How wide can an ultra-wide go? It’s a question you’ll find yourself asking when you get ready to mount the Voigtländer 10mm f/5.6 Hyper-Wide Heliar: the widest rectilinear lens ever made for a camera. As soon as you look through the viewfinder with this lens mounted, you’ll have your answer: almost unfathomably wide.
The 10mm f/5.6 is a one-of-a-kind lens: the first lens ever made with a 10mm focal length to cover a full-frame sensor that isn’t a fisheye lens. Fisheye lenses are still the ultra-wide champs: they can cover a full 180 degrees corner to corner, but with the unmistakable bowing of straight lines to accomplish the feat. This Voigtländer lens sets a new bar in rectilinear width, besting the 11-24mm Canon lens that made headlines when it was announced last February. Prior to that lens, there were a small handful of lenses with a 12mm focal length (and Sigma had an APS-C equivalent 8mm lens). But 10mm has been unheard of before now. While a 1mm advantage may sound small, with focal lengths this wide, it’s a visible difference in field of view. The 11-24mm goes as wide as 126.5 degrees, while the 10mm f/5.6 increases that 130 degrees.
Perhaps most impressive is that this new Voigtländer for the mirrorless Sony E-Mount fits a lens of this extreme width into a relatively lightweight and compact package: it’s less than 3″ long and weighs 371g, while costing $1,099 US. By comparison, the previous wide-king, the 11-24mm, is over 5″ long and over three times as heavy (1,180g), while costing a whopping $2,899. Still, none of it means anything if it’s a terrible performer, so let’s cut to the chase and dive in.
Construction and Handling
The Voigtländer 10mm f/5.6 Hyper-Wide Heliar is reminiscent of Voigtländer’s rangefinder lenses for the past decade. It’s constructed of solid metal, and the lens both looks and feels impressive in the hand. It’s a bit larger than I thought it looked in pictures, but given the extreme width, it’s remarkably compact. The 10mm f/5.6 has electronic contacts at the rear of the lens, but make no mistake, this is a fully manual lens. Much like Zeiss’ Loxia line, the 10mm f/5.6 uses the electrical connection to pass EXIF data such as set aperture and focal length (which is useful for the A7 Mark II series in-body stabilization), as well as to activate auto magnification during focusing.
The lens has a built-in metal lens hood that can’t be removed, and there are no filter threads, as the extreme width and bulbous front element precludes front mounted screw in filters. To cover the lens, a metal lens cap that fits over the hood is included, and fits very securely.
The lens has two main controls: a front mounted aperture ring which moves with distinct and moderately firm detents, and a very smooth and moderately damped focus ring. Given the tendency to set focus and forget it, given the very deep depth of field, I wish the focus damping were a bit stiffer, but it’s not bad. I found that for most stopped down work, focusing between 1m and 2m yielded images that were sharp from near to far. I generally only focused more precisely if the point of focus was very close up. The lens focuses to 0.3m, which, given the extreme width, I felt could be a bit limiting if your goal was to make small items big while capturing an expansive view behind the subject. At closest focusing distance, the field of view covers an area of several meters, so isolating flowers or other small items isn’t going to be possible with this lens.
There’s a nice feature built into the aperture ring of this lens. Like several other Voigtländer lenses, such as the Nokton series for Micro 4/3, the 10mm f/5.6 has the ability to declick the aperture ring simply by pulling the ring towards the front of the lens and rotating it until the yellow tick mark (seen in the image above) is centered.
Using a 10mm Lens
Using an ultra-wide angle lens is often challenging for many photographers. There is so much captured that it can sometimes be hard to find pleasing compositions. Some people have a hard time ‘seeing’ in ultrawide, and the extreme field of view also increases the appearance of perspective distortion when the camera is tilted. All of these challenges are here with the 10mm f/5.6, but they’re magnified tremendously. Tilt the camera just a hair away from level, and converging lines become very obvious. It’s up to you to decide whether those converging lines will add to the composition or detract. Objects even moderate distances away appear small, so very careful thought must be given to how the elements in your image align. Although I think I have a very good eye for ultra-wide composition, even I was a bit worried before the lens arrived that I’d have trouble finding uses for something this wide.
A lot of landscape work requires longer focal lengths to isolate the scene a bit. By longer, I mean 16-50mm on full-frame. That may sound odd, but after using the 10mm f/5.6 for a while, even 16mm ultra-wide begins to look almost like a telephoto. It’s a crazy perspective. The shot below shows the relative fields of view of various wide-angle lenses. I took shots from the same location on a tripod with the 10mm, followed by several focal lengths with the FE 16-35mm. The 10mm’s field of view makes the already very, very wide view of the 16mm end of my FE 16-35mm look downright pedestrian. The super-wide 24mm focal length almost looks like a telephoto in comparison to the expansive width of the 10mm Heliar. I was standing fairly close to this building, but the width makes it seem fairly distant.
Thankfully, I found that this lens is exceptionally well suited for dramatic interior photography, as well as certain creative uses outside. It’s also wide enough that if you are OK cropping a fair bit out of the image, you can utilize the lens as a stand-in for a tilt-shift ultra wide, as the width covers the same field of view as a 15mm shift lens would cover at a full 12mm shift. As such, you can use the lens to shoot architectural shots like the one below, without having to correct the verticals in post.
In all, the lens can be somewhat challenging to use, but is eminently rewarding if you can train your eye to see the compositions that are possible with it. Over the course of my time with the lens, it quickly became an incredibly fun lens to use. It just can do things that no other lens can. I fell in love immediately with the capabilities, and while I didn’t think I had a need for a lens this wide, in just two days, I knew I’d have to own one for myself. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s dive a bit deeper into the optics of this lens.
Evaluating image quality with a lens like the Voigtländer 10mm is a unique proposition, as there is literally no other lens this wide that can be compared to it. The lens does have some optical compromises, but overall, I found the image quality to be very good, and when combined with the unique capabilities and extreme width, create an excellent optic.
Given the extreme width of the lens, I didn’t expect corner-to-corner sharpness with the 10mm f/5.6, and you don’t get it, though I was pleasantly surprised by how far sharpness extends into the frame. The central 80% of the frame is tack sharp, while the edges of the frame show a bit of softening and the corners, even at f/11 are soft. Still, the cross-frame sharpness is impressive given the crazy width of the lens. The shot below was taken at f/8. Click here for a 100% crop at the lower left edge of the frame, which will give you an idea of the softening you can expect at the edge.
Normally at this stage, I’d discuss bokeh, but given the wide nature and relatively low magnification, there is almost zero background blur that can be generated with this lens.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
I think the Voigtländer 10mm shows excellent color and contrast. The color is neutral in cast and shows a richness and subtlety that lends a great look to the images. Contrast is fairly strong, and lends some pop to the images. In general, I really like the way the lens draws.
Chromatic aberration is one of the weak points of the Hyper-wide Heliar. While out of focus areas aren’t prominent enough to show any longitudinal chromatic aberration, lateral CA is very visible at the edges of the frame, though mostly correctable in post. Some purple fringing can also be seen in areas of very high contrast, though I didn’t come across it too often.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
Wide angle lenses often exhibit some barrel distortion, and that’s true with this lens as well, but it’s really only visible in certain circumstances, such as exaggerating straight lines that run across the bottom of frame closer to the lens. In most compositions, the mild barrel distortion isn’t really perceptible. Given the extreme width, the distortion control is honestly rather remarkable. If you notice a bit of the distortion taking hold in your shot, it’s fairly easy to correct with a tweak in Lightroom or another post-processing program.
It’s important when discussing distortion with an ultra-wide lens to note that perspective distortion (the wild converging lines that will show when tilting the lens down or up) is a function of the width and of camera position, and not a function of the optics. Perspective distortion happens with every lens made (though it’s far more visible with wide-angles). Keep the lens level and the perspective distortion vanishes, as can be seen in the shot above. Also, all very wide lenses will show some stretching at the edges, enlarging apparent size. This is required in order to keep the lines straight in a rectilinear lens.
The 10mm Heliar has a mixed performance with regards to flare. When the sun is directly in frame (which happens a lot with this lens), flare is minimal. Contrast remains high and only a few very small ghosts are visible. The lens also produces very nice sunstars. Like the Zeiss Loxia 21mm, I found the 10mm f/5.6 to occasionally show some sensor reflections on my A7 II, which can be seen as green and purple dots in a grid pattern around the sun, though this is a function of the camera cover glass and not the lens, per se.
As good as the flare control is in most circumstances, placing the sun or other bright light right near the corner of the frame will produce rather large arcing flares, as can be seen in the shot above. If you like this effect, it’s fine to use for a nice addition to your photo. If you don’t, avoid the corners for bright light.
Another weak spot for the lens is in the vignetting department. Despite the slow maximum aperture of f/5.6, the 10mm Heliar shows very strong vignetting wide open and there’s very little improvement stopped down. It’s visible in most any composition. I like vignetting in my photos as a general rule, but even so, I often applied digital correction in Lightroom to compensate for the corner darkening.
- Very solidly built lens with excellent mechanics
- Very compact for the focal length
- Exceptional width is unique in the photography world
- Very sharp over most of the frame
- Good flare control in most situations
- Low distortion for a lens this wide
- Excellent color and contrast
- Reasonable price
- Image edges and corners are a bit soft
- High lateral chromatic aberration
- Very high vignetting
The Voigtländer 10mm f/5.6 Hyper-Wide Heliar is a truly unique lens. It’s the widest rectilinear lens made for any format in the history of photography. It also is pretty darn good optically, though definitely falls short of perfect. There’s some softness at the edges, and the corners are softer still, but the overall resolution the lens produces is very good. It’s tack sharp in the center and the good sharpness extends over most of the frame. It also shows fairly high chromatic aberration and very high vignetting, though both can be corrected to some degree in post-processing (with the addition of some noise in the case of vignetting).
Still, these drawbacks don’t spoil what is a truly magnificent lens. The 10mm f/5.6 has a wonderful drawing style, with great contrast and rich color, and it resists flare well in most circumstances. But more important than the pure optical quality are the intangibles. Using this lens during the review period was the most fun I’ve had using a lens since I started this site 4.5 years ago. It simply can do things no other lens can do. I’ve been a fan of ultra-wide lenses for over a decade, and I didn’t even know I wanted wider than 14mm equivalent (my previous widest lens) until now. It’s almost intoxicating to use this lens. In less than two days of use, I knew this would be my next gear purchase, and I’ve already started saving for it. Voigtländer has created something special with the Hyper-Wide Heliar; It’s a gem.
Click on an image to enlarge.