Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 Review (VM Classic) + YouTube
The Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 Classic is the new Voigtlander lens for Leica M mount, released September 2021. Following my YouTube review of the 50mm Voigtlander Heliar Classic 50mm f1.5 lens here is a written post with more photos from my trip to Poland and additional information.
Is the Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 really a bad lens?
From the thumbnail and title of my YouTube review you may expect this to be a bad lens. It is, but it was designed to be like this. Voigtlander bring us a new lens yet designed to render like a less perfect vintage lens (in very simple terms). The Heliar Classic 50mm f1.5 is less corrected in it’s optical design therefore being imperfect which in turn equates to a lens with more character.
Benefits of a new-old lens?
One huge benefit to having a brand new lens which renders more like an old lens is you can close focus the 50mm Heliar f1.5 to 0.5m. This is nothing new for modern Voigtlander lenses as many can focus to 0.5m but most old lenses can’t focus this close. Note, Leica M camera rangefinder only works to a close focus distance of 0.7m.
Leica M camera + Heliar 50mm limitations
The 0.7m rangefinder closer focus distance is only really a limitation on Leica M film cameras and the digital Leica M8 or Leica M9 (+ variants). With the Leica M240 and Leica M10 you can focus down to 0.5m using liveview (and or with a hotshoe EVF). For mirrorless Leica L mount cameras such as my Leica CL and Leica SL you can focus to 0.5m with ease via their built in electronic viewfinder.
Classic 50mm lenses are not perfect
Classic lenses tend to have a minimum close focus distance of 0.9m – 1m and I find this can be a limitation for portraits. This is only an issue on Leica M mount cameras as with L mount cameras you can use the 7Artisans close focus M-L adapter. This adapter is a game changer as my video confirms as it lets you close focus every Leica M mount lens (+ LTM lens) old or new.
Example photos at 0.5m and 1m distances
This shows how much closer 0.5m looks verses 1m. Both photos shot with the new Voigtlander Heliar Classic 50mm 1.5 on a Leica SL camera with no special close focus adapters.
New lens with warranty vs eBay headaches
Another advantage of buying a new-old lens, aka. the 50mm f1.5 Heliar Classic, is it comes boxed with a warranty. One problem with buying old lenses on eBay is ocassionally you can have issues with the seller or the lens is not as described. Common issues found with vintage lenses include scratches, haze, mould, fungus, cleaning marks, calibration and so on.
The advantage of buying used lenses on eBay is if you are patient you can sometime find real gems at a discounted price. I have bought many of my cameras and lenses on eBay and if there is ever an issue I just send them back for a refund. If you don’t have the time and patience to try to find a clean copy of an old lens you can now just order the Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 new and headache free.
Other Voigtlander Heliar lenses
If you are not aware there are four different 50mm Voigtlander Heliar lenses. Only two are current production lenses. The new Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 Classic and the Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f3.5 M mount lens shown in this video.
Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 photos
To test the 50mm Heliar f1.5 Classic lens I used two digital mirrorless cameras. The crop sensor APS-C Leica CL and the full frame Leica SL. Here are some Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 sample photos from each cameras edited with the MrLeica Leica SL preset pack.
Leica CL + Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 test photos
I only took a small sample of test photos using the Voigtlander Heliar Classic 50mm f1.5 VM lens on the crop sensor Leica CL camera. To see the fall off character from this lens I needed to use a full frame camera so I used the Leica SL. 50mm on the APS-C Leica CL equates to 75mm so that was also often too long for what I was trying to photograph.
Leica SL + Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 photos
Being a 50mm kinda guy I had the Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 lens on the full frame Leica SL camera for much of the time. (I did have the Voigtlander APO-Skopar 90mm f2.8 lens with me too if you want to see how the photos compare).
Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 portraits
Here are a few more portraits shot in Poland with the Voigtlander Heliar Classic 50mm f1.5 VM lens on the Leica SL full frame mirrorless camera. Click any image to view full res and to view the camera details. To see behind the scene videos from Poland visit Patreon.
Leica SL + Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 Portraits
More Voigtlander Heliar Classic 50mm f1.5 portrait photos using the Leica SL camera. The above portraits are full res edits. The photos shared below (and in the galleries above) are simple Lightroom exports, small size. Camera RAW files + MrLeica Leica SL Lightroom preset applied. You can find all my Leica presets here.
Want to learn how to take female portraits like this? Join me for one of my model photography workshops. Sign up to the blog to receive the free monthly newsletter and get notified of when and where I will be travelling in 2022.
Vintage 50mm lenses with character
If I was asked to name 3 vintage 50mm lenses for Leica that have lots of classic character I would say, in no specific order, the Leica Summitar 5cm f2 LTM, Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 M and the Canon 50mm f1.4 LTM. These are some of the best I’ve used for Leica cameras but there are some great lenses for other mounts too. I rate the Nikkor S.C. 50mm f1.4 and Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f1.5 lenses too, both rangefinder camera lenses that can be adapted to Leica (I do this).
Leica Summitar 5cm f2 LTM lens
Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 M lens
Canon 50mm f1.4 LTM lens
Heliar 50mm f1.5 – The best of both
I was having a Zoom consultation with a photographer in the States very recently and he wanted a lens with character for his client work. As someone who shoots weddings I am well aware what camera gear suits my needs for client work vs. personal work. As much as I love vintage lenses for personal work I would be very careful / hesitant to use them say for a wedding as my only lens.
If it happens to be a sunny day, vintage lenses often suffer from veiling flare where you can lose most of the image detail. Equally, some vintage lenses even when stopped down can be soft in the corners. (Fine for my portraits but sometimes we need corner sharpness).
For this reason I think the new Voigtlander Heliar Classic 50mm f1.5 really has it’s place. It does flare yes but moreso in a creative way. I would happily shoot the lens towards the sun on a wedding day just to get some cool images (if the coupled confirm beforehand that they like this style). When the time comes for edge to edge sharpness I know the Heliar 50mm f1.5 has got me covered too. I just need to stop down to f5.6 and I can relax.
So despite giving the lens a bit of a tough time in my YouTube video, it does do exactly what it set out to achieve. It was never claimed to be APO sharp when it was released and some photograpers much prefer less clinical images. I am a sucker for the occasioanl pixel peep as I just love testing lenses (sad I know!)
Some of my portraits with this lenses were far too soft and borderline ready for the trash yet others were really quite nice. All with the same lens. If I didn’t have experience with so many 50mm lenses already then perhaps I would have been tempted. I own a range of 50mm lenses that offer me more character right through to borderline clinical. The Heliar is more towards the character end of the spectrum.
Spice up your photography!
If you currently shoot with Voigtlander APO lenses (or Leica APO lenses!), or any of many ultra corrected modern day lenses, the Heliar will really inject some life into your camera sensor. Try it, you might like it! 🙂
Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f1.5 price?
If you are based in the UK you can find the lens at Robert White and get 5% off using my discount code. If you are in the US can you buy at B&H or check out Amazon. (See all links in my KitList).
Modern Voigtlander 50mm lenses for Leica
If you are looking to buy a new Voigtlander 50mm lens you might also want to consider the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.5 version 2, Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.2 and the Voigtlander 50mm f2 APO-Lanthar. These are all Leica M mount lenses (VM).
The new Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.5 (v2) lens
Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.2 lens
Voigtlander 50mm f2 APO Lanthar lens
Alternative modern Leica M 50mm lenses
Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH lens
Leica Summicron 50mm f2 lens
Best Fast 50mm lens?
Trying to decide what is the best fast 50mm lens? I made this video before receiving the Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 Heliar Classic lens and it will give you some idea regarding other 50mm lenses and how they perform.
More Poland photos from this trip
As mentioned above, I also took the Voigtlander APO-Skopar 90mm f2.8 lens with me to Poland. See the written review for lots more sample photos (Gdansk in the snow and model photography). An excellent lens!