Unsolicited editorials on cameras, lenses, film, developer, and black and white photography in general.

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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Voigtländer 50/2 Collapsible Heliar - Part 3

I doubt that anyone expected the new Voigtländer 50/2 collapsible Heliar to be the same optical quality of its 50/3.5 sibling. When you design a faster lens, the optical problems encountered increase geometrically rather than linearly. And how reasonable is it to expect them to match the 50/3.5 Heliar when the latter as been touted as one of the best lenses ever tested? With that clearly in mind, how does the new Heliar fare?

Last week, I took a few test shots using Ilford FP4+. My initial impression was that the lens seemed a bit soft wide open, and that the bokeh was pleasant and not distracting. To me, it looked a bit like a Zeiss or Jupiter lens from the 1950’s wide open, not unpleasant, but not the best candidate for shooting wide open unless you want a soft, flattering image of a face. This week, I tried the slowest film I have right now, Rollei 25. This is the same film I used for my earlier test of the 50//3.5 Heliar, and I found a similar subject, i.e., a train sitting on the track in City Park.

Using a monopod for stability, I shot wide open but didn’t record the shutter speed (in these days of heightened suspicion, taking a photograph of a train is grounds for being beaten silly by anybody badged and officious). Wide open, there is some noticeable vignetting apparently, particularly at the lower right edge. An enlarged central area of detail shows softness. The numbers on the side of the car are obvious, but the same numbers on the front of the car are illegible.

Closed down to f/4.5, vignetting is negligible at the right edge. An enlarged area from the center of the image shows increased contrast and sharpness. The hitherto illegible numbers on the front of the car are now clearly readable (double-click on the image to see a larger version of the print).

While these initial images have convinced me that this is a lens best used stopped down a few stops, none of the images so far give me a good feel for the signature of this lens. I need to start burning some Agfa APX 400 soon. Inasmuch as the Bessa R3M that came with the Heliar has finder lines for 40mm, my 40/1.5 Nokton SC will take the place of my 50/2 Heliar, the latter going onto the front of a Zeiss-Ikon body. A half dozen rolls should give me a better impression of the fingerprint of this new Heliar.