The Voigtländer 10mm f/5.6 Hyper Wide Heliar E is a revolutionary lens, and as a member of the ultra wide angle “cult,” it was one of my motivations for jumping back into mirrorless photography with the Sony a7 III. This photography review weighs the strengths and weaknesses of the lens, with sample photos I’ve shot while traveling with Voigtländer 10mm lens over the last six-plus months.
As always, this is a real world lens review. I review photography gear according to how it feels to me based on my real world use. In the case of the Voigtländer 10mm, that means a lot of shooting inside cathedrals in Paris, running around Tokyo shooting handheld sunsets, and (more forgiving) tripod-mounted landscape photography scenarios.
I think this is important to mention because how a lens performs in scenarios where photographers will actually use it is more instructive than artificially constrained lab conditions shooting test charts. Sterile lab reviews have their place, but so too do reviews like this. No one is actually going to buy this lens to shoot test charts…at least, I hope not. This review accounts for how real photographers will actually use the Voigtländer 10mm.
While the Voigtländer 10mm’s revolutionariness is most notably in it being the widest rectilinear lens ever produced, that’s also accomplished in one of the smallest designs I’ve ever seen for an ultra (or should I say, hyper) wide angle lens.
The Voigtländer 10mm f/5.6 is a far cry from my Sigma 14mm f/1.8, size-wise. (Read my Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Lens Review for more on that lens.) While they’re two very different lenses–just note the difference in maximum aperture, the main selling point of the Sigma–they are the two ultra wides I’m currently using, so that’s the comparison I’m going to make.
The size of this lens should not be overlooked. Even though I’m an ultra wide junkie, it was the size of this lens that sold me on it.
I would’ve probably been fine with a 12mm lens, but wanted something as small as possible for my ‘downsized’ mirrorless camera bag. As that’s one selling point of the Sony mirrorless system, I think it definitely bears mentioning here.
In terms of build quality, this thing is old school. The Voigtländer 10mm feels like a lens made a few decades ago, with a solid, all-metal construction and crisp engravings. Resistance on the focus ring is perfect, and the clicks on the aperture ring have a pleasing quality to them.
The Voigtländer 10mm has a symmetrical optical design with little to no distortion. This makes it an excellent option for architecture or interior photography, as pretty much the only distortion you’ll see is user-introduced. (Personally, I love that type, and try to leverage this lens for converging lines.)
While distortion is no issue, there is noticeable vignetting throughout the whole aperture range. Additionally, the lens is manual focus, but with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 and focal length of 10mm, this is pretty much a “set it and forget it” type of lens.
That maximum aperture can be problematic at times. Landscape photographers using this on a tripod are going to have no issue with it, but I have found myself using this a lot for interior architecture.
In terms of “real world” use, this has often been in European cathedrals and palaces–places that don’t allow tripods. That f/5.6 aperture poses challenges when shooting handheld in dimly-lit interiors, but the wider focal length is more forgiving with slower shutter speeds (and Sony’s IBIS helps, too).
Sharpness was one thing about which I was worried with this lens. I’ve had slow ultra wides and fisheye lenses in the past that didn’t truly get sharp until around f/7.1 or f/8, and I worried the same would be true here.
Thankfully, that’s not the case. In the center and middle of the frame, sharpness is pretty much the same from f/5.6 through f/16, falling off a bit once you get to f/22. Unsurprisingly, the center is significantly sharper than the corners, which are not tack sharp at any aperture–but are best from around f/8 to f/11.
This is another reason why I recommend not correcting the natural vignette. In fact, in most cases, I’m using presets that add a +10 vignette with this lens, just to mask things a bit more. If you’re not cropping photos from the Voigtländer 10mm at all, even more vignette is probably ideal.
Sunstars are a subjective matter, so that’ll largely come down to personal taste, but what I love about this lens is that it delivers them at every aperture. Even at f/5.6, you’re going to get a pretty tight, sharp sunburst.
One thing I really like about my Sigma 14mm f/1.8 is that I can shoot wide open to give the sun a soft, blown out quality–but since this lens has a maximum aperture of f/5.6, that wasn’t going to be possible regardless here. Given that, I’d just as soon not have to stop down to f/11 or f/16 to obtain a sunburst.
Flare presents no issue when shooting into the sun or other direct light sources. I’ve noticed small purple or blue circles from time to time, most of which are easily removed in Photoshop, but never anything major. This is probably one of the most flare-resistant wide angle lenses I’ve ever used, which is especially impressive considering it’s 10mm.
I also had zero issues with chromatic abberations, even in the extreme corners. (This could be due to the embedded Adobe profile, but either way, it’s not something you’ll see.)
The biggest “issue” with this lens is the focal length, and obviously that’s a selling point more than it is a drawback. However, it’s worth discussing how 10mm is very wide. If the widest lens you’ve used previously is 24mm, this is going to be a massive difference.
Even experienced photographers tend to be surprised by this. While that difference of “only” 14mm may not seem like much, it’s important to note than the field of view on a 10mm lens is approximately 130 degrees, as compared to 84 degrees on a 24mm lens. That’s a larger spread than 50mm and 200mm focal lengths.
If you’re just getting started with ultra wide angle lenses and are just looking to get your feet wet, I cannot recommend a 10mm lens. Wider is not always better. In the case of the Voigtländer 10mm, it’s simply too wide for ultra-wide beginners.
You’re going to find yourself cropping significantly or having bland compositions that get it all in the frame with “it all” being a lot of stuff that a more thoughtful composition would’ve intentionally omitted.
Even coming from 14mm lenses–and find that was not quite wide enough for some of my needs–I’ve found myself struggling with this lens.
I’ve had plenty of shots with the aforementioned dead space, and in other scenarios when I try to fill the frame with dynamic lines or striking distortion…I find that it’s too much.
This is hardly an indictment of the Voigtländer 10mm. That’s what a 10mm lens is meant to do. It’s more a cautionary tale about how this lens is arguably more of a niche tool. It’s incredible for those who have the creative chops to really leverage hyper wide look for engaging compositions and unique perspectives, but the learning curve is steep.
You might see the selection of photos I’ve presented here and think I’m doing reasonably well (or not), but keep in mind that I’ve chosen some of my favorites from what I’ve shot with the Voigtländer 10mm. My “rejects” pile is larger than normal with this lens, and despite having owned it for 6 months, I’m still learning and still making mistakes.
At $950 on Amazon, the Voigtländer 10mm is not an inexpensive lens. However, it is the cheapest 10mm on the market. 😉 More to the point, given the build quality, revolutionary nature, and image quality of the lens, it’s a price I was more than willing to pay.
Suffice to say, the Voigtländer 10mm is an exceptional lens. The build quality is exceptional, the bulk of the frame is sharp, there’s little distortion, the sunbursts are striking, and it can be leveraged for some arresting visuals. It packs a lot of punch in a small, lightweight package. If you can get past the caveats of it being slow and really wide, it’s an incredibly fun lens that will force you to up your game from a compositional perspective. With those reservations in mind, I’d highly recommend the Voigtländer 10mm. It’s one of the most frustrating lenses I’ve ever owned, but in a good way–when I really nail a shot with this lens, it’s one of the most satisfying feelings in photography.
Have you used the Voigtländer 10mm f/5.6 Hyper Wide Angle Lens? Is it a lens you’d like to own, or do you prefer the versatility of the Nikon 14-24mm, or other ‘non-hyper’ ultra wide angle lenses? If you use this lens, what do you think of it? Are you considering adding it to your camera bag? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments!