Most prime lens SLR kits are a 28-50-85 or 135. Most rangefinder kits are a 28 or 35-50-90. 75mm is an odd focal length. I don’t think it’s even available for SLR’s and most rangefinder shooters fall on the side of either 50 or 90 – the distinction between normal and portrait focal lengths. 75. What is it? Is it a short portrait lens or a long normal lens? Is it for capturing details, documenting events or posed portraits?
Lately it seems that most shooters who are daring or confused enough to hazard this question are using a Cosina Voigtländer 75mm 1.8 Heliar. Reviews generally concede that this popular lens is quite fine. A buddy of mine, photographer John Nelson lent me his for a few weeks and I honestly didn’t take a single frame behind it. Optically, I’m sure it’s great but the Heliar 1.8 is just too long, particularly with a hood. I didn’t find that it balanced well on any of my cameras.
Admittedly, I am biased because I cut my rangefinder teeth on the older Voigtländer Heliar 2.5. Yes, obviously the 75 Heliar M is a good deal faster than it’s LTM predecessor but what I really enjoyed about the 2.5 was it’s size and handling, which seemed totally ignored in the speed-centric upgrade. Big apertures are wonderful, but they aren’t everything!
You see, the CV 75/2.5 is about the size of most 50/2’s, even with it’s smart-looking circular hood screwed on. The lens balances very nicely on my Leica M6 TTL and also my Voigtländer Bessa R2, keeping the weight of the camera planted in the palms. The 75/2.5 even seems right at home on my Leica IIIc. A proper brightline finder is rare and costly but how cool to have a telephoto on a Barnack that is not front-heavy or blocks the finder?
So while the 75 is very short for a telephoto, I like that it gives you some reach while maintaining compactness and discreetness that not even a Pinocchio 90/4 Elmar or Elmarit can offer. This is great for preserving a casual approach while still getting in tight on a subject. Additionally, the 75/2.5 was one of the few lenses that that I also felt comfortable with shooting handheld below the reciprocal. I’d often use it a 1/60th or even 1/30th and was satisfied with the results.
The 75/2.5 is one of those special lenses that really delivers the sharpness of in focus areas and the smoothness of out of focus areas in healthy amounts. The multi-coating and relatively complex 6 element/5 group design prevents veiling flare and highlight blooming too.
This balance and precision makes it wonderful for detail shots as well as portraits. And with regards to portraits, it’s stealthy enough to be as adept at candids as its performance is for posed work.
But to answer the initial question, I may still be scratching my head as to what subject matter, exactly, the 75mm length is best suited for. As I look through my images with the 75/2.5, subject is rather all over the place!
Sadly, I’m currently without this wonderful little lens. My copy seemed prone to the aperture assembly falling apart for no good reason. Twice, while minding its own business in my camera bag, I reached for it and happened to see that aperture blades had scattered around its insides. Once, I sent it back to Stephen Gandy for repair and then the second time, I decided to put more effort into my expensive, tough-as-nails 90mm f2 Summicron Pre-ASPH instead of labor over this cheap troublesome Cosina product. I sold my copy of the 75/2.5 as it was and wiped my hands of it for several years.
However, as I look through my photos taken with the Voigtländer 75 and remember how much I liked that lens, I have found myself scanning the interwebs for a replacement. As noted, I find the Voigtländer 75/1.8 Heliar too large. It’s actually about the same physical length at my 90 Cron and that seems ridiculous. The 75/1.5 Nokton looks even more bloated and heavy. Bessa rangefinders probably don’t have enough EBL to even focus these lenses and they’re both M mount, so I could only use them on my M6, not my R2 or LTM’s. The Leitz 75’s are beautiful but crazy expensive. And while I like this odd length, I’m not sure I like it THAT much! There are some weird new 75 M lenses by Kipon, 7Artisans, and Meyer Optic. I don’t know, I am just not taken with rendering I’ve seen with any of these. And honestly, I do like buying LTM lenses when possible because it’s fun to use them on my knob-wind Leica’s.
So where does all this leave me? Well, I think that if I found one at a low enough price to gamble my negative perception of its durability again, I’d still choose a Voigtländer 75/2.5 Heliar. I see from eBay listings that it’s very common for these lenses to show some hazing, presumably from lubricant evaporation. I have yet to see any discussions of the aperture blades falling out like mine did though, so maybe I had a lemon. Haze is something that’s easy enough to address with cleaning and re-lubricating, so maybe I should add the cost of a CLA to the purchase. But do I really need an unreliable lens with an odd length in my kit? Would it serve merely as a distraction from the 50 and 90? Or could it be that perfect hybrid of length, size and performance that would make it a daily carry, general purpose lens?
Currently, with the pandemic largely shutting down my paid photography work, I have no good reason to buy another 75, or any photo gear at all really. But when I look at this last photo that I took of my daughter with the 75 Heliar, and remember how much I used to use this lens, I can’t help but consider picking one up again!
How about you? Do you use a 75mm lens? Which one? Would you consider using one if you don’t currently?
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
Follow, Favorite, Like, Add, Insult, Contact Johnny Martyr