The 15mm focal length is a strange one. Too wide to neatly frame most scenes, too distorted to get close to people and remain flattering and quite easy to ruin your composition with your own fingers if you’re not careful. On a rangefinder it is even sillier as there are no frame lines wider than 28mm on most Leica’s, the included cold-shoe mounted viewfinder is only a rough estimate of what you’re going to get, and my version isn’t even rangefinder coupled so zone focusing or focus peaking are the only ways. The original version of this lens also includes ugly magenta colours in the edges when mounted on a digital camera so it is only recommended for film.
Despite all these quirks (or perhaps because of them) I love my 15mm lens.
There are not too many 15mm options for a Leica M camera. Leica have never made one themselves, and I believe Zeiss discontinued their offering. There are a few lenses of 16mm, 18mm etc that are similar, but, Voigtlander are alone in still manufacturing this niche rangefinder focal length with the Super-Wide Heliar. The only question is – which version?
Voigtlander have made three versions of this lens going back as far as 1999. Each updated model is a bit larger than the last, but the Version II added rangefinder coupling and a filter thread and Version III removed the magenta edges seen on digital bodies. From the moment I laid my eyes on the Version I though, I knew that tiny lens was the one for me. Even with all the improvements of the latter versions, I just love the look, size, and weight of the Mark I. I am going to be honest and say that aesthetic is a big part of why I like to shoot Leica and I think this lens in silver looks amazing mounted on a camera and just makes me want to pick it up and shoot. It is only available in Leica Thread Mount (M39) so you will need an adapter for M mount, but these are so small I don’t notice it. The size and weight mean I can always carry it with me even if I am unlikely to use it. The depth of field at 15mm means I usually just set the focus to infinity, frame with the accessory viewfinder or rear screen and remove the magenta corners in post if I’m not processing the file in black and white.
In the seven months that I have owned this lens, these are a handful of my favourite images with it:
There many situations where I would not attempt to use the Voigtlander 15mm. Looking back though, I have found the scenes that do lend well to its ultra-wide nature, tend to produce some of my most interesting and memorable pictures. I’m sure I will be experimenting with weird ways I can use it, for years to come.
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