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.
Thank you for reading my first 35mmc post. You can find me on Instagram @Kickstand or visit my new website for my project work aloneattheseaside.com
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17 thoughts on “5 frames with the Voigtlander 15mm Super-Wide Heliar V1 on a Leica M10 – By Luke Kenny”
Very interesting results with that lens, particularly the black and white images. For that kind of perspective, that lens looks hard to beat.
The mood and tones in the BW and colour are all very nice indeed! Really like the good use of the 15 and the person subject really is the cherry in the cake
I used to have a 21mm biogon on my former Contax G2 – for me that was perfect – I never did go for the 16mm lens as didn’t think I’d have used it much but in hindsight looking at your shots you’ve shown how such a wide lens should be used
Thanks for your kind words there Ibraar. I am sure the 21mm would be easier than the 15mm to compose with although I have been struggling a bit to fill the frame with a 28mm that I recently purchased. Strangely, I find the 15mm easier to use so far which I think is down to the extreme angle of view making it clearer what might look good compared to what definitely wouldn’t, if that makes sense.
If nothing else, the 15mm never leaves you with a boring picture! Just try and remove as many distractions as possible or find some interesting architecture and you’re sure of a keeper.
I have the V2 version of this lens and love it. The trick is deciding when to use it. It’s not really a walk-around lens, but a good lens to have in my bag when I see a shot that needs the wide-angle treatment.
Exactly right Jim. Luckily the Voigtlander is so small and light that it can even be carried in a pocket just incase of the 10% chance you come across a scene it would work well in.
I do believe though that taking it out for a whole day/weekend as your only lens would really be a creative challenge, forcing you to think outside the box.
Great photos, you really made the most of what can be a difficult lens to make a clean composition with.
Thank you Peter, this means a lot. I am fond of a tidy composition which gets harder the wider you get. Once you find a non cluttered scene though, a super wide lens can really bring out the best in it.
I did have a version 3 of this and found it worked well on an M240 but there were few opportunities to make use of its extreme view. I sold it and bought a used TT Artisans 21mm f1.5 which is much more usable .It is sharper than my previous 1998 Leica 21mm f2.8 .
Thanks Philip. I would like to try a 21mm at some point but I already suffer enough from overthinking my focal length choice so I’ve made a decision to stick with 15mm, 28mm and 50mm for as long as I can!
I have this same version and love it too; whether it’s on my Leica iiif or even on my Sony A7R3. What’s more, I’ve never had the magenta issues mentioned on the latter. It is the perfect lens for a tightly packed car show, being able to get the whole car in from less than a metre away!
Thanks Duncan. I am quite fond of photographing classic cars myself but have never felt satisfied with any shots wider than 35mm so far. Would love to see some examples how you have used the 15mm to good effect!
Excellent images. I’ve been curious about this lens. Thanks for the post.
You will be interested in the work of Al Kaplan, who used his 15mm for quite a bit of what can be termed portraiture. See https://www.photo.net/forums/topic/192257-and-the-beat-goes-onmore-15mm-portraits-of-al-kaplan-by/ or look for his gallery on http://www.rangefinderforum.com . Al passed away a few years ago, but the photos should still be there.
Thank you for bringing Al to my attention Graham, I have just been scouring the internet for his work and it seems he was indeed fond of the 15mm Heliar on an M2. I can’t believe some of the comments on that photo.net thread though – so rude! Were photography forums dark places back in 2005 or maybe it was Leica bashing gone too far?
I will continue to read through his posts on rangefinder forum but in the meantime, I feel like trying some 15mm self portraits.
Wild images – really crisp and vibrant. You make great use of space with the 15. I went to Paris in 2022 without my 15 Heliar V2 and returned again last month with it because it was obvious with all the big architecture and historic scenes that this is the only lens that could swallow it all up! The perspective distortion can work against you if you don’t consider how it will affect an image but when you gain a feel for how it works, it can be a strong and unique tool.
Super shots! I have the same lens but have only used it on film. Your pics have inspired me to try it on my digi Leica.