Heliar lenses

Discussion in 'Medium Format Cameras and Accessories' started by puketronic, Nov 18, 2011.

  1. puketronic

    puketronic Member

    Nov 15, 2011
    I've heard great things about the Heliar on the Bessa RF/II, Medalist I/II, Mamiya Sekor 105, etc. and digging deeper it seems that it is very popular for its bokeh. I love smooth bokeh and I feel GAS coming up so if you forget the ergonomics of the respective cameras, how would you compare quality of the images that the Heliar produces with respect to the more common planar- and tessar- types on the TLR's and Folders.
  2. ChuckP

    ChuckP Subscriber

    Jan 8, 2003
    NW Chicagola
    Multi Format
  3. ntenny

    ntenny Subscriber

    Mar 5, 2008
    San Diego, C
    Multi Format
    I have one Heliar, on a 9x12 Voigtlaender Bergheil, and it's an absolutely ridiculously sharp lens, maybe sharper than the Planar on my Rolleiflex and certainly far, far above anything else I own. Not sure how much this reflects the lens design generally as opposed to an exceptional sample.

    Bokeh is so subjective that it's difficult to know what to say about it---I know I like what I'm seeing from the Heliar, but I can't really explain it in any halfway sensible way. Images at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ntenny/tags/bergheil/ if you want to see some examples. I particularly like the one with the milk can.

  4. tony lockerbie

    tony lockerbie Member

    Feb 16, 2006
    Merimbula NSW Australia
    Multi Format
    As you can tell by my Avatar I do like Heliars! I have an uncoated 150mm and a coated 210mm that I use on my Linhof, both give a sharp but smooth image that I really like. Always a hard thing to explain, but it is there, and the build quality on the 210 is just amazing. Only problem is the lens is just a barrell at the moment, which restricts it's use a lot. When I get better healed I will send this one off to S.K. Grimes for a shutter as it is my favourite 5x4 lens and dserves to be used much more.
  5. luvcameras

    luvcameras Advertiser Advertiser

    Jan 11, 2005
    Multi Format
  6. jun

    jun Member

    Sep 15, 2007
    Med. Format RF


    I still do have Bessa II with Color-Heliar 105/3.5
    Color-Heliar lens is actually a quasi "Soft Focus" lens, esp. between f/3.5 - f/8.:smile:
    You need to at least use f/8 or smaller aperture to get acceptable definition for normal photography, however there still is some softness.
    The softness esp. around f/3.5 - f/8 is coming from enormous amount of aberration of the optics.
    Shooting night scenes at full open aperture can prove this.
    This aberration also seems to contribute to weird "3D effect", which may be good sometimes (e.g. portrait).
    This means the Color-Heliar 105/3.5 may have somewhat resolution but very little contrast.
    Probably this type of lens is more suitable for LF rather than MF, which generally have use smaller aperture and can have more control.
    Also, this Color-Heliar 105/3.5 has unacceptable amount of distortion which will be a really bad choice for architectural photographs and alike.

    I will strongly suggest that you should not entirely depend on what generally thought correct on the Internet for the lens optical performance UNLESS YOU HAVE TESTED THE LENS by checking the image structure on the film!!!

    See the following links:
    Even the Voigtlander says Heliar does not have a “searing sharpness” which means…?
    They also quote Universal Heliar for real soft focus lens.
    Voigtlander did also quoted in the old pre war II catalog that the Heliar are the “Master Lens” which will generate “harmonious PLASTIC effect” image, which they claim "artistic”, which means that technically and optically it is indeed a low contrast lens (caused by residual aberration).
    I only have Color-Heliar (integrated in Bessa II) but it seems that Voigtlander’s (not Cosina Voigtlander) Heliar have a tendency to render some sort of “plastic” image.
    See the following:
    I don’t know that this residual aberration was deliberately introduced in the design of the lens for Color Heliar / Heliar or not.

    Also please remember in the old days, there was no Photoshop (R) or alike to manipulate images (expect retouching), so achieving “some kind of effect” by the lens itself may be more important than today.

    I somewhat agree that Heliar type lens generally (but not all) gives a nice bokeh, but you have to think what you have paid for.
    Also there is some lens that I find very good bokeh in Gauss (Planar(R)) type lens and even in other type lenses.
    So why you have to limit yourself on choosing Heliar type lens?
    Also remember that only testing the lens with various conditions will tell you the real truth.
    Say, if someone is saying that lens AAA is good, but if he/she uses much smaller aperture than what you use most often, what that mean for YOU?

    Even you say bokeh, there is a foreground bokeh and background bokeh, and it will be difficult to design a lens that have good for both foreground and background bokeh and also maintaining sharp image at the focal plane simultaneously.
    Is the lens performance info on the Internet tells you ALL about that for the particular lens that you are interested?
    What bokeh at what aperture?
    How is the bokeh of very high light intensity objects?
    For these reasons, you may get some idea from the Internet for lens performance, but you may have to figure out by yourself, and you may have to test the lens by yourself in various conditions.
    Also, the bokeh is very subjective, thus it is difficult to say lens AAA has a better / smooth bokeh than lens BBB so I can’t say which lens has a good for bokeh for you.

    NOTE: I don’t mean that all "Heliar Type" lens is all soft, indeed I have once had Cosina made 50/3.5 Heliar (for Nikon S mount) and that was very sharp.

    In realty, lens performance depends much more on the respective lens design not so much dependent on the type of lens (well, today lens designers won’t choose a bad lens type anyway, right?).
    It is 2011, not 1910s when Tessar (R) stand out from ordinary and meant to be a sharp lens.

    For example:
    Voigtlander also made an “Apo-Lanthar” which is nothing but the Heliar Type lens.
    The one that I have is an Apo-Lanthar 105/4.5 integrated in the Bessa II, which is an incredible performer (and actually this is a rare Bessa II model, but it is the film camera that I most frequently use).
    No halo, high resolution, outstanding contrast and low distortion which true APO regime lens only provides, but made with the optical glass including super-heavy-metal oxide (probably used in the one of the lens of the front group) which was cleverly used conjunction with the Heliar type design to achieve apochromatic performance.

    Attached is the photograph taken with Bessa II Apo-Lanthar 105/4.5 @ f/4.5, 1/2 sec. Provia 400X (only correct verification of the lens performance can be assessed by x50 microscope using a better film e.g Velva 50 for sharpness, Provia 400X is too grainy and the scanner Epson V750 seriously impedes quality).
    Sorry, you can’t get this contrast from Bessa II with the Color-Heliar, absolutely no way and you will see the black sky much lighter with Color-Heliar @ f/4.5, which is a optical fault, but will compress contrast range, which will somewhat explain the plastic effect.
    I think that sometimes Color-Heliar 105/3.5 gives better background bokeh than Apo-Lanthar 105/4.5, but the optical performance at the focal plane when wide open is totally unacceptable, thus I seldom use Color-Heliar Bessa II (I frequently use aperture close to fully open so Color-Heliar is useless).
    Also that great background bokeh of Color-Heliar is coming from what?
    From the inherent soft focus / diffused nature around the entire image field which caused by flare from optical aberrations?
    Apo-Lanthar 105/4.5 do have a very high contrast and very high flatness of field, which results a complete differentiation of focused and out of focused subjects that will create a dramatic effect in certain photographs, while Color-Heliar do not have that differentiation power but have a 3D effect and plastic effect originating from residual aberrations but almost useless between f/3.5 – f/8.
    Which do you like?
    Apo-Lanthar 105/4.5 is definitely my choice, but be careful, if you use it for portraits, the unforgiving nature may show up in certain situations and I actually received a claim with this.
    (Note that the attached photo doesn’t seem to show much bokeh at the foreground, but note that this image was cropped heavily (about 2x, thus objects are quite far, since I am unable to use a tripod, I have to lean the camera to the tree) and the scan and jpeg compression decreased the resolution, but looking through the 10x lope, it has a uniform bokeh on the foreground object.)

    Now you can understand that merely specifying "Heliar Type" lens isn’t a guarantee for the performance you like.

    Well, any particular lens type isn’t a guarantee for performance you like, anyway.
    It maybe better for you to forget about the lens type, and find the lens that you can accept per your performance criteria, which certainly need an effort to find it out.

    If you really insist on Heliar type lens and if you are 35mm shooter, Cosina’s 50/3.5 Heliar maybe good for you, and may be available on LTM.
    Although 50mm lens @f/3.5 max aperture won’t give much big bokeh at all.
    Also there seems to be a Cosina’s 75mm f/1.8 Heliar available in M mount but I can’t comment any lens that I haven’t used.
    See the following link for the gallery:

    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 19, 2011