Going really wide wasn’t easy for me. On film I was a 28, 50, and 85 man. But when I began shooting shop interiors, a super wide angle lens became necessary to accompany my favourite 35mm (50 equivalent) lens. And because I tend to run from system to system, I needed something that could be adapted to anything. The 12mm f/5,6 UltraWide Heliar Voigtlander was the logical choice for my work.
NOTE: no image in this review was shot for commercial purposes. This is a personal opinion piece.
Focal Length: 12 mm
Aperture Ratio: 1:5.6
Smallest aperture: F22
Lens construction: 10 lenses in 8 groups
Picture angle: 121 degrees
Aperture blades: 9
Focus range: 0.5 m
Rangefinder coupling: ∞0.7m (depending on camera body)
Filter size: 67mm
Gewicht: 230g (including lenshood)
Gewicht: 230g (inklusive Sonnenblende)
Made in Japan
12 mm F5,6 UltraWide Heliar M-Bajonett 799€
why mate it to the X-Pro 1?
Firstly, I chose to use this lens on the X-Pro 1 (a camera I have have no qualms in maligning). Despite its manifold problems, it remains my favourite mirrorless camera for a number of reasons:
- the X-Pro 1 looks fab with the 12mm VM. Fab.
- thanks to its low-profile grip, even massive hands should stay out of the frame.
- despite the OVF being useless for all manual-focus lenses, it works for quick-and-dirty framing and centring. When the frame is too bright for the EVF, the OVF comes in very handy.
- a number of good close-focus helicoid adapters are available for the Fuji X mount. I jumped on one and have never looked back.
- the X-Pro 1 looks fab with any LTM/M lens. Fab.
While only 42,5mm long, this lens is wide, and rather heavy in comparison to its LTM forebear. That works both for and against it. Firstly, the wide integrated hood deters fingerprints and other muck adhering to the lens and acts as a grip to secure the lens when mounting and unmounting it. The lens goes from infinity to close focus in 90º. Focus speed is fast, but a small amount of wobble in the helicoids lowers accuracy when adapted to non-M cameras like the Fuji X-Pro 1. As this is a super wide lens, focus accuracy is less important than traditional focal lengths. Even on the APS-C X-Pro 1, the plane of focus is extremely deep.
Still I can’t help but wish this lens was smaller and that its built-in hood was removable.
ohmage & porridge: kitsch and quality
Next to a specimen from Weitzler, the 12mm Voigtlander is thrown together. None of the precision which marks Zeiss or Leica lenses of the same vintage marks this lens. But it can’t be denied that the Voigt is solid- at least in comparison to today’s all-electronic lenses of plastic and composite. Its filter thread mount is second to none and its grip ridges are sharp and well-defined. Infinity stops dead on target. The metre scale is well-marked, though the less-used US scale is hard to see in poor light.
Then there are the front and rear caps. In particular, the moted M rear cap fails to lock into place like real Leica caps do. It feels loose and suspect even next to Zeiss’ current (and shoddy) caps. On the plus side, the front pinch cap is a revelation next to Zeiss’ crop of crap caps. It fastens between two of of the hood's battlements. It may be dinky and easy to break, but it stays on the lens far better than comparable Zeiss lens caps. Still, I’ve little faith that I won’t lose it, so I purchased a solid Nikon 67mm cap in its stead.
ohmage: image quality
I caution you against judging this lens based on my super-wide photography skills. I won't be winning any contests. Prior to picking up the X-Pro 1, I thought that the world didn’t get wider than 28mm. Thus, many of my casual photographs suffer from ‘what to do?’ compositional problems. Advertising photographs taken for audio shops are much easier for me to work around. Why? Because I approach each from a computational perspective, having mapped each out prior to arriving on the scene.
When in the city, I found that too much fit into the frame. 12mm on the X-Pro 1 equates to 18mm on film. From just a few blocks out, any skyscraper will fit into an 18mm frame. I fell too easily into stuffing in as much as possible. If the CN tower fit, the entire CN Tower went in. And if my knees or elbows strayed too far from the camera, they, too, would go in. Ditto for cable releases, fingers, and camera straps.
Learning super wide angle photography has at times, been arduous. But it is a lot of fun.
Absolute pixel junkies won’t be thrilled with this lens. While it retains definition and contrast out to the edges of the frame, it never boasts tack-sharp centres nor edges like a 50mm Summicron or Nikkor 50/2 Ai does. Stopping the lens down a few steps helps even illumination, but does not meaningfully add resolution or definition to any part of the frame. Saying all of that, both the definition and general acuity this lens is capable of is more than enough for any ostensible super wide angle use.
While sharpness isn’t really a concern for this lens, vignetting and purple colour casts are- at least on digital. The X-Pro 1’s smaller sensor handles periphery shading well, but needs help. I have set up two Cornerfix profiles for the X-Pro 1 and VM 12 combo: infinity and close focus. I recommend that sticklers for absolute quality do likewise. There is no perfecting this part of the combination. That said, for black and white work, this vignetting looks truly good.
With nine straight aperture blades, energetic 18-pointed stars pop up often. While the effect can be cool, the problem is that even wide open, lamps and other bright light sources will create strong starbursts, which can either ruin or accentuate an image. This, I feel, is a major weakness of this lens.
Other than field curvature (inherent in all non flat field lenses), this lens exhibits no distortion you wouldn't expect it to. Put things in the corner and they go fantastic 4 on you. Try it out, it's fun.
Yes, bokeh. Mounted to the X-Pro 1 via a close focus helicoid adapter allows you to get in very close to your subject. The combo can focus on subjects mere centimetres away from the front of the lens. Shot wide open, background details are softened. Depending on subject matter, they can exhibit swirly highlights, clumped globs and/or other exciting things.
There are few negatives to the 12mm VM lens. Certainly not enough of them to elicit even the faintest of “shame on’s” from me. If I could wave a wand and change anything, it would be to clear a pathway for point highlights to travel through without forcing sunstars. Apart from that, this lens on the X-Pro 1 is both a stunning looker and a stunning performer. And because it is compatible with myriad M cameras, it will work Zeiss, eat your heart out.
Below are some more examples.