops
Minimum focusing distance – 29.85cm or 11.75 inches
Weight – 113g or 4oz
Diameter 49.6mm or 1.94 inches
Length – 30.7mm or 1.2 inches
Filter thread – N/A
Lens hood – built in tulip style
Rangefinder coupling – no
The lens is very well made – up to Cosina’s very high standards and it has, despite its diminutive size a solid feel and satisfying heft. The aperture ring is at the front of the lens, as is usual with rangefinder lenses, and turns nicely with satisfying half stop click indents. The focusing action is very smooth and has an approximate 100º throw. I found that I tended to use hyper focal distances to zone focus the lens in use as the short focal length means that the DOF is immense. The lens has a very clearly marked scale to make this easy. An aperture of f8 means that everything from 0.5m to infinity is in focus. Conversely lovers of shallow depth of field should really be looking elsewhere.
Years ago Clint Eastwood made a film called “The “Good, The Bad, The Ugly” (a movie which had the coolest theme tune ever, actually that is an exaggeration as everyone knows Shaft had the coolest, but it’s a close run thing) well this lens is all three. Good, bad and ugly. The good comes when you use the lens as intended on a film rangefinder body. The bad when you mount it on a digital m4/3s body and the ugly when you put in from of the A7r’s 36Mp sensor. This lens is one of the worst I’ve ever had on a digital camera – the worst was a $20 25 mm f/8 Holga lens in m4/3s mount which I tried using on my Olympus EP2 several years ago, but that is, as they say, another story. My friend who I mentioned earlier abused Kodak Tri-X by pushing it, developing in Rodinal and then lith printed the results. He wouldn’t have noticed what I’m about to describe. So this is how it was on the Sony A7r.Right from the get go there is obvious barrel distortion. Wide open there is considerable vignetting which has a very obvious magenta cast. No matter how far you stop down this does not go away (kind of like Mormon missionaries on your doorstep). Wide open the centre sharpness is quite good and remains so until f22 when diffraction rears its ugly head. The corners are smeared and out of focus, things improve a little by f11 but they never get to the level of sharpness of the centre of the lens. Chromatic aberration is also present throughout the aperture range. Flare for such a wide lens is remarkably well controlled and lovers of sunstars should be happy as the 10 aperture blades produce nice results.
The reasons for this are that Voigtländer 15mm was designed for use with film and the silver halide crystals in the film emulsion did not care at what angle lights hits them to provide the necessary reaction to form the latent image. But with a digital sensor it is a whole different ball game because the sensor is no longer just a gelatine substrate coated with an emulsion containing silver halide crystals it is a complex sandwich of filters, lenses and electronic componentry as the schematics show. For best performance the light needs to enter micro lenses at 90º, when the incidence of the light is severely off perpendicular then not all of it reaches the pixel at the bottom of its well this can cause vignetting, smearing with loss of detail, and severe colour fringing. This is what stopped Leica initially developing a digital range finder. Kodak developed a special sensor with offset micro lenses for Leica to help overcome this along with in camera software correction the digital M became a reality.
For stills photography the 15mm f4.5 could be a consideration if you don’t have the current fixation of razor sharpness corner to corner i.e. if the hero of your shot is central to the frame and you don’t mind loss of sharpness at the edges. Working in monochrome would help get rid of the magenta cast of the edges as well. Have said that the magenta cast and vignetting are removable in post, the accompanying video shows how this can be done in Lightroom. In the gallery of example pictures below I’ve left the magenta cast in some of the photos so you can see what it looks like. If you’d like to see the photos larger they can be seen here.
Video is another matter. Ideally this lens should be perfect for vlogging on a Sony A7 but the smearing, colour cast and vignetting make it quite unsuitable. Also it has no filter threads so it is impossible to use a variable neutral density filter which further adds to its unsuitability.
To be completely fair we are demonstrating uses for this lens that it was never designed for. With film and optical/chemical printing it is an amazing lens at very cheap price. When looking at it from a digital imaging point of view, whether stills or video, it really can’t be recommended unless you already own it and are prepared to put up with its short comings. If you are looking for an ultra wide the are better options available such as the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D Lens.
I’m always pleasantly surprised by the things I find while pootling along the back roads of Western Australia. Last weekend was a case in point. I was driving along the bucolic Ferguson Valley in the south-west of the state when I came across something that just expressed a sense of spontaneous anarchistic fun. That something was Gnomesville. We’ve all seen garden gnomes haven’t we? You know those kitsch garden ornaments usually made out of plaster and sometimes out of cement that can be found in gardens all over the world. Usually they are seen singly, occasionally in twos or threes. Sometimes you come across a garden that has maybe a couple of dozen and that is regarded as a bit OTT. So imagine a place with thousands of gnomes. That’s right thousands. The exact number is not known, but some reckon the figure could be as high as 5000. They are not in a garden, it’s not some commercial tourist attraction. Gnomesville is found on the verge by a roundabout in a very rural setting.
The whole thing is absolutely bonkers. So how did it start? Well there is the legend of Gnomesville which is as follows:
“A long, long time ago, a Gnome was travelling on an Australian country road. It was at night and far from anywhere. All around was leafy and green. A pleasant place.
By and by, he came to a fork in the road. He followed the road, which seemed to go around and around.
Now, being a little person, he could not see over the curb. If he did, the story would have ended here.
He walked all night with the feeling he was going nowhere. Roads branched off every so often. By the morning, he was exhausted. Then it was clear. He had come across a ROUNDABOUT—a circular intersection in the middle of (almost) nowhere.
This was something he had never seen as a country traveller.
But it was a nice place and reminded him of home. There was a bubbling brook and shady trees. So he stayed a while. And another while. Other Gnomes passed and visited, and many stayed. Word passed around.
Gnomes from far and wide left their gardens and came to visit. But they stayed. This was something new for the mostly solitary Gnomes. There was something irresistible about the place. It was as if the ROUNDABOUT was casting a spell.
For people who need the real actual true story well Kevin and Vicki Campbell were a local couple who played a large part in the creation of Gnomesville. The local shire had annexed some land from a neighbour to create a T junction at the bottom of a hill. The local residents weren’t too keen as they felt that it would be unsafe. So after a public meeting and some toing and froing it was decided that a roundabout would be built instead. Not long after a gnome appeared in a hollow tree by the roundabout. It was in fact the very spot where Vicki used to leave her bicycle when she caught the school bus as a child. It was the start of a gnome sit in protest. Soon there were twenty gnomes all showing solidarity. And so Gnomesville was born. I prefer the legend. Now people come from quite literally all over the world to leave a gnome. When I was there a young couple with their son had come all the way from Malaysia to leave a gnome. There are Dutch gnomes, gnomes from Japan, even from Finland. Gnomesville is a very cosmopolitan place.
So if you are in the vicinity of Bunbury and are kicking your heels wondering what to do take a drive out to the Ferguson Valley and enjoy the sights of Gnomesville. You could even stop off and buy a gnome to leave there.
*apologies to Wally Johnson and Bob Brown for corrupting the title to their all time Aussie favourite song “Home Among The Gum Trees”
The above video is the short version. If you would like to see the test images for image quality larger please click on the photos.
This L39 or Leica Thread Mount (LTM) short telephoto lens was one of the first lenses release with the launch of Cosina’s Voigtländer branded camera line. It was discontinued in 2010 with the introduction of the 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic in August of 2010. The 75mm f2.5 can still be purchased as new old stock from some resellers ( Cameraquest being one of them) for $689 USD or second-hand on eBay for around $300. I bought this lens new in 2004 and put a LTM to M adapter on it to use with a Bessa R2.
The original Heliar design was developed in 1900 by Dr. Hans Harting as a symmetrical 5-element variant of the simple anastigmatic and well color-corrected Cooke triplet. In 1902 the design was revised correcting astigmatism, curvature and coma better than the original design. That new design was asymmetrical six elements in five groups. In 1950 Dr. A.W. Tronnier refined the design even further to produce the Color-Heliar. When Cosina revitalised and relaunched the Voigtländer line they revived the Heliar concept with the 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar. Cosina wanted to recreate the German optical aesthetic and engineering quality. This modern lens has a definite 1950’s look with its beautiful all metal construction. The scalloped focusing ring and ribbed aperture ring aid grip and the focusing ring is nicely dampened and has a throw of approximately 90º. The aperture ring has full and half click stops. The lens comes with a lens hood and it as well as the lens cap are made of brass. The lens hood is a push on fit over the lens hood, a particularly nice touch is the strip of velvet inside the cap to increase the friction between it and the lens hood. The gloss black finish does tend to wear but as it does so it creates a wonderful patina with the brass showing through.
Mount – L39
Six elements in 5 groups
Aperture blades – 10
Aperture range – f2.5 -16
Angle of view on 35mm – 32º
Closest focusing distance – 1m
Filter size – 43mm
Diameter – 55.5mm
Weight – 230g
Vignetting is present at f2.5, but by f5,6 it has completely disappeared. Lateral or transverse chromatic aberration is present throughout the aperture range, but it is well controlled and very slight. It is easy to remove in Lightroom as is the slight pincushion distortion using the lens correction profiles. Wide open the centre is very sharp and contrasty while the edges are a little softer and less contrasty. At f5.6 the corners are as sharp and contrasty as the centre. Diffraction starts to kick in at f11 and decreases the optical quality. There is focus shift as the lens stops down and the lens breathes when focusing.
The minimum focusing distance of 1 metre does preclude its use for head and shoulders portraits unless you use something like the Fotodiox DLX Stretch or the Voigtlander VM/E Close Focus Adapter which gives 4mm of extension and allows focusing as close as 0.65m. For half-length portraits the lens renders the background out of focus beautifully when shot slightly stopped down at f2.8 with lovely tonal transitions. This makes it a great lens for street photography and events. The fly in the ointment is that the total depth of field for 1.5m distance using an aperture of f2.8 is just 0.07m or 7 cm or 2.77 inches and the focus peaking on my A7r is not sensitive enough to make accurate focusing possible 100% of the time so I have to use the focus magnifier to punch in and fine adjust.
Now according to the pixel peepers on the forums at DPReview it is impossible to shoot moving subjects with anything less that a Nikon D5 or a Canon 1DX Mkii. In fact I get a an attack of hysterical laughter every time some one makes a post about wanting to take pictures of their young children and they are pushed towards those cameras with fast eye wateringly expensive fast primes. I digress. It is possible to shoot moving subjects with manual focus lenses and the A7r. At a recent Medieval Fayre I was able to shoot some action sequences of mounted archers and re-enactments of combat using a mixture and sometimes a combination of pre-focusing and follow focus. Stopping down to f5.6 and f8 gave a little leeway with focusing and smooth focusing action definitely helped. The whole experience of going out with a camera, two small lenses (the other was Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar), a couple of batteries, and an extra memory card was extremely liberating and made the whole experience fun.
The Voigtländer 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar is not a sexy fast aperture lens and this is why it was replaced by the 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic. Consequently it is ignored by many people which is a great shame as it is a very well made and well performing short telephoto lens. If you like candid portraiture then it is a no-brainer.
The other morning I took the dog for her usual perambulation along the river, as we were walking along deep in thought (well I was I can’t vouch for the dog) our tranquility was disrupted by the sound of thundering hooves and the odd sound of something being hit at high velocity. Getting closer I was met with a sight redolent of the medieval Eastern European steppes – not what you expect to see in Western Australia in Twenty First Century. But little did I realise that actually mounted archery or more specifically horse archery is quite a popular pastime. It is a new sport in WA, only 5 years old but is quickly attracting enthusiastic participants some of whom are jetting off to South Korea to represent Australia at the World Horseback Archery Championships. What I was seeing was a demonstration that was part of the 2017 York Medieval Fayre. If you are interested you can contact the fine people at the Western Australian Horse Archery Association via their Facebook page and they have regular events at the State Equestrian Centre in Brigadoon.
The above video is a shortened version of this entry.
Cosina are a Japanese lens manufacturer who produce lenses under their own and under companies names. In 1999 they leased the licensing of the Voigtländer name and started making camera bodies and lenses. Sadly they have stopped making cameras but are still making lenses in the following mounts:
VM – or Leica M
Sony E Mount or Nex
There is no need to worry about Cosina’s ability to manufacturer lenses as Carl Zeiss has them make many of their lenses.
This article is about the 35/2.5 P type II VM mount MC version. Which is a way of saying that there have been several versions of this lens with different mounts and lens coatings and this model was introduced in February 2004, I purchased it new that year, and it is still in production. Physically the lens is similar in styling to the Leica pe-aspheric 35mm f2 Sumicron right down to the inclusion of the finger tab on the focusing ring. The vented lens hood is an optional but essential extra, so if purchasing new budget for it, if buying second-hand look for a copy with it included. Readers not familiar with range finders may scoff at the design of the lens hood but the design was necessary so that the hood would not obstruct the view through the viewfinder. Not necessary when adapting the lens to the Sony A7 cameras but it does make the lens look cooler. Yes my copy has a dented lens hood, the lens has been very well used over the years. It also shows that a lens hood provides more protection against damage than a filter ever could.
Lens Vital Statistics
The construction is all metal and for such a tiny lens it has a reasonable heft and feels very dense. So as you can see this is truly a “pancake” lens and makes a very nice all day walk around pairing with a Sony A7. Street and landscape photographers rejoice! The lens also has marked on its barrel along with the focusing scale depth of field markings, this makes zone focusing and setting the hyperfocal distance a breeze. Set at an aperture of f22 everything from 1 metre to infinity will be in focus. The focusing ring has a smooth throw of around 90º coupled with the afore-mentioned finger tab and focusing while the camera is at eye level is just so easy. The aperture ring while admittedly very thin has two tabs on it opposite each other that help you find the ring by touch and adjust without taking your eye from the viewfinder. So while it would be easy to dismiss the lens because of its retro styling these little inclusions show that this is a lens that is meant to be used. To use it on anything other than an M mount camera you will need an adapter.
Mounted to my Sony A7r how does it perform? Unsurprisingly for a pancake lens vignetting is quite apparent wide open at f2.5 along with a magenta colour cast along the edges and in the corners of the frame. The vignetting is a result of the optical design, the magenta cast the result of putting a true 35mm lens in front of a digital sensor designed to use retro-focused lens designs. The lens was designed for film so it didn’t matter that the rear element was so close to the film plane as the silver halide crystals in the emulsion didn’t care whether the light rays were hitting them perpendicularly or not. Digital sensors do require the light rays to hit perpendicular to the sensor plane, if they don’t you get light fall off, smearing and colour fringing. The Sony A7 cameras because they are mirrorless designs have micro lenses on the sensor that help pick up the light rays at acute angles, but the camera needs to know what the lens is before any correction can be applied. This lens has no electronic communication with the camera so the cast remains. The performance of the lens improves considerably as the lens is stopped down, so the vignetting is all but gone by f8 but the magenta fringing continues throughout the aperture range. Happily the colour cast can be removed in post. If you use Adobe Lightroom there are correction profiles for the Voigtländer lenses – the video accompanying this article shows how they work. If you use other processing software have a look at Cornerfix which is a little app that allows you to build lens profiles.
When it comes to distortion – there is some barrel distortion, but that is easily fixed in post as is the small amount of chromatic aberration. Sharpness at f2.5 in the centre of the images is very good with nice edge contrast befitting a modern multi-coated lens. The edges are considerably softer with less contrast. The wide angled rangefinder lens in front of a digital sensor problem comes into play here. A lot of people will complain that there is smearing of detail, and that is true it does happen (Spoiler Alert!) and wait until you see my review of the CV 15mm f4.5 as that has it in spades, but with this moderate wide-angle and it’s fairly sedate maximum aperture of f2.5 the light rays are not being forced to hit the sensor at extreme angles so there is no visible evidence of detail smearing in the corners of an image. Like most lenses used on a 35mm sensor diffraction sets in at f16, it’s not disastrous. Diffraction is not like falling off of a cliff – at f11 everything is sharp then at f16 everything is out of focus. No there is a slight loss of edge definition which is a little more noticeable at f22. Flare is well controlled, but I would still recommend the lens hood and the 10 aperture blades produce nice sun stars.
Well lets look at pricing first. B&H Photo sell this puppy new for just over $400 USD sans lens hood at the time of writing. There are dealers on eBay that sell them for $350 USD and second-hand copies can be found starting at just over the $200 USD mark. This is not a sexy fast aperture lens and the price reflects that. There are only 7 lens elements with no fancy shapes. What you are getting is very compact moderately wide angled lens with a modest maximum aperture of f2.5. It is well designed and for stills photography is a delight to use. For video it is possible to use it, but the focus throw is a little on the short side, the small size makes operating the lens a little harder while filming and the small filter size makes the use of variable neutral density filters a little cumbersome. It is not a lens that lens snobs would consider, but it is a very fine workman like tool that I won’t ever sell because it is well made, functions well and is optically very consistent. If you like manual lenses and see one at a good price buy one. Like the many people who left reviews on the B&H web page you won’t be disappointed.