I have been searching for a nice portrait length lens for my Leica system. The M8 has a crop factor of 1.33 so a 75mm lens is cut down to about 100mm. 90mm lenses are cropped to about 120. After having tried several 90s and 75s…I decided I liked 75mm on the Leica. Voigtlander had just released a new 75mm Heliar F/1.8 lens for under $1,000. 75mm f/1.8 for under a grand??? I know the Leica 75mm glass is good. Really good. I am always one for trying out new lenses, and this lens was too hard to pass up. I have been greatly impressed with Voigtlander overall as of recent times. I am in love with their little Skopar lenses, and their 12 and 15mm lenses are fantastic. Would this new telephoto prove to be a winner as well?
The Heliar’s hood attaches with a compression ring. Once secured it feels solid. I personally prefer their snap on designs, or even their screw on hoods. Having a screw sticking out from the hood is a bit annoying, but it is something you can live with. I never had a problem with the hood becoming loose or sliding off.
You can see the Heliar’s hood in reversed position in this next photo. It shortens the overall length for storage or for changing filters easier without leaving the hood down. I wish all hoods were reversible!
Wide open at f/1.8
Yup…this lens is a handful! Literally! It has a nice heft to it. Very solid feeling lens. It reminds me more of a classic SLR lens in hand.
Here you can see a comparison of size. The Heliar is gigantic compared to a little 35mm Skopar on the left. The 75 f/2.5 Color-Heliar (second from left) is about 3/4 of the length with hood attached. It does weigh about half the weight though. This makes the Color-Heliar feel a lot smaller on a camera compared to the larger Heliar. The we have a Canon 70-200 F/4. I often use this lens for portrait work, so I felt just in comparing my current tool to this new one. The 70-200 is massive in comparison. (even the f/4 version!) The Heliar may be HUGE for a rangefinder camera, but it is still small when talking about telephoto lenses in general.
The Heliar is a bit front heavy on an M body. Then again, so are most really fast lenses. And this is a telephoto.
Ok, lets see this lens where it counts! These shots were at about 4 feet distance and on a tripod with self-timer. Plane of focus lands right about where the eyes / cheeck / bonnet are. Critically focusing a 75mm on an M8 is no easy task. I highly recommend a 1.4x magnifier.
The colors just melt together on the 1.8 shot. I find the bokeh quite smooth. Not busy at all. At 5.6 the detail really comes through. Just as the literature for this lens says…it is softer wide open than stopped down. I find that true. This lens does not render too snappy in focus until around F/4.
Here is a another set of images take from about 5 feet away. Focus is on the head of the bird.
I personally love the look of this lens at close focus and f/16. There is story telling depth…but just barely enough. Attention is still drawn to the focused detail in my opinion.
Here is a shot at f/2 if I remember. (The sheer cuteness of the dog distracted me from making note of my f-stop) Focus was on the eyes. The fall off of focus is rapid and smooth. Very nice.
Focus at close distance is very critical with a 75mm lens on an M8. At f/1.8 at 3 feet (approx. .9m is the stated minimum focus distance), there is only 0.4″ of focus range. At f/2 this becomes 0.5″. At F/2.8 you have 0.7″. At f/4 it is 1″. While this lens might have less contrast or be a bit softer wide open…that won’t nearly be a problem in comparison to focus error. Half an inch of focus is extremely thin. At 5 feet you have about 1.3″. At 10 feet you get about 5.3″ at f/1.8. That is a pretty big jump. Keep this in mind as you start getting closer to your subjects. Again, a magnifier is essential for critically focusing a lens like this on a digital M. At a distance, or stopped down it will be much easier to ensure what you intend to be in focus really is.
I took the Heliar out on some photo shoots to see how it would do in my work setting. The following shot is with a single Canon 580exII through a white shoot-through umbrella at camera right. I was triggering with a Pocket Wizard TT5 on the Leica M8. (yes it works…but only in manual mode!)
Here is another shot. The previous shot and this next one were both shot at f/4. This next one also had a strobe blasting out the background for a high key look.
These are two more examples shot at F/4. You can see in the first one how quick focus fades even at f/4 when in close. His hand loses all detail but has a pleasing defocus look.
I really do like this lens a lot. It has a great feel, M-mount, fast aperture, and the price is decent. However, I don’t know if this lens is the one for me. I love my Leica for compact size. The 75mm Color-Heliar that this lens replaced in Voigtlander’s lineup is almost half the size and weight. Yes, it is slower at F/2.5…but does it make that much of a difference?
F/1.8 on the M8 at 75mm makes for extremely thin focus close up. My main use for this kind of lens is portrait work. And for my need I found the 75mm F/2.5 lens pretty surprising when compared to the 75 Heliar. I ended up not sticking with the 75 Heliar and have settled on a 75 Color-Heliar F/2.5 instead. Yes, size was a big part of my decision. The image rendering also played role. (They are very very close!) I will have a review of the Color-Heliar up later in the month most likely.
Overall though, you can’t go wrong with the 75 Heliar. It is a great lens and is very sharp from F/2.8 forward. F/1.8 and F/2 have a very classic look to them. Most people will think this lens is softer than it is. I honestly believe focus error will be the problem here, and not the lens itself. If you don’t mind the heft of this lens, it operates smooth and renders beautifully. It is also M-mount so no adapters are needed. It is a great value when compared to Leica’s ultra expensive 75 Summicron.
If you are serious about 75mm on a rangefinder, this might just be the lens for you!