Review: Voigtländer 12mm 5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar

Introduction

ultra wide heliar a7 series 12mm 5.6
Sony A7s with Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 12mm 5.6 and VM-E close focus adapter (Helicoid)

The Voigtländer 12mm 5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar is actually one of the lenses I bought a camera from the A7 series for in the first place. It is worth to mention though, I am reviewing the old M39 version here. The newer Leica M version is optically the same, although there are other differences – apart from the lens mount – which I will talk about at the end of this review.

Sample Images

castle mannheim a7s 12mm 5.6 voigtländer ultra wide heliar
Sony A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11 | full resolution
maulbronn monastery unesco world heritage 12mm 5.6 voigtländer a7s
Sony A7 | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11 | full resolution
abstract disneyland 12mm 5.6 ultra wide heliar voigtländer sony a7s
Sony A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/8

Specifications

M39 Version:

    • Diameter: 50.5 mm
    • Field of view: 121° (diagonally)
    • Length:  38.2 mm
    • Weight: 175g
    • Filter Diameter: see chapter “Use with filters”
    • Number of Aperture Blades: 9 (straight)
    • Elements/Groups: 10/8
    • Close Focusing Distance: 30 cm
    • Mount: M39

For the newer Leica M version take a look at the official data sheet.

The Voigtländer 12mm 5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar M39 usually sells for around $550 at ebay.com (affiliate link).
In Germany you can buy it for 400-600€ at ebay.de (affiliate link). 

Handling

12mm 5.6 ultra wide heliar size comparison
Voigtländer 12mm 5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar and SD-card

This is a tiny lens, just take a look at the picture. I even included an SD-card, so you may grasp how small it really is. Apart from that, handling is superb! You are probably used to half a stop click stops on the aperture ring but this lens has click stops on the focusing ring as well (@ 0.3m, 0.5m, 1.0m, infinity)! I haven’t seen this on any other lens yet. But to be honest: my lens is always set at infinity and everything is in focus. I don’t like this lens for close up photography because you have to put your subject right in the center of the frame, otherwise it will be distorted in quite an ugly way.

Vignetting and colorcast

12mm voigtländer 5.6 ultra wide heliar vignetting vignette
I recommend reading the “Leica M wideangle lenses and the A7 series” section in my Voigtländer Ultron 28mm 2.0 review on this very same blog first before going further. I have used this lens with the original A7 and the A7s. With the original A7 you get magenta cast in the corners while with the A7s you get a slight green cast. The vignetting is quite severe throughout the whole aperture range (actually, stopping down won’t reduce the vignetting by a meaningful amount at all), which is no surprise because of the symmetrical design of the lens in conjunction with the extreme wide 12mm focal length. Still, it is possible that the sensor design has a negative influence here as well.
Both things can be corrected (e.g. with Adobe Lightroom) as I will show in the before/after example below. Remember though: correcting the light fall off completely may lead to visible noise in the corners.

Sony A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/8  | vignetting and color cast before/after correction

Sharpness

infinity
voigtlander 12mm 5.6 sharpness infinty a7
As most rangefinder wide angle lenses this lens exhibits quite a bit of field curvature due to the thick filter stack in front of the A7 cameras’ sensors. For the shots above spot metering has been used on the corners. I recommend using this lens at f11 (exclusively) to get the best results across the frame, especially in the corners. But take a look at the provided samples, to decide for yourself.

Flare resistance

eiffel tower flare 12mm 5.6 voigtlander sony a7
A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11 | Copyright Tour Eiffel – illuminations Pierre Bideau

The flare resistance is quite good, especially for a 12mm lens. The example above shows the worst I could produce. Even with the sun in the frame the performance is very good:

sony a7s voigtländer 12mm 5.6 sunflare
Sony A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11

Distortion


Sony A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11 | distortion before/after

The distortion is quite low, which is one of the positive side effects of the symmetrical lens design. There is also a profile embedded in Lightroom, which was used in the example above.

Sunstars

voigtländer 12mm 5.6 sunstars example sony a7
Sony A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11

This Voigtländer will produce 18-pointed sunstars, which may – dependent on the light source – not be perfectly defined, as shown in the example. Especially the different lengths of the rays do bother me sometimes, but it is up to your taste, what rendering you prefer. In my opinion the 28mm 2.0 Ultron and the 50mm 1.5 Nokton fare way better in this regard.

voigtländer 12mm 5.6 sunstar sony a7s
100% crop from photo above

Chromatic aberrations

venice 12mm 5.6 voigtländer uwh sony a7 ca
Sony A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11

For such an extreme wide angle lateral CAs are very well under control and easily corrected in post, as can be seen in the example below (100% crop from the image above). You won’t notice any loCA with a lens with this parameters either. By the way, of all the photos I have taken with this lens, in this one the CAs were by far the worst. That is why I am showing this rather dull picture here.


Sony A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11 | CA 100% crop before/after

Use with filters

sony a7s filter voigtländer 12mm 5.6 polarizer polfilter waterfall
A7 | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11 |full resolution

A rather unique feature of this lens is that you can use “standard” filters with it. For the likes of Samyang 14mm 2.8, Sigma 12-24mm, Nikon 14-24mm 2.8 and of course the Canon 11-24mm 4.0 (and quite a few more) you need huge specialized filters. This is also where we need to talk about the differences between the M39 and the newer Leica M version of this lens. The newer version takes 67mm filters and incorporates a non removable hood. This is the reason I prefer the older M39 version where the hood is removable and allows the use of a special “filter adapter” with a 77mm thread. The big advantage here is that you can use filter systems like the Lee 100mm system. The downside is, that this adapter is quite rare, so I recommend getting one of ebay.com (affiliate link). Because this lens was meant to be used with rangefinder cameras, the adapter has a hole to not block the viewfinder. If you intend to use strong ND filters you should cover this up as I did. 

12mm 5.6 voigtländer ultra wide heliar filter adapter
12mm 5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar with filter adapter

There is one more caveat here: there have been some situations with strong contra light where the markings on the lens were reflected by a filter and then recorded onto the sensor, as can be seen in the example below. This problem may not occur in every situation and/or with every filter, but keep in mind I used a Hoya Zeta polarizer here, which is known to be one of the best around.

sony a7s voigtländer 12mm 5.6 bad reflection due to filter polarizing
Sony A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11

Sample Images

I have set up a flickr album which contains many shots taken with the 12mm 5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar and I will add more pictures to that in the future.

Alternatives

size comparison ultra wide heliar 12mm 5.6 nikon 14-24mm 2.8
12mm 5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar alongside Nikon 14-24mm 2.8G

If you want something with the same field of view there are not many alternatives, actually just three: the two versions of the Sigma 12-24mm 4.5-5.6 and the new Canon 11-24mm 4.0. What you will immediately notice is that these lenses are huge and heavy in comparison and in case of the Canon also really expensive, but therefore you won’t notice any color shading, the vignetting will be less severe and the corner resolution ought to be better as well. If you don’t need to go that wide you might also consider the 15mm 4.5 Voigtländer or the Samyang 14mm 2.8 (which is still huge in comparison).
In case you are not in a hurry it may be worthwhile to wait for the newly announced E-Mount Voigtländer lenses.
The 10mm and 12mm are new designs and should therefore work better on digital sensors. But although it is true that the Leica M mount version III of the 15mm 4.5 does work better on digital sensors then the older versions (as was promised by the manufacturer), it is still not without flaws regarding corner sharpness and color cast. And because the new 10mm and 12mm designs were also announced with Leica M mount, it remains to be seen, whether there will be optical differences between the E-Mount and M-mount versions. I am very curious to check that out, as soon as they are available.

Conclusion

dancing houses prag prague praha gehry sony a7s voigtlander 12mm 5.6
A7s | Voigtländer Ultra Wide Heliar 5.6/12 | f/11 | full resolution

The one thing that really sets this lens apart from all the other ultra wide angle lenses is the small size and the small weight. I think twice before putting the huge, 35.3 oz/1,000g heavy Nikon 14-24mm 2.8G in the bag, but I always carry this 6.2 oz/175g Voigtländer 12mm 5.6 with me, when shooting with the A7s.
As a close second comes the ability to use decently sized filters. I don’t see myself carrying these huge 165mm filters and the even bulkier filter holders for my 14-24mm. Actually I don’t see anyone carrying these things.

Talking about the optics, you won’t see any resolution records with this lens, although the center of the frame leaves nothing to be desired. I would rate the corners “ok to good”, but because of the perspective distortion they can be quite hard to evaluate sometimes. I recommend taking a look at the full resolution samples I provided and check for yourself, if this is for you, or if you are more into one of the retrofocus lenses with higher bragging rights due to DXOmark’s best list.

I am also heavily into astro-landscape photography, as you may notice when taking a look at my corresponding flickr album. I didn’t talk about coma performance (which really isn’t great) here because the lens is so slow in the first place and I would totally not recommend it for shooting the milky way.

So, who is this lens for? The ability to use filters makes this a great landscape lens but the huge field of view makes if very suitable for architectural work as well. Anyone who shoots architecture knows, sometimes you simply can’t get wide enough in tight city spaces (the “dancing houses” by Frank Gehry in Prague at the top of this section are just one example). I also use this lens for some abstract photography, as you have probably already noticed by the provided examples 🙂
The M39 version reviewed here can mostly be found on the used market starting at around 450€/500$ while the M-Mount version will set you back roughly 700€/600$ (new).

About me

My name is Bastian and for many years I have been mostly shooting Nikon DSLRs. Today I am also using cameras from the Sony A7 series on which I use nothing but manual lenses.
My passion is landscape photography but I also like to delve into other subjects from time to time. You may follow me or take a look at my flickr-account http://www.flickr.com/bastian_k or visit my homepage http://www.fotoworkshop-bw.de  (only available in German).

The following two tabs change content below.
My name is Bastian and for many years I have been mostly shooting Nikon DSLRs. As of today I have made my transition from Nikon to Sony and I am mainly using small but capable manual lenses. My passion is landscape photography but I also like to delve into other subjects from time to time.

18 thoughts on “Review: Voigtländer 12mm 5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar”

  1. Thank you for the article! You surely know how to use the lens.

    I have taped the markings on my lens with a matte black tape. This solved the reflection problem fully as far as I can tell.

    To ease up the vignetting I’m also using a Heliopan center spot grad filter as originally suggested in a Luminous Landscape article.

    1. Dear Paulus,
      I guess I will cover up the markings as well (have already thought about it myself, but until now hesitated to do so 🙂 ).

      I also used this lens with a center filter as well (generic Soligor) but unfortunately by giving up 2 stops in the center I only “gained” 0.3 in the corners, which I think is not worth the hassle.
      But if your filter works better I am quite curious to see a with/without comparison. Maybe you can make such a small comparison and post it here, I would also like to add it to the review then.

      Best regards
      Bastian

    1. Dear Stephen,
      I already mentioned that lens above.
      Apart from that I would not recommend buying this lens with E-Mount, I would rather go for the Nikon version (way better resale value) and use it with an adapter.

  2. Nice review, one were I was waiting for. Look forward to try the E-mount Voigts as the announced Loawa 12mmf2,8.
    The last one seems promising as well.
    The only problem, like you mentioned, is the use of filters and since I’m in a landscape mode I’m using them a lot, LEE stoppers & grads. The use of grads however can be overcome by using the new grad-app (play memories) but still seems a little difficult to use for me. But it works.
    But on the other side does anyone have an idea about the performance of Nikon 14-24mm on the A7r or A7r2, IQ corners ?.
    But just as you mentioned, Philip, would not like to use these huge filters…
    But thanks again for this review of the 12mm.

  3. Hi

    im thinking of getting the emount version to replace my 14mm samyang which i then will only use for astro.

    would you say the 12mm is a good replacement or too wide for general landscape ? is the 15mm more general usefull or is the 12mm fine and not too wide and too specialized ?

    i know i repeat myself 😉

    Chris

    1. Dear Chris,
      I think that mainly depends on what the next focal length in your kit is.
      In mine it is a 20mm, which I also use more often than the 12mm.
      If it is a 24mm or even a 28mm in yours I would rather go for the 15mm.

  4. Hi there i am greatly interested in this lens to compliment my voigt 35 f1.2. I use it with the Sony a7ii and was wondering how this lens performs with the a7ii. Especially in terms of value being less than 500 usd vs say the latest v iii which cost double.
    I am mainly a street photographer and want to play with a larger angle of view lens. Do you think this could be used for street shooting considering its small and discrete size too ?

    1. Hey,
      I took the shots for the sharpness section with the original A7, the A7II will look no different.
      I am not an expert on street photography so I don’t know if a maximum aperture of 5.6 will suffice,
      but you will easily be able to zone focus with that lens,
      already at 5.6 almost everything is in focus when the lens is set to say 1m.

      1. Hey Bastian, Great thanks for that. Just one more thing.. Its well documented and you mentioned as well about vignetting, purple fringing and corner smearing . The former 2 which can be mostly corrected in Lightroom and the latter from cropping slightly, Would you still recommend this over the released V3 as price and size is a major factor for me. Would you still recommend it despite its flaws In terms of value to price ?

        Jerry

        1. Dear Jerry,
          I haven’t had the chance to use V3 of the 12mm 5.6 yet (unfortunately),
          so I can’t really comment on the differences.
          But when it comes to value and size I think the 12mm M39 is hard to beat.

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