I have been meaning to write this review for fives months now. I just felt I needed to learn this lens a little more. Every time I would sit down to really write my thoughts about this lens, I felt I needed more time with it. 75mm is a funny focal length for Leica. You don’t quite see the image you are making since there are no true fame “lines” …just corner indicators. The 75mm 1.8 Heliar left its impression very quickly with me. The Voigtlander 75mm 2.5 Color Heliar has instead grown on me differently. I couldn’t pinpoint why I preferred this lens so much to every other portrait lens. So finally, after much time spent with this lens, here are my thoughts!
Ok, here are the basics. The 75mm lens is the traditional length for a variety of close portraits. This lens goes from F/2.5 to F/16 in half stops. It weighs 230g or about .5lb. The lens is about 2.5″ long. It takes a 43mm filter and comes with a removable screw-in hood. The hood needs to be removed to install a filter. The lens cap is a press-on metal lens cap. Personally, I wish all lenses came with a lens cap as nice as this one. It is truly a step above the rest in terms of feel and security.
To go from infinity to the minimum focus distance or about 3 feet or 1 meter is around 1/4 turn of the barrel. The barrel is smooth, but not too heavy. It is definitely secure feeling, but some people might prefer a heavier rotation.
I use this lens on a Leica M8. The M8 has a crop factor of 1.33x so the view of the lens is like a 100mm focal length. I actually find this quite preferable in the way I use the lens. 90 and 135 have much smaller viewfinder lines. Getting a 100mm view from a lens with the 75mm lines is perfect on the M8 for portraiture the way I shoot with it.
Since this is a screw mount lens, I use a Voigtlander lens adapter on this lens. I have the lens hand coded to a Leica Summarit 75mm F/2.5. I also use an IR cut filter to ensure accurate color reproduction.
75mm is harder to work with on a Leica. I have had my camera and lenses all professionally adjusted for critical focus. I am easily able to focus the 75mm pretty accurately with no assistance. If I am shooting for fun or switching between two lenses, I often shoot just with the viewfinder. If I am only using the 75mm or if I am in the studio or doing client work, I use a Leica 1.4x magnifier. This makes the lens a lot more comfortable to use. You can see and focus your subject much better. You can also estimate framing much more accurately. I highly recommend a 1.4x magnifier.
As you can see, lens in hand is actually quite small. Overall the lens is about the size or smaller than most 50mm lenses for an SLR camera.
From left to right we have the Voigtlander 35mm F/2.5 Color Skopar PII, 75mm f/2.5 Color Heliar, 75mm f/1.8 Heliar, and a Canon 70-200 F/4L IS. I use the Canon for a sense of scale and as a comparison to what I consider a “bread and butter” lens for any portrait or event work I do. You can clearly see the difference in size is substantial. Carrying a 70-200 on a large SLR body for 3 hours during an event is like a ball and chain compared to a Leica M and a 75 Color Heliar! Not only is the Color Heliar less than half the height, weight and diameter…it is even smaller than the new Voigtlander Heliar f/1.8! It is also lighter than the new lens too! A 35mm lens and a 75mm lens on the Leica could be a perfect two lens kit that fits doesn’t even require a camera bag! This is seriously small and light stuff here. (no indication of performance however!…)
The Color Heliar offers nice balance on the Leica and does not block the frame lines. At infinity focus, both 50 and 75mm frame lines on the M8 are free and clear. At 1 meter, the 50mm frame line has the lower right corner slightly block by the lens. The 75mm is never block. This is important since the 75mm view is so small to begin width, having and blocked is a real negative factor in my opinion. Especially since I often use this lens at minimum distance, I expect unimpeded framing. Added note however, I have found the frame lines at minimum distance on the M8 to be pretty good, but seem more conservative than usual at infinity. I’de rather have more than less image if it has to be that way, so again, no problem here.
Here is a comparison over head of a 5D Canon with the 70-200 and the M8 with the Color Heliar. Two different worlds really.
Below is a comparison of the bokeh, or out of focus rendering of the lens. I focused on the eye of the duck from about 3 – 4 feet away on a tripod.
In this above series, take note that the out of focus highlights look pretty circular even with the 10-blade aperture that is not quite circular when stopped down. This lens has a very smooth transition between in and out of focus and the colors just blend together. I find it very pleasing in general. The next three shots of the frog and tripod were at minimum focusing distance and shot at F/2.5 to show the bokeh as well. The in focus areas are very well defined followed by just smooth out of focus backgrounds.
The 10-blade aperture gives a unique starburst. Lens flare is pretty good on this lens, though maybe not as controlled as most modern pro SLR lenses. It has a more classic flare pattern. So far I have not found a situation where flare really ruined a shot because of color or contrast.
Here is more of a snapshot of a spider on my car. This is at minimum focus at F/2.8 or F/4. The following shot is a 100% crop of just the spider. I was surprised at the rendering of detail from the M8 sensor with this lens.
I have been using the 75 in a variety of situations including a lot of studio work. This photo was done on a mirror with two canon speedlights. Aside from not having the ability to shift the lens, it is fantastic for still life work. At F/8 or F/11 on a tripod this lens has amazing rendering. Everything is sharp and defined. The glasses were shot at F/4 to allow the rear of the frames to fall out of focus. You can read more about the glasses on my pro blog here.
I made this self portrait at around F/8 or F/11. (The exif strangely says F/4…I think the studio lights threw the Leica meter off…) Having done side by side portraits with the 5DmkII and the M8 with this lens, I find I can recreate an identical portrait at F/11. The rendering is often sharper with the Leica, but the look will be almost indistinguishable. (colors are matched with the Xrite colorchecker passport)
Portraits wide open or at F/2.8 and F/4 however are a totally different story! This lens is made for being shot at F/2.5. It is absolutely gorgeous wide open and sharp enough for any portrait. At F/4 this portrait has well defined features on the model, but it still “glows.” The background vanishes and the transition in and out of focus flows perfectly. I love this lens for this kind of shot. Images from the Canon just didn’t do it for me.
Here is the same model from above taken outside with a single Quantum Q-Flash. At 100%, even the beadwork on the dress is well defined and visible. I am not as concerned with those details however. I am not showing off 100% to my clients, and a large print is totally different than a screen. I am concerned with the look, the rendering of the lens. This lens has character for days.
Below are some shots from a walk through the park. These shots are to illustrate the lens’ character. Most of these were at F/2.5 but the Exif recorded incorrectly.
Smoothness of transition in the focus areas.
These next two shots show something very unique with this lens. It’s low contrast rendering takes on a whole different look.
When shooting a low contrast scene, the lens renders more like an illustration it seems. This aesthetic is extremely desirable to me and I actually prefer this to a more “photographic” rendering.
Color reproduction on this lens is excellent. Chromatic aberration is quite minimal.
At F/2.8, it is amazing how sharp this lens renders detail in a situation like the one above. This was from about 30 feet.The separation of detail from the background is amazing with this lens on a Leica. My images from this event with my Canon equipment look great too…but the Leica is definitely different.
This photo is a preview of an upcoming project I have that completely relies on this lens’ ability to render like an illustration on low contrast. Aside from a little obvious mirroring, this is virtually out of camera.
I am not much of a street photographer, but I always love to take the Leica and a new lens out of my usual controlled environment and see how I feel about it in a street setting. This photo above and the photos below I feel show this lens’ unique characteristic very well. Solid color reproduction, smoothness of bokeh, and amazingly artistic rendering of image.
The two buildings above illustrate this look extremely well. Both are virtually out of of camera. I recently delivered an architectural project to a client and shot some of the detail work and exterior “creative” angles with this lens. (the rest of the work relied on perspective control lenses and larger sensors) The client scanned through all the photos and then came back immediately to the Leica shots and said how much they loved those especially! I have clients picking out the Leica shots from my delivered sets. Amazing. (They neither saw me shoot that work, nor knew what cameras I work with. They images were printed for proofing, not digital.)
So, where do we stand with this lens. Yes, the Leica Summarit is similar, the Leica summicrons are amazing as well. They are not $300 however. What lens can you go buy today for $300 that will be so amazing? Even the new Voigtlander Heliar F/1.8 is well over this price. That lens is fantastic too. I reviewed it here. That lens just does not have the same character. The Color Heliar is amazing from wide-open, the F/1.8 is soft until F/4.
The Voigtlander 75mm F/2.5 Color Heliar is now discontinued unfortunately. You can still find them new in box here and there, and used on forums and ebay. Lensrentals.com rents this lens. I bought mine like new on Ebay for under $300. If you can find one, get one! This is a lens that deserves an M-mount version. The Heliar F/1.8 was certainly not a replacement. Hopefully Voigtlander re-releases this lens updated to M-mount one day.
This is one of the few lenses I have ever used that I cannot really find fault with, especially when compared to any alternatives. Voigtlander might not have the reputation of Leica when it comes to lenses but this lens is honestly fantastic. A true gem amongst lenses. I couldn’t pinpoint what was so different at first, but I know now. I absolutely am in love with the rendering. I especially love the rendering in low contrast lighting. So much so that I began a project that completely relies on the look that only this lens has given me. I will have an e-book available soon that showcases this lenses artistic rendering. Every time I look at my files from this lens I am constantly surprised at how details come out, or how smooth areas are, etc… This lens gives great compliment to any lens kit. It is so small and light, that I never notice I have a 75mm lens with me!
I love this image. “Reserved for 75.” That’s right. There will always be a space in my bag reserved for this 75. There is nothing like it.