enradman is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
Mini Review of Voigtlander 15-35mm Zoom finder
Using external viewfinders with is a fact of life when using wide angle lenses. Some people complain about this. As a rangefinder user for over 40 years, I have used (and use) virtually all of the finders that have ever been produced.
Voigtlander has just released a 15-35mm Zoom finder which addrersses several problems with existing finders.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should point out that I as visually impaired. My central vision is reasonably intact (requiring only -1.5 spherical correction) but I have virtually no peripheral fields, so external finders have always been useful to me as sometimes I cannot quickly see framelines within the standard finder without moving my eye around (and I love wide angle lenses (perhaps b/c I cannot see that way)). Eye relief is therefore important to me in a finder. Other than as a customer, I am not affiliated with Voigtlander/Cosina, Camera Quest or any other manufacturer/dealer.
Finders basically come in 2 types, single focal length or variable. The variable finder types also come in 2 types, zoom or brightline. Modern new finders are currently available from Leica, Voigtlander and Zeiss. Leica single finders are small expensive optics set at about 0 diopters and no add-on corrrection is available. This presents a problem for me (and many others) as one can easily add correction lenses to the main finder but then it is necessary to use glasses to see through the finder. Zeiss finders are larger, excellent (somewhat pricey in the $300-450 range, weighing about 38-48 grams) and come in 15, 18, 21, 25/28mm sizes and they do take the same diopter lenses available for the Zeiss RF cameras (whole numbers ranging from about -4 to +5). Voigt fixed finders (especially the metal ones 12, 28, 35, etc) are excellent, smaller than the Zeiss, are more affordable ($150-200 or so) and set at about -1 diopter (but no correction lens available).
In the past the variable finders have used multiple single finders on a rotating wheel. Two variable finders are currently available from Leica. The earlier is the well known (and popular) 21-28mm zoom finder (in black and silver), This weighs about 80 grams and will take the same diopter lenses available for all M cameras. It has click stops at 21, 24 & 28. It is perfectly matched to the WATE mounted on an M8 Like several other Leica finders, it has a neat lateral offset so that the finder is centered directly above the lens eliminating lateral parallax. The image through the finder is bright, sharp and circular and therefore requires some experience to use properly. (It is one of my favorite finders). When you can find one, these sell for $400-500 plus the diopter lens.
With the intro of the WATE, Leica introduced the large variable finder so that the lens could be used on both the M8 and film cameras. This weighs in at about 125 grams and resembles a small transistor radio (for those of you old enough to remember transistor radios) and acquired the somewhat unflattering name of “frankenfinder” In reality, this is an excellent finder, though bulky and not quick to use. Most people do not realize it, but this finder will take correction lenses from the R system (if you can find them). This is NOT a zoom finder but like the M finder itself, shows a field of view and variable sized framelines (16,18,21,24,28) with a separate control to set distance for parallax correction, quite precise but not exactly point & shoot. The finder image is not as bright as that of the Leica zoom.
Voigtlander, last March, announced a zoom finder covering 15-35mm with 1.3x (M8), 1.5x (Rd1) scales as well as settings for the lens. I have been on the waiting list at Steve Gandy’s Camera Quest and just received mine yesterday ($529). There is another version (Type B) which has 1.3x, 2.0x (Micro 4/3) as well as the actual lens sizes (film).
The lens weighs about 100 grams or 20% more than the Leica Zoom finder and 20% less than the Franken finder. It has a variable diopter range from -2.8 to +1.3 which is extremely nice but limited in range. (It is crystal clear for me.) The lens is constructed beautifully in a black finish (matching the WATE btw) with a somewhat odd triangular cam shaped front component. The pictures on CameraQuest’s site are not flattering and if fact the lens is much more attractive (read as less weird looking) in person. There is a silver locking foot. There is no offset to position the finder directly above the lens, so one must be aware of lateral parallax. It also comes with a small pouch and instructions in several languages.
There are click stops at 15, 18, 21, 25, 28 & 35, but the finder can be positioned anywhere and the 2 other scales will show the effective focal length on M8, etc. In other words, to use a 18mm lens on the M8, one would simply move the zoom adjustment to 18mm on the 1.3x scale which will show (about) 24mm on the main Film window, rather trivial to use (and similar to the Leica zoom).
The finder itself shows a 3:2 aspect ratio rectangular window. The window remains the same size but the image zooms. The window also contains a typical vertical parallax dotted line. The finder view quality is excellent (IMHO), b/c of the smaller rectangular field, is more intuitive to use than the Leica zoom finder. Like the zoom finder, it is extremely bright, with very little (read less) distortion (slight barrel at the widest setting). There is better eye relief than on the Leica zoom finder. Clearly it is much easier to use than the large Leica finder. But unlike the Leica, one cannot see the surroundings. In use it is similar to the Leica Zoom finder. It resembles the WATE and appears to be designed similarly. Overall build quality is superb.
At $529, it is a bargain, virtually replacing single focal length finders from 15 to 35mm. It doesn’t get in the way on M bodies, has diopter correction (for some), is easy to use, frames accurately (for an external finder) and has a great bright image and is very well constructed.
That said, it is not perfect. It could benefit from a rubber eyecup though I suspect that an old Nikon one will fit over the diopter correction ring. Note for eyeglass wearers, the front of the diopter ring is rubber coated, which should offer some protection. I prefer the finder positioning on the Leica zoom finder with the lateral offset (I currently have ONLY M bodies, so I can't comment on positioning on other brands. One other detail is worth noting for those used to using the Leica Zoom finder with the WATE. The Leica finder zooms the same direction as the Tri-elmar does (clockwise from 16 to 21) whereas the Voight Finder zooms from 15-35mm counter-clockwise. I could use the Leica finder and WATE on the M8 without looking at the lens or finder. At least so far, I have had to look at both the lens and finder position to ensure I have them set the same. OTOH there is NO Leica Zoom finder for the WATE on M9 or film bodies (like my MP), so this is a great option for those who are using BOTh M8 & film/M9 (or RD-1)
In summary, I am extremely happy with the availability of the finder and now since I am shooting mostly with my M9, this is a great option when using the WATE (or any other wide angle). I tend to be an individual who composes the image in my brain and then uses the camera to create it, so the finder works extremely well for my style of shooting. If I need to shoot critical interiors with the WATE, the “FrankenFinder” may still be a better choice. The Voigt also allows me to use an M8 or other extreme (fixed) lenses while carrying only 1 easy to use (and clear) finder.
I hope these comments are useful to others.