Voigtlander Heliar 40mm F2.8

[Zoom] Wide-zoom | Standard-zoom | Tele-zoom | High-zoom
[Fixed-focal] Wide angle | Standard | Telephoto | Macro

The HELIAR 40mm F2.8 is a Leica M-mount lens. And surprisingly, it has no focusing helicoid. So, if mounted on a Leica mount camera, it will only focus on infinity. So, what's the use? Well, this lens is designed to use with the VM-E Close Focus Adapter which is an adapter for Alpha-E mount. This mount adapter isn't just an adapter - it has a focusing helicoid. Because of the mechanism of Leica M rangefinder cameras, the M lenses don't focus on subjects closer than 70cm, which is too long. And, even if you mounted M lenses on the Alpha cameras, this doesn't change. But, this mount adapter with a helicoid lets you focus on subjects closer than the original minimum focus distance of the lens. Very simple, huh? :p In summary, the HELIAR 40mm F2.8 becomes usable only when it's connected with the mount adapter. The target users are SONY Alpha users who also have Leica lenses. Or, this lens will appeal to those who have become attracted by single focal lenses wanting to try a variety of lenses from many brands (taking advantage of the short flange back distance). Even though the market seems to be extremely niche, COSINA released a product like this. So, they must be very confident of the quality. And, indeed, it has a high quality nickel finish and the optical performance is amazing.

( Photography & Text : K )

The HELIAR 40mm F2.8 is a derivative of so-called triplet type. Both front and rear groups consist of two lenses glued together, and it has an aspherical lens between the two groups. Looking at the lens design, I was excited to see the improvement it brought. The triplet design consists of one negative single element between two positive single elements, which is a classic design. Because the small number of elements works to reduce reflecting surfaces, it was favored when coating technology was underdeveloped. And, the high cost for lenses was another reason why the design was popular at that time. However, with just three elements, most aberrations were corrected, although it has just one weakness. Image quality in the corners was poorer than that of the center, and it was due to the inability to correct astigmatism and field curvature. As a result, it ceded the main player position to Tessar or Gauss types with the advancement of coating technology. In short, we could say the triplet type was a top player when internal reflection was yet to be overcome.

However, I personally like lenses having sharp center and disturbed corners. Where to focus depends on the individual and the scene. But, I think we often focus on around the center and the disturbed corners work to emphasize the center in focus. And, it generates clear image thanks to small number of elements used. This is why I like the triplet construction itself. It's just that we lack of good examples meeting the modern requirements because it's an old design. So, I was so excited when I heard they chose this design for this new lens and I was curious about the effect of this aspherical lens in-between.)

I did a brief test around my office and already found it has the characteristics of conventional HELIAR, but it realizes modern image quality with little issues. As in the first image, the focus peak is sharp and massive. It has an adequate amount of roundness, but the drawing line isn't thick. It's hard to describe in words, but I would say it's a fertile rendering. And, the front bokeh is really sweet. This is a fun lens.

First, I was impressed by its wonderful 3D quality as well as the reproduction of distance feel to the subject. Corner disturbance is almost unnoticeable and it's very sharp wide open. Yet, it's never hard. The drawing line isn't extremely delicate, but it's think enough and never loose. And, it's even powerful. This is what I meant by "fertile rendering."

It's sharp wide open, but it becomes even sharper when stopped by just one step. So, on this lens, stopping down is a way to earn depth of field only. Corners fall down a little wide open. I personally welcome it, but when you don't need it, stop down by about one step. As you know, Voigtlander brand lenses are manufactured by COSINA in Japan. I may be biased, but I feel their lenses are so good at rendering glass objects. So, it must be great for shooting cars, etc.

The distortion is slightly spool-shaped, but you won't notice it unless you are picky shooting straight lines from the very front.

I think, if it were a pure triplet type, it would generate plainer images, but because this is a derivative type, it may be pointless to make comparison. Anyway, the color reproduction is great and the contrast is high, yet the tonal range is never narrow. It's a high-performance lens, but it has a sweet taste. And, such fun lens is rare these days, don't you think?

40mm is a moderate angle of view and it's really convenient for street snapshots. In my opinion, a 35mm lens forces to draw near or back, and a 50mm requires tight framing. Maybe I shouldn't think too much. Another interesting possibility is to compose so that the frame is filled by subjects. It's not about how to arrange subjects in the frame, but just about how to occupy the entire frame with them. This way, the essence in the scene may emerge... I only feel it and it's never easy, though. The above image was shot at the location where I passed once but came back immediately because of curiosity. I think it was warm in the sun. S/he was imperturbable and let me take about 10 shots. (laughs) I chose the first shot even though I have prettier ones.

What's amazing about this lens is zero ambiguity in the images shot wide open. I expected disturbing chromatic aberration or smear around the highest light, but they are simply non-existent. This makes me want to keep shooting wide open.

I shot the exact same scene 10 years ago with a nostalgic Kodachrome. With the Kodachrome, the red would look more intense, but what a color reproduction! I want this lens just because of this clarity and color reproduction!

This lens is capable of faithfully capturing things afar and near. And, such lens is rare. Remember, the focal length is 40mm. Bravo to this 3D quality!

It takes sweet pictures wide open. As mentioned, there's a vignetting and some disturbance around corners. But, compared to old lenses, this level of disturbance is negligible. This is only my imagination, but maybe the lens designers didn't look at the performance in the center, but focused on improving corner depiction. Anyway, what do you think about their approach that redefined the classic lens design with modern technology?

This is a kind of scene I want to avoid with the old Leica Elmar 9cm (the pure triplet). (laughs)
But, this modern lens is clear and free from unwanted flare.

I adore the Alpha 7S because of the rich tonal gradation. And, with this clear lens, I can shoot over with mode confidence.

The focus peak is the water drop on the upper part of the glass. The glass texture is well-reproduced and I can almost feel the touch of the edge. This clear rendering is seductive.

This versatile lens can also reproduce the heavy mold like this. Because of the compact design, you will want to put it in your bag all the time.

I want this lens by hook or by crook... no, by getting the mount adapter!

Honestly speaking, I want the lens to have the helicoid since it's quite a wonderful lens. It can be Alpha-E mount and Leica M mount. Do you have an Alpha-E mount camera? Have you only used genuine lenses? Interested in lenses from other brands using the mount adapter? If you said yes to the questions, this lens is an attractive and dangerous choice :). Let me recap. This mount adapter enables Leica M mount lenses to be mounted on the Alpha-E mount cameras. And, thanks to the helicoid, it lets lenses with 70cm minimum focus distance focus on things closer than 70cm. And, this can be done only with the Alpha-E mount cameras. With this adapter, the number of lens choices will become enormous. So, be careful. Of course, this lens is overly attractive, but it's our human nature to be curious about other lenses. And, Leica users who consider the Alpha-E mount cameras as interchangeable bodies already know what I'm talking about. For example, this lens is like a modern version of the Leitz Summar. Not having this magical mount adapter is a shame (laughs) because it lets you close-focus using liveview. In other words, the unlimited joy becomes yours. Let me finish with four more shots for your reference (click them to enlarge).

  • I mounted the lens on the Leica M to see what happens. Of course, focus is fixed at infinity. This is very philosophical and sophisticated..., not! (laughs)

  • This is the very first shot I took. Sorry! But, I was fascinated by the image on the LCD.

  • As I mentioned, I almost don't notice any kind of aberration. It's extremely clear.

  • Near the minimum focus distance. While the front bokeh is more than beautiful, the back bokeh is kind of rough. I think people who like nostalgic rendering will love it. Of course, it's beautiful enough, too.

( 29.01.2015 )